State signs contract for Metlakatla ferry

New ferry to offer 1-hour runs between Metlakatla, Ketchikan starting in 2004

Posted: Friday, December 06, 2002

A new state ferry that will provide more service between Metlakatla and Ketchikan is under construction.

The Alaska Marine Highway System last month signed a contract with Conrad Industries of Morgan City, La., to build a 181-foot ferry. The ship will be able to move 149 passengers and 18 vehicles between the two island communities at an operating speed of 12 to 14 knots, according to the ferry system.

The ferry should go into service in spring 2004, AMHS General Manager George Capacci said, and the ferry system will work with the community on the schedule. In the summer, it could make daily or twice-daily trips, he said.

"That's the flexibility generated by point-to-point service. It can run based on demand," he said.

The state ferry Aurora currently serves Metlakatla, a town of 1,400 on the west coast of Annette Island. Traditional winter service, January through April, is about three port calls a week, Capacci said.

The new ferry is costing about $9.5 million. Coastwise Engineering of Juneau prepared the detailed design. Modeled after a North Sea supply vessel, the ferry is designed to operate in 13- to 20-foot waves and winds in excess of 30 knots, according to the AMHS.

The ferry has an open-deck design, which saves on crew and construction costs, said Pat Eberhardt, a naval architect with Coastwise. He likened the ferry to a sturdy "small pickup."

"We were able to deliver this ferry basically 40 to 50 percent cheaper than we would have (with a closed-deck design)," he said. "It makes a big difference."

Metlakatla ferry

The state signed a construction contract last month for a new ferry that will provide dedicated service between Ketchikan and Metlakatla.

Size: 181 feet long.

Length of run: 1 hour.

When it will go into service: Spring 2004.

Cost: About $9.5 million.

What it will replace: The state ferry Aurora.

Design: The ferry is modeled after a North Sea supply vessel and has an open deck design.

Initially, the ferry will run the 16 nautical miles between the existing state ferry terminals in Ketchikan, on Revillagigedo Island, and Metlakata, but eventually the hour-plus run will be much shorter. A joint military task force is building a 17-mile road from Metlakata to the other end of Annette Island as a training exercise. A ferry trip from the end of the new road to Saxman, 2 road miles south of Ketchikan, will provide a faster connection between the two islands.

"It will be a very short run back and forth," Capacci said.

Metlakatla Mayor Victor Wellington Sr. said his community has been lobbying the state hard for more ferry service. The new ferry combined with the new road could provide more opportunities for economic development, he said.

"We don't have a firm plan in hand, but we do have a lot of input on what could happen," he said. "One of the big things that the (new) Walden Point Road could help the community with is their tourism package. We are looking at probably promoting tourism pretty big."

Metlakatla also has asked the state and the private Inter-island Ferry Authority to provide interim service until the new state ferry arrives, Wellington said. Right now, the request is at a standstill because of the transition of administrations in Juneau, he said.

"We're just hot on them about trying to get ferry service," he said.

The state has had difficulty responding to the request because of union labor requirements, Capacci said. The IFA, which connects Ketchikan and Prince of Wales island, uses non-union labor.

Once the new Metlakata ferry is in place, the Aurora will be transferred to Prince William Sound to replace the aging ferry Bartlett, Capacci said. At 235 feet, the Aurora can carry 250 passengers and 34 vehicles.

The new Metlakata ferry doesn't have a name yet, and Capacci said the state is proposing that the town's residents help pick one. State ferries must be named after Alaska glaciers, and the state has sponsored student essay contests in the past.

Earlier this year, the name Fairweather was selected for new fast ferry serving Juneau and Sitka. A new fast ferry serving Prince William Sound will be named the Chenega, Capacci said.

Joanna Markell can be reached at

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