When the Tustumena ferry went in for repairs this winter, it was supposed to be fixed up in time for the 2013 season, but the ferry is still nowhere near ready. Now, the state has been forced to cancel service to Western Alaska for the entire month of June.
The Tustumena’s capital repairs were extensive, but pretty straightforward –fix the ship’s hull, and a lot of its machinery.
The work was supposed to be done before the 2013 season started, in April. But when the contractor, Seward Ship’s Drydock, found new problems with the Tusty’s steelwork and tanks, the state granted the workers an extension.
In the meantime, the state assigned the Kennicott ferry to cover the Tustumena’s route in April and May.
By this time, work on the Tustumena should be winding down — but deputy transportation commissioner Reuben Yost says it’s running even further behind.
“We’ve been monitoring that progress and now our best guess is that work actually won’t actually be completed until July,” Yost said.
The Tustumena won’t be ready to sail again until July 4, at the earliest.
The Kennicott can’t pick up the slack – it has to return to its regular service between Bellingham, Washington and Southcentral Alaska.
Yost says the state has no option but to cancel the Tustumena’s two sailings in June. Five-hundred-sixty-seven passengers had reserved seats on those trips.
They will automatically be rebooked to the Kennicott’s last sailing through Western Alaska, in late May. The ferry system was planning to call those customers over the weekend to confirm the change, and offer refunds to anyone who wants to cancel.
But Yost, the DOT commissioner, says that’s no substitute for the Tustumena.
“Even when we do provide a Kennicott run, there are ports that the Kennicott can’t get into,” Yost said.
Those include Chignik, False Pass, and Sand Point. Those communities will go a full four months without ferry service.
Yost says that the state realizes how that might inconvenience travelers.
“We’re very upset about this,” Yost said. “We realize this is a major transportation problem for people, and we’re doing everything we can to make sure the work occurs as quickly as possible.”
“But, the work is being performed by a contractor rather than AMHS staff.”
Seward’s Ship Drydock is the contractor that’s working on the Tustumena. They weren’t available to comment.
According to their contract with the DOT, the state can seek damages for any unauthorized delays. Yost says they aren’t ruling that out.