PORT TOWNSEND — Repairing and bringing back the Steel Electric-class ferry Klickitat won’t happen.
Many ferry riders had hoped the Klickitat’s decrepit hull could be repaired or replaced so it could return to service on the Port Townsend-Keystone run.
It’s bigger and more efficient than the Steilacoom II, which has taken its place, and the hope was it would be a quick fix instead of ferry riders waiting more than a year for a permanent solution.
The new state ferry system’s chief, David Moseley, gave hope to Klickitat fans two weeks ago.
As he introduced himself to ferry-dependent communities, he gushed that all avenues were being explored, indicating that this possibly included the Klickitat’s return.
He told The Whidbey Examiner on March 28 that “all options are open,” and he made a similar comment in Port Townsend.
This led to the incorrect impression the Klickitat might be repaired.
“I probably should have said ‘all reasonable options,’ but I said what I said, and I take responsibility for that,” Moseley told me in a telephone interview.
He was on a speaker phone, with a ferries system PR representative, Hadley Greene, listening in.
The repair option “was looked at pretty thoroughly before the decision was made to withdraw the Steel Electrics,” he added.
As everyone knows, the ferry system’s four 1927-vintage Steel Electrics — the Klickitat, Quinault, Illahee and Nisqually — were taken out of service last Nov. 20 because of severe hull cracks and corrosion.
After studying the hulls, the ferry system decided to permanently retire the boats.
According to one study, replacing the hull on the Quinault would cost $8 million.
“The Klickitat has needs beyond was needed on the Quinault and the Illahee — i.e., it required approximately $2 million work to replace the stern tubes and remove concrete in the bilges, in addition to the cost to remove all the interior and exterior paint, inspect the steel hull plating and replace any bad steel,” Greene said in an e-mail.
Still, the prospect of repairing the 81-year-old vessel became even more enticing March 27 when state ferries received just one bid for a 50-car vessel to replace the Klickitat — which was then rejected.
That’s because Todd Pacific Shipyards Corp. of Seattle’s bid was $25.9 million — 53 percent over the state engineer’s estimate for the work (the estimate was actually prepared by an outside consultant and then reviewed and approved by ferries staff).
Moseley has met with Todd representatives twice to understand more fully Todd’s reasoning — and to come up with a more affordable and realistic bid solicitation.
He said state engineers may have underestimated the cost of construction.
For its part, Todd won’t budge from its original bid if presented with the same specs.
“We aren’t negotiating on the numbers we submitted,” company spokesman John Lockwood, a retired Coast Guard rear admiral, said Thursday.
The ferry system wants to build one new ferry based on the 50-car, 300-passenger Steilacoom II, which the state is leasing from Pierce County for the Port Townsend-Keystone run.
The state Legislature has budgeted $100 million for that vessel (which was to begin service in May 2009) and for two based on the much more beefy, 64-car Island Home ferry that now carries passengers between Martha’s Vineyard and Wood’s Hole in Massachusetts.
The plans now are for a new bid package to be ready by May that can result in a new Port Townsend-Keystone vessel being built and put in operation by July 2009, a month before the Steilacoom II lease expires.
That is, if the state doesn’t find another ferry somewhere else.
Moseley is looking for a U.S.-flagged vessel that could be purchased or leased for the route.
It must be small and deft enough to slide into the narrow, shallow Keystone dock.
“It does require a unique boat, and we are working hard to find that unique boat,” Moseley said.
No matter how hard he works at the task, Moseley must confine his search to the United States.
Under the federal Jones Act, all vessels that carry goods and passengers between U.S. ports must have been built in the United States.
Waivers are granted by the U.S. Maritime Administration, but only for such reasons as national security, Greene said — and the ferry system does not intend to apply for such a waiver.
For the foreseeable future, the Steilacoom II will continue serving the Port Townsend-Keystone run.
Still, it represents a 60 percent reduction in service compared to last summer, when the trip was made by the Klickitat and a second state ferry.
To handle expected heavy summer traffic, a free reservation system for the Steilacoom II will go into effect by the start of the June 22 summer schedule, Port Townsend Chamber of Commerce General Manger Tim Caldwell said Thursday.
——————Paul Gottlieb is editor of the Peninsula Daily News’ Commentary page; 360-417-3536, or you can e-mail him at [email protected]