SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


"Part one" DOT-PF AMHS new terminals and South Tongass
By Steven G. Booth


March 29, 2010

I believe new terminals located at Annette bay or at a location along South Tongass Highway will cause numerous burdens for the Community Members of Metlakatla and at the same time cost the State and the federal taxpayers money that need not be expended. Therefore, it will also further deteriorate any efforts to create a more efficient operation for DOT-PF AMHS.

However, my comments here in this letter are submitted as a private citizen and I am not representing DOT-PF AMHS.

It has been said that the running time of the ferry may be reduced by as much as 45 minutes with a new terminal at the opposite end of the island and connecting to a new Terminal located at South Tongass; however, the comments made about reducing the run time are assumed to benefit the traveler and not DOT-PF AMHS s efficient operation. Because, preceding this comment we are told that we will be having more frequent runs this more accurately speaks to the fact that this goal ought to mean that the reduced run time is for the traveler s benefit because more frequent runs is counter to the task of DOT-PF AMHS s efficient operation. Considering the traveler now has 18 miles on the Walden point Road to drive, the transportation problems for the traveler become more profound. It will take the traveler 45 minutes more to get to the new terminal in Annette Bay. This travel time on the road is based on a point at the Council Chambers that is central to Metlakatla community members and the input people gave who have driven the road on regular basis. For the traveler, this means the proposed 45 minute savings on the vessel s run time is replaced by drive time on the Walden Point Road to reach the new Lituya terminal. The concept of a 45 minute savings, to me, is for nothing, and is certainly of no benefit to the traveler since it is more of a burden to the traveler to get to the other end of the island to catch the ferry.

A review of the statistics of travelers who board the ferry with a vehicle vs. the travelers that are called walk-on passengers is revealing. It is my belief that the statistics will show there is a lopsided number of travelers that are walk-on passengers instead of passengers who board the ferry with their own transportation. It is my belief that there is greater than 50%, and probably closer to 70%, of the travelers that walk on to the vessel. I believe moving these terminals will cause these travelers an unnecessary hardship. Moving these terminals not only does not effectively save time for the traveler who walks on, but also it creates a need to get to the other end of the island to catch the ferry. A terminal located in Saxman or another place along South Tongass Highway compounds the burden because these travelers now have the further problem of getting transportation into the local business areas of Ketchikan. There is a bus service to Saxman; however, many of these travelers do a lot of shopping and return to Metlakatla with as many as 6 or more boxes of groceries and other items. The process of getting these boxes to a bus stop, on to a bus, and then off the bus at Saxman, then transferring those boxes to the vessel sounds like a major hassle. Then there is the whole process to repeat at the end of Walden Point Road to get the boxes onto another bus for the final trek home. Taxi fares will cost between $30 - $40 and more. Currently a taxi ride with 6 or more boxes from A&P store to Berth 3 is about $8, with a tip.

The political sound bites and the dismissal comment made by a MIC council member, during the DOT s public meeting, who said that they have heard it all before and this is nothing new suggests that the burden to members and the cost to the state and federal taxpayers do not matter. Just because they have heard it all before does not make it right. What is more troubling is this council has not had any specific public opinion meetings concerning the new terminals, and further more, they conduct council meetings during the after noon when most members are at work or not able to attend these public meetings. So hearing it all before is hard to believe when this council makes it difficult, if not impossible to have made any comment in any meeting they have conducted. In short, the public of Metlakatla has not been heard on the subject of new terminals. The only public opinion meetings on this subject, in Metlakatla, have been when DOT-PF has conducted these meetings.

An example of these vague ideas that sound good are: Community Members can commute to work in Ketchikan. How much is it going to cost to commute to work with 40 miles of road to drive and the cost of the Lituya fare? What will be the work hours? A person might get to work after 9 am and need to leave work by the latest 4:30 p.m. This is not even a full work day. An employer could not expect any employee to work after hours because in doing so would risk missing the last run by the ferry. The cost will completely out weigh the worth of commuting to work in Ketchikan. Additionally, I believe an employer will need to consider the reliability of an employee who has such an arduous and tenuous commute every day. Additionally, without 7 day per week service provided by the Lituya this work commute will mean finding an employer that will hire you to work with Tuesdays and Wednesdays off.

Access to the University of Alaska Ketchikan to get a college education can be achieved in the same manner of all other rural areas. Students do this through UAS internet classes while allowing Metlakatla residents to remain in their own community. Since Lituya does not currently provide service on Tuesday and Wednesday class schedules do not work with most UAS class schedules. Again class times and availability as well as the added travel costs to get to a class room is always a factor that out weighs all the sound bite considerations given to justify the new service and terminal.

The next fanciful idea put forward is that this new run will open up the tour business to Metlakatla. Although I am not an expert in the tour bus business, it is obviously going to be at least a 4-hour round-trip bus ride for the tourist. The tour needs to start in Ketchikan and tour ship arrival and departure times need to be considered when a tight-schedule tour excursion is planned that meet the Lituya departure and arrival times. It will take at a minimum 2 hours from the departure of the bus from the cruise ship to the arrival point in Metlakatla. This lengthy bus ride needs to have an attraction that will persuade a tourist to spend his or her valuable short time off the ship, not to mention money, for such an excursion. I still do not see how this will have much of an impact to members of Metlakatla economically. The tours will need to start in Ketchikan and if anything will benefit the people who live in Ketchikan more than Metlakatla if such a bus excursion tour should work.

Additional considerations that a tour company should make about such a risky excursion are the reliability of the vessel and the bus to get passengers back to the cruise ships on time. If something was to delay the Lituya or one of the busses along the road this would cost the tour company thousands of dollars paying for passengers of the cruise ship to fly and meet their vessel. All other tour considerations are of insignificance to economic impact to justify the need for new terminals.

I believe DOT-PF AMHS will increase operation costs because of the addition of a terminal located on South Tongass. There will need to be at least one dedicated terminal operator or even two, maintenance costs of another terminal, including added communications and computers. Currently at the main liner terminal agents are able to service two vessels simultaneously, the Lituya and any other main liner vessel, without any additional agents or equipment.

The ferry should continue to use Berth 3 and it will benefit Metlakatla Community Members and DOT-PF AMHS more than any other alternative and cost State tax payers nothing more. Berth 3 benefits travelers more because it is located central to the services members travel to Ketchikan for such as, the hotels, airport, hospital, clinics, major grocery stores, Wal-Mart, restaurants, post office, and fishing supplies. Travelers who get off the vessel in Saxman will have to travel to the area of this berth anyway at considerable cost and time wasted. The CH2M Hill report says that Saxman is 11.4 minutes by road to Berth 3 at Ketchikan Terminal; however, this may be the time it takes when there is minimal traffic and no delay at traffic lights and no tourists blocking the roadway. The report also predicts 18 minutes difference between the Saxman port travel time and the Berth 3 travel time. According to the report and the numbers used in the report, the math indicates that the savings in time to arrive at Berth 3 versus a Saxman terminal is only the difference between 18 minutes and 11.4 minutes or 6.6 minutes that is saved by having a new terminal in Saxman. Believe me, the taxpayers will not appreciate six minutes in exchange for the millions that it will cost to build, maintain, and have a dedicated terminal agent at Saxman.

Another stated purpose for having a new terminal in Saxman is that it will relieve traffic congestion at Berth 3. The announcement by the IFA during the Saxman pubic meeting that they are planning to move to Ward Cove should resolve the traffic congestion at this Berth. Quoted from the Ketchikan Daily News: "The Alaska Marine Highway System is well aware that the IFA is going ahead with plans to develop a new ferry terminal at Ward Cove for the IFA," Laurance said. "That would be the new Ketchikan terminus for the IFA. So that would minimize, that would eliminate, any congestion at (the current dock.)"

I have many years experience and as such could add additional considerations that would cause congestion problems in the Tongass Narrows with a new terminal located South Tongass rather than relieve it. These concerns about the South Tongass terminal are problems in the East channel of Tongass Narrows. This Channel is used by all the cruise ships that stop in Ketchikan. While these cruise ships move through this channel, they will shut down traffic in the East Channel due to the minimal maneuver area for any other vessels that wish to transit. Additionally, a ferry s presence in the East Channel berthed in Saxman will effect tour groups such as Charter fishing boats and Fjord Cruise boats because they will have to reduce speed and wake while transiting the ferry berth spot to avoid damage or injury to the ferry and/or ferry Passengers since these locations are outside the federally designated NO WAKE AREA. Berth 3 is located in an area North of Pennock Island that has considerably more area to maneuver around Cruise ship traffic and many vessels have done so effectively for several years now. Getting to Berth 3 the Lituya would use West Channel with no cruise ship traffic. Berth 3 location is within the federal designated NO WAKE AREA and all vessels over 21 meters need to maintain a speed slower than 7 knots and this area has minimal cruise boat/charter boat traffic.

I have talked with travelers who say that more frequent runs on the ferry was never something travelers ever asked to have. Most travelers from Metlakatla want more time and quality time in Ketchikan. The lack of time in Ketchikan has always been the chief complaint. The ferry originally departed Metlakatla at 8:00 a.m. with a single run that departed Ketchikan at 2:30 p.m.

The need to shuffle with the IFA ferry in 2005 at the Berth 3 had the positive side effect of giving the Members a longer day in Ketchikan. Travelers are able to get their shopping and appointments completed in the time given. This shuffle effectively moved our departure time from Ketchikan at 2:30 pm (in 2005) to 4:30 pm (current departure time) giving travelers 2 more hours in Ketchikan. This double run and shuffle with IFA ended the complaints by travelers of not enough time in Ketchikan.

I do not believe that the Walden Point Road and future ferry service from Annette Bay will provide a much needed boost to the community s economy. I do not see how this new service includes fishing and seafood processing. Already the ferry service provides residents access to Ketchikan s hospital and medical facilities, shopping, and other services necessary for a comfortable lifestyle. In my opinion it will continue by keeping the ferry at Berth 3.

The ferry run is not broken so as the old adage goes: If it is not broken do not fix it!

The problems of moving these terminals have just begun. In part two the next issues I have listed are the operational problems the new terminals will cause AMHS. (End part one DOT-PF AMHS new terminals) (See part 2 for more problems from operations with having new terminals)

Steven G. Booth
Ketchikan, AK

About: My comments in this letter are submitted as a private citizen and not as Captain of the Lituya - I am not representing DOT-PF AMHS.

Received March 28, 2009 - Published March 29, 2010


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