JUNEAU — More than half of Alaska’s ferries will be out of service amid a lack of funds to repair the vessels, transportation officials said.
The state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities announced this week that the Aurora and the LeConte will be pulled from service after inspections revealed required steel replacement, the Juneau Empire reported Friday.
About 24 employees of the Aurora were already notified they would be relieved of duties effective Jan. 14, officials said. The Aurora is set for long-term layup, meaning there are no short-term plans of operation, officials said.
Department officials opted to repair the LeConte because work on the Aurora would be more expensive and take longer and the department did not have enough money to repair both, officials said.
“You can basically trace it back to budget,” department spokesman Sam Dapcevich said. “We just have such a reduced budget.”
The department is working with the budget approved by the Legislature and governor, he said.
LeConte’s estimated $5.2 million repairs follow the ship’s annual overhaul in October, leaving about $4 million for future maintenance, state department officials said. LeConte is expected to return to service May 15, officials said.
As a result, six of the 11 ferries in the Alaska Marine Highway System will be in layup, causing complications for transportation services in Southeast for residents going to medical appointments and companies transporting groceries, machinery and other goods, officials said.
At least four other vessels are in layup including the Malaspina, Columbia, Fairweather and Chenega, officials said. The future of those vessels would be determined following completion and review of a restructuring plan, officials said.
“At this time, the Matanuska, the Tazlina and the Lituya are operating in Southeast,” Dapcevich said, adding that residents living in Pelican and Tenakee will likely be without ferry service during the rest of the winter schedule.
Residents and travelers are encouraged to check the system service page online for information about adjustments to the ferry schedule, officials said.