Dunleavy administration seeks $12.5 million for struggling ferries

hree ferries dock at the Ketchikan Shipyard for repairs and upgrades in 2012. All ships would tie up by early July if the Legislature does not reach a budget compromise. (Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)

Ben Stevens, the governor’s chief of staff, says the executive is asking the Legislature for extra money to continue work on Alaska Marine Highway System ferries currently out of service for upgrades and repairs.

The number one priority for this administration right now for the (Alaska) Marine Highway System is to get boats operable — because they’re not,” Stevens said at a Tuesday morning gathering of civic and business leaders, at Southeast Conference in Juneau.

All but the fleet’s smallest ship – the shuttle ferry Lituya that runs between Ketchikan and Metlakatla — is either down for repairs, or laid up to save money.

Read our continuing coverage of the state’s ferry service problems in Southeast Alaska

Stevens says the $12.5 million request would be for steel work on the ferry LeConte, and for upgrades to the Alaska Class Ferries Tazlina and Hubbard. The state wants side doors allowing them to load and unload more efficiently.

That would leave about $4 million for operations.

Stevens didn’t mention the LeConte’s sister ship Aurora, which also needs steel work. But he did say the transportation department is moving forward with its plan to build a seasonal terminal at Cascade Point that would shorten sailing times between Haines and Juneau’s road system. He didn’t say how much that project would cost.

Stevens says the governor is in the midst of putting together a working group to steer the future of the state’s ferries. But he predicted that it’ll be a slow process to get the ferries back up and running.

“This year it’s going to be problematic trying to find a solution to get those boats operable for the upcoming season,” he said. “And we understand the difficulty that it’s created in Southeast and I don’t want anyone to think that we don’t — because we do.”

Passage of the supplemental budget is likely as legislative leadership has indicated broad support for state ferries. Last month the House and Senate tried — and failed — to muster enough votes to override the governor’s veto of $5 million in extra ferry funding.