Gov. Sarah Palin on Wednesday resurrected the Marine Transportation Advisory Board and promised to treat it differently than did former Gov. Frank Murkowski.
"I promise you this board won't be ignored," she said at a press conference announcing its creation by executive order.
The board provides advice on the management and operation of the Alaska Marine Highway System, but a previous board had been little used.
Its members had clashed with former ferry system manager Robin Taylor, a political ally of Murkowski. Towards the end of Murkowski's term it rarely met, members said.
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Southeast legislators from both parties welcomed the board's creation and Palin's pledge of support.
Democratic Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Albert Kookesh of the ferry-dependent community of Angoon said he expected changes in the advisory board would better help it represent ferry users.
"This board has been involved but not paid attention to," he said.
House Transportation Committee Chairman Kyle Johansen, R-Ketchikan, called the change "very refreshing" and said legislators were ready to work with Leo von Scheben, Palin's new commissioner of the Department of Transportation and Public Services, to improve the ferry system.
Dennis Hardy, the new deputy commissioner for marine operations, starts work next week, completing the ferry management team.
The newly formed committee will have nine members, fewer than the old committee, and will have slightly different makeup. Its members will be appointed by the governor and will include representatives of ferry-using communities and ferry unions.
Applications for membership can be sent to he governor's office, according to spokeswoman Sharon Leighow.
State Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau, had been a critic of ferry management under the previous governor. He welcomed the new board and the new management.
"Now that the structure is in place I can make the argument that the structure is the easy part," he said.
He warned, however, that the new leadership team and board will be faced with some hard decisions that don't have clear-cut answers as they try to improve ferry service and cut costs.
Pat Forgey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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