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Fast-ferry plans will be scaled back

Kitsap Transit’s prototype will be similar to the M/V Spirit. - Courtesy Photo
Kitsap Transit’s prototype will be similar to the M/V Spirit.
— image credit: Courtesy Photo

If and when small ferry boats are again making quick trips through Rich Passage from Bremerton to Seattle, they will carry fewer people and travel a bit slower than originally hoped.

The Kitsap Transit Board of Commissioners last month voted to scale back the design of the test boat being used to gauge the effect such small-but-quick vessels have on the shores of Manchester and southern Bainbridge Island.

In 2004, Kitsap Transit enlisted Pacific International Engineering to design a low-wake boat and test its impact on the sensitive shorelines east of Sinclair Inlet.

Since the work began, Phil Osbourne of PI Engineering said his group was focusing on the wakes created by boats, since in Rich Passage’s narrow and shallow areas, the waves created “get amplified by the bottom topography and tidal currents” and wreak havoc on the shoreline.

Different boats have been tested during the four-year process, including the M/V Spirit and, the latest — Research Vessel Three. And while Kitsap transit Executive Director Richard Hayes said that in certain respects the RV3 is an improvement over the Spirit, he told the board of directors that “Kitsap Transit only has one chance to do this right,” and he believes “the prototype boat has to be discernibly better in performance than existing vessels,” according to the meeting minutes.

Hayes explained that the RV3 carries 25 more passengers and can reach faster speeds than the Spirit, it did not “post a discernable wake wash improvement compared to the vessel the Spirit.”

According to the data gathered on the RV3, Hayes said the current prototype would be limited to about 10 runs per day, which would only serve the morning rush hour.

Hayes said that in talking to the researchers, they expressed concerns with the RV3’s “wake wash performance, and were unable to say it would improve. As a result, we need to go through a redesign process.”

Hayes then asked the board to approve paying, “if necessary, certain additional design and delay-related costs and to reduce the (parameters on RV3) from 149 passengers and 37 knots, to a minimum of 125 passengers and 32 knots to ensure clear compliance with wake standards.”

He said the vessel would need to be lighter to improve its wake-wash performance, but also it would be too expensive as far as its fuel usage, at a time when the agency has “no slack left in its grant funding or anyplace else to absorb any additional increases in costs.”

Such parameter changes would delay the design phase approximately four months, Hayes said, which he noted would actually “be better for Kitsap Transit in terms of cash flow,” and that the changes would “reduce the total cost of the project by $250,000 to $500,000, due to savings associated with the size of the engines and jets.”

Board Chair and Central Kitsap Commissioner Josh Brown said he understood that the proposed changes would “produce a vessel that is smaller, lighter, more fuel-efficient and with reduced wake wash,” and also asked if a boat traveling at 32 knots would reach Seattle from Bremerton in 35 minutes?

Hayes said it would, and would actually make the trip in 32 minutes.

If approved, Hayes said the re-design will begin that day with “a conference call to include the designer in New Zealand, the builder in Bellingham and Kitsap Transit’s technical team.

When South Kitsap Commissioner Jan Angel asked about the source of the funding, Hayes said that the funding “does not change, and “the smaller boat will actually make it a bit easier to live within the funding levels already established.”

However, the timeline will change, as he said the boat will probably be finished in October of next year rather than by June.

Brown then said the board needs to see the fixed costs regardless of passenger count, staffing levels and other regulatory issues, and asked Hayes to update the board throughout the final decision-making process.

Hayes said he would “keep the board posted.”

The board then voted unanimously to approve changing the design parameters.

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