Tustumena service delays hurt Kodiak businesses

KODIAK, Alaska — Locals in the city of Kodiak say the state’s ongoing delays in returning the area’s main ferry to service is hurting businesses.

The delay in the Tustumena’s return is forcing travelers to cancel lodging and look for alternative ways to get to the island. The delays are affecting hotels, restaurants and stores that rely on the ferry for transportation and products, the Kodiak Daily Mirror reported Monday

Discover Kodiak, the convention and visitors bureau for Kodiak Island, said one Kodiak hotel has reported a 27 percent drop in business. 

The drop is attributed to the ferry, according to Discover Kodiak’s interim director, Ginny Austerman.

Discover Kodiak’s board of directors is sending a letter to Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell about the local impact.

The ferry Kennicott has occasionally filled in. But locals say they need better ferry service.

Among those feeling the pain is Darlene Turner, owner of A Smiling Bear Bed and Breakfast. Turner said she has had seven cancellations this summer — each worth about $1,000. She blames the Tustumena’s absence for her losses.

“This probably represents a tenth of my business, maybe more,” Turner said. “We’re talking huge amounts. It’s a disaster. When you don’t make that much money because it’s a seasonal business … it’s a big deal.”

Also affected are Kodiak residents, including people who planned off-island vacations, shopping trips or doctor appointments around the ferry schedule. 

Mike Murray, manager of the Safeway store, said the delays have affected shopping for many, including people on the island’s rural communities. When Port Lions and Ouzinkie were added to the Tustumena’s schedule, people found a cheaper way to transport food in bulk.

“It brought quite a few people from the villages who would come in and shop,” Murray said.

Safeway regularly brings in containers of perishable food through Horizon Lines, but the store also uses the ferry to ship an extra container of items like produce. Now, when the Kennicott isn’t available, the extra produce is flown in, which Murray said is having an impact on sales.

The board of the Kodiak Chamber of Commerce plans to discuss at its July 29 meeting a resolution to ask the Alaska Marine Highway System for better ferry service.