Juneau's identification with the state ferry system is floating away.
In a move that residents alternately say is a waste of money or a good-faith gesture, the capital's name will be stripped from most Alaska Marine Highway ships.
The state Department of Transportation was directed earlier this year by Gov. Frank Murkowski to remove the hailing port name "Juneau" from all state ferries and replace them with the name of the community each ferry serves most regularly.
The Alaska Marine Highway System estimates the decision will cost the state about $37,000.
"I think the governor felt like it was a way we could get a better connectedness to the cities the ferry system serves," said Murkowski spokesman John Manly. "Maybe they'd feel a sense of pride if they had their hometown on the back of it."
George Poor, senior port engineer for the ferry system, said the hailing port is simply a legal registration for the vessel. The ships now say "Juneau" because the city is the seat of state government and the home of the marine highway system. But this summer the system headquarters will move to Ketchikan.
"The world is full of vessels that never, ever go to a hailing port," Poor said.
He said the hailing ports now inscribed on the side of the ships are raised above the surface and must be ground off before the vessels can be repainted.
The new hailing ports on the ships will be:
Aurora - Hoonah
Columbia - Ketchikan
Fairweather - Juneau
Kennicott - Valdez
LeConte - Petersburg
Lituya - Metlakatla
Malaspina - Skagway
Matanuska - Haines
Taku - Wrangell
Tustumena - Kodiak
Some in Juneau questioned the decision to spend the money, considering the chronic budget deficits faced by the state.
John Shedd, 53, a carpenter and commercial fisherman in Juneau, said the change is an unnecessary cost, "especially if that would cost maintenance dollars that could be used elsewhere."
Bob Doll, general manager of the state ferry system in the late 1990s, said it's not the first time the state has considered renaming the hailing ports.
"I guess I am of two minds about it. If it serves to increase the identification of people of coastal Alaska with the marine highway system and its ships, then I am certainly in favor of that outcome," he said. "Whether or not that will be the case remains to be seen.
"On the other hand it very much resembles a token of little real value and I'm unfortunately skeptical of the fact that it will have any real long-term results. It very much resembles showmanship."
Others said it would help give a sense of ownership over the ferry system to the entire region.
"I think it's a great idea," said Marilyn Holmes, a photographer and 23-year Juneau resident.
Holmes said she thinks it makes sense to rename the hailing port of a ship if it serves a particular community.
"It gives the sense of a regional community," she said.
Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at email@example.com.
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