In this file photo, the Alaska Marine Highway System employee opens the vehicle gate after the Tazlina arrives at the Auke Bay Terminal on Wednesday, July 24, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

In this file photo, the Alaska Marine Highway System employee opens the vehicle gate after the Tazlina arrives at the Auke Bay Terminal on Wednesday, July 24, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

Low ticket sales leave Angoon’s charted boat trip in question

City officials and DOT are working on a solution, but sailings still look far off

The M/V Tazlina is being put back into service, but the city of Angoon is still struggling with transportation.

On Nov. 15, the city held a community meeting to discuss the possibility of chartering a private vessel to provide transport to Juneau. A truck full of supplies had to come the city weekly using the Alaska Marine Highway System ferry, but those services were recently cut back due to budget cuts.

Angoon officials have proposed chartering one of Goldbelt Inc.’s catamarans to make three, one-time trips between the city and Juneau in November, but a large number of people need to buy tickets in order to keep prices affordable.

In a post to the city’s Facebook page on Wednesday, Angoon Mayor Joshua Bowen said that only 18 passengers have signed up for a trip on Nov. 24. With only 18 passengers the cost of a single ticket would be over $300, the mayor wrote.

Twenty-four passengers have signed up for the Nov 27th trip, and 36 for Nov. 30.

“We need more people to bring the price down,” Bowen wrote. “the City and the (Angoon Community Association) have expressed a willingness to subsidize part of the catamaran charter cost, but we cant decide on that if we don’t have enough people interested in going.”

Bowen could not immediately be reached for comment.

Angoon officials have reached out to residents of Tenakee Springs, which is also not receiving any ferry service, but according to the Facebook post they would need roughly 20-30 passengers.

In an interview with the Empire Wednesday, Tenakee Springs Mayor Dan Kennedy told the Empire he only knew of about six people who had expressed interest in the catamaran voyage in his community. Kennedy said he estimated the winter population of the community to be about 60 people.

If enough people are interested by Friday, Bowen wrote, the city will schedule the catamaran, but if not enough people buy tickets, the November trips may be canceled.

“Please understand that there is the potential that we may not have enough passengers for a November run and might not be able to pull it off. Please spread the word,” Bowen wrote.

On Oct. 28, The Department of Transportation and Public Facilities announced it would be taking the M/V Malaspina out of service, citing excessive repair costs. Then on Nov. 4, DOT announced it would be canceling ferry service to Angoon, Tenakee, Pelican and Gustavus, and cutting back sailings to Haines, Skagway and Hoonah because of higher-than-expected repair costs to two other vessels, the Aurora and the LeConte.

Following requests from several municipalities and a letter from Southeast lawmakers, the Alaska Marine Highway System made the decision to postpone scheduled upgrades to the M/V Tazlina and put that ship back in service.

Hoonah, Gustavus and Skagway will start getting sailings beginning on Nov. 21, but Angoon’s dock is in need of repairs and can’t currently accommodate the Tazlina.

“The ramp is the fixed structure and then there’s an apron that was designed to be in an up position, on the vessel, and then all the way down for the LeConte, because the LeConte has its own ramp,” said Sam Dapcevich, DOT public information officer for the southcoast region.

[Governor proposes cutting ferry funding at the end of the summer.]

The apron has been stuck in the down position, and past repair efforts have been unsuccessful because the arms that lift the apron have been misaligned, Dapcevich said.

“We tried to install the motors, the new ones that we have now and they wouldn’t line up,” he said. “So we determined those lifting arms need to be replaced.”

But those new arms are going to need to be manufactured, Dapcevich said, which is going to take a couple of months. So the solution in the meantime is to get a piece of construction equipment that can raise and lower the apron to Angoon. Dapcevich said that will most likely be an excavator or a boom truck, but that is yet to be determined.

DOT will pay for the cost of the equipment, according to Dapcevich but Bowen has said that the city is willing to help pay for repairs.

“Angoon has offered to help, and we’ve told them that we look forward to working with them,” Dapcevich said. “I don’t know what working with them will involve at this point.”

Even with an interim solution in the works, the Tazlina’s first scheduled trip to Angoon is Dec. 15. Bowen has previously told the Empire the community has been relying on seaplane deliveries and transport, but those trips are limited in the amount they can carry and by the weather.

Dapcevich said it was possible an additional sailing to Angoon could be scheduled once the dock is operable, but that hasn’t yet been decided.

Angoon’s dock can accommodate the Aurora and the LeConte, but both those vessels are currently awaiting repairs. DOT has said they do not currently have the funds to repair both vessels, and has not yet announced which ship will receive maintenance.

Even once repairs are underway, that vessel won’t be ready to sail until April, according to Dapcevich.


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


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