Bellingham port celebrates 50th anniversary of Alaska ferry system

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDSeptember 9, 2013 

MV Kennicott Alaska ferry

The MV Kennicott dwarfs a pair of kayakers as it is moored at the Bellingham Cruise Terminal in Fairhaven on Saturday, Aug. 31, 2013 in Bellingham. Bellingham will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Alaska Marine Highway with a Travel & Trade Show, tours of the MV Kennicott and activities for kids.

ANDY BRONSON — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD Buy Photo

People can enjoy a walking tour of an Alaskan ferry during a Bellingham event celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Alaska Marine Highway System.

The event Saturday, Sept. 14, will also feature an Alaska travel and trade show from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Bellingham Cruise Terminal, with representatives from nearly a dozen Alaskan communities and businesses.

"If you want to plan a trip to Alaska, there is no better time to find out from each of these communities what they have to offer," said Carolyn Casey, director of external affairs for the Port of Bellingham, which operates the terminal.

Alaska's ferry system has had its southern terminus in Fairhaven for nearly 24 years, ever since the Cruise Terminal opened for business Oct. 3, 1989, with the arrival of the MV Columbia.

On Sept. 14, tours of another Alaskan ferry, the MV Kennecott, will begin at 10 a.m. People will need photo ID to board the vessel.

The travel and trade show will have representatives of a boat charter company in southeast Alaska, a business research and consulting firm, and several Alaskan communities - Haines, Homer, Juneau, Ketchikan, Kodiak Island, Sitka, Unalaska and Wrangell.

There also will be music, speeches by dignitaries, a community photo, a chance for kids to make miniature wooden ferries, and anniversary cake (but no baked Alaska).

HISTORY IN THE MAKING

The day before, at 5 p.m. Friday, Sept. 13, people can watch a free screening of "Alaska's Marine Highway," a documentary by KTOO, a nonprofit TV and radio network in Juneau. The film will be shown at Pickford Film Center, 1318 Bay St.

Considering that the Alaska ferry has been quietly operating in Bellingham for 24 years, some people might forget that its birth here was rather rocky. While port leaders and others were ecstatic about moving the southern terminus from Seattle to Bellingham, members of a grass-roots group called Concerned Southside Citizens worried whether the impacts outweighed the benefits.

With the port facing a deadline to build the terminal, the group filed an appeal of the project with the state's Shoreline Hearings Board. A settlement between two sides enabled the project to continue, but the port had to agree to a full environmental impact study of the $10 million project. The port also agreed to protect Padden Creek lagoon and offset traffic impacts, among other requirements.

With the ferry a new presence in Bellingham, people wondered, and sometimes worried, what the impact would be.

In 2008, a study of the economic impacts of the Port of Bellingham estimated that the presence of the Alaska ferry created a total of 32 local jobs and generated $771,000 in wages and salaries and nearly $3 million in business revenue.

"The economic impact is more for the community than for the port," Casey said.

FERRY CELEBRATION

Friday, Sept. 13, Pickford Film Center

5 p.m., free showing of documentary about the Alaska Marine Highway System.

Saturday, Sept. 14, Bellingham Cruise Terminal

10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., tours of the MV Kennicott.

10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Alaska travel and trade show.

11:30 to noon and 1 to 2:30 p.m., Clearbrook Dixie Band.

Noon to 12:30 p.m., speeches by dignitaries, community photo.

12:30 to 4 p.m., anniversary cake.

1 to 4 p.m., ferry-building kits for children.

Reach Dean Kahn at 360-715-2291 or dean.kahn@bellinghamherald.com.

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