When Rep. Sherry Appleton asked Department of Transportation Chief of Staff Steve Reinmuth why the passenger-only Chinook ferry couldn't be put in service, she was


Lawmakers Surprised By Chinook Ferry Details


When Rep. Sherry Appleton asked Department of Transportation Chief of Staff Steve Reinmuth why the passenger-only Chinook ferry couldn't be put in service, she was told it was in large part due to the fact that the side-loading vessel was incompatible with every dock in the system except for Pier 50 in Seattle. It would cost $4 million to get it back and running, he said, and WSF was going to proceed with the sale of the boat.

Rep. Sharon Nelson received the same message. “We were all told that (it couldn't be used) because it was a side-loader,” she said.

In an email earlier this month, Sen Phil Rockerfeller said: “Although they are sister ships, they differ in one important way - the Snohomish was fitted with a bow load configuration that can fit into any WSF auto terminal slip, the Chinook does not. Therefore the Chinook can't be used on any current route in the system.”

And in February, The Seattle Times reported that ferry spokesperson Marta Coursey said that the Chinook didn't have have adequate landing gear and had limited usefulness for the ferry system.

In fact, it would actually cost about $1 million to get the Chinook back into service, and WSF has in “inventory,” the bow loading kit that would make the Chinook operable on WSF docks, just like its sister ship, The Snohomish, according to the “Ten-Year Passenger Strategy for Washington's Multimodal Ferry Transportation System,” released by WSF in 2005, uncovered today by Seattle Weekly, and confirmed by Coursey and other representatives at WSF.

“What you're telling me just is amazing,” Appleton, a member of the House Transportation Committee said this afternoon. “I am really shocked about the fact that they have a kit to make it a bow-loader. That's not what I was told, and I'm not sure anybody on the Transportation Committee was told that.”

Rep. Sharon Nelson says today was the first she's heard of the bow-loading kit in stock, too.

“That's the kind of information we need to know so we can discuss flexibility in the system,” she said. “I look at it as a serious part of my job to know what is going on in the system.”

Appleton said that had she known about the bow kit earlier, it could have changed the conversation in the committee and among legislators who have discussed the idea of refurbishing the Chinook and keeping it as a backup.

“In the end, we still would have had to build new boats,” she said. “But, we would have maybe looked at how we address all this differently. Maybe we wouldn't have had to trade so many different routes if we had the Chinook available to be a backup. I hate the idea that we don't have any backup boats right now.”

WSF doesn't have enough operating vessels to fill its runs as it is. Steilacoom II, servicing the Port Townsend/Keystone run, is on loan from Pierce County. And as recently as last month, WSF had to go outside its fleet and lease boats for the Bremerton run.

The Snohomish and Chinook were built for passenger-only service between Bremerton and Seattle for about $23 million, but have been out of full-time service since WSF canceled the route in 2003. The legislature instructed WSF to sell both The Snohomish and The Chinook in Senate Bill 6852 in 2007, and deposit the money into an account to be used by King County for passenger-only ferry service. The Chinook has twice been put for sale on eBay for $4.5 million, but has never received a bit. The Snohomish has been retained through the governor's executive authority, and been used as an emergency boat on routes such as Bremerton to Seattle. WSF will re-list the Chinook at a lower minimum bid after they get "an updated vessel Inspection for Valuation Report for the appraised fair market value of the vessel," and will likely re-list at a lower minimum bid. Reinmuth says WSF intends to sell the Snohomish, too, though they do not have a time line.

Through an aide, Sen. Rockerfeller said that he was surprised to hear about the bow kit, and that he didn't know there was such a thing.

Reinmuth said he's sure he's had a conversation with Appleton about the Chinook, but wouldn't confirm nor deny his comments about the boat's loading functionality or the cost of bringing it back into service. It appeared, in fact, that Reinmuth was unaware of the existence of the kit until today. He repeated several times that the Legislature had instructed WSF to get out of the passenger-only ferry business, and that he hadn't been asked to look into different scenarios to keep the Chinook in the fleet.

The 2005 report put the cost at $925,796. Coursey said today that rough estimates put the Chinook back into service for around $1 million, but that it would cost between $3 and $4 million for long-term use. Coursey wasn't sure what the time frame of limited service was.

Appleton said that even thought she voted for the bill, she never wanted to get out of the passenger-only ferry business.

“Does it cost $4 million to (fix) it? I don't think so,” she said. “It would be worth it ... for passengers that have been left out in the cold. I've always felt that we could have used both the Chinook and the Snohomish at Southworth and in Kingston. We could have used both those boats there.”

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