Commentary: Share your view on the winter AMHS plan

The M/V Aurora departs the Cordova Ferry Terminal. (July 21, 2019) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times
The M/V Aurora departs the Cordova Ferry Terminal. (July 21, 2019) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times

The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities (DOT&PF) proposed Alaska Marine Highway System (AMHS) operating plan for October 2020 through April 2021 is now available for public review.  While DOT&PF has not yet produced a draft schedule, the link above and the bullets below indicate service in PWS will likely remain at around 4x per month via the Kennicott through January 6, with a service gap from Jan 6 – Mar 18. The Aurora is slotted to take over for the Kennicott in PWS beginning April 15, if all goes well in the shipyard. While this is an improvement upon 9.5 months of service gap last year, it’s important to compare this to past years’ service levels, running multiple times per week, which provided local businesses and residents far more access to 

We encourage you to share with the DOT how this meager level of service has affected you, your business, the school system, and the community. We’ve created a comment template including some discussion on what “essential” service should look like for Cordova as we work to rebuild our economy in the wake of COVID. Click the button below to open the template in your email server of choice, add your personal details and comments/edits, and press send. Comments are due via email at dot.amhs.comments@alaska.gov and by fax at (907) 228-687 by August 14, 2020. There will not be a public teleconference during the comment period. 

Here is a summary of ports of call and a timeline for October 1, 2020 through April 30, 2021: 

  • Kennicott to cover Bellingham/Cross-Gulf, Prince William Sound, Homer, and Kodiak through January 6, 2021, resuming service March 18, 2021   
    • Ports of call include Bellingham, Ketchikan, Wrangell, Petersburg, Juneau, Whittier, Cordova, Homer, and Kodiak on a two-week cycle  
    • Note: Wrangell and Petersburg will be covered intermittently as tides permit  
  • Matanuska to cover Bellingham, Ketchikan, Wrangell, Petersburg, Juneau, Haines, Skagway, Sitka, and Kake beginning February 10, 2021  
  • Lituya to cover Ketchikan and Annette Bay except during her two-week overhaul from January 10 – January 26, 2021  
  • LeConte to cover Juneau, Haines, Skagway, Hoonah, Gustavus, Angoon, Pelican, Tenakee, Sitka (intermittently), and Kake (intermittently) until overhaul starts February 15, 2021, resuming service April 12, 2021  
  • Aurora to cover Prince William Sound beginning April 15, 2021. (The steelwork that is needed to repair the M/V Aurora is currently underway. The original plan was to have the work completed and the vessel available to operate in October 2020. However, due to the discovery of additional steel that needs to be replaced, repairs are now projected to be completed by December 2020. Following the steel repairs, the vessel will need to complete her annual overhaul and COI recertification. DOT&PF/AMHS plan to have the vessel operational by April 2021.)  
  • Tustumena to cover Homer, Kodiak Island, and the Aleutian Chain beginning April 15, 2021  
  • No service to Prince Rupert (on hold indefinitely), Chenega Bay, Tatitlek, Valdez, Seldovia, Ouzinkie, and Port Lions  
  • Service gap for Hoonah, Gustavus, Angoon, Pelican, and Tenakee during LeConte overhaul from February 15 through April 11, 2021  
  • Service gap for Prince William Sound, Homer, and Kodiak beginning January 7 through mid-March during the Kennicott overhaul 
    Click here to email comments using our template.

If you use this template, make sure to insert your own personal details before sending and add the following email address to the “To:” or “CC:” line. Rep.Louise.Stutes@akleg.gov, senator.gary.stevens@akleg.gov, executivedirector@cordovachamber.com. 

If the link above does not work, here is the text for you to copy/paste into your email to dot.amhs.comments@alaska.gov:

Commissioner MacKinnon:

My name is ____________ and I am a __(year-round, seasonal)__ resident of ___________. The Alaska Marine Highway System is essential to the economic, social, and civic health of our community and so many others. It has been painful to watch the system deteriorate due to lack of funding and other issues. The impacts have been sorely felt in communities all across Prince William Sound, and particularly in Cordova where we recently endured over nine months without our ferry, our only access to the surface highway system, our road. 

__Insert your personal story here of how lack of ferry service this year affected you and/or your business.__

While the current schedule of the Kennicott sailing from Cordova approximately four times per month is an improvement upon having no service at all, it will vastly improve ridership if additional sailings per month are added and if sailing dates are adjusted to allow appointments during weekday business hours without the need to wait over a week for a return ferry. The service gap from January 6 – March 18 is also concerning, as February is typically one of the two busiest months of the year for school district travel. If there is a way to cover that gap with the Hubbard or one of the many other vessels currently assigned to layup, service during that month and a half would be a great benefit to our community. In a typical year, on average, Cordova School District uses the marine highway system for six roundtrips per month from August through May, commonly peaking in November and again in February, each averaging around a dozen trips. Departing Thursday and returning Sunday would work best to both accommodate ASAA schedules and allow for appointments during business hours. That would fit Cordova’s main winter festival as well, which takes place in February. 

Please consider adding additional sailings to Prince William Sound during the Winter 2020 season and adjusting the schedule to include at least one full weekday between Cordova and Whittier. Please also consider using a vessel from layup to cover the service gap in Prince William Sound between January 6 – March 18th. 

We appreciate every opportunity to provide input and feedback on AMHS sailings, as our community’s needs vary widely by season and due to special events. When community and user needs are taken into account during the scheduling process, ridership increases, creating increased revenues for the system  The fact that only four days were given for these comments to be submitted along with no draft schedule being provided to give commenters a clear picture of the state’s plan, and the lack of a teleconference sends a clear message that community and user feedback are not being valued or encouraged by the Department. We all want the system to be able to continue serving Alaska residents and visitors. In order for this to happen, we must work together. Email is not a viable option for all users, as many communities in Alaska lack strong, reliable internet connections and a large portion of your ridership may not be regular email or internet users. Please consider offering an extension to this comment period. We’d also encourage you to consider reinstating the teleconference option for those not able to comment via email or fax. 

Thank you for considering these comments.

Sincerely,


Cathy Renfeldt is executive director of the Cordova Chamber of Commerce.