State opts for county's newer ferry

Pierce County’s newer M/V Steilacoom II will be leased to the State of Washington next month to help resolve the crisis that followed discovery of corrosion and serious leaking in the state’s aging Steel Electric class ferries. Representatives of Pierce County Executive John W. Ladenburg and Gov. Chris Gregoire originally agreed on a plan that would allow the 13-year-old M/V Christine Anderson to serve the Port Townsend-Keystone run.
The change to the year-old Steilacoom II was requested by the state, because it would better serve the state’s purposes. Pierce County Public Works and Utilities, which owns the county ferries, agreed to the change.
Gregoire and Department of Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond ordered the 80-year-old Steel Electrics out of service permanently for safety reasons. The state is scrambling to replace the Klickitat, which served the Port Townsend-Keystone run, and sister vessels Illahee, Nisqually and Quinault. The governor announced at a recent news conference that the state intends to have three “Pierce County style” 54-car ferries built and put into service in 2009.
The vessels to be built for the state are based on the Steilacoom II’s design. The state told the county that the Steilacoom II will serve as a prototype of the vessels to be built starting early in 2008. “This will allow them to make design changes to most effectively operate in the conditions that are unique to the Port Townsend-Keystone run,” said Deputy Director Toby Rickman. “That will save the state money over having to retrofit the boat after it is built if they find aspects of the Steilacoom II design that don’t work effectively.”
The 216-foot Steilacoom II went into service in January 2007 between Steilacoom and Anderson and Ketron islands. Like the Christine Anderson, it can carry 54 cars. The newer ferry is three feet longer and two feet wider and has a larger cabin and pilot house and can carry 299 passengers (325 with additional crew) compared to the Christine Anderson’s 250. The service speed for both is 11.4 knots.
Ladenburg said the residents of Anderson and Ketron islands, who depend on the county ferry system to get to the mainland for work, school and other important parts of their lives, deserve assurance that the temporary rental to the state won’t impact the cost, quality or reliability of their service. He previously announced that the state will provide a backup ferry to the county and dock that vessel at Steilacoom. Also, the county will use rental dollars from the state to reduce the ferry fees paid by users during the period the Steilacoom II is in emergency state service.
The county has been in contact with the Anderson Island Citizen’s Advisory Board Ferry Committee regarding the lease and has requested the group’s input, which was received in a letter Thursday, Dec. 20. “The committee wishes to thank you for the opportunity to discuss some conditions which we feel should be included in any agreement the County may have with the State of Washington for the lease of the Christine Anderson or the Steilacoom II ferry boats,” a spokesman said in the letter to Rickman.
The lease rate to be charged by Pierce County has yet to be determined, but it will be based on actual expenditures. Such costs as maintenance and operations, insurance, depreciation and wear and tear will be included. Whatever lease rate is negotiated, the county will receive $122,154 more each year for the Steilacoom II because of the new ferry’s larger depreciation amount.
The state will need to run the county ferry through sea trials and docking maneuvers to verify it is compatible for state deployment. County vessel crewmembers will be available to train state crews and assist in Coast Guard compliance efforts.
The Christine Anderson is out of service for engine repairs and other work. It will return to service the first week in January. Both county ferries were designed by Elliott Bay Design Group and built by Nichols Brothers Boat Building on Whidbey Island.