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County boat: Working platform and safe crew carrier

Five years in planning, 150 days in building, and hours in creating controversy, San Juan County Public Works new boat is the focus of attention.

San Juan Islander Editor Sharon Kivisto sat down with Public Works Interim Director Russ Harvey and Equipment Rental and Revolving Fund Manager Mike Copas last Thursday to obtain the facts about the 38-foot aluminum boat.

First of all, it is not for hire and therefore does not require a Coast Guard certified operator. Harvey said the operators will be limited to select Public Works crew members who will receive training on operating the boat. As it so happens the county does have one licensed skipper on staff. The insurance company does require the operators to be named on the policy. The policy has a $10,000 deductible.

The boat's purpose is to transport crew members (Public Works, assessors with a small truck or mopeds) to other islands, serve as a working platform, move/tow floats, and carry material such as lumber. The three older, smaller boats the department was using could carry four people. Nine people fit inside the enclosed area of the new boat, more crew members can stand on the deck.

It costs the county more to have the workers use the ferry than to take a boat for 15 minutes to go to Orcas, Shaw or Lopez islands from the Public Works department on Friday Harbor, said Harvey. Riding the ferry requires working around the ferry schedule and spending the time on the ferry. This especially doesn't work when the county is chipsealing roads, said Harvey. The crews can't stop the process to run and catch a ferry.

The department uses the small boats daily in the summer and weekly the rest of the year. The county will be able to operate just one boat to transport the crew rather than three. The county has roads on seven islands, four of which are served by ferries. Docks and marine facilities are vital parts of the county's transportation system," said Harvey.

Increased safety is another reason. The smaller boats had a limit of 1,000 pounds (half a ton). The new boat has a limit of 3 tons (6,000 pounds). Harvey noted the Public Works guys are big and four of them onboard the smaller boats was probably pushing the weight limit and definitely was when they took five at a time.

The boat will be able to get a crew home. Sometimes the weather changes after a crew is at an outer island, with the old boats returning could be questionable. One boat had radar, one had GPS and one had neither. "We don't plan work (using a boat) in bad weather," said Harvey. "but this boat can handle bad weather."

The county will still use local barge companies to transport equipment and materials. "We're not trying to replace that," said Harvey. The companies need to be on the small works roster and have equipment large enough to meet the needs.

When either the county or the Town of Friday Harbor government need to replace an item in their fleet, they each use money they've set aside as vehicles depreciate. The state legislature first set up this system as a road fund service but expanded it to motor pool and all rolling stock.

Mike Copas said the $325,000 for the boat came from the county's ER&R fund. The money is not part of the general fund and can not be used for other purposes. ER&R charges every department for the use of rolling stock. Public Works will be charged $75,000 for the first year of using the new boat. The cost is based on a 20-year life span. It includes fuel, insurance, mooragae, maintenance, depreciation, repairs, replacement. "We'll truth out the cost after one year," said Copas.

The boat was purchased from Munson in Burlington, Washington. The county piggybacked on a federal government contract through the General Services Administration. The county was given a choice of builders to choose from. Copas had researched several and then heard about Munson from an employee. Checking it out, he discovered it built boats for the Coast Guard, the oil spill clean-up in the Gulf, and police departments. The boat they built just before the county boat, was identical and shipped to Sweden.

After choosing the builder, the department customized the boat by choosing from a menu of options. The boat does not have a galley or a head. The boat does have a towing bit and a working platform.

"The float on Eastsound needs to be moved year year. It's 18 tons." said Harvey. It'll be much easier with the one large boat rather than using the small boats. Why not use a barge company? "They are too big to work close to shore, he said.

The working platform will make repairing docks easier.

The boat burns 14 gallons an hour of fuel. Moorage is at the Port of Friday Harbor at $7 a foot. The hourly operating cost is unknown at this time, Copas said.

The older boats are not on the market yet. They need to go through a surplusing process as all government equipment does. The county first needs to ask if another county department wants them. Public Works will keep the best one of the three after cannibalizing the other two for the best parts. The one boat will be used when one or two people only need to be transported.

The new boat purchase is in line with the department's six year program of reducing the size of its fleet. With this purchase the number of boats is reduced by two and a pickup on Stuart most likely will be eliminated. Harvey said it collects mice and it's starting is always questionable. An Escape or other small vehicle can fit on the new boat.

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