County Bidding Proposal for Temporary Ferry Service

Here is last year’s County’s request for proposals  for temporary ferry service. This service is the County’s (our) backup plan for temporary, including emergency and dry dock service when the Chief is unavailable. My understanding is that the County’s award of the contract was challenged legally by a few islanders, a challenge that failed.

Some islanders see no need for a Plan C backup to the backup vessel and think requirement should be dropped from proposals and awarding contracts. Personally (believing in Murphy’s Law) I think it’s a smart clause that provides cost-efficient reliability for some ferry service.

An alternative would be to split the request for proposals into two parts: (1) a bid for a vehicle-carrying vessel (like the MV Trek) for dry dock; and (2) a separate bid for a passenger vessel in case the temporary vehicle vessel were unavailable or out of service.

A key practical question is whether splitting things up would be cost efficient for either the County or business owners. Property road taxes (paid by all rural County property owners) and fares basically split operational costs, and for most of us keeping fares and taxes reasonable while still receiving crucial service is important to most islanders, this is not a trivial question. (Note that any passenger backup vessel will require the county to keep paying for maintaining and storing the landing dock, regardless of whether that vessel is ever used.)

Some islanders and LIFAC members have suggested many times that Whatcom County might save money by buying the MV Trek for backup and drydock. They asked Public Works to look into the feasibility of acquiring the Trek, either alone or with Skagit County. Rob Ney (Public Works) reported at a later LIFAC meeting that Whatcom and Skagit Counties recently the possibility of jointly purchasing and operating the Trek. What I heard was that during their discussion with the owner, the asking price was much higher than expected, making it fiscally unrealistic. Plus, ongoing annual costs for maintenance, docking, insuring etc would have to included in any sound fiscal analysis and decision re: a second vessel. Such costs are rarely if ever mentioned by advocates of a second ferry.

NOTE: As always, comments and corrections are welcome and will be posted with no editing in a day or two. The only rules are that comments should be civil, on topic and signed.

2 thoughts on “County Bidding Proposal for Temporary Ferry Service

  1. WSF is getting rid of the ferry Hiyu. They would probably give it away if it was going to another govt. agency. I understand that it was passed over by the county recently due to the cost associated with converting it to a K boat, but at the potential cost the matter should be revisited.
    Given the minimal planned usage, it could even be operated as an H boat with off-duty WSF crews without substantial added costs.

    Since it’s feasible to operate it on both runs, It would make sense for Whatcom and Skagit counties to acquire it and hold it jointly, thereby reducing ownership costs.

    Not sure who to contact at Public Works, but someone who knows should feel encouraged to pass this along.

  2. Thanks for your comment. Recently WA State ferry system has been using the Hiyu as a necessary emergency vessel, so it’s not clear when/if they will be getting rid of it. If you’d like more info on Whatcom County’s decision not to pursue the Hiyu (after a lot of investigation by Public Works, stimulated by islander interest) you might want to read https://lummiislandferryforum.wordpress.com/?s=hiyu. Turns out there were a lot more costs than just buying and adapting the Hiyu, most involving substantial modifications to the docks.

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