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Superior boat builder lands $6.2 million contract with San Antonio

Lake Assault Vice President of Operations Chad DuMars is surrounded by some of his workers and barge protoypes at Lake Assualt in Superior during a news conference on Tuesday morning. DuMars announced that Lake Assault will build 43 barges for the City of San Antonio. (Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram)

When San Antonio residents and tourists mark the Texas city's tricentennial in 2018, a Superior-based company will play a role in the celebration.

Lake Assault Boats in Superior has secured a $6.2 million contract with the city of San Antonio to build 43 new barges for the city's iconic River Walk.

The all-aluminum barges will replace the fleet of tourist and commuter barges used on the San Antonio River through the city's downtown.

The new barges will be manufactured at Lake Assault's headquarters on the grounds of Fraser Shipyards in Superior, where the company announced the contract on Tuesday.

"We're excited about it," said Chad DuMars, Lake Assault vice president of operations. "Lake Assault was awarded the contract to build these boats to be delivered to the city — they'll be built here and then delivered to San Antonio."

Lake Assault, which is best known for its mission-specific, custom-designed watercraft, will be adding about 14 employees — welders, fabricators, mechanics and fitters — to deliver on the contract. Some of those positions have already been filled, DuMars said.

DuMars said the Superior-based company began working with the city of San Antonio in July when the company received a solicitation to bid on the project. Bids were opened in October and the San Antonio City Council approved the contract in December.

Lake Assault Boats scored the highest of four companies considered for the work, according to documents considered by the San Antonio City Council before approving the contract.

DuMars said from the time of the bid opening until the contract was awarded, there was a constant dialogue with the city. Company officials attended the San Antonio City Council meeting Dec. 1, when the contract was awarded.

Unlike most watercraft built by Lake Assault Boats, the design for the river barges was created by a Houston-based design firm, Metalab.

"This is simply a build contract for us, which is a little different for us," DuMars said. "We're used to doing the design work ourselves."

Work is already underway on the first of the 43 barges, which will be tested first in Howard's Pocket near Fraser's dry-dock facilities. After that, it will be transported to San Antonio for further testing.

DuMars said what is learned from that testing will be incorporated in the final design for the remaining barges. He said he anticipates building the barges in earnest starting in March with the first 20 due on or before mid-September and the remaining 22 due in November — averaging one barge completed each week through the build. That will allow the city to phase out its 1995-era boats.

DuMars said the building project will draw on resources from Northern Engineering and Fraser Shipyards to complete on the aggressive timeline.

"This project has confirmed the wisdom of bringing together Lake Assault with Fraser Shipyards," said James Farkas, president and chief operating officer of Fraser Industries, which acquired Lake Assault Boats in 2010. He said the combined resources of the historic Great Lakes shipyard, combined with the smaller, nimble aluminum boat maker has benefits such as the ability to scale up quickly with facilities, equipment and staff to deliver for clients.

The boats will operate as water taxis and excursion and sightseeing vessels in and around the River Walk area, DuMars said.

The 27½-foot-by-9½-foot barges, powered by a 10-kilowatt electric outboard motor using 16 lithium ion batteries, will accommodate up to 40 passengers and a pilot, and feature an extensive fender system to protect the aluminum craft in some of the narrower locations on the San Antonio River.

"We're excited about our new barges and pleased to have a quality, respected manufacturer like Lake Assault building them for us," said John Jacks, interim director for the city of San Antonio Center City Development and Operations Department. "We have been to Superior to see their operations and are in regular communication with the Lake Assault team. We have developed a strong partnership that we're confident will make this project a success for our city."

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