Nichols jobs depend on another ferry

Eighty to 100 jobs on South Whidbey are riding on the outcome of a transportation bill still up in the air as the Washington State Legislature prepares for its special session beginning Monday, May 13.

The Tokitae superstructure leaves the Nichols Brothers boat yard this spring. A second ferry is in the works

Eighty to 100 jobs on South Whidbey are riding on the outcome of a transportation bill still up in the air as the Washington State Legislature prepares for its special session beginning Monday, May 13.

Matt Nichols, CEO of Nichols Brothers Boat Builders in Freeland, is anxious to see the third of a proposed four Olympic Class 144-passenger ferries funded.

Nichols Bros. builds superstructures for the ferries under subcontract to Vigor Shipyards in Seattle. The first, the Tokitae, left the Nichols yard this spring. Nichols said the second, named the Samish, is in progress.

The third boat in the class is uncertain. “We need the third ferry,” Nichols said, noting it would replace a 60-year-old vessel in the ferry system. “We’re well into the second 144-car ferry now, we’ve got the assembly line going, it won’t get any cheaper.”

A report by Judy Goldenberg, of Washington State Ferries communications, stated the cost of the Tokitae is $146.9 million and total cost of the Samish is expected to be $132.5 million. “Economies of scale reduce the cost of the second vessel,” she wrote. Nichols believes the same factors will lead to the third vessel costing less, as long as assembly lines can be kept going.

The Island County Economic Development Council is in Nichols’ corner, as Ron Nelson, executive  director, said the jobs at Nichols Bros. support 370 other jobs in the economy and have a impact on the local economy. “Building another 144 is the right choice,” he said.

Most agree that funding for the third 144-car ferry will require a tax increase. The most talked about vehicle for a tax increase is House Bill 1954 which passed the House Transportation Committee under Chairwoman Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, in the regular session. But it still awaits action by the full House, Senate Transportation Committee and full Senate.

“It’s not a sure thing,” David Moseley, state Department of Transportation assistant director in charge of ferries, told The Record this week. The bill would increase revenues with a host of taxes and fees, the most controversial being a 10 cent per gallon gas tax raised in increments over three years.

Norma Smith, R-Clinton, doesn’t see the House Transportation bill skating through the rest of the process. She expressed concern about high “mega project” construction costs in this state and said the tax could rise to 13 cents a gallon, not the 10 cents talked about.

“I’m hopeful we can find a solution for the 144 (car ferry),” she said. “We need to find a solution, but we need reform.” 

Moseley said the Legislature could adopt some other kind of tax package in the special session, but he sees HB 1954 as the framework. “If there’s a new revenue package that bill will be the vehicle for that package,” he said. “Without it, we wouldn’t have the money to build a third 144 (car ferry). There would be an interruption in production.”

Moseley wouldn’t make any predictions regarding the outcome of the special session. “Raising revenue is a tough proposition in the best of times,” he said. “We’re thankful this package (HB 1954) passed committee but it’s got a long way to go. But this is my sixth session of the Legislature and this is the furthest we’ve gotten them to take the ferry system financially.”

A business-oriented ferry lobbying group, the Washington Ferry Coalition, is geared up for the special session.

Brad Jurkovich, executive director, agreed additional funding is needed for a third boat, a project tied in with other mega transportation goals, such as a new bridge over the Columbia River.

“For the third boat we’ll need new funding,” he said, pointing to the proposed 10 cent gasoline tax in HB 1954 as a likely source. “It’d be included in that package and the governor wants it badly,” he said. “We’re trying to get the legislators to do that.

“It’s a big piece of work for Whidbey Island and we need to keep Nichols working. We need it as cheap as possible and Nichols does a great job with the piece they do.”

A big question mark in the process is Sen. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor, who is part of the controlling coalition in the Senate. She’s generally against tax increases, though she did not return a couple of calls to The Record.

“Her support is critical,” Jurkovich said. However, he said the special session might come up with some other way to pay for the third ferry. “Even if it’s not the gas tax we just want it funded,” he said.


More in News

No injuries in pair of crashes

Two car crashes on Wednesday in Clinton did not result in any… Continue reading

Firefighter stops chicken coop fire, helps save Langley home

A quick response by a local firefighter may have helped save a… Continue reading

Photo provided
                                A evidence photo taken by police shows a deputy’s AR-15 rifle that was involved in a police-related shooting on North Whidbey in September.
Review: Deputy justified in fatal shooting

A deputy was justified in fatally shooting Navy sailor Nicholas K. Perkins… Continue reading

Planning Commission member Tracy Gilroy speaks during a meeting on Monday. The commission voted to approve amendments made in response to a settlement agreement between Island County and the Whidbey Island Environmental Action Network. Photo by Laura Guido/Whidbey News-Times
Forest practices changes heading to board

Island County Planning Commission voted Monday to amend code related to forest… Continue reading

Dancing Fish Farm to buzz with The Bee Eaters fiddlers

Acoustic concert features fiddling siblings

Jessie Stensland / Whidbey News Group
                                John Bagley, left, makes a preliminary appearance in Island County Superior Court Monday. He’s accused of pawning a telescope stolen from a robotics club.
Man arrested for pawning robotics club’s telescope

A man faces a felony charge after getting caught pawning a telescope… Continue reading

Some costs unknown for East Langley infrastructure project

A proposed multimillion dollar infrastructure improvement plan in East Langley drew more… Continue reading

Flu factors into three Island County deaths in early 2018

All suffered underlying medical conditions

The Admiraly Head Lighthouse at Fort Casey State Park will have some major renovation work done, the majority of it being to its exterior. 2017 File Photo/Whidbey News-Times
Admiralty Head Lighthouse to get facelift sometime in 2019

One of the most famous buildings on Whidbey Island is going to… Continue reading

Most Read