Kalakala gets a new owner — but no new plan for its future
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Peninsula Daily News file photo
In rusted, dilapidated condition, the Kalakala ferry at its wharf in Tacoma. (Click on photo to enlarge.)
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The MV Kalakala, then a state ferry on the route between Port Angeles and Victoria, is shown at what is now the Black Ball dock at the foot of Laurel Street circa 1956. -- Peninsula Daily News archives

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TACOMA — The deteriorating ferry Kalakala — once the gleaming symbol of the Northwest's future — has a new owner.

But the boat's future isn't any clearer, and a host of federal and state agencies still fear it's a potential hazard in a Port of Tacoma ship canal.

At a quietly arranged lien foreclosure sale last week, Karl Anderson, the Tacoma businessman who owns the uplands on the Hylebos Waterway on which the Kalakala has been moored since 2005, took possession of the vessel in exchange for $4,000 he said Steve Rodrigues owed him in back rent.

“I have been totally unable to get any kind of cooperation from the former owner to try to resolve the issue,” Anderson told The (Tacoma) News Tribune.

“And so I came to the reluctant conclusion that the only way I could do anything about [the Kalakala] was to get control of it.”

Rodrigues was not at Thursday's foreclosure proceeding, which ends his personal effort to restore the Kalakala (Chinook for “flying bird).

His eight-year campaign deteriorated to the point that the Olympia-area developer has been drained of all his personal resources, including his home.

At one point early in his effort, Rodrigues tried to base his restoration campaign in Port Angeles — and moor the engineless vessel on privately owned harbor tidelands just east of the Red Lion Hotel.

He had a Lincoln Street Kalakala store that was overseen for a time by Cherie Kidd, who since was elected to the City Council and is now mayor.

The storefront closed due to lack of support, and Rodrigues focused elsewhere.

Although the ferry noted for its sleek art deco design enjoyed its heyday on Puget Sound in the 1930s and '40s — plus a brief resurgence during the 1962 Seattle World's Fair — it also has ties to the North Olympic Peninsula for its three years of runs between Port Angeles and Victoria.

The Kalakala in Port Angeles Harbor is depicted on a mural in downtown Port Angeles.

Retired as a state ferry in 1967, the vessel was towed to Alaska to become a fish processor and cannery building.

A Seattle artist, remembering the ferry icon of his youth, purchased the abandoned hull and had it refloated and towed to Seattle's Lake Union amid much fanfare in 1998.

Rodrigues acquired it in a bankruptcy proceeding in 2003 — while also acquiring the disdain of Lake Union residential and business neighbors of the Kalakala.

Rodrigues had it towed, with the Makah tribe's permission based on his promise of jobs, to Neah Bay in 2004.

It was towed to Tacoma at Anderson's invitation in 2005 after no jobs were developed and the Makah Marina pier sustained damage from a storm-tossed ferry hull.

News of last week's ownership change brought no apparent relief to the Coast Guard, one of a half-dozen state and federal agencies concerned about the dilapidated boat.

The Coast Guard declared the Kalakala a hazard to navigation last December after water began pouring in through holes in the hull, raising concerns that it would break free, sink and blocking the Hylebos channel.

“To us, it's a continuation of the process,” said Lt. Cmdr. Gretchen Bailey, the Coast Guard's chief of domestic vessels for the Puget Sound sector.

“We haven't really done anything except change the name of the owner. Now we're just looking at the new owner to continue correcting the problem,” she told The News Tribune

Anderson, as the new owner, said he has no specific plan at this point.

While he's not legally responsible for the Kalakala problem, Anderson said people are pressuring him to solve it — in part because he was the one who invited Rodrigues to bring the Kalakala from Neah Bay.

“This is not something I wanted to do,” Anderson said, “but people were in a panic about it, and they were beating me up over it.

“The reality was, I couldn't do anything about making the Kalakala go away without [Rodrigues'] cooperation, which I couldn't get. Any attempts to do that were met with hostility and outrage.”

The most obvious of Anderson's options is to find a way to move the Kalakala to an adjacent waterway, where he and his family own the Concrete Technology graving dock, one of a few places on the West Coast where large, derelict vessels can be scrapped legally.

But that's not what he wants to do, Anderson said, and even if he did, it wouldn't be possible for at least two years.

The graving dock is leased until then by Kiewit, which is using it to make pontoons for the new state Highway 520 floating bridge across Lake Washington.

The Tacoma site also was used to manufacture Hood Canal Bridge pontoons after a proposed state graving yard on Port Angeles Harbor was scrapped in 2004 by the discovery of the ancient Klallam village of Tse-whit-zen.

Salvage experts have said any return on Kalakala steel would be minimal because it's so badly deteriorated.

Anderson's first choice for the Kalakala, he said, is the same as it was seven years ago when he offered to let Rodrigues moor the boat in the Hylebos for free.

He'd like to see it restored.

“In the dream world, some Prince Charming would come up and say, 'I have the money, and I want to restore it,'” Anderson said.

“Once the dust settles and our ownership is secure, we'll start looking at what can we do with it,” he said.

“Some of those people might appear. Who knows?”

Last modified: November 13. 2012 8:20PM
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