SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


Saxman Ferry Terminal Construction Could Begin Next Year
By Marie L. Monyak


April 25, 2006

Ketchikan, Alaska - A showing of the preliminary designs of the Saxman Seaport AMHS Ferry Terminal and updates on the progress of the project was the topic at a public open house at the Saxman Tribal House on Monday evening. Approximately twenty people attended to hear from the project staff from the State of Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, and from the Federal Highway Administration.

Project staff provided detailed conceptual designs of the Proposed Upland Actions for the Saxman Seaport and handouts detailing the project timeline and description of the proposed undertaking.

jpg Saxman Ferry Terminal meeting

On the left addressing the crowd is DOT&PF Project Manager Jim Heumann and on the right is City of Saxman Mayor & Ketchikan Borough Mayor Joe Williams.
Photo by Marie L. Monyak

The timeline was most noticeable as it projected a completion of the Saxman Ferry Terminal in late 2007 or early 2008. As this project has been talked about for some time, it appears that it may be realized within only a few more years.

In 2000, the State began discussions with the City of Saxman about construction of an Alaska Marine Highway System ferry terminal and service to Metlakatla. With the Waldon Point Road project well underway on Annette Island, the idea of providing fast service from Ketchikan to Metlakatla appeared to be a project worthy of the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities (DOT&PF).

In November of 2005, members of the DOT&PF met with members of the City of Saxman to answer questions and receive input regarding the project. At that time, the City of Saxman, although they voiced some reservations, expressed a desire to locate the ferry terminal at their seaport facility.

During that time the conceptual designs were drawn up. The rest of the project is moving forward in a timely fashion with the environmental process due for completion within the next few months, the permitting completed by the end of this summer, the right-of-way acquisition accomplished by fall and constructions bids advertised in November of this year.

Construction is expected to begin on the terminal next year but everything hinges on what the people of Saxman decide. The State wants to buy the land at Saxman Seaport but several residents at Monday's meeting expressed serious concerns about a reversion clause being included in the terms of the sale.

One member of the audience stated that should anything happen in the future that would cause the state to abandon the terminal, she wanted to be assured that the property would revert back to the City of Saxman and wanted to know what the city would be expected to pay. Several members in the audience agreed saying they wanted a reversion clause in writing and felt certain that the City of Saxman would not have the funds in the city coffers to buy back the land at the same cost that the State is expected to pay for it.

DOT&PF Project Manager Jim Heumann made it clear that it was the residents that asked the State to locate the AMHS ferry terminal in Saxman and he said in agreement with those present, "The City of Saxman has plenty left to discuss with its City Council and amongst its residents."

Andy Hughes, DOT&PF Southeast Planning Chief, Ray Preston, DOT&PF Right-of-Way, and Heumann, pointed out the many improvements that would benefit the City of Saxman. Not only would they construct a small terminal building but they would be improving the access road and removing the railroad track and ties.

jpg Map

Map courtesy of AMHS
Click on the map to view a larger image.

Construction of the new AMHS terminal building would include a sewer system as well as water, electric and phone services. Heumann stated that they would be willing to work with Saxman to convert the marine outfall from the Saxman Warehouse as well.

In addition to the terminal building and access road there would be 47 short term parking spaces provided along with the 600 foot staging lanes. The project calls for the removal of 5 existing dolphins and the installation of 4 new lead-in dolphins at the entrance to the basin besides a new mooring float along the northern shore.

Concerns were mentioned about the marine environment and disturbances to the eco-system. One member of the audience spoke about the subsistence use of the area. Jane Gendron, DOT&PF Project Environmental Coordinator eased their fears explaining that there would be no fill added nor any dredging in the area and Heumann reminded everyone that currently the Saxman Warehouse has marine outfall discharge in the subsistence area that could be removed with the construction of the new sewer system thereby improving the area substantially.

Later in the presentation, Heumann also brought up the idea that Saxman could capitalize on the project by providing long term parking, restaurants or a hotel. The possibilities are endless when one looks at the number of people traveling to and from Metlakatla.

Hughes, the Planning Chief, threw out some interesting numbers for the audience to think about. At a time when the Alaska Marine Highway System is coming under fire for low ridership and high operating costs, the Metlakatla runs are showing a marked improvement in the last year.

From April 2004 to March 2005, the M/V Lituya made scheduled runs between Metlakatla and Ketchikan and carried 10,820 passengers and 3,554 vehicles. When a second run was added so passengers could make a round trip in one day, ridership increased considerably to 20,249 passengers and 6,827 vehicles which was an 87 percent increase in passengers and 92 percent increase in vehicles. What all these numbers translate to is reduced operating expenses which lowered the State's subsidy for the Lituya, from $400,000 in 2004 to only $130,000 in 2005.

The projected cost for the design, right-of-way and construction of the Saxman terminal stands at 7.75 million dollars with 6 million dollars coming from the federal fuel tax with the remaining balance paid for by the state.

Heumann reminded everyone that the purpose of the new terminal is to shorten the transit time between Ketchikan and Metlakatla. He stated that for 10 to 12 years there have been a number of agencies; the state, military, Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Metlakatla Indian Community involved in the 40 million dollar, 14.7 mile Waldon Point Road project. Upon completion of the road which is expected in two years, the state will be constructing a AMHS ferry terminal at Annette Bay which will further shorten the trip to and from Ketchikan.

Currently the run time from Ketchikan to Metlakatla is 90 minutes. Upon completion of the Saxman terminal that time would be trimmed down to 65 minutes. When the Waldon Point Road is complete and the terminal at Annette Bay constructed, the run from Saxman to Annette Bay will be a mere 18 minutes! With the addition of the new terminals the frequency of the daily runs would increase accordingly from the current 2 round trips to as many as 6 round trips in a day.

But first the road on Annette must be completed. The military fully expect to have their portion of the project completed by 2007. With an additional 25 million dollars expected from congress, the balance of the project can be funded out commercially. It's expected that the road will be totally complete and drivable by the fall of 2008.

The Metlakatla Indian Community had sent William Wilson as their authorized delegate to speak on their behalf along with Judith Eaton, Executive Tribal Secretary. Wilson spoke about the importance of the new terminals and the shorter transit times for his community stating that Metlakatla is fully behind the project.

The addition of the two AMHS ferry terminals and shorter transit time will benefit Metlakatla greatly and the City of Saxman, with a little vision, will have the opportunity to fill its city coffers from new enterprises directly related to the terminal and its passengers.


Marie L. Monyak is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.
A freelance writer is an uncommitted independent writer
from whom a publisher, such as SitNews, can order articles for a fee.
For information about freelance writing services and costs contact Marie at mlmx1[at]

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