Lawmaker touts Yukon River ferry

Posted: Tuesday, February 21, 2006

An Alaska Bush lawmaker would like to see state ferries cruising up and down the Yukon River as they did during the mining heyday the 19th century.

Rep. Woodie Salmon, D-Beaver, said expanding the Alaska Marine Highway System to various river communities would boost their economies and foster tourism.

"It'll help Fairbanks more than anyone else," because that city serves as the river country's tourism gateway, Salmon said.

His legislation, House Bill 432, calls for the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities to undertake a feasibility study for ferry travel on the Yukon.

"I'm sure they can run a smaller shuttle boat between the mouth of the Yukon to the highway system," Salmon said. That would span some 30 communities, among them villages that struggle economically because they are reached only by plane or boat.

Ferries would need to run only from May to September, as the river freezes over in the long winter, Salmon said.

Other Bush lawmakers support Salmon's idea, he said.

Transportation and Public Facilities spokesman John Manly said the department studied a similar proposal several years ago but passed it up.

"We're having a difficult time providing service to the existing system. It would be real difficult for us to come up with the numbers to justify expanding to the Yukon," Manly said.

Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau, said it's worth a look.

"I think (Salmon) is right. The first step is an assessment of needs both on the freight side, the Native village travel side, the tourism side - see what's being provided now and whether or not state provided service works," Elton said.

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