Peter Segall | Juneau Empire                                The MV Matanuska tied up at the Auke Bay Ferry Terminal on Thursday.

Peter Segall | Juneau Empire The MV Matanuska tied up at the Auke Bay Ferry Terminal on Thursday.

Lawmakers: Ferries will struggle even with small cash infusion

Supplemental budget would give $12 million, but that’s just stratching the surface of financial needs of AMHS

Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s supplemental budget introduced Wednesday will give the Alaska Marine Highway System a much needed infusion of cash if passed, but there are still plenty of struggles ahead for the state’s ferries.

At a Senate Finance Committee meeting Thursday morning, Sen. Bert Stedman, who chairs the committee, said that nobody likes the current situation AMHS is in.

“There are no winners,” he said.

The supplemental budget calls for a total of $12.05 million in AMHS funding, split in two ways. Seven million will go to sustaining the already scheduled service for spring and summer, with some added service, according to the Office of Management and Budget’s breakdown of the funding requests. Another $5 million will go toward vessel maintenance.

Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, at a Senate Finance Committee meeting on Thursday.

Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, at a Senate Finance Committee meeting on Thursday.

Speaking at the committee meeting Thursday, Department of Transportation and Public Facilities Commissioner John MacKinnon said the department was working with the U.S. Coast Guard to see which vessels could be put back into service.

Maintenance needs have piled up, leaving the department with several boats in need or repairs all at the same time, MacKinnon said.

“Discovery of a vast amount of rotted steel on the LeConte, unanticipated repairs to the Columbia rudder and hubs and additional repair needs discovered on the Kennicott and Tustumena necessitate additional authority to keep these vessels operational,” OMB’s breakdown said.

Stedman was critical of DOT for not bringing maintenance requests to the Legislature sooner. The deterioration of metal doesn’t happen over one summer, he told MacKinnon. Stedman also said new vessels were at least eight to 10 years from coming into service and that there needs to be conversations between the Legislature, DOT and the governor’s administration about that issue.

MacKinnon said it was possible there would be little or no service during the month of March. Stedman, speaking to the public via the 360 North coverage, asked that people plan ahead and try and remain flexible under the current situation.

[Gov’s chief of staff says getting ferries back in service is a top priority]

Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, asked if there was additional funding coming to the ferry system given that administration officials had recently said AMHS was a priority. That was an ongoing conversation with the administration, MacKinnon said.

Dunleavy recently announced the creation of an AMHS reshaping group of which Stedman is a member. That group will look for ways to improve the system as a whole. Also on Thursday, the House Transportation finance subcommittee got a breakdown of each ship’s repair needs.

The ship with the lowest cost of needed repairs was the Lituya with $1.6 million. The highest cost was the Malaspina with $68 million, but that ship was taken out of service in December because of its repair needs.

AMHS currently only has one ship running while the Matanuska remains tied up in Auke Bay undergoing repairs. The department was able to make arrangements to transport a large number of students who were traveling for school late last month, MacKinnon said, and is looking into special service for upcoming events.

Transporting those students cost the department about $11,000, MacKinnon told the committee. DOT officials previously told the Empire it wasn’t clear how much it would cost to house the passengers currently onboard the Matanuska. Those passengers had their tickets refunded and have been given rooms and food at the state’s expense while they wait.

MacKinnon said that there were several military personnel traveling on the Matanuska and that arrangements had been made to transport those people on to their final destinations.

On Jan. 30, DOT officials told the Empire the Matanuska was awaiting repair parts but that it was scheduled to sail on Feb. 8. The department did not respond to a message asking if that was still the case. The Matanuska doesn’t appear on AMHS’ current sailing schedule.

• Contact reporter Peter Segall at 523-2228 or psegall@juneauempire.com.

More in News

Central Emergency Services staff wait to receive doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine on Friday, Dec. 18, 2020 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Soldotna, borough to continue 911 dispatch partnership

The assembly approved an agreement Tuesday

Alaska State Troopers logo.
ATV accident leaves teen dead in Ninilchik

A 15-year-old girl was driving an ATV with a 14-year-old female passenger

Cook Inlet can be seen at low tide from North Kenai Beach on June 15, 2022, in Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Erin Thompson/Peninsula Clarion)
Comment period on proposed Cook Inlet lease sale opens Friday

Cook Inlet is one of 11 locations described in the department’s Proposed Program for the National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program

Pottery pieces are displayed as a part of the Kenai Potters’ Guild July show at the Kenai Art Center on Tuesday, July 5, 2022. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)
Throwing together

Potters’ Guild artists show off their clay creations

Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire
This photo shows boats moored at Don D. Statter Harbor on a recent sunny day. According to statistics recently release by the U.S. Coast Guard, boating accidents were down in Alaska in 2021.
Boating fatalities trending down for 2021

Numbers met expectations, said safety instructors

Fishermen took to the mouth of the Kasilof River for opening day of dipnetting, on Tuesday, June 25, 2019, in Kasilof, Alaska. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion file)
Kasilof dipnetting expanded, sockeye catch upped

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game issued multiple advisory announcements for sport anglers and dipnetters

Signs warn Fred Meyer customers to prepay if they thing they may go over limits while pumping gas on Friday, March 11, 2022 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Analysis: Inflation is up in Alaska

Alaska’s 2021 average inflation rate was the largest annual price increase since 1990

Mount Redoubt can be seen acoss Cook Inlet from North Kenai Beach on Thursday, July 2, 2022. (Photo by Erin Thompson/Peninsula Clarion)
Offshore oil plan envisions a single Cook Inlet sale

The proposed 2023-2028 plan is similar to the just-ended Obama administration five-year plan

People line the streets in downtown Kenai, Alaska on Monday, July 4, 2022 for the annual Independence Day parade. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)
Red, white and blue all day

Kenai turns out for parade, activities to celebrate Independence Day

Most Read