I'd like to offer my comments about the proposed winter ferry schedule, which overall represents a fair attempt to provide decent service to the people of Southeast, but also may need some improvement.
Overall, the basic service of one ship to Bellingham and one to Prince Rupert is on the potential schedule, and the LeConte and Chenega are also on the schedule as day boats to Lynn Canal, Sitka and the northern Southeast villages. But I do see room for improvement on the Southeast mainline schedule.
The Columbia is scheduled to serve the Bellingham run through early April 2009, and the Taku is scheduled to run to Prince Rupert. Although the Columbia is a decent vessel, she does burn more fuel than the Malaspina, which is scheduled to be laid up for much of the winter.
Fuel consumption figures given to me by a couple of ferry crew members were 32,000 gallons of fuel per week for the Malaspina and around 50,000 for the Columbia. With fuel costs continuing to climb, I believe it would be better to use the Malaspina for the Bellingham run during part of the winter unless loads on the winter Bellingham run justify the use of the Columbia.
In addition, the Taku is scheduled to be in overhaul from Jan. 18 to March 1. With the Matanuska in a major project, no other vessel is scheduled for the Prince Rupert run, except for the instances when the Kennicott comes across the Gulf from Southwest Alaska.
I believe the following actions are a possible solution to the above potential issues:
1. Run the Malaspina out of Bellingham from Sept. 9 until Jan. 18, and then put her on a Ketchikan-Skagway run (since she can't serve Prince Rupert) until Feb. 25 to fill in for the Taku.
2. Put the Columbia back on the Bellingham run on Jan. 18 until April 7.
3. Bring the Malaspina back out on April 8 to the Bellingham run again while the Columbia is in overhaul.
4. When the Columbia overhaul is completed, run the Malaspina on a Juneau-based North Lynn Canal route with one trip per month to Bellingham.
I believe a schedule like this will make better use of the Southeast vessels and ensure consistent service to all communities in Southeast.
Sean C. McDermott