Update: More money for the Alaska Marine Highway

The fast ferry Fairweather docks in Petersburg on Aug. 20, 2013, after a trip from Juneau. Budget cuts eliminated that route and reduced sailings to and from other communities. (Photo by Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)

State House budget writers have restored much of the ferry system cut proposed by the governor for the next fiscal year.

Listen now

The House Finance Committee on Thursday added about $2.1 million to the Alaska Marine Highway budget. Gov. Bill Walker’s spending plan, released in December, included $2.8 million – or two percent – less than this year’s budget.

Marine highway officials did not request the extra money. Spokeswoman Meadow Bailey said if it makes it through the budget process, the system will add a little more than seven weeks of sailings.

“That service would likely be added in May and June of 2018,” Bailey said. And that would be to the vessel Fairweather and it would add three port calls per week to Lynn Canal and one additional run per week between Sitka and Juneau.

The Fairweather is a fast ferry that carries a little more than 200 passengers. It can hold about 30 cars and trucks.

Ketchikan independent Rep. Dan Ortiz proposed the funding increase.

“Mainly it came out of the numerous comments that I received that talked about real issues that have developed because of the overall reduction in service that the marine highway system has had to adapt to due to their reduced funding,” Ortiz said.

One hotel owner told Ortiz his cuts cost him $100,000 in business, the lawmaker said. Others told him reduced ferry service makes travel more expensive, including trips for food or medical care.

Ortiz said marine highway reductions have totaled about 13 percent over two years. He said the rest of the Transportation Department has been cut far less and he wants to reduce the difference.

“While it certainly doesn’t equate to complete equity, it puts the whole equity picture a little bit closer to parity between coastal Alaska and the money we spend on roads and airports and things like that,” Ortiz said.

Ortiz did not suggest how the extra money would be used.

He proposed the extra money in an amendment to House Bill 57, the chamber’s version of the operating budget for the fiscal year starting in July.

It will have to make it through a House floor vote and the Senate to become official.

The governor could also veto the increase, as he has some other extra money in the Legislature’s budget.

Correction: A previous version of this story used a photo that was not of the Ferry Fairweather. It has since been updated. 

Previous articleChecking back in with Greg Gallagher, from Washington D.C.
Next articleVideo: Is the Cook Inlet gas leak contributing to global warming?
Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska - Juneau
Ed Schoenfeld is Regional News Director for CoastAlaska, a consortium of public radio stations in Ketchikan, Juneau, Sitka, Petersburg and Wrangell. He primarily covers Southeast Alaska regional topics, including the state ferry system, transboundary mining, the Tongass National Forest and Native corporations and issues. He has also worked as a manager, editor and reporter for the Juneau Empire newspaper and Juneau public radio station KTOO. He’s also reported for commercial station KINY in Juneau and public stations KPFA in Berkley, WYSO in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and WUHY in Philadelphia. He’s lived in Alaska since 1979 and is a contributor to Alaska Public Radio Network newscasts, the Northwest (Public Radio) News Network and National Native News. He is a board member of the Alaska Press Club. Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, he lives in Douglas.