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Vancouver, Washington man bids $290,000 for former state ferry at Port of Olympia

UPDATED: Wed., Nov. 18, 2020

By Rolf Boone The Olympian

The former Washington state ferry that has been docked at the Port of Olympia for more than two years has a potential new owner after a Vancouver man bid $290,000 for it during an auction in Tacoma Tuesday.

The bidding, which started at $50,000, took place in the lobby of U.S. District Court and quickly became a two-man show between Lematta and Noah Israel of Kingston.

The winning bid of $290,000 was just under the $300,000 the former owner paid the state in 2017 for the ferry, previously known as the Evergreen State. That owner, who docked the vessel at the port, eventually defaulted on his bills and was later sued in federal court by the port, which ultimately triggered Tuesday’s auction.

Although Lematta, 52, recalled riding on the ferry when he was younger, he acknowledged that he was bidding on the ferry before seeing it in person.

“My wife is giving me a lot of heck about it,” he said, adding that it was a “crazy undertaking.” But after learning that opening bids started at $50,000, he had to attend the auction, he said.

“How could I not be here?” Lematta said.

He shared a range of ideas for the ferry, but one he kept returning to was renewable energy and whether renewable energy, either electricity or hydrogen, could power the vessel.

“Renewable energy is our only way to go forward,” said Lematta about its societal importance.

Israel, the other bidder, said he had planned to use the ferry to demonstrate how it could produce carbon-free fuel.

After emerging as the winning bidder, Lematta needed to pay his bid in full by 4 p.m. Tuesday, or put down at least 10% . A 10% down payment would give him three days to come up with the full amount.

Lematta has family ties to Oregon-based Columbia Helicopters, which was started by his father, Wes, who later became a well-known philanthropist, The Columbian newspaper reported.

The auction was attended by more observers than bidders, including port commissioners Joe Downing and Bill McGregor as well as Len Faucher, the port’s marine terminal director.

“The best outcome is for a responsible party to successfully bid on the ferry, purchase it and find a good home for it,” Downing said.

Downing said that if the sale doesn’t go through, he would immediately huddle with the port’s executive director to come up with a Plan B, such as selling the ferry to a scrap buyer.

“I have been anxious about the future of the ferry, given the history of the Kalakala,” said Downing, referring to a former Washington state ferry that struggled to find a permanent home.

The next step for the port was to meet the buyer.

“Our goal is to move the vessel off the dock and to try to do that as safely and quickly as possible.,” Faucher said.

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