August 15, 2013 | Volume 43, Number 32

Comments on ferry plan due Aug. 30

Residents have until Aug. 30 to comment on proposed changes to the design of a new, shuttle ferry being designed to run between Haines and Juneau.

A cut-away shows the most recent draft design of the Alaska class ferry. The planned, 280-foot vessel would be more seaworthy than the LeConte and its primary route would be between Haines and Juneau.

A separate shuttle vessel would operate between Skagway and Haines, with Haines serving as a “key transfer point” for passengers traveling between Skagway and Juneau. Rebuilding the Haines ferry terminal to add two bow-mooring berth sites would allow the two vessels to operate independently.

The vessels are part of a plan by the Alaska Marine Highway System to replace large vessels with smaller ones making shorter trips.

A public meeting on the preliminary design study report of the Alaska-class ferry is set for 4-6 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 22 at the American Bald Eagle Foundation in Haines. The state Department of Transportation issued the most recent report July 13.

An earlier plan for the ferry came under criticism from Lynn Canal leaders, including Haines Borough Mayor Stephanie Scott, who questioned the vessel’s seaworthiness and criticized features like a car deck that was partially open to the weather.

“For weather protection and reduced maintenance, it is recommended that the vehicle space be completely covered, bow to stern. For cost savings, making the aft exterior car doors weathertight versus watertight is also recommended. The car deck ventilation system design should include sufficient heat to keep the vehicle space nominally above freezing, to protect equipment, people and pets during the voyage,” the new plan states.

Scott said recently she has “lots of questions” about the plan issued July 13. “I think it’s good for Haines that they’re building a ship there’s no terminal for. The only terminal that’s going to be able to accommodate this ship is in Haines, so it’s good for Haines but I’m not sure if it’s good for the system.”

Robert Venables of Haines, who sits on the state’s Marine Transportation Advisory Board, said he hasn’t delved into the nuts and bolts of the revised design, but has an impression the changes would make the boat more enclosed and safer.

The latest plan reduces the scale of a former plan for an “Alaska Class” boat, and projects construction of two vessels for about $120 million. The vessel now under consideration would be 280 feet long and could seat up to 300 passengers, carry 53 vehicles and maintain a schedule speed of 15.5 knots. It would load from the stern and unload through the bow, a change intended to save time in port.

The boat will include a forward observation lounge, family lounge and children’s play area, a quiet lounge, a theater or movie lounge (that may be incorporated into family lounge),

minimum food service in the form of vending machines and/or a small food court, a solarium, and crew day room, crew quiet room and crew lockers.

To staff the vessel with only a single shift of crew, the vessel must make the run from Haines to Juneau and back in less than 12 hours. The report estimates the vessel could make the trip in 11 hours, 44 minutes.

“Loading and unloading times will have to be less than 15 minutes to meet the proposed route schedules… Mooring, unloading, loading and docking of the vessel are critical to regularly maintaining a 12-hour operating day,” the report says. “In order to minimize (loading and unloading time), passengers and drivers will need to be allowed to remain on the car deck for some time after departure and allowed access to the car deck prior to arrival.”

The ferry system anticipates that the vessel will operate on the northern Lynn Canal routes six days per week in summer and three days per week in winter. During an additional day of operation weekly each season, it’s likely that a Juneau-based vessel will serve the routes, according to the plan. The boat would be laid up four weeks annually for maintenance. The Skagway-Haines shuttle vessel could make two round-trips daily on the 12-hour schedule.

The vessel would be more seaworthy than the ferry LeConte, on which as many as one-fourth of passengers can become seasick in extreme weather, the report says. The design of the ship would reduce that percentage to about 11 percent, approaching the sea-keeping characteristics of the ferry Taku, the report says.

The new ferry would have an estimated 60-year lifespan. The plan also identifies Cascade Point as a possible southern terminus, which would reduce trip time to less than seven hours. The vessel would sail with a crew of nine, and be serviced and cleaned nightly at Haines by three workers.

More information is available at the Alaska Marine Highway System website. To comment, e-mail dot.amhs.alaskaclass@alaska.gov, or write DOT/PF, P.O. Box 112500, 3132 Channel Dr., Juneau AK 99811-2500.