In this Empire file photo, an Alaska Marine Highway ferry is docked at the Auke Bay terminal in Juneau. A bill recently passed by the House of Representatives would create a new governing board, hopefully bringing stability to the ailing system. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire file)

House passes bill to create new ferry board

Supporters say it brings stability and planning

The Alaska House of Representatives passed a bill that would create a new governing board for the Alaska Marine Highway System.

The board, which supporters say will help stabilize the ailing ferry system, is the result of recommendations made by an AMHS Reshaping Work Group created by Gov. Mike Dunleavy last year.

Supporters said the bill was well-crafted and provided a long-term framework for the system. Rep. Andi Story, D-Juneau, said the bill would strengthen AMHS’ governance.

“It’s a change that’s well-needed,” Story said.

If passed by the Senate the bill would create a nine-member Alaska Marine Highway Operations Board that would craft a long-range plan for the ferry system. The board would consist of the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities Deputy Commissioner and eight public members. Of the remaining eight, four will be appointed by the governor and must come from relevant backgrounds, according to the text of the bill.

[Lawmakers, governor propose using $76 million in federal relief for ferries]

At least one board member must represent one of the unions working on the ferry system, and one must be an Alaska Native representative from one of the communities served by AMHS, according to the bill. The remaining members must have backgrounds in fields laid out in the bill, including business management, marine operations and engineering among others. Two seats would be filled by members of the public to be chosen by the speaker of the house and two by the senate president, the bill says.

The bill passed Wednesday was sponsored by Speaker Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, who is caucusing with Democratic and independent in a multi-partisan group of lawmakers in part because of their support for the ferry system. Republicans Rep. Sarah Vance of Homer and James Kaufman of Anchorage, co-sponsored the bill as did independents Dan Ortiz of Ketchikan and Calvin Schrage of Anchorage.

Late last month, Dunleavy and Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, announced a proposal to use $76 million in federal relief money to pay for 18 months of funding for AMHS.

That money isn’t being allocated as a single bill, Stedman previously told the Empire, but being incorporated into the various budget bills currently under consideration.

• Contact reporter Peter Segall at Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnuEmpire.

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