Tustumena return delayed until July 18

Rusted or pitted steel discovered during the M/V Tustumena’s overhaul will mean another delay in the 53-year-old state ferry’s return to service — this time to 5 p.m. July 18, when the Tustumena returns to Homer. Now undergoing work at the Vigor Ketchikan shipyard, workers discovered the rusted or pitted steel, called steel wastage, in the engine room. The ferry went in for its overhaul on March 13.

For Homer, the delay of the Tustumena’s return means normal twice-weekly runs to Seldovia and Kodiak will be cut to a weekly Sunday run by the M/V Kennicott.

As it has been doing while Tustumena was being overhauled, the Kennicott will continue to provide weekly ferry service.

The delay also means cancellation of four scheduled runs to villages in the Aleutian Island chain. On Tuesday, the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities announced alternative transportation for freight to those communities. Coastal Transportation will carry cargo on an “as able” basis from Homer and Kodiak to Aleutian Island destinations. Alaska Marine Highway System customers will get the same rate as on the ferry.

Unfortunately, Coastal Transportation cannot take passengers. Other state ferries are not available to fill in the Aleutian Island route.

“On behalf of the Alaska Marine Highway System and impacted Alaskans, I am deeply grateful to Coastal Transportation for stepping up to help Alaskans with this vital transportation service,” Gov. Bill Walker said.

If steel wastage is found, it has to be cut out, and if it is not at a required thickness, it has to be replaced with new steel, said DOT/PF spokesperson Jill Reese.

In the fiscal year 2018 budget now under consideration in the Alaska Legislature, Walker included a capital request to build a ferry to replace the Tustumena.

He requested an appropriation of $22 million, the state’s share of the $244 million cost of a new ferry.

The $222 million balance will come from federal transportation funds. Jenny Martin, an aide to Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, said that capital request remains in the budget so far.

For more information on ferry reservations, contact the Alaska Marine Highway System at 800-642-0066 or visit ferryalaska.com. Customers wishing to rebook cargo with Coastal Transportation can call 800-544-2580 and let agents know they are displaced ferry customers.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.