The Oscar B traveled a long way by sea to its permanent location between Puget Island, Wash., and Westport, where it will serve as the last ferry on the lower Columbia River.
On Friday morning, the Oscar B reached its destination.
The new ferry’s arrival marked the end of a nearly five-year process to replace the original, aging Ferry Wahkiakum, in service since 1962.
Washington’s Wahkiakum County Public Works Director Pete Ringen, who is planning to retire at the end of the year, said the project has been, at times, complicated, but ultimately worth it to see the new ferry docked in his county.
The $5.7 million Oscar B, named after former skipper and owner Oscar Bergseng, made it to Puget Island at 9 a.m. Friday from Whidbey Island, north of Seattle, where it was constructed by Nichols Brothers Boat Builders of Freeland, Wash. A captain drove it by sea, docked it in Astoria last week, and made the final push to Puget Island Friday.
“The phrase I have used is ‘we don’t know what the future holds, but we have helped to secure the possibilities’,” Ringen said. “It’s a good feeling. It’s been a tough project, challenging for a small county to take this on. In the big picture, it’s worthwhile.”
While awaiting the Oscar B’s arrival, Legacy Contracting Inc. of Salem has worked to upgrade the ferry landings on each side of the river in Westport and Puget Island.
Construction work started the Oregon side of the river, where crews are replacing the Westport Ferry landing with a permanent steel landing. A temporary dock is being used in the meantime.
The permanent landing is expected to be complete by May 1.
The Oregon work costs nearly $2.5 million. About $1.83 million is coming from the federal Ferry Boat Discretionary Program. Clatsop County, which applied for the federal funding, is covering the remaining costs.
“The permanent landing has a ways to go yet,” Ringen said. “They have a significant amount of work to do.”
Crews spent the weekend pulling old pilings used for the old Ferry Wahkiakum, and making sure the Oscar B fits in its landings. On the Washington side, Ringen said, crews still need to change out the end of the ramp, reconstructed in 2009, to better connect with the Oscar B.
The ferry service shut down Friday through Monday for the ferry captains to take practice runs across the river. The Coast Guard is scheduled to inspect the boat Monday morning, before it can become operational.
Once it starts operating next week, the Oscar B will have a weight limit to only handle cars and trucks up to 8 tons, which will not allow semitrailers. The weight limit will be in place until the Washington-side ramp work is completed in April.
Crews will shut down service the third week in April to finish the construction work.
Legacy Contracting Inc.’s bid for the Washington side work was $574,837.
Ringen said he is still planning how to handle semi-trucks on the ferry, which the original ferry could not fit. He is considering a possible time schedule for semitrailers and a higher cost than the $5 per trip for cars and trucks.
“We have to come up with a game plan on how all that works,” Ringen said.
The ferry crew of three captains, three mates and fill-in deckhands are pleased with the new ferry’s features, including hydraulic steering instead of cable and chain steering, a captain’s chair, updated electronics and ADA-accessible restrooms.
The Oscar B will carry 23 passenger cars, nearly double the size of the original ferry. The extra room will eliminate extra runs throughout the day since more passengers will be transported each trip. Commuters, including employees at the Wauna Mill in Westport, regularly rely on the ferry service.
The Wahkiakum County Commission started discussions about constructing a new ferry in 2006. The process started around 2010. Since then, Ringen said, the project passed multiple hurdles of the ferry’s construction, waiting for permit approvals on the river and other paperwork.
Now, after a 31-year career, Ringen is looking forward to riding the ferry into his retirement.
“There is always another project, but I don’t know if there will be one with this level of challenge,” Ringen said.
Wahkiakum County will host the celebration of the Oscar B at 1 p.m. March 14 at the Wahkiakum Ferry Terminal, 785 SR 409, Cathlamet, Wash.