Ketchikan leaders ponder consequences of Prince Rupert ferry cancellation

Alaska Marine Highway System ferry Kennicott
The Alaska Marine Highway System’s ferry Kennicott near Ketchikan in August 2010. (Creative Commons photo by Jay Galvin)

The state announced Wednesday it’s shutting down ferry service to Prince Rupert, British Columbia. That news has been met with disappointment in Ketchikan.

Ending ferry service from Prince Rupert will mean big changes for people trying to get from Southeast Alaska to the North American road system, according to Ketchikan Mayor Bob Sivertsen.

“​It’s a cost-efficient option for kids going back to school and people going to see their doctors, and people going on vacation, so having limited or no service to Prince Rupert drastically would affect how people move around in the state of Alaska,” Sivertsen said.

Patti Mackey of the Ketchikan Visitors Bureau said she recently used the ferry to take her son to college. She said it’s essential for commerce.

“We know from our research that the average ferry traveler that gets off the ferry and stays in Ketchikan spends over $500 — almost $600 — during their visit on things like hotels and food and transportation and activities, so that is going to be a challenge,” Mackey said.

She said the two communities are more than just neighbors.

“Prince Rupert is Ketchikan’s sister city, and we’ve long had a good relationship, and they depend on the economic benefits of the ferry system as much as Ketchikan or any Alaskan community does,” Mackey said.

Prince Rupert Mayor Lee Brain released a statement Thursday saying he’s headed to Juneau later this month to try and find a workaround with Alaska state transportation officials and Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s office.

Statement Regarding the Alaska Marine Highway System (AMHS): ⛴The current situation with the Alaska Marine Highway…

Posted by Mayor Lee Brain on Thursday, September 5, 2019

Sivertsen said he’s concerned about how the fishing industry will get some of its products to market without a ferry link.

​“There’s been some commerce as far as shipping fish products and shellfish products south through the (Alaska) Marine Highway System on the road system through Canada, or hooking up with their rail system,” Sivertsen said.

The announcement that the state is ending the Prince Rupert link comes as it says the Canadian ferry terminal cannot comply with a U.S. Department of Homeland Security mandate to provide armed security for U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents conducting inspections on Canadian soil. U.S. law enforcement agents can’t carry guns in Canada, and as of Sept. 30 they will be unwilling to work unless armed Canadian police stand by.

But Alaska and Prince Rupert officials have said there aren’t enough Royal Canadian Mounted Police available to devote to the task. And U.S. federal agencies are unwilling to issue another waiver.

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s office said in a statement they are “aware of this and coordinating with federal agencies involved to determine a path forward.”

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