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Ferry Contract Dispute Settled By Legislature

In mid-September the Washington State Ferry System (WSF) awarded the propulsion system contract for its three new Jumbo Mark II ferries to Siemens' Automation and Drives Division.

The celebration was shortlived. Six weeks after the formal announcement, NC Machinery filed a lawsuit to halt the $47 million award.

NC Machinery, whose CAT engines were not part of the winning Siemens proposal, claimed that the state did not follow its own procurement laws in awarding the contract.

Citing a single sentence in the Revised Code of Washington (RCWs) they claimed the bid evaluation committee was required to do a life-cycle analysis, an analysis they believed would have earned its engines top placing in the final evaluation. Ferry system lawyers argued that the law required only that a determination be made as to whether a life-cycle analysis was in the best interest of the State. WSF management and State Procurement analyzed it and determined that it was not the best method for selecting the engines. State professional and licensed engineers maintain that in a strict lifecycle analysis, fuel efficiency swamps all other criteria including factors they deem more important, such as reliability, maintenance and commonality. The December court hearing lasted two days during which attorneys for both sides presented an avalanche of technical data to the judge who eventually enjoined the state from proceeding with the Siemens contract, halting all work in progress.

Ferry system managers objected, stating that due to previous difficulties with the procurement department the project had already been out for bid twice, it was months behind schedule and further delays would cost taxpayers additional dollars and leave them without badly needed ferry capacity for at least another year.

Shortly before the judge's written decision was presented, a deal was struck between the state and NC Machinery to remove the engines from the propulsion package and bid them separately, allowing Siemens to remain as the propulsion system vendor and work to continue.

The ferry system then turned to the state legislature for help, asking for one-time permission to remove the life-cycle analysis requirement for its engine selection. The bill passed the House on February 26 and the Senate on March 5.

Lobbyists for every major engine manufacturer were working hard in Olympica attempting to add wording to the proposed law that would favor their product. Ferry system representatives worked equally hard to keep the bill free of encumbrances. Upon passing, the bill carried only one amendment, which requires the state to consider only the technical data that appears on the manufacturer's specification sheet in its analysis. No personal knowledge, field experience or outside information can be used in the evaluation process.

Though unhappy with the amendment, ferry engineers feel they can work with the bill as written and will be able to get the project back on track.

Siemens' original proposal package contained EMD 710 diesel engines. Rounding out the system are Kato alternators, Trafo transformers and Bird-Johnson shafting and propellers. Siemens will supply their own switchboard, propulsion motors and control, alarm and monitoring systems.

The specification package for the hull design should be on the street by late April. Bids are expected from Todd Shipyards, and a consortium of small yards in the Seattle area who are proposing a modular construction package similar to that utilized in the construction of the two Spirit class ferries recently built in British Columbia.




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