Photo | Rural Southwest Alabama Economic Development Council
Master Marine, a Bayou La Batre-based shipyard, has filed a lawsuit against HMS Ferries Inc. for unpaid change orders related to a retrofit for what is being called “the nation’s first electric-powered passenger ferry.”
The M/V Gee’s Bend Ferry operates out of Camden, Alabama and offers ferry service across the Alabama River to the isolated community of Boykin on an oxbow known as Gee’s Bend. HMS Ferries Inc., a division of HMS Global Maritime, also operates the Mobile Bay Ferry between Fort Morgan and Dauphin Island.
According to the complaint, in April 2018, Master Marine took delivery of the vessel to begin work to repower the ferry by replacing its aging and costly diesel engines with electric motors.
“However, due to circumstances beyond Master Marine’s reasonable ability to control, the scope of work increased, causing delay in the completion of work and significant cost increase associated therewith,” it reads. “These circumstances include, but are not limited to, acts and/or omissions of the owner-specified contractors, unreasonable delay in response to change order requests … inconsistent and conflicting directions from owner’s representatives, and other similar acts and/or omissions for which Master Marine cannot be held responsible or liable.”
According to a story on the Southern Company owned Alabama Newscenter, Alabama Power played a part in the conversion and the project was funded with a $1 million grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency plus $765,000 in matching funds from the Alabama Department of Transportation. Records requests related to the grant and matching funds are pending.
Meanwhile, Alabama Power spokesman Michael Sznajderman clarified that the utility’s role in the project was limited to upgrading the electrical service on the dock, so “the boat could charge its batteries.”
Invoices submitted along with the complaint suggest the total cost of the project was actually $2,145,206.57, including a balance of $819,775.92 in unpaid costs HMS “has failed and refused to pay.” Among the change orders invoiced were $106,000 for “incomplete/inaccurate equipment foundation drawings,” $141,000 for “existing non-skid coat removal and rework due to weather conditions and $166,000 for “unrealistic drawings/rework due to HMS instructions.”
Master Marine is seeking to put a lien on the ferry until the issue is resolved.
In its answer to the complaint, HMS denies the charges and requests a jury trial. HMS claims Master Marine didn’t adhere to the terms of the contract regarding change orders and further, should pay its own penalties for exceeding the project’s anticipated timeline. Allegedly, it was scheduled to be complete by August 2018, but the ferry did not return to service until last month.
Without the ferry, the roughly 300 residents of the Gee’s Bend area face a 45-minute one-way commute to Camden, which has the closest grocery stores, clinics and pharmacies and other common goods and services. The ferry can carry as many as 18 cars between the communities in 15 minutes.
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