Southeast Alaskans worried about deep cuts proposed for state ferry system

 MV Kennicott (KTUU)
MV Kennicott (KTUU) (KTUU)
Published: Feb. 25, 2019 at 5:47 PM AKST
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Kake, Alaska sits directly in the center of the Alaska Panhandle. Its nearest neighbors, Angoon and Petersburg, are separated by a about a four hour ride through the waters of Southeast Alaska each way.

Residents of Southeast Alaska depend greatly on the Alaska Marine Highway System, but that link to other communities is in jeopardy with a proposal to slash funding for AMHS in fiscal year 2020, which begins on July 1.

The budget proposed by Gov. Dunleavy and currently under review by the Legislature calls for roughly $97 million to be taken from the marine highway system — roughly 75 percent of the transportation system's total budget.

"That would just cut out the ferry service coming right through Kake, and having any service at all," said Kake Mayor Lloyd Davis.

Davis says it's already difficult enough to rely on service from the ferry under current funding levels, but if the cuts come to pass, he fears the worst for Southeast Alaskans who rely on AMHS.

"We'd start having to fly in our food around or get a barge service in here once a week, but the freight costs have skyrocketed," Davis said.

165 miles north of Kake, the ferry route stops in Haines, where lifelong resident Jan Jill serves as mayor.

"Unless you use the ferries or know someone that uses them, you really can't understand how important they are," Hill said.

While the ferry system connects many of the communities scattered throughout the Panhandle, Haines is actually the hub for many marine highway travelers who start or end their trips in Canada.

"Not only will it cut us off, it's going to hurt tourism as well," Hill said.

Gov. Dunleavy has been clear about his proposed austerity budget since he unveiled it earlier this month — the new administration is trying to reel back deficit spending that dates back more than a decade with a shock treatment approach on the heels of

.

Earlier this month, Dunleavy issued a

directing the Dept. of Transportation and Office of Management and Budget to review how to reduce state funding obligations to the Alaska Marine Highway System, which could include privatization, reducing services to the summer months, or both.

Later this week, members of the Alaska AFL-CIO will be holding a rally in Juneau to protest cuts to AMHS.

The Marine Engineers' Beneficial Association, The InLandboatmen's Union, and The International Organization of Masters, Mates & Pilots would see more than 250 jobs erased under cuts of these proportions.

You can read their co-signed response to the proposed cuts

.