A lifeboat on the deck of the Columbia ferry in May. (Photo courtesy of the Alaska Marine Highway System)

A lifeboat on the deck of the Columbia ferry in May. (Photo courtesy of the Alaska Marine Highway System)

Columbia ferry set to resume service Wednesday

Week of canceled sailings for repairs means longer vehicle wait lists, officials say.

The Columbia ferry is scheduled to resume normal service Wednesday after docking in Ketchikan for a week for repairs, but the resulting cancellation of trips means there will be a backlog — particularly for vehicles — for people seeking space on the ferry that travels between Southeast Alaska and Bellingham, Washington, according to officials.

The nearly 50-year-old Columbia experienced problems with a leaky valve manifold and a bow thruster, said Sam Dapcevich, a spokesperson for the Alaska Marine Highway System. The faults resulted in the ferry traveling directly from Haines to Ketchikan early last week, skipping Juneau and other stops along the way, and then missing one full round trip between all the vessel’s stops in Bellingham and Southeast Alaska.

Vessel space is often tight on the ferry sailing between Bellingham and Alaska. As of Tuesday, the AMHS system shows the next available booking for a 15-foot-long vehicle for a trip between Bellingham and Juneau is July 14, with the next available date July 28.

Dapcevich said people with reservations won’t be displaced by those on wait lists, but that means the latter category of people will face longer delays.

The Alaska Marine Highway System has also spent the past week making plans to put the Kennicott ferry into service as an alternative vessel if the Columbia faces further problems, said Ryan Anderson, commissioner of the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.

“We have some scenarios where if that happens there would be a pause for days, we believe, not weeks,” he said. The key issue to resolve is “we have to move crews around and so that’s what takes time.”

• Contact Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com or (907) 957-2306.

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