If the Kalakala doesn’t go down in next winter’s storms, it might sink under the weight of lawsuits and red tape.
On Monday, the historic ferry’s owner, Steve Rodrigues, sued the State of Washington and Karl Anderson, the Tacoma businessman who has provided the vessel with free moorage for the past eight years. Rodrigues alleges they have thwarted his efforts to restore the 1935 vessel and, in the process, caused him mental anguish.
In an 86-page complaint, Rodrigues asks for a jury trial and more than $250 million in various costs and damages.
“It’s now the state’s turn to respond to our allegations,” he said Thursday.
That lawsuit joins another filed in Pierce County Superior Court on March 21. In that action, Anderson sued to evict Rodrigues and the Kalakala from property Anderson owns on the Hylebos Waterway.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Coast Guard and the Army Corps of Engineers are struggling to find a way to get the battered vessel out of the Hylebos, where it has been declared a hazard to navigation. The Coast Guard says the Kalakala’s hull is so fragile it cannot be moved safely, and the state has refused to grant work permits for major rehab on the water because of environmental concerns.
The cost of moving the Kalakala to a dry dock and cutting it up for scrap has been estimated at between $2 million and $4 million, a cost that looks increasingly likely to fall on taxpayers. The return on salvaged steel would be negligible, scrappers say, because the vessel is so badly deteriorated.
Rodrigues says the effort to fix the Kalakala has driven him to personal bankruptcy. In a financial declaration he filed with the lawsuit, he listed his available assets as $20 in cash and $200 in a bank account.
In the latest lawsuit, Rodrigues names as defendants the state Department of Transportation, Washington State Ferries, the Washington State Historic Preservation Office, as well as Anderson and his land-holding company, Tacoma Industrial Properties.
Anderson, best known as an owner of Tacoma’s Concrete Technology Corp., was not available for comment on Thursday.
In the lawsuit, Rodrigues contends the state has underestimated the historic significance of the Kalakala and other old ferries in its system, in violation of federal law.
He also says the state and various public officials have consistently blocked his efforts to have the Kalakala declared a historic landmark vessel with national significance. That designation would have made it eligible for several federal grants, including “Save America’s Treasures” grants administered by the National Park Service and $750,000 from the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
“The Kalakala was a shovel ready project and was never included within the defendants request for funds from the federal funding list,” Rodrigues wrote in the lawsuit.
He argues that the Kalakala is a vessel with national historic significance in part because it was the world’s first vessel with a fire-suppression system and a commercial radar license.
Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer Greg Griffith said Thursday he had seen Rodrigues’ suit but was advised by the state Attorney General’s office not to comment on it.
Rodrigues accuses Anderson of harassing him by canceling his lease, slandering him and removing a modular building on the Hylebos property that Rodrigues had been using as an office and occasional living space. Anderson had previously given him the building, Rodrigues said.
Earlier this week, the Kalakala was secured to new steel pilings, installed at Anderson’s expense in order to satisfy the Coast Guard’s concerns about the ferry breaking free and damaging other boats and docks in the Hylebos.
Rodrigues said Thursday he was happy about the new moorage but said, “The problem is, it’s eight years too late.”