Ferry Columbia's return delayed

Posted: Sunday, April 27, 2008

The state ferry Columbia will be delayed returning to service from its months-long major overhaul, but Alaska Marine Highway System officials say few people will be affected.

The state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities announced Friday that the Columbia, which had been scheduled to resume sailing on May 9, will instead return to service on May 16.

The flagship of the state fleet has recently suffered mechanical and electrical problems, and left service a month early last year for a major overhaul during the winter. The $11.5 million capital improvement project was the largest ever undertaken on a state ferry.

DOT spokesman Roger Wetherell said design engineers discovered that fire control and boundary systems in the crew space heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems were inadequate.

Wetherell said that "while it probably should have been discovered earlier," it was discovered in time to prevent any complications.

The delay in the Columbia's returning to the Bellingham, Wash., route means the smaller Matanuska will be making the May 6 run north instead, Wetherell said.

The Matanuska can carry 88 cars, compared to the Columbia's 134, but ferry general manager Capt. John Falvey said a maximum of 88 reservations were accepted in case the Columbia wasn't ready.

"The saving grace is that we caught this early enough," Wetherell said. "Had we caught it two days before the Columbia was set to sail, that would have been a very bad event."

There will likely be some small repercussions elsewhere in the system as the Matanuska will be delayed in taking up its regular run out of Prince Rupert for a week, but Wetherell said AMHS reservations staff expected most of those could be rescheduled.

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

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