SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

House Transportation Committee Takes AMHS Public Testimony

Rep Dan Ortiz Wants to Hear from District 36



March 07, 2019
Thursday PM

(SitNews) Ketchikan, Alaska - Representative Dan Ortiz (I-Ketchikan) is strongly encouraging all members of District 36 to take time next week to speak up about the Alaska Marine Ferry System and the proposed budget cuts to the service. Ortiz say this will be the only AMHS public testimony opportunity in the House Transportation Committee.

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Public testimony will be heard Tuesday, March 12th, from 1:30pm-3:00pm and from 5:30pm-6:30pm, by Alaska House of Representatives Transportation Committee.

Details first began to emerge on the ferry system’s proposed budget cuts during an Alaska Senate Finance Committee held in Juneau Feburary 20, 2019 and chaired by Sen. Bert Stedman (R-Sitka). (Watch the Video of the committee meeting.)

In February Governor Michael Dunleavy proposed a budget cut of approximately $60 million from the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities’ budget from $593 million to $533 million for FY2020.

The AMHS is heavily subsidized by State of Alaska General Funds and according to Office of Management and Budget’s management director for DOTPF Amanda Holland's testimony in February, the percentage of the ferry system’s state costs recovered in fares has fallen from 60 percent in 1992 to 33.3 percent in 2018. The 2018 passenger capacity was 42.6% and vehicle capacity was 51.6%.

Holland also told the committee in February the Alaska Department of Transportation will work with a marine consultant to investigate options available for moving the AMHS towards privatized service or service provided by public/private partnership, with the intent of reducing the State’s financial obligation and/or liability.

However just a few years ago, in January 2016, the Alaska Department of Transportation released a report on the positive economic impacts of the Alaska Marine Highway System and the impacts of reduced services.The report, prepared by the Juneau-based McDowell Group, found that the state-run ferry system generated a return of more than $2 to the state for every $1 invested.

According to the 2016 study, impacts of reduced AMHS service will be broad and far-reaching, affecting a diverse range of Alaska residents, businesses, and organizations. The economies of Alaska’s smaller and more isolated coastal communities, such as Ketchikan, will be particularly hard hit. 

Quoting the survey, the impacts of reduced AMHS service include: 

  • Loss of return on investment: For every dollar of General Fund money not budgeted to AMHS, there will be $2.30 less economic activity in Alaska.
  • Loss of AMHS employment and wages: Communities like Ketchikan and Haines, small towns with relatively high AMHS employment (and less diversified economies), will be particularly hard hit by AMHS employment and wage cuts.
  • Loss of AMHS spending with local businesses: Cuts to AMHS service will affect a wide range of Alaska businesses that AMHS makes purchases from, such as engineering firms, fuel companies, shipyards, and food suppliers. 
  • Loss of spending by non-residents: Fewer ferries means fewer out-of-state visitors traveling to Alaska’s coastal communities and spending money there on lodging, retail, transportation, and tours. These outside-sourced dollars are particularly valuable as they generate new jobs and income for Alaska residents, and impact a wide variety of economic sectors. 
  • Reduced seafood shipment capacity and loss of income to fishermen:Reduced AMHS service will negatively impact seafood processing companies and, in turn, the fishermen from whom they purchase products. 
  • Increased cost-of-living in coastal communities: Fewer ferries will lead to increased cost of goods, as communities scramble to find other ways of transporting goods in and out – groceries, construction equipment and supplies, household goods, and more will all cost more as transportation costs rise.
  • Decline in quality of health due to limited access: With fewer ferries, residents of coastal communities will be forced to fly to access the health care they need – and many may choose to postpone care, or may decide they cannot afford the associated airfare costs. 
  • Fewer and/or shorter regional special events including cultural events: Many regional events, such as the Southeast Alaska State Fair (Haines), Celebration (Juneau), and the Copper River Wild Salmon Festival (Cordova), rely on AMHS to transport significant portions of their attendees. The cost and limited capacity of air service would preclude many attendees from participating, and the local economy would lose valuable visitor spending. Further, residents would miss out on these unique opportunities to interact with, do business with, and learn from each other. 
  • Reduced school-related travel: Reduced AMHS service will limit the opportunities for students in coastal Alaska to compete in sporting events, attend performing arts events, and attend student leadership training, among other school activities. Air service is often prohibitively expensive for schools and students, and subject to weather cancellations. Students in coastal Alaska will suffer from a reduced ability to participate in these enriching and valuable activities. 

The published 2019 summer sailing schedule remains intact through the end of August, according to an AMHS news release. “Service on the Bellingham, Northern Lynn Canal, and Ketchikan-Annette Bay routes will continue through the end of September. No vessels will be in operation from October 2019 through June 2020."

The Department of Transportation & Public Facilities currently has 10 ferries serving 35 ports in Alaska, Prince Rupert, B.C., and Bellingham, WA. The Alaska Marine Highway System has been providing essential transportation to Alaska’s coastal communities since 1963. 

To testify next week to the Alaska House of Representatives Transportation Committee, go to your local Legislative Information Office (LIO) at either 1:30pm-3:00pm or 5:30pm-6:30pm on Tuesday, March 12th. Below are the addresses of LIOs located in District 36:

Ketchikan – 1900 First Avenue, Suite 310
Wrangell – 223 Front Street

If you are unable to visit a local LIO, you can call in at 844-586-9085. These phone lines are limited; please be a good neighbor to your village friends and do not call this number if you can visit a local LIO.

In announcing this upcoming public testimony opportunity, Representative Ortiz said he is looking forward to hearing from constituents. If you would like to contact him directly regarding AMHS public testimony, please contact his office at or 907-465-3824.


On the Web:

The Economic Benefits of the Alaska Marine Highway System Prepared by McDowell Group
Download the January 2016 Study


Source of News:

Office of Rep. Dan Ortiz

The Economic Benefits of the Alaska Marine Highway System - McDowell Group Report


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