Letter: AMHS shouldn’t leave three communities out in the cold

I want to thank Deputy Commissioner Mike Neussl for his presentation on the Alaska Marine Highway System at the Community Engagement Meeting Tuesday night. At a nearly full Juneau Assembly Chambers, Captain Neussl fielded a lot of tough questions and comments and it became quickly apparent that he is faced with plenty of difficult and unpopular decisions. I do have to say that I am more optimistic after hearing the presentation that the Commissioners and Administration do indeed see the necessity of regular ferry service that our communities have come to rely upon.

Hence my astonishment at the announcement Tuesday that Angoon, Tenakee and Pelican will not receive ferry service for a month while the LeConte is out of service for an overhaul. While I understand the need for vessel overhauls, I cannot understand the lack of urgency to provide three communities with service that no other communities have to do without. I’m left with the question, how many people does it take before ADOT and AMHS deems that a community or village can go without ferry service for a month? For those of us here in Juneau, we would not stand for one week without ferry service, let alone an entire month.

The fact remains that Angoon, Pelican and Tenakee have no runways. And even if they did, small plane service in winter is not reliable. Neither do any of these communities receive barge service in the winter. So a letter was sent to these communities to prepare now for the lapse in service starting Jan. 12. How many of us would be able to prepare for a month without the ability to go to the grocery store, to the doctor or dentist? These are the basic needs of any community. This doesn’t address or take into account school sports travel, or non-essential travel such as vacations…things that we have taken for granted in our larger communities.

So as to not provide only problems, but also solutions, I recommend pulling the Aurora down from the Cordova run at least every other week during the LeConte overhaul period. Cordova has options of a more reliable air service via Alaska Airlines and receives a weekly AML barge throughout the winter.

Let’s not leave these three communities out in the cold, so to speak, for an entire month.

Will Ware, transportation manager,

Central Council Tlingit and Haida Tribes of Alaska