Governor aims ferry at feds' turf

Announcement comes as state awaits submerged-lands verdict

Posted: Sunday, March 27, 2005

The governor surprised the Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve staff and nearby Gustavus residents last week when he said he will send a state ferry into the bay this summer.

Murkowski's announcement comes amid Alaska's legal challenge to the federal claim on submerged lands in Glacier Bay. A Supreme Court verdict is expected in June.

The announcement has caused some in Gustavus to wonder if the governor "knows something about this verdict in June," said resident Mike Halbert, who chairs the city's marine facilities committee.

"We're still kind of scratching our heads," he said.

Robin Taylor, Alaska's ferry system chief, said running a state ferry into the national park is an "innovative opportunity" for the state. He said discussions with the park service have been going very well.

"There will be a (state) vessel, in my opinion, running into Bartlett Cove this summer. I just can't tell you which one," Taylor, deputy commissioner for the state's Department of Transportation, said.

The ferry may deliver passengers, but likely not freight or cars, at the park's dock in Bartlett Cove, three to a dozen times during the summer tourist season, he said.

Wednesday is the only day of the week in the park's May-September visitor season that Sitka-based commercial operator Allen Marine Tours will not provide round-trip passenger service into Bartlett Cove.

Park officials said they are discussing with the state the possibility of running the ferry to Bartlett Cove on Wednesdays.

Allen Marine Tours operator John Dunlap said he doesn't know the state's reasoning for going into Bartlett Cove but he doesn't think it will damage business.

Speculation runs rampant in Gustavus - which has tried unsuccessfully for 10 years to get the state to help repair its aging dock on the other side of town - about the state's intentions for the ferry service.

"There is no ramp (at the park's floating dock). ... I can't imagine they'll let people disembark on the fueling dock," Halbert said.

The state has provided few details about the proposed state ferry schedule, what type of ferry will be used or how much it will cost to travel on the state boat.

But Taylor said his operations staff is working hard to find those answers and will travel to Glacier Bay next week to take measurements at the dock. He said it is very unlikely that cars or freight could disembark at the park's dock.

The dock is quite long but it was built for smaller boats, he said. "We would probably need a ramp of some kind," Taylor said.

The governor's idea, which he has shared with U.S. Interior Secretary Gale Norton, is to improve access for park visitors and Gustavus residents, said Murkowski spokeswoman Becky Hultberg.

"Certainly, we are probably happy about anything that increases access to the park," said David Nemeth, director of concessions at the national park. "We'll just have to work through the details."

The national park is soon to publish new regulations that will prevent vessels heavier than 100 tons from entering Bartlett Cove, he said.

Only one ferry in the state fleet - the heavily-utilized Lituya that serves southern Southeast Alaska - meets that weight limit.

Nemeth said that the new regulations, based on an a recent environmental study of vessel quotas for the park, may not go into effect in 2005.

"For this summer, it may not be an issue," he said, explaining that both further discussions with the state and a legal opinion are needed for that matter to be settled.

Allen Marine's 2005 Glacier Bay Express Service, beginning May 20, will cost $99 for adults and $69 for children for its four-hour trip from Auke Bay to Glacier Bay. That includes an hour for wildlife viewing. The three-hour service from Glacier Bay to Auke Bay will cost $69 for adults and $49 for children. Round-trip will cost $149 for adults and $99 for children. Tax is not included.

• Elizabeth Bluemink can be reached at elizabeth.bluemink@juneauempire.com.



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