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Viewpoints: Letters / Opinions

Alaska Marine Highway woes

By James Schenk


March 17, 2015
Tuesday PM

I use the Ferry system from Ketchikan to Bellingham a lot. Most of my travel has been directly associated with health issues, but a lot of my trips before 2009 were, mostly for work travel. For most of my adult life I traveled for work as a I.B.E.W. Union electrician.

My prefered means of travel to and from Ketchikan has always been the ferry as with little to no notice of job availability in the lower 48 states, as a working person I could not afford our outrageous airfare prices for travel with less than 4 weeks notice, or be able to afford the price of transporting my tools and gear required to perform my profession.

In my opinion since the start of the Palin administration there has been a directed and purposeful attack on the Alaska Marine Highway system, first the direction towards "Alaska class" ferries, and most decently deep cuts in service and culture!

The Alaska Marine Highway is just that, a highway! Any highway I have traveled in the United States, and due to my profession I have traveled many,did not or had ever in the past been required to turn a profit much less stay in the black. I know this to be a fact because my work required me to work on highways and bridges a lot. I worked under Union and D.O.T. contract agreements and had direct knowledge of how highway systems were funded both here in Alaska as well as the lower 49 states, yeah I worked in Hawaii as well.

Many States take Great pride in their ports of entry, meaning when you crossed state lines from one state to another the first stop you come to, most times a rest stop, many states spend a considerable amount of revenue on the stops and Information facilities, they serve a great purpose in directing both tourism and commerce within their states. Much like the Alaska marine Highway.

Our Alaska Marine Highway is both unique and Legendary. The service and Information provided to travelers and commerce has always been first rate! As a longtime resident of Southeast and Ketchikan, I have had a great time throughout my lifetime traveling on the Ferries, including many trips while young going to and from Prince Rupert Canada. Evan took the great white ferry, The Wikersham, cool ferry indeed.

A new hurdle for the Ferry system has recently presented itself in Prince Rupert, contract disagreements, after the fact, on the use of U.S. steel, non negotiable in my opinion! I have a solution to benifit both Alaska and Canada as well as lower cost to our State in general. Use the money slated to rebuild the Ferry Terminal in Prince Rupert, to build a new terminal in Hyder Alaska, the Logic of this is manyfold, first we use State funding to promote growth, jobs and infrastructure in Alaska communities as this shift will benifit both Hyder and Ketchikan. Second we can finally put the M/V Susitna to use between Ketchikan and Hyder,as well as any the other short haul ferries we already have in service. With an inexpensive transport from a currently underused border town we will see increased tourism and commerce due to closer proximety to the Alaska Highway thru Canada. This shift could potentialy save the State millions, as well as grow the enconomies and health o
f two Alaskan communities.

The Alaska Marine Highway is a workhorse that works for Alaska, reopen the gift stores,and reopen the bars on board all ships as this allows for both control for the crew and safety of all passengers as well as employs folks we all have come to treasure as Alaskans. Do not fix something that is not broken is a theme well known to all working people, If cuts must come they should be made at middle management, where the fat exists within the system. The people who are doing the job to transport Alaskan travelers, are doing a fantastic job, the people who are administrating, not so much in my opinion. Alaskans need our Ferries just as they have been for over 50 years, we want to see those who represent us do what they can to Improve our Alaska Marine Highway, Not turn our wonderful system into a dilapidated truck stop, instead of a beautiful Port of Entry the world has come to expect from IT!

Thank You for everything you have given to me and my family throughout our lives, Alaska Marine Highway, may you continue to do so for many generations of Families as long as Alaska exists!

James Schenk/ concerned Traveler
Ketchikan, Alaska


Received March 14, 2015 - Published March 17, 2015


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