Waiting On Final Summer Ferry Schedule, Unalaskans Concerned Over Draft With 4 Aleutian Sailings

Feb 5, 2020

The M/V Tustumena, photographed in Cold Bay. The state ferry calls on 13 communities along its summer route between Unalaska and Homer.
Credit Laura Kraegel/KUCB

Following budget cuts to the Alaska Marine Highway System, Unalaskans are anxious to see how many ferry sailings will be available this summer.

The state's draft schedule shows four trips for the M/V Tustumena along the southwest route — far fewer than the eight to 10 scheduled in recent years.

"They've got us tentatively scheduled for two ferries in May and two in September," said Vice Mayor Dennis Robinson.

Robinson said he hopes those numbers will increase when the final schedule is released later this month.

During a legislative visit to Juneau, Robinson testified to more than 20 state lawmakers about the importance of the ferry system to the Aleutian region.

"Urged them to at least have a once-a-month sailing, instead of [two] right at the beginning and [two] right at the end," he said. "It makes things easier for the folks who are channeling the chain."

Fewer sailings would also reduce communities' access to freight, as well as the economic boost that ferry visitors provide.

Last summer, at the nonprofit Museum of the Aleutians, Dr. Ginny Hatfield estimated that passengers doubled revenue on ferry days, between ticket sales and gift shop purchases.

"That's a really important income stream," said Hatfield. "It's a great way for the museum to become independent — by having the sales, admissions, and people come into the museum and contribute."

In a statement, the Alaska Department of Transportation said the draft schedule is based on expected funding for fiscal year 2021.

"The operating plan is designed to meet community service needs while staying within available funding levels and maintaining regulatory and safety standards for the vessels," said the statement. 

For fiscal year 2020, Gov. Mike Dunleavy vetoed $5 million in ferry funding that lawmakers attempted to add back after they reduced its state support by $40 million.