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

Residents cheer as the Tazlina docks in Haines

Uncertain future still looms


March 12, 2020 | View PDF

Ceri Godinez

Tazlina arrives at the Haines ferry terminal.

On Friday, March 6 the Tazlina sailed into Haines only 10 minutes behind schedule. A group of travelers waiting outside clapped, cheered and snapped pictures as the first ferry in roughly seven weeks arrived.

Friday's ferry made a loop from Juneau to Haines to Skagway and then back to the capital city. According to Haines ferry terminal staff, 163 people arrived in Haines along with 26 vehicles, and 63 people departed from Haines. Leaving Haines, the ferry had nearly sold out on vehicle space. That was as much a function of the Tazlina's smaller size as it was a function of a backlog in vehicles, terminal manager Ryan Ackerman said.

Ackerman said he knew of at least one vehicle leaving Haines that day that had been waiting to get to Juneau for warranty work since before Feb. 1. Owners couldn't drive the vehicle to Whitehorse because of the needed repairs and considerations related to the warranty, and while the warranty usually covers the cost of shipping the car on the ferry, it won't cover the cost of moving the car via barge, he said.

"We're really happy to finally have the boats back," Ackerman said. "Today is busier than it has been for two months." While the ferry has been out of service, workers in Haines have been limited to cleaning, maintenance projects and snow removal, he said.

While those with vehicles waited to load up, passengers arriving in Haines walked off the ferry carrying Costco-sized packages of butter, tissues and other food and household items.

The lack of ferry service "has made life difficult for a variety of groups," said Carol Duis, a Haines resident since 2006. She listed school sports teams and those with medical needs as examples. Duis, who provides medical escort services for people on Medicaid, said lack of travel options while the ferries were out of service caused a delay for a trip on which she escorted a patient to Anchorage.

"This is a part of the infrastructure that not just the governor but the government as a whole needs to support," Duis said.

"We're thrilled that the ferry is running again," Haines resident Keri Eggleston said. She and her family were waiting to take the ferry to Juneau for a doctor's appointment for her son and a chance to get out of town for a while.

Eggleston said she and her husband moved to Haines a couple years ago because they "wanted to raise kids in a smaller community, slow down the pace of life and spend time with... family."

"Frequent, reliable ferry service was one of the major factors in deciding to move here from Juneau... This winter, thanks to the lack of ferries, we have really been second guessing that decision. We don't want to live somewhere that we feel stranded," Eggleston said.

"It was a smooth ride, like it should be," said Hoop Rats basketball coach Lucas Johnson who traveled with roughly 25 fourth- through eighth-grade students from Juneau to play in Haines' Triple Threat Tournament. "Riding on the ferry takes me back to my high school days" playing basketball for Hoonah.

The Triple Threat Tournament usually takes place in January or February, Johnson said. This year, organizers waited to hold the tournament until the ferry was back in service. If the ferry's return to service had been delayed yet again, his team's backup plan was chartering a catamaran, Johnson said.

"I'm really glad the ferries are running," said Gail Dabaluz, who was on her way to the Bead, Hide and Fur Symposium in Whitehorse. Dabaluz said she had tried to fly to Haines the day before, but planes were grounded due to high winds.

Dabaluz said she has to travel to Haines roughly once a month for her job as project manager for the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium. She said this has not been possible the last few months with the ferry out of service and plane travel weather-dependent. The lack of travel options has hit relatives who live in villages in Southeast even harder, she said.

Heli-ski guide and photographer Justin McCarty rode the ferry from Juneau to Haines with his wife and child to work the heli-ski season. He and his family live in Colorado and decided to travel when they heard the ferry was coming back into service, McCarty said. Despite official assurances that the ferry would be up and running, the decision to come up still felt like a bit of a gamble. "Everybody that we talked to from Alaska said, 'don't count on the ferry running.'"

The next Alaska Marine Highway vessel to return to service will be the Columbia on April 14. The vessel will take over the Matanuska's sailing route, providing service to communities including Petersburg, Sitka and Wrangell. After a two-month delay, the Matanuska left Juneau on Friday, March 6, headed to the Ketchikan shipyard for repairs to its propulsion system.


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