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By SCOTT BOWLEN
Daily News Staff Writer
Acknowledging that construction won’t be complete by the mid-October deadline, Vigor Industrial plans to do about 5 percent of the work on the second of two new Alaska state ferries at its facility in Vancouver, Washington, rather than at the Ketchikan Shipyard.
For its part, the Alaska Department of Transportation acknowledges that Vigor’s construction contract allows for the planned shift but that Gov. Bill Walker and the state are advocating for 100 percent of the work to remain in Alaska.
“The state is advocating for those vessels to be delivered ... by the contract delivery date, and also for the work to stay in Alaska,” DOT spokesperson Aurah Landau said late Thursday afternoon.
Doug Ward, director of shipyard development for Vigor Alaska — the Vigor Industrial subsidiary that operates the state-owned Ketchikan Shipyard — said Thursday that Vigor “shares the governor’s objectives in sustaining jobs in Alaska” and “will continue to work closely with the state in good faith to deliver quality vessels that serve Alaskans and maximize high-quality long-term jobs” in the state.
The issue focuses on the Hubbard, the second Alaska Class ferry being built at the Ketchikan Shipyard.
In October, 2014, Vigor signed the approximately $100 million contract with the administration of then Gov. Sean Parnell for the ferry construction, a contract paid for by state dollars to facilitate construction in Alaska.
The first of the 280-foot ferries, the Tazlina, is nearing completion.
“We’re going to get that done here in the next few months,” Vigor spokesman Ward said, adding that ship will be ready will be “very close” to the contract’s “aspirational” delivery date in March. “We'll probably miss it by a few weeks and be having it (done) in April, but we'll probably be really close.”
However, space constraints at the shipyard and difficulties in recruiting, training and retaining enough ship fabrication workers mean that Vigor won’t be able to finish the Hubbard by the deadline, according to Ward.
Vigor is currently recruiting in Alaska and nationally to fill more than 30 journey-level ship fabrication workers position during the next month. This will bring the shipyard’s workforce up to 100 fabrication workers, in addition to 110 ship maintenence workers.
He noted that the shipyard has a “sweet spot” of constructing ships up to 250 feet in length, but the ferries are 280 feet.
“Because it's bigger than our (assembly hall), we’ve had to build the (ferry) in a forward half and a stern half,” Ward said.
With the Tazlina, the shipyard built the forward half, then moved it while constructing the stern half, which contains the complex engine-room module. What then followed was the also-complex task of connecting the engine room to the wheelhouse.
For the Hubbard, “if we built it like we built the Tazlina, we'd get that forward half pulled and go to work on the engine room, and we would have to finish it there, and before we could even start on the integration to the wheelhouse, we'd have to wait until we'd got the … engine room done,” Ward said.
Instead of doing the same sequence, Vigor now plans to build the engine room module, shaft alleys, steering gear and transom piece in Vancouver while the forward module is being built in Ketchikan, according to Ward.
The engine room components will be barged to Ketchikan to be integrated with the completed forward half.
“That will save months and months and months, and that's why we're doing it,” Ward said.
The total amount of construction to be done in Vancouver is about 4.7 percent of the overall value of the contract, which allows for up to 13 percent of the work to be “non self-performed.”
Vigor and the state agree that the Vancouver work is allowed by the contract.
“Vigor has made a business decision to move construction of certain modules of the MV Hubbard out of Alaska. they're allowed to do that because of the contract,” said Landau, who added that Vigor has done “more than 87 percent” of the ferry construction in Alaska thus far.
But even with the hiring push and planned Outside work, “no matter what we do, we’re still not going to make that Oct. 18 (deadline) with the Hubbard,” Ward said.
Vigor anticipates providing the state with a new schedule reflecting the Vancouver work within the next or so, according to Ward, who acknowledged that the construction contract contains penalties if the ferry isn’t completed on time.
“It's their option to enforce the contract terms.” he said. “... It was our option to take advantage of the resources outside of Alaska, and we chose to do that. There will be decisions on both sides.”
In-depth discussions with the state would occur after Vigor delivers the new schedule.
“All of our strategies are aimed at moving our delivery date as close to the contract delivery date as we can, but we're not going to make the October date,” he said.
Landau said the state is hoping “to be able to expect the vessels to be delivered by late 2018 with the contract delivery date,” and added that the state also is “hoping to negotiate that deadline, potentially, should there be an opportunity to bring more jobs into Alaska.
“There is space for a conversation about that,” she said.