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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Keller Ferry out of service for weekend repairs

The Keller Ferry will undergo permanent repairs this weekend to a hairline crack in the hull below the water line.

The work will put the ferry out of service starting at 7 p.m. Friday until Monday morning if the repairs go as expected.

Air bags will be used to raise the end of the hull where the crack is located. At the same time, a dump truck filled with sand will be used to lower the other end of the ferry.

Workers will fix the problem by cutting away a small section of the hull around the crack and replacing it with a new piece of aluminum plate welded into in place, said Al Gilson, spokesman for the state Department of Transportation.

The MV Sanpoil, named after the indigenous people of the Keller area and Sanpoil River valley, was christened a year ago and is under warranty from its builder, Foss Maritime.

Less than 2 inches long, the crack was discovered last month after the vessel developed leakage. The ferry was taken out of service at the time, but the boat builder was unable to lift the problem spot out of the water because an air bag failed in that initial repair effort, Gilson said.

A temporary patch was placed on the interior of the hull to stop seepage, he said.

This time, the Foss repair team is bringing additional airbags to the job and preparing a retaining bracket to hold the air bags in place along the hull.

“It’s apparently not an unusual procedure,” Gilson said.

The state ferry system will have a team on site to monitor the work. The U.S. Coast Guard will have to approve the repairs before the Sanpoil is put back in service.

The crack is located 14 feet back from the propeller of the vessel. It is near the point where the hull meets the keel.

The free ferry serves state Highway 21 across Lake Roosevelt on the Columbia River.

Some students in the Keller area on the north side of the Columbia River attend school in Wilbur to the south, using the ferry to get to classes. The weekend was chosen for the repair work to accommodate school schedules.

The $9.5 million Sanpoil last year replaced the smaller Martha S., which served the route starting in 1948 but had repeated breakdowns and a rusting hull. The route carries 60,000 vehicles a year on 30 to 35 crossings a day from 6 a.m. to midnight seven days a week. The vessel runs at 12.5 knots, making the crossing in about 15 minutes.

Highway 21 is an important north-south link between Republic and the upper Columbia Basin. It serves a portion of the sprawling Colville Indian Reservation along the scenic Sanpoil River.

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