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50-car Steilacoom II cost ferries millions of dollars

The 50-car Steilacoom II departs from Keystone Harbor. Washington State Ferris spent millions of dollars leasing and maintaining the Pierce County-owned vessel.  - file photo
The 50-car Steilacoom II departs from Keystone Harbor. Washington State Ferris spent millions of dollars leasing and maintaining the Pierce County-owned vessel.
— image credit: file photo

After abruptly pulling the antiquated Steel Electric ferries from service nearly three years ago, Washington State Ferries has spent millions of dollars to keep a vehicle ferry running out of Keystone Harbor on Central Whidbey, with more money due to be spent.

State Ferries had to lease the Steilacoom II from Pierce County to provide car ferry service between Whidbey Island and Port Townsend. It is the only ferry officials found capable of navigating the difficult entry into Keystone Harbor.

The ferry system has paid nearly $2 million to lease the 50-car ferry from Pierce County for nearly three years. It originally leased the Steilacoom II for $850,000 from January 2008 to August 2009. When it became apparent a new replacement ferry wouldn’t be finished before the lease expired, the lease was extended at a cost of $68,000 a month. From August 2009 to November 2009, the ferry system paid more than $1 million to Pierce County for the Steilacoom II.

In addition, the ferry system also had to foot the bill when the little 50-car ferry had to go into drydock in January 2009. That work cost the ferry system an additional $626,000, according to Marta Coursey, communications director for Washington State Ferries.

The Steilacoom II will return to drydock once the Chetzemoka starts service on the Port Townsend-to-Coupeville route. It is scheduled to be in drydock from Nov. 15 through Nov. 21 for any needed repairs before it is returned to Pierce County.

Coursey didn’t have an exact dollar amount on the cost of the work, but stated the contract will be less than $2 million.

The Chetzemoka will start service Monday, Nov. 15, the day after its inaugural sailing ceremony. It will mean residents on both sides of Admiralty Inlet will enjoy a larger ferry providing more reliable service.

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