Joyce Landingham has been riding the ferries since the marine highway was founded in 1963. She doesn’t want to see the service end.
Landingham, who turns 87 in August, was one of more than 200 people who showed up at a “Save Our System” rally Tuesday at the Alaska State Capitol in support of the Alaska Marine Highway System. Leaning on her walker, with her hood pulled down to stave off the rain, Landingham joined in with those around her to make their support for the system clear.
She used to ride the ferry regularly when she worked for the National Marine Fisheries Service, and now just rides the ferry for leisure.
“It’s a wonderful experience,” Landingham said. “Sometimes you just want to get on a ferry, go out to Pelican and come back, just for the joy of riding on the ferry.”
Most of the talk at Tuesday’s rally, which was organized by the Inlandboatmen’s Union (IBU), was focused on those who absolutely need ferry service and what would happen to them if the ferry service were reduced.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration proposed cutting ferry service off at the beginning of September for the winter. The Alaska Senate has a proposal to keep the ferries running in the winter but with reduced service. There have been multiple rallies for ferry funding at the Capitol and elsewhere, and the IBU also recently gathered more than 1,000 signatures in three days on a letter asking the Alaska Legislature to fully fund the marine highway system.
Lawmakers are currently in the final push to finish the state’s budget, which is due to the governor next Wednesday. The Alaska House’s budget proposal is the kindest to the ferry system, cutting $10 million compared to the Senate’s $44 million cut and the governor’s proposed cut of about $98 million.
Graeme Johnston, the provincial president of the British Columbia Ferry and Marine Workers’ Union, gave attendees a look at an unsettling future. Sixteen years ago, he said, British Columbia privatized its ferry system. In the next 10 years, rates for riding the ferry rose a stunning 70 percent, he said, and the move cost the province an estimated $2.7 million.
Attendees gasped at each number Johnston read out, and he issued a chilling warning and call to arms.
“Using BC ferries as a test case, your government is in the process of dooming your coastal communities to a shallow, watery grave,” Johnston said. “Your Alaskan way of life is under attack. For the well-being of your families, communities and Alaska, you must stand up and fight back.”
Rep. Sara Hannan, D-Juneau, spoke to the crowd with the same kind of fervor, saying that even if the ferry system survives devastating cuts this year, the Dunleavy administration might try to impose the cuts in future years.
“This is only round one,” Hannan said, “and we’ve got three more years of fighting the same fight. So everybody here, make sure you’ve got your boxing gloves, because we’re in this for the long haul.”
People all over the political spectrum were in attendance Tuesday, all finding common ground on the importance of the ferry system. Despite the rain and chilly temperatures, they were animated and vocal. Nancy Barnes, the leader of multicultural dance group Yees Ku Oo, led a dance at the beginning of the rally that resulted in a few of the attendees joining in and dancing in a circle. Juneau singer Jocelyn Miles — who told the crowd she took the ferry up to Alaska when she moved from Maryland — sang Andra Day’s “Rise Up.”
Those on hand were especially loud when Ed Ferris, the international secretary for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, was speaking.
“It’s imperative that the people in this building,” Ferris said, his voice rising with each word, “hear our voices.”
With that, the crowd began to roar. Barnes banged her drum, and dozens of voices rose in a chorus of shouts and yells.
“This system is too crucial (to be cut), and it must be protected,” Ferris said.
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.