A spat between the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority and its shipbuilder over design and safety features on two new ferries has been settled, clearing the way for the boats to enter service on the Mississippi River.

In an agreement announced Tuesday, shipbuilder Metal Shark of Jeanerette agreed to install new features on the ferries within 45 days of receiving a $959,000 payment currently due from the RTA.

The installations will include buffers between dissimilar metals on the boat, a step necessary to prevent the type of corrosion local transit officials discovered last year that threw a wrench into plans to launch the boats several months ago.

The boats could be on the water by Jazz Fest, according to Sundiata Haley, the RTA's outside counsel.

The agreement resolves a monthslong dispute over the deal for the two replacement vessels that will be used to transport passengers across the Mississippi River between Canal Street and Algiers Point.

The new catamaran style ferries, which are set to replace older boats, were originally purchased amid plans to construct a gleaming new terminal at the foot of Canal Street. 

But residents heaped scorn on the new terminal's design, and plans were delayed after it turned out to be more expensive than expected.

Meanwhile, the boats, which were supposed to arrive last March, were repeatedly delayed after the RTA's private manager, Transdev, found flaws in their construction. 

A third-party Transdev hired to inspect the vessels, The Shearer Group of Houston, said in October that Metal Shark failed to put buffers between dissimilar metals used to attach certain boat equipment. Without the buffers, corrosion could occur. 

Shearer's marine surveyors also found corrosion around a hydraulic pump and reservoir and potable water tank, while Transdev identified issues with the boats' lifesaving equipment and said Metal Shark did not provide a safe way for crews to check fuel levels on the boats. 

The shipbuilder shot back that it solved the latter problem by outfitting fuel tanks with special equipment. It admitted to "slight surface oxidation" on the hydraulic pump, but not to corrosion. And it blamed Transdev's crews for not knowing how to work the lifesaving equipment. 

But Metal Shark eventually relented, according to the deal announced Tuesday. It agreed to install additional features to make it easier for crews to operate that rescue equipment. 

The company will also install an extra feature on the boats to make it easier for crews to check fuel levels and install metal washers as buffers.

Those and a host of other issues identified by Transdev will be fixed within 45 days after Metal Shark receives its payment from the RTA, part of the $10 million cost of the two ferries. 

The RTA will continue to withhold 10 percent of Metal Shark's total contract payment until its work is officially complete. 

Also still to be decided are the total amount of late fees Metal Shark owes the RTA for being behind schedule in its delivery. 

A marine surveyor will be hired to inspect the finished product. Once that entity clears Metal Shark's work and Metal Shark receives other payments it is owed, Metal Shark and the RTA will announce that the boats are officially complete. 

"I appreciate the tremendous amount of work by the commissioners, the general counsel and the team, to move what was a little bit of a challenge forward," said RTA board Chairman Flozell Daniels after members approved the agreement. 


Follow Jessica Williams on Twitter, @jwilliamsNOLA​.