The ferry Malaspina sails out of Juneau's Auke Bay terminal in 2012. It's one of 10 active vessels in the Alaska Marine Highway fleet. The system's new executive director, Shirly Marquardt, will begin work June 1.

The ferry Malaspina sails out of Juneau’s Auke Bay terminal in 2012. It’s one of 10 active vessels in the Alaska Marine Highway fleet. The system’s new executive director, Shirley Marquardt, will begin work June 1. (Photo by Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)

The Alaska Marine Highway has a new top official.

State Transportation Commissioner Marc Luiken on Tuesday appointed Shirley Marquardt as executive director of the ferry system.

Marquardt served as mayor of Unalaska, the ferry system’s westernmost port. She represented her region on the state’s Marine Transportation Advisory Board for more than a decade. She’s also worked for seafood processors and a barge line.

Shirley Marquardt was named executive director of the Alaska Marine Highway System May 15. (Photo courtesy State of Alaska)

Marquardt will oversee an initiative to change the system from a state agency to a public corporation. She said that’s part of what attracted her to the job.

“It’s such a different way to look at operating the ferry system, but clearly what we’ve been doing in the past almost 20 years is not working real well,” she said.

The executive director’s job is new. It replaces the deputy commissioner of marine transportation, which has been open for about a year.

Marine Transportation Advisory Board Chairman Robert Venables said Marquardt will bring business experience to the system, as well as what’s called the Ferry Reform Project.

“She really understands the maritime industry and she understands the community importance of the marine transportation mission of the Alaska Marine Highway System. And so, she’s very well rounded and I think she’s going to bring a great depth of expertise and executive decision making,” he said.

Venables said transportation officials discussed the new hire with the advisory board Monday. He said support was unanimous.

Marquardt will begin her job in early June. She’ll move to Ketchikan from Anchorage, where she’s been the governor’s director of boards and commissions.

General Manager Capt. John Falvey will continue to oversee marine highway operations, as he has for more than a decade.

“He will continue to be the ferry whisperer. That’s his bailiwick. That’s his wheelhouse,” she said.

The marine highway system has reduced service and dropped vessels in recent years as budgets have become tighter.

Its 10 ferries serve 35 communities from Bellingham, Washington, to Unalaska-Dutch Harbor.

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