State taking commentary on Alaska’s winter ferry schedule

State taking commentary on Alaska’s winter ferry schedule

Gov. Mike Dunleavy vetoed about $8.5 million for vessel operations, which his budget office said would “align service with historical demand, while providing 18 months of funding to align the system’s budget with the calendar year.” The move to provide funding for operations for 18 months rather than the traditional 12 months was intended in part to provide more stability in scheduling.

State transportation department spokesperson Andy Mills told CoastAlaska the draft schedule reflects the best the state can do given available funding and maintenance needs within the fleet. “We do our best to juggle all of the considerations when it comes to formulating the schedule,” he said. The draft, which the transportation department is taking public comment on, covers operations between October and April and calls for up to five ships operating at any one time. One of those, however, is a ferry that shuttles between Ketchikan and nearby Metlakatla.

Robert Venables, executive director of Southeast Conference, a regional civic and business organization, expressed disappointment “to see such gaps still, for so many communities. There’s apparently no service to a number of the village communities for a great length of time.” House Speaker Louise Stutes, a Kodiak Republican, suggested the funding level isn’t set in stone.

“We’re still working with the governor and there were a lot of vetoes that need to be addressed,” she said. Support from three-fourths of the Legislature is needed to override a veto, and it’s not clear what appetite there might be to revisit Dunleavy’s vetoes. Overall, though, Stutes said she’s pleased with the draft schedule in which Kodiak Island and Prince William Sound communities have shorter service gaps compared to last year.

“We went long periods with no ferries,” Stutes said. “And so I think that they’re just trying to make it a little more spread out. And some communities are getting a little more and some are getting a little less.” The largest ship in the ferry system’s fleet, the Columbia, continues to be idled as a cost-savings measure.

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