Rep. Dan Ortiz optimistic ferry service to Prince Rupert will resume in May

Vehicles load onto the Malaspina on one of its last runs to Prince Rupert, B.C. in 2019. (Eric Stone/KRBD)

Alaska House Rep. Dan Ortiz, I-Ketchikan, says he’s optimistic that ferry service between Ketchikan and Prince Rupert, B.C. will resume as planned next spring.

State ferries haven’t run the 120-mile route linking the panhandle with the northern British Columbia road system since 2019.

But Ortiz says plans to resume service by May 1 are on track.

“If we can get it to two days a week, after having no service to Prince Rupert, that’s a really good thing. And the Marine Highway has specifically set that project aside. They are specifically dedicated to getting us back to Rupert by May of 2022,” Ortiz said during a recent Chamber of Commerce luncheon.

While there are some challenges, Ortiz believes they can be overcome. The head of the Alaska Marine Highway System said earlier this year that a prior dispute over whether U.S. customs officials can carry firearms on Canadian soil would be resolved by May 1.

Rep. Dan Ortiz, Non-affiliated – Ketchikan, makes his way to his seat on Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020 in Juneau. (Rashah McChesney/KTOO)

Ortiz says there have also been discussions and negotiations with Canadian authorities, and a detention facility will be needed at the AMHS terminal in Prince Rupert to meet security requirements.

“So that we have a holding place for any person that might arrive drunk, etc., intoxicated, all those kinds of things, or might have a gun, something like that,” Ortiz said. “So we have to build that holding facility in the terminal.”

Another challenge is a rebuild of the dilapidated AMHS dock in Prince Rupert. Construction of a new ramp was put on hold in 2015 due to a dispute over construction materials. Federal funds would have paid for most of the project, requiring U.S. steel to be used, something opposed by Canadian officials.

Ortiz says prior to COVID-19 closures, he and members of the state transportation department met with Canadian officials and came up with a solution using an existing B.C. ferry ramp.

Ortiz believes the long-term solution is to build a short road from the current AMHS ferry terminal to the B.C. ferry dock.

In the meantime, Ortiz says inspectors checked the existing AMHS dock in Prince Rupert and determined it is functional and safe to use in the short term.

With $1 billion of Congress’ infrastructure bill dedicated to “essential ferry service” for rural areas, Ortiz says funds will be available to replace the ferry Tustumena, which serves Southcentral and Southwestern Alaska. He also is hopeful crew quarters can be added to the ferry Tazlina.

Ortiz says he’s also hopeful that federal money could fund a new vessel dedicated to the Prince Rupert route, making Ketchikan a hub city for the rest of the Alaska Marine Highway System.

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