Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

AGO 1962 No. 183 -
Attorney General John J. O'Connell


The state of Washington acting through the state highway commission has the general authority under existing state law to acquire new ferries by a lease‑purchase contract so long as the contract does not violate any provisions of the state constitution.

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                                                               December 17, 1962

Honorable Wilbur Hallauer
State Senator, First District
P.O. Box 70
Oroville, Washington

                                                                                                              Cite as:  AGO 61-62 No. 183

Dear Sir:

            This is written in reply to your letter previously acknowledged in which you requested the advice of this office concerning the problem facing the state regarding the replacement of ferries in the Puget Sound ferry and bridge system.  You have asked, in substance, the following question:

            Is the state authorized, under existing legislation, to acquire new ferry boats by utilizing a lease‑purchase arrangement?

            We answer your question in the affirmative as qualified in the analysis.


            Initially, it must be recognized that the Washington toll bridge authority and the highway commission are administrative agencies created by the legislature and, as such, have only those powers expressly given to them by statute or necessarily implied therefrom.  State ex rel. Eastvold v. Maybury, 49 Wn. (2d) 533, 304 P. (2d) 663 (1956), and cases cited therein.

            In 1949, by the enactment of chapter 179, the legislature authorized the toll bridge authority to acquire and operate a system of ferries on and crossing Puget Sound.  RCW 47.60.010, § 1, chapter 179, Laws of 1949, as recodified in 1961 (§ 1, chapter 13, Laws of 1961), provides as follows:

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            "The Washington toll bridge authority hereinafter referred to as the authority is hereby authorized toacquire by lease, charter, contract, purchase, condemnation or construction,and partly by any or all of such means, and to thereafteroperate, improve and extend, a system of ferries on and crossing Puget Sound and any of its tributary waters and connections thereof and connecting with the public streets and highways in the state, such system of ferries to include such boats, vessels, wharves, docks, approaches, landings, franchises, licenses, and appurtenances, as shall be determined by the authority to be necessary or desirable for efficient operation of the ferry system and best serve the public.  The authority may in like manner acquire by purchase, condemnation or construction and include in such ferry system such toll bridges, approaches and connecting roadways as may be deemed by the authority advantageous in channeling traffic to points served by the ferry system.  In addition to the powers of acquisition herein granted the authority is hereby empowered to enter into any contracts, agreements or leases with any person, firm or corporation and to thereby provide, on such terms and conditions as it shall determine, for the operation of any ferry or ferries or system thereof, whether acquired by the authority or not."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            In construing a statute our court has said that legislative intent must be gleaned from a consideration of the whole act by giving effect to the entire statute and every part thereof.  DeGrief v. Seattle, 50 Wn. (2d) 1, 297 P. (2d) 940 (1956).

            From a reading of RCW 47.60.010, supra, it is quite apparent, we believe, that the legislature has authorized the acquisition of ferries by a lease‑purchase contract unless it can be said that the statute was merely an original grant of authority to acquire a ferry system and does not authorize the acquisition of new ferries either to improve or extend the system or to replace old vessels.

            When the "act is considered as a whole,"1/ we cannot view the power  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] vested in the toll bridge authority2/ as only the authority to initially acquire a system of ferries.  Accordingly, it is our opinion that the state, through the highway commission, has thegeneral authority under existing state law to acquire new ferries by a lease‑purchase contract so long as the contract does not violate any provision of our constitution.

            While we do not have any particular type of contract before us for review, we feel that nevertheless you should be advised there are many problems which the drafter of any lease‑purchase contract would have to avoid in order to insure the validity of the agreement.  See, for instance, the case of State ex rel. Wash. Etc. v. Yelle, 47 Wn. (2d) 705, 289 P. (2d) 355 (1955).  Since this office is the legal adviser to the highway commission, we would of course, upon request, be in a position to draft a proper lease‑purchase contract in the event the commission should request the same.

            In your letter you indicate that the current financial problems of the ferry system will be considered at the forthcoming session of our legislature.  For this reason we believe that administrative officials will defer any action concerning this matter until the legislature has acted and directed the course of action to be taken to resolve the troublesome financial problem facing the state in respect to its ferry system.


             [[Orig. Op. Page 4]]

            We trust the foregoing will be of some general assistance to you.  In the event that you have any further questions regarding this matter, please feel free to contact this office.

Very truly yours,

Attorney General

Assistant Attorney General

                                                         ***   FOOTNOTES   ***

1/See, among other provisions contained in chapter 47.60 RCW, RCW 47.60.050, which reads as follows:

            "Any facility which the authority acquires or is authorized to acquire under the provisions of this chapter may be rehabilitated, rebuilt, enlarged or improved, and the cost thereof may be paid from the revenues of the system or through the issuance of bonds as hereinafter provided."

2/Some of the powers previously vested in the toll bridge authority under RCW 47.60.010 were transferred to the state highway commission by the enactment of § 9, chapter 278, Laws of 1961, RCW 47.56.030.