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Governor's office stumps for new ferries

Posted: December 23, 2012 - 1:09am
Pat Kemp, Acting Commissioner for the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, speaks to the Juneau Chamber of Commerce about the planning involved for two new Alaska Marine Highway ferries during their luncheon at the Moose Lodge on Thursday.  Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Pat Kemp, Acting Commissioner for the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, speaks to the Juneau Chamber of Commerce about the planning involved for two new Alaska Marine Highway ferries during their luncheon at the Moose Lodge on Thursday.

The two new ferries proposed by Governor Sean Parnell would complement but would not be contingent on the Juneau Access Road.

The serving Deputy Commissioner of Highways for the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities Pat Kemp spoke at the Chamber of Commerce lunch lecture Thursday at the Moose Lodge. He was named commissioner on Saturday.

Kemp said the Environmental Impact Statement for the final miles of the 90-mile road from Juneau to the Katzehin River. From there, cars and passengers take a short ferry ride to Haines or Skagway. The new ferries would work on the short runs from Katzehin and Skagway and Haines or any route within the 12-hour operating window of the ferries. On days when the potential for avalanche is high, the vessels are stable enough to make trips down Lynn Canal to Cascade Point or Auke Bay.

“The boats will be ready when the road is ready,” Kemp said. However, the boats can be used with or without a Juneau Access Road, he said.

At between 255 feet and 305 feet the vessels are expected to be longer than the 235-foot LeConte and Aurora ferries. However, the ships will be somewhat narrower with similar ocean-going stability characteristics to the M/V Taku. If built the new ferries will have a capacity of between 48 and 60 cars and around 450 passengers. The proposed vessels would cruise at 18 knots and “sprint” at 20 knots.

The size and shape of the vessels are closer to the designs put forth back in 2006, Kemp said.

The two ships each making a daily Lynn Canal trip can carry 200 vehicles, 60 percent more vehicles compared to the carrying capacity of a single Alaska Class Ferry making one Lynn Canal trip a day, Kemp said. Having two trips a day also increases the opportunity for passenger traffic as well, he said.

While Ketchikan Shipyard is the preferred location for building the two new vessels, it hasn’t locked in the deal yet. Kemp said the state is withholding a final decision to make sure it is getting a good deal.

“We want the jobs in Alaska,” Kemp said. “But we also want a fair price. If we don’t like the price we’ll put it out for competitive bid. It is our leverage to insure we get a good price.” However, he said “I’m sure the shipyard will come through.”

The two ships can be built side-by-side in Ketchikan, sharing the costs of bringing in specialist work and taking advantage of other economies of scale.

“Three months later the other vessel will hit the water,” Kemp said.

Building the ships in Ketchikan is expected to create 300 jobs over a couple years, Kemp said.

During the latest legislative session in early 2012, legislators approved an additional $50 million to build a new Alaska Class Ferry. Bringing the total funds for the project to $170 million – enough to build an Alaska Class Ferry.

Elliot Bay Design is pegged to design the new ships, Kemp said. Part of the reason the Governor acted on the new designs when he did, Kemp said, was that tank tests were to begin on the Alaska Class Ferry design in Oct. in Norway.

Ports the vessels could potentially run to in a single day include Hoonah, Icy Straits and Elfin Cove, Kemp said. However, the new vessels could fee up existing ferries to make longer runs. Kemp said he recently considered possible one-night layovers at destination ports to extend the 12-hour limitation.

“This supplements the mainliner run,” Kemp said. “Big Blue will be running up Lynn Canal until we can get the road built,” Kemp said.

Sen. Bert Stedman said he is concerned about the ability of the new ships to meet costly and time-consuming federal Safety of Life at Sea standards. This fire and safety standard must be met for an Alaska ferry to make trips to and from Prince Rupert. He said Southeast Alaska should take advantage of the opportunities in increased trade with British Columbia.

Stedman said he approved of the two new ferries “as an incremental step.” However, the more “steel in the water” the state has the more costs go up, he said.

• Contact reporter Russell Stigall at 523-2276 or at russell.stigall@juneauempire.com.

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