Gov. Dunleavy names 9 to ferries working group

Gov. Mike Dunleavy, left, accompanied by John MacKinnon, commissioner of Transportation and Public Facilities, talks to reporters at a press conference on Wednesday in Juneau. (Photo by Skip Gray/KTOO)

A former Coast Guard admiral and pipeline executive will head Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s advisory group on the state ferry system.

Thomas Barrett retired from Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. last year and was a vice admiral in the Coast Guard until 2004. He’ll chair the nine-person advisory group tasked with charting a course for the Alaska Marine Highway System with recommendations expected by the end of September.

The governor blamed poor planning by prior administrations for widespread disruptions to transportation across coastal Alaska that’s led to food shortages and other hardships.

“If there are individuals that wish to hang it on this administration, that’s fine,” Dunleavy told reporters on Wednesday. “We’re big boys. We’re going to work at fixing this thing. This is decades in the making.”

The governor said his team is committed to looking at regional transportation that goes beyond the Alaska Marine Highway System.

“We’re going to do everything we can to make sure that we come up with a sustainable mode or multiple methods of transportation for Southeast, Southcentral Alaska, those communities that are impacted by the ferries,” he said.

The governor says the AMHS Reshaping Working Group will be poring over a $250,000 study his administration’s commissioned last year.

He’s also named Wanetta Ayers, director of the state’s Division of Economic Development during Gov. Sean Parnell’s administration and former Kenai Peninsula Republican state Sen. John Torgerson.

Sitting legislators on the group include Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, and Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak — both lawmakers have been marine highway boosters that have resisted the Dunleavy administration’s deep cuts.

Other members include Robert Venables, chair of the Marine Transportation Advisory Board. Labor will be represented by Ben Goldrich of the Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association, the union which represents the marine highway’s licensed marine engineers.

Regional service has been idle for weeks following the breakdown of the sole mainline ferry in service. That’s following sweeping cost-cutting that had tied up vessels, deferred repairs and left no backup ferries.

This month, the Department of Transportation solicited interest from private companies to run passengers and limited freight in Southeast Alaska.

Transportation Commissioner John MacKinnon says his department received some potential operators.

“If the lack of available ships continues, we’re going to engage them,” MacKinnon told reporters, “and we’re going to take care of whatever transportation needs we can.”

Limited service is supposed to resume in March. But it remains unclear how long the fleet’s sole mainliner — the Matanuska — will remain offline. The ship broke down and will need to be repaired at the Ketchikan shipyard.

Transportation officials had said the ferry would be back in service in early March. But as of Wednesday afternoon, the ship remains tied up in Juneau’s Auke Bay and no date has been set to move south for repairs.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly named the Alyeska Pipeline Service Co.

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Jacob Resneck, CoastAlaska

Jacob Resneck is CoastAlaska's regional news director based in Juneau. CoastAlaska is our partner in Southeast Alaska. KTOO collaborates with partners across the state to cover important news and to share stories with our audiences.

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