Winter ferry schedule released for public comment

The Tustumena.

The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities released a draft winter schedule for the Alaska Marine Highway System and is seeking comments from the public and community leaders.

The proposed winter cycle will run from Oct. 1 to April 15, according to the draft schedule.

The Tustumena will continue to serve Southwest Alaska communities, including Kodiak, Ouzinkie and Port Lions, through the first half of November. The ferry will then head back to dry dock for a federal project overhaul that starts Nov. 15 and ends in mid-May.

The Kennicott will cover a brief service gap in Southwest/Southcentral from December through the new year before returning for maintenance overhaul between Jan. 6 and March 9.

With both transoceanic vessels in dock, the Southwest region will have a two-month service gap from Jan. 6 to March 10, barring unforeseen maintenance issues. 

According to the draft schedule, the Tustumena will come and go from Kodiak three times from October through mid-November, with stops between Port Lions and Ouzinkie. 

There will be a brief gap in service until the Kennicott takes over in mid-December. The Kennicott will provide two stops to Kodiak in the first and third week of December, with a roundtrip between Ouzinkie and Port Lions once a week before it heads back to Homer. The second visit in the week will exclude the villages.

Service resumes for the Southwest in March after the Kennicott goes back into service. Kodiak will see three visits in the first and third weeks of March and April, with the first stop on its way from Juneau across the Gulf of Alaska. No service is planned between the second and third weeks of March and April.

 The proposed schedule patterns are based on the funding levels for fiscal year 2022, Capt. John Falvey, the general manager of AMHS, said in the memo asking for public input. 

"The operating plan has been designed to meet community service needs while staying within available funding levels, and maintaining regulatory and safety standards for the vessels," Falvey said.

The budget signed by Gov. Mike Dunleavy includes $61 million for AMHS operations, down from the $69.47 million the state House of Representatives passed.

The budget, according to the final bill, funds the ferry system for 18 months. 

Jeff Turner, Dunleavy's deputy communications director, explained in a July 1 email that the 18-month budget allows for a schedule over a longer period of time and more reliability, and for AMHS to receive bookings and revenue sooner.

"Revenue usually increases the further the schedule is set in advance and passengers can book in advance," Turner said. "We expect to see significant increases in revenue."

The 18-month budget could also allow for better scheduling of maintenance and downtime for vessels so they are not stacked on top of each other in drydock. 

Written comments on the winter schedule can be sent to dot.amhs.comments@alaska.gov or faxed to 907-228-6873 before July 27. 

A public teleconference to hear additional comments and consider adjustments is scheduled for July 29 at 10 a.m. for Southeast schedules, and 1:30 p.m. for Southwest and Southcentral schedules. 

The toll-free number to participate in both teleconferences is 515-604-9000, access code 279613.

The meetings will be held at the Alaska Marine Highway Ketchikan Central Office, 7559 North Tongass Highway, for participants wishing to attend in person.

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