The Coast Guard has sent a second letter about increasing staffing levels on boats to Washington State Ferries (WSF). The gist: hire more people to make sure the travelling public is safe.

In October, the Coast Guard ordered WSF to add staff to vessels in the Jumbo Mark I and Super Class ferries. Now, the same mandate has come down for the Issaquah and Evergreen State classes. There are a total of nine boats in those classes.

The increases come as a result of an impasse between WSF labor unions and WSF executive management. In early 2011 at the bargaining table, neither side could agree on appropriate minimum staffing levels. Both sides agreed to the Coast Guard decide. Now those decisions are in and the price tag is expected to be hefty.

In a WSDOT bulletin sent to a group of legislators in October, the projected cost associated with the mandate, including hiring and training staff was $14.1-million for the 2013-2015 biennium.

The manning level controversy became especially heated when WSF reduced staffing levels on several boats in June after getting a preliminary okay to do so from the Coast Guard. After that reduction, the number of cancelled or delayed boats due to staffing issues exploded. There have been 122 cancelled or late sailings in 2012, compared with just 27 in 2011. Since the Coast Guard reversed its decision and ordered manning levels to go up in the coming days and weeks, there have only been a handful of staffing issue problems.

It's unclear how the ferry system will pay for the increase in staff. Executives proposed cuts in service levels to the Governor in the latest proposed budget.

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