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Gov. Palin appoints new ferry advisers

Posted: Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Gov. Sarah Palin on Monday appointed new membership for the Marine Transportation Advisory Board, with strong representation for Juneau and Southeast business interests.

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The board includes several members of the Southeast Conference, including Murray Walsh of Juneau, its executive director.

Chairing the board will be Cathie Roemmich, executive director of the Juneau Chamber of Commerce.

"I think that Juneau should be very proud that Cathie Roemmich was picked as the chair," Walsh said.

Roemmich said she was anticipating a close look at marine transport issues critical to Juneau and Southeast Alaska.

"Obviously we need to look at how our ferry system is aging and work with a lot of communities that depend on our marine transportation system," she said.

Walsh and several other Southeast Conference board members, including former chairman John Conley of Ketchikan, will serve on the board. Several other members have ties to their local chambers of commerce as well.

The Southeast Conference, a regional advocacy group based in Juneau, was formed in 1958 to support the ferry system. It has since broadened into a general economic and community development group.

"The big, overarching goal is to see what we can do to help the ferry system become more sustainable and more self-supporting, though not completely self-supporting. That's probably not realistic," Walsh said.

Lois Epstien of the Alaska Transportation Priorities Project said she was disappointed the board seemed to be more oriented towards business users rather than average riders.

Ferry system issues in recent years have become intertwined with the issue of a Juneau access road.

"Members of the board need to be ferry advocates, not road advocates," she said.

"I'm concerned that several of the board's members have a history of strongly supporting the Juneau road/ferry project which, if it were built, would require hundreds of millions of transportation dollars that could otherwise be used to maintain and improve the ferry system," she said.

The board is created by executive order of the governor. The previous board expired at the end of the term of former Gov. Frank Murkowski. Palin reconstituted it by executive order in March.

Even before that, however, poor relations between the board and the Murkowski administration, which included controversial ferry chief Robin Taylor, limited the board's role.

Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau, said the communities and the viewpoints the board's members represent may not be as critical as what they may do.

"The important dynamic isn't necessarily who each individual is, but how much latitude the department and the administration give to the TAB," he said.

The previous board wasn't listened to, even though it had worthy members, he said.

• Pat Forgey can be reached at patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.



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