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Marine Log

November 27, 2007

Washington State ponders Steel Electric options

With Washington State Ferries' venerable Steel Electric class vessels pulled from service because of mounting safety concerns, passengers on the Port Townsend/Keystone service have been restricted to a passenger-only service. The 80 year old Steel Electrics are the only car-capable ferries in the WSF fleet capable of serving the narrow, shallow harbor at Keystone, on Whidbey Island.

The passenger-only ferry that WSF has been using as a replacement is the aluminum hulled M.V Snohomish. WSF had been planning to auction off the vessel on e-bay, put cancelled that plan when it had to be hastily put into service on the Port Townsend/Keystone run.

Monday afternoon, representatives of the state Department of Transportation, the Coast Guard, several lawmakers, shipbuilders and Washington State Ferries met to discuss the options for restoring service to the Keystone route.

One proposal that was aired has been dubbed the Frankenferry option by detractors. It would see the "new" twenty-plus year old superstructures of the Steel Electrics put atop new hulls.

Another, is an offer by Matt Nichols of Nichols Brothers Boatbuilders is an offer to build repeats of a 54-car, 325-passenger double ender, M/V Steilacoom II that his yard built for Pierce County. Nichols said these could be built for about $20 million a copy. Just one little drawback with this. Nichols yard is closed and has filed for Chapter 11 protection from bankruptcy. However, the Seattle Post Intelligencer reports that Nichols told the meeting he expects the company to be back in business, with workers back on the job, by next week if a bankruptcy court approves a buyout of the company by a partner.

Also floated at the meeting was a suggestion that WSF ask for a Jones Act waiver to enable it to make an arrangement to use a BC Ferries vessels.

Monday's meeting ended about 5.30 p.m, when word came that the Snohomish had demonstrated one of the reasons WSF had planned to sell it off. It couldn't operate during rush hour because of high winds.