The Port of Skagway’s ferry float is in need of refurbishment.
Its surface is beginning to form potholes, the fender system has visible corrosion, its anchor chains need work and the area beneath the float needs to be dredged. To complete all required maintenance, the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities would need a full winter. Because of this, for up to three winter months, the ferry float would be unusable.
ADOT&PF Spokesperson Jeremy Woodrow said the department is not committed to saying Skagway won’t have ferry service and is looking at potential alternatives for the community.
Skagway has no shortage of docks. But depending on which ferry is running, the fender systems might not match up. Even if the systems do match, the boats still run into traffic issues because no other dock in the harbor has a vehicle ramp.
“If we provide passenger-only service to the cruise ship docks, we have to make sure we can actually get the passengers on to or off of the ferry, and that’s using some sort of gangway that the ferries don’t have,” he said.
The winter’s saving grace lies in the vehicle elevator of the M/V Kennecott.
The vessel is currently on the coastal run but will be in cost-savings lay up this winter.
In winter 2017, it could fill in for the M/V Matanuska while the Matanuska receives engine replacement.
Woodrow said depending on which route the Kennecott serviced, Skagway could see one to two days of ferry service per week. However, should ferries be able to tie up to cruise ship docks, the schedule could look similar to winters passed, but with passenger traffic only.
During a May 5 Skagway Borough Assembly meeting, assembly members agreed to ask for the project to be completed in the winter of 2017, preferably beginning in October so as not to interfere with holiday traffic.
“I don’t think we want to tolerate any closure of our ferry. We had about a month this year, and that wasn’t too good,” Mayor Mark Schaefer said. “But two or three months is not good. A lot of people are going to rely on the ferry. All of us are I’m sure.”
Assembly members agreed earlier in the winter would be preferable, taking sports, weather and daylight into account.
“If the Kennecott is available, then great,” Assemblyman Steve Burnham Jr. said. “But if it’s not, at least we’re not during the holiday season.”
Hahn, Skagway Port Commission Chair Tim Bourcy and municipal lobbyist John Walsh recently met with ADOT to discuss partnering on a floating dock at the ferry terminal.
Bourcy said while ADOT is willing to work on aspects of the project, such as improving its uplands and pedestrian walkways, a floating dock is not in the near future.
“There’s no clear path forward with regard to the ferry float concept that’s been floated, maybe in the five- to ten-year perspective potentially,” Bourcy said.
Woodrow said the proposal has too many moving parts to tackle in the short term, but it’s something the department would be willing to work with the borough on in the future.
He said combining the two projects–ferry dock improvement and creating a floating dock–would require studies of ferry impact, operation constraints and more.
“[There] are too many variables that would need to be weighed before going down that path,” he said “It’s not something that we see as an achievable part of this project.”