Ferry system solidifies Ketchikan HQ move

Posted: Thursday, July 08, 2010

The Alaska Marine Highway System headquarters, moved by former Gov. Frank Murkowski to the old pulp mill office building in Ketchikan, is now slated to get a new headquarters building.

The ferry system has purchased 30 acres near the pulp mill office from the Ketchikan Gateway Borough to construct the new facility for $2.64 million, the ferry system announced last week.

The ferry system's headquarters was located in Juneau until Murkowski moved it despite opposition from Juneau officials.

While many ferry employees objected to the move, the Murkowski administration said that it would be more efficient to have the headquarters near the Ketchikan dry-dock and that the lease on the old pulp mill office at Ward Cove would be less expensive than its space on Juneau's Channel Drive.

In 2007, a Department of Transportation spokesman said 49 positions were eventually moved to Ketchikan, but only 11 employees agreed to the transfer.

Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau, said that many in the capital were convinced that Murkowski had not been interested in efficiency, but in bringing more jobs to his hometown.

"What the governor did, it was payback for Juneau, that's what a lot of people thought," he said.

The state had to spend money upgrading the pulp mill office, while its Juneau space, leased until 2014, sat vacant.

The state determined that there were water and foundation problems with the flat-roofed, 50-year-old pulp mill office, and determined that it would cost $7.1 million to fully upgrade it.

Instead, the ferry system has now chosen to build a new building, DOT spokesman Roger Wetherell said.

"Acquiring this land will provide for AMHS' future growth and will be used to consolidate the ferry system's warehouse, headquarters building, working berth and other building spaces," DOT&PF Commissioner Leo von Scheben said in a statement.

The property purchase is made up of 9.5 acres of uplands and 20.5 acres of tidelands, he said. The property is the site of the failed Gateway Forest Products, a lumber and veneer mill operation the borough attempted to use on the old pulp mill site it acquired after the mill closed.

Wetherell said DOT did not know what it would cost to build the new office.

"As the design process continues, the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities (DOT&PF) will be developing construction cost estimates," he said.

Wetherell said the building was purchased with state funds first appropriated in 2005.

"It has not yet determined where the construction funding will come from," he said.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or patrick.forgey@ juneauempire.com.



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