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By Dan Rudy 

Slimmer ferry schedule proposed for 2016-17

 


A draft for the Alaska Marine Highway System’s post-summer schedule was released last week.

AMHS general manager Captain John Falvey Jr. reported the new schedule will be based on expected funding levels for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

Presently, the ferry intends to run 330.2 operating weeks for nine of its vessels; the Taku and Chenega will both be on layup for much of the next fiscal year as cost saving measures. Entering its second year of inactivity, the Taku may be on the road to divestment.

“We’ve announced this briefly,” explained AMHS spokesperson Jeremy Woodrow. “It costs the state about $3M to keep in layup over the year. It’s an additional cost to the Marine Highway System.”

He explained there are different options the service will be looking into, weighing the vessel’s value and potential use. The Taku could end up being sold for salvage, or else find its way into service for another ferry system.

“There’s many different options,” said Woodrow. “It’s not something we’re going to be doing in haste.”

Next year’s schedule will be down eight percent from the 355.7 weeks run this current year in an effort to cut down on costs.

Ending in June, this year’s budget ran at $155.6 million, of which $96.7 million came from Alaska’s General Fund. Diminishing reserves due to declining oil revenues has prompted reductions to that funding source for departments across the board, with AMHS no exception.

Gov. Bill Walker’s budget proposed last winter recommended a reduction by about five percent to General Fund sources, to $92.2 million. A reduction to other designated funds would reduce the overall AMHS budget to $142.4 million under that draft, or about 8.5 percent.

Cuts proposed by the Legislature could be even greater, with the latest draft suggesting General Fund sources be reduced to $84.7 million, or a 12.5 percent cut. To compensate, Woodrow pointed out additional monies would be pulled from the AMH System Fund, which currently stands at around $12 million.

“That fund is essentially leftover revenue from previous fiscal years, to be used on the system when it needs additional funds,” he explained.

With that adjustment the ferry system’s budget would stand at around $140.8 million, a 9.5 percent reduction comparable to Walker’s proposal.

With the Legislature in its first week of special session to finalize a budget, those numbers still need to be reconciled and could change further.

“It’s a disappointing reality,” commented Rep. Dan Ortiz (I-District 36). “The net impact of course is reduced services. From my perspective that is very unfortunate.”

The most significant reductions in service will be to Gustavus, Angoon and Tenakee, which will have no service at all from mid-January to mid-February next year. Wrangell and other Southeast communities on the Prince Rupert to Skagway line will also see a brief reduction of services late in the fall.

The Matanuska is scheduled to be taken off duty for overhaul from Nov. 1 through Dec. 6. During that time no vessels will be made available to cover the route, reducing Wrangell’s service from six times to only twice a week. Otherwise, no significant interruptions of service are expected.

“Most of the schedule is fairly similar in frequency to last year,” Woodrow said.

Prior to its overhaul, through October, the Matanuska is scheduled to arrive on its southward leg Monday and Friday mornings, returning northward Tuesday evenings and early Saturday mornings. That same scheduling will apply when it returns to service in December, until the end of the spring schedule in April 2017.

Through the summer, the Columbia will continue to service the Bellingham to Skagway service through Oct. 30 before being put on a four-month layup. The Malaspina will continue the run during that time, concluding certification and overhaul periods. The vessel will continue operating until April 19, 2017, when the Columbia concludes its month-long overhaul.

The route’s scheduled to pass through Wrangell on its southbound leg Wednesday mornings, returning on the northward journey mid-afternoon Sundays.

AMHS is looking for feedback on the proposed schedule, as well as its calendar of community events. To the extent it can, the service tries to accommodate local events and tournaments in its scheduling.

“Those are things that we have done and we will continue to do,” said Woodrow. “We like to hear from communities, especially communities as a whole.”

Written comments need to be received by June 21, either emailed to dot.amhs.comments@alaska.gov or faxed to 907-228-6874. A public teleconference to hear additional commentary on Southeast schedules has been set for the following day at 10 a.m. Those wishing to attend in person can attend at the AMHS office in Ketchikan at 7559 North Tongass Highway, or else telephone in by calling 1-800-315-6338, code number 03902#.

A complete copy of the proposed schedule and additional information can be found online at http://www.dot.state.ak.us/amhs/share/schedule/considerations.pdf.

 

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