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Alaska Marine Highway Finds Dual Purpose Vessel Justifies Cost

The newest addition to the Alaska Marine Highways' ferry fleet will help provide a practical and needed mode of transportation, as well as all-important environmental protection.

The vessel is designed for dual purpose use: as a car ferry in good times, as an emergency command and control center in bad times. For most of her working life the 380-ft. (116-m) vessel will serve both the Southeast route and the difficult Southwest route, from Homer to Kodiak and out in the Aleutian chain where inclement weather requires an open-ocean rating for the ship.

In the event of an oil spill or other disaster at sea, the ferry will pull into the nearest port and offload its 500 passengers and 100 cars. Emergency personnel will then commandeer the vessel and proceed to the accident site.

Once there, the ferry's chief role will be to provide a vital communication hub, directing cleanup operations. Communication proved the missing link during the Valdez incident, and Alaska officials are determined not to be caught short again.

The ship's built-in communication system includes facilities for 40 phone lines as well as video teleconferencing. Although the vessel will not be directly involved in the cleanup, it will remain onsite for up to three weeks providing a docking area for cleanup vessels, and a decontamination station on the car deck. Propulsion system plans are for a geared diesel with controllable pitch propellers.

Besides the additional safety equipment required of oceangoing vessels, the ship will have motion stabilizer fins, a unique feature on passenger ferries. The vessel measures 83 ft. (25.3 m) in the beam with a maximum draft of 17 ft. (5.2 m).

State engineers have conducted extensive model tests in Holland to assure that the hull form is suitable for the rough, open-ocean conditions present on the Southwest run.

During its regular work schedule, the as-yetunnamed vessel will service several unimproved docks on the isolated, outer islands. To that end it is equipped with an aft vehicle elevator.

The only other ship in the fleet with this feature is the aging and smaller Tustumena. Ferry officials felt they needed another vessel able to provide the vital transportation of goods, vehicles and passengers to the outer islands, but the expenses involved in building an oceangoing Subchapter-H vessel were difficult to justify considering the limited population of the area. The concept of a multi-use vessel provided the answer to several problems at once.

Funding for the vessel is a complex web of State of Alaska funds as well as Federal Highway Administration money.

As part of the Marine Highways structure, the ferry system receives capital refurbishment dollars from the Federal Highway fund based upon the number of miles traveled during the year.

Federal money carries with it a fairly complex procurement process. Unlike its neighbors, The British Columbia Ferry System and the Washington State Feriy System, Alaska does not have the luxury of legislating a "build them in-state" law.

The Federal Highway Administration requires that bidding be open to all qualified American yards.

"We are operating under what the federal government calls a 'Special Experimental Process'," says Patrick Eberhardt, marine engineering manager for Alaska Marine Highways, "in that we have some latitude to deviate from the existing federal procurement requirements." The resulting plan consists of a three-part procurement process.

Part one was a pre-qualification stage which yielded a list of seven qualified shipyards. Only those yards attaining pre-qualification status will receive solicitation packages.

Qualifying yards include Avondale, Newport News, Trinity, Bender, Evergreen State (a consortium of three small yards in Seattle), Todd, and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in conjunction with Portland Shipyard.

When the initial bids are received, officials will make a second cut, then a final Request For Proposal will be made from the short list. The final solicitation package is nearing completion. It will be reviewed by the Federal Highway Administration, and should be available to qualified yards by early fall.

The vessel is expected to join the fleet in 1997. Glosten and Associates of Seattle, Washington, is the designer/owner representative in the design- and-build contract.

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