N.Y. shipyard front-runner to build state's fast ferries

Posted: Friday, December 21, 2001

Derecktor Shipyards of New York is the apparent low bidder for a state contract to build two fast ferries, including one slated to run between Juneau and Sitka.

If the shipyard's bid stands up to state scrutiny, Derecktor will get the contract and the Juneau ferry should come online in spring of 2004, said Joe Perkins, commissioner of the state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.

"This is the first big step to the implementation of the Southeast (transportation) plan, which centers around fast ferries," said Perkins, who opened the bids on Thursday. "This is a very positive thing."

Derecktor's bid was lower than one by Austal USA, an Australian company with a shipyard in Alabama and the only other competitor to bid on the contract.

Austal USA wanted $85.1 million to build the ferries while Derecktor bid $67.9 million, Perkins said.

Derecktor's bid was higher than the state estimate of $65.3 million for the Juneau-Sitka ferry plus a second vessel to run between Cordova and Valdez, but the bid was in the ballpark, he said.

"It's very close to our engineering estimate, and to me it's a go for the fast-ferry procurement," Perkins said. "We now will proceed on with Derecktor and hopefully get a contract awarded and get these under construction."

The contract calls for two aluminum ferries that can travel 32 knots an hour and accommodate 250 passengers plus the equivalent of 35 sport utility vehicles. No shipyard in the United States has ever built such a vessel, including Derecktor, said Gavin Higgins, general manager of the company.

However, Derecktor has built numerous high-speed, passenger-only ferries plus many other vessels, including nine 270-foot cutters for the U.S. Coast Guard, he said.

"We have built as complicated or more complicated vessels in the past," said Higgins, noting the company has more than 50 years' experience in the business.

"We're very excited to be able to bring the first of a new type of vessel to the United States," he said.

The news was a letdown for Austal USA, which bills itself as one of the world's largest manufacturers of high-speed ferries.

"All I can say is it's a disappointing result," said Chris Pemberton, the company's vice president of sales and marketing.

The state will review Derecktor's bid to make sure it meets specifications, such as bonding requirements, said Perkins, noting he will award the contract to the company within 45 days if the bid passes muster.

If the company gets the contract, Derecktor will build the vessels and the London firm Nigel Gee & Associates will design them, he said.

Under phase one of the contract, the winner will first build the Juneau-Sitka ferry - the only fully-funded vessel. The Legislature authorized $10.4 million in partial funding for the Cordova vessel, and the shipyard will use the money to buy parts, such as engines, for that ferry, Perkins said.

The shipyard will build the Cordova vessel when it's fully funded, said Perkins, noting the federal government already has approved enough federal dollars to complete the project, but state lawmakers must authorize use of the money. Perkins was hopeful the Legislature would give approval next session. The contract also gives the winning shipyard an option to build two additional fast ferries.

This is the second time the state has attempted to hire a shipyard to build the vessels. The state in April rejected a bid by Nichols Brothers Boat Builders of Washington state, calling it "nonresponsive." Nichols Brothers was the only shipyard to bid on the project the first time.

Kathy Dye can be reached at kdye@juneauempire.com.

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