Kitsap Harbor tours finally gets contract

Despite an outcry from the Puget Sound ferry community, on Tuesday Kitsap Transit’s Board of Directors voted overwhelmingly to award the former Horluck Foot Ferry contract to Kitsap Harbor Tours.

The contract, which was to have been awarded last month, was delayed because of insufficient contract information.

Kitsap Transit Executive Director Dick Hayes resubmitted the information to the board at its regularly scheduled meeting last Tuesday; he said he was concerned that if it was delayed again, the planned handover of service from current contractor Hilton Smith to the new contractor in January could not go forward as planned.

The contract calls for Kitsap Harbor Tours to operate the Bremerton/Port Orchard foot ferry for the next five years.

In return, Kitsap Transit will pay the company $670,000 in 2004, with the rest of the yearly payments to be negotiated at a future time.

“We’ve provided a huge amount of information to make up for not enough last time,” Hayes told the Board. “We believe the proposal is sound.”

Others, however, disagreed.

Four ferry executives, including outgoing operator Smith, protested the proposed contract award and entire bidding process as a whole. They said Kitsap Harbor Tours was completely incapable of handling the requirements of the contract and accused Kitsap Transit of unfairly weighting the bid package in Harbor Tours’ favor.

“The vessels chosen have neither the capacity to accommodate today’s volume nor the speed to manage 15-minute runs (as required under the contract),” said John Blackman, who owns Argosy Cruises and was one of the unsuccessful bidders for the foot ferry service.

Craig Dronkard, president of Pacific Navigation Corp. — another unsuccessful bidder — used a flip chart to illustrate exactly how Kitsap Transit had violated standard bid practices and geared its requirements to Harbor Tours’ assets.

“This is a flawed procedure,” he said. “Transit ignored contracting procedures.”

Hayes, however, said most of the conflict lay in the difference between Harbor Tours’ vessels, which are small and quick, and the other bidders’ vessels, which are mostly large and slow like the current Horluck boats.

Kitsap Transit, he explained, wanted small boats because it wanted to be able to maintain 15-minute round-trips between Port Orchard and Bremerton during rush hour. Such a goal would require much faster boats than the ones currently used and quick turnaround times.

Hayes said although the bulky boats serve shipyard workers well, they don’t pair effectively with the buses and Washington State Ferries many riders want to connect to.

“This is not your grandmother’s ferry system,” he said. “It needs to integrate with a full transportation network.”

Nevertheless, many of the board members were bothered by the other ferry executives’ remarks. Board member Donna Jean Bruce expressed concerns about the appearance of fairness of the bid package. She questioned the need for smaller boats, especially since the big boats had been sustaining the route effectively for decades.

“It seems that it would be less expensive and there would be more certainty of maintaining the schedule (with bigger boats),” Bruce said. “If it’s working well, why change it?”

Board member Jan Angel, who also serves as chair for the Kitsap County Board of Commissioners, expressed strong reservations about moving forward after so many highly placed maritime representatives called the bidding system flawed. She said those who spoke had a lot of experience and their opinions should be given substantial weight.

“I don’t think we’ve solved the problems ... I can’t justify (supporting it),” Angel said.

Board member Chris Endresen, another county commissioner, disagreed with both Bruce’s and Angel’s concerns. She said the 15-minute timing would be important as the area “looks into the future.”

Endresen said she didn’t think rebidding the contract would change the final outcome, but warned transit staff that she would be keeping a close eye on the success — or failure — of the small-boat gamble.

“It’s their credibility on the line if this doesn’t work,” she said.

Hayes agreed and said Kitsap Transit wasn’t afraid to fire Harbor Tours if the company failed to meet stipulated expectations.

In the end, Angel was the only member out of the six to vote against awarding the contract.

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