Nichols may help build new state ferries

The state Department of Transportation and Washington State Ferries announced Thursday that Todd Pacific Shipyards, J.M. Martinac Shipbuilding Corporation and Nichols Brothers Boat Builders, Inc. have submitted a joint proposal to build four new 144-car ferries.

The joint proposal allows Nichols Brothers to be involved in a larger-scale project for Washington State Ferries than it ordinarily would get.

“We have an agreement to work with Todd Pacific Shipyards and J.M. Martinac Shipbuilding Corporation as a subcontractor to build parts and pieces for the new ferries,” said Bryan Nichols, president of Nichols Brothers.

“The ferries would be too large for us to ship out. The stuff we will work on is still to be determined, but most likely we will be doing steel panel work,” Nichols said.

The Freeland boatyard may also construct smaller modular portions, like the stack and pilot house sections, he added.

The three shipyards will work together in their respective areas of expertise to construct the vessels.

“We are trying to take everyone’s strengths. We do a good job here of producing steel for a boat this size,” he said.

The steel panels and anything else Nichols Brothers produces would then be shipped to Seattle at Todd Pacific Shipyards, where assembly of the hull would take place. J.M. Martinac Shipbuilding Corporation would likely assemble the superstructure.

“It diversifies us a little more. We are already fairly diversified as a shipyard,” he said. “But this is one more market that we can be involved in.”

This is not the first time Nichols Brothers has worked with Todd Pacific Shipyards. The Freeland firm acted as a subcontractor on a previous project,

and the roles have also been reversed when Nichols Brothers won the contract to build the Pierce County Ferry and Todd Pacific Shipyard manufactured both ends of the vessel.

Joint proposals might become the future of business practice, said Matt Nichols, Nichols Brothers Boat Builders, Inc. chief executive officer.

“People are putting their strengths and capacities and heads together to see if they can’t build a better product for less money and less time, where everyone is building together,” he said.

“You see this more these days. Look at Boeing and their 787. They are buying components from all over the world, not just all over the state or country but all over the world,” he added.

The Freeland boatyard is the South End’s largest private employer, and the compnay welcomes the new work.

“Whatever helps Nichols Brothers helps the entire community; you’re talking jobs, the tax base and everything else,” he said. “It definitely is a blessing to all of us.”

That blessing may extend to Whidbey Island as a whole, Nichols added.

“I think we might get at least one of the first four, if not two, ferries right here on Whidbey Island. They need ferries so bad,” he said.

State officials said details of the contracts are still being worked out. But so far, so good.

“A joint proposal that draws upon the expertise and resources of the

major Puget Sound shipyards is the best possible scenario for WSDOT/WSF and the taxpayers of Washington state,” said Mike Anderson, executive director of Washington State Ferries.

“There is still a lot of work to do to get from a joint proposal to construction, but we are moving in the right direction. WSDOT/WSF is committed to getting high quality vessels built as soon as possible on the best possible terms for the people of Washington,” he said.

Spencer Webster can be reached at 221-5300 or at

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