The Skagway ferry dock. (Emily Files)

The Skagway ferry dock. (Emily Files)

It’s official: the Skagway ferry dock refurbishment will be delayed until at least next fall or winter. The Alaska Department of Transportation considered getting the project over with this year. But DOT decided leaving more time for planning and gathering community input would be beneficial.

A couple weeks ago, Skagway officials sent a letter to DOT asking for an update on the project which could result in a two-to-three-month disruption in ferry service.

When local leaders first learned about the possibility of the project knocking out service, they requested it be delayed until winter of 2017. Now, it looks like they’ll get their wish.

“It was in the best interest of all parties involved to push the project back one more year,” said DOT Spokesman Jeremy Woodrow.

Woodrow says community feedback and the construction cycle are the two main reasons.

“Due to the construction cycle of putting the project out to bid and then having a contractor ready to go to construction all within several months and then getting the winter [ferry] schedule out on time is a pretty tight time crunch. We want to make sure to give the contractor and the public as much advance notice as possible.”

Woodrow says with the delay comes flexibility. DOT wants to hear from Skagway about what timing would work best for the community.

“It could be winter, it could be the shoulder season — spring or early fall. It’s working the municipality, and them working with the residents to determine the best time for that project to occur. It’s a project that does need to happen to extend the life of that dock.”

While the dock is refurbished, there will be an impact on service, but how severe the impact will be is uncertain. DOT is hoping to get a Coast Guard waiver allowing the Malaspina ferry to stand in for the Matanuska next winter while the Matanuska gets some repairs. The Malaspina needs a waiver that will allow it to sail in international waters, because the route includes Prince Rupert, British Columbia.

Woodrow says DOT is hopeful the Coast Guard will approve the waiver. If it doesn’t, that would be bad for DOT, but potentially good for Skagway. That’s because the more-expensive-to-run Kennicott might fill in for the Matanuska instead. The Kennicott has a vehicle elevator that would allow it to use one of Skagway’s other docks for car and passenger service.

But if DOT gets what it wants and the Malaspina is the replacement, the ferry system may still be able to provide passenger-only service to Skagway during the dock project.

“That’s something that isn’t ruled out yet,” Woodrow said. “A possibility that’s been floated recently is having the Malaspina meet another vessel that’s run just from Skagway to Haines. And then those passengers would then go to Haines from Skagway and then board the Malaspina in Haines.”

Woodrow says he isn’t sure whether DOT would run one of its ferries back and forth between Skagway and Haines or if they would contract with another agency.

All of those details still need to be worked out. The only thing that’s definite right now is that the Skagway ferry dock project is not happening this year.