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The Inter-Island Ferry Authority is more than halfway finished with work on its first ferry and is close to securing funds to build a second.
The authority formed in 1997 with the intent of improving ferry service to Prince of Wales Island and surrounding communities in the southern Panhandle. Its first ferry, named Prince of Wales, will travel between Hollis and Ketchikan, replacing Alaska Marine Highway System service by January 2002, according to IFA project development coordinator Kent Miller.
Prince of Wales Island doesn't have a hospital, a major air carrier or mainline ferry service. More frequent ferry service will benefit residents, business travelers and visitors, Miller said.
"I think regular daily service dedicated to this traffic will be a great boon for residents of Prince of Wales Island and Ketchikan," he said. "It's regular service that people can set their clocks by. And it's a market that has deserved this service for years."
Meanwhile, the IFA has exercised an option to buy a second ferry from Dakota Creek Industries in Anacortes, Wash., at a cost of $11.9 million to serve Coffman Cove, Petersburg and Wrangell. A contract will depend on funding. Alaska U.S. Rep. Don Young has secured $10 million for the project, although Senate approval still is needed, Miller said.
If funding comes through, the northern vessel would go into operation in spring 2003, Miller said.
The IFA's main offices will be in Craig. When both ferries are in operation they will provide year-round employment for 20 deck crew members, 10 to 12 food and beverage staff and seven shoreside support personnel, according to the ferry authority. Additional workers will be hired in the summer.
The state is building a new berth next to Ketchikan's existing ferry terminal for the first IFA ferry and is turning over its Hollis terminal to the IFA. The IFA's Hollis-Ketchikan ferry will take over the route now served by the state ferry Aurora, said Alaska Department of Transportation Southeast Regional Director Bob Doll.
When that happens, the Aurora will serve the Metlakatla-to-Ketchikan run. The Aurora might also provide additional service from Ketchikan to Prince Rupert, Doll said.
The ferry Prince of Wales was designed by the Elliott Bay Design Group Ltd. of Seattle. Shipyard project manager Dave Longdale of Dakota Creek Industries said the vessel is between 65 and 70 percent complete.
The $12.2 million, 198-foot ferry will travel at 15 knots and carry 150 passengers and 30 cars. The IFA is seeking proposals from private companies to provide food and beverage service on board, Miller said.
"It's not a fast ferry, but it's not slow, either," he said.
Funding for the first ferry came from a special federal appropriation, matching local funds and federal highway funds allocated to the state, according to the IFA.
The new ferry will be homeported in Hollis and will travel between the islands daily in the winter and twice a day in the summer, IFA board vice-chairman Tom Briggs said. Prince of Wales Island currently has ferry service daily during the summer and weekly service during the winter, he said.
The IFA is a public corporation organized by the cities of Craig, Klawock, Thorne Bay, Coffman Cove, Wrangell and Petersburg. Representatives from each community are appointed to serve on the IFA board of directors.
The IFA has been struggling with the state about funding for the second vessel for months, IFA Wrangell director Judy Bakeberg said. Having federal funding with a hard earmark for the second ferry will help, she said.
"The more we can distance ourselves from DOT, the better off we'll be," she said.
Doll said discussions between the IFA and the state about the second ferry have focused whether demand exists to justify the service.
"We have had differences of opinion with the IFA over that subject. But it's their initiative and they intend to proceed," he said.
Southeast Alaska residents want the northern route, according to the IFA. The service will be geared to local residents and the second ferry will help connect northern Prince of Wales Island to Wrangell and Petersburg, Bakeberg said.
"They'll be able to come over to shop, go to the doctor, get their teeth fixed," she said. "And our golf course does nothing but benefit."
The IFA will be an improvement for students traveling to school events, winter dive fisheries and processors and people who need medical care, Briggs said. It should also make it easier to meet other travel connections, he said.
"Without regular daily service, we're unsure of connections to other ferries and jets in Ketchikan," he said.
Joanna Markell can be reached at email@example.com.