Questions surround cost, design of new ferries

OLYMPIA – A Whidbey Island lawmaker is raising questions about the design, durability and cost of operating the state’s newest ferries between Coupeville and Port Townsend.

Rep. Norma Smith, R-Clinton, sent a letter this week to leaders of the state’s transportation department and Washington State Ferries asking why the boats list when empty, vibrate during travel and use more fuel than the larger Steel Electric vessels they replaced.

In the letter, she poses nearly two dozen questions about the Salish and Kennewick, the 64-car, 750-passenger boats in use on the route. The inquiry applies as well to the Chetzemoka, the first boat in this class used on the run, she said.

“Since the legislative session ended, I’ve had a number of conversations with a lot of different people about these issues,” she said Friday. “I’ve ridden the (Salish) and I saw firsthand the list. I experienced some of the vibration. When I saw these things first hand, I felt it was critical we had clear and transparent answers.”

Smith’s not alone in worrying the boats are too costly to operate and won’t last without expensive repairs which ferry riders could be forced to pay.

“She has assembled many of the questions some of us legislators have had since the Chetzemoka joined the fleet,” said Rep. Larry Seaquist, D-Gig Harbor, who along with Smith is in a caucus of legislators with ferry service in their district.

“I wonder if we will be able to use these ferries for the next 50 years,” he said. “With the higher-than-expected costs we may need to think about modifying them or getting rid of them because we cannot afford them.”

On Friday, Secretary of Transportation Paula Hammond said she hopes a response can be delivered to Smith next week.

“Many of the questions from Representative Smith are questions we’ve had brought to us before,” she said.

Hammond, in 2007, ordered three ferries in the Steel Electric class, including two on the Port Townsend-Coupeville route, pulled from service when an investigation by The Herald found they were being used to carry passengers despite extensive corrosion and cracking in the 80-year-old hulls.

The route was served by the Steilacoom II, a small ferry on loan from Pierce County, from early 2008 until November 2010, when the $80.1 million Chetzemoka began service.

The Salish and Kennewick were built for roughly $68 million each.

Hammond confirmed the new boats use more fuel than the Steel Electrics because they are bigger and more powerful. State ferry staff is working on quantifying the differences, she said.

And the hull does list – by design — when the vessels are empty of cars and passengers, she said.

The boat’s basic design is from a class known as the Nantucket, in use on the East Coast. It had to be modified to make room for an elevator for the disabled and a septic system, she said. It sits flat when full of cars and the hull lists slightly when empty because of the distribution of the weight of the septic system, fuel tank, elevator and engines.

Smith said this has forced the state to load cars one lane at a time rather than two as had been the historic practice.

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

Talk to us

More in Local News

The City of Arlington filed a lawsuit seeking the closure of the Smokey Point Motor Inn because of excessive criminal activity on the property. Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2021 in Arlington, Washington.  (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Arlington motel to stay open despite crime concerns

Police responded to the Smokey Point Motor Inn over 300 times in 2020. In the first six months of this year, that was down to 62.

Eric Wilkinson, a Community Transit driver of 17 years, departs from Seaway Transit Center in an empty 280 bus Friday, Nov. 25, 2022, in Everett, Washington. Wilkinson said he usually has about 5 passengers from Boeing on the bus to Granite Falls, but had none Friday because Boeing was closed for the holiday weekend. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Driver shortage prompts Community Transit’s trip cut proposal

Reducing service, by 78 trips total on 9 routes, could make for more reliable arrivals and departures in March.

Inches of snow cover roads Saturday afternoon in downtown Edmonds, Washington on February 13, 2021.  (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Snow likely for much of Snohomish County this week

The National Weather Service forecast model shows probability over 60% for between 1 and 4 inches by Wednesday.

(Dutton)
Pulitzer winner’s new book digs into Snohomish County cold case killings

The Everett library will host a talk with Edward Humes on “The Forever Witness,” about a double murder and pioneering DNA evidence.

Detonators seized from Jeffrey Carlton's vehicle in Everett in May. (U.S. Attorney's Office)
Man caught with illegal explosives in Everett sentenced to time served

Jeffrey Carlton has had a lifelong interest in explosives. He pleaded guilty to unlawfully owning them.

Lynnwood
Man taken into custody after threats, standoff at Lynnwood business

After four hours, a SWAT team detained the man, who claimed to have a gun and barricaded himself in the 17700 block of Highway 99.

The Smith Ave homelessness camp Thursday afternoon in Everett on March 11, 2021. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Audit: Snohomish County lacks data-driven approach to homeless services

The Washington State Auditor’s Office this month published a 73-page report looking into four local governments across the state.

A sign posted on the door of Bits’n Pieces in Arlington. (Jacqueline Allison / The Herald)
‘3 Students’ max: Arlington businesses bemoan early release, rowdy teens

Since middle-school students started getting released at 1:15 p.m. Fridays, downtown businesses saw a rise in disruptive behavior.

Sunlight illuminates a framed photograph of Mila and Wilfrido Sarmiento while their daughter Rowella Sarmiento cries reading her statement to the court during Caleb Wride’s sentencing on Monday, Nov. 28, 2022 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
At sentencing, family mourns parents killed in fatal DUI crash

Caleb Wride, 23, of Everett, was sentenced Monday for the head-on crash that killed Mila and Wilfrido Sarmiento.

Most Read