Is ferry feasibility study worth cost?

Posted: Monday, March 11, 2002

Traveling to the south side of Kachemak Bay is like visiting another world. The geology is different, the vegetation is different and the pace of life is different. Part of the mystique of the south side of Kachemak Bay is its semi-remote location, away from the hustle and bustle of the rest of the world.

That's the perspective from "the rest of the world," however, and those who live in Seldovia, Halibut Cove and the villages across the bay have another view. For them, a trip to the dentist, movie theater or auto parts store can be a challenge. Getting from place to place takes planning and cooperation from the weather and tides.

Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Dale Bagley wants to examine the issue of transportation around and across Kachemak Bay. A public hearing has been set for Tuesday, in Soldotna, to take testimony regarding spending $75,000 to study the feasibility of establishing ferry service across Kachemak Bay. The Seldovia City Council has asked for support for a daily fast ferry. Other communities across the bay are also under consideration.

A number of questions regarding this project come to mind. Where will the ferry stop? What kind and size of ferry is appropriate? How many people need to be served in each of these communities? What frequency and schedule would the ferry follow? What docking facilities would be necessary for the ferry to operate? How many of these facilities exist, and what facilities would have to be built? How would the ferry affect existing transportation providers, both public and private? What is the price tag for new facilities and the ferry? Don't forget the ongoing costs of operating the system, including salaries and vessel maintenance. The list goes on.

To many in Homer and beyond, it seems that public and private transportation options have grown to meet the existing needs for getting around Kachemak Bay. The Alaska Marine Highway System visits Seldovia twice a week carrying passengers, cargo and vehicles. The private sector has stepped in wherever economically feasible to fill the needs that remain unsatisfied. Private ferry and water taxi operators go just about anywhere, anytime on the bay, as weather permits. Air transportation is available to almost any runway, lake or beach a person would desire.

Does it make sense to spend a bunch of public money to build and operate a fast ferry that would serve communities across the bay on a daily basis? How much money do we want to spend to enhance convenience and economic stimulation along the southern shores of Kachemak Bay, especially at a time when we are having trouble balancing an already stretched state budget?

Looking into things and expanding our understanding of issues and possibilities is always a good idea, but at what price? The question to be answered at the hearing is, "Do you want the borough to spend $75,000 on this study?" Let them know what you think.

-- Homer News

March 7

Gary Thomas, Publisher

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