State seeks $1.5 million for ferry repairs

Posted: Wednesday, August 30, 2000

JUNEAU (AP) -- The state plans to ask for bids on an estimated $1.5 million worth of repairs to the fire-damaged ferry Columbia.

With a scheduled remodeling project coming up this winter as well, the ship won't be back in service until next summer, said Capt. Norm Edwards, operations manager of the Alaska Marine Highway System. The vessel was damaged by an electrical fire in June.

The Columbia's electrical board must be redesigned as a result of the June 6 switchboard fire in Chatham Strait, southwest of Juneau. About 500 passengers and crew members were evacuated safely, and the 418-foot ship was towed to Auke Bay and then to Ketchikan.

Meanwhile, the Matanuska was moved over to the Bellingham, Wash.-to-Skagway run, the ferry system's most lucrative route.

Initially, there was hope of getting the Columbia back in operation before the end of the summer season, but further investigation revealed more extensive damage from the electrical fire than was first thought, Edwards said.

The state already had planned the winter renovation project, estimated at $7 million. That will be a reconfiguration of two cabin decks to create 30 additional cabins, Edwards said.

The Columbia was built in 1974 at a cost of $22 million.

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