The Alaska Marine Highway System has canceled this summer’s sailings between Petersburg and northern Prince of Wales Island. But they’ll happen next year.
The state ferry system announced the new route last year. It was supposed to connect terminals at South Mitkof Island, about 25 road miles from Petersburg, and Coffman Cove on northeast Prince of Wales.
Spokesman Jeremy Woodrow says the route was a funding decision, not based on passenger need.
“We used federal funds to construct both the Coffman Cove terminal and the South Mitkof terminal and there could be a potential to have to pay back those federal funds if we actually don’t use those terminals for ferry service,” he says.
The ferry docks were built last decade for routes that no longer exist. Together, they cost about $15 million.
Woodrow says the small ferry LeConte was scheduled for this summer’s monthly sailings. But it was docked for repairs in May and June.
“Now the Malaspina is actually being late coming out of the yard. And the Malaspina is not expected to be delivered until the end of July. And because of that, the LeConte now is picking up service where the Malaspina normally would sail,” he says.
Few people made reservations for the August and September sailings, so they were canceled too.
Woodrow says the ferry system will try again next summer, but with a different approach.
It will hire the Inter-Island Ferry Authority, which has a backup ship, to sail the route. The IFA, which is separate from the state system, used to run a ferry between Coffman Cove, Wrangell and South Mitkof Island.
“We’ve worked with the federal highway system and they say that would meet the needs to show that we are trying to use those terminals,” he says.
The IFA sails a ship between Hollis, on eastern Prince of Wales Island, and Ketchikan year-round.
Woodrow says the state will pay about $200,000 for the Coffman-Mitkof service. The money is left over from a road and bridge project on the Kenai Peninsula.
IFA’s general manager could not be immediately reached for comment.
The ferry system posted August and September’s cancellations on its schedule changes web page. Woodrow says it did not announce the earlier dropped sailings.
“We usually make large announcements when there’s a lot of travelers affected. And when there’s only maybe one or two reservations, we just call those passengers and let them know what the change in the schedule is,” he says.
A different ship, which is not part of the state ferry system or the IFA, is scheduled to begin sailing much the same route by the middle of this month.
The Rainforest Islander will link Coffman Cove, Wrangell and South Mitkof Island four days a week. But it’s a much smaller landing craft and will not use the federally-funded terminals.