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KETCHIKAN - A seven-year-old dream became reality Sunday when the Inter-island Ferry Authority's 196-foot ship Prince of Wales plied the waters between Ketchikan and Hollis three times.
About 100 invited passengers boarded in Ketchikan for the inaugural voyage. Passengers could relax in a reclining chair in the forward observation lounge, sit in a port-side reading room at one of the built-in desks with power for portable computers, or dine in the vessel's galley.
The new ferry's twin Caterpillar 12-cylinder engines pushed the 95-gross-ton vessel along at more than 15 knots on both legs of the Hollis-Ketchikan journey.
A crew of five operates the vessel and six people work in the galley. BaCars Restaurant of Juneau was selected as the ship's food contractor.
Jim Van Altvorst, who helped make the ferry dream become a realty, said the history of the project goes back to 1993 when the state studied how to address complaints regarding reliable, timely service to Prince of Wales Island.
A resulting state study suggested construction of a ferry that cost far too much, Van Altvorst said.
In 1994, Van Altvorst, along with Ketchikan economist Kent Miller and economic analyst C.L. Cheshire, decided such a ferry could work if it was large enough to serve the demand, but small enough for local communities to afford, Van Altvorst said.
"It's the first thing of this size that belongs to anybody other than the state," he said.
Six Southeast communities formed the IFA. The authority obtained $12.6 million in appropriations from the federal Transit Administration, as well as $2.1 million in loans.
The city of Wrangell loaned $200,000, while the Ketchikan Gateway Borough provided a loan guarantee that allowed the IFA to obtain $1.9 million in municipal bonds.
Miller said the IFA is looking forward to beginning construction on a second ferry, the Stikine, that will serve a northern route between Coffman Cove and South Mitkof Island. The authority has obtained $13 million in appropriations for the project, he said.