Alaska Marine Highway System gives notice to Seward of halt in service

Posted: Tuesday, August 10, 2004

SEWARD - The Alaska Marine Highway System has cut Seward from its schedule next summer, but business leaders here hope they have time to persuade the state to reconsider.

Louie Bencardino, manager of the Alaska Railroad dock in Seward, contends the state should not disregard the needs of the people who depend on or do business with the ferry system - passengers, local companies and the 11 Seward-based ferry employees.

"All of a sudden, they are just wiped out," he said.

Jim Beedle, AMHS operations manager, said the ferry system is following a plan that began in 1997 and is supposed to guide the state's operations for the next 25 years.

Neither the Tustumena nor the Kennicott will dock at Seward once the new fast-ferry Chenega begins service May 16 in Prince William Sound. It will be the first time in 40 years Seward has not had state ferry service, although such cuts have been discussed off and on over the years.

The Seward Phoenix Log reported on the changes in its edition last week.

Chuck Wendt, president of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 60, said the longshoremen would lose about 2,000 hours of work at the dock annually.

"That's a significant amount of hours for a small port like this," he said.

Under the proposed 2005 schedule, beginning next summer, the Tustumena will split its time between a Southcentral route and a Southwest route. Three weeks each month, the Tustumena will ply the Southcentral route that follows a loop from Kodiak to Port Lions to Homer to Seldovia.

Once a month, the 296-foot-long ferry will head to the Aleutian chain on a round trip from Homer to Unalaska, dubbed the Southwest route.

The Tustumena won't be sailing to Prince William Sound communities, which will be serviced by the Chenega. The state is upgrading docks at Whittier, Valdez and Cordova to accommodate the high-speed ferry.

But the village of Chenega Bay isn't on the schedule, which disappointed some residents of the fast ferry's namesake community.

"We cannot do Chenega and all three communities in a 12-hour day," said Chuck Van Kirk, AMHS schedule planner.

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