Ferry strike leaves some residents and tourists scrambling

Jul 30, 2019

The Tustumena Ferry
Credit Photo from KBBI

The ferry strike is leaving some around the Southern Kenai Peninsula with few options to get around. Residents and tourists in Seldovia and Homer are scrambling to find other modes of transportation for themselves and their goods.  

Chris Wheeler is the owner of one of the only grocery stores in Seldovia. He takes his truck to and from Homer on the ferry so he can get groceries in Anchorage. That’s what he did last week. But there was no way to get back to his store with his load:  

“It was a day after they went on strike, I was supposed to catch a ferry,” he said. “I ended up having to fly all my perishable stuff from my truckload of stuff to Seldovia.”  

He said his dry goods are still sitting in his truck in Homer. Now, some of his shelves are empty:

“I'm out of toilet paper,” he said. “I'm out of soda pop. I'm out of paper towels—running out of a lot of things.”

He said he’ll be out of all of his stock in about a month and notes that he’ll likely close the store instead of transporting materials by plane and raising prices.

Seldovia resident Joy Smith said she also has a lot of goods lying in her car in Homer.

“Basically all the heavy stuff that most people would shop for throughout the year, I get in one fell swoop and take out on the ferry,” she said. “So I had basically as much shelf-stable stuff as I could, big crates of milk, everything.”

Smith and her mom were able to hop on an airplane from Homer and take their perishables with them to Seldovia. She spends the summer there with her parents. But for rest of the year, she teaches in King Cove, which is on the Alaska Peninsula. She had planned to take the ferry out there Tuesday night and says she has to be there by mid-August to start teacher training.

“I've got to get out three pets, and I'd like to take out at least my meat,” she said. “If I go out on the airplane, I'll ship my clothes so that I can take some perishable stuff out with me instead.”

Bryan Hawkins is hearing a lot of stories like this. He’s Homer’s Harbormaster.

“What we're seeing a lot is just impacted people that have planned their trips and planned for materials to be delivered to the ship to be loaded up and brought out to their homes,” he said.

He said there are alternative modes of transportation to places such as Seldovia. But there’s no other way to get cars there.

“A lot of vehicles: folks are making arrangements [for] and paying for extended parking permits here on the Spit and just trying to deal with this new reality until the ship can sail again,” he said.

Laurel Hilts worries about the economic ripple effects on her community. She’s the marketing and public relations director for the Seldovia Village Tribe and is concerned about the potential loss of tourists. 

“We are impacted anytime that ferry is not running as regularly scheduled—it affects our bottom line,” she said.

She notes that the community is resourceful and will find other modes of transportation. But she’s concerned that this may just be a preview of what’s to come. Due to scheduled maintenance on the Tustumena ferry, Homer and Seldovia won’t have any service from mid-January to end of April.