Dear SE Conference, Where is your voice of late?
This letter was written in response to the call for comments on the summer 2020 draft ferry schedule, where I took opportunity to comment about the whole ongoing AMHS debacle. I have sent it to my Rep. Hannan and Sen. Kiehle as well, and am submitting during the Feb. 11 (tomorrow) Save Our Ferries Rally in Haines. It's impressive that rallies are being held in Unalaska-Dutch Harbor, Kodiak, Juneau, Ketchikan, Petersburg, Anchorage, Valdez and Haines, and probably other communities that joined late.
To the AMHS, DOT, the Marine Advisory Transportation Board, Southeast Conference, and Alaska legislators:
From: Molly Sturdevant, P.O. Box 995 Haines, Alaska 99827 907-766-2571
This letter addresses the draft 2020 summer AMHS ferry schedule for which comments are being solicited, as well as some ongoing concern about ferry system management. I present general comments first, followed by specific comments about the summer schedule. I am also submitting it for Haines' February 11 Save Our Ferry Rally (one of at least 8 rallies being held around the state in support of the AMHS).
What would it be like if the Parks Highway or the Seward Highway in Alaska were only open two days a week? Or they were shut down for an entire season? What would happen if maintenance and operation of those highways weren’t subsidized by federal and state funds? Those highways couldn’t be privatized. There aren’t alternative routes or means of transportation, for the most part. The flow of goods and services would be crippled for some communities and people simply couldn’t function because they’ve come to depend on the highways’ existence. How life works depends on those highways’ existence. This scenario is analogous to what has increasingly been happening to the marine highway that provides transportation between Alaska’s coastal communities.
The vital importance and necessity for consistent and reliable ferry service to coastal communities of Alaska has not changed since the last time I commented, in 2019. The AMHS is our highway providing economic and social connection. For over 50 years, the ferry system has connected communities to support our economies and connect our families and friends, bringing growth and stability to small towns. More than two generations of Alaska residents and the entire state’s economy have benefited from the service the ferry system has provided. The ferry is what brings us our groceries, goods and supplies, delivers our commercial fishing products, supports tourism, brings our relocated relatives home, takes us to hospitals and veterinarians, and connects unique, far-flung towns in places like Southeast Alaska and Prince William Sound.
I started riding the Taku and other vessels in the 60’s from my childhood home in Wrangell. The family shopped for school clothes in Ketchikan, Mom attended professional events in Juneau, we joined other Southeast kids at Music Fest in Sitka and basketball games in Haines, and we saw medical specialists for healthcare not available at home. My own (now grown) children did the same from their home in Juneau. Not much of that has changed- living in SE still requires this type of connection between communities.
The value of the ferry system is not limited to the coastal communities that ferries dock at. Our small-town populations bring income to the entire state of Alaska through jobs in tourism and natural resources. Linking towns through the ferry system allows travel into Southcentral and Northern Alaska, where we spread some of our money around. Tourists ride the Inside Passage and gain access to the Interior, spending money throughout the state. College kids use the ferry to access land-based road networks to the north in Alaska or south “Outside” to gain education, skills and experience that will benefit the state, coming home for holidays and summer jobs. This helps support local hiring bases and keep earnings inside Alaska instead of being exported and spent elsewhere by seasonal or “traveler” workers.
Despite the fact that I live in Haines and DO have a highway out, most coastal communities do not and the Haines Highway cannot get me to regional hubs like Juneau or other towns that host school, community, and festival events and have stores and hospitals. The ferry is what connects our people. We are fortunate in Haines to also have a small airport, but flight capacity is limited, and service is not reliable in inclement weather.
Years of postponed maintenance and attention dwindled the ferry service for many years until it reached a crisis point in the past couple years and is nearly killed this winter. We continue to need the state ferry system and the people continue to speak out, yet the system remains untenable. Much insecurity and strife have escalated from the draconian actions taken by the governor and DOT on the ferry system. Currently, the Matanuska is the only boat serving Haines this winter and only weekly, and it is now in its second week of emergency mechanical repairs. The options for getting people back home are extremely limited in winter weather. To its credit, the state stepped up to pay for an Allen Marine charter transport for basketball teams and other travelers stranded in Juneau and Haines.
The governor’s and DOT’s recently made-public economic study on privatization confirms that it (privatization) is not a viable way out of the ferry’s budget concerns. It’s like we’re shooting ourselves in the foot the more we cut the ferry service: cuts are made to save money, but money can’t come in if people can’t use the ferry to get around. And there simply aren’t alternatives in many places.
Why did the governor ignore the previous recommendation to shift the ferry system governance to a Public Corporation? That November 2017 conclusion to do so came from an extensive economic study prepared for Southeast Conference and the AMHS Reform Committee by the McDowell Group and Elliot Bay Design Group (AMHS Strategic Business and Operational Plan, Ref: 17027-002-030-0; http://www.amhsreform.com/sites/amhsreform.com/files/AMHS%20Reform%20Phase%202%20Report%20Rev-%20%28wAppendices2%29.pdf). The study was designed to provide "a clear description of how the Alaska Marine Highway could better serve Alaskans' transportation needs as a public corporation and why it is imperative to do so." Instead, the governor and DOT commissioned another quarter million dollar study by Northern Economics less than two years later http://dot.alaska.gov/project_info/. This recently released report re-confirmed the viability of public corporation management, and that the ferry system cannot survive on the proposed budget nor be saved by privatization
I know these comments are not unique or original. There are many people with views like mine.
Everyone is talking about the chaos of the ferry system, but most people won’t take time to write their comments.
Specific comments on summer 2020 schedule:
1. One huge problem with the current draft summer ferry schedule is summarized in this recent news article:
“Pelican and Tenakee Springs … schedule calls for zero summer sailings to the two remote island communities in Southeast Alaska. … Tenakee Springs hasn’t seen a ferry in months. And, as Mayor Dan Kennedy found …that drought is unlikely to end anytime soon. ‘It was stunning,’ Kennedy said. ‘I mean they just left us hanging in the wind for a year or more, more than a year.’”
All the other towns in Southeast have at least two boats at least two weeks a month. Having no ferries is crippling to Tenakee and Pelican because no alternatives exist to support their regular business. This summer of no ferries follows heavily-reduced service for at least the past year, and these towns are struggling to survive.
2. It’s good there is service to Bellingham scheduled back in for summer, after all of last year’s strife about cancelling those runs altogether. However, having only a single season schedule makes it difficult to plan forward. People making seasonal moves can’t plan for when their vehicles and household can be transported to a new location. I would like to see annual planning, at least tentative plans, so people can make decisions about their fall during the spring (for example). Also, when we see (as in this summer schedule) that two boats will not be in service for five months (Aurora and Tazlina) we might be more forgiving if we knew they were scheduled to be back on-line in October. This goes along with the need for forward funding recommended for the ferry system by economic studies.
3. If any single run now scheduled were to be eliminated, I’d vote for the Kennecott Cross Gulf runs to be cancelled. We didn’t used to have that route and we got by – legislators and others can drive from Anchorage and catch the ferry from Haines or Skagway to Juneau, or fly. If the Kennecott instead did the Bellingham/Juneau run more frequently than scheduled, the Columbia could do the PR & Bellingham runs that the Matanuska is now scheduled to do, and the Mat could fill some of the gaps in Southeast and act as a backup when a boat requires unexpected repairs. This would regain some much needed flexibility that we used to have in providing service.
4. I am pleased to see fairly reasonable service for the summer months to most communities. Pelican and Tenakee are exceptions in SE, and the Aleutians in Southwest. People can’t just move somewhere else where service does exist and they can get groceries. I’m dismayed over their hardship.
5. I’m very concerned that there is no back up ferry. With our ageing fleet, it makes no sense to have the two fast ferries permanently laid up and not even listed while two others (Aurora and Hubbard) are temporarily out of service. This late January breakdown of the Matanuska was a real crisis that left people stranded in Juneau and Haines. To the state’s credit, during the first week with so many school kids traveling, it covered the cost of a charter vessel run that was organized by the public to get people home. Now this past weekend, people I know couldn’t return to Haines from Outside and from the Interior, or return to Juneau from here. There’s no guarantee that this next deadline for completion of repairs will be met, again leaving people stranded with further expense and chaos. Events like this create much uncertainty and insecurity. The ferry system is what built up the communities in Southeast over more than two generations – to dismantle it due to years of poor maintenance and planning shows no concern for the people who built their lives here and have contributed essential services to the state based on the ferries’ existence.
6. It is inefficient and wasteful to alternate daily Northern Lynn Canal runs between Juneau and Haines or Juneau and Skagway, and only have one day a week when people can get between Haines and Skagway. This just adds to the poor revenues situation. Get the Hubbard & Tazlina outfitted with crew quarters and the right doors to make these vessels fully functional! They are our newest vessels and should be highly functional. The mistake to build them as designed was based on the flawed assumption that the Juneau Road would happen – let’s get over that and now make those boats as right as we can!
Submitted: February 10, 2020
To whom it may concern
This system is essential to life of the sustainability of ALL Alaskans.
Why? It is just as need as the protection of police departments, the assistance of the fire department, or the aid of emergency crews EMT.
Alaska marine highway system helps keeps families in the communities and brings stability to the economy.
The Alaska’s Marine Highway to the southeast
Serves as the post office delivering letters to large packages.
It is the friend who assist you to a Doctor visit,
It is team spirit, supporting the local school system helping develop social skills with class functions.
It is the ride to a real grocery store, mall, a movie theater.
It is the key in the romance for Alaska, and the development of blooming relationships for Alaskans.
It is the trip to the mechanic shop for the repairs after sliding off the road.
It is the returning home from serving abroad, or going to serve abroad.
It is the safe ride home in a stormy
It is the trip home from a hospital with a new born baby,or the visit of a Grandparent or going to visit family members.
It is the kiss, the hug, the tears of joy or sadness, laughter, imagination, it is friendship.
By placing numbers and figures on this service it can seem startling to those who don’t live in these communities, it is priceless and they m literally exit on this system. And has been startling as well with much anxiety and stress, as well as undue additional cost that has been added to these communities who have scrabbling since the drastic reduction of this system.
Suggestion to the legal team who are have questions about how essential this system is try staying with relatives longer or pay the exorbitant price of a hotel for four nights, or sleeping on the floor in a terminal because the ferry isn’t running.
Please don’t eliminate this system.
JosephSubmitted: January 31, 2020
The problems you have too many workers that get disability, too many administrative personnel that do not actually work on the ferry. The SHIPS, you listen to some engineer with crazy ideas. Sustina was a catamaran, they are unstable in our waters. Then the latest and greatest 2 short ships with no crew quarters. I have been in Alaska for 13 years and always marveled at the one ship in dock in Ketchikan. A new ship not used? Something about Rolls Royce engines, defective but no warranty??? Listen your problem is having a budget. SE Alaska needs you and Southwest Alaska needs you.
Working with Alaska Marine Lines, Samson Tug and others. Recycling. Light load put cargo or stuff on it. Amazon, we need reasonable barge stuff. Bring a container of Amazon stuff. Anything that creates revenue. You need to advertise NOT A LOT but if you worry about ridership, create some ads that entice new customers. I bet a Facebook page called "Alaska best travel" and the cost and picturing the course of travel would bring young folks. Young folks assume Ferry is an unpleasant and slow thing.Submitted: January 23, 2020
I believe that the biggest problem of the AMHS is lack of mid term and long range planning. We currently have 50 year old boats and a 50 year old plan. We need to get away from planning being done by whatever current administration we have. I support a separate entity running the AMHS as in the public corporation model. This should be made up of members appointed by served communities, AMHS administrators, union representatives, and others affected by our ferry system. Terms should rotate out on a staggered basis to promote continuity, and new perspectives.
There are many ways to look at the economics of the AMHS. Minimize cost= eliminate AMHS. Maximize revenue= monopoly pricing. Public service= minimize cost per person served. This is a public service and that is the correct way to view the economics. Pricing this service to minimize subsidy would result in less people served and higher cost per person served.
Our boats are obsolete. We have seen a shift in demand to less passengers compared to vehicles served. I believe that we need more frequent service, at more convenient times to maximize people served. A hub and spoke style with mainliners making minimal stops at say, Bellingham Ketchikan and Juneau only would speed their service greatly. Day boats between prince Rupert, wrangell and Petersburg to Ketchikan would be small boats with no overnight crew, or midnight load/unload. Same would occur in Juneau to the small communities nearby. Additional capacity could be added as needed to supply demand, or reduced as needed to control costs, allowing the boats to run with a reasonable load rather than these winter time empty mainliners stopping in every town along the way.Submitted: January 02, 2020
On behalf of the Board of Directors and Membership of the Valdez Convention % Visitors Bureau we support a reformed, right-sized and sustainable Alaska Marine Highway System as a critical component of the statewide intermodal transportation system and economy of Alaska. Valdez CVB promotes our area as a year around destination for travel and tourism. As a tourism promoter, and a coastal community, the Marine Highway not only brings visitors but services. Keep the marine highway open for business to help grow the travel and tourism industry in the great state of Alaska.Submitted: October 21, 2019
The AMHS provides our family (including 2 adult daughters son in law & grand son) essential transportation to visit family & friends in other coastal communities along with medical services to the Seattle area & leisure travel in Southeast Alaska & beyond. Flying is more difficult with my husband's medical problems & quite frankly the ferry is a more enjoyable way to travel because it is less stressful. When flying, we have been weathered out of returning home if flying...not so with the AMHS.Submitted: September 21, 2019
I work all over coastal alaska and the ferry is vital. Make a reliable schedule, improve access from urban hubs, control prices; patronage will increase. The ferry works, if we let it.Submitted: July 28, 2019
Fire the union workers and hire individuals who are willing to work. This strike needs to stop now! It's costing me thousands of dollars in additional barge and travel costs and I STILL am unsure if I'll make it home. I'll need to pay more money.
Tell the union to accept the state's offer or fire them. Period. This is outrageous.Submitted: July 26, 2019
To the AMHS, the Marine Advisory Board, and the Southeast Conference:
It is inconceivable that Alaska loses its ferry service. Lives have been built, communities and businesses and populations have grown, economies have been stimulated, construction has been enabled, visitors have gained access, and relationships have been fostered between town residents because of the state ferry system. Nothing can replace this traffic and exchange of goods, services, and community interactions. The ferry availability positively affects the entire state’s social and economic structure and the benefits extend far beyond state boundaries.
Like all highways, the ferry system has required state and federal subsidy for maintenance and survival. I don't live in Southcentral Alaska, but I don't begrudge the funds needed to support the Parks Highway, for example; the population majority in that area doesn’t have to shoulder full cost of that road and should likewise respect the importance of marine highways to Alaskan coastal communities and the need to support them. The marine highway links to the Alcan Highway from Haines and Skagway are critical. When I lived in Juneau, we took the ferry to Haines or Skagway to be able to drive to see family in Anchorage and Fairbanks or attend work-related meetings.
Regarding the Operating Plan: overall, there’s more blue & green color indicating some kind of OUT-OF-SERVICE status than there is yellow & orange color indicating vessel time IN-SERVICE. This is very disturbing. It’s unclear what the 2 new ships, HUB & TAZ, are doing. I can’t find a definition for “CIP,” but from the MAL schedule it appears to be the "Federal Project "(whatever THAT is).
First & foremost, "essential service" is service that exists. Different communities have different needs for "essential service" and it changes seasonally. Pelican's needs are not the same as Kodiak's or Juneau's. Overall, "essential service" would be a core minimum of reliability and would be at least weekly for all communities in summer, more for the larger community hubs, and would be reduced to just several days a month in winter when local people tend to travel less and it’s off-season for tourists. Residents and tourists will adapt to a reliable and consistent minimum service level, but a service gap of 6 weeks such as planned for winter in Haines is not acceptable. Such small towns without jet airports, even though we have a highway out, need the ferry consistently in winter because weather can prevent air & highway travel. We can plan IF we know what to expect, but we CAN’T PLAN if there is no service and virtually no alternative!
I support creation of a public corporation to manage an overhauled state ferry system. A FORWARD-THINKING, simpler, consistent and reliable vessel schedule that allows for boatyard time for maintenance and emergencies would help to stabilize the system. Long-term thinking to support our communities and businesses with ferry service is critical. We need long-term thinking to budget for maintenance, unforeseen mechanical or accident-related failures, and getting functional replacement vessels. This must go beyond a single administration, and a public corporation could be an effective way to achieve it.
Regarding revenues, a fee could be charged for transporting goods via the baggage carts. Part of the PFD earnings could be used to support ferry transportation. I'd rather support public services with the PFD than get a bigger check - my educated guess is that most PFD's don't stay in the state to benefit our economy. Passenger-only vessels could be added to the fleet: my guess is it's cheaper to get from Pelican to Juneau for business & shopping without your car, then rent one in the larger community, and just put your purchases on the ferry baggage cart when you return. Maybe a larger cart could be provided (and supported by charging a fee for its use: something like 1 parcel/suitcase free, then $5 for each bag or box thereafter) for this type of commute.
Continuing thoughts on 7-24-2019
I have just written to our Southeast Alaska Senators and Representatives about the brand-new AMHS ferry system strike debacle. The general budget situation and extended legislative sessions to address them are bad enough, but now the ferry strike is ridiculous drama almost beyond bearing. I quote myself below:
“A huge hunk of Haines has been preparing for months and setting up the last several days for the SEAK State Fair. As you know, we are SO dependent on the AMHS for this event. The SEAK State Fair is a huge highlight and economic benefit for Haines' small businesses; it's a supporter of, and annual highlight event for, regional youth 4-H and craftspeople such as quilters; it brings some of the Outside world to us in entertainers and visitors who foster exchange of ideas; it also showcases the local non-profit organizations and countless volunteers who work really hard to make the Fair a high quality, entertaining, and fun experience. Many of us spend untold hours of uncompensated time just for the joy of seeing the community come out and our extended communities reunite. And as Vice Chair of Haines Friends of Recycling and a "worker bee" who helps to make our Zero Waste fair happen (reducing the Fair's waste stream by some 90%!), the strike is devastating news. I personally have 4 sets of friends and family coming to visit during the Fair, 3 of whom who are also making a road trip into the Interior. The Fair connects all of Southeast and brings in representation from Interior Alaska - and we need the ferry to make that happen! This is just one such event that hugely impacts our communities - the Haines Brewfest, the Eaglefest, the International Kluane Bike Relay, Sitka Whalefest, the Skagway Klondike Road Relay, Petersburg's Little Norway, school sports: all manner of festivals and celebrations and competitions around Southeast rely on the ferry system in a similar way as the SEAK State Fair does. I'm a lifelong resident of the State of Alaska who has extensively used the ferry system for nearly 60 years: I grew up in Wrangell riding the ferries since 1963 for all manner of school events, lived in Kodiak, worked in Prince William Sound, spent a 39 year career in Juneau, and now I live in Haines. We are simply sickened by the latest AMHS system threats illustrated by the need for the Inland Boatmen's Union to strike because of prolonged wage issues and the current governor's draconian budget....”
Submitted: July 24, 2019
I don't know enough about the financial workings of the ferry system to offer efficiency recommendations (although new vessels, while expensive initially to build, would likely be easier to maintain and operate more efficiently over the long run). It does seem obvious that the ferry system will always need a level of subsidy and that it will never make a profit within its own operations. However, I would like to offer an observation; the ferry system drives economic activity by providing shipping and transportation services that otherwise would not be possible. This economic activity transfers some revenue back to the State. This return revenue and growth benefit should be considered when focusing on how much of a subsidy the ferry system should be given and what level of help rural communities should get from the State in regard to transportation infrastructure. In simpler terms, the operating loss may not be as big as it first seems after considering hidden benefits and invisible revenue flows from economic activity made possible only by ferry transportation.
For example, in my home town of Pelican we are closest to the best fishing grounds. We are however, farthest away from the transportation hub. Years ago our salmon processing plant went bankrupt and the town has been shrinking ever since. The fish are still here and we have a few fledgeling custom fish processing companies trying to make a go of it. It turns out that the State Ferry is currently the one and only economical way to transport fish from Pelican to market. The community of Pelican desperately needs ferry service at this crucial time as we move in to a new future.
Is it worth it to subsidize transportation in order to reap the benefits of economic growth? We have our natural resources and could bring a lot of fish to market, It would be a shame to not get as much worth out of them as possible. The continuation of ferry service would allow that.
When looking at the future, it seems that "public private" infrastructure is the way the wind is blowing. While states budgets are not looking so good all around the country the federal government is making it clear they will be ready and willing to invest in America through infrastructure stimulus and will keep interest rates low. Changing the structure of the Ferry System from a line agency of the State of Alaska to a Public Corporation may allow easier access to federal funding?Submitted: April 03, 2019