Record number of Alaskans testify in support of Alaska Marine Highway System
BY MARY KAUFFMAN
March 18, 2019
The subject that motivated such an incredible outpouring was the existential threat that Governor Mike Dunleavy’s budget proposal represents to the critical services provided to coastal communities by the Alaska Marine Highway System.
Last Tuesday alone, 484 Alaskans signed up to testify to the committee, the highest recorded on any topic since the Legislative Information Office began tracking testimony. Another 133 testified on Thursday, bringing the total to 617. There were so many people in attendance that an overflow room was needed at times. Additionally, 241 submitted written testimony.
“This is irrefutable evidence that Alaskans are unwilling to accept dramatic cuts to the Alaska Marine Highway System,” said Rep. Louise Stutes, a Kodiak Republican who co-chairs the Transportation Committee.
Stutes said, “For many coastal communities, especially in winter when seaplanes often get weathered out, the blue canoe is the only way to access affordable food, healthcare, and move timber, fish, and other Alaskan products to market.”
Following the March 14th hearing, Rep. Sara Rasmussen (R-Anchorage) and Rep. Kelly Merrick (R-Eagle River) issued statements regarding the focus on the Alaska Marine Highway System (AMHS) and neglect of other outstanding transportation and infrastructure issues in the State of Alaska.
“While the House Transportation Committee sits through yet another session of testimony [Thursday] afternoon on the Alaska Marine Highway System, the rest of our state’s transportation and infrastructure issues continue to be neglected,” said Rep. Sara Rasmussen (R-Anchorage), a member of the House Transportation Committee.
Rasmussen said, “While I understand the importance of the Marine Highway System and generally support efforts to continue ferry service in a cost-effective manner, there are other important issues that warrant our immediate consideration. Our state owns and operates 239 airports, including Ted Stevens International Airport. The Port of Alaska, which imports 3.5 million tons of food and goods Alaskans need annually, is crumbling and needs repairs. We have thousands of miles of highways and railroads that need to be maintained. These issues are critically important to our ability to grow Alaska’s economy and they’re being completely ignored. Rather than spending hours fixated on one government system, we should be focusing on the whole – investing our time and resources in modern infrastructure through projects like the Juneau Access Road – that could fundamentally revolutionize both the economies of Southeast Alaska and the rest of the state.”
“Being born and raised in Juneau, I understand the role that the Marine Highway System plays in Southeast Alaska. But I also believe that this is an opportunity to look for long-term, fiscally responsible solutions that will bolster tourism and industry in the region without forcing Alaskans to give up more of their Permanent Fund Dividends,” said Rep. Kelly Merrick (R-Eagle River).
Merrick said, “We need to think about investing in capital projects like the Juneau Access Road and maintenance to improve our state’s existing infrastructure and accessibility. Advancing these projects in Alaska creates jobs that our state desperately needs.”
Last year, the FY19 DOT budget restored funds to the AMHS. This year, the Governor has proposed a 75% cut to the AMHS budget, which would stop all ferry services beginning in October 2019 as currently managed by the state.
Based on the Governor's 02/13/19 budget proposal, the AMHS summer schedule remains intact through the end of August. According to the Alaska Marine Highway System (AMHS) Overview - March 12, 2019, this schedule provides 84.8 weeks of service with a potential fare box recovery rate of 40%.
September 1, 2019 through September 30, 2019, operation plan:
October 1, 2019, through June 30, 2020:
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Reporting and Editing by Mary Kauffman, SitNews
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