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Leaders happy with ferry decision

Despite the sole bid being millions of dollars over the estimate, Washington State Ferries is moving forward with constructing a vessel for the Port Townsend-to-Keystone route.

The ferry system announced Monday that it will award a $65.5 million contract with Todd Shipyards of Seattle to build one 64-car, 750-passenger Island Home ferry. The new ferry is scheduled to be complete sometime in the late spring or early summer of 2010.

State Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen revealed the decision last week, but Monday’s announcement made it official.

News of a new and permanent vehicle ferry was well received by officials on both sides of Admiralty Inlet.

“I’m glad they’re contracting for one boat. That’s a step in the right direction,” Coupeville Mayor Nancy Conard said Tuesday.

The Island Home ferry will provide a permanent car ferry for a route that has lacked such service since November, 2007. That’s when the four old Steel Electric ferries were retired due to safety concerns surrounding their hulls.

“We are encouraged that a new, permanent ferry is on the way to serve the critical route connecting State Highway 20 between Keystone and Port Townsend,” Port Townsend Mayor Michelle Sandoval said in a written statement. “This is a crucial business and tourism link that benefits the state and local economy.”

The bid for a single Island Home ferry came in $16.1 million more than the ferry system’s estimate. A similar problem happened last spring when Todd Shipyards was the only company to bid on a project to build 50-car ferries for the sometimes-turbulent route. That bid came in $9 million over budget and the proposal was scuttled.

David Moseley, assistant secretary for the Washington State Department of Transportation’s Ferries Division, said the bids came in so high because there wasn’t much competition.

“The primary reason is that we have only one bidder and I’m thankful Todd bid on the project,” Moseley said.

Construction of the Island Home will come at a time when the legislature has to figure out how to replace several vessels in the fleet. There is a lot of information legislators will have to sift through before making a decision, including financing and long range planning studies.

To add to the confusion, a consultant recently suggested more Island Home ferries should be built rather than larger boats. It would be cheaper to do so out-of-state. Present plans call for a couple of 144-car ferries.

Mayor Conard favored seeing more of the 64-car ferries because it would benefit the Keystone route.

“The more Island Homes we have, the more stability we have for that route,” Conard said. In the past, two Steel Electrics served the route in the summer.

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