About a half-dozen Alaska communities will see increased ferry service in the near future. Two are in the Southwest part of the state, and the rest in Southeast.
The Southwest communities, near Kodiak, will be the newest Alaska Marine Highway ports.
One is Ouzinke, on Spruce Island, about 10 miles northwest of Kodiak. The other is Old Harbor, about 70 miles to the southwest of the island’s biggest city.
Ferry chief Mike Neussl says Ouzinke’s new dock is under construction.
“Ouzinke will likely happen as soon as the fendering system gets completed. That will happen this spring, with service to Kodiak a couple times a month. Old Harbor, we’re still looking at the options for how to provide that service, but they’ve got a dock that’s ready to go and it’s compatible with all of our ships,” he says.
The state estimates each town has around 200 residents.
In Southeast, the new Rainforest Islands Ferry plans to begin service mid-July. It will connect Prince of Wales Island’s Coffman Cove to Wrangell, Petersburg, Meyers Chuck and Saxman, which is next to Ketchikan.
Marketing coordinator Heather Hedges told the Southeast Conference’s Transportation Committee that the one-ship system will target tourists as well as locals.
“We’re going to try to develop itineraries on our website to help people ride in one direction on the Rainforest Islands Ferry and leaving Hollis on the IFA (Inter-Island Ferry Authority),” Hedges says. “Travel loops between Ketchikan, Wrangell and Petersburg will also marketed. We’re hoping to capture not only our own market share, but help to increase traffic on both the IFA and AMHS.”
The Coffman-Cove based NorthEnd Port Authority is buying and overhauling the 160-foot-long ship, which will carry about 70 passengers and 14 vehicles.
It will provide the first full ferry service to Meyers Chuck, about 40 miles northwest of Ketchikan. It has a few dozen residents.
The Rainforest Islands Ferry is a new service that will replace the Inter-Island Ferry Authority’s northern route. That linked Coffman Cove to Wrangell and Petersburg for several summers, but ended because ridership was small.
The IFA continues to sail one of its two ships between Ketchikan and Hollis, on Prince of Wales Island.
General Manager Dennis Watson says money’s been tight, but business may be on the way up.
“We are providing service. We’re still doing it seven days a week and we’re making it. We’re hoping for better things. The economy on the island, particularly in Craig, looks a little better than it did the year before. We’ve had some positive sales tax quarters and hopefully the visitor industry will pick up,” Watson says.
The authority hopes to reduce costs by selling its second ship to the state.
The Inter-Island Ferry Authority and the NorthEnd Port Authority are independent from the Alaska Marine Highway System.
The state system, meanwhile, has released a draft schedule for fall of this year and winter and spring of next year.
Officials are taking written comments through March 22nd and will hold a public teleconference March 27th. (Email email@example.com or fax 907-586-8365 prior to March 22.)
Marine Operations Deputy Commissioner Neussl says he wants ferry users to know they can have a say.
\’The one thing that I frequently hear when people call to complain about the schedule is that they didn’t know that a public process existed for them to weight in up front before that schedule ever got published,” Neussl says.
Most of the schedule’s changes involve ships undergoing maintenance or overhaul, and other ships assigned to fill in.