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Rep. Seaquist said the new boats were using more fuel than other boats, and thus driving up operating expenses. Critics say the 6,000-horsepower engines exceed the need, but WSF happened to have them warehoused. Seaquist noted that the listing profile in itself worsened the ships' hydrodynamics, causing it to consume extra fuel.
It was not immediately possible to quantify the three boats' burn rate relative to other WSF ships, however, since figures are not available for Kwa-di Tabils and alternative ship classes plying the same route and subject to the same conditions. One of the new boats, which have been found to use 75 gallons of fuel hourly on the Port Townsend route, is however moving to take over the Tahlequah-Point Defiance run, where the Rhododendron currently sails, consuming 30 gallons of fuel hourly.
“It's hard to answer the question,” WSF's lead master Haupt said, in reference to concerns about fuel wastage. Larger engines have their advantages. He alluded to the need to take a longer, zigzag course when high winds cause heavy sea swells that must be navigated at an angle. “It's nice to have the power to keep the schedule if we fall behind. A lot of time we have to take a storm course. When you can take it a knot or two faster, it's nice.”
The new boats, he said, “are incredibly agile. There's a lot of pressure to keep the schedule. We're able to make up time [but] we're burning some extra fuel."
A fuel-saving feature known as feathering allows two of the Kwa-di Tabils to run with one propellers disengaged, but the efficiency mechanism, which the Chetzemoka lacks, has proven time-consuming to apply in operation, and Haupt said it would probably be used little on the Port Townsend route, and not at all on the short Tahlequah crossing.
And then there's the pricetag. When the Kennewick enters service — probably later this month — the bill for the three ships will wind up at about $210 million, or $70 million a boat. They were built under the terms of bids received from a single bidder — Todd Pacific Shipyards of Seattle, as lead contractor — since state law mandates that all WSF ferries must be constructed in the Evergreen State, by shipyards with a state-approved apprenticeship program. (The latter requirement, in effect, very much complicates construction of WSF ships by non-union shipyards: Todd, a union employer, was the only shipbuilder in the state that fully met all the requirements.)
In this case, Todd led a consortium of companies, all in-state, who together built the three ferries on a more stringent timeline than would have been feasible for any single contractor. Sources commenting for this article all agreed that the haste contributed to the boats' shortcomings. Seaquist pointed to Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen (D-Camano Island), whose district includes the Port Townsend route, as having imposed the timeline.
“Of course I did,” Haugen responded in an e-mail statement. “People in Coupeville and Port Townsend were affected personally and professionally. When we lost the Steel Electrics so unexpectedly, it was a terrible impact on residents and businesses alike. They needed replacement ferries as fast as we could possibly build them. I wouldn’t have been doing my job as a legislator if I hadn’t done that.”
A speeded-up production schedule also means more overtime payments and an increased reliance on expedients. And, finally, there's the ban on out-of-state construction. The Island Home, which entered service in 2007, cost $32 million, less than half a Kwa-di Tabil's invoice. The Massachusetts vessel was built in Mississippi on the basis of nationwide bidding. A report completed in 2010 by the Passenger Vessel Association at the behest of Gov. Chris Gregoire concluded that “WSF is paying a high price for requiring in-state construction.”
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