The Skagway ferry dock. (Emily Files)

The Skagway ferry dock. (Emily Files)

The Alaska Department of Transportation has changed its plans for Skagway’s ferry dock after meetings with local officials. DOT is scaling back its rehabilitation plans while they work toward the municipality’s request for replacement. That means that a two to three month disruption in ferry service that was part of the original project will not happen after all.

“We’re trying to work with the city to accomplish what they’re trying to accomplish and that’s the direction we’re headed,” says DOT deputy commissioner Mike Neussl. He oversees the ferry system. He says a replacement dock is “most likely,” in Skagway’s future.

“That’s what the community has requested,” says Neussl. “There’s still the issue of designing it and coming up with the funding for it. So nothing is guaranteed but that’s the direction we’re moving.”

Last month, at the direction of Governor Walker, transportation officials began meeting with Skagway leaders. The municipality has consistently said they want the dock replaced, not just repaired.

“The governor’s direction was to meet with them, come up with the optimal solution,” says Neussl. “And the optimal solution is to scale back the rehabilitation project just to keep the existing dock serviceable until a replacement dock project, as I said, can be designed, funded and implemented.”

Skagway Mayor Mark Schaefer says this news is not unexpected.

“That’s not surprising,” says Schaefer. “They basically needed to get something done and I don’t think they have a problem with replacement but that’s going to take some time and more money.”

Earlier this month, the assembly voted unanimously to reiterate their desire for construction of a new float with an end berth for the Alaska Class Ferries. That was submitted through the public comment process for the Alaska Statewide Transportation Improvement Program.

One of the motivations behind Skagway’s request has to do with optimizing the facility for the Alaska Class Ferries. Those are two day boats under construction to serve the Lynn Canal.

For DOT, that’s looking like the long-term goal. In the short-term, the objective is to keep the dock floating. Neussl says he doesn’t know exactly what the upcoming repairs will look like, but they will be scaled back significantly.

“I know that the original rehabilitation plan called for actually removing the dock from the moorings, dredging underneath it and doing those types of things. That likely will not take place,” says Neussl. “It’ll be just some preservation on the concrete, the fendering and mooring systems.”

Neussl says this means an anticipated two or three month closure of the ferry dock that was part of the original refurbishment plan will not happen. He says there may be a few minor disruptions, but he doesn’t expect anything significant. Since the work will be scaled back, he expects ferries to continue to pick up passengers in Skagway during repairs. That’s good news for Skagway residents, many of whom showed up for public meetings to express their concern with a temporary loss in ferry service.

Some of the details including the exact cost of the trimmed down repairs are not yet clear.

The original cost of refurbishment was estimated at $6 million. Neussl says that price will be reduced as they strip down the plan to only what’s necessary for now. The cost of replacement is estimated to be around $26 million.

Neussl says there are some extra challenges in Skagway that add to the cost.

“It’s really deep water right off the – right off the end of the dock there,” says Neussl. And the mooring arrangement is actually being changed from the current anchor system to a fixed pile system that will hold the barge in place.

He says he doesn’t have an exact date, but work is scheduled to be done after the cruise ship season ends this September.