Sound Off: Haugen shares ferry blame

By Ed Drum

Is Sen. Haugen rescuing the ferry system or her image?

I spoke with Sen. Haugen on Nov. 29, the day of special session in which I-747 was partially adopted in appearance, but not in substance.

I asked Haugen, “Was your radar off as chairperson of the Transportation Committee on the ferry system closures? Four boats are hard down!”

I received a finger waving in my face: This is an engineering problem.

I’m not an engineer and the USCG is to blame for the inspections! Besides we’re being sued by a builder of ferries for not including them in the bidding.

So, I asked senator, why are you waving your finger in my face? I’m a constituent from Whidbey Island.

Oh, it’s just my motherly instincts coming out, she replied.

I’ve done some research and what a fascinating story is unfolding! The state may owe $2.7 million on scrapped ferries. It appears the state has sold tax deductions to Midwest companies in exchange for $9.7 million up front. This allows companies to claim depreciations of the ferry values, betting the ferries will not fail prior to 2014. Yes, it was approved by the state Legislature under the Federal recovery act of 1981. This is like buying carbon credits from Al Gore so you can lead a CO2 excessive life.

It appears state officials have known since 1956 that the Steel Electric ferries were unsafe and didn’t meet federal safety standards, but allowed them to grandfather through, maybe under legislative pressure. Still, these boats were pressed into 80 years of service on a bet they would not fail in order to gain millions of up front money. This is betting on the come and I thought betting was illegal in Washington except for Indian casinos.

The U.S. Coast Guard in June threatened to shut down these Steel Electrics ferries. In 2003, the Legislature appropriated $285 million to build four ferries. The money has been there for over four years. So, where was the senator as she wags her finger finding blame while claiming outrage?

There have been several letters to the editor in criticism of Senator Haugen’s lack of responsibility as chairperson of the Senate Transportation Committee plus an editorial cartoon. As of today, Dec. 15, we have Haugen’s “Sound Off” which suggests she is now on a rescue mission. Ferry help is on the way!

Let us follow the blame game and see how the senator points the finger at all but herself.

The Herald reports on Dec. 12 that Sen. Haugen is outraged that the state is facing this problem and that some ferry officials need to lose their jobs. She states that newly appointed Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond did the right thing in closing down the unsafe ferries and she needs to clean house and fire the state officials responsible for allowing the state to rely on old ferries with worn out hulls. So it seems that state ferry officials, USCG inspectors, engineers and state officials are to blame for allowing 80 year old ferries to ply the waters of Puget Sound with vulnerable passengers riding on corroded hulls that find 5 gallon per minute leaks from 20 inch cracks in the Illahee. The Quinalt’s hull is 45 percent gone. Imagine how quickly a vessel might sink if almost half its hull failed? And we should blame everyone on the list except Sen. Haugen who chairs the Transportation Committee.

As chairperson, she did not plan for their future nor anticipate a need to replace an 80 year old fleet known to be unsafe. Yet we have $285 million over four years waiting to be used for building the needed ferries. To me such leadership spells incompetence. We all should ask for accountability, not blame. There is a need for change as she lacks accountability and integrity! It appears to me they were betting on tax credits for longevity of 80-year-old hull failures and you were just the expendable voyager.

Ed Drum

lives in Oak Harbor.

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