Ferry's home may be Juneau

Posted: Tuesday, September 23, 2003

The state's new fast ferry will be home-ported in Juneau and make regular trips to Sitka, Haines and Skagway if the state Department of Transportation agrees with a recommendation from a DOT advisory board.

The ferry Fairweather, set to begin running in May, originally was to be based in Sitka and make daily runs to and from Juneau.

But in July, DOT Deputy Commissioner Tom Briggs told Sitkans that to save money the state would discontinue mainline and village ferry service to Sitka if the fast ferry was home-ported there.

The summer ferry schedule recommended by the Marine Transportation Advisory Board sends the Fairweather from Juneau to Sitka on Wednesdays and Sundays.

The rest of the week the ferry would operate in Lynn Canal, making runs between Juneau, Haines and Skagway.

The advisory board recommendation has the Fairweather making one round-trip from Juneau to Haines to Skagway and then back to Haines and Juneau on Tuesdays and Thursdays, according to Meilani Schijvens, director of Southeast Conference and an MTAB member. On Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays, the ferry would make two round-trips up Lynn Canal - one to Haines and a separate run to Skagway. On those days, a mainline state ferry would provide shuttle service between Haines and Skagway.

The schedule will vary when the ferry Kennicott is sailing across the Gulf of Alaska, Schijvens said.

The recommendation still must be approved by DOT Commissioner Mike Barton. No one at DOT could be reached for comment Monday about when the decision will be made.

Schijvens said the original recommendation would have set the Juneau-Haines-Juneau, Juneau-Skagway-Juneau route five days a week.

But Robert Venables, economic development director for the Haines Borough and an MTAB member, argued the plan would leave Haines and Skagway without direct ferry service between the two communities.

Those traveling to Skagway from Haines, for instance, would have to sail to Juneau first.

"I think it's a great plan," Venables said. "We have to do what's good for the communities, and I think we've won on both counts here."

Schijvens said the recommendation to run the Fairweather on three different routes next summer would be a good opportunity to see how the vessel performs under a variety of conditions.

Gov. Frank Murkowski created the 12-member Marine Transportation Advisory Board in April to provide DOT Deputy Commissioner Briggs with recommendations for improving the ferry system and reducing costs.

The board consists of Chairman David Kensinger of Petersburg, Vice Chairman John "J.C." Conley of Ketchikan, Secretary Schijvens of Juneau, Venables of Haines, Philip Taylor and Len Laurence of Ketchikan, Kenneth Gates of Cordova, Dick Jacobsen of Sand Point, Bob Prunella of Wrangell and Roger Haimes of Sitka. Two seats on the board are temporarily vacant.

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