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Nichols Brothers looking good for new ferry contract

Nichols Brothers Boat Builders of Freeland appears on track for more ferry work from the state.

The company’s combined bid with Todd Pacific Shipyard in Seattle was the only one submitted to build as many as three new 64-car boats, Washington State Ferries announced Thursday.

Ferry officials opened the bid package Thursday. They said they expect to award the contract within 10 days, after reviewing the proposal to make sure it complies with requirements.

The state sought bids for the construction and delivery of two 64-car ferries with an optional third vessel. Only Washington state firms were eligible to bid.

The bid price for the first two vessels from Todd and Nichols Brothers was $114 million. The state’s estimate was $109.9 million.

The bid was closer to state estimates than the last time, late last year, when the state advertised for the building of two boats.

Todd’s and Nichols bid at that time was $65.5 million for one ferry and $124.4 million for two, and the state opted for only one vessel.

“I think the improved bid is due in part to the positive working relationship the ferry system has established with Todd during the current construction process,” said David Moseley, assistant secretary for Washington State Ferries.

The first two ferries under the new contract are expected to take 20 months each to build.

Nichols Brothers and Todd already are building a similar 64-car ferry under the contract awarded in December for delivery next summer.

Generally, Nichols Brothers is building the top portion of the vessel, and Todd, the hull and lower portion.

“It’s under budget and on schedule,” Len York, Nichols chief executive, said Thursday.

The new vessel will be assigned to the Keystone-Port Townsend route.

The decision to build a third ferry under the new contract is expected to be made by May 31, 2011.

“This is very good for us and for the community,” York said. “We’re pleased it apparently will be awarded to us.”

York said the contract probably would mean the hiring of 50 to 100 employees, depending on how much other work comes in at the same time.

He said if the ferry contract is awarded, hiring could begin within a couple of months.

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

York said earlier that the laid-off employees probably would be hired back first.

The company currently employs about 150.

Meanwhile, York said Nichols Brothers also has signed a contract to build another $10 million tugboat. The company has recently built five of the vessels, and the San Francisco buyer of the latest tug may also order one more, York said.

Also, the third of four twin-hulled passenger ferries being built by Nichols Brothers is undergoing sea trials at the Langley Marina.

The $8.8 million, 116-foot catamaran, built in partnership with Kivchak Marine Industries of Seattle, is expected to be delivered in two or three weeks, York said.

The company has one more of the ferries on order, and hopes to obtain contracts for two additional vessels, York said.

The new catamaran and the two previous were built for the San Francisco Bay Area’s Water Emergency Transit Authority.

Nichols Brothers also is continuing to look for 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 economy is looking very good for the company,” York said.

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