An Alaska Marine Highway ferry docked in Skagway. (Emily Files)

An Alaska Marine Highway ferry docked in Skagway. (Emily Files)

Representatives from the Alaska Marine Highway System spoke with Haines residents last night to discuss proposed changes to the rollout of two Alaska Class Ferries in May of 2019.

According to the original plan, two new ferries, the Hubbard and the Tazlina, would provide service for the Upper Lynn Canal. Under the new proposal, the Tazlina would provide service for Prince William Sound, and the Hubbard would run a round trip from Juneau to Haines and Skagway. 

In 2014, Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities reached an agreement to construct two Alaska Class Ferries. The Tazlina was completed earlier this summer and the Hubbard will be ready by spring.

The plan was to have the ferries provide day service for the Upper Lynn Canal during the summer starting in 2019. Thursday through Sunday, the Tazlina would run between Haines and Skagway and the Hubbard would run between Juneau and Haines.

Now the AMHS is proposing to outfit the ferries with crew quarters so that they can serve longer distances. The Hubbard would provide service between Juneau, Haines and Skagway, and the Tazlina would provide service in Prince William Sound out of Cordova.

AMHS Executive Director Shirley Marquardt said it is too costly to provide two crews to service the Upper Lynn Canal.

“Number one, the contracts with the crew onboard the vessels are 12 hour days whether they work 12 hours or not, so there’s no cost savings there. And the second is if you’re crewing two vessels without quarters that one vessel with quarters could do, you’ve got 44 crew members as compared to 24,” Marquardt said.

AMHS General Manager Captain Falvey explained that there are not enough crew members living in Haines and Skagway to staff ferries based in the Upper Lynn Canal. He said it would be too expensive to pay for lodging and per diem expenses for crew members from elsewhere.

AMHS representatives also pointed out that the Alaska Class Ferries would not have operated during the winter without crew quarters. Under the new plan, the Tazlina and the Hubbard would be able to cover for other ferries during the winter.  

Haines Assemblyman Tom Morphet asked why the original plans had been abandoned when the boats were specifically designed for quick turnaround trips in the Upper Lynn Canal. Marquardt acknowledged that the plan had changed, but said that the highway system had not abandoned plans to improve quick loading and unloading.

“You’re right, that was the original plan almost 10 years ago. It’s 2018 and a lot of things have changed. We’re just trying to deal with the realities of these two vessels coming in to service and what’s the best way to provide the best service that we can at a cost that we can absorb as we’ve been cut the past three years in a row by the legislature. They’re not looking any more friendly, quite frankly, in the future,” Marquardt said.

The cost of adding crew quarters would be an estimated $13 million to $15 million for each ship.

At the moment, Marquardt is looking into getting authorization to use state funds from the marine highway fund to add crew quarters to the Hubbard.