The Alaska Marine Highway System has only two vessels running, leaving many coastal communities without ferries.
The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities inked a Feb. 26 contract with a Native corporation to fill some of these gaps with private charters through March 31.
Goldbelt, Inc.‘s CEO McHugh Pierre says Juneau’s urban Native corporation has two catamarans available but so far none have been scheduled by state transportation officials.
“We’re standing by and we’re ready to perform at a moment’s notice,” he said Tuesday.
DOT also signed a similar contract with Allen Marine of Sitka, which has already run at least two charter ferries between Juneau and the island communities of Kake, Angoon and Tenakee Springs.
The communities of Gustavus and Pelican aren’t expecting state ferries any time soon. The contract included both communities in a route — along with Juneau and Hoonah — for $9,200 per trip.
State transportation officials remain noncommittal. DOT’s regional spokesman Sam Dapcevich wrote in a statement that the agency “is assessing the transportation needs of Pelican and Gustavus.”
Gustavus City Administrator Tom Williams says he had no idea that such a contract existed.
“It’s a little frustrating and disappointing that DOT didn’t do a better job of notifying the communities that are in the contract” he said.
Dapcevich’s statement also noted that Gustavus’ state dock is scheduled to be rebuilt this spring and ferries won’t be able to tie up there. But Williams says he’s had conversations with the National Park Service to use its Bartlett Cove dock as an alternative and that residents want an opportunity to restock provisions in Juneau.
“I realize that a passenger-only ferry will provide limited amount of cargo per passenger,” Williams said. “But still, that’s a lot better than not having any opportunity at all to bring supplies over.”
The community of Pelican is scheduled for just two ferries in May when the LeConte is slated to return from an overhaul in drydock. Norm Carson of the local chamber of commerce has been in contact with state transportation officials to line up ferries for the small community’s fish processor and residents.
Carson says he didn’t know about the contract, but it would make a lot of sense.
“If we could pair that with a community like Gustavus on the way out and on the way back, then there’d be no issue with ridership at all,” he said.
The other route in the Goldbelt contract is for Upper Lynn Canal. But that route is now being covered by the state ferry Tazlina which returned to service earlier this month.