Despite fears, officials say state ferry to keep Prince Rupert terminal

Posted: Friday, July 27, 2007

Prince Rupert city officials fear the Alaska Marine Highway System is going to move its terminal from British Columbia port to the tiny Alaska community of Hyder.

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Ferry system spokesman Mike Chambers said that's not likely, but if Prince Rupert officials want to make sure it doesn't happen they could fix the city's dilapidated dock. Failing that, they might want to reconsider the monthly dock rental increase they're asking for, he said.

Prince Rupert Mayor Herb Pond, a longtime supporter of keeping the state ferries in his city, warned residents they might lose them to Hyder.

In Juneau, Hyder businessman Gary Benedict wrote a letter to the Juneau Empire that was quoted this month in Prince Rupert papers advocating a move of the terminal to Hyder. Pond told The Northern View weekly newspaper in Prince Rupert that he feared those efforts might be gaining headway.

"As long as I have been in government, that has been an issue," he told the paper. "Hyder has been lobbying, and it has always been in the background."

Pond said that with new people running the ferry system in Alaska and new U.S. regulations regarding border crossing, it could give Hyder's efforts a boost.

"I think that lobby has come back to life in a stronger than usual way," Pond told the paper.

Alaska's Marine Transportation Advisory Board has discussed the possibility of a move, said Cathie Roemich, the group's chairwoman and executive director of the Juneau Chamber of Commerce. The group's consensus was to put off further discussions until it had dealt with more pressing matters.

Chambers said a move to Hyder was unlikely.

"We used to go to Hyder once upon a time," he said. "We're not considering pulling out of Prince Rupert to go to Hyder."

Hyder is a much longer run from Ketchikan than Prince Rupert, and has few facilities, he said.

To become a ferry terminal, Hyder would need a new dock. And, even with the neighboring Canadian community of Stewart, it is much smaller than Prince Rupert and doesn't have the motels, stores and restaurants that travelers need. Its population in 2006 was 92.

"The amenities are lacking in Hyder," he said.

Chambers said there have been problems with the dock in Prince Rupert, however.

In May, Alaska sent Prince Rupert a letter complaining that the city had not fulfilled its lease obligations to maintain the dock and as a result it "has fallen into a state of disrepair."

Transportation Commissioner Leo von Scheben went on to say that instead of increasing the rent, the city should reduce the rate because of the lack of past maintenance and repair and the current state of the dock.

Pond told the British Columbia paper that he was concerned the new U.S. Customs regulations will continue to make a foreign port more difficult for the Alaska ferries to call at because of the Sept. 11 attacks.

"There are some significant operational issues for the Alaska Marine Highway System as they operate in and out of Canada that simply didn't exist 10 years ago," he said.

The longer turnaround times in Canada may still be shorter than the time it takes to travel the 70 miles up the Portland Canal fjord to Hyder, however.

Alaska has a lease with Prince Rupert that runs through 2013, and is now talking with Prince Rupert officials about long-term facility solutions with British Columbia ferries.

"It's our intention to stay in Prince Rupert," Chambers said.

• Contact Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.



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