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By MARK D. MILLER
Representatives from the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities went before a joint meeting of the House and Senate Transportation committees Thursday to make their case for the latest "day boat" concept for the Alaska-class ferry.
Deputy Commissioner Reuben Yost and Alaska Marine Highway System General Manager John Falvey gave a presentation on the design concept report released Tuesday, while fielding questions from legislators led by Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Dennis Egan, D-Juneau, and his House counterpart, Rep. Peggy Wilson, R-Wrangell.
The "Day Boat ACF" described in the report would be a ship of about 280 feet in length, with a passenger capacity of at least 300 and a vehicle capacity of at least 53, capable of traveling at a speed of about 16 knots.
The report also includes rough specifications and schematics for a "Roadmap" concept vessel.
"We took the mission requirements and then looked at the vessel requirements and then came up with a Roadmap design," Yost explained. "And I want to emphasize that a Roadmap design is just one example of how you could meet the mission requirements. So it doesn’t mean that what you’re seeing here is what the vessel will look like. It means it could look like this, but it will look fairly similar in terms of length, the number of cars it could carry, the number of passengers, the fact that it will have a clamshell-style bow, it’ll have stern center doors."
Yost concluded, "But in order to come up with a cost estimate, we need to have a design that we can then evaluate the space, the amount of steel it takes to enclose those spaces and come up with what’s called a parametric estimate."
Earlier plans for the Alaska-class ferry saw it as a 350-foot ship capable of fulfilling many of the duties now performed by the AMHS fleet’s mainline vessels.
Amid escalating cost estimates for the ferry, the DOT&PF changed direction late last year at the direction of Gov. Sean Parnell. State officials contend that two smaller, simpler "shuttle ferries" can be built for less than the price of one of the 350-foot ships.
"Based on Washington’s experience and other places where two identical vessels have been constructed by the same shipyard, one right after the other, we are projecting 10 percent cost savings on the second vessel," Yost said.
According to the design concept report, the first ferry would cost $49.2 million, while the second would cost $44.3 million.
The preliminary total project cost estimate is $107.2 million, less than the $117 million the state says remains in the budget for the Alaska-class ferry.
One design element that has been the object of controversy is the open-roof design concept.
The design concept report requires that a firm designing the ship — as planned, Seattle-based Elliott Bay Design Group, Falvey said Thursday — must look into having a partially open aft car deck.
"We will look at both a partially open aft deck and a fully enclosed deck," said Falvey. He said a partially open deck would make the ship less heavy, save on construction costs, provide a way to easily get water out of the car deck in case any came in through the removable bow doors and bulkheads behind them, and reduce the need for heating and ventilation.
"One part of the car deck would be exposed, but it would be surrounded on all sides by an 18-foot bulwark, which with the door being approximately six feet above the water line means the total height of the enclosure is 24 feet," Yost said. "We’re basically talking about it potentially being open to the sky, but well protected from seawater, as well as spray."
That did not allay all of Egan’s concerns.
"What happens when that ship has to turn around and the spray comes into the open stern?" Egan asked. "I mean, that really worries me. It seems to me like you’d have to get a whole bunch of Marine Highway employees with blowtorches to thaw out the cars so they could get off."
"First of all, you’re talking about a fairly extreme situation," said Yost.
"Well, we have extreme situations," Egan shot back.
Most of the incidences of ferries like the M/V LeConte aborting a run and turning around in Lynn Canal are due to spray freezing on lifeboats in a way that jeopardizes their ability to launch in case of emergency, Yost said.
"I understand that the route between Metlakatla and Ketchikan is not the same, but … we have operated the (M/V) Lituya in wind speeds up to 75 knots with a completely open car deck in Ketchikan in the winter time," added Falvey.
Egan replied, "But you don’t have wind chills of minus 20 (degrees Fahrenheit)."
"But we can (accommodate) some freezing spray also, during a very cold winter snowstorm," Falvey said. "But you make a good point."
Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka, asked about sea spray coming from behind the ship when it is traveling with the wind.
"That tends to not be as severe of a situation as driving into a headwind," Falvey answered.
A legislator from the Interior, Rep. Doug Isaacson, R-North Pole, sounded doubtful about the design as well.
"It just seems strange that you have the open bay back there," said Isaacson. "It sounds like it’s going to cause more trouble in the future."
"Well, we’re going to analyze that," Yost responded.
In response to a question from Wilson, Yost and Falvey said the car deck opening would be surrounded by railings to prevent wayward passengers from falling in.
The Alaska-class ferry, as envisioned, would serve Juneau, Haines and Skagway along Lynn Canal, with the two ships working in tandem. One would make a Juneau-Haines loop, while the other would provide roundtrip service between Haines and Skagway twice a day.
Under the day boat concept, crews would work no more than 12 hours in a day, eliminating the need for overnight crew accommodations.
Yost said the ferries may also forgo hot food service in favor of vending machines and microwave ovens.
"One way of keeping the overall cost down is to reduce the number of crew," said Yost.
While Wilson and Kreiss-Tomkins had more questions for the DOT&PF officials, Egan adjourned the meeting after about 70 minutes, citing time constraints.
He said the Senate Transportation Committee will hold another hearing next Tuesday to allow members of the public to testify on the design concept report.
"I thank you, Captain (Falvey) and Deputy Commissioner, for being up front with us, because there’s a lot of questions from the people that we represent, and we appreciate you coming forward and giving us a lot of details," Egan said. "But now all you’ve done is generate more questions."