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An opportunity to testify on the state's new course for replacing its aging ferry fleet presents itself Thursday.
State Department of Transportation officials worked over the past several years toward building a new 350-foot Alaska Class ferry, indicating every effort would be made to build it at the state-owned Ketchikan Shipyard.
Then, on Dec. 4, Gov. Sean Parnell, in town with DOT Commissioner Pat Kemp and other state officials, announced the Alaska Class ferry had been scrapped because of an escalating price. Parnell and Kemp told the Greater Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce that the state could build two smaller ferries for the $120 million provided for the one big ferry. However, no cost analysis for the smaller ferries existed at the time. Nor has one been made available now.
State officials maintain drawings can be prepared and the construction of one of the smaller ferries can begin within a year. But the lack of cost analysis and conflicting stories as to what has prompted the change — rising costs, an interest in accommodating a Juneau road project or some other unnamed-as-yet possibility — has caused a stir throughout Southeast Alaska and among the legislators who represent it.
State officials also addressed Juneau's Chamber of Commerce and the Marine Transportation Advisory Board.
Clearly, the abrupt change in course, coupled with the lack of evidence that two small ships can be built for the price of one big one, has unsettled the region.
It appears more information is needed. Perhaps the public will be able to assist state officials in quickly setting the best direction for the ferry fleet replacement project, avoiding delays in promised ship-building in Ketchikan.
A joint hearing of the Senate and House Transportation committees begins at 1 p.m. Thursday. Ketchikan testimony may be given at the Legislative Information Office, which has relocated to the building housing the Ketchikan Gateway Borough at 1900 First Ave. — the old White Cliff Elementary School. An overview of Alaska aviation also will be presented.
Both topics are of keen interest to Ketchikan and the region.