OLYMPIA – Two of Washington’s largest shipbuilders are expected to announce today whether they intend to try to collaborate on building four new ferries for the state.
Representatives of Todd Pacific Shipyards Corp. of Seattle and J.M. Martinac Shipbuilding Corp. of Tacoma spent the past month negotiating the framework of a joint venture for sharing contracts worth $342 million.
If the firms don’t unite they’ll likely compete against each other to win the state contract outright.
Wednesday marked a state-imposed deadline for the companies to tell the state the results of the negotiation.
Steve Welch, chairman and chief executive officer of Todd, gave no hints Wednesday of the results.
“We’ll make an announcement tomorrow,” he said Wednesday.
The average age of the ferries in the state’s fleet is 41 years. The last new ferry was launched in 1999.
Efforts to construct four new ferries began in 2001 in the hope of putting the first of them into use by 2009.
Initially, leaders of the ferry system said the primary goal was to retire the fleet’s 80-year-old Steel Electric class vessels – the oldest ferries operating in salt water in the United States.
One of those is the 1927-vintage Klickitat, which operates between Keystone on Whidbey Island and Port Townsend on the Olympic Peninsula. Recently the ferry system changed course and announced that none of the new ferries would replace the old Steel Electrics.
Conflicts between the state and builders on boat design and the bid process have stalled the construction efforts.
The state awarded a ferry building contract to Todd in 2005. Martinac protested and won a ruling in 2006 that made the state restart its bid process.
Martinac has sued the state, contending ferry officials and legislators have acted to prevent the firm from winning any part of the contract.
Last month, Gov. Chris Gregoire signed a law intended to get things moving again by giving the companies 30 days to see if they can find common ground.
If Todd and Martinac want to collaborate, they must tell the Department of Transportation in writing of their intent to submit a single proposal for building the 144-car ferries.
A third shipbuilder, Nichols Bros. of Freeland on Whidbey Island, also could be involved. They had previously competed for ferry construction work.
If no agreement is reached, the state Department of Transportation can re-issue a request for proposals for the contract.