By Melinda Munson

It was a week of panic for any Skagwegian with winter travel plans. The Matanuska, scheduled to return to service in early December, now has an “anticipated date of return” of Jan. 23 due to corroded steel. The updated ferry schedule has reduced sailings with a gap in service from Jan. 9-23.

“The ferry is detrimental to my health,” said business owner Billi Clem. Clem, a breast cancer survivor, needs to get to Juneau for a mammogram, OBGYN check-ups and dental work associated with chemotherapy side effects. Everytime a ferry is canceled, Clem has to reschedule her appointments. 

“I have had numerous delays with my check-ups. It has become urgent,” she said.

Clem has spent much of her time reaching out to legislators, asking for improved ferry service.

“There’s only so many calls I can make to Murkowski’s office. I don’t feel like I’m getting anywhere,” she said. “We don’t have access to our highway system.”

Some residents are considering leaving Skagway because of that lack of access. According to Mayor Andrew Cremata, four families with children are contemplating moving due to unreliable ferry service.

Kendra Guilliams and her husband, Jesse, don’t have any plans to relocate, but years of restricted ferry service have them questioning the future.

“It makes it easier for us to talk about the possibility of moving. Before, that wasn’t something that was on the table,” she said. 

The Guilliams haven’t left town for 3 ½ years. They gave birth to twins, then COVID-19 came. Now they’re desperate for a vacation. Because of the change in the January ferry schedule, they’ll arrive in Juneau five days before their flight leaves. They’re hoping the Matanuska really will be back in service upon their return to Juneau or they’ll have to wait for good flying weather and pay five fares to get home to Skagway.

On their trip, the Guilliams plan to have fun, but they’ll also take care of business such as vital doctor appointments.

Cremata has been in discussion with Borough Manager Brad Ryan and the city of Haines to see if a charter in January is feasible. The last time the municipality paid for a private charter to bail out residents stuck without ferry service, the state never reimbursed the bill as promised.

“It just stinks. It doesn’t need to be this way,” Guilliams said.