The state ferry Columbia will return to service Sunday, and by next Tuesday all of the ferries will be back on their published summer schedules, including the Malaspina in North Lynn Canal, state officials said.
"I think that's very exciting news," said John Mazor, president of the Juneau Convention and Visitors Bureau. "The dayboat service provided by the Malaspina is very important to Juneau in terms of being a visitor destination."
The ferry system expects the Columbia to receive its certificate of inspection from the U.S. Coast Guard today, which allows it to carry passengers, said Capt. George Capacci of the Alaska Marine Highway System.
"I expect they will be able to operate by close of business today," said Lt. Cmdr. Joe Paitl of the Coast Guard's Marine Safety Office in Juneau.
The Columbia has undergone a $10 million project to repair damage from a fire in June 2000 and to renovate the passenger cabins. The work, at Alaska Ship and Drydock in Ketchikan, was 54 days overdue, Capacci said. The state is likely to seek damages from the shipyard although the money would go into a pot of federal transportation funds, he said.
Losing one of seven Southeast ferries, and the largest one at that, forced changes to the schedule throughout the system. About 47,000 passengers with reservations were rescheduled, Capacci said.
Travelers were reluctant to use the ferries because schedules were inconsistent and there were fewer trips, Mazor said. That was felt in local hotels and RV parks, he said. The ferries bring about a quarter of Juneau's overnight guests.
Hotel occupancy in Juneau is down about 8 percent so far this season compared with last year, Mazor said. "Anecdotally, it looks like there's been a lot fewer RVs in town this year. My scientific gauge is the parking lot at Carrs."
Capacci said about 20 percent fewer passengers and vehicles got off ferries in Juneau last month compared with June 2000. And it's probably even lower than in 1999 because the Columbia went out of service after the fire on June 6, 2000, causing scheduling changes.
Eric Fry can be reached at email@example.com.