Monday, March 31, 2008

Alaska ferries to use BC Ferries dock until AMHS dock is repaired

While the City of Prince Rupert gets to work on repairs to the Alaska Marine Highway dock (and maybe some PR repairs for their relations with the Alaska Ferry Service), the Alaskan Ferries will be coming ashore via the BC Ferry dock at Fairview Bay.

As we posted last night here on the Podunk, the AMHS only last week received final word that the Rupert dock was no longer safe for use by the Alaska ferries that regularly call on the Fairview terminal, this was perhaps a wee bit of an irritant for our Alaska neighbours. As the tone of their press release suggested that they had made more than one attempt to find out the status of the dock over the last few months.

The impression left by their press release is that they were not seeming to receive the kind of feedback that they were hoping for from the city. A surprising thing, considering how much the city has tried to build the Alaska Ferries into our total tourism package.

The Daily News worked out some background on the story for Monday's paper including an interesting note that the issue was apparently to be introduced to council at last weeks meeting, however due to a lack of available councillors (only three apparently were willing and able to attend last Tuesday's session) the issue got bumped.

We're still a little puzzled here at the Podunkian listening post as to how the council meeting ended up at the cancelled stage, who was ready to get to work and who wasn't and more importantly if that meeting ever was made up. Surely there must be some newsworthy tidbits from last weeks non event, that the local media might be able to fill in some of the blanks on.

It would seem from this story that at least one bit of open city business seemed to slip through some cracks, considering the fact that Prince Rupert is finding out all of the details on the state of the Alaska Ferry Dock and our relations with AMHS through Alaskan sources.

Safety concerns put ferry service in jeopardy
By Leanne Ritchie
The Daily News
Monday, March 31, 2008
Pages one and three

In a triumph of cooperation and adaptability, the Alaska ferry will keep sailing, despite a major problem with its dock in Prince Rupert.

The Alaska Marine Highway System (AMHS) found out late last week that its was unable to dock its ferries in Prince Rupert after the city was forced to shut down its mooring facility because of safety concerns.

Roger Wetherell, chief communications officer with Alaska's Department of Transportation, said two sailings were canceled between Ketchikan, Alaska, and Prince Rupert, because of the problem after the city learned that the facility was unsafe.

However, the AMHS was given permission to try to use the B.C. Ferries terminal which is located next to the AMHS terminal and following tests this weekend, the AMHS found it could successfully dock and use the ramp system, so the Alaska ferry will be able to use the facilities while repairs are carried out to its dock.

"The vessel M/V Matanuska is transiting northbound from Washington and is scheduled to arrive in Prince Rupert Sunday at 3 a.m. and at that time, it will attempt to moor at the B.C. Ferries dock because we have received permission from B.C. Ferries to use their mooring facilities," said Wetherell before the successful trial on the weekend.

"The key factor is whether or not if our vessels will fit and the ramps will accommodate our vessels to the shore. We are sending a team of experts down to met the Matanuska when it arrives Sunday morning to analyze the situation and see if we can use the facility safely. If we can, great, we will use that as long as we are able to and if not we will go from there."

He noted the AMHS has been expressing its structural concerns to the City of Prince Rupert and the mayor's office for at least three months.

"We had repeatedly expressed concerns to the city and mayor's office and asked about having those concerns looked into through the means of an engineer's report. We wanted a study done to have the facilities checked for safety purposes."

"If there was any reason these facilities would not support the safety of passengers and crew we wanted to know to what degree," Wetherell said.

"They sent us those findings and they have since indicated to us they have shut down the use of facility. Since then, we have had to strategize and find an alternative means of mooring our vessels in Prince Rupert."

In the meantime, tourism season is just around the corner and the AMHS system has scheduled increased stops in Prince Rupert this summer, going from two stops in the winter to four stops per week starting in May.

"There would be increased ridership in Prince Rupert between May and September. We know that there are confirmed bookings between May and September that include 8,000 passengers and 3,000 vehicles and that, obviously, is in the balance," he said Friday. No one from the city, or the mayor's office was available for comment on Friday. See upcoming editions of the Daily News for more.

The city did have an engineer's survey conducted on the facility, although it was never presented to council. Council was set to receive a small report recommending the city amend its agreement with the AMHS last Monday and allow the AMHS to use the B.C. Ferries dock, but with only three council members in attendance, they didn't have quorum.

Fixing the dock facilities is on the list of this year's projects for the city, although it is unknown whether those plans will need to be expanded since receiving the engineers' report.

The city started the work on the dock in 2006 after the Alaska Marine Highway System noted extensive damage to pilings caused by a winter storm. However, the city was unable to complete the work in 2007 after the budget shortfall when it over-estimated its revenue by $5 million.

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