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Dakota Creek Industries’ employees celebrate waiver

December 4, 2018
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(From left) Anacortes Mayor Laurie Gere, U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, Dakota Creek Vice President Mike Nelson, Fishermen’s Finest President Dennis Moran and shipyard superintendent Rick Kirshman stand on the deck of America’s Finest on Monday.

ANACORTES — After nearly two years of sitting in the Dakota Creek Industries shipyard, the fishing vessel America’s Finest is heading out on a test sail this week.

The test is in anticipation that a waiver will be signed by President Donald Trump, allowing the $75 million ship to sail in U.S. waters.

The waiver cleared Congress last week through the Frank LoBiondo Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2018. The bill now awaits the president’s signature, which U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen said could take about a week.

The waiver will forgive a mistake by Dakota Creek that involved the use of too much foreign-fabricated material in the ship’s hull, thus violating the Jones Act.

With the end of uncertainty in sight, shipyard employees say they’re looking forward to things returning to normal.

“It’s like we can breathe again,” said employee Casey Gustafson, who has been with the company for 26 years.

She said the past two years have been a rough patch.

“It’s been biting nails, tightening belts and saving up about four or five months of living expenses just in case,” she said.

Before last week, the waiver failed to get through Congress twice in the past two years.

Throughout the process, Anacortes Mayor Laurie Gere said Larsen has been dedicated to fighting for the waiver and the shipyard jobs at stake if it were to fail.

“This whole effort has been about the jobs here in Anacortes,” Larsen said.

The company has let go more than half its employees since learning of the Jones’ Act violation, Dakota Creek Vice President Mike Nelson said previously.

Now, Dakota Creeks’ 220 remaining employees are ready to move forward.

“One major problem is that no one wants to give you a contract when things are up in the air,” employee Edward Warrick said as he waited in line to shake Larsen’s hand.

He said he expects work to pick up now.

Fishermen’s Finest, the company that contracted Dakota Creek to build America’s Finest, previously announced it would sell the vessel abroad if it did not secure a waiver.

The ship is the largest catcher and processor built in the U.S. in the past 30 years, Fishermen’s Finest President Dennis Moran said previously.

It includes its own fish processing facility, power plant and sewage treatment facility. The vessel is bigger, safer, more efficient and pollutes less than existing vessels, according to Fishermen’s Finest.

Once the bill becomes law, the Coast Guard has 30 days to analyze the circumstances that necessitated the waiver and determine whether or not to certify the waiver.

They’ll be looking into if Dakota Creek or Fishermen’s Finest knew that components used to build the vessel violated the Jones’ Act, said Amanda Munger, communications director for Larsen’s office.

The waiver puts some limitations on America’s Finest’s fishing capacity.

Moran declined to comment on the limitations until the Coast Guard completes its analysis.

Aboard America’s Finest on Monday, crews were testing the ship’s state-of-the-art systems and preparing for the test sail.

“This is my career,” said Sam Manno, who has been with Dakota Creek since 1988. “I’m glad (the waiver) went through.”

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