SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER
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Disillusioned Makah suing Kalakala owner

 

Friday, July 2, 2004

 

By SAM SKOLNIK
SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER REPORTER

 

The fate of the historic art-deco ferry Kalakala -- seemingly cursed by years of misuse, neglect and restoration plans gone awry -- has taken yet another perilous turn.

 

The owner of the Kalakala, Steve Rodrigues, is being sued by the Makah Indian Tribe, which has played host to the boat since it was towed from Lake Union three months ago.

 

When the ferry arrived at Neah Bay, optimism ran high. Rodrigues had promised jobs, Makah leaders say, for several tribe members.

 

But the jobs never materialized; the boat at one point careened into a Makah dock, allegedly causing several thousand dollars in damage; and after a stint anchored in state waters, Rodrigues had the ferry again tied to a tribal dock -- illegally, the Makah say.

 

"It is there without the tribe's consent or permission," says Makah attorney Frank Jozwiak of Seattle. "It's not about (damages), it's about this rusting hulk tied to our dock that could cause damage to the dock and to the environment if it sinks."

 

The Makah lawsuit, filed Monday in Clallam County Superior Court, contends that Rodrigues, Kalakala Alliance Foundation and Rodrigues Enterprises LLC, doing business as Lost Horizons, "knowingly and willfully trespassed on the tribe's property, despite the tribe's repeated demands that the vessel M/V Kalakala be removed."

 

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages.

 

Rodrigues responds that "they invited us there and then they gave us unsafe moorage." He adds that the boat is now tied to the dock with one cable, but from an anchored position in state waters where it's less likely to cause the dock damage.

 

"We're just as unhappy with the tribe as the tribe is with us," says Rodrigues, who is working on a formal response to the lawsuit.

 

Rodrigues says he's also just as eager to move the boat as the tribe is.

 

Ultimately, Rodrigues says, after the Kalakala is repaired, it will be moved to its final home port in Port Angeles, where he wants to convert the boat into a multipurpose attraction, including a museum, conference and banquet hall, and restaurant.

 

And he says he has a plan to get there from his current state -- being sued, with nowhere to go.

 

After he receives Coast Guard approval, he says, he plans to move the ferry to the Martinac Shipyard on the Thea Foss Waterway in Tacoma. For eight to 12 weeks preliminary repairs will be made to the hull and the exterior will be sandblasted and painted -- "made beautiful again," he says.

 

He says he's raised most of the near-$300,000 necessary to get the boat to Tacoma and make the fixes.

 

Next, Rodrigues says he hopes to have further work done on the boat on waters controlled by the Port of Tacoma, before being moored at one of two possible regional sites for the winter.

 

An official with the Coast Guard's Marine Safety Office said late last month that he had been in preliminary discussions with Rodrigues about moving the Kalakala to Tacoma, but had not yet received a towing plan request.

 

Meanwhile, Rodrigues also has placed on eBay the rights to any potential books, documentaries or feature films stemming from the story of the boat. The auction will run through the weekend.

 

Rodrigues dreams of parlaying the profits -- of a half-million dollars or more -- into a loan of about $7 million to complete the final plans for the project.

 

As of this morning, the high bid was $3,050, a far cry from Rodrigues' asking price of $500,000.

 

But he maintains hope for just "one eBay bidder, a successful philanthropic/investor," as he phrased it in a news release issued late yesterday, to come to the rescue.

 

"Hopefully, if that happens, we'll be on our way," says Rodrigues, who bought the Kalakala at a federal bankruptcy auction in October for $136,560.

 

The 276-foot Kalakala was built in the mid-1930s. For years, it was a Seattle icon, an example of elegant art deco that was fully functional for the benefit of the masses.

 

The ferry last carried passengers around regional waterways in 1967. It was then hauled up to Alaska's Kodiak Island, and used far less gloriously as a fish processor.

 

Local sculptor Peter Bevis led an effort to bring the Kalakala back to Seattle in 1998. But his restoration plans ultimately fell apart, and the boat sat, rusting and moored on Lake Union, for five years before being hauled to Neah Bay.

 

Rodrigues isn't the only one pulling for a happy ending to the Kalakala saga.

 

Joe Martinac, owner of the Tacoma shipyard to which Rodrigues wants to haul the boat, says he hopes to be part of the boat's restoration, and not just because it would bring him some business.

 

"I remember seeing the Kalakala as a little kid. Really, you heard it before you saw it," says Martinac, 52, recalling times spent at a friend's house in Bremerton.

 

"To me, it's a neat old vessel, and it deserves a little more dignity than it's been given recently."


P-I reporter Sam Skolnik can be reached at 206-448-8176 or samskolnik@seattlepi.com This report includes information from The Associated Press.

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