Ferry leaders overlook options

Letter to the editor

Posted: Friday, April 14, 2006

It appears that the "leadership" of the Alaska Marine Highway System may now try to use a recent U.S. Coast Guard directive to kill ferry service by the LeConte. As I understand it, the Coast Guard recently directed the ferry system to formulate a plan to avoid having senior crew work more than 12 hours in a 24-hour period. Rather than consider viable alternatives, the response was to immediately tie up the ferry, where it would still be had the Coast Guard not granted a 30-day extension (allowing the marine highway system to work this out).

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Of course the "leaders" of the ferry system will state that they have no other options when, in fact, viable solutions exist. A quick glance at the LeConte schedule suggests that an extended stay in Tenakee Springs or Sitka during some runs may allow crew to gain the rest required by the Coast Guard (while reducing fuel and overtime costs). This alternative would require a small reduction in frequency of port visits but could possibly be accommodated by canceling one of the runs that has historically supported low ridership (such as one of the Angoon-Kake-Petersburg trips).

Contracting out this ferry service would likely result in service far below current levels. In the past, the state has contracted out ferry service to vessels such as landing crafts, which are much slower (reducing frequency of service) and smaller (maximum three-vehicle capacity). Given that the LeConte typically carries six to 10 vehicles per visit to Angoon, the demand would likely far exceed the supply (should the state contract out the same vessel). Likewise, contracting a large catamaran, while much faster than landing crafts, may not have vehicle capacity.

It wouldn't seem reasonable for the state to contract out these types of vessels to replace ferry service by the LeConte as a long-term solution. On the other hand, the "leadership" does not seem to have a monopoly on reasoning. Perhaps they'll propose building a bridge between Juneau and Angoon with an off-ramp at Kake?

As always this additional effort to kill the ferries is not without irony. Several weeks ago, while the administration argued for building a 70-mile cul-de-sac up Lynn Canal, in part to maximize "reliability," the LeConte made it from Angoon in the face of 70 knot winds, a bit slower and bumpier ride than normal, but reliably arriving in Hoonah nonetheless. Want more? While the administration was blasting the high fuel and labor costs of the ferries, it concurrently hyped the scheduled "cruises" to Glacier Bay. Alaska Marine Cruise Service? Coming soon.

Scott Gende


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