Ferry building plan comes under fire

Tenth District Republican Senate Candidate Linda Haddon is trying to sink state plans to build a clone of the Steilacoom II ferry in favor of building a larger boat.

Haddon, from Oak Harbor, is running against Camano Island Democrat Mary Margaret Haugen, who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee.

“Look how many of these runs are canceled — it’s crazy,” Haddon told the News-Times Monday after issuing a news release calling for the ferry system to “abandon plans” for a copy of the Steilacoom II, which was brought in to serve the Keystone to Port Townsend route on a temporary basis.

The Steilacoom II, described by Haddon as a “toy boat,” is a small ferry, holding only about 50 cars, and it’s had numerous cancellations this winter and spring due to high winds and tidal conditions. Ferry officials, however, say the boat they leased from Pierce County has been performing well.

The state has $85 million set aside with which it hopes to build three ferries, one modeled after the Steilacoom II and two others after the larger “Island Home” class. Bids are being requested this week for the Steilacoom II copy, after the initial bidding process produced only one bid that was deemed too high: $29 million for a boat estimated to cost $20 million.

“The Steilacoom II was never designed for an open crossing like Keystone to Port Townsend,” Haddon said in her news release. “The people up here consider it a toy boat. It’s too small and fragile to serve our communities.”

Haddon, who works in the funeral business, said the available money should be enough to buy three of the larger boats. One way to cut costs is to open up the bidding process to builders outside Washington state, she said. “I’d take bids from all over, we need the boats, it’s a crisis,” she said.

Haddon isn’t alone in her opinion of the Steilacoom II. The Coupeville Chamber of Commerce has asked for a larger boat, and the Ferry Advisory Committee for the route, chaired by Julia Hodson, agrees. Hodson said Tuesday that all the various committee heads will meet Thursday in Seattle and the issue may come up. The Vashon Island committee sent out a news release Tuesday saying that the community doesn’t want to end up with a Steilacoom II-type boat.

Haugen herself is not enamored with the idea of building a Steilacoom II clone, but she said it may be necessary. The original is slated to be returned to Pierce County next fall, after which there will be service gap of at least six months until the new boat can be built and brought to the route. “It fits into the fleet and right now we don’t have any backup boats,” she told the News-Times Tuesday.

However, Haugen said ferry officials are “shopping the world” for other ferries to possibly lease. If something suitable is found, then she would be willing to consider not building another Steilacoom II class vessel.

As for building the new boats in Washington, Haugen said she still favors that requirement. She said the ferry system hopes to get more than one bid this time around, and that the boats should be close to the builder for future maintenance needs. Plus, it creates jobs locally.

Critics also talk about bringing back one of the old Steel Electric boats pulled from service last November, but Haugen said it just wouldn’t be cost effective to put one of them on a new hull, for example. “I don’t think the Coast Guard would ever let them back on the water,’ she said.

Meanwhile, Haddon will keep pushing for her three bigger-boats solution. “This would be cost effective and provide us with boats that can handle both military personnel, civilians and tourists,” she said.

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