Ferry system to stop winter service to Kodiak Island

KODIAK An Alaska ferry system has released a new schedule that stops service to and from Kodiak Island in the winter, officials said.

The Alaska Marine Highway System announced the schedule Thursday, but it does not list ferry operations between Jan. 11 to April 24, The Kodiak Daily Mirror reported Thursday.

Each year, transportation stops for a period of time for vessel examination and mechanical maintenance. But this year the ferries are in overhaul simultaneously because of a $43 million reduction in the marine highway budget, officials said. An amendment to put $5 million back into the marine highway budget was passed by the Legislature, but it was vetoed by Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy.

“It’s crippling to rural Alaska,” said Republican Rep. Louise Stutes, who introduced the amendment. “I don’t know if (the governor) even considers rural Alaska part of Alaska with some of the effects his cuts have made in relation to rural Alaska.”

During the routine maintenance period, fish industries used Alaska Airlines combination planes that carry freight and passengers until they were discontinued in 2016, officials said. Since, the ferry system replaced the use of these flights to deliver fresh catch to other parts of the state.

Extending the closure period could hinder business, owners said.

The ferry was an affordable way to grocery shop and visit the hospital on the state’s mainland, residents said. Now officials are encouraging them to use planes and boats they consider to be unreliable and dangerous in winter conditions.

In addition to the schedule gap, the transportation department announced they are expected to begin a new pricing system that would increase ferry ticket fares during high-demanded times, officials said. That means reservation fees are expected to increase as departure days approach and as special events and holidays near.

“This is an attempt to increase revenue and become a more self-sustaining system,” said Meadow Bailey, Department of Transportation communications director.