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Supply chain issues delay Kennicott’s return to Kodiak until late April

kennicott-smiley.jpg
Sage Smiley
/
KSTK
The M/V Kennicott leaving Wrangell on Jan. 8, 2021.

Communities across southern Alaska have been dealing with intermittent ferry service since fall, and Kodiak Island is the latest to face an extended hiatus of regular service.

The Department of Transportation announced last week that maintenance for the Kennicott has been delayed, and she won’t be placed back into service until April 21.

The Tustumena, the other ship to serve the island, also is in the shipyard and won’t be back to port in Kodiak until late spring.

The Kennicott is one of the largest ships in the Alaska Marine Highway System’s fleet. Its last sailing to Kodiak was January 3, and it was supposed to return to the island on March 20. Kodiak isn’t the only community impacted by the delay.

“It won’t be visiting Kodiak, Homer, Prince William Sound, Southeast Alaska or Bellingham,” said the Department of Transportation’s Sam Dapcevich. “It will be in the shipyard for about 98 days.”

That’s problematic for residents of Kodiak, where winter weather can also make flights on and off the island unreliable.

And it’s a big deal for the 200 or so locals in the village of Port Lions on the island’s northwest coast, according to the mayor Dorinda Kewan – particularly heading into summer.

“We have the commercial salmon fleet that needs to get people and supplies in and out of the village, we have our lodge and businesses that need to get their supplies in for the summer,” Kewan said.

Seasonal residents will also need to wait until mid-April at the earliest to make it home. Port Lions extended its dock specifically to accommodate the Kennicott back in 2014, Kewan said, hoping it would increase ferry visits to the village.

But the longer-than-expected return to service is partially out of the DOT’s control due to global supply chain issues.

“We’re seeing that, just like everywhere else, we’re having issues with vendor delays, items that we need for the overhaul work aren’t showing up as expected, taking longer or finding alternatives to get what we need,” Dabcevich said.

Louise Stutes is a Republican from Kodiak and the Speaker of the State House of Representatives. She said lapses in ferry service to the island aren’t unusual, but there’s a silver lining to the most recent delays.

“I guess I’m trying to look at it optimistically — I am delighted that they are finally doing some of this maintenance on these vessels that needed to be done,” she said.

Governor Dunleavy and the DOT announced a lengthy commitment last month to “re-energize” the Alaska Marine Highway System. That plan includes replacing the aging Tustumena, which is the oldest in the ferry’s fleet, at a cost of upwards of $200 million. Although, she isn’t expected to be placed into service until 2027.

“We’ve gotten DOT’s attention, things are getting better,” said Speaker Stutes. “It seems that DOT has come to the realization that the Marine Highway is not going away, it is an integral part of our transportation system, so consequently they seem to be working with communities in a more positive manner.”

Back in Port Lions, Mayor Kewan agreed that between funding from Juneau and federal infrastructure money coming from Washington D.C., there’s reason to be optimistic about the future of the Marine Highway System.

“The outlook was a lot bleaker a couple years ago, and there’s been awfully good work done at the political level, so we’re very hopeful for the future,” she said.

Until then, all they can do is wait.