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With budget cuts in place, Alaska announces its ferry plans for Bellingham this winter

Alaska ferry system brings passengers to Bellingham

The southern terminus of the Alaska Marine Highway System is in Bellingham, Wash. Alaska ferries allow for walk-on and vehicle passengers.
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The southern terminus of the Alaska Marine Highway System is in Bellingham, Wash. Alaska ferries allow for walk-on and vehicle passengers.

Despite significant budget cuts, the Alaska ferry plans to offer regular service out of Bellingham this winter.

The Alaska Marine Highway System release a proposed operating plan for this winter. The MV Matanuska will sail out of Bellingham three times a month in November, December, March and April, and four times a month in January and February.

The ferry will dock at the Bellingham Cruise Terminal on Wednesdays this winter according to the proposed plan, which is currently going through a public comment period.

The Matanuska is a smaller vessel that the M/V Columbia, which has been a regular part of the Bellingham run. The Matanuska has a capacity to carry 499 passengers and 88 vehicles, while the Columbia can carry 499 passengers and 134 vehicles. The Columbia will be used for the Bellingham run until the end of September.

Using the Matanuska and tying up the Columbia this winter will save about $400,000 a month, said Aurah Landau, spokeswoman for the agency. It’s part of a plan to cut costs because the Alaska Marine Highway System is receiving $43.6 million less than it did the previous fiscal year, according to the operating plan.

The decision was an acceptable result for Bellingham and that it “certainly could have been much worse,” said Rob Fix, executive director at the Port of Bellingham.

“The process has proven that the Bellingham run is important to Alaskans,” Fix said.

The future of the ferry in Bellingham was in doubt earlier this year as the Alaska state government looked at making deep cuts to the budget. It appeared that there would be no Bellingham run at all this winter.

Going forward Alaska is working on a feasibility study about the ferry system. Fix said it is hard to predict what the current study will reveal, but he remains optimistic that Alaska residents appreciate the Bellingham connection.

“That will go a long way towards maintaining the run,” Fix said.

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Dave Gallagher has covered the Whatcom County business community since 1998. Retail, real estate, jobs and port redevelopment are among the topics he covers.
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