Ferry bid boosts Nichols

The ferry bids came in high, but if approved they’ll boost Nichols Brothers Boat Builders in Freeland.

The cost to build new ferries for the Keystone to Port Townsend ferry route is approximately $40 million more than what the Legislature provided.

Todd Pacific Shipyards of Seattle submitted the sole bid for the ferry project. Nichols Brothers is a subcontractor.

The bid was opened Thursday. The bid price for construction of two of the “Island Home” ferries came in at $124,450,559, while the Legislature had originally provided $84.5 million in funding for the new ferries.

“While I appreciate Todd Shipyards’ responsiveness, I am disappointed that there is only one bid,” said David Moseley, assistant secretary, WSDOT Ferries Division in a news release. “We will identify all viable options before making a decision.”

The Island Home ferries are planned to hold 64 cars and would provide a permanent replacement to the Steel Electric vessels, which were pulled from service one year ago because of safety concerns surrounding the antiquated vessels’ hulls.

Since the Steel Electrics were pulled, the lengthy Keystone to Port Townsend ferry route across Admiralty Inlet has been served primarily by the Steilacoom II, a small ferry borrowed from Pierce County.

Thursday, several of its runs were canceled due to high winds. In January the Steilacoom II will be pulled from service for maintenance, leaving only a passenger-only vessel for ferry users on the route.

The high bid was a blow to some elected officials.

“It’s very disappointing to see the bid come in so high,” said state Rep. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor.

She said the high bid raises a lot of questions about the cost of the new ferries but she underscored the urgency needed to get a permanent vessel on the Keystone route.

“We have to build a boat and we have to do it sooner than later,” Bailey said.

She questioned why a bid from a local shipyard could be so much higher than the ferry system’s estimate.

Todd Shipyards also said it could build a single “Island Home” vessel for $65,487,328. The Department of Transportation engineer’s estimate put the cost of building two vessels at $96 million and the cost for one vessel at $49.4 million.

Matt Nichols, managing director of Nichols Brothers, had an explanation for the high cost. His company is partnering with Todd Construction to build the Island Home Ferries. The superstructure will be built at Nichols Brothers and Todd Shipyards will build the

remainder of the vessel.

“We’ve worked together before and we thought we’d put our heads together on this,” Nichols said.

He said one of the big reasons costs were high was the amount of overtime written into the contract.

The first Island Home ferry is scheduled to be complete in the spring of 2010. Since it would take four to six months to design a working drawing of the vessel, it will leave 12 months to build the vessel.

Nichols said the short building period pushes the companies involved into paying overtime. He said other factors, such as the increasing cost of building materials, contributed to the high bid.

Washington State Ferries has 10 days to decide whether to accept or reject the bid or whether to move forward with building one or two vessels.

The Legislature provided funding for construction of one to three ferries.

“We need two boats on the run,” Bailey said. She said the Legislature may have to provide more money or look into other options. She said the ferry system should have some savings coming from having such limited service from the Central Whidbey ferry route. She suggested officials should look at previous apportionments that have been made, such as the one in 2003, to replace the antiquated Steel Electrics.

Ferry officials held a formal bid opening at 11 a.m. at the Ferries Division headquarters in Seattle and Todd Shipyards was the only company to bid on the project.

Hadley Greene, spokesperson for Washington State Ferries, said officials will evaluate the bid in the next couple of days before making a decision.

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