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Ferry board hears complaints about horse rules

Local residents seek, get recommendation for changes

Posted: September 11, 2011 - 12:08am

Juneau’s equestrian enthusiasts may find the Alaska Marine Highway System a little more horse-friendly after action Friday by the Marine Transportation Advisory Board.

Meeting in Skagway, the board heard complaints about how the state ferries treated those traveling with large animals, and asked ferry officials to look for ways to reduce the costs to those shipping horses on the ferries.

Swampy Acres’ Jim Sidney told the board that he’s long been involved with 4-H, but this year the Juneau participants couldn’t afford to take their animals with them to events such as the Southeast State Fair in Haines in which they’d long been participants.

“This year, because of the $1,000 deposits, we did not go,” he said.

Ferry officials said they don’t charge more for trailers carrying horses, but do require the substantial deposit to ensure the owners do any necessary cleanup.

Otherwise, said Department of Transportation Deputy Commissioner Mike Neussl the state has to pay for cleanup.

“We’re going to have to hire somebody to come in and do that,” he said.

That’s mostly due to tougher federal rules aimed at keeping water clean.

“This wasn’t an issue in the past, but it has become and issue because of environmental regulations,” Neussl said.

If there’s a mess on the car deck, we just can’t hose it over the side,” he said.

Alaska has the most minimal clean water standards it can, Neussl assured the board, but the federal Environmental Protection Agency sets the national minimum amount.

“This isn’t something the Marine Highways System decided on, it’s being imposed by the EPA and being passed on,” said advisory board member Clay Koplin.

Other states have even tougher rules, said Neussl.

“Washington State is even worse,” he said. “Their Department of Ecology is even stricter — nothing can go over the side.”

At the ferry system’s southern terminus in Bellingham, the Alaska ferries have to hire a Zamboni, such as those used to clean ice, to come in and clean the car deck.

Another complaint stemmed from those who were taking their horses on the three day run to Bellingham, and wanted to take them off and exercise them in Ketchikan.

“We’re just talking humanely for a big animal like that,” said Juneau MTAB member Cathie Roemmich.

But Capt. John Falvey, the ferry system’s general manager, said that wasn’t possible, because the through vehicles are parked in the back of the ferries.

While Roemmich said everyone with horses should be allowed to get off, Falvey said that everyone who wanted to go to Wal-Mart would want to be able to get off as well.

“If we did that we’d have chaos,” he said.

He said the way to get a vehicle off the ferry in Ketchikan would be to buy a “split ticket,” first from Juneau to Ketchikan, and then from Ketchikan to Bellingham, as somewhat greater cost.

Roemmich said the Marine Highway System should find better ways to accommodate horses, especially since it is trying to attract more travelers to the system.

“I think it is not right when we lose a whole 4-H group that had done this for years and years,” she said.

The board recommended to the Marine Highway System that it investigate other ways to fairly recover costs. Among the suggestions were allowing credit card deposits that would only be charged if there was a cleanup expense, or allowing groups traveling together to pay a single deposit.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or at patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly attributed a comment about Ketchikan stopovers. It was was actually made by Cathie Roemmich.

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