Ferry system may make horse travel easier

The Alaska Marine Highway System plans to change a policy that keeps many horse-owners from taking their animals on ferries.

Currently, anyone transporting a horse or other large animal must make a $1,000 deposit. It’s most often returned after the trip ends. But if excrement leaks out of the animal’s trailer, clean-up costs are deducted from the deposit.

Horse-owners protested the policy, saying it was so expensive it kept young equestrians from showing and competing in other towns.

Ferry chief Mike Neussl says he’s working on a different system.

“We’re looking at not actually holding money, which is what we do right now. So we’re looking at the possibility of holding the credit card information and having customers be liable for that but not actually taking their money unless there’s a spill that necessitates a cleanup that generates an expense,” he says.

He says he hopes the new policy will be ready for the next Marine Transportation Advisory Board meeting, which is December 15th.

The advisory board heard from horse-owners and youth-group leaders at a September meeting in Skagway. Members were told that Juneau 4-H Club equestrians could not attend the state fair in Haines because of the cost.

Board members and others asked ferry managers to search for an alternate fee system.

“I’ve actually gotten a letter of interest from the Juneau legislative delegation that requested we look into that and try to resolve that issue. And that’s certainly what we’re doing,” he says.

Neussl says ferry staff can no longer hose excrement off the car deck and into the ocean. Recent federal environmental rules require more expensive clean-ups.