Third Nichols Brothers ferry unlikely this session

A transportation bill that provides for a third 144-passenger Washington State ferry important to Nichols Brothers Boat Builders of Freeland passed the state House Thursday evening but likely isn’t going any further this year.

State Rep. Norma Smith, R-Clinton, voted against House Bill 1954, but not because she’s against the new ferry. She said Friday she hopes it will be funded in January. “For this ferry, we need serious work on reform,” she said.

One of Smith’s concerns is taxes. The bill passed largely by House Democrats would raise the tax on gasoline by 10.5 cents per gallon. Of that amount, 6.5 cents would kick in Aug. 1, 2013, with 4 cents added on July 1, 2014.

A staff analysis of the bill states it would provide a third ferry as well as money to maintain the current fleet and planning for a new Mukilteo ferry dock.

Matt Nichols, CEO of Nichols Brothers, told The Record in May that 80 to 90 jobs at the company depend on funding for a third ferry. Nichols Brothers is currently working on the superstructure of the second 144-car ferry, the Samish. Vigor Marine of Seattle is the main contractor.

The $10 billion HB 1954, which would also fund controversial bridge construction projects, passed the House on a 51-41 vote.

The next move is up to the Senate, which is controlled by a coalition of Republicans joined by a few maverick Democrats.

“I don’t think it has a chance here,” Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, told the Associated Press, referring to HB 1954. “People are very concerned about the costs of these projects.”

Rep. Smith said chances are “very slim” an acceptable bill will come out of the Senate before the Legislature adjourns. She noted, however, that a separate transportation bill has already passed the Legislature and fully funds existing projects, including the second 144-car ferry now under construction at Nichols Brothers.

Tenth District Sen. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor, was still trying to find a way to get the third ferry funded, aide Amanda Webb said Friday. “She’s fighting hard to get that funding, but with the gas tax she’s in a tricky place,” she said.

The Legislature was busy Friday adopting an operating budget and trying to end the special session this weekend.