The Alaska Marine Highway System ferries LeConte, left, and Fairweather at the Auke Bay Terminal on Monday, March 5, 2018. (Juneau Empire file)

The Alaska Marine Highway System ferries LeConte, left, and Fairweather at the Auke Bay Terminal on Monday, March 5, 2018. (Juneau Empire file)

Ferry service canceled to Southeast towns after repair costs run high

AMHS can’t complete repairs on both scheduled vessels

The Alaska Marine Highway System doesn’t have enough funds to complete repairs on two of its vessels scheduled for work, a press release from the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities said Friday.

Because it is not yet clear which vessels will be suitable to sail, AMHS announced that Angoon, Tenakee, Pelican and Gustavus will receive no service beginning Oct. 31. Haines and Skagway will receive service once per week and Hoonah will receive service twice per month, the release said.

“AMHS is exploring possible alternatives to continue service while the LeConte and Aurora are offline,” according to the release.

The 44-year-old M/V LeConte was scheduled to undergo $1.5 million in repairs, but after extensive investigation of the ship’s hull, the total repair cost rose to around $4 million, according to AMHS. Work is currently stopped on the LeConte.

At the same time, the M/V Aurora is scheduled for repairs at the Vigor dry-dock in Ketchikan. What repairs the Aurora will need are not yet known, but AMHS has said that it doesn’t have the money to complete repairs on both vessels. DOT said that it will complete repairs on whichever vessel is cheaper. Estimates for repairs to the Aurora will be available Nov. 15, DOT said.

“It’s not good news,” said Angoon Mayor Joshua Bowen Sr. “We rely on that ferry for just about everything.”

Bowen told the Empire by phone Friday that Angoon is not equipped for “planes with wheels,” and the only air freight that could be flown in was via floatplane. There are other options, Bowen said, but they’re “extremely, extremely expensive.”

There was a truck going for supplies on the ferry every week, Bowen said. Community members were currently working on finding a viable option.

“We’re putting together a plan to pool our resources to see if we can come up with a way to get supplies,” Bowen said.

Bowen suggested that DOT allow private sector boat operators to use the ferry terminal to make deliveries. Angoon has a ferry dock but only AMHS ships are allowed to use it, Bowen said.

Pelican Mayor Walt Weller was similarly concerned at what the lack of ferry services would do to the cost of living in the small Southeast community.

“The beauty of the ferry was you could put 500 pounds or 5,000 pounds,” Weller told the Empire Friday. “With a barge you need about 10,000. We’re just not that big of a community.”

Weller said he had spoken to community members about getting private boats to haul supplies, mainly from Juneau.

“I’ve got two-and-a-half tons of board planks that will need to be carried over plank-by-plank,” he said. Pelican has an extensive boardwalk which needs repairs. The shipment of planks is on its way to Juneau, Weller said, and would have arrived on the next ferry voyage.

“We’ll do what we can with airplanes and hope that private industry fills the void,” Weller said.

The news follows the Oct. 28, announcement that the M/V Malaspina would be ending service in December. DOT spokesperson Meadow Bailey told the Empire at the time that repairs to the Malaspina would cost roughly $16 million.

Earlier this year, Gov. Mike Dunleavy cut $650 million from the state budget, including deep cuts to the ferry system. The Legislature appropriated $5 million during the summer’s special session to provide winter service to the city of Cordova, but that money was vetoed by the governor in his final budget.

DOT could not be reached for comment Friday.


• Contact reporter Peter Segall at 523-2228 or psegall@juneauempire.com.


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