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Ferry system proposes more Lynn Canal service in new schedule

Posted: August 9, 2012 - 12:07am

Proposed ferry schedules are out early this year, with ferry officials saying they think they’ve solved this year’s Lynn Canal service problems.

The northern Lynn Canal ports of Haines and Skagway will get daily service, said Jeremy Woodrow, spokesman for the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.

The Malaspina, based out of Juneau, will serve as a “day boat” shuttling up and down Lynn Canal, six days a week, with the Columbia handling that route on the seventh day.

“Those were the concerns that were raised by Skagway and Haines,” Woodrow said.

The day the Malaspina doesn’t run will be Monday, he said.

“That extra day is nice for that boat, it lets the crew catch up on maintenance, repairs, painting, that kind of thing,” he said.

On the day the Malaspina doesn’t run, the Columbia will depart Juneau to visit Haines, Skagway, go back to Haines and then return to Juneau, he said.

“There will be a boat running in north Lynn Canal seven days a week,” Woodrow.

Mike Korsmo, a Skagway-based member of the Marine Transportation Advisory Board, praised the new schedule on his first review.

“To me it looks like it really brings back the true day-boat schedule, and that’s something that looks really good to me,” he said.

The dependable and reliable daily service is what the travelers going through Haines and Skagway need, he said.

That’s the kind of service needed, from the Malaspina, said Robert Venables, MTAB chair and a Haines resident.

“Every day you can set your watch by when she arrives,” he said.

“That’s the type of public transportation system we like to see in the higher traffic areas,” Venables said.

The board and community members in the northern cities had raised concerns about the interrupted service this summer at recent meetings, but the new proposed schedule appears to solve those problems, he said.

“It looks like they’ve allayed our concerns,” Korsmo said.

With current service there are only five days a week in which a round trip the same day is possible, Venables said.

The proposed schedule will be the subject of a public hearing in Ketchikan on Aug. 28, with comments on the schedule able to be submitted by email before the hearing or by phone at the hearing.

The proposed schedule is out early this year at the request of the public, Woodrow said.

“We hear this from communities, we hear this from travelers: ‘Give us as much advance notice as you can so we can go online and make plans,” he said.

Those criticisms were particularly loud several years ago when final schedules weren’t ready until winter, but in recent years they’ve been done in the early fall.

Korsmo said that was very much appreciated as well.

“The sooner they get them out the better, the more chance communities have to comment,” he said.

The public hearing will be on Aug. 28, which is also primary election day.

Woodrow said choosing a different day would have either limited the time available for the public to review the schedules or delayed publication of the final schedules.

“Hopefully concerned residents will be able to vote in the primary before or after their scheduled comment period, or submit their written comments prior to Aug. 28,” he said.

Many of the comments are likely to come by phone at the teleconferenced hearing.

Venables said the review period is designed to make sure nothing was overlooked in drafting the schedule, but said he doubts much change will be needed.

“I thin the public is well served, but we’re waiting to hear from the communities was missed or overlooked.

The draft schedules can be found at the Alaska Marine Highway System website at www.ferryalaska.com and email comments can be submitted to dot.amhs.comments@alaska.gov.

The toll free number to participate in either teleconference is: 1-800-315-6338, conference code 3902#.

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

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