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Summer ferry schedule late but available

Posted: Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Alaska Marine Highway System released its summer schedule Tuesday, about two months late but in time for the important Milepost publication deadline.

The schedule has been controversial this year, partly because of the tardiness, and partly because of cost cutting moves that reduced service, including halving the number of summer trips to Bellingham, Wash., and reducing runs across the Gulf of Alaska.

Numerous Southeast public and business officials have complained that the tardy schedule would hamper trip planning, and may have already cost Alaska some visitors.

Managers at The Milepost, the bible for Alaska Marine Highway and other independent travelers, said they had feared they would not be able to include the schedule in the 80,000-circulation publication.

"While we apologize for the delay in getting the schedule out, we are happy to present the schedule to those interested in traveling with us, and we certainly don't expect any future schedule release delays," said Dennis Hardy, deputy commissioner of Marine Operations, Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, in a statement announcing the release.

The ferry schedules will be available in The Milepost, as well as online at www.ferryalaska.com, said Roger Wetherell, spokesman for the department.

Ferry reservations staff will begin calling customers who inquired about trips when the schedule was unavailable," said Capt. John Falvey, system general manager.

Despite some controversial schedule changes that ferry officials said were aimed at saving money in the preliminary schedule, there were few changes made from the draft schedule released in early January.

One change will reduce the time the LeConte spends in port in Hoonah, from 3.5 hours to 1 hour on Monday and Wednesday trips. Wetherell said the short turnaround will allow more time dockside in Juneau to take on fuel, water and provisions, reducing overtime.

A Friday and Sunday trip to Hoonah will now be direct, taking 3.25 hours instead of eight hours, Wetherell said, but he did not say how the time savings was accomplished.

Changes were made in Wrangell to allow more in-port time there, and other changes were made to link ferry schedules better with several summer festivals.

Ferry managers didn't change their decision to end the weekly summer run by the Malaspina to Bellingham. Loss of that run was criticized in southern Southeast, where there were concerns that with only a single weekly trip by the Columbia there would be fewer travelers coming to Alaska.

Marine Highway officials said they hope travelers unable to take the ferry from Bellingham would instead drive through Canada to Prince Rupert and take the ferry from there.

The change to the Malaspina schedule means better service in Lynn Canal, where it will serve Juneau, Skagway and Haines daily. That, in turn, frees up the fast ferry Fairweather to improve service to Sitka.

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



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