State Briefs

Posted: Thursday, May 23, 2002

Marine Highway System specials begin June 2

JUNEAU - The ferry LeConte will begin summer service from Auke Bay to Pelican on Sunday, June 2, at a discounted fare. The first sailing of the season departs at 8:15 a.m. Adult fare will be $50 round-trip. Discount fares also are available for children, 2-11.

The normal $70 round-trip fare will be charged on subsequent Juneau-Pelican sailings. The LeConte will make a two-hour port call in Pelican before returning to Juneau. The other Juneau-Pelican sailings on the Marine Highway System this summer are June 30, July 14, July 28, Aug. 18, Aug. 25, Sept. 8 and Sept. 22.

On Tuesday, June 4, the ferry Malaspina will offer a one-time Lynn Canal cruise departing from Auke Bay at 5 p.m. The trip will last about four and a half hours and will include Point Retreat, St. James Bay and Sentinel Island. Forest Service interpreters will point out the sights. The fare is $25 per adult with discounts provided for children 2-11 and seniors.

Passenger space is limited for both sailings. Passage must be paid when reservations are made. For more information or to book passage, contact the Juneau reservation center, 465-3941 (1-800-642-0066), or visit the Marine Highway online at Passage also may be reserved during regular business hours by visiting the reservation center at 6858 Glacier Highway, the satellite office at Centennial Hall, or the Auke Bay ferry terminal.

Rural mail plan advances in Congress

FAIRBANKS - Legislation affecting Alaska's bypass mail service to rural villages moved Wednesday in the U.S. House and the Senate.

The Senate Government Affairs Committee unanimously approved a bill by Sen. Ted Stevens, an Alaska Republican, to set new criteria for companies that want to fly bypass mail in the state. Rep. Don Young, an Alaska Republican, secured similar language on a supplemental spending bill in the House.

The actions Wednesday set the stage for quick passage of the bypass mail changes by attaching them to the supplemental bill, which carries an extra $30 billion primarily for the military and domestic security efforts in the current fiscal year.

Stevens and Young want to limit the types of air carriers to which the U.S. Postal Service could give bypass mail. They say doing so would save money and encourage passenger service to rural villages.

Under the bypass program, shippers can send 1,000 pounds or more of material, including groceries, to rural Alaska at parcel post rates. It's dubbed "bypass" because packages do not go through post offices. Instead, they are taken directly to eligible air carriers on a rotating basis.

State closes nine parks

ANCHORAGE - Nine state parks in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough will close this summer because of a legislative budget cut that parks director Jim Stratton calls "sheer lunacy."

Republicans on the House Finance Committee say Department of Natural Resources officials are playing politics and could shift money to keep the parks open.

The state Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation has $186,000 less to spend this year than last, about a 3.5 percent cut. It is eliminating ranger positions and closing the gates at the nine parks, and may board up two more near Fairbanks, Stratton said. Chena River State Recreation Site and Lower Chatanika River State Recreation Area will be kept open if the state can reach terms with a private contractor to run them for profit, Stratton said.

Stratton said the parks division could have kept all its campgrounds open had the Legislature not capped the amount of user fees - tolls for parking, boat launching and camping - the division can spend. He said the budget cut does not save the state any money, but it does hurt Alaskans and visitors looking for a place to camp, hike, fish or picnic.

"It is idiocy, it is lunacy, it is illogical," Stratton said.

Lawmakers, however, said the Department of Natural Resources could have diverted money from other divisions into the parks agency and kept parks open, had they wanted to.

Reps. Jim Whitaker, a Fairbanks Republican, and Con Bunde, an Anchorage Republican, both House Finance Committee members, said the closures are a political ploy intended to hurt conservative incumbents at the polls next fall.

"This is a great PR game for them," Bunde said.

Bunde and Whitaker said the Legislature also had a good reason for limiting the amount of fee revenues the division can spend: The fees produce more money than the state needs to spend on parks services.

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