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Dennis Hardy, a civil engineer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, was appointed Thursday to head the state's ferry system.
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Hardy, 59, was named deputy commissioner for marine operations by Leo von Scheben, commissioner of the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities. Hardy will begin work at the Juneau-based job on April 2.
"Dennis is exactly the guy I was looking for to lead the Alaska Marine Highway System as it faces many challenges to its economic efficiency and long-term sustainability," von Scheben said in a press release announcing the appointment.
Robin Taylor, the controversial former deputy commissioner, left his position when Gov. Sarah Palin took office in December. Since then, Deputy Commissioner John Torgerson has been in charge of the ferry system, in addition to his regular duties managing aviation.
Few legislators who follow the ferry system said they were familiar with Hardy, and the biographical information provided by the department showed little experience in seagoing operations.
He is chief of the Corps' Civil Works Division in Anchorage, overseeing planning, design and investigations of projects affecting flood protection, storm damage reduction, maritime navigation investigations, stream bank and coastal erosion.
Transportation spokesman Mike Chambers said that Hardy, in his years with the corps, has done work that will prepare him for his new job.
"He's done a lot of maritime projects, so he's comfortable with the marine environment," he said.
Hardy was on vacation and unavailable for comment.
Von Scheben's announcement said Hardy is the kind of leader needed to oversee the system, which serves 32 ports between the Aleutians and Bellingham, Wash., with 11 ferries.
"Dennis has excellent management skills, is data-driven in his decisions and works well with the public and stakeholder groups."
Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau, who has been highly critical of recent ferry management decisions, said he was curious about what "data-driven" meant.
"That raises more questions than it answers," he said.
Elton said he didn't know whether Hardy had the skills needed to reverse several years of what he called "destructive" ferry system management.
"I would have liked to have heard this person has turned around a business - and perhaps he has," said Elton.
Hardy holds master's degrees in civil engineering and environmental engineering from the University of Alaska and an undergraduate degree in civil engineering from the University of Washington. He has also served as an adjunct professor teaching engineering at the University of Alaska.
Pat Forgey can be reached at email@example.com.