In this file photo, the Alaska Marine Highway System ferries LeConte, left, Malaspina and Tazlina, hidden from view, are tied up at the Auke Bay Terminal on Thursday, July 25, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

In this file photo, the Alaska Marine Highway System ferries LeConte, left, Malaspina and Tazlina, hidden from view, are tied up at the Auke Bay Terminal on Thursday, July 25, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

Lawmakers urge governor to resume ferry service

Funds are available to make repairs, legislators say

Five state lawmakers from Southeast sent a letter to Gov. Mike Dunleavy Tuesday, urging the governor to fund repairs on two ferries recently removed from service.

“The recent news that the M/V LeConte and Malaspina will be laid up is devastating to our region,” wrote Reps. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka, Dan Ortiz, I-Ketchikan, Sara Hannan, D-Juneau, Andi Story, D-Juneau, and Sen. Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau.

“The ferry is the only economical means of transportation for many Southeast Alaskans. We know Railbelt residents would feel similar with a simultaneous closure of the Glenn, Parks, and Richardson Highways,” the letter said.

On Oct. 28, the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities announced the Malaspina, one of the Alaska Marine Highway’s oldest vessels, would be placed into long-term layup in Ketchikan. DOT said it could not afford the roughly $16 million needed to repair the decades old vessel.

Shortly after on Nov. 4, DOT announced that it didn’t have the funds to complete repairs on both the M/V LeConte and the M/V Aurora. Scheduled repairs on the LeConte had been estimated at $1.5 million but upon further inspection of the ship’s hull, those costs rose to $4 million, according to DOT.

The decision was made that whichever ship’s work was cheaper would receive repairs while the other would be placed in layup.

The Alaska Marine Highway System announced it would be canceling service to the cities of Angoon, Tenakee, Pelican and Gustavus, while Haines and Skagway will receive service once a week.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy cut $650 million from the state budget this year, which included deep cuts to the ferry system. The Alaska Legislature voted to provide AMHS with an extra $5 million during the summer’s special session so that winter service could be provided to the city of Cordova, but that money was eventually vetoed.

In their letter to the governor, lawmakers said that ending service to placed those Southeast communities in an “existential crisis.”

“The executive branch and the Department of Transportation have a responsibility to the Alaskan people to step up and solve this problem with the utmost haste,” the letter said. “This seems to be a funding priority crisis that can be solved.”

The lawmakers say the Legislature set aside $20 million for just such a situation. The higher-than-expected repair cost “is not a valid reason to hamstring these communities.”


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


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