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Senate sinks fast ferry for Prince William Sound

Posted: Friday, May 10, 2002

JUNEAU (AP) -- The Senate torpedoed plans for a Prince William Sound fast ferry on Thursday by sinking federal funding for the project.

It was part of a $1.2 billion capital budget that the GOP-controlled Senate took up but did not approve.

Sen. Robin Taylor, R-Wrangell, offered the amendment to cut $20.1 million from the budget for the Alaska Marine Highway Service to complete work on the ferry.

The fast ferry was to have operated in Prince William Sound in the spring of 2005 to replace the aging ferry Bartlett.

Taylor, a frequent critic of Democrat Gov. Tony Knowles and himself a GOP candidate for lieutenant governor, criticized the bidding process used for the fast ferry.

Taylor accused the state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities of granting the contract for at least two ferries without a competitive bid process.

And he said the design of the aluminum catamaran, which would travel at 32 knots and carry up to 35 cars, is inadequate for Alaska waters. It is one of four sought by the Knowles administration that will cost in excess of $88 million.

''They are going to stick this next administration with the biggest sow's ear you ever saw and it will be $88.5 million worth of inoperable ferries,'' Taylor said.

The amendment was adopted by the Republican-controlled Senate by a 11-9 vote. Sen. Alan Austerman, R-Kodiak, Majority Leader Loren Leman, R-Anchorage, and Senate President Rick Halford, R-Chugiak, voted against it.

Democrat Sens. Bettye Davis, of Anchorage, Kim Elton, of Juneau, Lyman Hoffman, of Bethel, Donny Olson, of Nome, Georgianna Lincoln, of Rampart and Minority Leader Johnny Ellis also voted against it.

''I think it's very irresponsible for Senator Taylor to put the Marine Highway off course and particularly short-sighted to give up federal and state funds like this,'' Ellis said.

Derecktor Shipyards of New York is building the ferry along with another one that would travel from Sitka to Juneau.

The Prince William Sound ferry would cost $37.2 million. The state Legislature authorized $10.4 million in federal funds last year to purchase engines and other material. The state would have to pay about $6.7 million for the ferry.

State transportation officials say if the ferry is not built, the state would have to refund the federal money.

''It's one of the poorest public policy things I've seen to turn money over to the feds for something like this,'' said Transportation Commissioner Joe Perkins.

Perkins said the state's bidding process was followed and that Taylor's allegation otherwise ''is entirely false.''

Ellis said he expects federal funds will be restored when the House finally takes up the capital budget. ''On this issue, he's a real extremist,'' Ellis said.

Taylor's amendment was one of two changes made in the state's fiscal 2003 capital budget. Senate Republicans staved off another amendment by Lincoln to use $70,000 dedicated to an Anchorage sewer project for rural village projects.

The $1.2 billion capital budget includes the state's list of construction projects for the fiscal year that begins July 1, 2002, and included projects from Nome to the Panhandle.

It includes $890.6 million in federal funds pooled with another $109 million from the state's general fund and $199.8 million from other sources.

About two-thirds of the state's capital budget -- or $778.5 million -- is earmarked for transportation projects.

It also includes about $76.3 million in projects aimed at individual districts where lawmakers will return at the end of session to seek re-election.

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-- The measure is Senate Bill 247.



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