Study ferry move further

Posted: Tuesday, March 30, 2004

The Alaska Marine Highway System's upper management has stated they want to run the ferries more like a private enterprise. Good idea. Let's follow this line of thought.

If we were starting a new ferry system and deciding where to locate its central office, there'd be a legitimate choice between Ketchikan and Juneau. Juneau provides a better interface between other state departments, regulatory agencies, and DOT&PF's planning section. Ketchikan has a shipyard that provides most repair services to the fleet. Both ports have facilities for ships to lay up during the winter. The two ports have similar numbers of ferry port calls. Juneau is more centrally located to the Southwest portion of the system, which includes the overhaul facility for our Southwest vessels in Seward. Juneau has port calls for the Fairweather, which does not call in Ketchikan.

A person looking at the facts impartially would recommend Juneau as the base of operations and would recommend that some employees be stationed in Ketchikan to interface with the shipyard. Guess what? That's exactly what we have now. The central office is located in Juneau. In Ketchikan, we have two port engineers and support staff located near the terminal and the shipyard.

Would a private company disrupt the operations team in Juneau and relocate it to Ketchikan? Only if it were cost-effective. The cost comparisons put forth by the administration, once adjusted for reality, are basically a wash. Missing from their Ward Cove scenario are the hidden costs of recruiting replacement technical employees, the costs of moving them to Ketchikan, the costs of training, and the time it takes a new employee to learn a unique system. Ferry system administration would be increasingly dysfunctional during the transition period. Look at Tom Briggs, AMHS's director of marine operations. He's been on board for a year, yet his recent public testimony indicated he wasn't even aware that AMHS performs routine vessel overhauls in Seward. It takes time to understand our system.

If the Ward Cove lease hasn't been signed yet, there's still time to perform a proper analysis. The decision should be based on what's best for Alaska, not just Ketchikan. I challenge the administration to do what they say - make decisions like a private company.

Paul Johnsen


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