South Whidbey fire boat nears completion

Jake Leonard and Tim Leonard work on the 32-foot catamaran, set to be delivered to South Whidbey Fire/EMS this month as its new, nearly $500,000 fire suppression and marine response vessel.   - Ben Watanabe/ The Record
Jake Leonard and Tim Leonard work on the 32-foot catamaran, set to be delivered to South Whidbey Fire/EMS this month as its new, nearly $500,000 fire suppression and marine response vessel.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe/ The Record

A nearly $500,000 catamaran built for South Whidbey Fire/EMS is late for delivery, and daily penalties for the Freeland-based manufacturer may be adding up.

The 32-foot emergency response vessel, built by North Cross Aluminum, was recently put into the water in Oak Harbor and piloted to Langley where it will be permanently moored. The boat is not finished, however, and each day past the Jan. 1 delivery deadline could cost the builder $400 in late fees.

“They’re working fast and furious to get it done,” said Chief Rusty Palmer at a fire commissioners meeting.

A clause in the contract outlines the $400 per calendar day penalty, but enforcing the fines is at the discretion of the district’s fire commissioners.

“That will be entirely up to the board to enforce,” Palmer said. “If they feel the vendor has tried as hard as he can, they can forgo it.”

In a later interview, Palmer said North Cross may not be entirely at fault, as the builder has been bogged down with warranty issues of equipment supplied by other companies. The main issue is that the Yanmar engine is not putting out its full 3,5000 RPM when it’s in gear, and North Cross owner Tim Leonard said representatives from the engine company and Hamilton Jet have run diagnostics over the past week trying to identify the problem.

“I’m basically held at it and ended up putting time backwards on it,” said Tim Leonard, owner of North Cross.

Several other factors have also slowed progress for the first-time boat building company, which was founded by Leonard a couple of years ago. Although specializing in stair and railing construction, Leonard successfully pitched his company as the right builder for the job to fire commissioners in early 2013. Leonard touted personal experience in boat building along with that of his crew, many of whom previously worked at Nichols Brothers Boat Builders. Leonard’s company was the only one to submit a bid for the boat, despite South Whidbey Fire/EMS sending specifications of the vessel to several builders. With a deadline for grant funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency looming, the commissioners awarded the contract to North Cross.

In summer, the North Cross project lead was severely injured in a collision on Highway 525, after which he was airlifted to Harborview Medical Center, and was unable to keep working.

Another possible headache for the new boat builder is the welding of a name plate onto the port and starboard stern that included the company’s name, logo and a phone number for North Cross Aluminum LLC. Federal law may restrict what can be put on the vessel, just as it has a rule to include one-inch words stating the boat was federally funded, Palmer said.

“I’ll have to look and see if they allow the vendor to put that information on there or not,” he said.

As of Jan. 16, the fire district did not have an estimated date of delivery for the boat. South Whidbey Fire/EMS must have the vessel by Jan. 31, however, to claim federal grant funding, which covered about 75 percent of the new boat’s total price tag.

Leonard was well aware of the contract’s late penalties, but said he hoped the fire commissioners would take into account the change orders they made and the recent issues with the engine.


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