Fairweather gets reprieve in draft ferry schedule

The M/V Fairweather steams through Chatham Strait in 2011. (Photo by Ed Schoenfeld / CoastAlaska)

Once headed for mothballs with its sister ship, the fast vehicle ferry MV Fairweather appears likely to return to service in Southeast Alaska next summer, according to a proposed schedule released Friday by the Alaska Marine Highway System.

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The Fairweather would make three runs a week between Juneau, Haines and Skagway, plus a weekly run to Sitka from May to September.

“We’re just really glad to see it didn’t get mothballed and put out to pasture,” said Robert Venables, chair of the Alaska Marine Transportation Advisory Board. “It’s still in working condition. It was put up that way at the end of the season this year, and I’m glad to see that it’s available for use next year.”

The future of the fast ferries, which are capable of making runs in half the time of the rest of the fleet, has been uncertain.

The 14-year-old catamarans are expensive to run and can be difficult to maneuver in rough conditions. Cost-cutting by the ferry system has left the Fairweather’s sister ship Chenega tied up since 2015.

State lawmakers have consistently cut funding to the state ferry system to the tune of about $35 million over the past five years.

Venables said that’s led to inevitable maintenance problems and misery-inducing delays.

“It’s increasingly more challenging for the department to meet the service needs the way the boats have been demanding more and more repair and servicing,” Venables said.  “It’s still a work in progress but we’re really glad to see them fill the gaps as much as they’ve been able to.”

The schedule also doesn’t anticipate the new Alaska-class ferries to go into service before September. Originally ordered as day boats by the Parnell administration, those ferries are having crew quarters added to extend their service range.

The proposed schedule isn’t final. The marine highway is asking for written feedback sent on or before Nov. 23 via email at dot.amhs.comments@alaska.gov or faxed to (907) 228-6873.