Matanuska breakdown leaves Southeast Alaska travelers in limbo

A blue ferry with white cabin pulls up next to an elevated dock on a foggy day.
The M/V Matanuska, docked on Friday, Feb. 7, 2020 at the Auke Bay ferry terminal in Juneau. The ship is headed to Ketchikan for repairs. (Rashah McChesney/KTOO)

Another week in March, another ferry breakdown. This time, the M/V Matanuska is stranded in Bellingham, Wash. Its return to the Upper Lynn Canal likely won’t be until April 6.

Skagway Mayor Andrew Cremata said he won’t know until Tuesday afternoon if he can put together another emergency solution, such as hiring an Allen Marine boat, like he did two weeks ago.

“This is not a money-making proposition,” Cremata said. “We lose money on these. The question is how much are we going to lose — is it justifiable?”

The mayor has tried to gauge community interest in hiring a private craft, but said getting an accurate number of passengers is a nearly impossible task. If planes can fly, people tend to opt out and take flights, leaving the municipality on the hook for unfilled seats.

An Allen Marine vessel costs $900 an hour, regardless of how many passengers are on board. Cremata said he and the city manager have contacted the state to see if they’ll pay the bill. Cremata said the interruption in service is due to the Department of Transportation, so it shouldn’t be a municipal transportation issue.

“The manager and I both want to try and get a firm answer from the state in writing,” Cremata said. “We’d be willing to pick up the cost then because that takes the burden off of us to justify the expense at a time when every expense is something that really needs to be considered, as we’re using municipal funds.”

With Juneau seeing heavy snowfalls and poor visibility on Monday, flights did not leave for the Upper Lynn Canal. Passengers were stranded at the airport Monday, and without a ferry departing Tuesday, the stress of winter travel in Southeast Alaska is elevated yet again.

Calls to the Alaska Marine Highway public information officer were not returned before this article published.

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