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First ferry in 3 weeks heads to Bellingham
John Dacus of Texas stands near his truck and camper in the Ketchikan ferry terminal parking lot on Wednesday. Dacus has waited for two weeks to put his truck and camper on the AMHS ferry Columbia to go to Bellingham, Washington. Photo by Sam Allen

Daily News Staff Writer

On Wednesday, the Alaska Marine Highway System had its first vessel depart to Bellingham, Washington in nearly three weeks, after a strike spanning 11 days halted all sailings.

The state reached a tentative agreement with Inlandboatman's Union of the Pacific this past Friday. The agreement was then ratified by the roughly 400 AMHS ferry workers represented by the IBUP. Service resumed Sunday, after being stopped since July 24.

The terms of the negotiated three year contract involve a 1.5% pay raise in 2020 and 2021, and for union members to begin contributing toward their health plan in 2021.

The AMHS refunded fares for 8,570 passengers and 2,468 vehicles for a total of about $3.3 million, according to an email Wednesday afternoon from Alaska Department of Transportation spokesperson Aurah Landau.

This was the first IBU ferry work strike since 1977, when workers picketed for 20 days.

The AMHS ferry Columbia's 3 p.m. Wednesday departure from Ketchikan to Bellingham was the first such trip since the Kennicott departed for Washington on July 22.

In the queue to put his truck and camper on the ferry was John Dacus, of Texas, who first got into the line at the Ketchikan Ferry terminal two weeks ago, and had been waiting ever since.

"Well, I got here ready to board and checked in and parked in this spot right here and that's when I found out about the strike," Dacus said.

Dacus, a retired oil field worker from Texas, says he's been traveling in Alaska for the summer and, fortunately, he has a more relaxed schedule and a camper to sleep in.

"I've been staying here every night, going out during the day and enjoying town," Dacus said.

He said he's gotten to know many of the ferry terminal workers by name, "They've been really friendly, really nice people," said Dacus, "apologetic, though none of this is their fault."

People have stopped by the terminal and offered to let him park his camper on their property.

He said if there was anyone to blame, he might blame the management of the AMHS. He said most marine operations have strong unions, and management should have seen this coming; it's part of their job.

He said most other passengers waiting for the ferry had gone on to Prince Rupert, British Columbia.

When asked why he didn't go that route, Dacus said, "My original plan was to go to Bellingham and I just wanted to stick with it."