State plans publicly-operated ferry system

The Tustumena in Homer, AK (Photo by Isaac Wedin/Flickr)

Kayla Desroches/KMXT

The state is considering turning the ferry system over to public operation.

The Alaska House of Representatives’ Transportation Committee held an informational meeting in Kodiak Thursday night. The consulting firm McDowell Group presented its analysis of a publicly-run Alaska Marine Highway System.

It’s part of an ongoing planning process to increase funds and functionality at the same time.

Governor Bill Walker kicked off the reform in 2016 with a memorandum of understanding between the state and the Southeast Conference, a regional development organization. In the document, they state the intention of solving some of the existing issues in the ferry system, like the aging vessels, growing expenses, and dropping revenues.

At the informational meeting in Kodiak, Susan Bell with the McDowell group said they’re looking at existing public corporations in the state. She said public operations – like the Alaska Railroad for instance – are distinguished by having boards and often more continuity in their leadership.

She said a publicly operated ferry system would “maintain that public purpose in insuring that residents and communities and economic benefits are part of its overall purpose and decision making.” She said, furthermore, the vessels would continue to get federal funding.

Robert Venebles, Southeast Conference executive director, said they’ve completed phase 2 of the process and are heading onto phase 3. That involves bringing House Bill 412 through the legislative process. The bill would establish the Alaska Marine Highway as a publicly-owned system.

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