New team formed to watch new ferries

Washington State Ferries has formed an improvement team to keep an eye on its three new 64-car boats.
On Thursday, ferries director David Moseley met with Rep. Norma Smith, R-Clinton, Rep. Larry Seaquist, D-Gig Harbor, WSF leaders and fleet members, and ferry advisory committee members to discuss the maligned Kwa-di Tabil class.
The boats, which were built in a hurry after the 80-year-old Steel-Electrics were yanked from service as unsafe, are most noted for their list. They lean 3 degrees when empty because they were built to make more room for big trucks. The list restricts loading to one lane at a time instead of the former two, which can put the ferries behind schedule. Then they speed up and use extra fuel.
Outside of that, WSF says the list doesn’t cause any problems. It bugged people enough and they bugged WSF enough that they’re going to “fix” it for no real reason, they say.
“The U.S. Coast Guard confirms that the Kwa-di Tabil vessels are stable and safe to operate in all conditions of loading,” WSF communications director Marta Coursey said in early March when the fix was announced. “However, we recognize that some of our customers, staff and legislators are uncomfortable with the list.”
The fix was to add about 80 tons of ballast, costing around $300,000. Officials said the extra weight wouldn’t affect fuel efficiency.
On Thursday, Moseley said the Salish would go first. During the winter it’s generally a backup boat. Now, it’s at Eagle Harbor and free until May 12 when it will join the Kennewick on the Port Townsend-Coupeville route. The Chetzemoka is serving Point Defiance-Tahlequah. WSF will assess the Salish’s performance before modifying the other two boats, Moseley said.
Some, led by Smith and Seaquist, have concerns about the boats’ fuel consumption and vibrations, and what effect they will have on maintenance and longevity. And the vessels cost too much to begin with, they say. Smith and Seaquist were among 15 legislators who in January requested an audit on the three ferries by the state auditor.