Ferry policy likely to boost Southeast fair

Horse owners praise new AMHS change on clean-up deposits
James Sidney, an owner of Swampy Acres, visits with Razzle, an 18-year-old quarterhorse he bought for his granddaughter in October. Sidney had to put down $1,000 to bring the horse on a state ferry. The Alaska Marine Highway System has changed its policy to make transporting horses a little less expensive.

The Alaska Marine Highway System’s new policy for transporting horses and other livestock on state ferries may be good news for horse lovers, as well as the Southeast Alaska State Fair in Haines.

Alaska ferries will now charge a clean-up deposit of $500 instead of $1,000, and will let a single deposit cover an entire group, a change recently announced. In addition, the deposit won’t have to be posted in cash, but can be covered by a credit card, said Mike Neussl, deputy commissioner for marine highways in the Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities.

James Sidney of the Swampy Acres stables said that will likely make it possible for 4-H and other participants to bring their horses with them to the Southeast Alaska State Fair next year.

The amount of the deposit prevented bringing them this year, he said.

“We had six kids there, but we just borrowed horses in Haines so we didn’t have to deal with the deposits,” he said.

The deposits have been designed to cover the cost of ferry personnel to clean animal waste and other messes, but Neussl said every cash deposit had been returned in the 1 1/2 years it had been in place.

The horse show was once an important part of the Southeast Alaska State Fair, said Ross Silkman, fair executive director, and they’re trying to bring it back. This year, it had limited success, but Silkman said he’s hoping for more people and horses next year.

“We tried to have a little one with local horses this year.” There were about a half dozen horses there, he said.

“Our hope for next year is to be able to bring the horses up from Juneau so we can have a bigger show,” he said.

The Haines fair brought in about 12,000 people over its four days, including locals from Haines and Skagway and from Whitehorse, Yukon Territory and Juneau, he said.

The horse show was a bigger part of the fair a decade ago, but has diminished in recent years, according to Silkman.

Other fair activities include playing games, amusement rides, viewing barn animals and lots of arts and crafts booths and other vendors. There’s also a popular logging show, and the highlight of the fair is its prominent musical entertainment.

“It’s morphed into a bit of a music festival,” Silkman said.

Amanda Rue, leader of Juneau’s 4-H Thunder Mountain Riders, said the ferry system’s policy will make it much more likely that her group will be able to attend the Southeast Alaska State Fair next year.

But she still doubts the fairness of the policy.

“I still have a couple of questions about why a dog owner isn’t having to pay as big as fee as we are,” she said.

Sidney said he hopes the new ferry policy will help revive the Southeast Alaska Fair’s horse show.

“I know that $500 for the group makes it a lot easier than $1,000 per trailer when we’ve taken six or seven trailers,” he said.

“Nobody has that kind of money,” he said.

They are still working with other issues, such as ferry requirements for bedding on trailer floors and feet.

“They wanted sand and dirt for bedding, but that doesn’t absorb anything,” he said.

And the ferry system only allows five bales of hay per trailer, citing a fire hazard. Sidney said he acknowledged straw was likely a fire hazard, but doubted that hay presented the same risk.

Rue said the hay was an important issue because the trips can be fairly long. Even with the reduced deposits, travel is expensive and when they go to Haines they like to also go to Whitehorse and elsewhere, but don’t want to buy hay there.

“We like to keep them on the same feed because each hay is different,” she said.

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

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