“Enough is enough” chanted a crowd of over 100 people gathered on the steps of the Capitol Tuesday.
Holding signs that read “I believe in ferries” and “Don’t sink our system,” Juneau residents gathered to show their support for the beleaguered Alaska Marine Highway System.
AMHS currently only has one vessel running, the Lituya, which is making runs between Ketchikan and Metlakatla, according to Sam Dapcevich, a spokesperson with the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.
A number of legislators, both from coastal regions and from regions not connected to the Marine Highway, stood on the Capitol steps.
“Why are they here?” asked Sen. Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau. “They’re here because they support the Alaska Marine Highway System because they know it ties the state together.”
Representatives from coastal Alaska took turns speaking to the crowd, emphasizing the importance of ferries to their communities.
Juneau Reps. Sara Hannan and Andi Story spoke, as did Sitka’s Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, all Democrats, and Dan Ortiz, I-Ketchikan, and Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak.
Speakers all made reference to the hardships many of the communities that are no longer getting ferry service are suffering. Empty shelves at grocery stores and lack of access to medical care were mentioned several times. A number of speakers made comparisons to conditions in developing countries.
“From the tribes perspective, enough is enough,” said Richard Chalyee Éesh Peterson, president of the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska. “Our communities are the most affected. This marine highway is the lifeblood of Alaska.”
In response to comments made by some legislators that living in rural Alaska was a choice, Peterson told the crowd those people have the choice to leave Alaska.
“For people to flippantly say, ‘Well you choose to live in rural Alaska.’ Yeah, I choose to live where my ancestors have lived for 10,000 years. Absolutely, damn straight,” Peterson told the Empire after the rally.
Maya Russin and Mia Siebenmorgen, students from Cordova High School in Juneau to meet with lawmakers said the lack of ferry service has really affected their community.
“It’s really affected our school and community,” said Siebenmorgen, a sophomore. “People are really, really frustrated and it’s hard for people with medical conditions to get out and we feel really stuck.”
But they said, they feel the legislators they’ve spoken to have been receptive of their concerns.
“I think they’re pretty understanding,” Russin, a junior, said. “They’ve definitely listened to us.”