The Inlandboatmen Union’s strike hit the one-week mark on Wednesday, and the effects of going without ferry service are rippling throughout coastal Alaska. For Alaskans living in remote villages, the impact is especially heavy, since ferries are often the only way to transport vehicles and other goods too big for a charter plane.
“The word I would use — a phrase, I guess — is ‘extremely inconvenient’,” says Port Lions Mayor Dorinda Kewan.
Port Lions is one of the outlying villages on Kodiak Island that are regularly serviced by the M/V Tustumena. It’s population is just under 200 and depending on the time of year, gets ferry service twice a week.
People schedule their lives around the ferry schedule, says Kewan. And without it, routine trips into Kodiak to buy building supplies, do groceries or get to doctor’s appointments have become a lot harder.
“Folks plans around that,” Kewan says. “Because say you need building supplies like 2x4s or something that don’t fit on a plane. Or you may only need a few of them and to get a plane that they might fit on would cost you hundreds and hundreds of dollars to bring that plane over.”
Kewan says a lot of people in Port Lions live there part-time, and they’re now facing the prospect of having to leave the island without their vehicles. Chartered wheel or float planes are still an option to get back and forth, but they are typically more expensive and don’t offer the same cargo space.
“Planes are an option, not for anyone who needs to move a vehicle, or a four-wheeler, or construction materials, or a piece of heavy equipment,” she says. “All the type of activity that happens a lot in the summer is kind of up in the air right now.”
The IBU strike forced the Alaska Marine Highway System to shut down last week, with all ferries tied up in port. Representatives from the union and the Alaska Department of Administration met over the weekend with a federal mediator, though the negotiations over IBU employee wages and health care costs still don’t appear to be resolved.
For villages already anticipating the struggle of reduced service this season with AMHS budget cuts, an indefinite suspension for sailings during the busy summer season is going to be tough, Kewan says.
“I understand some of the issues facing the ferry workers, and their reasoning behind the strike, but the timing is just awful for our community. Personally I’m hoping that their actions don’t backfire and give Governor Dunleavy more leverage in terms of wanting to cut ferry service or discontinue ferry service.”
The AMHS announced on Tuesday that both ships that service Kodiak, the Tustumena and the Kennicott, will remain suspended through August 7.