Coastal communities say winter Marine Highway schedule will be costly

 MV Kennicott (KTUU)
MV Kennicott (KTUU) (KTUU)
Published: Sep. 18, 2019 at 10:17 PM AKDT
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The last ferry of the year departs Cordova on Friday, leaving the coastal community, one of several, without ferry service for months. That gap in service is because of the Alaska Marine Highway System's Winter schedule. Communities across the state are preparing for what some say will be a harsh Winter without that service.

“I’m in Angoon right now,” says former state senator Albert Kookesh. “We have no ferry. I have a little grandchild… she's a year old. She can't drink regular milk, so we have to ship our milk, [lactose]-free milk in for her, from Juneau. My daughter sent some...yesterday. It didn't make yesterday's flight, it didn't make today's so far. There's only one more plane coming."

The Marine Highway is more than a delivery service.

“These communities depend and rely on the Alaska Marine Highway system to transport them to their medical appointments and access to medical facilities," says Rep. Louise Stute, R-Alaska.

“The military uses it to transport their people... The ferry is used as an oil response boat in Prince William Sound… All of the supplies and the equipment to test and replace fire extinguishers come in on the ferry."

And without a ferry, communities have to pay for planes instead, if they can afford it.

“You can't fly stuff in, it's just too expensive,” Kookesh says. “And then the local store, because there's no ferry, will have to fly stuff in too."

The freeze on services over Winter, a cost difficult to fully grasp.

“I don't think you can even begin to make an estimate of it now because it's gonna have the effect, it's going to affect so many different things," Stute says.

Potentially even taking business out of the state.

“When I was down there for the transportation hearing, I heard many, many, many Cordovans say to me, 'if we don't have a ferry here, it's going to be just as easy, if not easier for us to get on a plane and go to Seattle and get our goods.’” Stute says.

In an email statement Wednesday, the Department of Transportation said "as our department is faced with budget reductions, we will continue to provide the best service possible to all Alaskans, but we can't meet all the demands, on our marine highway, our state highways, and our state-owned airports. We are faced with making tough decisions."

The department has faced budget reductions and a costly strike over the last year. Leaving the future uncertain for both the Department and coastal communities.

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