Commissioners tour Eastern Shipbuilding, ferry

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The fruits of seeds sowed years ago with a $6 million investment in infrastructure for a shipyard on the old mill site were sampled by Gulf County commissioners and other dignitaries on a tour Monday.

Hosted by Eastern Shipbuilding President Joey D’Isernia, commissioners got an up-close and personal view of the new buildings, roadways, fencing, lighting, water lines and electrical service that populate the site, including the heavy-duty bollards necessary for mooring ships.

“The infrastructure in place is more than sufficient for our current Staten Island Ferry project and will provide the 2,000-watt service necessary for our next project, building U.S. Coast Guard cutters,” said D’Isernia, in pointing out details of the new electrical service.

County Commissioners Patrick Farrell, Phil McCroan, Ward McDaniel, David Rich and Sandy Quinn were all in attendance, along with several county staffers.

“The shipyard and ferries are impressive, but Mr. Isernia's report that 150 people are now working on the site was the best news I heard today,” said Quinn.

The tour moved to the first of the three new ferries to be built, the MV Michael H. Hollis named after Army Staff Sgt. Michael H. Ollis, a Staten Island native killed in Afghanistan. The 310-foot ferry has six levels, and can load and unload passengers on two levels. With three passenger levels, the ferry is designed to transport 2,500 passengers comfortably, and according to design specs must be able to transport 4,500 people for emergency evacuations.

Once in service the ferries will travel a 5.2-mile route through New York Harbor connecting the boroughs of Staten Island and Manhattan. Trips take 25 minutes and to save time, the ferries do not turn around, and instead load and unload on the Staten Island and Manhattan ends of the boat.

The three new ferries built here will take the place of two ferries being retired, thereby increasing the fleet to nine large boats.

County Administrator Michael Hammond, on hand for the tour, said “we got our money's worth,” referring to the $6 million infrastructure appropriation shepherded through the legislature by State Senator George Gainer a few years ago.

“For that we are truly thankful to him and his colleagues,” Hammond said.

Eastern was awarded the bid to build three Staten Island large boat ferries in 2017, with original delivery planned for 2019 and 2020. Hurricane Michael and COVID-19 pushed the delivery date back and it is expected the MV Hollis will be delivered in six months or less.

A second ferry, the Sandy Ground, which has a 13-foot draft, a crew of 16, and carries 30,000 gallons  of fuel, has already arrived in Gulf County for its finishing touches.

A third one, the Dorothy Day, now under construction in Panama City is named for a Catholic journalist and social activist who is on the path to sainthood. Born in 1897 and raised in Chicago, she moved to Staten Island in the 1920s, where she was received into the Catholic Church in 1927 and maintained a small cottage on the island until she died in 1980 at the age of 83.

In 1933, Day founded the Catholic Worker Movement, and the rest of her life was dedicated to social activism for the poor and marginalized and for civil rights through Catholic tradition.

A ceremonial grand opening of the Eastern shipyard is in the works for May, according to Jim McKnight, director of the Economic Development for Gulf County Coalition. “We will be assisting Eastern Shipbuilding with the plans and coordination for that event,” he said.

Eastern Shipbuilding is now hiring, and anyone interested can apply online at easternshipbuilding.com or at the Allanton plant in Bay County. D’Isernia indicated Eastern hoped to add a human resource person to the staff at the Port St. Joe shipyard in the not-too-distant future, thereby allowing people to apply in Port St. Joe.

This article originally appeared on The Star: Commissioners tour Eastern Shipbuilding, ferry

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