The Issaquah Class: Saga of the Citrus Boats
      The story of the Issaquah Class ferries would be worthy of a
novel or a mini-series.  By the time the six boats had all hit the
waters of Puget Sound, lawsuits had been filed, political
scandals had been broken open, and environmental laws
blatantly ignored.
       At the center of it was Washington State Ferries, which
actually had little to do with any of it except for having been
handed the flawed ferries, which they desperately needed. The
agency got a bum rap over the Issaquahs, when really the fault
could be squarely leveled at the builder and the legislature.
      The vessels were constructed by Marine Power and
Equipment, a company that had never taken on anything as large
as building a ferry, let alone six of them. They received the
contract over a New Orleans shipyard for reasons not clearly
explained. Later it was revealed that several of the senators who
pushed for MP&E to get the contract owed the company
thousands of dollars in private boat repairs. In addition, the
company reaped a huge profit--at taxpayer expense--while using
highly questionable construction methods, materials and
unproven computer systems.
      Almost at once the problems with the vessels became
evident. Their interiors began to wear almost immediately, but
more disturbing were the mechanical problems. The vessels
routinely rammed docks, causing millions in damages. In
addition they would  inexplicably pull away from the pier, in one
case dropping a car into Puget Sound while three elderly
passengers barely scrambled to safety. So routine were the
engine failures that the chief engineer for the ferry system
declared them unsafe and was quoted in the Seattle
newspapers saying that passengers should not be near the front
of the vessels while they were docking.
      Lawsuits flew, with the state filing suit against MP&E and
MP&E countersuing the State. The vessels were pulled out of
service, inspected, repaired, and then pulled out again. The state
refused to accept the last of the class, the
Sealth. A mere four
years after entering service, the state began pulling the
computerized propulsion systems.
      The State settled with Marine Power and Equipment. The
State would pay MP&E a million in compensation. In return,
MP&E was to start paying the State $800,000.00 back per year
begining in the early 1990s. By that time the company was long
bankrupt, having been slammed with fines for dumping sand
blasting material directly into the Duwamish River.
      In the meantime, WSF had finally accepted the
Sealth in
1985. Around the same time, the ferries started to be rebuilt. One
by one they went into the yard, emerging with an expanded car
deck which added 30 cars to their carrying capacity. In the late
1990s, the oldest of the vessels went into the yard for a complete
interior refurbishment.
      Nearly 20 years after first taking to the waters, the class as a
whole has settled into being a very reliable group of ferries.  They
are used on many routes and after having shed their original
interiors they become an invaluable asset to the system and
some of the steadiest running ferries in the fleet.