State lets contract for new Port Townsend ferry; vessel could be going by mid-2010
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The Island Home ferry, shown plying waters off Massachusetts, will be used as the design basis for the $65.5 million Port Townsend-Keystone ferry.

By Jeff Chew
Peninsula Daily News

SEATTLE -- A new 64-car, 750-passenger ferry could be plying the waters between Port Townsend and Keystone in May 2010 after the state Department of Transportation on Monday awarded an 18-month, $65.5 million contract to Todd Pacific Shipyards of Seattle.

"We want to sit down with Todd to start work as quickly as possible," David Moseley, assistant state Transportation secretary for ferries, said Monday afternoon following the contract announcement.

The Island Home-model ferry ¬-- named after a popular vessel, Island Home, plying waters in Massachusetts -- would replace the smaller, less stable 50-car Steilacoom II ferry that the state is leasing from Pierce County.

Todd would build it at the company's Harbor Island-based yard.

The job is expected to employ about 200 union laborers.

The next steps toward construction include a signed contract and contract security from Todd Shipyards. Once that is received, the state will issue a notice to proceed, followed by delivery of the vessel 540 days later, Moseley said.

He said his agency plans to work with the state Legislature during its 2009 session to determine what direction to take next and in an attempt to resolve funding issues to possibly build another ferry for the Port Townsend route -- and perhaps more Island Home models for elsewhere in the system.

Future ferries

The size, quantity and quality of future ferries will be the key points before lawmakers, he said.

Recently, Moseley said, the Cedar River Group, a maritime consulting firm, recommended the state consider building four Island Home models and delay until 2020 the construction of four 144-car ferries for the other more heavily traveled routes, such as Kingston-Edmonds, Bainbridge and Bremerton to Seattle.

Mayor Michelle Sandoval recently voiced support for that proposal.

Moseley said the state needs "to get about the business of building new boats."

"With this one, we need it immediately and will get it right now," he said of the Island Home-design vessel.

"Hopefully, with the Legislature coming up, we will have a better feel for the number of boats.

"There is a lot of information out there and the approach is being debated."

The Legislature has appropriated $84.5 million for two Island Home ferries for the treacherous Port Townsend-Keystone route, but Todd's bid came in last month well over a state ferries engineer's estimate.

Todd's bid totaled $124.4 million for the two ferries, $40 million over the state's budgeted amount.

Todd's proposed bid price was $124,450,559 for two vessels and $65,487,328.00 for one vessel.

A state Department of Transportation engineer's estimate is $95,943,865 for two vessels and $49,452,894.00 for one.

"Our economy and the people who depend upon this ferry route will greatly benefit from this contract," said Gov. Chris Gregoire on Monday.

"The locally built ferry will provide reliable auto and passenger service on this critical route."

Steel Electrics

The Port Townsend-Keystone route has been without a state-owned auto ferry since the 80-year-old Steel Electric-class ferries were taken out of service in November 2007.

"It's important for the long-term health of the ferry system that we get on with the business of building new vessels and replacing our aging ferry fleet," said Paula Hammond, state secretary of transportation, who abruptly pulled the Steel Electrics from service, deeming their pitted and corroded hulls unsafe.

The vessels are headed for a scrapping yard in Mexico this month.

The original Island Home is operated by the Nantucket Steamship Authority in Massachusetts.

That ferry, designed by Seattle's Elliott Bay Design, was built at a Pascagoula, Miss., shipyard in 2005-2006 for about $33 million.

As planned, the state would have the bow modified to the standard Washington state ferry "pickle-fork" design to create a better line of sight from the pilot house and to improve clearance for over-height vehicles at low tide.

An additional 20 feet midbody section has been added to accommodate additional sewage and fuel tank capacities.

Doors unnecessary

Bow doors will not be necessary on the Port Townsend-Keystone route, which has less severe marine conditions.

The Island Home's design has been modified for the Port Townsend-Keystone route with one of the mezzanine passenger areas converted to a bike holding area.

"These vessels fit with our plan that includes identifying a sustainable long-term funding source to support the ferry system into the future," Hammond said of the Island Home design.

"I greatly appreciate the efforts of the Port Townsend and Keystone communities, state lawmakers and Todd Shipyards to get a new vessel into construction," said Moseley, who is scheduled to speak before the Port Townsend Chamber of Commerce during its noon Dec. 29 meeting at Fort Worden State Park Commons.

"If there is one thing we know, it's that there will be many challenges ahead to service and replace the state's aging fleet."

One bidder lamented

Tom Thiersch, a Jefferson County Ferry Advisory Committee member, said he was disappointed that state ferries was unable to attract more than one bidder to negotiate a better price.

"I have to wonder why [Washington State Ferries'] own vessel engineering group's estimates are so far off the mark," Thiersch said.

"In the case of the Steilacoom III, the bid was 55 percent higher than [the state's] internal estimate," Thiersch said of the ferry bid that was rejected earlier this year from Todd to build a smaller ferry to expedite replacement on the Port Townsend-Keystone route.

Local business and civic leaders voiced opposition to building another Steilacoom model in light of the fact that rough seas on Admiralty Inlet frequently cancel scheduled runs.

"In the case of the new Island Home [model]," Thiersch said, "the bid was 32 percent higher than [the state's] internal estimate.

"Remember, only three years ago, the original Island Home cost only $32 million, about one half of what the new version is priced at."

Thiersch said he wanted to see an explanation for the price variances.

Contacted last month, Joe Martinac Jr., president of J.M Martinac Shipbuilding Corp. of Tacoma, said the 18-month shipbuilding schedule deterred his company from bidding on the Port Townsend-Keystone ferry.

"I think it just didn't fit for us in the time-frame they wanted," Martinac said.

________

Port Townsend-Jefferson County Editor Jeff Chew can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at jeff.chew@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: December 02. 2008 4:50AM
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