I'd like to briefly respond to Ms. Amelia Budd's letter you ran in the Juneau Empire.
I'm encouraged by how involved Alaskans are in the public process. Meeting with constituents is not only an important aspect of my job, but something I've really come to enjoy. I welcome their participation and, quite frankly, couldn't be an informed public representative without it. My meeting with Ms. Budd was no exception. She's a smart young woman with strong personal opinions about what's in the best interests of Southeast. Although we disagreed about many things, I appreciated hearing her views and enjoyed our conversation. However, I take exception to her characterization of my views.
I've always supported a strong Alaska Marine Highway System and have made numerous public comments to that effect. Our diverse geography presents serious challenges, so one of my biggest priorities this session has been working to create a more flexible, efficient and reliable transportation system. I have insisted that the Southeast Alaska Transportation Plan address both marine and surface transportation needs. We need a strong ferry system and moving the marine highway system headquarters to Ketchikan will be good for the long-term health of the system. I wouldn't have advocated so strongly for the move if I thought otherwise. We still need to work on increasing riders, lowering costs, reducing route distances and improving efficiency, but overall we're making good progress.
However, this is much more than a simply "roads vs. ferries" debate. I have a responsibility for improving the economy throughout the district and the state. Natural resource development will continue to power Alaska's economy until we start actively promoting private sector enterprise in our state. Southeast Alaska faces a declining population, shrinking tax base, falling school enrollment, lost jobs and a stagnant economy. Confronted with these challenges, I won't apologize for trying to attract new investment to the community. Improving the roads and power structure in Southeast will bring a significant economic stimulus to the region.
Two of the biggest beneficiaries of this development will be the fishing and tourism industries. Long deliver times and high freight costs are major competitive challenges for our seafood industry. We need to improve freight access points, lower costs, improve time to market and aggressively combat a growing farmed seafood threat. The tourism industry is expected to benefit from a new circle road route with Canada and the Lower 48.
I will never forget that I'm in this job to serve the district and all of its constituents. I'm dedicated to building a vibrant, diverse economy and will do everything I can to put us on that course. I don't think that's confrontational or impolite, just honest and direct.
Sen. Bert K. Stedman
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