Wrangell, once a town full of Dunleavy supporters, has many questions for the governor about ferry cut

The ferry Taku sails into the Wrangell Narrows on its way south in 2014. It’s since been pulled out of service and is being stored until it can be sold. (Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska News – Juneau)

The governor was planning a trip to Southeast town of Wrangell this week, but canceled because of weather. The town overwhelmingly voted the Republican official into office, but as the community readied for a visit, many wanted to make clear to Mike Dunleavy that they believe in ferries.

Not everyone has heard that the governor is coming to town. But Don McConachie might be a bit more civic minded than most in Wrangell. He did serve on the assembly and as mayor for many years.

“I have a question to ask him too, I would ask him if he made reservations on the ferry,” McConachie said.

That wasn’t the first or last time that punchline came up. Almost everyone I spoke with immediately brought up their concerns for the future of the Alaska Marine Highway System.

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

Dunleavy proposed a 75 percent cut to the Alaska Marine Highway System last year. After a compromise with the legislature, the ferries lost $43 million in a single swoop. The cuts have caused havoc throughout Southeast Alaska.

Wrangell is a Republican town. Of those who cast a ballot in the gubernatorial race, 65 percent voted for Dunleavy. That’s 14 percentage points higher than statewide results. McConachie voted for him in 2018, and doesn’t want the governor recalled. But McConachie isn’t sure if Dunleavy will get his vote in 2022.

“That is yet to be determined,” he said.

One Wrangell resident knows what’s it’s like to be in Dunleavy’s shoes. And even he said the governor can do better.

“Well I’m a little disappointed,” said former Governor Frank Murkowski.  Like everyone else, the ferry is a priority for him. And he doesn’t believe a full PFD should be given out at the expense of critical infrastructure.

“Trying to maintain that when you have to cut services because your revenue is down, you have to, I think, prioritize just what’s important to the livelihood of southeastern Alaska,” Murkowski said.

A spokesman for the governor’s office said he expects AMHS to be a hot topic. In a press release regarding his community visits, Dunleavy said “your input will be valuable in solving many of the issues our state is facing.”

The governor has not yet rescheduled his trip to Wrangell.