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Nichols still in for ferry contract

Nichols Brothers Boat Builders is one of three Puget Sound shipyards in contention to build four new Washington State Ferries, a job that could bring the Freeland shipyard a contract valued between $180 and $220 million.

According to company CEO Matt Nichols, Nichols Brothers withstood a first-round cut from a list of five shipyards vying for the ferry contact. The three remaining shipyards in contention include Nichols Brothers, J.M. Martinac Shipbuilding Corp. of Tacoma and Todd Pacific Shipyards in Seattle.

“We’re very competitive,” Nichols said. “It looks very good for us.”

Nichols said the three companies are still waiting for the ferry system to finish additional financial and capability scrutiny, that will assure that the shipyards — if chosen to do the work — can get the job done. He expects to make a bid on the project and have a decision on that bid to be made within the next 12 months.

“We’ve met all the criteria,” Nichols said.

The winner of the contract will build 130-car vessels, which Nichols said the shipyard can accommodate. The new ferry vessels — similar in size to the Issaquah-class vessels like on the Clinton/Mukilteo route — will be smaller than the recently completed Empress of the North and larger than the current X-Craft Navy Catamaran. According to Washington State Ferries spokeswoman Celia Schorr the ferries will be approximately 342 feet long and 83 feet wide. In comparison, the Empress of the North was 350 feet long and 58 feet wide.

He said the project would retain the current 310-person workforce at the shipyard and could possibly bring a 10-percent increase to the stable workforce.

The project is expected to take four to five years, according to Nichols. He said that depending on the workload of the shipyard, Nichols Brothers has explored the possibility of farming some of the ferry work to other shipyards should the company be awarded the contact.

In the 1990s Nichols said Nichols Brothers was one of three shipyards vying for a contract to build three jumbo ferry boats that hold 200 cars. He said Todd Pacific was awarded that contract by under-bidding Nichols by approximately $40 million.

Nichols said a large portion of the money to build the vessels would be raised by the 5-cent gas tax hike approved by state legislature in 2003. Additionally, funds would also be raised through revenues from fares, fees and bonds.

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