My Turn: Marine highway move sensible

Posted: Tuesday, March 09, 2004

I concur that the discussion paper prepared by Pacific Marine Technical Services on moving the headquarters of the Alaska Marine Highway System could have been made public in a more timely manner. I regret that because of logistical reasons it was held up for two weeks and, as a consequence, fueled unnecessary suspicion that there was something to hide. There isn't.

The report reaches the same conclusions that previous studies did over the past 25 years: that the operations should be moved from Juneau to Ketchikan.

The Department of Transportation made the report public on Mar. 8. I recommend that everyone read it.

The report recognizes the advantages of co-locating the Marine Highway fleet operations and the maintenance managers in proximity to the state's ferry and state-owned shipyard facility in Ketchikan.

It concludes that Marine Highway managers "would have direct daily contact and interaction with vessel operations, overhaul, lay-up and logistical support of the AMHS fleet and shipboard personnel." The report notes that there would be numerous cost savings that would result from efficiencies achieved by centralizing warehouse activities in the one location.

The (Sunday Juneau Empire) editorial alleges that I support moving the headquarters because Juneau is too green. It is true that I was very disappointed when the Clinton administration and its environmental allies in Alaska joined forces to close down the pulp mills in Sitka and Ketchikan. That action was devastating for the local economies of both communities and put hundreds of families out of work in Southeast Alaska.

However, the editorial writer's theory that the move is a consequence of some kind of a vendetta against Juneau is belied by the facts. Over the years, while the timber battles were taking place, I fought to keep the capital in Juneau (and in fact, have continued to push for it by lighting a fire under the local leadership to move faster to construct a new capitol complex to secure Juneau's future).

I aggressively supported the development of the Greens Creek and Kensington mines, which means hundreds of jobs and a greater income for the Juneau economy. No one has pushed harder than I have for the road out of Juneau; I fought for airport improvements - including not allowing the runway to be shortened and for completion of the Juneau Golf Course.

The writer of the editorial accuses me of a lack of leadership because I support moving the headquarters. Consider the following:

Back in the late '40s when the 17th Coast Guard was moved out of Ketchikan to Juneau, the decision was controversial. Same thing in the '70s when the Coast Guard air detachment was moved from Annette Island near Ketchikan to Sitka. Yet over the years, the wisdom of those moves have proven to be good decisions for the state.

The previous administration planned for the new fast ferry, the Fairweather, to be home-ported in Sitka. My administration reviewed the wisdom of that decision and decided a $34 million vessel should have more use than eight or nine hours a day out of Sitka. Juneau was more logical because it could make trips north to Haines and Skagway and south to Sitka. It was a controversial decision to move it out of Sitka and base it here in Juneau, but I did because it was in the best interest of the state.

Any decision to move any organization is very controversial, as moving the Coast Guard was for Ketchikan and moving the Fairweather is for Sitka. Whoever wrote your editorial, though, may not understand what it takes to lead.

The easiest course would be to avoid the controversy and make no decision - simply ignore what may be the state's best interests. I would not have sought this office were that to be my approach to making the hard decisions.

I urge the editorial writer and everyone in Juneau to read the report, review the history, and consider all the facts. Then look at the big picture of what is in the best interest of Southeast Alaska and the whole state, and see how we can best help all communities to move forward. Do that, and I'm confident you'll see the wisdom of our proposed action.

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