Alaska to resume temporary ferry service to British Columbia

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — The Alaska Marine Highway System is expected to resume ferry service to British Columbia, but only on two dates, officials said.

The state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities said service to Prince Rupert has been scheduled Oct. 29 and Nov. 25, The Juneau Empire reported Wednesday.

The city of Prince Rupert plans to pay for officers to be present for the two trips, but additional arrangements must still be determined, said transportation department Communications Director Meadow Bailey.

Alaska suspended the ferry service Oct. 1 after the U.S. and Canada failed to reach an agreement for Canada to provide armed security for U.S. Customs and Border Protection personnel.

U.S. customs agents cannot carry weapons in a foreign country and Canadian police officers are required at the Prince Rupert checkpoint 117 miles (188 kilometers) south of Ketchikan.

Alaska's budget cuts prevent the annual payment of about $188,000 to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, officials said.

Alaska has 60 days to commit to "substantial facility modifications at either the AMHS Prince Rupert or Ketchikan terminals," the transportation department said.

"We don't know yet which terminal," Bailey said. "We need to have some upgrades to the facility, we don't have those in place yet. That's why this is temporary."

Prince Rupert is a "preclearance" checkpoint providing customs services for U.S.-bound passengers. Preclearance helps screen potential security threats and reduce the number of people at U.S. checkpoints, according to the customs service.

The decision to provide armed guards for customs personnel was made at the national level and applies to all preclearance checkpoints worldwide, a customs official said.

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Information from: Juneau (Alaska) Empire, http://www.juneauempire.com