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UPDATE | Nichols will get stimulus money

Nichols Brothers Boat Builders will get nearly a million dollars in federal stimulus funds as one of 10 small shipyards in the state to receive grants.

The Freeland firm will get $841,077 from the Maritime Administration to use for improvements at the yard, Len York, Nichols Brothers chief executive, said Thursday.

The money, from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, is part of nearly $7.4 million awarded to shipyards in the state, and $98 million awarded to 70 shipyards nationally by the federal Maritime Administration.

York said the money would be used to upgrade equipment and to build portable coverings under which anticipated future projects can be built.

He said the stimulus money would not mean new jobs immediately, except for local subcontracting work, but that it would “support the upcoming projects that will lead to new hiring.”

“We’re going to be hiring soon,” York said. He said the number of new jobs hasn’t been determined, but “with the new business we’ll be bringing in, we’ll be growing our job base fairly substantially in the next 90 days.”

York said workers would be brought back gradually as the workload increases.

Last fall, 30 Nichols employees were laid off when the company lost a contract to build a new ferry for a California buyer.

Archie Nichols, shipyard superintendent, said that another 20 or so were temporarily laid off last month due to a slack in the workload, but that some of those layoffs were voluntary.

Nichols said the remaining employees were told this past week that there would be no further layoffs. The company currently employs about 130.

“We’re planning to bring all those people back who want to come back as soon as we get a couple more weeks down the road,” Nichols said. “We’re going to be full-tilt by Oct. 1,” he predicted.

York said Nichols Brothers continues to work its way through other projects, and that word “is about a week away” on financing for 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.

The company also recently delivered the fifth in a series of $10-million large tugboats, and the San Francisco buyer has said it may order two additional tugs.

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.

Meanwhile, the firm is preparing a joint bid with Todd Pacific Shipyard on two more 64-car ferries for the state of Washington, with an option for a third.

The contract is expected to be awarded in October, with construction to begin within six weeks.

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.

Todd also received more than $1.9 million in Maritime stimulus money, the biggest award in the state.

The stimulus packages were announced by Washington Democratic Sen. Patty Murray, chairwoman of the Transportation and Housing Appropriations Subcommittee overseeing funding for the Department of Transportation and the Maritime Administration.

She included $100 million in the Recovery Act to improve small shipyards and create jobs. The bill was signed into law by President Obama on Feb. 17.

The grants will be distributed through the Maritime Administration’s Supplemental Grants for Assistance to Small Shipyards program.

“Our small shipyards are a critical piece of our domestic maritime industry, and of Washington state’s economy,” Murray said.

Washington received the most stimulus grants of any state. Other shipyards that will get funds are Kvichak Marine Industries, Inc. in Seattle, $1.1 million; Foss Marine Company’s Seattle yard, $621,761; Lake Union Drydock Company in Seattle, $184,217; and SAFE Boats International in Port Orchard, $1 million.

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