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Northwest Voices

Seattle Times letters to the editor

March 8, 2009 at 8:40 PM

Washington State Ferries

New Tier 2-compliant engines: Killing two birds with one stone

It seems the governor has two problems that could be addressed at the same time. She wants to reduce carbon emissions, as well as lower the state’s use of diesel fuel.

Here’s a suggestion for where to spend some stimulus money: start re-powering the state-ferry system with new, more fuel-efficient, Environmental Protection Agency, Tier 2-compliant engines.

There would be significant reduction in carbon emissions, as well as a substantial reduction in fuel consumption. The fuel savings alone may be enough to pay for the engines. And, there are medium-speed, diesel engines readily available that are EPA Tier 2 compliant, far more fuel efficient and practically direct replacements for the fleet’s old locomotive technology.

The ferry system is the biggest single user of diesel fuel in the state and is in serious need of a plan to bring them into the current expectations of fuel-saving economy and pollution reduction.

This engine upgrade would go a long way toward bringing the fleet back to a solid baseline, mechanically speaking, in a maintenance plan that has been neglected and underfunded for far too long.

If we are to be as serious as California about our environment, we should set an example with our state’s own fuel-guzzling, carbon-polluting fleet.

— Roger Hatton, Seattle

Now and always, a skewed bureaucracy

“Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip…”

What a catchy little tune. As a retired skipper of Washington State Ferries (WSF), I can’t help but chuckle at what’s now on the “how to” list(s) to finance the system.

How our number-one tourist attraction has run aground in such financially troubled waters is akin to the antics of those on Gilligan’s Island. And yet, in retrospect, perhaps the castaways offer some simple, yet brilliant answers.

So, while you have that silly little ditty playing in your head, here’s the latest “message in a bottle” being cast from the shores of Olympia:

The Olympia Town Crier says, “Slow the boats down we’ll save fuel!” Hmm. I conducted a very extensive speed-fuel-burn-rate study in 2001 on the Bainbridge Island run (against the wishes of WSF management). The results confirmed that slowing the boats down as little as 3 knots would add two to three minutes to the crossing. However, when combined with canceling a few late-evening runs, we could save 2,000 to 3,000 gallons of fuel daily.

After submitting the results of my findings, I was invited to meet with WSF management to discuss conducting the same study fleetwide. But, like so many other good ideas presented to WSF, they just couldn’t get their act together enough to make it float.

Eight years and tens of thousands of gallons of fuel later, I have to assume it went by way of the S.S. Minnow, as I never heard back.

The Town Crier goes on to say, “Let’s cut administration costs we’re top heavy with management and in danger of capsizing!” For many years following the state takeover of the ferries, the fleet consisted of 18 vessels (with backup boats) and a management staff of 40. In today’s fleet, there are still 18 vessels (with little to no backup) and a management staff of several hundred.

There are numerous ways to save and make money in the fleet. Unfortunately, the way bureaucracy views the ferries is and always has been skewed.

Finding ways of filling the ferries with passengers and slowing them down makes good fiscal sense. Filling them with more top-heavy personnel will also slow the boats, but at a cost that challenges the very act keeping them afloat.

Getting back to the crew of the S.S. Minnow,

maybe we’ll be hearing one of those familiar coconut-radio broadcasts real soon, so stay tuned!

Now, where was I? Oh yeah. “…that started from this tropic port, aboard this tiny ship ”

— Gary Fredback, retired Washington State Ferry captain, Bremerton

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