Rick Hughes says he just trying to be romantic when he looked at whisking away his wife for a Valentine's Day weekend in Victoria.
That was until he realized how tough it would be to make the roughly 16-mile journey from Friday Harbor to Vancouver Island. So close, yet so far.
That time of the year, there is no state ferry service from the San Juans to Sidney, BC, and getting to Vancouver Island would require an exhausting trip to Anacortes, north to the Canadian Border, to Tsawwassen, and a BC ferry across to Victoria - or, says Hughes, "a $700 charter flight."
Even using the ferry to Sidney during the summer months often requires an overnight stay, he says. The San Juan County commissioner says that's when he decided something needed to change.
Hughes lobbied his friends in local government, like Duncan Wilson, the Friday Harbor town administrator.
"To be 14-16 miles away from an area that shares so much with us, and to not be able to get there easily is very bad," he said.
So they started pitching the idea of regular plane service between Friday Harbor and Victoria. The U.S. Office of Customs and Border Protection said there would need to be security screening, and they had very little money to contribute. But it would provide staffing if the opportunity came to fruition.
"We didn't have the infrastructure in place," acknowledged CBP Blaine District leader Ken Williams.
Hughes says local leaders wrote to both U.S. Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell and Congressman Rick Larsen. They also pitched their fellow elected Port officials on an idea: paying for a customs screening facility at the Friday Harbor Airport. They found $30,000 in local lodging tax revenue to build out a former airport office, complete with handheld scanners. CBP agreed to staff it for 1 1/2 hours every morning and afternoon in return.
It led to a moment months in the making on Thursday, when customs officials, along with Hughes and Wilson, cut the ribbon on the facility and welcomed the first official "Shortest International Flight in North America."
Sidney, BC, town crier Kenny Podmore made the official welcome on the tarmac at Friday Harbor. Canada-based Northstar Air says it is planning on offering daily, 12-minute service between Friday Harbor and Victoria, perhaps as early as July. Northstar's Henry Emson says early-bird rates will be $49 each way.
Realtor Steven Buck says he believes the service has a chance to open doors for his business and give him, a local resident, a chance to make same-day trips to Victoria.
"I can see people using this for fun and romance," he said.
"You hate to get off the island 'cause you gotta go on the ferry, get the reservations," said Friday Harbor resident Kelly Martinez. When given the news, she said, "Sign me up."
Williams, who helped cut the ribbon, called it a "big day" for CBP and Friday Harbor, born out of collaboration. But it can also likely be traced back to that Valentine's Day and Hughes frustration.
On on this day, Hughes was all smiles.
"It's a good day, for everyone in the county."
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