The Alaska Marine Highway fast ferry Chenega ports in Juneau in June 2005.

The Alaska Marine Highway fast ferry Chenega ports in Juneau in June 2005.

Ferry system plans to lay up Chenega

The Alaska Marine Highway System, running short of operating cash, is proceeding with plans to lay up the fast ferry Chenega in Seattle.

On Friday, the ferry system announced it is seeking bids from companies able to provide mooring space for the 11-year-old ferry.

The Chenega is being overhauled in Seattle, and ferry system spokesman Jeremy Woodrow said it made sense for the Marine Highway to seek a lay-up spot there, rather than in Alaska.

“The fiscal reality is we just can’t afford to run it,” Woodrow said.

The Marine Highway has already laid up the ferry Taku in Ketchikan, also due to a lack of operating funds. The Taku is being sold on the open market, but Woodrow said the ferry system has no plans as of yet to sell the Chenega.

First envisioned in the 1980s, Alaska’s catamaran-hulled, water-jet-driven fast ferries were designed as alternatives to road construction or conventional ferries in protected waters.

Decades of debates and Legislative consideration meant the ferries weren’t built until the new millennium. The Chenega entered service in 2005, one year after its sister ship, the Fairweather.

While the ferries drastically cut travel time, they came at a higher per-hour operating cost than conventional ferries. They were vulnerable to high seas and were plagued by engine trouble that eventually caused the state to sue the engine manufacturer. That lawsuit was settled in 2013, when the manufacturer agreed to replace each ship’s four engines at no cost.

As the state cut the ferry system’s budget, the Marine Highway was first forced to scale back its routes. Now, it has begun laying up boats.

According to the notice published by the state, the Chenega lay-up will start this fall and last through September 30, 2017 “with the option to renew for two additional one-year terms.”

The Chenega will be moored to a floating pier or dock in Puget Sound after Marine Highway crews mothball it.

Bids for the lay-up site are due by the end of the month.

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