Alaska Marine Highway ceases ticket sales past September

The Alaska Marine Highway System has stopped selling tickets past September. As CoastAlaska’s Jacob Resneck reports, that’s in response to the governor’s proposed budget that would effectively shut down service later this year.



The Alaska State Ferry Tustumena arriving at its Kodiak homeport. KMXT file photo

Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s official biography describes him as arriving in Alaska in 1983 looking for opportunity. His first stop was Ketchikan, the center of Southeast Alaska’s logging industry.

Flash forward 35 years later. He was back in town as a candidate for governor and asked about his views on the ferry system.

Gov. Dunleavy:   I mean it’s obvious right I came up on a ferry from Seattle yeah I didn’t drive you can’t drive here.

That’s from an interview with KRBD’s Leila Kheiry last April. He told Ketchikan’s public radio station he was exploring how the ferry system could be run more efficiently without cutting services.

Gov. Dunleavy:  
So… I don’t envision I don’t envision that anytime that there would not be a functional robust ferry service in the southeast, the panhandle of Alaska.

But his administration is proposing a $96 million cut that would effectively shut down the system.

Go online and try to book a ticket after September… it’s not happening. Ferries’ spokeswoman Aurah Landau said the booking system reflects the administration’s proposal.

Ms. Landau:
  Right now the main highway system is not accepting reservations past September and doesn’t have any vessels scheduled for October onwards.

That has some people scrambling. The Southeast community of Angoon has no airport or barge service. Mayor Joshua Bowen said Angoon’s passengers and goods come in either by a twice-weekly ferry or by floatplane.

Mayor Bowen:  
If the ferry gets cut October 1 and we got to go through the winter without any ferry, it’s gonna it’s gonna be major you know everyone in Angoon relies on that ferry.

The Dunleavy administration is trying to close a $1.6 billion budget gap without raising taxes on people or industry or reducing Alaskans’ annual permanent dividend checks.

That’s meant deep cuts now before lawmakers.

The administration proposes bringing in a consultant to look at privatization two months before the service shuts down. That’s been met with some skepticism. Here’s Anchorage Republican Senator Natasha von Imhof.

Senator Natasha von Imhof:  
Why the rush? Why are we just cutting several tens of millions of dollars in one year short period of time versus over a course of a couple years, particularly to allow this consultant to finish his or her work why are we just make you know, game over as of the end of October.

The state’s Office of Management and Budget pointed to declining revenue from passengers. Fewer people ride the ferry and that means less income.

The state wants to spend $96 million earmarked for the ferry elsewhere.

But other Republican lawmakers expressed concern about humanitarian effects of ceasing service so abruptly. Here’s Wasilla Republican Mike Shower, a former air force pilot, quizzing budget officials.

Senator Mike Shower:   
If you shut down the ferry operations, you are potentially — I hate to say it — but you’re potentially strangling those communities because they may not make it through the winter without that if the airports can’t support them. And my guess is they can’t.

Separately, there’s been an ongoing effort to reform the state marine highway system as a public corporation. But that alternative would still require sustained support from the legislature to operate the fleet.

Reporting in Juneau, I’m Jacob Resneck.

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