Marine Highway System proposes changes to Upper Lynn Canal service


October 4, 2018

The plan to run two Alaska Class Ferry day boats, the M/V Tazlina and M/V Hubbard, in the Upper Lynn Canal might get scrapped as the Alaska Marine Highway Service is requesting funding to add crew quarters to the Hubbard and divert the Tazlina to Prince William Sound.

AMHS director Shirley Marquardt told the CVN Wednesday that adding crew quarters to the Hubbard would reduce operating costs and still allow daily service to the Upper Lynn Canal compared to running both boats. She said recent analysis by engineers and captains indicate the request to move the Tazlina to Prince William Sound and add crew quarters to the boats is the most “responsible” plan.

The AMHS put in a request about 10 days ago to the state’s Legislative Budget and Audit Committee for funding to build crew quarters, according to committee aide Randy Ruaro.

The committee denied that $15 million funding request on Wednesday. Marquardt said the committee representatives felt the request was too large of a change relative to the legislature’s appropriation several years ago to build the two Alaska Class Ferries that were intended to both run in the Upper Lynn Canal.

“Asking a committee to go in and change them, they felt that’s too big in scope,” Marquardt said. “[They said] it’s too much of a significant change and we’re not comfortable with it. We’re going to take the longer route and go down the path of the legislative process in the next legislative session.”

The ferries were designed with bow doors to improve loading and unloading efficiency, a design that would have allowed the Alaska Class Ferries to make day trips. One would run from Auke Bay to Haines and back to Auke Bay in eight hours. The other ferry would run back and forth between Haines and Skagway.

The Alaska Class Ferries were designed to run day trips and handle weather conditions that forced the cancellations of ferry runs during winter months, according to DOT officials.

Haines’ ferry terminal isn’t equipped to utilize bow doors. If the legislature approves adding crew quarters to the Hubbard, a $27 million project that would construct two new berths would be unnecessary, Marquardt said.

Marquardt also cited 80 workers at Ketchikan’s Vigor AK shipyard who will be laid off soon. If they get the go-ahead to build crew quarters on the Hubbard, which is still under construction, some of them would remain employed.

Borough manager Debra Schnabel, assembly members Tom Morphet and Stephanie Scott, and Mayor Jan Hill held a conference call with members of Skagway’s Marine Highway ad hoc committee.

During that meeting, Jesse Kiehl, Juneau assembly member, state senate candidate and staff member to Sen. Dennis Egan, texted Hill about his perception of the crew quarter funding request.

“I totally agree the rest of the system needs new vessels, but every long-term plan calls for getting two day-boats. Switching the Lynn Canal vessels away from that at massive expense is deleting a long-term fix for one part of the system in order to fix a short-term problem elsewhere.”

The Marine Highway Fund was set up to buffer the system against operating losses, ad hoc committee member Jan Wrentmore said. Marine Highway Transportation Advisory Board (MTAB) chairman Robert Venables said there’s not much more than $15 million in the fund. The MTAB board will meet with Marquardt in a teleconference Thursday, Oct. 4. “There hasn’t been a lot of engagement,” Venables said about the proposal to add crew quarters. “I would love to be engaged.”

In the teleconference with Haines officials and staff, Wrentmore urged the Haines Borough to join with the Skagway and Juneau assemblies in opposing changes to the plan and request more analysis in terms of route carrying capacities, crew cost and operating cost comparisons, proposed schedules and revenue projections.

“Our concern is that these boats were specifically designed and built to be used as day boats in Lynn Canal and now, in the 11th hour this plan is being dismantled with little information available to the three communities that will be affected the most,” Wrentmore wrote to Schnabel.

Scott questioned why the AMHS is making changes. “It seems to me the project they had in place was based on lots of research, lots of evidence and I don’t understand how they can just dismiss all of that information to do a different project. It doesn’t make any sense to me at all.”

Marquardt told the CVN she was disappointed she didn’t attend that conference call and that they’ve been trying to disseminate information about the changes. “It feels like we’ve been down this road,” Marquardt said. “It feels rushed. I get it. The bottom line is we are trying to provide the most flexible service we can.”

Marquardt will be in Haines Thursday, Oct. 4 to answer questions about the proposed changes.


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