Prince Rupert ferry cancellation shocks Ketchikan community

The state announced Wednesday it’s shutting down ferry service to Prince Rupert, British Columbia. That news has been met with shock and disappointment in Ketchikan. The two communities have been linked by state ferry since 1963.

Ending ferry service from Prince Rupert will mean big changes for people trying to get from Southeast Alaska to the North American road system. That’s according to Bob Sivertsen, mayor of the City of Ketchikan.

“​It’s a cost-efficient option for kids going back to school and people going to see their doctors, and people going on vacation, so having it – limited or no service to Prince Rupert drastically would affect how people move around in the state of Alaska,” Sivertsen said.

Ketchikan Visitors’ Bureau chief Patti Mackey said she recently used the ferry to take her son to college. She says it’s essential for commerce.

“We know from our research that the average ferry traveler that gets off the ferry and stays in Ketchikan spends over $500 — almost $600 — during their visit on things like hotels and food and transportation and activities, so that is going to be a challenge,” Mackey said.

She said the two communities are more than just neighbors.

“Prince Rupert is Ketchikan’s sister city, and we’ve long had a good relationship, and they depend on the economic benefits of the ferry system as much as Ketchikan or any Alaskan community does,” Mackey said.

Prince Rupert Mayor Lee Brain released a statement Thursday saying he’s headed to Juneau later this month to try and find a workaround with state transportation officials and the governor’s office.

Ketchikan City Mayor Bob Sivertsen says he’s concerned about how the fishing industry will get some of its products to market without a ferry link.

​“There’s been some commerce as far as shipping fish products and shellfish products south through the Marine Highway System on the road system through Canada, or hooking up with their rail system,” Sivertsen said.

The announcement that the state is ending the Prince Rupert link comes as it says it cannot comply with a Homeland Security mandate to provide armed security for U.S. customs agents conducting inspections on Canadian soil. U.S. law enforcement agents can’t carry guns in Canada and as of Sept. 30 are unwilling to work unless armed Canadian police stand by. 

But the state and city say there aren’t enough Royal Canadian Mounted Police available to devote to the task. And the U.S. federal agency is unwilling to issue another waiver.

U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski’s office said in a statement it’s “aware of this and coordinating with federal agencies involved to determine a path forward.”