(Peter Segall / Juneau Empire File)

(Peter Segall / Juneau Empire File)

Opinion: Alaska needs an efficiently operating ferry system

There is so much to be said about why Alaska needs an efficient operating marine highway system.

  • By Dana Dardis
  • Monday, July 19, 2021 11:33am
  • Opinion

The Alaska Marine Highway System is a treasured and essential system for both our coastal communities and travelers who visit from around the world. Alaskans are fortunate to have it, and we should do everything within our power to keep boats and ships maintained and operating and fares affordable with a robust operating schedule.

As a writer, poet, artist and prior B&B owner, I have traveled extensively throughout Alaska to educate myself about its terrain, its people and unique and diverse culture. Seeking opportunities to feed my creativity and curiosity has allowed me to enchant and effectively guide my guests on their own adventures. Alaska has deeply filled my soul as it has done and continues to do for countless travelers.

For many, the lure for adventure bring them to the Inside Passage. However, rising costs, unreliable schedules disappoint, not to mention the destructive impacts on coastal communities. AMHS gives a unique experience that leave travelers with cherished memories and, more importantly, it supports vulnerable and isolated communities.

On the first run of the 2021 season at 13 degrees Fahrenheit, I boarded the indispensable and beautiful MV Kennicott ferry (a first responder ship equipped to handle emergencies) from Whittier to Bellingham, Washington. It was the most amazing four-day journey where I experienced friendly hospitality, enlightening conversations with ferry workers and passengers (both tourists and locals), dined on deliciously prepared meals, watched movies in the theater and enjoyed reading in the lounge. Showers and restrooms were impeccably clean and cabins spacious and supremely comfortable — a place to be gently lulled to sleep.

While walking the decks of this 499-passenger ship, I enjoyed the unique and beautiful coastal Inside Passage. The spray of ocean waters in my hair carried by the last bit of winter was delightful and refreshing. By night, I listened intently to the lonesome sounds of the sea, distant sea birds, and watched the bright expansive starry skies. My experience immeasurable and rich.

With funding only till the end of 2022 and Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s veto of nearly $8.5 million of state appropriations, I am troubled by what seems like a contradiction to his promise to save the Alaska ferry system. I’m heartbroken over how he’s let Alaskans down.

No more expensive studies. C. Barkley Loyd commented that studies beget more studies, which beget more studies, “Creating a new advisory board to again study the problem simply delays what is needed from the governor…”, “Groundhog Day for the Alaska ferry system,” in the March 19, 2021 edition of the ADN.

On March 19,2021, on Reporting from Alaska, Dermot Cole wrote, “Ferry system studies pile up with leadership in short supply.”

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation Maritime Administration, “a network of maritime expressways having as many benefits as America’s road network.” In a letter to Bill Sheffield, October 19, 1982, Ref: 1148 S/1053A from Philip F. Spaulding, Nickum and Spaulding Assoc., Inc., Architect and Marine Engineer, “…the unique demands of Alaska called for innovative action” and that was the Marine Highway. Surveys by Nickum and Spaulding deemed other infrastructure to connect Alaska’s remote communities not economically feasible. The Maritime DOT say our marine waterways reduce landslide congestion and systems wear and tear.

There is so much to be said about why Alaska needs an efficient operating marine highway system. We are incredibly fortunate to have one, connecting diverse communities, encouraging economic growth and stability and fulfilling the dreams of travelers. Unreliable and inconsistent schedules and increased fare prices will sink our valuable Marine Highway System. Governor Dunleavy must do his job and make it right by Alaskans.

• Dana Dardis is a writer, poet, artist and prior Anchorage B&B owner. She spends time between Alaska and Washington My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire. Have something to say? Here’s how to submit a My Turn or letter.

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