2012 ferry schedule reactions mixed

JUNEAU, ALASKA (2011-08-16) Reactions to the proposed ferry schedule for next summer are mixed. In general, communities like more service and dislike reductions. But it’s not that simple.

The draft of 2012’s May-through-September sailing plan alters the fast ferry Fairweather’s routes.

One change has the ship stop in Angoon twice a week during its Juneau-Sitka roundtrip sailings. It would replace port calls by the small ferry LeConte, long the village’s marine highway mainstay.

(Link to proposed changes for the 2012 summer schedule.)

Angoon businesswoman Maxine Thompson serves on the state’s Marine Transportation Advisory Board. She says it’s the best of a limited field of choices.

“In order for Angoon to resume service to Sitka where we have the SEARHC hospital we need to have the Fairweather. Because the LeConte is a day boat, we no longer have the option to use her to transport to and from Sitka,” Thompson says.

Another fast ferry change would increase Juneau-Sitka sailings from five to six days a week. That would come at the expense of Petersburg, which would see runs cut from twice to once a week.

Petersburg Mayor Al Dwyer opposes that plan.

“I understand the ridership wasn’t what it should have been. But anything that limits access to Petersburg is not good for Petersburg,” Dwyer says.

The proposed summer 2012 schedule would keep the Malaspina sailing daily among Lynn Canal communities. But it would reverse direction, starting and ending in Juneau, instead of Skagway.

Robert Venables of Haines, another Marine Transportation Advisory Board, criticizes the plan.

“I do have concerns with the day boat change. I’ve long been a champion of homeporting that in the north and I think it works better for those communities. I did talk to the deputy commissioner who indicated that should this be implemented and not work out, that it could be revisited,” Venables says.

Gustavus picks up more sailings under the draft schedule. It would see four weekly LeConte stops next summer instead of the current two. The town near the entrance to Glacier Bay just began regular ferry service last fall.

Melanie Lesh, who works for the Gustavus Visitors Association, says the runs have been convenient.

“We could always take our own boats back and forth and there’s freight service to get our bulky goods out here. But being able to drive a car on and off the ferry and then do our shopping and even our vehicle maintenance has been just really helpful,” Lesh says.

She and others say more sailings will be good for tourism. But they acknowledge some residents worry about the changes increased access is bringing.

One city official says traffic has increased, meaning bike lanes may need to be added. And some people are concerned about ferry travelers camping on private land without adequate sanitation facilities.

Most of the summer 2012 schedule does not change. That includes the Bellingham-to-Whittier express, a twice-monthly Kennicott sailing that began this summer.

Advisory board chairman Mike Korsmo of Skagway says it’s been a good addition.

“It’s been very successful so far. And it takes a lot of pressure off of the Columbia run coming up out of Bellingham. And it satisfies a lot of people who were complaining that we only had one Bellingham run,” Korsmo says.

It stops in Ketchikan, Juneau and Yakutat. Officials say they’re working to make sure there’s room for Yakutat vehicles, since the car deck can be booked far in advance.

The schedule changes come after several years of a relatively static timetable. Officials promised stability after a period of frequent changes that brought calls for more predictable sailings.

Advisory board member Venables says the proposed schedule meets marine highway goals.

“The system is trying to be responsive as it moved forward, having enough long-term consistency to be predictable yet to be responsive enough to make changes as necessary. So I think overall it’s a healthy thing,” Venables says.

He says one proposed change could lead to more schedule flexibility. That’s a weekly overnight in Hoonah for the Juneau-based LeConte, which normally makes only day trips.

“It may just make sense to in the future go to a community, overnight in that community and then the crew goes into the community as they do for the airlines. And then you change crew or overnight and come back the next day,” Venables says.

The ferry system will hold a teleconference on the proposed schedule Monday, August 22nd. Testimony from Southeast starts at 10 a.m. and from Southcentral and Southwest at 1:30 p.m.

The teleconference number is 1-800-315-6338. The conference code is 3902#.

Comments can also be submitted to dot.amhs.comments@alaska.gov