And then there were three: Kennewick joins Chetzemoka and Salish in the ferry system

State Rep. Barbara Bailey addresses a happy crowd on hand to see the Kennewick, the newest vessel for Washington State Ferries.  - Nathan Whalen/Whidbey News-Times
State Rep. Barbara Bailey addresses a happy crowd on hand to see the Kennewick, the newest vessel for Washington State Ferries.
— image credit: Nathan Whalen/Whidbey News-Times

A dozen people drove hundreds of miles for six hours to attend a celebration of the state’s newest ferry that is named after their hometown of Kennewick.

The Kennewickians were among the numerous community leaders, tribal members, legislators and ferry officials who celebrated the completion of the Kennewick, the latest Kwa-di Tabil class ferry that is also the namesake of the southeastern Washington city.

The Kennewick joins its sister ships, the Chetzemoka and the Salish, on Puget Sound waters. Most importantly to Whidbey Island and Port Townsend residents, it means there are three ferries capable of navigating the difficult passage into Keystone Harbor.

“And then there were three,” Assistant Secretary for the Washington State Department of Transportation’s Ferries Division David Moseley said in front of a grateful crowd that gathered Friday morning on the vehicle deck of the new 64-car ferry docked at the Port Townsend ferry terminal.

Officials are quick to point out the three ferries were completed ahead of schedule and millions of dollars below budget. It cost Washington State Ferries $213.2 million, which was $6.7 million under budget.

Having a third ferry capable of operating on the Port Townsend-to-Coupeville ferry route provides more confidence for riders who have endured nearly four years of patchy ferry service on the route across Admiralty Inlet.

“I’m thrilled we have three boats. It means we have redundancy,” Coupeville Mayor Nancy Conard said after the celebration.

The contingent from southeastern Washington included Steve Young, Kennewick mayor; Marie Mosley, city manager (no relation to David Moseley); Kenneth Hohenberg, chief of police; and Brad Klippert, state representative.

“One of the best parts of the vessel is the linkage we have with one of the greatest cities in the state, and that’s Port Townsend,” Young said.

He touched upon the Tri Cities’ flourishing agriculture industry and the town’s location on the Columbia River, which makes it a vital  transportation artery for the state.

State Rep. Judy Clibborn, chair of the House Transportation Committee, expressed the symbolic  importance of naming the vessel after a city hundreds of miles away from Puget Sound.

“Ferries are not just about ferry districts, ferries are about the whole state and that’s why we name it after a city in Eastern Washington,” Clibborn said.

She passed on State Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen’s, D-Camano Island, regrets for not being able to attend the celebration. Haugen, chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, has been a leading  proponent of the new ferries.

The three Kwa-di Tabil class ferries replace the 80-year-old Steel Electric ferries after they were removed from service due to safety concerns in 2007. The shallow harbor and the high speed currents and tidal conditions limit the types of ferries that can navigate through the harbor. The three new 64-car ferries are the only vessels in the fleet capable of operating on the route. Keystone Harbor is presently being dredged to make it more hospitable to the new ferries.

State Rep. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor, remarked about the persistence required to see such a large project through to completion.

“With tears of joy we finally have a restoration of our ferry system,” Bailey said. “Without this, we don’t have the ability to stay vibrant in the area.”

The three ferries were constructed by Seattle’s Vigor Industrial, which is the former Todd Pacific Shipyards. Freeland’s Nichols Brothers Boat Builders benefited from the new ferries. The local shipyard built the superstructures for all three vessels.

Even though the Kennewick is complete, it will still be several weeks before it begins sailing. The crew is still familiarizing itself with the new vessel. Once that process is complete, it will start service on the route across Admiralty Inlet.

With three new ferries in now the water, work is under way to build a larger, 144-car ferry. Construction of the ferry is expected to begin next month and take two years to complete. Again, Nichols Brothers will receive part of the action.


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