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Feds allocate $19.3 million for defunct Port Sonoma ferry service plan

MARTIN ESPINOZA,

THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

It took a mysterious act of Congress to get $20 million in federal funds earmarked for controversial ferry service at Port Sonoma Marina. And it will take an act of Congress to get rid of it.

The funds were first earmarked in 2005, added to a $286 billion federal transportation bill by Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, after local interests and former Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma, lobbied for the project.

The project sought to create ferry service from Port Sonoma to other Bay Area locations, including San Francisco, Oakland and AT&T Park. The port, which is owned by Berg Holdings of Sausalito, sits on the Petaluma River at the Sonoma and Marin county lines, with access from Highway 37.

On Wednesday, Marin Independent Journal columnist Dick Spotswood reported that the funding had been included in the Metropolitan Transportation Commission's latest draft of 2013 Transportation Improvement Program, or TIP, projects.

The TIP lists an earmark of $19.3 million for the 2012/13 fiscal year. The sponsor of the project is listed as North Bay Ferry Service, a company created by Skip Berg of Berg Holdings in 2004.

But MTC spokesman John Goodwin said the earmark is nothing more than a "carry-over" from previous TIP lists. He said that unlike most of the other projects on the MTC list, "it's extremely doubtful that this is a real project."

Technically, he said, "the earmark that it received from Congress is still valid and will remain accessible until Congress rescinds the earmark."

But he added that a number of steps must be taken before the federal government cuts any checks.

Goodwin said the project sponsor must find a public agency co-sponsor for the project, such as the Sonoma County Water Agency or the Golden Gate Transit District. After that, he said, MTC would need to take additional action to include the project in its regional transportation plan, a long-term plan conducted every four years.

"Even though the project is listed in the TIP, funding is not accessible to North Bay Ferry Service," Goodwin said.

J.T. Wick, a principal with Berg Holdings, said the project is as dead as it was in January 2012, when he told The Press Democrat that Berg Holdings was no longer pursuing the project.

"There's no money in our account," Wick said. "That money is still in the federal treasury."

Wick said that even "in the best of times, it would have been a challenging project." But with the recession, none of the potential co-sponsors wanted to undertake the project.

He said Berg Holdings' chief effort at the marina is completing the environmental impact report for a project to raise 528 acres of farmland it owns adjacent to Port Sonoma using dredge spoils.