State ferries are expected to resume sailing as the state and the Inlandboatmen's Union have reached a tentative deal to end the union's strike.

Robb Arnold, the vice chair of IBU's board, said both sides reached the agreement Thursday night. Department of Administration Commissioner Kelly Tshibaka, who represented the state of Alaska in the negotiations, didn't discuss the specifics of the contract but said it's a three-year-deal.

"Alaska is open for business. Alaska is moving forward and that's what it's about," Arnold said by phone Friday morning. "This is about the whole state, it's not just the coast or whatever. I think it's just, you know, we are moving forward."

Union members went on strike July 24 after contract talks broke down between both sides. They had been negotiating since 2016.

"This has been a long three years of bargaining back and forth. It was longer than the 40 hours with the mediator," Arnold said. "It's been a three-year, I don't want to call it a struggle, but it was definitely hard."

A press release from the Department of Administration said the Alaska Marine Highway System won't be resuming service right away, but will begin preparing ships to service Alaskans and visitors as soon as possible.

Department of Transportation Commissioner John MacKinnon said at least two state ferries could be up and running by Saturday.

"We’re glad to have our IBU employees headed back to work. We are moving as quickly as possible to restart Alaska Marine Highway operations and get our ships ready to sail to serve our coastal communities,” MacKinnon said. “I thank everyone who worked hard to reach this agreement, the crews who kept our fleet shipshape these past nine days and those behind the scene who kept the lights on and managed all the cancellations. I also thank those private sector businesses who altered their normal course of operations to accommodate the stranded passengers and cargo."

MacKinnon said the state issued more than $3.2 million in refunded fares to about 8,300 passengers and about 2,300 vehicles during the strike — a big revenue hit to the system.

The DOA said the terms of the agreement will be released once the contract is ratified by IBU members. Arnold said union members are expected to start voting on Friday.

For up to date information on the ferry system, including the full schedule, visit the state's website.

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