The City of Angoon will hold a community meeting Friday evening to discuss the feasibility of hiring a private ship to make up for the lack of ferry service to the island community.
In a public notice posted to Facebook, city officials asked Angoon residents to attend a meeting at the Angoon Community Association to discuss chartering a passenger vessel.
“Please come to the meeting so that we may come together as a community and plan this charter in a way that maximizes benefit for all of Angoon,” the post says.
In an interview with the Empire Friday morning, Angoon Mayor Joshua Bowen Sr. said the city was hoping to get as many people as possible involved to try and keep ticket prices low.
“The city and the Angoon Community Association are willing to subsidize the the cost of this run,” Bowen said, but they still need to discuss with the community how much interest there is in the trip.
Angoon has been in discussions with Goldbelt Inc., the for-profit Alaska Native corporation which provides transportation services for Coeur Alaska’s Kensington Gold Mine. Goldbelt added a second vessel to its fleet in September.
Bowen said the city was looking into private transportation because of the uncertainty around the Alaska Marine Highway System. The Department of Transportation and Public Facilities recently announced that two of its ferries will be put into indefinite layup due to the high cost of repairs.
At the same time, the M/V Tazlina is awaiting scheduled maintenance in Ketchikan. The Tazlina is set to receive new side doors, and DOT is still in negotiations with contractors, Alaska Public Media reported. The mayors of both Haines and Skagway sent letters to DOT asking the project be put on hold and the Tazlina put back in service.
“This is a capital project, not a maintenance project,” Haines Mayor Jan Hill wrote in a letter to DOT. “We respectfully request that you consider that the side door project has a lesser priority than transportation services.”
Bowen said he would like to see the Tazlina start running again, but Angoon has yet another issue: its dock is in need of repairs. The parts have been purchased, Bowen said, but the repairs have not been made.
In the past, Bowen said, the city was able to raise and lower the loading ramp using a construction crane that was in town for another project. That crane is no longer available.
“Someone is coming to see whether or not we have what we need in town to (fix the dock),” Bowen said.
While hiring a private ship will allow the community to transport much needed supplies, it’s not going to be easy for residents or city officials. Angoon has a population of 459 as of the 2010 Census.
“It’s going to suck,” Bowen said. “It’s going to be frustrating, how do we manage this, I’ve never dealt with that kind of stuff, we’re forced into doing this.”
Gov. Mike Dunleavy cut $650 million from the state budget, including an additional $5 million appropriated by the Legislature to provide winter service to coastal communities in Southeast Alaska.
Bowen said city staff have never coordinated passenger transportation, and are unsure how the process will play out if the plan comes to fruition.
Angoon residents would be traveling to Juneau for groceries and other services and supplies, but the Goldbelt vessels can’t accommodate vehicles, so all the supplies will have to be carried by hand, Bowen said.
Previously, Angoon received twice-weekly ferries but service was stopped entirely on Oct. 31. Residents of Angoon rely on ferry service for supplies from larger communities like Juneau. The only other means of transportation to and from Angoon is seaplane, as the community has no airstrip to land “planes with wheels,” Bowen previously told the Empire.
When DOT announced it would be canceling service to the community, Bowen told the Empire there had been a truck going to Juneau for supplies every week on the ferry.
Bowen is not trying to make this a permanent solution, and emphasized this was just a stop-gap measure to get much needed supplies to the community.
“I don’t want to make it seem like we don’t need our ferries, we definitely do,” Bowen said. “We’re not trying to figure out a way to do this without the ferry, we’re just trying to get a basic back and forth to Juneau.”
The community meeting will take place at 5 p.m. Friday evening.
• Contact reporter Peter Segall at 523-2228 or firstname.lastname@example.org.