Senators propose way for ferries to run this winter

Service would be reduced, but wouldn’t disappear

Users of the Alaska Marine Highway System have likely had Oct. 1 circled on their calendars.

In Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s budget proposal, the ferry system would stop running Oct. 1 and stay out of service until the following June. If a group of senators get their way, the ferries will be able to stay on the water during that time, albeit with reduced service.

The Senate Finance Transportation Subcommittee approved a budget proposal Wednesday morning that includes funding for a reduced ferry service from October to June. Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka and chair of the committee, has been particularly vocal this session about preserving the ferry system and spoke at length at Wednesday’s meeting.

“Surely, a reduced service is better than no service,” Stedman said.

While the governor proposes cutting about $98 million from the AMHS budget, the Senate Transportation Committee’s proposed budget would cut about $44 million, according to materials from Wednesday’s meeting. The committee’s proposal doesn’t cut from the ferry system’s maintenance budget (which the governor’s does), Stedman said.

Dunleavy has said the hope is to conduct a study and figure out a viable way for the marine highway to continue running. The state recently issued a notice to award Northern Economics the contract to do the study, which is expected to be completed in October.

The second company that submitted a bid for the study, MAP Consulting LLC, bid about $25,000 less than Northern Economics, according to the Associated Press. MAP Consulting is protesting the state’s intent to award the contract, according to the report.

In this file photo, Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, Co-Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, raises his concerns about the proposed lack of funding for the Alaska Marine Highway System at the Capitol on Feb. 19, 2019. (Michael Penn/Juneau Empire File)

In this file photo, Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, Co-Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, raises his concerns about the proposed lack of funding for the Alaska Marine Highway System at the Capitol on Feb. 19, 2019. (Michael Penn/Juneau Empire File)

Speaking at the meeting Wednesday, Stedman said he hopes a reduced ferry service buys the administration more time to evaluate that study and figure out a long-term plan for the marine highway.

Stedman said there won’t be any specific language in this budget proposal about how exactly the ferries will run. The proposal gives the administration the ability to “adapt the schedule,” Stedman said. If a community feels that it needs more service, they can reach out and request service. Stedman pointed out the Southeast Alaska village of Angoon in particular, saying the village doesn’t have an airport or barge service and is extremely dependent on the ferry system.

“We’re trying to keep the system totally intact,” Stedman said, “and give us some time for the administration to have discussions with the labor groups and the communities, and then the Legislature will be able to review whatever’s brought before us next winter at this committee.”

The Senate Finance Committee, which Stedman co-chairs, will consider the proposals of all the budget subcommittees when the subcommittees all wrap up their proposals this week or next. Then the budget will have to go to the whole Senate, then possibly back to the House before going to Dunleavy for final approval.


• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at amccarthy@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.


More in News

In this March 19, 2020, file photo Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, talks with reporters following a Republican policy lunch on Capitol Hill in Washington. Murkowski acknowledged Thursday, June 4, that she’s “struggling” over whether she can support President Donald Trump given his handling of the virus and race crises shaking the United States. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)
Mattis emboldens GOPers to criticize Trump

Murkowski on Thursday called the rebuke by Trump’s first Pentagon chief “necessary and overdue.”

A pair of tents sits at the Infinity Pools above the Tutka Backdoor Trail in Kachemak Bay State Park on July 9, 2019. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)
State officials urge Alaskans to get outside

During a virtual town hall, commissioners fielded questions from the public on state recreation.

COVID-19. (CDC)
Nonresident COVID-19 cases nearly double; 8 residents test positive

Seventeen of the 18 new nonresident cases are workers in the seafood industry.

Photo provided by Ocean Bluff B&B
                                Tammy Kehrer of Palmer sits on the deck overlooking Cook Inlet at Ocean Bluff B&B in Kasilof. Kehrer is the daughter of owner Kathy Carlisle.
B&B bookings take hit due to virus

Owners have been getting feelers from in-state visitors, but so far reservations have been rare.

A king salmon during the 67th annual Golden North Salmon Derby at the Don D. Statter Memorial Boat Harbor in August 2013. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
Low king counts result in closures on southern Kenai Peninsula

As of Sunday, video weirs and sonar had counted 184 king salmon at the Anchor River.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks during a Friday, March 27, 2020 press conference in the Atwood Building in Anchorage, Alaska. (Photo courtesy Office of the Governor)
Revised travel mandates to begin Friday

Those arriving from outside the state must self-quarantine, but revisions allow for exceptions.

Nikiski Fire Station #2, seen here on July 15, 2019 in Nikiski, Alaska. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)
3 in Nikiski fire service test positive for virus

11 members of the department have been quarantined due to the possibility of COVID-19 exposure.

The Devil’s Creek Trail in Chugach National Forest, seen June 15, 2018. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)
During pandemic, Chugach National Forest mostly stays the same

One of the differences will be in how much volunteer help the forest gets.

In front and from left to right, Aaron Ford, Karianna Ford and Jenni Stowe hold signs at a protest on Sunday, May 30, 2020, at WKFL Park in Homer, Alaska, in support of people of color who have been the subject of police violence, including George Floyd, a man who died May 25, 2020, in a police encounter in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In addition to the “We (heart) our po po” sign — “po po” is slang for “police” — there also was a sign that read “Thank you HPD.” (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News)
Homer residents organize multiple demonstrations on racial injustice

Gatherings, protests and demonstrations have been held in Alaska from Anchorage to Haines to Bethel.

Most Read