Alaska lawmakers seek oversight over ferry fleet’s fate

The ferry Malaspina docks in Skagway on Aug. 25, 2017. (Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)

A three-line piece of legislation would prohibit the state from selling, transferring or disposing of a state ferry without express approval by lawmakers.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration has deferred expensive repairs to vessels. Currently at least four ships are tied up without crews. Critics say they’ll deteriorate without regular maintenance.

The bill’s primary sponsor, Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka, said Tuesday that cost-cutting by the Dunleavy administration is effectively dismantling the Alaska Marine Highway System.

“Even with a change in structure, with more funding, or sort of other different approaches, if core assets of the system are rashly disposed of, there will not be a system to put back together again,” he told the House Transportation Committee.

But Rep. Matt Claman, D-Anchorage, cautioned that House Bill 253 could tie the hands of the state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities. He said he supports the agency trying to sell the fleet’s two fast ferries.

How does this address the fact that the Legislature doesn’t exactly have a sterling reputation for speedy action, when that’s called for?” Claman said.

In a fiscal note accompanying the bill, the Department of Transportation says it’s currently paying $566,016 annually to moor the fleet’s two fast ferries. It says if the agency needed lawmakers to greenlight a deal, costs could accumulate quickly while waiting for legislative approval.

The last ferry to be disposed of was the Taku in 2018. It fetched $170,000 and was sold for scrap.

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Jacob Resneck is CoastAlaska's regional news director in Juneau.

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