New water-agency bill awaits governor

A new Bay Area water transportation agency — one which would will assume control of most of the region’s existing ferry services — would be created under new legislation on its way to thegovernor’s desk.

The new authority would be charged with creating a regional water transit system that could be used in the event of an emergency.

Senate Bill 976, authored by state Sen. Tom Torlakson, D-Antioch, received strong support by Senate President Pro Tempore Don Perata and was sponsored by the Bay Area Council, an association of business leaders that has championed the expansion of the region’s water transit system for several years.

In the event of an earthquake or a man-made disaster, access to BART and/or Bay Area bridges would likely be unavailable, Bay Area Council President Jim Wunderman said. A regional ferry system would help transport emergency supplies, goods and people, he said.

The new agency, which would be called the Bay Area Water Emergency Transportation Authority, would receive $250 million from the infrastructure bonds passed last November to start building the ferry system, under the legislation.

Additionally, an existing agency, the Bay Area Water Transit Authority, would be absorbed into WETA, including its funding and staff. Although the Golden Gate Transit Ferry system is exempt from the law’s provisions, other water transit operators — including the publicly subsidized Alameda/Oakland Ferry and Vallejo Baylink Ferry systems — would be incorporated under the new authority by 2009, under the new law.

WETA would be governed by a five-member board appointed by the governor, the Senate Committee on Rules and the speaker of the Assembly, according to the legislation — which would replace the current 11-member WTA board.

beslinger@examiner.com

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