Peter Segall | Juneau Empire                                 The loading ramp at Auke Bay Ferry Terminal on Thursday.

Peter Segall | Juneau Empire The loading ramp at Auke Bay Ferry Terminal on Thursday.

Southeast lawmakers: AMHS study doesn’t take ferry’s benefits into account

Local officials say AMHS study focuses too much on financials, not enough on communities

The highly-anticipated Alaska Marine Highway System reshaping study was released Wednesday, but for many community leaders in Southeast Alaska, the report focused too much on the economic side and not enough on the value the ferries provide to coastal communities.

The study suggests lowering the state’s subsidy to AMHS by 50% of the Fiscal Year 2020 operating budget, which would mean $24 million a year for the ferries. Some municipal leaders found that number unworkable.

“$24 million is a low ball,” Cordova Mayor Clay Koplin told the Empire in an interview. Cordova has been without service since Sept. 19 which has negatively affected business and quality of life in the city, Koplin said.

“First of all, ‘subsidy’ is a little offensive,” Koplin said. “The state sees its role of providing transportation — a recognized societal underpinning and scaled service appropriate to state sponsorship as an ‘obligation’ and ‘liability.’”

Other local leaders also expressed disappointment at the focus on financials.

Nils Andreassen, executive director of the Alaska Municipal League, held a conference with Southeast municipal leaders Friday afternoon. Community leaders expressed disappointment their feedback to Northern Economics wasn’t incorporated into the report more, Andreassen said.

“The other piece of feedback that we got,” Andreassen said, “the report assumes a limited input by the state, it looked at what can we do with this limited amount. It could have looked at how do we deliver an effective system and meet the needs of residents, but that variability was missing.”

According to the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, the purpose of the study was to look at how the state could spend less money on the system.

“The objective of the study was to identify potential reductions in the state’s financial obligation and liability as related to AMHS,” Meadow Bailey, communications director for DOT wrote in an email. “Achieving this goal will require increases in revenues, reductions in cost, or a combination of the two.”

The Marine Transportation Authority Board, which discussed the report at a meeting Wednesday, and the Legislature will work together on future decisions, Bailey said.

But that wasn’t the question leaders in Southeast thought the state should be asking.

“I think the bigger question is when will the state come to a realization that our ferry system is a highway system,” said Debra Schnabel, Haines borough manager. “(AMHS) is not something that should be addressed as if it’s a cast-off idea. Why we’re talking about getting rid of the highways in Southeast is beyond me.”

The conception of AMHS as a highway system like any other in the state is an opinion repeatedly expressed by supporters of the ferries.

“This is our highway, none of the highways up north make money. I’d like to tell all the people from the governor on down they should close down the ALCAN (the Alaska-Canadian Highway), see how they like it,” Tenakee Springs Mayor Dan Kennedy previously told the Empire.

Going forward, leaders in Southeast hoped there would be greater consideration of what the ferry provides to Southeast rather than what it costs the state. The report released Wednesday was only the draft version, and Andreassen said local leaders asked about how they can affect the final draft.

“Is there a way for us to provide feedback and have that incorporated into the final report,” Andreassen said. “We plan to organize some kind of response from a local government perspective that shows the public benefit of the system.”

Despite expressing some disappointment in the report, Skagway Mayor Andrew Cremata said he was glad the report was out.

“So much of the dialogue we have in a municipalities is reactive,” Cremata said. “Maybe we find some of the positives in the report and try to work on that, craft a vision of what we want. If we’re talking in the positive, I think we can move forward.”

• Contact reporter Peter Segall at 523-2228 or

More in News

A Princess Cruise Line ship is docked in Juneau on Aug. 25, 2021. (Michael Lockett / Juneau Empire File)
Ships in Port for the week of Aug. 14

Here’s what to expect this week.

Supporters of U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski wait for an opportunity to talk to her at her newly Juneau campaign headquarters Thursday evening at Kootznoowoo Plaza. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Murkowski opens up at Juneau HQ debut

Senator chats with supporters about U.S. vs. Belgium voting, moose chili and Project Veritas

(Juneau Empire File / Michael Penn)
Police calls for Saturday, Aug. 13, 2022

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

U.S. Senate candidate Shoshana Gungurstein stars in a campaign sign within view of the Alaska governor’s mansion. Gungurstein, an independent, got exposure this week for being a Hollywood actress under a different last name after questions about her past went unanswered throughout the campaign. She is one of 19 candidates seeking to be among the four selected in next Tuesday’s primary to compete in the November general election. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Senate candidate sheds more light on background

Shoshana Gungurstein responds at length to recent report on past film career.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Drug arrest made in Skagway

Police say a suspicious package was intercepted.

This late-April photo shows a damaged sticker on a door at Thunder Mountain High School reminding people to social distance and wear masks inside the building. Masks will not be required in school buildings this year. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)
No mandatory masks or COVID-19 tests for new school year

No mandatory masks or COVID-19 tests for new school year

(Juneau Empire File / Michael Penn)
Police calls for Friday Aug. 12, 2022

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

From left, Kelsey Dean, watershed scientist with the Southeast Alaska Watershed Coalition, and Kaagwaan Eesh Manuel Rose-Bell of Keex’ Kwáan watch as crew members set up tools to drag a log into place. Healthy salmon habitat requires woody debris, typically provided by falling branches and trees, which helps create deep salmon pools and varied stream structure. (Courtesy Photos / Mary Catharine Martin)
The SalmonState: Bringing the sockeye home

Klawock Indigenous Stewards and partners are working to a once prolific sockeye salmon run.

(Juneau Empire File / Michael Penn)
Police calls for Thursday, Aug. 11, 2022

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Most Read