Parnell: Design Smaller Ferries, Build Them Here

Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell announced Tuesday in Ketchikan that the state will immediately begin negotiations with the Ketchikan shipyard to design the first of at least two smaller ferries for the Alaska Marine Highway System, rather than the 350-foot ferry that had been planned.

Parnell says the $120 million budgeted for the project would not be enough to build the larger ferry in Ketchikan. He says he’s dedicated to constructing Alaska ferries in Alaska, which prompted the new plan.

The governor stopped by KRBD’s Ketchikan studio, and sat down with Leila Kheiry to talk about this new direction, as well as the upcoming legislative session.

In a press release, the governor said, “With declining oil production and declining state revenue, we have to be smarter with the people’s money while meeting Alaskans’ marine transportation needs. I have supported and will continue to support the increased service by mainliners from Bellingham all the way out the chain.

“By setting a new course, Alaskans can build two smaller Alaska Class Ferries and stay on budget, and at the same time provide the same or better level of service Alaskans expect from our marine highways.

“While the ferry system produced record levels of revenue last year, we also face this reality: Costs continue to accelerate for the maintenance of our fairly old fleet. Building smaller Alaska Class vessels will have a major positive impact on our ferry system capacity. The smaller vessels will provide much-needed backup service should other vessels experience mechanical problems, and can add flexibility to the system when special community events require greater access.”

To date, the Legislature and governor had approved $120 million for this first Alaska Class Ferry project. Early estimates demonstrated the total cost for a 350-foot vessel would be closer to $150-167 million. The governor has now asked that funding for the first vessel be directed to the plan for the smaller vessels. Design work will commence in cooperation with Alaska Ship and Drydock officials as soon as possible.

The AMHS has been operating year-round since 1963, with regularly scheduled passenger and vehicle service to 33 communities in Alaska, as well as Bellingham, Washington, and Prince Rupert, British Columbia. There are currently 11 vessels in the AMHS fleet.