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Save the state ferry Taku and bring back the Aurora

Posted: Wednesday, May 19, 2004

It seems like when we first heard of a fast ferry, that one was to be based near Angoon so it could run to Sitka twice a day and connect with larger ferries as they passed by. For some reason, Juneau was selected and at first it was suggested that only the fast ferry run to Sitka - take the other ferries out. You can imagine the mess that would have created.

Up-to-date news: One news article had the value of the LeConte listed at $25 million to $30 million? I'm sure the EL Bartlett that was sold at auction last year for less than $400,000 was close in that price range, and only six years older than the LeConte. I wrote letters of protest. They failed. After all, I'm only a regular passenger on the ferry. I don't work in the office making the schedules.

The Legislature approved the funds for the fast ferry and funding was also received from the federal government for the ferry to run between Sitka and Juneau, with its home port in Sitka. Juneau squawked like a wet hen for the port and they got it. Sitka feebly tried to keep it but was threatened with, "OK, we can homeport it there but we will take away the rest of your service."

I remember Juneau's cries not long ago when the Alaska Marine Highway System office was getting moved to Ketchikan, one writer calling it "blackmail." Oh, the calamity. Seems to be no concern for Sitka, or other communities when they lose their jobs to Juneau. The next capital move vote will probably bring this all up again.

Then for some other strange reason it was decided to retire the Taku, the best ship in the fleet, easiest one to get around on, and one that can get into every port between Bellingham and Skagway, except Angoon, Tenakee and Pelican. Since the fast ferry would only serve Sitka, Juneau, Haines to Skagway - four ports - what made anyone think that this ship could replace the Taku, which can and does serve 11 ports? Suddenly seven ports are out some ferry service.

I was told by an employee of the AMHS that the Taku was going to be put up for auction, and B.C. Ferries wanted it so it could run between Prince Rupert and Ketchikan.

Why does the name of B.C. Ferries sound so familiar? It seems to be making a pretty good showing for itself already on that run, so why should B.C. benefit from it when Alaska already has it?

The Bartlett is gone. And the long-gone Chilkat has recently been up for sale on Ebay. The Aurora, designed for Southeast ports, is now in Prince William Sound. The LeConte is damaged. The Taku is scheduled for disposal and is suddenly needed. What if it had been discarded like the Bartlett before the new fast ferry had even proven itself?

Instead of the LeConte lumbering along at 14 knots, what if it was the Fairweather, sailing at 32 knots, that had hit Cozian Reef?

Give me the Taku, please. And please save the Taku. Central Council Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska passed a resolution at the last General Assembly protesting the sale of the Taku. One voice can't save this ferry though. Others need to get involved, meaning every community it serves.

Bring back the Aurora to the run it was designed for.

Finally, here's a toast to the Alaska Marine Highway System and its operations, "a LeConte on the rocks."

• Harold Jacobs works at Central Council Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska as cultural resource specialist.



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