Columbia wiring to get update

Posted: Friday, June 23, 2000

A decision has been made to upgrade the fire-damaged wiring of the ferry Columbia rather than simply replace the 26-year-old electrical connections.

``We want to use the current technology to make the Columbia's service better and improve the electrical distribution for the ship,'' explained Capt. Norm Edwards, operations manager for the Alaska Marine Highway System.

The cost of contemporary wiring will be the same as restoration wiring -- in the ballpark of about $1 million, said Dennis Poshard, a special assistant in the Department of Transportation.

An exact figure for new wiring will not be available until marine architects complete their evaluation next week. The Columbia is currently at Alaska Ship and Dry Dock in Ketchikan, but repairs may take place somewhere else, Poshard added.

The Columbia is expected to be out of service until at least some time in September, he said. The marine highway system has altered some of its schedules and has diverted the smaller ferry Matanuska to the Columbia's normal Bellingham, Wash.,-to-Skagway route.

Control panels were damaged in an electrical fire in the Columbia's control room on June 6, leaving the ship in Chatham Strait, without power. Its 434 passengers were taken aboard the ferry Taku. The Columbia was towed to Juneau, arriving early on June 7, for a week of official investigation by the U.S. Coast Guard and the National Transportation Safety Board. It left June 15, for a slow, 32-hour tow to Ketchikan.

The Columbia was built at a cost of $22 million in 1974. The Marine Highway has contracted with a marine architectural firm, Elliott Bay Design Group of Seattle, to design the repair ``because it's not just a repair of the (electrical console),'' Edwards said; ``it's a reconstruction.''

The Highway System is in the process of negotiating with Elliott Bay, Edwards added, so he could not put a time line on when designing of repairs would end and actual repair work would begin.

``We are still in the contract stage,'' confirmed Ken Lane, vice president of Elliott Bay. Representatives of Elliott Bay are now aboard the ship in Ketchikan, gathering data.

While work is going on in the control room, work may also be going on elsewhere on the ship. The Highway System may take advantage of the downtime to take care of other repair work scheduled for this coming winter for the vessel, said Poshard said. The ferry's 91 staterooms may be gutted and renovated, Poshard said.

The budget for the stateroom upgrades is $7 million. The rooms will be made more accessible to the handicapped and brightened with new carpet and wall coverings.

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