The state is planning construction of a dock in Auke Bay to accommodate the new fast ferry Fairweather, but construction plans do not provide the facilities necessary to homeport the vessel in Juneau.
The state Department of Transportation originally planned to homeport the ferry in Sitka and make daily runs to Juneau beginning in May 2004.
But those plans were uprooted in July, when DOT announced it might homeport the vessel in Juneau and make runs to Lynn Canal five days a week and to Sitka two days a week.
Kirk Miller, an engineering manager for the state Department of Transportation, said in order to establish a homeport facility at Auke Bay, the dock would need a sewage facility, a power facility to provide electricity to the vessel and a support building for maintenance of the ship.
George Capacci, general manager for the Alaska Marine Highway System, said the lack of such facilities in the Auke Bay project proposal does not mean DOT will homeport the vessel in Sitka.
Capacci noted the Auke Bay dock will require additional upgrades anyway when a second fast ferry to service Juneau and Petersburg begins running in 2006.
DOT will request a conditional use permit to begin construction of the dock from the Juneau Planning Commission tonight.
A final decision on where to homeport the Fairweather is expected to be announced within about a week, Capacci said.
The new dock will be located next to the existing state ferry dock.
The decision could be made in Haines next week at the annual meeting of the Southeast Conference, an affiliation of government, industry and community groups in southeast Alaska.
Miller said if DOT decides to homeport the Fairweather in Juneau, vendor trucks could remove sewage from the ship and onboard generators could power the ship until the port is upgraded.
This, however, would cost more money, Miller said. He was uncertain how much it would cost to subsidize the facility until upgrades are completed.
Installation of the sewage and power facilities could be completed within a few months, Miller said. But construction of the support building to house maintenance equipment would require a conditional use permit from the city, which could take longer, he said.
With less than nine months before the Fairweather is set to begin running, DOT engineers have little time to upgrade the facility.
"The time is growing short and we would like direction as soon as possible," Miller said.
Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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