Four times a week, Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter, beginning in 2015, the Rainforest Islands Ferry’s new public passenger/vehicle service will connect Wrangell, Petersburg – via South Mitkof – and Prince of Wales Island – via Coffman Cove. Departing every Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday.
The ferry’s arrivals and departures will be scheduled during convenient travel hours, and will connect with Alaska Airlines and the Alaska Marine Highway at Petersburg and Wrangell. Passenger and vehicle fares, transit times and port calls, are planned for Spring, Summer, and Fall 2015, and Winter 2015-2016.
I've done some maps research and the top end of the route is Banana Point, which is on Mitkof Island, connected by road to Petersburg. - Banana Point to Wrangell (on Wrangell Island) is a 1 hour sailing.
- Wrangell to Coffman Cove (on Prince of Wales Island) is a 3 hour sailing.
This is a small ship with a landing-craft style bow. See photo on the above noted web-page.
There are 7 different levels of vehicle fare, so vehicle length (even the difference between a Ford Focus and a Ford Explorer) makes a difference for the fare.
I can't tell if this service has already started, or has not yet started.
New ferry 'pit stops' in Southeast Alaska aimed at satisfying feds Pat Forgey September 14, 2014
JUNEAU -- Prince of Wales Island is slated to get Alaska Marine Highway System ferry service next summer, but the primary goal isn't to improve transportation.
The reason the ferry LeConte will start serving the island, as well as an unused ferry terminal south of Petersburg on Mitkof Island, is to bail the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities out of a tight spot and potentially save the state millions of dollars.
The two unused terminals were built with federal money more than a decade ago, at a time when Alaska's congressional delegation was able to bring big bucks to the state for projects of sometimes questionable economic viability.
The Inter-Island Ferry Authority, created in the late 1990s by several smaller Southeast Alaska communities, now runs service between Hollis on Prince of Wales and Ketchikan. It once ran service between Coffman Cove on Prince of Wales and the South Mitkof Terminal. Petersburg is also on Mitkof Island, and is connected by road to the South Mitkof Terminal.
But if the state of Alaska isn't using the money from the Federal Transit Administration to provide ferry service, the feds are going to want the money back, said Jeremy Woodrow, spokesman for the department.
"The purpose of the Coffman Cove-South Mitkof sailing is to meet the federal requirements attached to the funds used to build the South Mitkof facility," he said.
The terminal was intended for use by the Inter-Island Ferry Authority, but the federal appropriation went to the state of Alaska.
"They were built through the state, so the state has got their foot in the trap, so to speak. I bet they wish they didn't," said Dennis Watson, general manager of IFA.
The situation with the terminals is similar to that of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough with the ferry Susitna, which never went into service and which the borough is now trying to sell. The FTA is seeking the return of money that was spent there, including on an unused ferry terminal.
The Alaska Marine Highway System will provide the service to Prince of Wales Island by re-routing the ferry LeConte from its regular run to Hoonah once a month.
In Southeast, the IFA had attempted to provide ferry service between Coffman Cove and South Mitkof, as well as Wrangell, from 2006 to 2008. The ridership did not justify the service, Watson said.
"It was pathetic, it was terrible," he said.
Part of that was due to change in state ferry schedules, with which the IFA had hoped could make better connections, Watson said.
When the IFA abandoned its northern route between Coffman Cove and South Mitkof, it looked at selling the ferry, also funded by the federal government. It abandoned that idea when it found it would have to pay back the money it took to build it.
Instead, the IFA uses the ferry as a backup for its existing southern route service, now its only route.
The state Marine Transportation Advisory Board wasn't consulted about the new Alaska Marine Highway System service, said Robert Venables, the board's chairman.
Alaska legislators have been questioning ferry subsidies in recent years, especially as coastal legislators from ferry-dependent communities have lost clout to the growing Southcentral area. Among those concerns is older vessels aren't being retired as new vessels are acquired but, instead, are used to expand service.
Venables said he thinks the two new ports of call next summer can be explained to legislators' satisfaction, though.
"If they can see that by squeezing in a pit stop along the way they can avoid a reimbursement fiscal note, that could indeed be quite the savings," he said.
Despite the failure of the Inter-Island Ferry Authority to operate its northern route economically, there may be at least some demand for that service.
A new ferry plan, called the North End Ferry Authority, is seeking to develop its own service from Coffman Cove to South Mitkof and Wrangell, and plans on doing it economically with a used landing craft and a crew of two.
But part of making that service successful is keeping costs low, and the landing craft will use boat ramps instead of ferry terminals. That means it's not a solution to the terminal payback requirements for the state and Coffman Cove terminals.
"We would have been glad to put those terminals to use for their intended purpose, but our boat doesn't use them. It's just not in the cards for this particular project," said Kent Miller of the North End Ferry Authority.
Miller said he's even looked at Mat-Su's Susitna ferry, now stored in Ketchikan, as a possible solution, but found it far too costly to operate.
"The Susitna is mechanically very complicated, it has a lot of power, and it will require a crew of at least six -- its operational cost is going to be quite high and we found out very quickly that it was not going to fit our business plan," he said.
It too is a landing craft-style vessel and couldn't use the existing ferry terminals without extensive modifications.
News of the new Prince of Wales ferry service was made public when the Alaska Marine Highway System released its summer 2015 schedule for public comment.
Written comments are being accepted until Sept. 23, with a teleconference scheduled for Sept. 25. Information on schedules and how to comment are at FerryAlaska.com.
It would be easy to place this in the general thread for AMHS, or in the IFA thread, but the biggest impact of this move may well be for the Rainforest Islands Ferry.
From the article;
Woodrow says the state will pay about $200,000 for (the IFA to run) the Coffman-Mitkof service. The money is left over from a road and bridge project on the Kenai Peninsula.
This would appear to mean that the State is going to have the IFA run one of the 2 routes that Rainforest was planning on running.
The IFA ran the route for 3 years, and was unsuccessful, so ended the route. Rainforest borrowed money to purchase a smaller vessel, which may be more appropriately sized (although much less convenient to load and unload). Now, it appears that Rainforest will be competing with a full sized ferry in its first full summer of operation.
Is that how the rest of you read this? I would love someone to show me to be incorrect.
I know we only have one or two Alaska correspondents, but I'm wondering if there is any insight into the prospects for this operation.
Western Mariner magazine has an ad from Pacific Boat Brokers, regarding the sale of the Rainforest Islander. I'm fascinated by this little vessel... certainly right down there with Herron Island's private ferry, the Charlie Wells, as the smallest car ferry on the Pacific coast of the U.S. and Canada. The Rainforest Islander is only 75' long, carrying six cars, with a little lounge above. Super cute little boat.
The article I found about the demise of the service from Coffman Cove on the north part of Prince of Wales Island was from the fall of last year, and mentioned something about finding a new ferry. Any further update would be appreciated.