All our Southeast communities and our transportation network between Seattle and every port of call from Ketchikan to Haines and Skagway have been compromised.
Our Alaska Marine Highway System has one small ferry still in operation in Southeast as Feb. 2, I am told. Our larger towns, Juneau, Sitka, Petersburg, Wrangell, Ketchikan and the Seattle run, are on hold waiting for “parts” for as yet to be announced or determined “problem” with the M/V Matanuska for it to resume service.
The Marine Highway system according to recent newspaper articles has contracted with Allen Marine, a summer-time, local tourist whale watching company to intervene and provide scheduled service by AMHS to our communities. The Allen Marine captains only have “one hundred ton licenses, high school students are capable of passing this test,” but not the experience needed to safely cross the waters, from Upper Lynn Channel, to Clarence Straits and Ketchikan, let alone Taku Inlet. Towns and villages in northern and Southeast Alaska are politically stranded.
Allen Marine is a reputable company, but it is not and cannot provide safe passage for our high school teams, from basketball, swim meets etc. Our Native Elders are cut off from meeting with clan members and medical emergencies; they are the people who are our future and our real past. We utilize the ferry system yearround — often during the Southeast winter conditions, with high sustained winds exceeding 80 mph, whiteout and heavy icing conditions — making flying in a small commuter or charter plane too risky.
The Allen Marine vessels are shallow draft, plaining catamaran hulls, lacking in freeboard and adequate stability, utilizing jet propulsion (no propellers) for power, steering and controllable only by speed (in semi-calm waters) can they be safely maneuvered. They are not designed to be operated under heavy seas, let alone the brutal high winds icings’ icing and mounting layers of heavy wet snow from south Alaska winter conditions. We need the displacement hulls the AMHS provides with 20 feet of freeboard.
What we do not need is a nine-person commission. We need common sense to prevail. Coincidentally our fleet of ferries are clustered together, tied at the docks at the Ketchikan shipyard.
We need a new governor, one that has empathy, compassion and respect for all Alaskans.
50-year Alaska resident