State rejects bid for ferry

Passengers walk aboard the Steilacoom II Thursday, the same day the ferry system rejected a bid from Todd Shipyards to build a new ferry to serve the Port Townsend to Keystone route. - Nathan Whalen/Whidbey News-Times
Passengers walk aboard the Steilacoom II Thursday, the same day the ferry system rejected a bid from Todd Shipyards to build a new ferry to serve the Port Townsend to Keystone route.
— image credit: Nathan Whalen/Whidbey News-Times

Nine million dollars was much too much.

The state ferry system Thursday rejected the sole bid, nearly $9 million over the estimate, for a new vessel to serve the Port Townsend-to-Keystone route.

Seattle-based Todd Shipyards in Seattle bid $26 million to build a new 50-car ferry that would be modeled after the Steilacoom II, a Pierce County-owned vessel that is currently operating on the route. The ferry system’s engineer estimate placed the cost at $16.8 million.

“The tab to taxpayers is too high. We will find solutions to bring down the construction costs,” said David Moseley, Ferries Division assistant secretary.

The ferry system has a deadline to get a new vessel ready for the route. The lease it has with Pierce County for the Steilacoom II runs out in August of 2009. Ferry officials want to move forward with the 50-car ferry because it can be built in 12 months.

Officials are meeting with Todd Shipyards next week to talk about the bid and ways to repackage it in hopes of finding a more suitable proposal. Changes to the project could include providing incentives to shipyards for completing the vessel ahead of schedule without jeopardizing ferry safety and extending construction time if it would result in cost savings, according to information provided by the ferry system.

Officials hope to have the project out to bid by the end of April and hopefully award a new bid by mid-May. They are also talking with other shipyards in the area, including Nichols Brothers of Freeland, to try and increase interest with other potential bidders.

Plans call for building one ferry modeled after the Steilacoom II and two larger vessels modeled after the Island Home, which is operating in Massachusetts. That vessel holds 60 vehicles, 1,200 passengers and is a similar size to the old Steel Electrics, which operated on the route until being pulled from service in late 2007.

The Ferries Division is also looking at other options to find a replacement for the ferry route.

Ferry staff has been trying to find another vessel to bring to the route until a replacement vessel is built, but they haven’t found a suitable one yet.

“This is a pretty unique route,” Moseley said.

The route between Port Townsend and Keystone in Central Whidbey can be treacherous.

With the tides and currents vessels encounter on the challenging route, Moseley added, the ferry system needs a vessel that has a lot of power, ability to stop fast and a low draft.

Some people in the community don’t want a Steilacoom II-style boat built for the Keystone route, saying it is too small and too fragile to handle the route. Critics would like to see the ferry division build three Island Home-type ferries or repair the Steel Electrics enough so they can serve the route for the next couple of years.

Moseley said the Steel Electrics won’t return to the route. He said that option has been examined extensively, but the system isn’t going to move forward with that.

The Steel Electrics, which are 80 years old, were pulled from service the day before Thanksgiving because of pitting and corrosion that had formed on the vessels’ hulls. That left the route without a vehicle ferry until early February, when the Steilacoom II was leased from Pierce County.

Moseley said there have been talks about extending the lease with the county, but no decisions have been made yet.

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