Ketchikan welcomes move of ferry HQ

This editorial appeared in the March 10 Ketchikan Daily News:

Posted: Tuesday, March 16, 2004

The state ferry headquarters belongs in Ketchikan - not because we want it, but because, with its shipyard, it's the appropriate place for the ferries and the officials who oversee them.

The state this week announced its decision to move the headquarters from Juneau to Ketchikan, perhaps as soon as this summer or fall.

Ketchikan is a ferry hub. It's a jumping-off point for Juneau and other points north, for Prince Rupert, British Columbia, and for Bellingham. State ferry passengers connect here with other ferries serving the Southeast region.

Its hub status isn't defined only by its location, which is the first stop before heading north and the last stop on the way south. Its status is established with the local up-and-coming maritime industry in this waterfront community. The community provides a shipyard where the ferries often receive their annual maintenance and upgrades, and where the ferries are directed for emergency repairs. When they arrive, the state employees making decisions in regard to them should be here ready and waiting.

Currently, they are in Juneau and must make travel and housing arrangements before departing for Ketchikan to address ferry business.

That costs the state dollars it no longer has. State officials anticipate saving at least $335,000 annually as a result of moving ferry headquarters here. That alone recommends the move.

Additionally, the state should support its own shipyard. Relocating ferry headquarters will help demonstrate such a commitment. When the state uses the shipyard, it increases the likelihood of it being available to other ship owners, too.

Juneau isn't happy about losing the headquarters. In its place, we too would find that disappointing just as Sitkans must have been disappointed when they learned the new fast ferry Fairweather will be home-ported in Juneau instead of Sitka as earlier planned. But no Alaskan, including those in Juneau, wishes the state government to waste its precious dollars. There are too few for the number of needs in the state.

By saving dollars within the ferry system, the state might be able to make similar economic decisions favorable to Juneau and other communities. For example, it might be hundreds of thousands of dollars easier to build a new capitol in Juneau. In the time it takes to build a capitol, the ferry headquarters move could save the state at least a million dollars.

It cannot be denied that the move will benefit Ketchikan. The creation of 40 to 45 new jobs in Ketchikan will boost the economy. Part of the state administration's responsibility is to assist communities economically. It is through their economic health and viability that Alaska draws its deepest breaths.

No one community can have it all. Each has its niche. Ketchikan's is its waterfront and growing maritime industry. The shipyard, cruise ships, seaplanes, barges, the developing aquarium and maritime research center, the university and other maritime training programs, all integrate to provide Ketchikan a viable and vibrant future.

Juneau, on the other hand, has the capital, the Kensington and Greens Creek mines and other economic opportunities.

While the state capital would be closer to Washington, D.C., reduce travel costs and provide easier and quicker access to the federal politicians making monetary decisions for the state if it were in Ketchikan, the capital is Juneau's. Juneau should develop it for all its worth.

And, yes, Ketchikan does want the ferry headquarters. There's nothing wrong with wanting what's right. Relocating the headquarters from Juneau to Ward Cove is the right move.

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