HAINES - Tourism officials in Haines are happy the state's new fast ferry will service their community but they're concerned that its runs may mean fewer trips to a close neighbor - Skagway.
Department of Transportation officials said in late October that the 235-foot Fairweather, which is nearly complete in a Connecticut shipyard, will be based in Juneau instead of Sitka as previously announced.
The vessel will operate in Lynn Canal from Juneau to Skagway and Haines five days per week next summer, but will not make the trip between the latter two cities. Haines economic development director Robert Venables said that's a concern.
"We definitely want a direct link between Haines and Skagway," Venables told the Chilkat Valley News. "It's important for us, to market the Golden Circle (Haines-Whitehorse-Skagway) Route, and it's important revenue for the ferry system, too."
Marine highway officials say separate runs from Juneau to Haines and Skagway will save time and money. The Fairweather is best designed for point-to-point, not multiple-stop runs, because of the way it's loaded, said ferry system manager George Capacci.
"We haven't costed it out yet and we won't be able to until we start running. But this ship is not designed to be run between three ports. It's designed to be run point-to-point - everybody on everybody off. It's a chess game the way the ships are loaded now, and the idea behind a fast ferry is quick on and quick off."
While some mainline ships will continue stops to both towns, that will likely be insufficient to meet demand. Capacci said the state is considering leasing a small shuttle boat to make up for an overall loss of runs between Haines and Skagway.
A draft summer 2004 schedule shows Haines with fast ferry stops every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday through the end of September. The ship will make runs to Sitka on Wednesdays and Sundays. The state is taking comments on the proposed schedule until mid-month.
Capacci said a leased vessel, manned with Marine Highway staffers, is being considered for runs between Haines and Skagway.
"The Haines-Skagway segment is almost always full, so we may be looking at pulling long-haul passengers off in Haines and shuttling them up to Skagway. Most of our long-haul people probably won't like that, but that's a challenge that we're glad to have right now."
The Fairweather will travel at approximately 32 knots, or nearly 37 mph, making the trip between Haines and Juneau in a little more than two hours.
Under the current draft schedule, the Taku, which provided Lynn Canal day boat service last summer, will be taken out of service. Replacing the Taku with the Fairweather will save about $76,000 a week in operating costs, according to DOT administrator Walt Sheridan.