People who rely on the ferry system to get around Alaska need to get ready for some drastic changes.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy proposed his 2020 fiscal year plan on Wednesday, which calls for a 75 percent reduction to the Alaska Marine Highway System’s budget.
“We have a 98 million dollar reduction for next year for the Marine Highway system,” Donna Arduin, director of the Office of Management and Budget, said in a press conference. “They are making use of a marine consultant to determine what their options are … to make their system more profitable and efficient.”
Arduin said the ferries are an “inefficient system,” and compared the cost of transportation of a vehicle on a ferry versus on a state highway. She said it costs 2 cents per mile on a highway and $4.58 on a ferry.
Funding would allow ferries to run through the summer months, but Arduin said after that the administration is hoping a private contractor would take over.
“They would spend the year working on a plan using a marine consultant to determine what’s the highest and best use (of the Marine Highway),” Arduin said.
Some Democratic representatives voiced concerns over the ferry system being run only for-profit and not as an essential state service for rural communities.
“My first thought is that privatizing implies a profit to be made,” Rep. Sara Hannan, D-Juneau, said. “The goal has to be to serve the state. While certainly our ridership is up in the summer, a true need of the Alaska Marine Highway System is when the planes don’t fly.”
Robert Venables, a member of the state’s Marine Transportation Advisory Board, said the board was still trying to digest the information.
“We really need some more information,” Venables said. “My phone’s still blowing up with interpretations of what’s been said, but it’s alarming.”
At a presentation last week, AMHS said that Juneau is their biggest port for passengers. Many rural Alaskans rely on the ferry system for transportation, especially communities in Southeast not connected by roads.
Kevin Baird contributed to this report.