Could Skagway go three months without ferry service? The Alaska Department of Transportation is planning a $6 million ferry dock refurbishment that would ideally happen this winter. The project would take the dock out of commission for a few months, which DOT says could leave Skagway without marine highway service. But DOT and the municipality are trying to work out a solution so that doesn’t happen.
“It’s an old dock and it continues to deteriorate and the longer we put off the refurbishment project, the more it costs the state,” says DOT spokesman Jeremy Woodrow. His agency met with Skagway leaders in recent weeks to talk about what to do with the ferry dock.
“Right now what we’re doing is basically putting Band-Aids on an issue that needs to be fixed sooner rather than later,” he says.
Let’s talk about that sooner option. If DOT were to refurbish the dock this winter, Woodrow says it would cause a three-month disruption in service. Borough manager Scott Hahn doesn’t like that option.
“I mean, we’d have to survive,” Hahn says. “But I don’t know how you make up for that because there’s so many people who rely on getting to Juneau for health appointments and other connections, it’s huge.”
Without ferry service, Skagway residents would have to rely on flights, which are iffy in the winter, and the highway, which is also at the mercy of winter weather.
“It’s a very difficult thing for us to handle because we don’t really have a road. The Canadian border’s not open all day long,” says Hahn. “Then getting to somewhere else in Alaska is mind-blowing as far as how many miles it is.”
Woodrow says DOT doesn’t want to cut off Skagway from ferry service.
“We’re trying to exhaust all of our options before we say that there will be service disrupted,” Woodrow says.
One of those options is to put off the refurbishment until next winter. Woodrow says the Matanuska is scheduled for engine replacement then, which means the Kennicott may fill in. If it does, the Kennicott would be able to make port calls at one of Skagway’s other docks. Woodrow says there’s a very specific reason the Kennicott would need to be the fill-in ferry.
“The only options we have for providing vehicle service is through the existing dock using the ramps that are on that dock, or to use the Kennicott which has a vehicle elevator which could then call on the cruise ship docks [in Skagway.]”
Even if the project were delayed to winter of 2017 and the Kennicott filled in, Skagway would still see severely reduced service. Woodrow says the Kennicott would sail all the way to and from Prince Rupert, so it would make just one or two port calls in Skagway per week.
This Thursday, the borough assembly plans to discuss the dock refurbishment options and decide whether to request the DOT postpone the project until next winter. Woodrow says the downside to delay is that the state will have to keep making Band-Aid repairs. It would be more cost-effective to get the project done as soon as possible.
“We are still exploring every option possible to see if we can provide service to Skagway while the dock is being worked on, even it means passenger only, foot traffic only, no vehicles,” says Woodrow. “We’re still looking at all options before saying service will be disrupted.”
Woodrow says DOT will continue talking to Skagway officials about the possibilities. He says the department will probably make a decision about when to refurbish the ferry dock by the end of the summer.