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Banana Point considered as interim ferry terminal


North End Ferry Authority / Submitted Illustration

This illustration depicts the Rain Forest Ferry's concept for utilizing the Banana Point launch ramp and parking area.

Members of the Petersburg Borough Assembly voted unanimously to write a letter of support for the North End Ferry Authority to use the Banana Point launch ramp as an interim ferry terminal.

The North End Ferry Authority is proceeding with plans to restore passenger and vehicle ferry service between Coffman Cove, Wrangell and South Mitkof to begin in spring 2015.

Previously, North End Ferry Authority officials were working with the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities (ADOT&PF) to adapt the South Mitkof Ferry Terminal for use with their vessel, Rainforest Islands Ferry.

"However, ADOTP&F was not able to proceed with adaptation both because of its costs and the possibility it would preclude terminal use by Alaska Marine Highway System and Inter-island Ferry Authority vessels," Kent Miller, North End Ferry Authority's manager, said in a letter to the assembly.

The company has now drafted plans to use the Banana Point launch ramp as an interim terminal in the hopes that the service's success would garner future ADOT&PF support.

"During that interim we hope to work with DOT successfully and eventually be successful in convincing them this is going to be a steady on-going service that's worth improving South Mitkof Terminal to accommodate," Miller told the assembly.

The Banana Point launch ramp is owned and operated by the Alaska Department of Natural Resources and maintained, in part, by Petersburg Borough's Public Works. DNR's permission is required for the North End Ferry Authority's project to proceed.

Miller asked the assembly on Monday for both their general support and to write a letter to DNR in support of the project.

Though assembly members were generally supportive of the project, there was concern about increased costs to maintain the facility and increased traffic at the launch ramp.

Public Works staff periodically visits the site to collect trash and pump sewage. DNR reimburses the borough for these services, Borough Manager Steve Giesbrecht said.

Assembly member Bob Lynn asked who would be responsible for the extra costs associated with running the facility if ferry service were to be instated.

"We would make either a pitch to DNR for additional funding or to Rainforest ferry themselves to pick up for the extra costs we might incur," said Public Works Director Karl Hagerman.

Miller said, "We want to pay our own way, so you can count on us to work with your staff in providing a good formula for that."

Assembly members Cindi Lagoudakis and Lynn both inquired about how the facility, which has limited parking, would be able to accommodate the increased traffic.

"I know that any intrusion on a facility like Banana Point, which is one valuable facility for use by local recreational boaters and others is always a sensitive issue and one has to be concerned that the uses are compatible and not disruptive," Miller said.

He added that there would only be about an hour and half where the launch point area was impacted at all and a half hour where boaters would not have access to the ramp due to loading and unloading the Rainforest Islands Ferry.

Assembly member John Havrilek said he hopes the ferry will work out because, "the long range state plan for our area...pretty much de-emphasizes ferries at all, which doesn't make sense for an island, so your service may be the only thing we ever have."

He added that the ferry could be utilized for student athletics and events and potentially save parents and the town money on transportation.

The Rainforest Islands Ferry will have a capacity for 28 passengers and seven vehicles as well as space for several motorcycles, kayaks, canoes, or bicycles and space for baggage and freight.

Miller predicts total ridership to and from South Mitkof will be about 6,000 passengers a year and about 2,000 vehicles. Fares between Coffman Cove and Petersburg would be $45 for the average passenger and $115 for the average vehicle. A trip to Wrangell would cost $25 for passengers, while vehicles would cost $65.


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