The Alaska Marine Highway ferry Malaspina heads up Lynn Canal towards Haines and Skagway from Juneau in 2008. (Juneau Empire File)

The Alaska Marine Highway ferry Malaspina heads up Lynn Canal towards Haines and Skagway from Juneau in 2008. (Juneau Empire File)

Ferry reshaping group has first meeting

Future meetings planned for coastal communities

The group designated by Gov. Mike Dunleavy to come up with recommendations for the future of the state’s ferry system met for the first time Thursday and laid the groundwork for future meetings.

The Alaska Marine Highway Reshaping Work Group made up of representatives from various sectors in Alaska was created by the governor in January and its members were announced last week.

Thursday’s meeting, via teleconference, was largely introductory with members giving their work backgrounds and personal experience with the ferry system.

No dates for future meetings were set, but Vice Adm. Tom Barrett, U.S. Coast Guard (Ret), who chairs the group suggested having meetings no less than once every month and four to five in-person meetings.

The in-person meetings should take place, “in locations where ferries matter,” Barrett said.

“We need to be visible, we need to have our conversations be visible, we need to see these communities,” he said. “Ketchikan would be on my list of places to be.”

Southeast Conference Executive Director Robert Venables suggested holding one of the meetings on an AMHS vessel, which would enable the group to see the operation of the ferries and visit on the smaller communities affected by the lack of service.

One of the legislative representatives, Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, suggested meeting in Juneau or Anchorage, somewhere with cameras and audio equipment that would be able to broadcast to the public.

“I think there’s going to be a lot of interest,” Stedman said. “And we should hit some coastal communities, so we could get some feedback.”

The group agreed meetings should include representatives from Northern Economics, the consulting company, which created a reshaping study released in January. That study is meant to help guide the work group in its conclusions about the ferry system. However, when that study was released several local leaders raised concerns about its conclusions and recommendations.

The day before the group’s first meeting the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities announced it would be contracting with private tour company Allen Marine to provide interim service between Juneau, Kake, Angoon and Tenakee. That service is only scheduled between Feb. 29 and Mar. 3.

AMHS currently has only one vessel running, the Lituya, which is traveling between Ketchikan and Metlakatla.

Even as Barrett suggested meeting in communities affected by the ferry system, he said the AMHS was a statewide issue and suggested a meeting in Fairbanks.

“I know they run out to Dutch Harbor, but I don’t see getting there,” he said.

Barrett said he wanted to start producing ideas by August, and suggested creating an internal drafting committee that would be responsible for recording points of agreement from the group.

The governor’s administrative order creating the groups calls for its recommendations to be ready by Sept. 30, 2020, with implementation to begin in Fiscal Year 2023.

“I’m confident we’ll turn out a good product,” Barrett said, while recognizing the challenges facing the Marine Highway. “No easy money comes from the sea, but I don’t want to lose sight of the people that do the work.”

• Contact reporter Peter Segall at 523-2228 or psegall@juneauempire.com.

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