There will be multiple options for ferry connections between Prince of Wales Island and Mitkof Island near Petersburg this summer. Two different Southeast ferry authorities, not connected to the Alaska Marine Highway System, will be making stops on South Mitkof Island and Coffman Cove on northern POW.
The Inter-Island Ferry Authority, or IFA, will offer the summertime round-trip run between Coffman Cove on northern Prince of Wales Island and the South Mitkof Island terminal near Petersburg. The IFA already offers a daily connection between Ketchikan and Hollis on Prince of Wales Island.

“We were basically approached by the state to take care of a federal mandate they have to use the Coffman Cove and South Mitkof terminals for passenger vehicle ferry service,” said Dennis Watson, IFA general manager. “It’s all around that. We’re gonna start it Memorial day and we’ll make one run a month on the last Monday until September.”

The two ferry terminals were both built with federal money and if they are not used the state could be forced to repay around 15 million dollars. They were once used by the IFA when it offered service between Coffman Cove-Wrangell and Mitkof about a decade ago.

The Alaska Marine Highway System had planned to offer a similar occasional connection last year to satisfy that federal requirement but cancelled those sailings. The state’s capital budget for this year re-appropriated just over 190,000 dollars in state funding left over from another project to pay IFA for the Coffman South Mitkof runs.

“That number is probably way high,” said Watson. “What they will do is reimburse us for our actual costs.” He said since the state is picking up the cost, the authority will not lose or make money on the runs. The IFA also received a grant for 250,000 dollars from the state for its service between Ketchikan and Hollis.

The IFA's ferry Prince of Wales (Photo by Ed Schoenfeld/Coastalaska)

The IFA’s ferry Prince of Wales (Photo by Ed Schoenfeld/Coastalaska)

The IFA runs will be operating on some of the same route that another independent service will be covering this year. Watson said he talked with the general manager of a smaller Coffman Cove based ferry about how the two operations could complement each other. “Unfortunately we couldn’t run on a day he would have liked,” Watson explained. “We’re basically running on a day that they don’t. They don’t have any service on that day so we’re not competing with them. Our prices, we took their fee schedule and used it for us so there will be no advantage jumping on our vessel as opposed to theirs as far as price goes. Basically we’re hoping that we complement what they’re doing.”

That smaller ferry, the Rainforest Islander starts up service April 15. Kent Miller is general manager for that ferry and wants to make clear that both are operating this year. “In the newspapers it hasn’t been noted that this service will be provided in addition to Rainforest Islands ferry service,” Miller said. “So some people have been questioning just what’s going on there.”

The two ferries are very different. The Rainforest Islander is a converted 65-foot front-loading landing craft that can take up to 28 passengers and six vehicles, and requires a smaller crew to operate. The IFA’s vessel Prince of Wales is a 198 foot long, side and rear-loading ferry and can carry up to 160 passengers and 30 vehicles. The Rainforest Islander is also going into just it’s second year of operation, after a bumpy first year due to mechanical problems and other delays.

The Rainforest Islander (Katarina Sostaric/KSTK)

The Rainforest Islander (Katarina Sostaric/KSTK)

The smaller ferry uses launch ramps not far from the two terminals for loading passengers and vehicles. Miller said the Rainforest Islander could use the two terminals with some added fenders and he thinks the state would save money by paying the smaller ferry for the service.

“Ever since the Rainforest Island Ferry was in its planning stages we’ve been trying to work with the state to use the Coffman Cove and South Mitkof terminals in order to satisfy the federal grantors requirement that they be put into use,” he explained. Miller said they requested grant money from the state this year to make the changes needed for tying up the landing craft to the ferry terminals. For now though, the Rainforest Islander will be using boat ramps instead.

Once it gets going, that ferry is scheduled to pull up to Banana Point boat launch ramp just before 2 p.m. four days a week, Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. That boat does make stops in Wrangell. It leaves Coffman Cove at 9 a.m. those days and gets back there at 7:21 p.m.

“Well we’re just getting going now on bookings for the re-start,” said Miller. “We are getting phone calls. We’re hoping for a good strong start. It remains to be seen of course. Do hope that a good strong flow of traffic will materialize this summer.”

The much larger IFA ferry will dock at South Mitkof at 11:45 a.m. and depart at 12:15. It will leave Coffman Cove at 9 a.m. and return there at 3 p.m. There’s no stop in Wrangell on that service and again it’s just once a month.

The IFA’s Watson said the authority’s captains are familiar with the route. “It’ll be fun to do it again. You know I know the guys that are going to be crewing it are looking forward to it. They run back and forth on the same route time and time again. And it’s nice to get away and see some different country.” Watson said the IFA should be doing some runs along that route in the summer of 2017 as well.