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Parnell moves forward with new ferry

Posted: December 15, 2011 - 1:07am

Gov. Sean Parnell’s budget, to be formally released today in Anchorage, will include authorization to spend millions to complete the first new state ferry in years, he said Wednesday.

Past year’s state budgets have already set aside $120 million to build what is hoped to be the first of the state’s new Alaska-class ferries. Those are modern, but smaller and more efficient ferries that it is hoped will be more cost effective in serving many Southeast routes.

“Alaskans rely on a safe, reliable marine highway system,” Governor Parnell said in a press release.

“This new vessel marks the next generation of ferries to serve communities across Alaska,” he said.

The larger mainline ferries will continue to serve more distant ports, as the Alaska-class ferries do not have staterooms for overnight accommodations.

Parnell announced Wednesday that the 2013 budget will include authorization to spend $60 million on the ferry. Together with additional money already authorized, that means the state will have the full $120 million anticipated price of the new ferry available.

That action is similar to “moving money out of a savings account into a checking account so we can spend it,” said Brenda Hewitt, spokeswoman for the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.

The department has already selected Ketchikan’s Alaska Ship & Drydock, which operates the state-owned shipyard there, as construction manager and general contractor for the project.

That doesn’t guarantee that the company will get to build the vessel, but it will be given the first opportunity to submit a bid and negotiate a construction contract.

The last new ferries built were the Fairweather and Chenega, which entered service in 2004 and 2005 respectively. They have been plagued with engine problems.

Four of the Alaska Marine Highway System’s ferries were built prior to 1964, and although the vessels are expected to last for 68 years, the maintenance those vessels require is getting increasingly expensive, state officials say.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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