The Senate Transportation Committee advanced a bill Tuesday to add a 12th seat to the Alaska Marine Transportation Advisory Board, an expansion proponents say will improve local representation for communities on the Kenai Peninsula and Kodiak Island.
Senate Bill 24 would take several communities currently represented by Unalaska Mayor Shirley Marquardt on the board — which advises the governor and Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities commissioner on issues related to the Alaska Marine Highway System and is intended to represent public and industry interests — and place them under a new seat.
An aide to Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, who introduced the bill, testified that S.B. 24 was crafted at the request of the Kodiak Chamber of Commerce.
“Really, at the request of the local Chamber of Commerce in Kodiak, we took a look at this and thought that this would be a way to get more voices in a larger area of the state to have a say in the Marine Transportation Advisory Board process,” Doug Letch said.
Trevor Brown, executive director of the Kodiak Chamber of Commerce, testified in support of the bill by telephone. He said Marquardt does a “great job” on MTAB, but that the interests of other Southwest Alaska communities included in the region Marquardt represents are different from those of Homer, Kodiak, Ouzinkie and other communities that S.B. 24 seeks to incorporate into the 12th seat.
“We have different needs than the Aleutian chain from our service, and we would prefer to have our own representative on MTAB,” Brown said.
S.B. 24 would also update a list of communities included in the seat for northern Southeast Alaska to include Gustavus, which began receiving regular ferry service earlier this decade.
Sens. Fred Dyson and Anna Fairclough, both Eagle River Republicans, asked Letch whether it would create a problem for MTAB to have an even number of members in case there were a tied vote.
“It seems that the meetings are fairly amicable in terms of getting a quorum together and discussing the types of issues,” Letch said. “We had some thoughts about the even number of board members, too, and I think it’s really just the idea that in order to minimalize the cost, we’ve just proposed one seat for it. If it was within the purview of other committees or anywhere down the line to add anything else, that’s a different discussion but we don’t think that there’d be a big problem with an even number of votes.”
Asked about it later Tuesday, Stevens concurred.
“I think they very seldom have controversial votes,” Stevens said of the MTAB members.
The committee ultimately advanced the bill to its second committee of referral, the Senate Finance Committee, on a motion offered by Dyson.
S.B. 24 carries a fiscal note indicating it would cost the state an estimated $3,000 per year, an impact Letch described as “very minor.”
“We don’t feel like that’s a very overwhelming concern,” he said.
The Senate Transportation Committee is chaired by Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau. Egan expressed support for the bill after Stevens introduced it last month, although he has not signed on as a cosponsor.