Rep. Louise Stutes pushes back on DOT&PF Commissioner calling ferry service a “convenience”

Representative Louise Stutes responded forcefully to a statement last week from Department of Transportation and Public Facilities Commissioner John MacKinnon, about ferry service being a “convenience.”

The M/V Aurora normally services Prince William Sound, including the communities of Cordova, Valdez and Tatitlek. (Photo by Christoph Strässler/Wikimedia Commons)

“To say that the loss of our ferry service is a convenience is absolutely outrageous,” she told KMXT in a phone interview.

In a story from Alaska’s Energy Desk about the 7-month cutoff to ferry service in Cordova, MacKinnon said that, for safety reasons, highway maintenance is more of a budget priority than ferry service.

“You don’t see people dying in ferry accidents in Alaska. You see people dying on roads in Alaska,” he said. “When we reduce maintenance to our highways, that’s a direct health, life, public safety issue. When we reduce ferry service, it’s a matter of convenience.”

Stutes, who represents coastal communities from Yakutat to Kodiak, argued that for many people, ferries are the only realistic way to access medical care.

“When there’s going to be a baby born, the mother-to-be has to go to Anchorage. And if she has to take her family with her, that’s a huge price on the plane.” She went on, “There’s no facilities for mammograms in Cordova, yet, a mobile mammogram machine comes to Cordova. Now, if that’s not health, and safety, I don’t know what it is.

For Cordova, other safety services like fire extinguisher maintenance and car repairs also depend on the ferries, Stutes added.

In an emailed statement, MacKinnon said “My comment about convenience was in reference to the reduced schedule, not AMHS as a whole. When we reduce ferry service from twice a week to once a week, it is incredibly inconvenient, but does not make the ferry system less safe.”

MacKinnon told Alaska’s Energy Desk that he tried, unsuccessfully, to get a ferry scheduled to Cordova once a month during the gap. With a new ship coming online next year, he said he’d like to return some of Cordova’s winter service, but budget constraints are the limiting factor.

Read Stutes’ full statement here.

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