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St. Helens councilors discuss ferry to Washington

Locke: Time is right to explore water link between St. Helens, Woodland

Keith Locke.Reviving an idea that has been around for years, but has never come to fruition, St. Helens City Councilor Keith Locke said Wednesday, Sept. 17, that it would be “good timing” for the city to start talking about the prospects for ferry service between St. Helens and Washington state.

Locke made his comments during a St. Helens City Council work session Wednesday afternoon. The council discussion that followed was light on details of how such a ferry system would work, but councilors generally agreed the city should explore whether a ferry linking St. Helens with a community across the Columbia River, like Woodland, Wash., would be viable.

St. Helens is closing in on the purchase of a 22-acre property south of Old Town, where Boise Cascade Co. used to operate a veneer plant. Discussion of how the property should be developed has largely focused on “water-related uses,” such as housing or lodging with a river view, a boardwalk and pier, and a maritime heritage museum or display of historic ships.

Locke suggested the site could potentially support a ferry terminal.

“We’ve talked about it a lot with our Boise project out here, whether it would be good for us, whether the property is good or not,” Locke said.

Councilor Susan Conn said she has briefed state Sen. Betsy Johnson and other state officials about the idea in the past, although it has never advanced very far.

“I’m really glad to see you picking this up and going with it,” she told Locke.

Conn noted that an advantage to ferry service between St. Helens and Woodland or Ridgefield, Wash., would be access to Interstate 5, which runs through both communities.

The north-south freeway is about a 40-minute drive from St. Helens — a hook-shaped route along Highway 30, across the St. John’s Bridge and through frequently congested north Portland. A ferry across the river would eliminate much of that distance, potentially providing quicker access between St. Helens and suburban Clark County, Wash.

Conn spoke favorably of “the possibility of tying to I-5, because that’s where economic development happens.”

“It happens along I-5,” she added. “It doesn’t happen in isolated little pockets.”

Mayor Randy Peterson, who is running against Locke for reelection, expressed measured interest in the ferry concept. But he said the city will need support for the project from other agencies, including those on the Washington side of the river.

“If we don’t have a strong coalition of all the partners before we start, we’re not going to get much traction,” Peterson said.

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