The Pribilof Islands of St. Paul and St. George are just 45 miles apart, but getting between them can be challenging because of limited flight service, and the area’s notoriously foggy weather. This summer, a regional community development group is hoping to solve that problem by contracting a ferry to run between the islands. But as KUCB’s Stephanie Joyce reports, finding a suitable vessel has proved challenging.
St. George mayor Pat Pletnikoff sees a whole host of
benefits that could come from having a surface connection to St. Paul,
starting with access to the larger community’s cargo-capable docks.
“Everything that comes into St. George comes in by air. And everybody is well aware of the costs of air service.”
Pletnikoff says a ferry would also be useful for medical emergencies
when planes can’t land. But his hope for the long-term is that it would
spark economic development -- particularly tourism.
surface transportation so that people can get out and get in on a
time-certain basis is going to be critical to that development.”
“Birders would love to come to St. George but it’s very difficult to
make that happen when air service is unreliable, as it is. And it’s a
lot easier to get into St. Paul.”
That’s Larry Cotter. He’s the
CEO of the Aleutian Pribilof Islands Community Development Association,
or APICDA, one of six regional groups that were created to infuse
Western Alaska villages with money from the Bering Sea fisheries. APICDA
owns the fish handling facility in St. George, and like, Pletnikoff,
Cotter sees the potential for tourism.
“In the future, I see a
lodge in St. George, and I see us routing people to our lodge through
St. Paul, in one direction or another.”
That vision is still a
few years off. For now, APICDA is focused on a much more fundamental
task: finding a ferry. The organization’s Board of Directors has
committed $600,000 to getting the project off the ground, but so far,
they haven’t found a suitable vessel. Cotter says they’re looking for a
delicate balance: large enough to handle the Bering Sea’s rough weather,
but not so big as to be overkill.
“We’re certainly not looking at Alaska-class Marine Highway vessels or anything along those lines.”
With summer fast approaching, Cotter is still holding out hope that
they can find a vessel for this year. If they can, he’d like to see
daily service between the islands.
“This will give us an
opportunity to evaluate what kind of costs we’re looking at, what kind
of passenger service we might be able to generate, what type of revenue
is reasonable to assume, and then in future years, we would either
continue the relationship, if that made sense, or acquire our own vessel
to provide service.”
If APICDA can’t find a vessel for this
year, Cotter says they’ll keep searching over the winter with the goal
of definitely having service next summer.