Todd sale won’t hurt Freeland boatyard

Rudy Benavidez welds a section inside the superstructure for the newest state ferry being built by Nichols Brothers in Freeland. - Roy Jacobson / The Record
Rudy Benavidez welds a section inside the superstructure for the newest state ferry being built by Nichols Brothers in Freeland.
— image credit: Roy Jacobson / The Record

The impending sale of Todd Pacific Shipyards to an Oregon firm should have no effect on Nichols Brothers Boat Builders’ relationship with the Seattle company, said Matt Nichols, managing director for business development.

“It’s just going to be business as usual, as far as we can figure out,” Nichols said Monday. “Apparently, all the people we know at Todd will stay. Everybody seems extremely happy.”

Meanwhile, the Freeland boatyard is busy, with projects under way and others lined up, Nichols said. At the same time, the company is vigorously bidding on a number of new contracts, he added.

“There’s a lot going on in the marine industry right now,” he said. “If everything falls into place, this could be a good year for us.”

Nichols Brothers has been a subcontractor for Todd in the building of three 64-car ferries for the state of Washington, the latter two under a $114 million contract.

Nichols Brothers builds everything above the car decks on the ferries, including the pilot houses, while Todd builds the car decks and everything below.

Nichols Brothers collaborated with Todd to build the state’s newest ferries, the M/V Chetzemoka, which went into service on the Coupeville (Keystone)-Port Townsend run in November, and the M/V Salish, which is penciled in for the San Juans and is undergoing sea trials.

Nichols Brothers is about halfway finished with the superstructure of the third 64-car ferry, with delivery to Todd expected in March.

For the time being, that completes Nichols Brothers’ contracts with Todd, although the two companies have a verbal agreement to collaborate on a new 144-car ferry for the state, if money for the project materializes, Nichols said.

“It’s ready to go if somebody funds it,” he said, adding that Nichols Brothers might get a larger proportion of the work than it did on the previous three vessels.

But funding could be a problem in the short run. Washington State Ferries has said it faces a $900 million shortfall over the next decade, and Gov. Chris Gregoire and the state Legislature have been searching for ways to bridge the gap.

As for Todd Shipyard, it agreed in December to accept a $130 million cash offer from Portland-based Vigor Industrial. The offer represents $22.27 per share, and would turn Todd from a publicly traded company to a privately traded one.

“That’s a premium price,” Nichols said.

The sale is expected to be completed by the end of this month, if shareholders approve.

Officials at both firms said no changes in daily operations are expected at Todd’s facilities in Seattle, Everett and Bremerton.

Vigor operates a vessel repair yard in Port Angeles, and has other yards in Bremerton, Everett and Tacoma. Todd has been operating in Puget Sound since 1916.

Nichols doubts Vigor would try to buy Nichols Brothers. He said Vigor appears to be interested in firms with military business. Todd’s contract to repair U.S. Navy aircraft carriers was recently extended for another five years.

Nichols Brothers, which focuses on specialty vessels, is owned by Ice Floe, headquartered in Texas. Ice Floe purchased the company in 2008, after Nichols Brothers went into bankruptcy.

Nichols said the Freeland boatyard has four projects under way.

Besides the new state ferry, the firm is working on a major overhaul of three twin-hulled passenger ferries from California, Nichols said. A similar overhaul was recently completed on another San Francisco Bay Area vessel.

Nichols Brothers built three of the four vessels in the 1980s.

This past year, the company wrapped up contracts to build four of the passenger ferries for the San Francisco Bay Area’s Water Emergency Transit Authority. The $8.8 million, 116-foot catamarans were built in partnership with Kivchak Marine Industries of Seattle.

Nichols Brothers has built 49 large catamarans since 1982, and the vessels are in service throughout the world, Nichols said.

As for the year ahead, Nichols said the most promising prospects are for contracts to build large fishing boats, mostly for Alaska’s Bering Sea fleet.

“We’re bidding on a lot of stuff,” Nichols said. “There’s a lot of interest in fishing vessels again. That’s pretty exciting, because we cut our teeth on those.”

Nichols said employment at the Freeland yard has been holding steady above 200, and that peak employment this past year was 236.

“It’s hard to find a spot in the parking lot,” he said. “That’s a good sign we have a lot of things going on.”

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