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Nichols Bros. in the hunt to build new 64-car ferries

Kelley Lashley works Monday on a section of the pilot house for a new 64-car ferry being built for the state of Washington by Nichols Brothers Boat Builders of Freeland. The company plans to bid to construct three more of the vessels. - Roy Jacobson / The Record
Kelley Lashley works Monday on a section of the pilot house for a new 64-car ferry being built for the state of Washington by Nichols Brothers Boat Builders of Freeland. The company plans to bid to construct three more of the vessels.
— image credit: Roy Jacobson / The Record

Nichols Brothers Boat Builders will bid on a new job to build two more 64-car ferries, with an option for a third, the company said Monday.

The Freeland firm again will join with Todd Pacific Shipyards in Seattle to bid on the state contract, said Matt Nichols, Nichols Brothers managing director for business development.

“It’s a program that has worked very well for both of us,” Nichols said of his firm’s partnership with Todd. “There’s no reason to change that at all.”

Washington State Ferries announced Friday that it has called for bids on the new vessels. Ferry officials said the new contract would be awarded in about six weeks.

The state requires that its ferries be built within Washington.

“Nobody says we’re going to win it,” Nichols cautioned. “We still have to go out and bid.”

He said if the firm wins the contract, the ferries, along with other projects on the horizon, could result in 100 new jobs at the shipyard.

Nichols Brothers and Todd are already building a similar ferry under a $65 million contract awarded this past December for delivery next summer. The new vessel will be assigned to the Keystone-Port Townsend route.

Nichols Brothers is building most of the superstructure, while Todd is building the hull, Nichols said. He said planning and design work already completed for that vessel may help the two shipbuilders come up with the winning bid on the new contract.

Nichols said that in their new bid, the two firms, as before, will keep each portion of the project flexible to be able to make adjustments for workloads between the shipyards.

The state plans to build four new ferries in the next five years to replace aging vessels in the fleet. According to Washington State Ferries, 20 auto-passenger ferries are between 40 and 60 years old and must be replaced in the next two decades.

“Going to bid for these new vessels is a significant step toward updating our fleet and providing our customers a long-term, sustainable ferry system,” Paula Hammond, Washington Transportation Secretary, said Friday.

Meanwhile, Nichols Brothers is working its way through other projects, and is awaiting financing word on a barge contract that would be worth $25 million.

The firm hopes to get backing from the Import-Export Bank for the five barges, each of which would cost $5 million. The barges would be used in a Panama Canal dredging project.

“We’re not far off,” Nichols said of financing for the barges. “I’d say we’re very, very close.”

Besides the 64-car ferry, the company also recently delivered the fifth in a series of $10-million tugboats, this one for California’s Bay Area.

The buyer, San Francisco’s BayDelta Marine, has also said it may order two additional tugs, Nichols said.

Nichols Brothers also recently delivered the second of four twin-hulled passenger ferries being built for the San Francisco Bay Area’s Water Emergency Transit Authority.

Two more of the $8.8 million, 116-foot catamarans are on order, and are expected to be delivered late next year. A deal for two additional catamarans is being discussed, Nichols said.

If all the new contracts come through, they would bolster the job picture on the South End, he said.

The company currently employs about 150 workers.

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