Matanuska breakdown leaves travelers in limbo

The Matanuska docked on Friday, February 7, 2020 at the Auke Bay ferry terminal in Juneau, Alaska. The ship was headed to Ketchikan for repairs. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/KTOO)

Another week in March, another ferry breakdown. This time, the M/V Matanuska is stranded in Bellingham, Washington.

Its next return to the Upper Lynn Canal looks like it won’t be until April 6.

Mayor Andrew Cremata says he won’t know until Tuesday afternoon if he can put together another emergency solution, by hiring an Allen Marine boat, like he did two weeks ago.

“This is not a money-making proposition,” Cremata said. “We lose money on these, but the question is how much are we going to lose — is it justifiable?”

The mayor has tried to gauge community interest in hiring a private craft, but he says getting an accurate number of passengers is a nearly impossible task. If planes fly, people tend to opt-out and take those flights, leaving the municipality on the hook for the unfilled seats.

An Allen Marine Vessel costs $900 per hour regardless of how many passengers are on board. Cremata says he and the city manager have contacted the state to see if they will pay the bill. Cremata says the interruption in service is due to the Department of Transportation, so it shouldn’t be a municipal transportation issue.

“The manager and I both want to try and get a firm answer from the state in writing,” Cremata said. “We’d be willing to pick up the cost then because that takes the burden off of us to justify the expense at a time when every expense is something that really needs to be considered, as we’re using municipal funds.”

With Juneau seeing heavy snowfalls and poor visibility on Monday, flights did not leave for the Upper Lynn Canal. Passengers were stranded at the airport on Monday, and without a ferry departing on Tuesday, the stress of winter travel in Southeast Alaska is elevated yet again.

Calls to the Alaska Marine Highway public information officer were not returned before this article published.

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