Little winter ferry service currently planned for Wrangell

Disruptions to ferry service have become a relatively common occurrence in recent history. The Alaska Marine Highway System has faced tight budgets, a strike, and an aging fleet in need of upgrades. With winter drawing near Wrangell will not see any ferry service for about two months if the winter schedule remains the same.

According to the sailing calendar, found at, the last ferry Wrangell will see in 2020 will be on Nov. 2. The M/V Kennicott will arrive from Ketchikan in the afternoon of that day, and depart for Petersburg shortly thereafter. After that, there is no scheduled ferry for the rest of November or December, as of Oct. 20. The next ferry to stop in Wrangell will be the Kennicott again, on Jan. 7, 2021.

The community of Petersburg is scheduled to still receive ferries through the same time period, according to the AMHS sailing calendar.

A Sept. 1 press release from the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, announcing the winter schedule, reported that it was necessary to scale back service this upcoming season due to low revenues.

“AMHS revenues are significantly lower than expected due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the press release reads. “As a result, it has become necessary to build the schedule with reduced service to most communities. Some service gaps will still exist from vessel overhauls and layups as a result of available funding.”

The lack of winter ferry service has concerned many in the community, and in government. The Wrangell Sentinel received a copy of a letter from Rep. Dan Ortiz, to DOT Commissioner John MacKinnon. In his letter, dated Oct. 19, Ortiz asked that the Department of Transportation and the AMHS reconsider their winter schedule for Wrangell. The current plan is to provide ferry service “… intermittently based upon tides.” This plan does not properly convey a complete lack of service, he wrote.

“In a recent attempt to gather information as to the economic impacts of COVID-19 combined with a poor fishing season on the community of Wrangell, Rainforest Data conducted a survey,” Ortiz wrote. “42% of the respondents said that the lack of proposed ferry service in the upcoming winter months was a primary concern of the Wrangell residents. This was despite the fact no questions were asked about the AMHS proposed winter schedule in the survey. In the face of Alaska’s economic downturn, Alaska is best served by supporting the economic well-being of every community and the way to do that is to stabilize infrastructure.”

Concerns about the lack of ferry service were found in city government, as well. In their last assembly meeting, Borough Manager Lisa Von Bargen also pointed out the recent survey by Rain Coast Data. The survey reads that a lack of ferry service was among the top challenges local businesses are facing in Wrangell. The Business Climate and COVID-19 Impacts survey can be found at Von Bargen said that this survey had 114 respondents in total, and a lack of ferry service was in the top five concerns of those respondents. This concern sits at 41 percent, as the fifth top business concern listed.

“What that tells me is that’s a much bigger deal than I think is really being talked about here in the community,” Von Bargen said. “That information has been relayed up the chain and we are continuing to do that.”

Mayor Steve Prysunka also shared his opinions on the ferry situation. In a phone call on Oct. 20, he said that he and Von Bargen had been in contact with both Ortiz and Senator Bert Stedman regarding this issue.

“We raised our concerns with him [Stedman], he was very understanding,” he said.

In Prysunka’s opinion, the ferry system’s concerns about tides causing scheduling problems for Wrangell do not hold water. The ferry has managed to make regular stops in Wrangell for years beforehand, so he said the excuse about the tides was ridiculous. While the city does have private alternatives for ferry service, he said that these have limitations compared to the AMHS. He also said that he did not feel it was right to ask people to take a private ferry to Banana Point, then drive all the way into Petersburg, just to catch a ferry to Juneau or Ketchikan.

“We will have one north bound vessel in November and one south bound vessel in January,” Prysunka wrote in a letter to the editor, submitted to the Sentinel on Oct. 20. “How is this possible? We are literally right between Ketchikan and Petersburg … I appreciate that it is expensive to run the Marine Highway System, but for goodness sake, you are only diverting 40 miles, round trip, to service Southeast’s 5th largest community.”


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