New ferry study in the works

Officials seek probe into how to keep state's system viable

Posted: Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Gov. Sarah Palin's new transportation commissioner is studying what needs to be done to improve the state ferry system, but legislators want their own study.

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Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, and co-chairman of the Senate Finance Committee said the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities will produce a report by next January, in time for the start of the next legislative session, on how to keep the Alaska Marine Highway System viable.

Transportation Commissioner Leo Von Scheben appointed a new ferry system chief, Dennis Hardy, who began work in April.

Stedman proposed the legislative study Monday at the Senate Finance Committee meeting, and said he wanted the study to be done by someone without preconceived notions about what needs to be done.

"It would be nice to have somebody who is kind of outside the box looking in," he said.

Stedman said finance committee staff would write a request for proposals to find somebody to do the study, but didn't know yet who that might be.

"In a perfect world (it would be) somebody who is not all that familiar with the marine highway system so we'll have a fresh look to help us sort through these problems," he said.

The Senate Finance Committee has its own budget for such matters, with a vote of the committee required for amounts of more than $25,000. The committee voted unanimously to pay for the legislative study.

Committee members said they were not sure what the Department's study would entail. Department Spokesman Mike Chambers said he was not familiar with it yet either.

Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau, said he agreed with Stedman's goal of looking outside the system.

The ferry system has "for too long focused on having the managers come up with the plans," he said. "You're locked into what you already have."

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



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