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Historic Steel Electric ferries to be scrapped in Mexico

Four historic ferries that served Port Townsend and Keystone as well as other ferry routes in the Puget Sound region for decades will soon be scrapped.

The Washington State Department of Transportation Ferries Division has sold the four Steel Electric ferries to Eco Planet Recycling of Chula Vista, Calif., for a total of $200,000.

"The Steel Electric class vessels served as unforgettable icons of life in the Pacific Northwest," David Moseley, assistant secretary for Washington State Ferries, said in a news release. "We now must continue to focus our attention on getting new vessels built and into service, starting with the 64-auto ferry under construction."

The Steel Electrics, the Quinault, Illahee, Nisqually and Klickitat, were built in the 1930s and pulled from service in November 2007 due to safety concerns. The removal of those vessels caused chaos in the Port Townsend to Keystone route. For a time passenger-only vessels took over, then the small Steilacoom II was leased from Pierce County until a new boat can be built in 2010.

Two other companies vied to purchase the Steel Electrics, however, neither company came up with a viable proposal, Marta Coursey, Communications Director for Washington State Ferries, said Monday.

The ferry system received its first offer for the vessels in September when a Seattle company agreed to purchase ferries for $500,000 plus 10 percent of the recycling revenue. However, that deal fell through when prices for scrap metal plummeted.

In early 2009, Tacoma-based Managing Green offered to purchase the vessels for $650,000 with the hopes of finding an alternative use for the four ferries. Ultimately, the company was unable to secure suitable moorage space.

The Washington State Department of General Administration approved the sale June 17 and the payment receipt was confirmed June 19.

With the sale a done deal, Coursey said the vessels will be towed from the ferry system's Eagle Harbor facility to Ensenada, Mexico sometime in mid to late July. A date hasn't been announced.

"We have to move the vessels while the weather is good," Coursey said.

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