My Turn: Not just a ferry link, but a lifeline

Alaska Marine Highway System will always be accessible, no matter what the weather

Posted: Thursday, June 28, 2007

I am an unabashed supporter of Lynn Canal ferries. To me, it's a health and safety issue.

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Here's my story: My 2-year-old was diagnosed with acute appendicitis in January 1982 in Haines. His appendix may or may not have ruptured. No one could tell. The physician summoned a Coast Guard helicopter.

The Coast Guard, which we know flies in absolutely impossible weather, found the weather to be really impossible; flying was out of the question. A vicious blizzard was in progress, the pass was closed and transportation by air or road was out of the question.

The only option was the Alaska Marine Highway System; however, the ferry had already left the Haines dock.

My physician made another phone call, this time to the captain of the ferry. The ferry turned back, re-docked, collected my son, the rest of my family, a nurse and life-saving medical paraphernalia.

By now you have no doubt predicted that the outcome was positive. Emergency medical technicians took us off the ferry in Juneau, and we were whisked to the hospital, surgery was performed and everyone lived to tell the tale.

Had the ferry not been available, I have no doubt my 2-year old would have suffered enormous and perhaps fatal harm.

I know it was just a happy accident that our medical emergency and the availability of the ferry coincided. But it does illustrate a point. The ferry provides a critical link between the upper Lynn Canal and points south. Regular, reliable ferry service isn't just a convenience; it's a lifeline.

When heavy snows or high winds close roads and block airspace, usually the ferry can ply through. Isn't that one of the reasons for public roads, to provide reliable arteries to resolve matters of public heath and safety? The Lynn Canal is our public road. I want the state of Alaska to spend transportation money to improve it.

I know the Alaska Marine Highway System can provide safe passage in the nastiest of weather. But I'm reasonably certain that a road snaking through avalanche chutes down the west side of Lynn Canal will be closed in the nastiest of weather. This is, I think, a reasonable assumption based on years of experience. Both roads north out of Skagway and Haines are periodically blocked by snow and slides during the winter months. The proposed road linking to Juneau is still well within our weather system, and I seriously doubt it would provide reliable access.

As I said once before, the proposed road will be a kink, not a link. And it could be a killer of a kink.

• Stephanie Scott is a retired school teacher, former member of the Haines Assembly and a Haines resident.

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