Wednesday, December 2, 2020
Dec. 2, 2020

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Olympia port OKs deal for 2 U.S. ships

Ready Reserve Fleet vessels to tie up at terminal


OLYMPIA — The Port of Olympia commission voted 2-1 Monday evening to approve a five-year contract for two government-owned ships that will tie up at the marine terminal and do little else, port officials say.

The net present value of the layberth contract, meaning there is no plan for the ships to handle cargo, is $3.5 million.

The two ships, the Admiral W.M. Callaghan and Cape Orlando, both of which measure more than 600 feet, are part of the Ready Reserve Fleet, also known as the Ready Reserve Force, which is part of the U.S. Maritime Administration. The U.S. Maritime Administration is part of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The fleet has been known to help support national defense efforts, but port officials again emphasized there is no plan for the ships to handle cargo, or military cargo.

“Any kind of using of these ships would take a separate action by the port,” Commissioner Joe Downing said.

Downing and Commissioner Bill McGregor voted in favor of the contract, while Commissioner E.J. Zita voted against it, asking again for more time to vet the proposal.

Prior to approving the agenda for Monday’s meeting, Zita made a motion to move the layberth contract action item to the advisory calendar for more discussion, but her motion failed from lack of support from either McGregor or Downing.

“I want to make sure we have all the information we need to make an informed decision,” Zita said.

The ships have spurred a number of questions, including whether Budd Inlet is deep enough for them, or whether there will be enough room for other boats once the ships are docked, as well as questions about environmental matters, such as bilge water.

But minutes before Downing voted to approve the deal, he raised a concern of his own. Once the ships arrive in Olympia, they are set to dock at Berth 1 on the marine terminal, a space currently occupied by a former state ferry.

“My biggest concern is the ferry,” said Downing, who added that he’s been telling his constituents the ferry will be gone by Thanksgiving. “Now I’m nervous it’s not going to be gone by Thanksgiving.”

The former state ferry was purchased and docked at the port more than two years ago. It then became a headache for the port after the owner struggled to pay his bills and then stopped paying them altogether this year. The port later sued the owner in federal court and won a judgment to have the boat sold.

“I’d hate to see us approve (the layberth contract) because the ferry is still sitting there,” Downing said.

Marine Terminal Director Len Faucher said the port is still waiting to hear from U.S. Marshals about a sales process for the ferry.

During public comment, five people spoke in support of the contract and two people were opposed to it.

Deborah Pattin said the layberth contract means more revenue for the port, more work for its workforce and the ships will have small crews of merchant marines who will spend their money here.

“I just think it’s a win, win, win,” she said.

One woman echoed Zita’s comments, saying she wanted the port to consider an environmental impact survey of the ships, or do more community outreach before voting on the contract.