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Attendees offer suggestions to continue Canby Ferry while eliminating yearly $400,000 deficit

At least 70 people met on Tuesday, Feb. 19 to present their ideas to Clackamas County Commissioners and those working on the Canby Ferry feasibility study.

The commissioners made their position clear; they have given ferry advocates a year to find ways to limit the average $400,000 annual loss to operate the ferry.

Most of those attending were in favor of the ferry, although a few had suggested getting rid of it and spending the money on fixing the bad county roads in the area.

Others sent letters to the commissioners suggesting they had made a mistake by getting rid of the toll bridge idea. However, no one at the listening session brought the bridge up and there were many nods of confirmation for "the wise decision" to gut the toll bridge solution.

Commission Chair Jim Bernard noted that in recent years the county has spent $1.2 million for hydraulics and motors for the ferry.

Adding another $2.5 million for the cost of a new ferry in the 2030s or 2040s, plus the annual loss of $400,000 could run up to $8.5 million, which is fiscally irresponsible, he said.

"We aren't trying to make a profit, we just want to break even," said Bernard. He was joined by Commissioners Sonya Fisher, Ken Humberston, Paul Savas and Martha Schrader.

The commissioners haven't taken a stance on the ferry yet, and no one expects to see anything before the March 12 meeting when they will discuss it.

Last year it cost $578,000 to run the ferry, with revenues of $190,000, leaving the gap at about $388,000, said Mike Bezner, the assistant director of Clackamas County's transportation and development.

"There's a chance they might accept a [a smaller] amount," said Bezner and a chance they won't, but that won't be known before March 12.

People seemed to favor a couple of ideas including a public-private solution where the county would continue to operate the ferry but a private citizen would take care of the overage.

But the most popular appeared to be a tax district.

This would be made up of Canby, West Linn and Wilsonville, allowing a small payment to be added to property taxes. The more people involved, the less the actual ferry tax.

However, there was a notable number who weren't too excited about adding more to their property taxes, "which already are high," said one audience member. Another suggested shutting the ferry down because, "It's no longer economical, it's time to close it."

Another speaker suggested before deciding on a tax district option, "We need to know what you are talking about," spell it out in terms of cost, he added. The problem with a tax district is how wide the district will be. Obviously the larger the district, the lower the tax, Bezner told the Herald.

Since much of the feeling about the ferry is nostalgia, keep it and use it as a fishing dock, said one speaker, while another suggested surveying users over the spring, summer and early fall months when Canby holds most of its events.

Others suggested looking into federal funding, but Bezner noted that the county already receives funding from the federal government, but it only can be used for capital expenditures and the county has to match the funding.

One quite interesting idea used marketing. The county has a marketing department that could publish and present the ferry in a good light, especially when tying it to the almost weekly events that occur in Canby throughout the spring, summer and fall.

That promotion could extend to downtown, noted Mallory Gwynn, owner of a coffee shop in downtown Canby. "The experience of riding the ferry into downtown is fun," he said.

Bezner thought the meeting went well and that the audience and board were in alignment.

"A number of the solutions working together might make the situation workable," he said. "But is it realistic?"

He suggested the combination of events might include a fare increase, operations changes like fewer hours along with a contribution from Canby. "A combination of these things will close that gap."

"If the gap isn't addressed, and you multiply $400,000 by 10 years you get $4 million," he added and that's not realistic. "We need more information," Bernard said.

The Canby Ferry Feasibility Study will be released on March 6. This will include a full report along with the documents used for the study.

The commissioners will talk about the ferry situation at a meeting on March 12 at 1:30 p.m. in the board hearing room at 2051 Kaen Rd. in Oregon City.

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