Debate over LNG, “Bertha’ hinders WSDOT budgets | Ferry Fare

Here in Kingston, plans for LNG-powered ferries march on with a safety study — for good reason.

Terminal condition

The Bainbridge terminal’s $47 million makeover, now under way, will make it earthquake proof, fix up the restrooms, replace windows, lights and heating, eliminate the toll booths and move the coffee stand inside. The funky passenger ramp will, however, retain its current charm.

Going natural

Liquefied natural gas (LNG) is the rage among ferry systems for its low -cost stable supply and clean emissions. Quebec is buying a new LNG ferry and New York is converting one of its Staten Island ferries.

Here in Kingston, plans for LNG-powered ferries march on with a safety study — for good reason.

In January, a natural gas pipeline explosion near Winnipeg burned for 12 hours with 800-foot flames.

In October 2011, an LNG tank car crashed with a 400-foot fireball. While the only fatality was a result of the crash, not the fireball, the specter of an LNG inferno worries ferry communities.

Besides Nordic skiing, the Nobel Prize, and lutefisk, Norway’s renowned for its LNG ferries. Their 16 boats have a spotless safety record, so WSF asked Norway’s Det Norske Veritas (DNV is like Lloyd’s of London) to analyze the safety of converting an Issaquah ferry to LNG.

The Issaquah’s LNG tanks would sit on the top deck and be refueled at night from a tanker truck.  DNV found that the risk of fatality to a person standing at the riskiest spot, 24/7, is one in 1 million per year.  The risk of puncturing the LNG tank in a collision is 1 in 25,031 per year. So the risk to a ferry community comes out as “broadly acceptable,” meaning that a LNG ferry doesn’t add to the risks of the other things normally going on.

This is reinforced by the fact that since 1964, 350 LNG tanker ships haven’t yet had a problem. So why still be concerned? DNV’s analysis of terrorism scenarios are USCG “Sensitive Security Information” and not available for us to see. But I think that a terrorist could easily load up a speed boat with 600 pounds of explosives, a la USS Cole, and ram into a ferry with less hassle.

You can read the full report on the WSF website,


“Bertha” remains stuck with drilling 10 percent complete. After a two-month delay from hitting a pipe, repairs may take six more months. Highway 520 is in worse financial shape. What’s really stuck is the state Department of Transportation — stuck with a host of mega-projects funded more on optimism than reality.

Here’s what the experts say about transportation projects worldwide:

nNine of 10 projects will be overrun by an average of 28 percent.

nBridges overrun by 34 percent and tunnels overrun by 48 percent.

These overruns haven’t decreased in 70 years.

The leading cause is the optimism bias of public officials.

I saw that bias first-hand  years ago when the mega -project managers briefed our legislators that every risky stone had been looked under. In a smug atmosphere that contended Washington projects were above all the others, only softball questions were pitched

Why mention this? The transportation gas tax package, of which 7 percent goes to ferries, is being kicked down the road until after the elections. Simple math, however, says that it’s inevitable. We have $15 billion to $17 billion of optimistically budgeted mega-projects.  That means about $5 billion in likely overruns, or about $1,900 per Washington household.

Is there a plan B? One suggestion from a Seattle Times reader: “Turn Bertha into an underground skatepark — not a half pipe but full pipe. Billions saved.”

History’s other “Big Bertha” was a humongous howitzer that the Kaiser used to blow holes in France and Belgium’s “impregnable” forts. Maybe that Bertha could also dig a tunnel.

Seriously, there is no plan “B.” Without the package, we have half a tunnel, a bridge to nowhere, state-wide potholes, and runaway ferry fares.

— FerryFare is written by Walt Elliott, chairman of the Kingston Ferry Advisory Committee. Contact him at