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Nichols Brothers win half-million dollar federal grant | UPDATE

Nichols Brothers Boat Builders will receive a half-million dollar grant for new equipment at the Freeland shipyard, Congressman Rick Larsen announced Monday.

The $519,761 grant will pay the purchase of a 25-ton and a 40-ton mobile crane.

“It is very pleasant, maybe a little bit of a surprise,” said Nichols CEO John Collins. “We felt we made a compelling case for why we needed them.”

The grant is awarded under the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration Assistance to Small Shipyards program.

Nichols Brothers was one of 13 shipyards nationwide chosen for grant funding.

“This grant is a smart federal investment that will help Nichols Brothers increase its productivity and continue to create and support local jobs,” Larsen said.

Larsen, a 2nd District Democrat, is the ranking member of the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee, which oversees the Maritime Administration and authorizes the Assistance to Small Shipyards program.

Part of the grant includes a follow up to inspect the new cranes and shipyard.

According to the Maritime Administration, grants from the Assistance to Small Shipyards program are awarded “to help make capital and infrastructure improvements that facilitate the efficiency, cost-effectiveness and quality of domestic ship construction, conversion or repair for commercial and federal government use.”

This is Nichols Brothers second grant in the past three years.

A previous grant awarded in 2008 allowed the shipyard to purchase its welding equipment and update its environmental practices, such as recycled nickel slag instead of sand.

The old cranes, which Collins said “predate me,” will hang around for a while longer. They function well enough, but consistent maintenance and age will push them out of service.

“This is to replace some old cranes that we use and kept running, but needed to be replaced,” Collins said.

Nichols Brothers submitted the application in late February, and had not heard any response until Monday. With the news still recent, Collins had yet to craft a purchasing plan for the cranes.

“It’s too early for us to have a definitive answer,” he said.

The future of a possible expansion in Oak Harbor is also in limbo.

Collins said the shipyard continues negotiating with Oak Harbor and the Navy. He also said he recently met with Island County commissioners.

“I’d love to say I have more progress to report,” Collins said.

The Freeland boatyard wants to have a greater role in Washington ferry construction. Nichols Brothers bid on a portion of the work for a state-funded 144-car ferry.

“We’re looking for more space to be able to do that work, and do it in a way to allow this yard (Freeland) to not be hampered space-wise by that superstructure,” Collins explained.

To have the capacity to work on that ferry or any future ferries, the company’s CEO said it needs a second location.

Officials estimate the boatyard’s expansion will create 100 jobs.

Brian Kelly contributed to this report.

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