Alaska Marine Highway officials have identified several ways to increase ferry service to Sitka next summer. It’s in response to community concerns about the fast ferry Fairweather being indefinitely tied up.
Without the Fairweather, Sitka ferry service will drop from this summer’s six to eight stops a week to next summer’s two a week.
Marine Highway General Manager John Falvey says the ferry LeConte is one option for boosting service.
“It is a possibility. That question has come up. We would have to run the route and spend the night, then route the route back,” he says.
The LeConte used to sail from Juneau to Sitka and back, with Angoon, Tenakee and Hoonah stops along the way.
But that was when the small ferry sailed around the clock. It reduced hours and port calls following a 2004 grounding blamed in part on crew fatigue.
Falvey says the shorter schedule could accommodate Sitka sailings with stops in Angoon. But it couldn’t include any other port calls.
He says adding the run would affect other parts of the schedule.
“That would potentially reduce service to some of the other communities, potentially the villages, or if the LeConte was doing any double duty up at the Lynn Canal,” he says.
He says the LeConte could sail longer hours if it expanded crew quarters and added staff. But that’s not in the current plan.
Another option would add a Sitka stop to the large ferry Matanuska’s route.
“You could turn that boat in Juneau, not send it up (Lynn) Canal, then route it through Sitka and back again. That’s an option. But that reduces service going north to Lynn Canal, Haines and Skagway,” he says.
Falvey promised those attending an Oct. 23 ferry meeting in Sitka that he’d look at such options, as well as others suggested by the public.
But he stressed that scheduling options are limited by budget cuts related to a steep decline in state oil revenue.
A statewide hearing on the schedule is planned for Wednesday, Nov. 4. Officials plan to finalize next summer’s ferry schedule in December.