Criticism misplaced: new county boat is a good deal | Guest Column

Pete Rose, administrator, San Juan County.  - File photo
Pete Rose, administrator, San Juan County.
— image credit: File photo

By Pete Rose, administrator, San Juan County

In the past couple of weeks the county has been on the receiving end of attacks that I can only describe as mean-spirited and ill-informed concerning the purchase of a workboat by the Public Works department.

The previous lack of an appropriately sized and equipped boat has cost the county a lot of money — through delayed work, workdays cut short because of transportation problems, and money spent on maintaining aging fiberglass boats that were beyond the end of their useful lives.

The Department of Public Works did exactly what it should have done.

It determined what equipment that would get us the most bang for the buck and, because it funded depreciation on its existing boats over the years, it was able to purchase a 35-foot aluminum-hulled boat that we expect to be an asset to the county for the next 20 to 40 years.

Though at $325,000, the boat was not cheap, we were able to get a top quality vessel at a good value price by taking advantage of the same bulk purchasing program used to acquire boats for the U.S. Coast Guard, law enforcement, and other state, federal and local agencies.

Why does a county consisting entirely of islands need a durable work boat?

The new boat will be in service almost daily during the peak summer work season, carrying crews and personal equipment among islands. In the past, when chip seal work was being done, the county did not own a boat that could ferry a dozen people and their equipment to a work site in a single trip.

Now it does.

During the fall and winter months, rough seas have largely forced us to leave our existing boats moored; and even in other months, the threat of storm or wind has often forced the public works department to cut workdays short on outer island projects because none of our three public works boats were designed to operate in choppy seas.

The new boat is.

Why not just use the ferries? Even on ferry-served islands, matching work schedules with the ferry schedule is difficult. Crews can lose hours of work time and, if a ferry runs late, the taxpayers can end up paying overtime to a crew that is just waiting for a ride home.

Why not just rent?

The county will still hire vessels to transport heavy equipment or gravel; but it does not make financial sense to depend on rental boats for day-to-day transportation of crews, personal equipment and even light vehicles.

Finally, while this boat was not purchased specifically with emergency response in mind, it will be a major asset if there is an urgent need to move people and equipment between islands, even in rough seas.

We expect the new work boat to save time and money in the short, medium and long term. Under state law, the money we purchased it with could not have been used to save jobs or reduce taxes.

The people who made this possible, particularly acting public works Director Russ Harvey and Equipment Rental & Revolving Fund Manager Mike Copas, deserve recognition for a job well done.

I hope our citizens will join me in thanking them.

— Administrator Pete Rose oversees the county Department of Public Works


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