Deadline looms for South Whidbey fire boat

A federal funding deadline for the delivery of a nearly $500,000 catamaran for South Whidbey Fire/EMS is looming, but as of Tuesday, the boat remained in the hands of its builder.

The 32-foot long marine response vessel was largely financed by a Federal Emergency Management Agency grant, and that funding has a Friday, Jan. 31 deadline. Failure to meet the finishing date put manufacturer North Cross Aluminum at risk of owing the fire district part of the federal funding and would leave South Whidbey without a fire boat. South Whidbey Fire/EMS was reimbursed part of the grant funding thus far, and either had to accept the boat or not by Jan. 31.

“Worst case scenario is if we didn’t accept the boat, he’d own the boat, he’d cash the bond and try to sell the boat,” said Chief Rusty Palmer.

On Tuesday, he said a three-member South Whidbey Fire/EMS team was taking the catamaran out for sea trials along with North Cross owner Tim Leonard, the project lead Mark Moore and a representative from Yanmar Engines. It was a good sign that the boat would be in possession of South Whidbey Fire/EMS under the deadline.

“It’s gotta perform today,” Palmer said Tuesday morning. “Today is the big day.”

The Freeland manufacturer planned to finish and deliver the boat in December, but the project has hit with several snags. Work was slowed some in the fall after a project leader suffered major injuries in a car vs. motorcycle collision on Highway 525, and most recently the boat’s final delivery this month was delayed by a performance issue with one of the engines, according to Leonard.

South Whidbey Fire/EMS officials began reviewing the vessel and checking off a 40 page itemized list of equipment Saturday, Jan. 25.

“We’re in the inspection phase now,” Palmer said. “I anticipate we’re going to see it very soon.”

As of press time Tuesday, it was unknown whether the district had accepted the vessel following the day’s sea trials.

South Whidbey Fire/EMS officials testing the boat for about four hours were Assistant Chief Paul Busch, Deputy Chief Jon Beck and Rick Neal, a volunteer with the district who is a licensed boat captain.


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