HUNTERS, Wash. - The towns of Inchelium and Hunters, two communities divided not by ideas but by a small ferry crossing across Lake Roosevelt, are even farther apart now the Bonneville Power Administration has drawn down the lake, leaving the Gifford Ferry and everyone who depends on it high and dry.
The commute from Inchelium across the water to nearby Hunters is about 25 minutes if you use the Gifford ferry. However, with the lake drawdown in preparation for spring runoff, the water is low and the ferry is closed, meaning people who normally have a 25 minute commute now have to drive an hour and a half all the way around, impacting local workers and school children alike.
"It's been about five years since the last draw down that caused them to close the ferry," Columbia High School Principal Dirk Christianson said.
On Thursday morning, Christianson drove seven students around the lake to school, leaving at 6:30 and arriving at 8 a.m.
"The ferry is the lifeblood of the community of Inchelium and it affects the other communities on both sides of the river," he said.
Students say it's affecting their school work.
"Affected my mood today, because I feel tired, just tired, that's about it," junior Ivory Gunter said.
"It's not a good thing for student learning by any means," Christianson.
For student athletes, like those heading off to a track meet in Ritzville Thursday afternoon it means getting home even later in the night.
The drawdown prepares Lake Roosevelt and the Grand Coulee Dam for spring runoff and right now it's too low for the ferry to run. Christianson was worried when he first heard rumors it might be closed until October.
"If they have to do a serious drawdown then we understand that but we need to be prepared for it and they need to give us some guidelines on when it's going to come back up," he said.
Others from out of the area who were traveling in the area didn't find out the ferry crossing was closed until they arrived.
"Normally in Davenport if they have it shut down they'll have a sign down there telling you it's closed, however it doesn't change the route that I use," Shelby Turner from Clarkston said.
There is some good news on the horizon however. A fax was received saying the ferry will run Friday. Christianson attributes the quick reopening of the ferry to calls he and his colleagues made to Senator Maria Cantwell in Washington, D.C.
For him it's hope big government can help a small town.
"For them to take interest in taking care of a little community like Inchelium and Hunters, here at Columbia and the school at Evergreen and watch out for a few students, it shows you the bigger picture, that the country's on the right track," Christianson said.
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