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Lynn Canal ferry service to be improved next summer

Haines, Skagway say regular daily service is community goal

Posted: June 26, 2012 - 11:02pm  |  Updated: June 27, 2012 - 6:11am

Some northern Lynn Canal communities don’t like the ferry schedules they’ve got this summer, but ferry officials say those schedules are linked to congestion in Auke Bay.

“It’s put a little crimp in our style, and in our economy,” said Stephanie Scott, mayor of Haines Borough.

Last summer the northern port cities of Haines and Skagway had daily or near daily ferry service, and want to see that happen again.

Alaska Marine Highway System Officials say that may be possible, and that this summer’s schedules were in part a test that may not work out.

Lynn Canal, between Juneau and the two northern ports, is the state’s most heavily traveled ferry route, but this summer there is not a ferry every day and on one day there are two.

That’s partially because of the number of ferries that sometimes need to call in Juneau at the Auke Bay terminal, said Mike Neussl, deputy commissioner for marine operations for the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.

Neussl told the Marine Transportation Advisory Board Tuesday that schedule changes made in Lynn Canal were intended to solve some problems, but may have created others and probably should be changed. That can’t happen this summer, however, he told the board.

“It seems every turn we take we solve one problems and find two others we need to work on,” Neussl said.

The problem arose when the ferry system tried to figure out what to do when a vessel arrived each Monday morning from Bellingham in the early morning hours.

“We need to have a place for it to tie up,” Neussl said. “If the Malaspina, LeConte and the Fairweather are all berthed in Auke Bay, there’s nowhere for the Columbia to tie up,” he said.

The solution to that the Auke Bay congestion is what triggered the problem now facing Haines and Skagway.

“We need to vacate one of those berths, and they way we did that this year was to have the Malaspina remain overnight in Skagway on Sunday night,” he said.

Cancelling that Sunday trip south is the crux of the problem for both Skagway and Haines, he said.

“We’re going to try to fix that for next year,” he said.

He said ferry system planners have told him they’re close to a solution. He hasn’t seen it yet, but he hopes to have daily service in Lynn Canal again.

“That requires some vessel jockeying,” he said, and may cause other changes elsewhere.

Scott praised the ferry system for addressing the problem, as well as supporting important community events in Haines.

She said the change to the schedule was also to see if it would improve ridership out of Juneau, and see what that did to ridership.

Scott said they capitalized on the region’s frequent sunny weather with special events such as the Kluane Bike Race, the Klondike Road Relay and the Southeast State Fair. Those events were well served by last year’s schedule, which allowed visitors to attend the events and head back on Sunday.

“I’m hopeful that next year we’ll solve that problem and get back to an even keel on that,” Neussl said.

Board member Mike Korsmo of Skagway apologized for not noticing the significance of the schedule change himself when the change was made last year.

Getting more ridership out of Juneau seemed like a good goal, he said, but he hadn’t realized that it might bring some problems with it.

“I felt a little bit like I didn’t do my homework,” he said. “I kind of missed that.”

Scott said they thought the same thing at the time, and hadn’t protested the change last year either.

“We love the ferry system, and we rely on it,” Scott said.

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

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