Plan B: Refit The Guemes Ferry

Many of you know that I have not supported the Guemes ferry replacement plan primarily because I don’t believe the County's conclusion that the “Guemes" is at the end of its useful life and needs to replaced as soon as possible. The County’s conclusion is the result of an analysis by the Elliott Bay Design Group (EBDG) concluded in 2014. First of all, EBDG is not in the business of diagnosing the state of the ferry since they are not marine surveyors but are in the business of designing new vessels. The conclusions of EBDG were reached by data provided to them by Public Works which included United States Coast Guard information from annual haul-outs and discussion with Public Works personnel. Their conclusion on page 13, 3.1 Structure, it is stated that “The overall structural integrity of the hull is considered good.” Later, in the same paragraph, it is stated that “Wastage in the shell plating was generally less than 4%”.

In the 2014 report it does mention that a plate in the original construction was 1/16” less in thickness than the rest of the hull and needed replacement. Also is mentioned in the report is the need to replace the deteriorated engine mounts. Both of these items have been replaced in recent haul-outs. The EBDG conclusion that our 39 year old ferry needs to be replaced as soon as possible contradicts the fact that Washington State Ferries are not retired until they have reached 60 years of age. It also ignores the fact that the Whatcom County ferry, the Whatcom Chief, is 16 years older than the Guemes was given at least 20 more years of life in a 2014 in a marine survey by Paul Zankich, P.E.,Columbia-Sentinel Engineers, Inc. of Seattle, WA. I believe that the “Guemes” has, at least, 20 more years of life and probably more.

Skagit County officials never questioned the validity of the EBDG report but rather used it to proceed with starting the Guemes Ferry Replacement Project resulting in the all electric 32 car ferry that is being designed by Glosten of Seattle. It is also interesting to note that Glosten was chosen from a list of five vessel designers that included EBDG. Could it be that EBDG offered a conclusion that could have been self serving? Why was Glosten chosen over EBDG?

One of the main reasons for designing an all electric experimental vessel was stated, in 2016, by Commissioner Ken Dahlstedt at a meeting on Guemes Island that there was no Federal money for new diesel ferry construction but that there would be money available for an electric ferry. After more than a year, at another meeting on Guemes, it was announced that the County had not found any money to help construct an electric ferry and ferry manager, Rachel Rowe, announced that the County had turned to their “last resort”, the County Road Administration Board (C.R.A.B.) to help fund the proposed all electric ferry.

On April 19, 2018, C.R.A.B. accepted the County’s application for a $7,500,000 grant and forwarded it to the 2019 State Legislature for funding. Although the County would like everyone to think that the money is forthcoming, there is no guarantee that their request will be funded. In fact, last year there was no funding of capital expenditures from the fuel tax fund. Why does the County insist that this potential funding, which actually is only paid out at $500,000 per year, will prompt others to help fund the electric ferry construction? Shouldn’t the County wait until they actually get the money before asking other government entities for help? I think this is a rather misleading approach to take and will further erode the County’s credibility.

I have proposed that re-powering the Guemes by taking advantage of the Volkswagen settlement is a more sensible approach and could save taxpayers more than 20 million dollars. I have put an estimate by Paul Zankich, P.E. in front of the Commissioners that proposes two new Caterpillar tier 3 engines and new azimuthing Schottel outdrives, including haul-out, engineering and construction costs for $1,125,000 as an example.

Recently, I called the Washington State Dept. of Ecology and spoke to Brett Rude to inquire more about the VW fund and found out that none of the VW money will be spent on new construction of ferries despite statements by the County that they might be able to get two million dollars for new construction of the ferry. The fact is that 45 million dollars of the 112 million dollars from the VW settlement will be spent in the marine industry for replacing older diesel engines. I am quoting here from the Dept of Ecology website: "For Government Owned Eligible Ferries an/or Tugs, Beneficiaries may draw funds from the Trust in the amount of: 1. Up to 100% of the cost of a Repower with a new diesel or Alternate Fueled (e.g. CNG, propane, Hybrid) engine(s), including the costs of installation of such engine(s). 2. Up to 100% of the cost of a Repower with a new All-Electric engine(s) including the costs of installation of such engine(s), and charging infrastructure associated with the new All-Electric engine(s).”

At this point in time, I think that Guemes Islanders should unite in an effort to convince the County that they should appropriate some funds to look into re-powering the “Guemes” as a sensible alternative to the $26,000,000, thirty-two car, all-electric, experimental ferry.

To this end, I am proposing that we form a unified group to try to persuade the Commissioners to explore alternatives for the re-powering the “Guemes". If you want to join me in this effort, I would appreciate your support. Please email me if you are interested in attending an organizational meeting in the near future. I also will keep you posted with any new information I receive by posting it on LineTime, and, likewise, please let me know your thoughts on this matter. Of course, letters to the Commissioners are always important to express your thoughts. Thank you.

Glen Veal

If you agree that the Comissioners should explore this option, send them a message:

Refit The Guemes Ferry

Department of Ecology Volkswagen Settlement Allocation  [PDF]