Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Moving a ferry dock is all about the timing

By Joe McHale

It’s not very often that the Keller Ferry, M/V Sanpoil is taken out of service for maintenance. But when it is, public notice is key to limiting the surprise to those who use the 116-foot vessel to cross Lake Roosevelt between Lincoln and Ferry counties and continue their trek on State Route 21.

“The Keller Ferry is the lifeblood of that community,” Maintenance Superintendent Kurt Kaufman said. “People rely on that ferry.”

They do. Bus drivers, mail carriers, first responders, recreationalists and many others use the ferry daily. When it is out of service, the detour to the other side of the lake takes roughly an hour.

There are some occasions, however, that warrant a pause in service with little to no warning. High wind speed is the number one culprit. One of the other, more rare reasons, is because of what happened earlier in April: The north shore landing dock had to be relocated a half-mile up the Sanpoil River, a tributary of the Columbia River. Why? Because the level of Lake Roosevelt (a reservoir on the Columbia) was forecasted to drop to 1,238 feet, which is the minimum threshold for when it becomes unsafe or even impossible for the vessel to land at its usual spot.

The Keller Ferry pulls the north shore landing dock across Lake Roosevelt to
its alternative landing spot

Maintenance Supervisor and lead ferry engineer Steve Rosman said this is the first time we’ve moved the dock since 2018.

“It just depends on the snowpack and what the Bureau of Reclamations does with the lake level,” he said.

Lake water levels are controlled by the Bureau of Reclamation and are affected by snowpack, weather patterns and power generation needs of the nearby Grand Coulee Dam, and are not easily predictable on a long-term basis. Typically, the lake levels are between 1,240 and 1,290 feet. When the bureau lowers the lake level to 1,238 feet, the north shore dock runs out of ramp and must be relocated a short distance.

“At 1,238 feet there’s no more road there,” said Rosman. “It’s on the side of a rock cliff.”

Rosman and his eight-person crew who operate the ferry might know 24 hours in advance when the dock needs to move, 48 hours if they are lucky. That’s not a ton of time to let the public know, though we do what we can.

The usual route the Keller Ferry takes across Lake Roosevelt to connect to SR 21 (left) and the alternative north shore landing dock when the lake levels drop below 1,238 feet

The move

Timing has a lot to do with moving the dock.

After the school bus and mail carrier crossed Lake Roosevelt via the Keller Ferry, it was go time. The north shore landing dock needed to be relocated before the aforementioned precious cargo made their return trip in the afternoon. The ferry is a link to the north side and when it’s not available, it’s disruptive to the communities including school districts and mail delivery.

The Keller Ferry reaches the alternative north shore landing dock. Crews help the ferry pilot guide and secure the dock into position

At 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday, April 12, the ferry was taken out of service so that crews could begin. First, they detached four cables from the four anchors on each side of the dock. Crews then carefully secured the 130-foot-long, 40-foot-wide terminal to the back of the ferry to pull it a half-mile up the Sanpoil River. Once the ferry’s pilot reached the temporary location for the dock, he swung it around and pushed the terminal until it aligned with the access road SR 21. Finally, the cables were secured to four anchors and the move was complete.

Sound easy? It’s not. It takes at least six crew members to complete the relocation. They communicate with the pilot, who Rosman says is his most experienced, via two-way radio to help guide the dock in place. It can also be physically demanding.

The north shore landing dock successfully relocated and anchored to
its alternative location

Despite all of the challenges that came with relocating the north shore landing terminal, Rosman’s crew was done by 11:30 a.m. and the ferry was back in service – two hours faster than he had hoped and planned for.

“That was a good move,” he said.

Rosman and his crew will make the landing dock relocation again in the next week or two when the bureau returns the lake levels to above 1,238 feet.


Granger Clay Pits said...

good job crew, thank you for keeping it ready to work.

Gpa Carl

Robert Shockley said...

they do a great job all .year. congratulation to all the works.

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