Hiyu as Replacement Lummi Island Ferry for Whatcom Chief?

Now is the time to start working on comments to submit to LIFAC (Lummi Island Ferry Advisory Committee) about the Washington State Ferry Hiyu as a possible replacement ferry for the Whatcom Chief. Some Lummi Islanders are keen to replace the Chief with the Hiyu. Others are less convinced that this is a good idea.

Background. On January 6, 2015, LIFAC’s Ferry Replacement subcommittee submitted a detailed draft report (dated January 3, 2015) on the Hiyu option, ACQUISITION OF HIYU REPORT FINAL 5 Jan 14,and a related PowerPoint presentation.  Kudos to the authors and behind-the-scenes producers of this draft report and presentation.
The report gives both objective details and subjective opinions about many issues that islanders and the County have raised about a replacement ferry. Greg Brown, a LIFAC member, stated that the purpose of the report is to assist Public Works (PW) with information and sources when PW does its legally required review of the Hiyu option.

Note: The Jan. 6 draft and powerpoint take a very strong stand in favor of recommending that the County acquire the Hiyu, based on the data and opinions presented. Whether that strong recommendation and language will be retained by LIFAC is yet to be determined.

At LIFAC’s January meeting, attendees asked questions and expressed support or concern with the Hiyu option. The public comment session was intended to give LIFAC a list of to consider for possible revision of the report.   LIFAC decided to delay approving the report (with or without a recommendation to buy the Hiyu) until every committee member could review and comment on the report.   Public comments were also invited. Possible revisions to the report or its recommendations are scheduled for LIFAC’s February 3, 2015 meeting at the Lummi Island Firehall.

One idea is for LIFAC to submit the report pretty much ‘as is’ plus with a list of LIFAC and other citizens’ questions. That way, County Council and Public Works (when it does its due diligence re: purchasing the Hiyu) will see the full range of issues that citizens have submitted without seriously delaying submission of the report.   You can submit comments at the next LIFAC meeting, give them to any LIFAC member (preferable written) or by email. Their email addresses are:

 Mike McKenzie:  mcwritermm@icloud.com

Cris Colburn: crisc@ridewta.com

Stu Clark:  stuclark@stuclark.com

Byron Moye:  byronmoye@gmail.com

Greg Brown:  gkbrown4@gmail.com

Robert Busch:  beverlyonlummi@q.com

Charles Antholt:  Charles.antholt@wwu.edu

14 thoughts on “Hiyu as Replacement Lummi Island Ferry for Whatcom Chief?

  1. I also share Wynne’s opinion that ‘now is the time to submit comments to LIFAC’, as they are our official conduit to the County Council. I’ve read the report several times now, and have lots of margin notes to work off of – mostly unanswered questions and a dose of uncertainty given my recent article on Nextdoor Lummi Island (a private island neighborhood website for members), titled “A Perfect Storm we didn’t see coming”.
    Briefly, the article describes 3 current situations with the ferry.
    A. A fare proposal that may or may not be financial prudent based upon questionable ridership estimates.
    B. A Ferry Fund that may or may not be at an appropriate level since it was established in 2006 based on recent comments by LIFAC indicating Public Works wants to nearly double it..
    C. A replacement ferry to the Whatcom Chief that may or may not be a wise long term investment, based on many factors. The two that dominate my personal thoughts are:
    1) The Hiyu carries about 50% more cars, but has a displacement weight of 3-4 times that of the Chief. It’s a very large boat! Only a proper engineering study can determine the suitability of our current docks to accept a much larger vessel and what costs may have to be incurred to make that happen, keeping in mind our current ferry only operates at 50% of it’s capacity throughout the day.
    2) The Hiyu is currently required to operate with a crew of 5, meaning to fully staff the schedule, labor and payroll related items will go up. Again, a proper study of these issues by qualified planners and engineers should be able to identify the major issues and present the Council with a realistic evaluation of downsizing the crew component to 4 or maybe even the existing crew of 3.
    A, B, and C combined, worst case, could mean raising fares again by as much as $1,000,000 per year, sealing the fate of the working class families on Lummi Island.

    I intend to include a detailed analysis in my comments to LIFAC, which should become part of the public record. In the meantime, I hope to see lots more chatter here on the Ferry Forum as more citizens of both Lummi Island and rural Whatcom County get involved.

  2. For the life of me, I cannot understand why any Lummi Islander could possibly want to replace the Whatcom Chief. Over the months, I have heard all the rationalizations, and excuses. Seen the spread sheets and financial analysis, and every conceivable reason why people so emphatically want this vessel replaced. It’s enough to make one want to scream. Stop and think of what you will be losing. The Whatcom Chief, without any close seconds, is the most reliable vessel to ever have sailed these waters. Let’s talk about reliability. What does reliability means to you? To me, it means the Chief is always there and running when we need her. Of course she has an occasional hiccup now and then, and boy when she does, everyone on the island instantly knows. Because it is unusual. If you expect to drive onto the ferry, and for some reason it isn’t available, that is big time Lummi Island news! Why? Because the Whatcom Chief is reliable. Always has been, and always will be, as long as she is certified to run. Why is this so important to me? Well, when the weather is socked in with fog, in the middle of the night, and I start having chest pains, I want the ferry crew to hear the fire siren, and run down and start up the Chief, so the Ambulance can get me to the hospital. Just selfish I guess. The county has recently had a Naval Engineer Report that the Whatcom Chief is in excellent condition, and can be expected to successfully operate for decades to come. Last summer, the Whatcom Chief experienced a severe engine failure. An emergency breakdown. Something that so seldom ever happens. It didn’t sound good for the people waiting to leave, or those trying to get home. But some islanders rallied, and helped ferry people across the pass. Meanwhile, our Ferry’s Chief Engineer, and County Public Works set about effecting repairs. As it turned out, in less than 24 hours, in sweltering engine room heat, they performed a complete top-end engine rebuild while the Whatcom Chief was tied up at Gooseberry Point. No weeks in dry dock. No special engineering technicians from some back East Company. The biggest hang up was having to send someone to Seattle for a part that wasn’t on hand. The key to the reliability that we all take for granted with the Whatcom Chief, is her pure simplicity of design and function. Please don’t give that away for some “new” or “different” vessel, when there is absolutely no valid reason to give up the reliability that we know we have in the Whatcom Chief.

    • Amen. Word (for the younger generation). Ed, I completely agree. I keep waiting to see one LICENSED expert who signs a report saying the Chief needs replacing anytime in the near future. I don’t care about national averages. I want someone who has actually crawled around inside the Chief and looked at hull reports to say we have a serious problem. I expect to be much, much older before I see such a statement.

      And Mike, what a great summary of the overall situation! I share many of your concerns as well. For example, at the moment the Chief is able to operate with it’s 6 foot draft, though there are times it almost grounds at the dock. The HIYU’s 11.3 foot draft–almost twice as deep in the water–would seem to require considerable dredging. The dredging would have to be done on a regular basis, since the sea would start filling it in almost immediately. Dredging would require federal, state, and county permits, which would take years to apply for. And, given that dredging is extremely likely to affect conditions for salmon, it seems likely that a) Lummi Nation would oppose permitting; and b) obtaining the permits would by no means be a guaranteed success.

      There are many other kinds of statements by the subcommittee that appear to have no supporting documents, so there is no way to judge the conclusions being put forward, except in one respect–urging the County to purchase the HIYU is incredibly premature and is asking Islanders to take a huge and potentially very expensive risk.

      I hope that LIFAC will do the prudent thing and forward any official documents the subcommittee has collected to Public Works–with a summary of FACTS and NO recommendations–so it is available to the County if and when the HIYU ever comes up for sale and the County chooses to investigate it as an option.

  3. Please know that no one is advocating for replacing the Chief – we are simply suggesting that, at a bare minimum, the Hiyu be acquired as a backup to the Chief, as insurance in case something catastrophic ever happens. And who knows if it will! 53 years of operating safely could evaporate in a second should there ever be an accident…what then? We have zero insurance, or backup plan, should the Chief ever go out of service; no backup ferries exist to come in and assist us, outside the Hiyu. Once she is no longer available, we will be all alone with the Chief, and should something ever happen, you’re looking at a minimum three yer wait and $10 million cost, neither of which we have nor can afford.

    In addition, the Chief is operating daily in violation of USCG regulations regarding safe loading of a passenger ferry; the link to the precise wording of the law is above. At any moment, the USCG could effectively cut the capacity of the Chief in half, permanently. Then what? We are attempting to answer that question, with the single option remaining available to us, and that is acquisition of the Hiyu. Call it what you like, but it should be looked at as a simple (and cheap!) insurance plan, to cover us and the Chief and everyone involved if and when something happens to the Chief. Wouldn’t you rather have the insurance and know we’re covered, rather than risk a 3-year wait (and massive fare increases) for a brand new ferry to be built in her place?

    • Odd. We have had “zero backup” for the Whatcom Chief 365 days a year since 1962. All of a sudden this is a concern? She is well maintained, certified by the Coast Guard, and has proven her reliability for 53 years.

    • No one is advocating for replacing the Chief?! Then what the heck has everybody been talking about all these weeks?

      WSF has been paying $710,000 per year just for the engineer(s) who has been maintaining the Hiyu in readiness. That doesn’t count moorage, insurance, and all the other expenses required to keep a boat ready to run for an emergency. Even with three counties splitting the costs, that would be a noticeable fare increase on the horizon.

      And I would recommend adding the words “in my opinion” to accusations of daily legal violations. Frankly, I don’t see the problem. The amount of space between vehicles may be marginal, but it seems adequate to me for the regulation.

      Lummi Island has been “all alone” with the Chief for 53 years. Seems to me like it’s been working out pretty well.

      I appreciate the work the subcommittee has done, but I don’t agree with the recommendations.

  4. I am starting to get annoyed at this playing the U.S. Coast Guard as a threat against Whatcom County’s Ferry. I am a retired U.S. Coast Guard Officer. I spent 20 years in the Coast Guard. I think I know how the U. S. Coast Guard works with local governments on safety issues. And clearly the statements and threats being posted here on behalf of the Coast Guard being the cause of replacing the Whatcom Chief with the Hiyu, are false and purposely misleading in order to scare people into following your agenda. Stop it! The Coast Guard will work with the Whatcom County government when issues arise to be dealt with. You should NOT try to use them as your puppet in this ill advised adventure.

  5. I’m with Ed on this, having fear rammed down your throat isn’t going to fly as an argument favoring one boat over another. I’ve read the tech committees report a couple of times now and have mixed feelings. The hiyu could certainly work but I sense that its draft will haunt us more often then the report points out. True fuel economy at this point is speculative per the committes report, I’ll bet way higher then 1.5 gallons a day more then the chief. Also a three person crew is not going to cut it in the event of an emergency. Any union is going to argue that. All in all higher operating costs with the potential for less runs due to the draft issue. No thanks, I honestly prefer the smallest funnel point on to this island and its the chief hands down.

  6. I agree with Jim. Here’s my letter to LIFAC today.

    January 25, 2015
    To: Lummi Island Ferry Advisory Committee (LIFAC)
    From: Michael Skehan, 2040 Granger Way, Lummi Island, WA
    Subject: Comments on LIFAC – Technical Subcommittee Report 1/3/15
    I wish to thank the members of the Tech-Cmmte for hours of work that have gone into researching alternate vessels suitable for Lummi Island service, and detailed work looking at the MV Hiyu if/when it becomes surplus to WSDOT. My comments will be brief, focusing on what I consider to be significant issues that were not address in the report, but should be by LIFAC prior to sending any recommendations to Whatcom County for adoption. These issues are listed below by page number in the report (ver.5).
    Pg. 12 Recertification to under 100 tonnes. From the Report: “As unusual as this may sound, it is the recommended course of action by the USCG themselves, as it is apparently quite easy and quick to achieve, by simply asking it of our local senators or congressional representative.”
    The purpose of this is to reduce the crew from 5 to 3. No justification is included in the report that a crew of 3 would be adequate to operate a boat that has traditionally required a crew of 5. Further, Pierce County has two large ferries classed under 100 tonnes, but chooses to operate with a crew of 4 along with a Purser operating on the docks at Steilacoom. Additionally, any change in vessel size would automatically invoke a renegotiation with our current crew in their union contract for crew size, pay rates, benefits, etc. It may be easy to recertify the boat, but is it prudent to do so?
    Pgs. 14-18 Engines and Fuel Usage. The report spends 5 pages devoted to this subject, when in fact the difference in fuel usage is between the Whatcom Chief and Hiyu is very small (a few gallons per day), and fuel usage as a percentage of Total Operating Cost is only 5%, whereas Labor is 40%. Little is stated in the report as to labor implications of a larger vessel
    Pg. 21 Comparison of Maintenance Costs. Chart 3 in the report shows little difference in the maintenance cost, and offers little in the way of justification for how it arrived at those numbers. If left to faith, I would guess a larger boat would cost more to maintain. This is borne out by Pierce County maintaining two vessels, larger than the Hiyu, but costing about twice that of the Whatcom Chief even though only one is routinely in service at a time. This area needs better definition and actual data to support the findings. I’m sure there are routine costs to a boat, even though it’s not under power, which would be the case if Whatcom County retains the Chief as a backup.

    Pg. 27 Advantages of the Hiyu. A boat with a capacity of 34 over the Chief at 20 cars ‘could’ be an advantage, however this is not borne out by the fact that of the 3 counties that operate ferries (Whatcom, Skagit, Pierce), the Whatcom Chief is the smallest of the boats, but carries more cars and passengers than the other two, with the exception of the last couple of years when the surcharge went into place. I’m not convinced by the report that a bigger boat means more vehicles or people carried. Whatcom County provides three times the number of sailings than does Pierce County, and our ‘Span of Service’ (hours operated during the day), is longer by nearly 5 hours during the day.

    Page 29 Docks Cost – Maintenance and Capital.
    “In 2007, the Whatcom County 14 year Ferry Report recommended that all dock work be done in a manner to allow the “new” ferry to berth in both docking slips (14 Year Plan 2007). In 2010, most of the work to comply with this was done to the Island dock. In 2012, the wing walls were replaced which completed the docking compatibility. Despite objections, the mainland dock was renovated to berth only the Whatcom Chief, and as such is currently too narrow to dock the Hiyu. Then Ferry Director James Lee acknowledged the problem and stated that the main costs of the renovation were the cost of the steel pilings, which could be removed and re-driven at a reasonable cost when necessary This will be a necessary expense in putting the Hiyu into operation on the Lummi Island route.”
    Moving piles may be one of the lesser costs associated with a much larger vessel. Has all work completed since 2007 been to the higher standard of using a larger vessel? The difference in weight between the Whatcom Chief and the Hiyu is about 3 or 4 times larger. This is displacement weight or a measure of how much kinetic energy will have to be absorbed by all the docking mechanisms. Only a proper engineering analysis can determine what condition our docks are in to properly accommodate the larger boat, what those capital costs would be, and what additional, if any, operating costs would be associated with the Hiyu. This is beyond the scope of the report to accomplish.
    Summary. I again thank the Ferry Technical Cmmte for all the work they have done to present LIFAC with details comparing three vessel options. In my opinion, this is a jumping off point for a professional study of the facts, when warranted by Whatcom County Public Works.

    Respectfully Submitted
    Michael Skehan

  7. I am interested in what the reaction to the prospects of the Hiyu operating in Hale Pass is from the Lummi Nation, who will undoubtedly be affected by this major change in County ferry operations. Will the Gooseberry Point County dock lease with the Lummi Nation have to be renegotiated? They seemed quite concerned with prop backwash effects on their fishing fleet at Gooseberry Point. Will this deeper draft affect tideland erosion, and degradation of the fishing fleet boat launch facilities and fish loading dock facilities? Will the larger draft and prop wash effect impact on fish spawning and shellfish life in the traditional Lummi fishing grounds? Can the Hiyu as easily navigate around and through the Lummi Nation crabbing areas in their traditional fishing areas, as the Whatcom Chief does? Can the Lummi Nation sue Whatcom County if they go ahead with this plan without their consent? Can the Lummi Nation have the Corp of Engineers halt this change in ferry operations after the Hiyu is acquired?

  8. Ed, I agree with your assessment of the situation regarding the Hiyu. At some point in the future, the Lummi Nation will construct a marina at Gooseberry Point. In order for dredging to occur for any project, a number of permits must be secured from public agencies such as the DNR and the US Army Corp of Engineers. In addition, disruption of eel grass will need to be mitigated. These permits can take years to obtain and there is no guarantee that they can be obtained.

  9. Luckily, this Hiyu question will soon be out of the hands of our island’s amateur ferry hobbyists, and up to the Whatcom County Council, to consult directly with Naval Engineers, Tribal Leaders, and the 206,353 Whatcom County residents, to do the right thing. Sometimes, it’s hard to remember that Lummi Island residents comprise less than ½ of 1 percent of the population of Whatcom County. I hope the Council doesn’t devote an undue amount of resources to this issue. There really are more important things.

  10. I was unable to attend the meeting last night, but listened to the audio recording. Perhaps I missed something, but how is it that the HIYU can go 2 years without going to dry dock, and the Chief has to go every year? Is it made of different materials than the Chief? It appears that the engines are larger, and according to the text below, outdated and probably in need of replacement. Is the paint, bottom and topsides different than what is used on the Chief? The HIYU is larger, and has marine heads/plumbing, and all systems must be larger and more complicated than the simple systems on the Chief. When the HIYU does go to dry dock after running for 2 years without a haul out, what will be the cost of the haul out? Has the HIYU ever run continuously for 365 days a year, and when was that? Must have been a long time ago. I can only speculate that maintenance costs are presently understated, and the wear and tear of continual running on both the HIYU and the dock infrastructure will be an issue. The docks used by the Chief/HIYU are impacted many more times a day than most of the ferry docks in the state. Since the HIYU is a much larger vessel, I can’t see how dock maintenance can go anywhere but up, which will impact the overall costs of running the ferry.

    I think I heard that the HIYU, due to it’s increased capacity, will run less, therefor reducing fuel consumption. If it holds 34 cars and runs less, will the wait in lines be longer, especially during peak hours?

    I’m also wondering what changed Jim’s mind about the HIYU, when he basically rejected it in the past? Is it the lure of a getting a “bargain”? Deals are deals for a reason, and I would hate to buy into a bottomless hole in the water in which the County taxpayers throw good money after bad. Is the HIYU of today different than the HIYU described below, and if it is, in what way(s) is it different? If it is the same boat, then why would we pay money for it, and then pay money every year for it’s up keep, when it’s been recommended that it should only be considered if it’s free.

    Any answers to my questions are appreciated.

    The text pertaining to the HIYU from a PDF file titled “Comparative Analysis”:

    HIYU STATE FERRY: H Class (162 x 63 ft with 9.7 ft draft)
    The Hiyu has an official capacity of 34 cars and 200 passengers. It was built for the Point Defiance/Tahlequah route in 1967. Within ten years, the route’s traffic outgrew the Vessel and the boat was replaced by a larger one. The Hiyu then moved to Inter-Island duty in the San Juan’s.
    In the late 1990s, Inter-Island traffic outgrew the Hiyu’s capacity and it was relocated to the Ferry Homeport at Eagle Harbor where it was used as a spare and training boat. In 2007, when the four Steel Electric Ferries were abruptly retired, the Hiyu was refurbished and put into service. Again, although it is extremely reliable, it does not have the required capacity. Nonetheless, moving 34 cars across the water is better than moving no cars. It is, however, the stepchild of the State’s fleet.
    About ten years ago, Whatcom County looked at purchasing the Hiyu as a replacement for the Whatcom Chief; however, there were some issues, mainly age and local opposition to a larger Ferry, and it was not acquired.
    The Hiyu’s car deck is semi-enclosed with four height-restricted lanes and a fifth straight-on center lane which has full 16 foot height clearance. As the State auto-length
    standard is 18 feet per car, the Hiyu could carry more than the listed 34 cars with the way the Whatcom Chief stacks them on. It has two separate 100 passenger cabins which are on each side of the center lane.
    The Hiyu is now 43 years old and has many of the same age-related issues as the Chief but, does not have comparable wear. The Hiyu engines are original Cat 399s, which are not pollution compliant. In addition, the engines are inefficient by today’s fuel standards. The Hiyu is not ADA compliant, having no protected space on the main deck for wheel chairs and no elevator to the passenger spaces. The separated passenger cabins require an individual cabin crew person per house.
    The Hiyu, as an H class Vessel, operates with a minimum crew of six and would have to be reclassified to a K class to be used on the Lummi Island route. Even if possible, reclassification would likely be very expensive and entail a complete rebuilding of the Vessel including re-powering with pollution compliant engines. At least one elevator would have to be added, which could take up several car spaces. Like the Chief, the Hiyu is likely too old to lengthen.
    Also, with only the first of the State’s three new Ferries coming on line this year and with two other larger Vessels failing, it is unlikely that the State will declare the Vessel surplus for quite some time. Considering everything, including its capacity, the Hiyu is not a good candidate, unless it’s free.

    Here’s link to the doc:


  11. After living here 25 years with the Chief providing reliable transportation (all boats break down, from the large ferries to the small ones), I’m wondering what all the concern is about? I wonder how many islanders are actually concerned? Up to this point, it appears that most of the what ifs, like what if the Lummis do this, or what if we have to go to Fairhaven, etc. are pure speculation, and that the fear factor has been woven into the speculative story, which I find very telling, and somewhat troubling. If we do have to go to Fairhaven in the HIYU, think about the time it would take, the increased cost of running to Fairhaven, the fewer runs, stocking the Islander and our own necessities, etc, etc. I suspect the island will look very different from now, with less families and commuters living here. We would have a very large boat consuming dollars with a lot less ridership…you do the math when it comes to the potential outcome.

    They’re both old boats, one has and is serving us well and is not running at capacity, the other is by most metrics overkill, and a possible giant whole in the water that only increased fares will address, but in the end, the hole does not get smaller. The Chief is a known entity, with a solid database from which to project future costs. The tribe signed a lease based on the Chief as the designated ferry. Development and real estate sales and appreciation are far from robust, the private sector is funding the school, people can’t find housing, businesses are hanging by a thread (and not because of the size or capacity of the ferry), etc, etc, and we want to buy (not for free) a ferry with capacity overkill, unknown future costs, and one that is unproven on this particular run.

    I wonder what the maintenance costs of the HIYU were when it was running 365 days a year back in the day, with the costs adjusted for inflation.

    Perhaps I missed them in the docs, but are there survey reports for the HIYU spanning the years of full operation that can be accessed? And of course, the most recent ones.

    I’m not trying to sink this proposal, I’m just trying to get my head around the entire situation so it makes fiscal sense based less on speculation and opinion and more on real world facts.

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