The ferries Matanuska, right, and Fairweather, left, dock at Juneau's Auke Bay terminal May 20, 2016. The larger ship is delayed in its return to service after an overhaul. (Photo by Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska News)
The ferries Matanuska, right, and Fairweather, left, dock at Juneau’s Auke Bay terminal May 20, 2016. The Matanuska is currently being repaired. (Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)

The draft summer ferry schedule has many in Southeast anxious about another season with fewer sailings — or, in the case of some communities, no ferries at all. 

The Department of Transportation’s comment period on the draft schedule wrapped up today [Tuesday 2-4-2020] with two public conference calls, one for Southeast and another for Southwest and Southcentral routes. 

The DOT had already collected some 300 written comments. 

The Southeast call drew in residents from Ketchikan, Gustavus, Skagway, and Haines, among other towns. 

Lee Parker, president of Frontier Freight, said the proposed schedule for Gustavus, which calls for two sailing every other week, would make it harder for his business to supply seasonal lodges. 

“We need to be doing freight weekly,” Parker said. “The Glacier Bay Lodge and all the other inns and lodges in Gustavus — and there’s a lot of them — they have to get stocked every week, with the fresh produce, dairy goods, and the frozen goods. That has to come every week. So I don’t know what we will do if we can’t do that for them.”        

Jamie Bricker, of Skagway, advocated for increased summer service for the upper Lynn Canal. She said the winter of sparse sailings has taken a toll on Skagway, and also expressed concerns about safety as a good chunk of the fleet remains in layup due to mechanical issues. 

“Not only are we not providing adequate service to our people in Southeast Alaska,” Bricker said. “But at some point in time, the age of this fleet, and their state of disrepair, when does that become dangerous for people?”

Bricker said the issue of safety was particularly important, as her son is on the Skagway basketball team that was recently stranded in Juneau due to mechanical problems on the Matanuska.    

The DOT is currently reviewing the public comments and plans to release a full schedule later this month.