Assembly opposes ferry cuts

Posted: Thursday, January 31, 2008

A winter ferry scheduled proposed by the Alaska Marine Highway System would cut service to Seldovia and other Gulf of Alaska communities dependent on transportation by sea beginning next fall.

That idea has drawn formal opposition from the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly.

Among other things, the state's 2008 winter schedule (fiscal year 2009) would cut cruises to Seldovia from eight trips a month to just one starting Nov. 7, severely limiting the ability of village residents to access other parts of the borough and reducing the normal flow of goods and services important to the economy of the remote community.

In a memo to the assembly, Martin said that while the measure may have been proposed to save money, the public transportation system was not solely about turning a profit.

"It is about providing a vital mode of transportation in a state with many off-road communities," she said. "I strongly urge the assembly's support of a resolution opposing (the proposed ferry schedule) and requesting a re-evaluation of the same."

At its Jan. 22 meeting, the assembly did just that, passing Resolution 2008-010, sponsored by Martin, calling on the AMHS to re-evaluate the proposed schedule and forwarding the measure to Alaska DOT Commissioner Leo von Scheben and members of the Alaska Legislature.

The city of Seldovia passed a similar resolution, noting among other things that the Marine Highway System had "for decades created, encouraged, nurtured and made these Alaskans dependent upon regular, year-round ferry service for their survival and well being."

Under the proposed schedule, Homer, Seldovia and Kodiak would see stops cut when the winter scheduled kicks in Nov. 7. That's when the M/V Kennicott is set to assume the route of the nearly 45-year-old M/V Tustumena, which is due for an overhaul.

Port Lions, a small community on Kodiak Island that the Tustumena currently visits on its way to and from the city of Kodiak, would lose service altogether for about six months. The Kennicott is too large for the dock.

Sen. Gary Stevens, whose district includes Kodiak Island, has called the proposal "a perfect way to kill the system."

Reps. Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Kodiak, and Paul Seaton, R-Homer, and prime sponsor Peggy Wilson, R-Wrangell, have introduced House Bill 294, which proposed removing the Alaska Marine Highway System from the purview of the Department of Transportation and placing it within a new entity, the Alaska Marine Highway Authority.

Hal Spence can be reached at hspence@ptialaska.net.



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