The rides for the Kodiak Crab Festival are still on schedule — as long as the M/V Tustumena completes its annual maintenance cycle and returns to service on May 17.
According to Kodiak Chamber of Commerce Community Relations Director Sarah Phillips, Golden Wheel Amusements, the Chugiak-based company that operates carnival rides, needs to load the rides a couple of days after the ship is back in service in order for them to arrive in time for the Crab Festival’s start date on May 23.
“As of right now, the carnival rides are coming and are scheduled to be boarding on the 19th of May,” Phillips said.
The Tustumena is due to depart from Homer to Kodiak on May 18, following an extended maintenance cycle, and will return to Homer the next day. The 55-year-old ferry was originally due to return to service on April 18 after two months of maintenance, but was delayed due to the discovery of extensively damaged steel in its car deck.
“Getting out of drydock on May 17 does cut it very close,” Phillips said. “As a community that deals with fishing vessels and large freight, many of us understand that delays can happen, and if they do, it is possible the rides will not be here.”
Phillips said the Chamber will have alternative options available in case the Tustumena faces additional delays.
“Some of the possibilities include alternate modes of transportation, possibly using some of the shipping companies in Kodiak,” Phillips said.
She added that the Chamber may reach out to the main airlines serving Kodiak to accommodate Golden Wheel Amusements personnel should the rides be shipped via container vessels.
“Most of the personnel come over on the ferry along with the rides … because the Tustumena is the most economical for the rides and people to get here,” she said.
The Crab Festival has gone without rides in the past. In 2014, the Kodiak Daily Mirror reported that Golden Wheel had declined to provide rides at the Crab Festival due to housing and transportation costs.
As an alternative for rides in 2014 and 2015, the Chamber contracted with Tons of Fun to provide inflatable rides and bounce houses. This continued for two years before Golden Wheel returned in 2016, following a Chamber survey that showed overwhelming support for the traditional carnival rides.
Phillips said that inflatable rides and bounce houses are also an option for this year.
“At the moment, everything is on the table,” Phillips said. “No matter what, there will be some form of fun and entertainment at Crab Fest.”
Phillips said the using the M/V Kennicott, the Alaska Marine Highway System’s only other ocean-going ferry, is complicated due to the obligations Golden Wheel Amusement has with other clients.
“They can’t necessarily stay here for the length of time required if it was just the Kennicott serving Kodiak,” Phillips said. The Kennicott is due in Kodiak on May 12 and departs for Whittier on May 13. It returns to serve Kodiak between May 24 and May 27.
In addition to the rides, Phillips said that about 30% of the Crab Festival vendors are from off-island.
“Not all them use the ferry system for transportation, but a significant number are reliant on it,” she said. For example, she said it wouldn’t be economically feasible for a kettle corn vendor to fly their equipment to Kodiak.
The dependence on the ferry for transporting the carnival rides to Kodiak underscores the AMHS’s importance to coastal communities in general.
At the moment, the state legislature and Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s office have different proposals for the future of the ferry system.
When Dunleavy unveiled his proposed budget for the 2020 fiscal year on Feb. 12, it included about $96 million in cuts to the AMHS.
Those cuts include suspending service between Oct. 1 and June 30 until the state and a marine consultant investigate how to make the ferry system less dependent on the state and more self-sufficient.
However, the Alaska House of Representatives rejected those cuts in its own proposed budget, which recommended a $10.9 million reduction aimed mostly at shoreside operations.
While the Senate has yet to vote on its budget, the Senate Finance Committee has recommended $44 million in cuts, with the goal to maintain some services after Oct. 1.
The full Senate is expected to discuss the budget on the open floor on the first week of May.