Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Maintaining our vital marine highway while keeping riders and employees safe

By Justin Fujioka

Safely operating a ferry system with a fleet of 21 auto-passenger vessels and 20 terminals on 10 routes is no easy feat. And for our 2,000 employees in our ferries division, that task is even harder with COVID-19.

Our vessel crews and terminal staff are braving the frontlines so we can continue to provide an important marine transportation link. But riders often don't see the support staff helping to keep people and goods moving across the Salish Sea during the pandemic. In particular, the men and women who keep our ferries and terminals in safe, working order.

We have more than 100 employees at our Eagle Harbor Maintenance Facility on Bainbridge Island. The complex has 10 different trade shops: electric, pipefitter, machine, sheet metal, weld, lock, radio, carpenter, insulation and shore maintenance.
Our Eagle Harbor maintenance facility on Bainbridge Island

Like most construction sites, the facility was shut down for six weeks from late March through early May because of the coronavirus. Although the maintenance facility was closed, the ferries kept sailing and some staff members were still dispatched for critical work on our ferries and terminals.

One essential job was to install Plexiglas sneeze guards on our terminal toll booths to protect customers and ticket sellers. They built and customized each sneeze guard and installed them in late April through early May.
Ticket seller Lawrence Grohall behind a customized Plexiglas sneeze guard built and installed by our Eagle Harbor staff. Our information technology team designed and implemented the self-swipe credit card reader attached to a selfie stick, which is now used at all our ferry toolbooths.

Once Eagle Harbor was able to reopen, the facility's staff was still not allowed to work on anything that did not meet the six-foot separation requirement. Combined with the closure, this caused a backlog of maintenance work that they're still trying to catch up on.
Members of Eagle Harbor’s shore gang team weld bridge plates during a recent repair job at our Southworth ferry terminal.

In total, the staff at our Eagle Harbor Maintenance Facility has completed hundreds of projects since the pandemic began, including emergency overhauls of vessels and urgent repairs at terminals. Again, that's tough to begin with, but COVID-19 has made their work even more technical and strategic.