- Associated Press - Friday, June 10, 2016

KODIAK, Alaska (AP) - State officials are seeking an inspection of structural issues that have plagued the ferry Tustumena for nearly a decade and could impact winter sailings.

Jeremy Woodrow, spokesman for the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, said the analysis will help the state determine the next steps for the ferry, which has had persistent cracking at welds under the main deck for years, The Kodiak Daily Mirror reported (http://bit.ly/1PO5QS2 ).

“We’re looking for an expert to inspect and give analysis of why these cracking issues are occurring and what may be a resolution and if we should move forward with that,” Woodrow said. “Obviously, the Tustumena is scheduled for replacement relatively soon, although there is no date for that yet, so it has to be a cost analysis of doing a permanent fix or continued Band-Aid fixes.”

A May report commissioned by the Alaska Marine Highway System “recommended imposing operating restrictions until the analysis is complete.” Analysis work is expected to take place over the summer and wrap up by Oct. 1.

Whether the ferry’s winter schedule will be affected is dependent upon the findings of the analysis, but Woodrow said “they’re looking at cancelling the cross-gulf winter runs.”

The cross-gulf trip for the Tustumena happens in January and is intended to ferry legislators, staffers and vehicles to the legislative session in Juneau.

The inspection is expected to cost the state between $250,000 and $500,000.

Sailings of the Tustumena were canceled for 11 days in May due to repair work. At the time, officials said the car deck was getting repaired after issues with steel came up during the vessel’s annual maintenance and certification.

Woodrow said the ferry is safe and people should not worry about taking trips on the vessel.

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Information from: Kodiak (Alaska) Daily Mirror, http://www.kodiakdailymirror.com

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