Gooseberry Dolphin Replacements Coming Soon

A major topic at the May 28, 2014 Lummi Island Ferry Advisory Committee (LIFAC) was making a recommendation concerning the County’s plan to replace, the (very) old wooden dolphins at Gooseberry Pt before next winter.  (Note:  These are my personal observations, not official LIFAC minutes.  If anyone has corrections, please offer them as a comment.)

Public Works and certainly our ferry crew have been concerned about the safety of the old wooden dolphins for years. The basic problem is one of physics. Especially in stormy weather (winter storms!), the Whatcom Chief could get slammed into and break the dolphins, threatening the vessel and causing serious damage to the dock that would be hard to fix in a timely manner during the winter. Public Works and County officials have been working to fix that problem.

James Lee (current ‘ferry operations manager’ at Public Works) reported that Public Works had gotten the Whatcom Chief‘s masters together at the Gooseberry Pt dock with PW engineers and design consultants to discuss pros and cons of options. It’s great that PW consulted with the crew during the design phase, as they are the ones with direct, first-hand experience of safe docking operations of the ferry under all conditions.

The good news is that engineering and permitting went more quickly than expected.  The County Council, on May 20, approved the funding and the work should be able to be completed before next winter.

But of course there’s controversy.  This plan didn’t happen without serious LIFAC discussion, nor should it.  At the meeting I learned there had been pushback from some islanders about this project, based on the idea that if the dolphins were placed further out (leaving 8′ more between them), the dock could accommodate some other, wider ferry than the Chief. The PLIC Board sent a letter (see plicferry.org for more info) requesting that change to the County Executive, Public Works and I presume the County Council. Other islanders requested this, too, I gathered from comments at the LIFAC meeting.

Mr Louws and others in the County, after reviewing that request, the engineering plans, financial issues etc recommended going ahead with the work this year, between July and October, when construction is least potentially disruptive to marine life.

However, LIFAC had not yet made any recommendation re: the dolphin replacement project, so Mr Louws and Council asked LIFAC to send them a yea/nay recommendation ASAP.  Tuesday’s meeting had a spirited discussion among LIFAC members before voting. Key issues were the costs of re-engineering, re-permitting, having to re-bid the work, likely delay of the work until next summer and a design that would work only for the Chief or similar width vessels vs a larger one that might be obtained in the future.

For me, a key issue was one of safety with the vessel we depend on now, the Whatcom Chief. Adding the extra 8’ would constitute, in the opinion of marine engineers and apparently the Chief’s masters, an increased safety hazard during the docking of the Chief during stormy weather, because it would gather more momentum and slam much more forcefully into the dolphins, potentially causing harm to the dock or boat.

LIFAC voted to recommend that the County continue to go forward with this project as designed, this year: 3 yes (Antholt, Coburn, McKenzie), 1 no (Brown) and 1 abstain (Busch).

Precise timing of the dolphin replacement work will depend on many things, for example how long it takes to obtain materials needed for the project and other practical factors. But from James Lee’s comments, I’d guess we should expect to see the work done between July and October.

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