KETCHIKAN (AP) -- Residents of this Southeast Alaska city celebrated the start of construction on a new airport ferry over the weekend.
The new 116-foot ferry will carry 22 cars and 147 passengers from Ketchikan to the Ketchikan Airport on Gravina Island. Project deadline is August of 2001.
The ''Oral Freeman'' is the first new vessel to be built at the Ketchikan shipyard. It also is the first roll-on, roll-off passenger vehicle ferry to be built in Alaska, officials said.
The Ketchikan shipyard is known primarily for its large renovation and ship repair projects. Alaska state ferries frequently berth at Ketchikan for repairs and refitting.
The shipyard has become more competitive in the past few years, Alaska Ship and Drydock President Randy Johnson said. Ship building will help diversify its operations, he said.
''This is a very significant project for the shipyard,'' Johnson said at Saturday's keel-laying ceremonies. ''We were concerned when we bid the project originally that we might not be considered a responsive bidder. In fact, the state didn't have to approve the notice to proceed to allow us to go forward and build this vessel because we didn't have prior ship building experience.
''It didn't stop us from bidding and it didn't stop the state from working with us,'' he said. ''We're confident with the work force we have in place and with all of the members of the team, that we will construct this vessel and the community will have a vessel to be proud of for years to come.''
The ferry is named for Oral Freeman, a Ketchikan civic leader and one of the framers of Alaska's Permanent Fund. As a legislator, he helped secure funding for a shipyard at Ketchikan.
''... I will you tell that not only am I happy to be honored by having a keel laid for a ferry that will bear my name, I'm happy there's an organization here that seems to be doing exactly what it was intended to do from the start 20 something years ago,'' Freeman said in a reference to shipyard.
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