Cancelled ferry hurts businesses


July 12, 2018

Haines businesses took only a small hit from the cancellation of two sailings by the state ferry Columbia, which derailed plans for hundreds of passengers. However, business owners and the borough assembly say inconsistent ferry service remains a problem.

Alaska Marine Highway spokesperson Aurah Landau said the Columbia was not available for its June 29 and July 6 round-trip departures from Bellingham, Washington, to northern Southeast because of extensive repairs needed to a damaged bow-thruster engine exhaust system.

The ferry is scheduled to resume normal operations with a July 13 departure out of Bellingham, assuming repairs are completed in time. Haines resident Randa Szymanski said of the 35 local vacation rentals she manages, there were only three cancellations due to the Columbia’s missed sailings. “The majority of the cancellations were military taking the Columbia southbound, and they had to drive out when it was canceled,” she said. “People coming in flew or made other arrangements.”

The new owner of Haines HitchUp, Laura Hoffman, said the RV park had one or two cancellations, but no money was lost because other travelers had to extend their trips when they could not take the Columbia out of town.

“It balances out, but it definitely did impact us,” Hoffman said “If (cancellations) continue, I can see it causing a problem.”

Aspen Suites Hotel manager Shaleena Bott said she had a few people cancel reservations and some were angry about changing plans, but it didn’t really affect business much. As a year-round operation, Bott said cancelled ferries are something she has gotten used to day-to-day. “I deal with it when they cancel … but especially in the winter it’s really frustrating.”

The Haines Borough Assembly voted Tuesday for the manager to write a letter to the state Department of Transportation about how local business are hurt by ferry cancellations, and that the assembly is concerned about the further “erosion” of ferry service in Southeast.

“I think (the state) does need to hear from communities that it does affect us. It affects us socially and economically and it’s a big deal,” said assembly member Heather Lende said.

Assembly member Tresham Gregg said that cancellations in the summer season can be “devastating” to the tourism industry. Assembly member Tom Morphet said he thinks the issue is much bigger than just the cancellations of the Columbia.

“I think we’ve kind of been derelict in addressing some of these things. It seems that the boats keep getting smaller, the schedule keeps getting worse…we should at least leave a record that we said something.”


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