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Inslee resists lawmakers’ plea to declare a ferry procurement emergency

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(The Center Square) – Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee is resisting calls from more than a dozen lawmakers to declare a state of emergency for Washington State Ferries.

Rep. Spencer Hutchins, R-Gig Harbor, and Rep. Andrew Barkis, R-Olympia, have introduced House Bill 2498 to have the governor make an emergency declaration so he can use his power to acquire two non-hybrid electric ferries.

“It’s just apparent, we are not going to achieve our goals of getting boats in the water anytime soon,” said Barkis, the ranking Republican on the House Transportation Committee. “And the plan now is to pull boats out of service to convert them to hybrid electric, and it takes a year to do that.”

Barkis told The Center Square there is a better way.

“Instead, we should take those boats and do the normal maintenance, at about half the time to keep the fleet going,” he explained. “We can do the conversions later when we’re more stabilized.”

Barkis didn’t rule out hybrid-electric ferries, but noted the timing is bad in terms of an aging fleet that requires a substantial amount of upkeep and repairs, as well as the shortage of workers WSF is dealing with.

“We can look toward electrification down the road, but right now what we need are boats in the water and a stable ferry fleet,” he said.

He and Hutchins started looking into the matter and say they learned that the Washington State Department of Transportation owns the design of the Olympic-class ferry.

“So if we own that design and the governor were to declare a state of emergency on the ferry system specifically, that would expedite the building process, and we can do this at about half the cost,” Barkis said. “The docks fit them, people know how to run them, no additional training or infrastructure would be necessary; just build the boats and get ’em in the water.”

Inslee was asked about the legislation at a Feb. 15 news conference.

“We do want to build more boats more quickly,” he said. “I’m alert to any suggestions as to how to do that, but I’m unaware of any statutory impediment to that; it’s just a matter of getting the bids in.”

The governor questioned the notion that building diesel ships could be constructed faster than hybrid-electric vessels.

“We don’t believe that’s true or that there’s any difference in the timeline between hybrid-electric boats and diesel,” Inslee said. “I don’t believe that’s a viable option.”

Barkis noted HB 2498 has not received a hearing, and he challenged Inslee’s contention he was “open for ideas.”

“If he was truly open to ideas, we’d be having a conversation about this policy,” Barkis said. “And we’re not saying stop moving forward with an environmental agenda; we’re just saying that shouldn’t be the priority today.”

WSF aims to achieve an emission-free fleet by 2050 by converting six existing vessels to hybrid-electric power, building 16 new hybrid-electric vessels, and adding shore charging to 16 terminals.