A week after Gov. Chris Gregoire told KING 5 Washington State Ferries (WSF) cannot afford a multi-million dollar Coast Guard mandate to add more staff on boats for safety reasons, the reporters find the state does not have a choice in the matter, and must forego the appeal process that could have led to a reversal of the decision.
In a letter sent to legislators Wednesday night, Secretary of Transportation Paula Hammond alerted lawmakers that no appeal will take place. “The public deserves a safe and dependable ferry system and, as a result, we will not appeal the decision you have made regarding the Jumbo and Super classes (of ferries),” wrote Hammond.
But safety and dependability aren’t the only reasons the state must find approximately $3 million a year to add staff on six of the largest boats in the fleet. The KING 5 Investigators have found a Memorandum of Understanding with ferry unions prevents the state from pursuing the appeal process.
During labor negotiations last spring, ferry and labor leaders could not agree on appropriate staffing levels on boats. Both sides agreed to let the Coast Guard weigh in on the subject.
On October 26, Captain Scott Ferguson of the U.S. Coast Guard wrote more staff is needed on at least six boats in the fleet in case of a catastrophic event.
“WSF operates a large fleet in a demanding and complex operating environment that mandates providing essential resources to further protect the ferries from the low probability but high consequence event of a ferry collision or sinking,” wrote Capt. Ferguson.
While there is a well defined process to appeal Coast Guard decisions, the Memorandum of Understanding with Collective Bargaining Units states the Coast Guard ruling will stand- no matter what.
“When both state and union leaders asked the U.S. Coast Guard to review manning levels, the parties agreed in a Memorandum of Understanding to accept the USCG’s directive as a final ruling and that the state would not appeal the decision,” said State Ferries Director, David Moseley on Wednesday night.
In a memo written last month, Moseley reported to legislators that the cost to the state could be $9.8 million through next year if, as expected, the Coast Guard makes similar rulings on 12 additional boats currently under evaluation. That decision is expected by November 15th.