Top ferry officials come
Probably the most significant thing about a meeting of the Island County Economic Development Council last Wednesday was the astounding number of public officials, candidates for office and business people who attended.
Washington State Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond and her cohort David Moseley, assistant secretary of transportation for Washington State Ferries, spoke about the problems with the Keystone-to-Port Townsend ferry run at the lunchtime meeting in the Coupeville Recreation Hall.
Hammond joked that she was worried the audience would pelt her with tomatoes, but the event remained very civil.
In the end, the duo were able to offer little new information to the community, though Moseley let it slip that the Steilacoom II has been nicknamed “Little Bob,” apparently because the small ferry tends to bounce about in rough seas.
“People just don’t feel comfortable and safe with Little Bob, as it came to be named,” he said.
But Hammond and Moseley successfully conveyed the message that the situation was being handled.
“It is in our self interest to get it here as soon as possible,” Moseley said, referring to the two larger Island Home-style ferries that will go out to bid at the end of July. “We are moving aggressively.”
Moseley said the bids will be opened in mid-September. The winning shipyard has about 18 months to build the first vessel, but the state is offering incentives to get it done sooner. He said he would like to avoid having two more winters with the Steilacoom II, since “it doesn’t do so well” in bad weather.
Moseley said the new reservation system for the route is going well, especially now that the phone system directs folks to cyberspace.
“Yesterday, over 500 people made reservations for the route online,” he said.
A few audience members’ queries were fielded by the twosome during a brief question-and-answer period, but only softballs were thrown before Hammond and Moseley had to leave.
Island Home model smaller
Two days before the meeting, Republican state Reps. Barbara Bailey and Norma Smith issued a press release calling Washington State Ferries “shortsighted” for building the new Island Home ferries smaller than the original design. The original design has a 74-car capacity, but the scaled down boat design would only have a 60-car capacity.
“I have always advocated for building the right boat to ensure we spend taxpayer dollars wisely on a long-term solution for the Keystone-to-Port Townsend route. The decision to build the Island Home ferries is encouraging, however if we scale back the capacity, we will no longer have the right boat to meet our future needs,” Bailey said.
Bailey and Smith were at the meeting Wednesday, but nobody brought up the issue.
In an interview this week, WSF Communications Manager Hadley Greene explained that the plan is to build the two boats without a lift deck, which adds an additional 16 cars to capacity. She said ferry officials are concerned about upkeep of the hydraulic system and that the additional time it takes to raise and lower the deck would mean a change to the sailing schedule. Also, it would be cheaper without the deck and the boat could be built quicker.
“It can always be added in the future if we need extra capacity,” she said. She pointed out that the old Steel Electrics that formerly served the route had a capacity of 59 cars.
Greene said the reservation system went smoothly over the busy Memorial Day weekend.
“We were able to avoid long waits at the terminal,” she said.
The whole argle-bargle over the route out of Central Whidbey began just before last Thanksgiving when the two ancient Steel Electric ferries were taken out of service because of corrosion. State Ferries was eventually able to replace the boats with a single ferry, the rented Steilacoom II. As plans now stand, two ferries modeled after the Island Home design will be built for the run.
The old Steel Electrics had a capacity of 59 cars and 600 passengers. The Steilacoom II has a capacity of 50 cars and 300 passengers. The Island Home can carry 60 to 64 cars and up to 1,200 passengers, according to WSF.