Four old ferries sold for scrap

SEATTLE — After a year of trying, Washington State Ferries finally has sold its four beloved Steel Electrics.

Eco Planet Recycling, Inc. of Chula Vista, Calif., paid $200,000 for the Steel Electric-class vessels in a deal completed last week.

The firm plans to tow them to a shipyard in Mexico next month to be dismantled and sold as scrap.

“The Steel Electric class vessels served as unforgettable icons of life in the Pacific Northwest,” said David Moseley, assistant state transportation secretary in charge of the ferry system.

Departure of these boats — the Klickitat, Quinault, Illahee and Nisqually — will close a memorable chapter of marine history that began with their launch in California in the 1920s.

Brought to Washington in the 1930s, these workhorses carried cars, people and freight across the Puget Sound until November 2007 when they were pulled from service and retired because of concerns about the integrity of their aging hulls.

State Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, cheered news of the sale because it’s not been cheap holding onto them. Ferry officials say more than $100,000 has been spent preparing them for sale.

“It’s good to get rid of them because it costs money to moor the boats,” said Haugen, leader of the Senate Transportation Committee that oversees the ferry system budget. “We’ll close the door on one era, and we’ll start another era with their replacements.”

The state is now building a 64-vehicle Island Home-class ferry for travel between Keystone on Whidbey Island and Port Townsend, the route that’s suffered the most since the sidelining of the Steel Electrics. The replacement vessel is to be deployed next summer.

Eco Planet Recycling paid for the quartet of boats Friday, two days after the Department of General Administration approved terms of the deal.

Marta Coursey, state ferries spokeswoman, said two boats are expected to be towed from Bainbridge Island, where they are moored, in mid- to late-July. The other pair, also docked at Bainbridge Island, will be moved about a month later.

They will be taken to Gran Peninsula shipyard in Ensenada, Mexico, which is operated by Industria Naval Del Pacifico, a sister corporation to Eco Planet Recycling, Coursey said.

When the ferries leave, there won’t be much left on them. Radars, radios, life jackets, firefighting equipment, P.A. systems and tools are among items stripped from the 1927-vintage vessels for use on other vessels.

There are specific diesel engine parts going to another boat in the fleet — the Rhododendron — while numerous paintings and historical photos are removed, that will be archived and relocated to terminal and state offices.

The deal closed a year after state officials first put the boats up for sale.

Throughout June 2008, they solicited bids from nonprofit organizations and other government agencies. There was interest and interesting ideas but no one offered money.

For example, the city of Port Townsend desired one boat to convert into retail space while the Washington Scuba Alliance wanted to sink one and make it an underwater attraction for divers.

Having come up empty, the ferry system turned to eBay and set a minimum bid for each vessel at $350,000 — though maritime experts at the time estimated each boat could fetch up to $475,000 as scrap.

When no bids came, officials started contacting interested parties. For months they worked on a deal to sell all four to Environmental Recycling Systems of Seattle for $500,000. That failed.

Negotiations with Eco Planet Recycling were concluded in the last couple months, officials said.

Haugen said she’s ready to send the boats away.

“It’s time to move on. These boats served us well and really served the people of two states well,” she said.

Reporter Scott North contributed to this story.

Reporter Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623 jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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