Update (Feb. 5, 7:08 p.m.) — Jacob Resneck, CoastAlaska
Ferry service in Southeast Alaska will remain shutdown at least until March. That’s following news that the regional ferry in service — the Matanuska — is being towed to Ketchikan for repairs. And the only other ship available for relief has been laid up for budgetary reasons. (Read more)
The Alaska Marine Highway System will remain virtually shut down through Feb. 7. That’s following news that repairs to the Matanuska won’t be completed until then.
Cindy Beamer was moving from Anchorage to Juneau to start a new job. She’s gotten as far as Haines. She and her three cats have been stuck at the Captain’s Choice Motel since Monday.
“I and other people are here because it’s not being fixed,” she said with Peaches, her 20-year-old cat, in her arms.
The ferry Matanuska broke down last week, stranding scores of passengers and vehicles. Aside from a small ferry running between Ketchikan and Metlakatla, the Matanuska was the only ship in service.
That’s left Beamer — and her employer — in a holding pattern. Her car is packed full of belongings, and there hasn’t been a Juneau boat in two weeks.
Now that wait might be three weeks.
“You expect that in bad weather and winter, a day or two. I mean, we all expect that, so it’s not like that’s a big shock,” she said. “What’s a big shock is waiting two weeks and them having options and not using them and then blaming it on the governor.”
State officials say that none of the other 9 vessels can be brought into service before the Matanuska is repaired. They’re either in layup for cost savings, already being overhauled or have been prepped for sale.
Beamer said she’s called the governor’s office and the lieutenant governor. She even tried her U.S. senators in Washington, D.C. No one has called back.
“This isn’t frivolous. This is people’s lives,” said Beamer. “And if people could afford to fly or do whatever, then they would. But the ferry is how you get your groceries, is how you get your building supplies, is how you live when you’re out in these communities that don’t have roads. And for that to go by the wayside because they’re fighting about money, that’s not right. It’s shameful.”
Lawmakers also feel the service gap. About two dozen vehicles for legislators and their staff are stuck in Haines as well.
AMHS spokesperson Sam Dapcevich said the agency still doesn’t have a definitive timeline for repairs on the Matanuska. It isn’t making plans for alternate service either, like when they contracted Allen Marine Tours to make the Upper Lynn Canal run just this week. The fleet’s $120 million Alaska Class Ferries remain offline.
“We did look into bringing the Tazlina up, but it’s in the shipyard undergoing warranty work and the annual certification inspection,” he said.
There has been no ferry on Lynn Canal since Jan. 19, when the Tazlina was pulled out of service. Both Haines and Skagway are connected to the road system, but winter storms have caused closures on both the Klondike and Haines highways. The state won’t say how many travelers are potentially affected.
All that people like Cindy Beamer can do is wait. All her employer can do is help with the motel bill. She said she wants the state and its agencies to solve the problem.
“Don’t let people suffer because you can’t act like adults,” she said.
Peaches let out a loud mewl.
“She’s upset. She wants to go,” said Beamer.