State back to square one with bids for fast ferry

Sitka-Juneau ship may come on line later than planned

Posted: Friday, April 13, 2001

Alaska officials will not negotiate with a Washington state shipyard on its proposal to build a fast ferry.

The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities this morning instead decided to put the contract out for bid again.

The agency on Monday rejected a bid by Nichols Brothers Boat Builders of Freeland, Wash., saying it was "nonresponsive." However, the state left open the possibility of reconsidering other applicants or negotiating with Nichols Brothers - the only shipyard to bid on the project.

At a meeting this morning, the agency decided to start over, said Dennis Poshard, a DOT spokesman.

"The decision made was to cancel this procurement and to take what we've learned from this process and develop a new procurement," Poshard said.

The company attached unacceptable conditions to its $35.99 million bid, said Poshard, who would not speak in detail, saying the conditions were confidential. He said the project carries some business risk to the builder because the 32-knot, aluminum passenger and vehicle high-speed catamaran is the first of its kind to be built in the United States. He said the state is weighing how much of that risk it should assume.

DOT Southeast Regional Director Bob Doll said the agency requires bidders to agree to certain criteria before it awards contracts.

"When the ship is ready to be delivered, the builder takes it out and does performance trials. It needs to make a certain speed, fuel consumption, and it needs to be delivered on time," Doll said.

"If any one of those criteria doesn't satisfy, there are penalties associated with those things. How large those penalties are ... need to be written into the contract. Builders like to be held to a very loose standard, we like hold them to a stringent standard."

The state had hoped to have the fast ferry in service between Juneau and Sitka by 2003.

"Obviously there's going to be some delay," said Doll, adding he was not prepared to say whether the contract delay would push back the 2003 deadline.

The federally funded vessel is the first of five to seven fast ferries envisioned for Southeast and Prince William Sound.

Kathy Dye can be reached at

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