Tustumena repairs fail inspection; ferry’s return delayed once again

Make that one more delay for the M/V Tustumena, the 49-year-old, 296-foot vessel of the Alaska Marine Highway System that provides service between Homer, Seldovia and Kodiak Island communities.

Between April and October, the Tustumena also makes stops at Chignik, Sand Point, King Cove, Cold Bay, False Pass, Akutan and Dutch Harbor.

After entering into a federal capital improvement project at the Seward Ship’s Drydock in Seward in November, the ship was scheduled to return to service in April. That date was pushed back to July 23. When inspections revealed repairs made to the ship did not meet regulatory standards, the date was pushed back to Aug. 20.

Redoing the repairs now means another couple of months before the ship returns to service.

“Hopefully the Tustumena will be back in service in October,” said Jeremy Woodrow of the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities. “The (repair) schedule has been indefinite through September, but there are good signs that it will be available in October, if not sooner.”

While that isn’t good news for the city of Seldovia, which is located on the south side of Kachemak Bay and accessibly only by water or air, AMHS is in the process of scheduling barge service “to provide some intermittent relief,” said Woodrow. 

Seldovia City Manager Tim Dillon said one barge run between Seldovia and Homer has been scheduled for Aug. 19, with other dates being considered.

“(Aug. 19) actually went online, so people can start booking on that one, which is good,” said Dillon. “The folks at Alaska Marine Highway System, I feel bad for them, but they’ve been good to work with. They understand our problems.”

Jack Rasmussen of Bering Marine confirmed that the Arctic Seal, a landing barge, has been called into service on Aug. 19.

“It’s just for freight and can haul industrial personnel, not passengers,” said Rasmussen of the lack of passenger accommodations on the barge.

While AMHS has made it possible to reserve barge space for freight, equipment and vehicles on the AMHS website or at Seldovia’s city offices, individuals must remember to book their own transportation on another vessel or plane.

As happened earlier this year, another state ferry, the M/V Kennecott, will be shifted over to make help fill in some of the gaps before the Tustumena’s return. The Kennecott’s design makes it the only one of the state’s nine vessels that can fill in when the Tustumena is out of service. The two ships are designed to accommodate specific dock configurations in the communities serviced and “they’re the only two certified for open-ocean sailing,” said Woodrow. 

The Tustumena’s delay may not be a problem for Jay-Brant General Contractors, who was recently awarded a contract to construct a new building for the city of Seldovia.

“The project is probably delayed anyway about a month, so we haven’t figured out exactly how we’re going to get materials over there,” said Chuck Jay. “It’s probably too early to tell. But they really need to get that thing back into service. The state knows that.”

Ian McGaughey, president of the Seldovia Chamber of Commerce, is one of those individuals with his vehicle stuck in Homer.

“I live right across the street from where I work, so mine is a minor concern and frustrating on a small scale,” said McGaughey. “But imagine what it’s like for business owners. Absolutely something needs to be done. It’s been a big burden on our businesses and residents.

Woodrow said the state has been trying to accommodate every community affected by the delay. 

“The bottom line is it is what it is,” said Dillon. “We don’t want people traveling on a vehicle that’s unsafe. We’re fortunate the state is assisting us and the legislators were very helpful making sure that happens.”

For an update on vessel sailings, visit www.dot.state.ak.us/amhs.

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.jackinsky@homernews.com.