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Finance moves MTAB expansion ahead

Posted: March 15, 2013 - 6:06pm  |  Updated: March 17, 2013 - 12:06am

A bill to add a 12th seat to the Marine Transportation Advisory Board cleared an important hurdle Friday morning, as the Senate Finance Committee voted to move it out of committee.

Senate Bill 24, sponsored by Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, would remove several communities from the area currently represented by Unalaska Mayor Shirley Marquardt, MTAB’s representative from Southwest Alaska, and place them into a new Southcentral seat covering the Kodiak Island Borough and the Kachemak Bay communities of Homer and Seldovia.

“Basically, this gives them an opportunity to have another voice at the table,” said Doug Letch, an aide to Stevens, testifying at the hearing.

Kodiak Chamber of Commerce economic development specialist Joe Bailor testified in favor of the bill.

“Adequate representation for the Kodiak region is vital for communicating the service needs for our region,” Bailor said. “Kodiak region is on a virtual growth spurt, and we need reliable and consistent marine transportation to help fuel economic growth.”

Sen. Donny Olson, D-Golovin, sounded skeptical, questioning Bailor’s emphasis on marine transportation.

“As you talked about some of the vital needs for transportation — obviously I come from an area that doesn’t have ferry system, but transportation is very vital — you say there’s no transportation to the north?” asked Olson, who represents much of Alaska’s vast northern region in the Senate. “I thought Alaska Airlines went in there several times a week, plus you have a small commuter carrier coming out of Anchorage.”

Bailor conceded that Kodiak does have commercial air links to Anchorage and other mainland Alaska communities. However, due to the comparative cost of flying instead of taking a ferry, he said, Island communities depend on the Alaska Marine Highway System for transportation to mainland Southcentral Alaska via Homer, which is connected to the Anchorage metropolitan area by road.

In addition to creating the 12th seat, S.B. 24 would add Gustavus to the list of communities included in the northern Southeast Alaska seat, which is now represented by current MTAB Chairman Robert Venables.

The consideration of S.B. 24 Friday was brief, lasting less than 12 minutes. The bill ultimately moved out of committee on a motion offered by Olson.

Sen. Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage, co-chairman of the committee, recommended in the committee report that the bill pass, as did Sen. Click Bishop, R-Fairbanks. Meyer’s fellow co-chairman, Fairbanks Republican Sen. Pete Kelly, offered no recommendation, as did Olson and Sen. Mike Dunleavy, R-Wasilla.

S.B. 24 will now wait in the Senate Rules Committee to be placed on the Senate floor.

• Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at 586-1821 or at mark.d.miller@juneauempire.com.

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