Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

State close to finalizing interim ferry plan


February 27, 2020 | View PDF

The Alaska Department of Transportation is close to finalizing interim transportation for passengers while its mainline ferries remain out of service.

In a press release last week, the department said it “is working to establish options for interim passenger and freight service for the Northern Panhandle in the near future.”

“I know that they are most serious about transporting people right now,” said Senator Jesse Kiehl, who met with Department of Transportation officials last Friday to discuss interim transportation options.

The Department of Transportation had to follow certain procedures in order to be able to contract with private businesses to fill the gap, Kiehl said. All three ferry unions had to agree to waive clauses in their contracts and “let the state contract this out in interim. Ferry workers are bailing out (the Department of Transportation) right now,” he said. The department also had to follow bid procedure before signing contracts with private providers.

“Now (the department is) working on the schedule,” Kiehl said. He said he emailed borough managers and mayors in Haines and Skagway over the weekend, suggesting they provide input to the department on what the finalized schedule should be.

On Wednesday, Feb. 26, Department of Transportation spokesperson Sam Dapcevich said the department is finalizing contracts to provide interim ferry service and expects to issue a press release with details later this week.

Pressure has been mounting for interim service options as the Department of Transportation has continued to push back the date the Matanuska ferry is scheduled to return to service. Last week, the department announced the cancellation of Matanuska sailings indefinitely.

The Matanuska has been out of commission due to issues with its reduction gear system since late January, leaving the Alaska Marine Highway without any operational mainline ferries. It was scheduled to return to service in early March. However, nearly a month after the ship broke down, repairs have yet to begin. Alaska Public Media reported that the delay is related to warranty disputes between the company that supplied the parts and the company that installed them, as well as the custom nature of components needed for the repair.

The Department of Transportation said that beginning on April 14, the Columbia will take over for the Matanuska. “The Columbia was… the ship closest to being ready for operation and able to run the Matanuska’s route,” Dapcevich said.

Originally placed in cost-saving layup at the end of last year, the Columbia had been scheduled to return to service with a reduced crew in early May after its scheduled overhaul period. This includes the renewal of the vessel’s Coast Guard certificate of inspection and engine maintenance required by the manufacturer. The Alaska Marine Highway System worked with the shipyard in Ketchikan to expedite the Columbia’s overhaul to return the vessel to service sooner, Dapcevich said.

On March 5, the Tazlina is scheduled to begin running a route between Haines, Skagway, Juneau, Angoon and Hoonah. However, without the Matanuska, many other Southeast communities will remain stranded unless state-subsidized interim options come into play.


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