Summary: Many of the people at the forum were deeply concerned about the state of the ferry system and want to see something done sooner rather than later. One speaker told the panel to stop talking and do something about it, a comment which received a round of applause.
One member of the audience, Jackie Pata, says she’s intrigued by the concept of a public corporation but she’s also a little concerned by the involvement of the private sector.
“I want to make sure we don’t cross the line between a public corporation and private sector leading the way the leaves people behind,” she says.
Maintaining the public service mission will be one of the top priorities for the public corporation Venables says. One of the models currently being looked at is in British Columbia where passengers on higher traffic routes pay more and their ticket prices subsidizes the smaller, less used routes.
Members of the audience are now asking questions or making statements to the panel. One person asks what would happen to union members if the system were privatized.
Ware says he wants to clarify that Southeast Conference does not support privatization but a public corporation, which is different.
A public corporation, Ware says, would help address some of the, “iinefficiencies in the administration that made it difficult if not impossible for people to do their jobs.”
Venables says that a public corporation model would give unions a seat at the management table. Many of the difficulties between unions and management resulted from, “misalignment, not working together as well as they should.”
Percy Frisby, executive director of Friends of the AMHS says there has been a lot of well-deserved criticism level at the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities. Frisby blames the governor for mismanagement and cutting back services offered by AMHS.
“We are in a state of emergency,” Frisby says, “We demand accountability oversight. This is not a perfect storm. This is a calculated miscarriage of justice.”
Percy asks the crowd to demand the governor declare a state of emergency over the ferry system.
Southeast Conference has long been an advocate of a public corporation model for reforming the ferry system and Venables is giving a presentation on the merits of that plan.
Will Ware, chief of project development for Tlingit and Haida who has worked with Southeast Conference says that model allows for management of the ferry system to break free from government bureaucracy which can slow things down.
”We felt there were some people in the private sector that could really help us,” Ware said.
Venables says the way the system is operated as whole needs to be reworked. With such an expensive operation, he says, “you have to really start treating it like a business.”
Southeast Conference Executive Director Robert Venables is giving a brief overview of what the Marine Highway is going through. Venables is also on the AMHS Reshaping Work Group recently formed by Gov. Mike Dunleavy. Venables is going back to the founding of AMHS, pointing out that it’s creation was supported by Alaskans across the state, not just in communities that use the ships directly.
The system is currently in a crisis, Venables says. “The fleet is old, and many of the solutions should have been implemented 20 years ago.”
Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska is hosting a Native Issues Forum at Elizabeth Peratrovich hall focusing on the Alaska Marine Highway System. The AMHS is one of the most important issues for Tlingit and Haida said Central Council President Richard Chalyee Éesh Peterson in his opening statements.