No budget by July means no ferry service

Three ferries dock at the Ketchikan Shipyard for repairs and upgrades in 2012. All 11 ships would tie up by early July if the Legislature does not reach a budget compromise. (Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)
Three ferries dock at the Ketchikan Shipyard for repairs and upgrades in 2012. All 11 ships would tie up by early July if the Legislature does not reach a budget compromise. (Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)

All state ferries will stop sailing by early July if the Legislature fails to reach a budget deal.

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The Alaska Marine Highway System’s plans are among dozens of state service cuts announced Monday by the Walker administration.

Ferry spokesman Jeremy Woodrow says the 11 ships in the fleet will head to their home ports as close to July 1 as possible.

“We can’t play guessing games that there will be a fully funded budget at some point. And so, we have to play it safe and have the ships enter layup status in July,” he says.

Ferries will stop sailing between June 29 and July 1, depending on their location.

Woodrow says a skeleton crew will remain with each ship to keep it ready to return to service. He says the ferry system has enough money to keep all 11 ferries tied up for a year.

Notice of the layup plans will be posted on the marine highway website. But those scheduled to sail will not hear directly from staffers.

“There’s thousands of reservation holders. If we were to start contacting each one, by the time we reached them all, there might be a budget passed and we’d have to turn around and call them all back,” he says.

Woodrow says those changing or cancelling reservations will not face a penalty.

One ferry — the Taku – was already scheduled to be tied up for July and August as part of budget cuts.

The ferry system serves 35 port communities. Only five are on Alaska’s mainland road system. Prince Rupert, British Columbia, and Bellingham, Washington, are also connected.

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Ed Schoenfeld is Regional News Director for CoastAlaska, a consortium of public radio stations in Ketchikan, Juneau, Sitka, Petersburg and Wrangell. He primarily covers Southeast Alaska regional topics, including the state ferry system, transboundary mining, the Tongass National Forest and Native corporations and issues. He has also worked as a manager, editor and reporter for the Juneau Empire newspaper and Juneau public radio station KTOO. He’s also reported for commercial station KINY in Juneau and public stations KPFA in Berkley, WYSO in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and WUHY in Philadelphia. He’s lived in Alaska since 1979 and is a contributor to Alaska Public Radio Network newscasts, the Northwest (Public Radio) News Network and National Native News. He is a board member of the Alaska Press Club. Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, he lives in Douglas.