U.S. Rep. Don Young helped obtain $1.5 million this summer so the Alaska Marine Highway System could buy its office building in Ketchikan, supporting the controversial move of the ferry system headquarters out of Juneau.
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The money will be used to partially finance the purchase of the former Ketchikan Pulp Corp. mill office building at Ward Cove from the Ketchikan Gateway Borough, borough and system officials said recently.
"We're asking $2 million. It's probably worth a little more than that," said Roy Eckert, Ketchikan Gateway Borough manager.
"We're not asking for anything more than it's worth," Eckert said.
The 50-year-old mill office building recently received $1 million in upgrades, including a new roof, heating and air conditioning systems, and modern, efficient lighting, Eckert said.
Ward Cove has 12,000 square feet available for the ferry system, up from the 6,000 that was available in Juneau. It is close to other ferry facilities and is where ferries lay up for the winter.
Young obtained the money as part of the federal transportation budget, called the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient, Transportation Act - A Legacy for Users Bill. The legislation contains $1.6 million for headquarters building acquisition, according to Young's staff.
The borough subsidized the lease payments for the ferry system to attract much-needed new jobs to Ketchikan, at the site of a closed pulp mill, Eckert said.
State transportation officials estimated in 2004 that 40 jobs would move from Juneau to Ketchikan, and about 21 ferry employees would move to keep their jobs.
In actuality, 49 positions wound up being moved to Ketchikan and only 11 Juneau employees chose to make the move, Department of Transportation spokesman Mike Chambers said recently.
That's been hard on the ferry system, as it lost many long-time employees who had strong ties to Juneau, ferry advocates said.
Juneau elected officials fought the move at the time, and Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau, said it has been bad for the Marine Highway System.
"I think it was disruptive to the system," he said. "I think we lost a lot of good people because they didn't want to make the move."
That's left the ferry system without needed experience at a critical time, Elton said.
"We've got a whole raft of people who are running the system with less than four years experience," Elton said.
The decision to move the headquarters was made by former Gov. Frank Murkowski in 2004, but many ferry system officials at the time said the governor had not consulted them before moving the decision.
"The previous administration made a great many decisions that were not in the best interest of the Alaska Marine Highway System, and many of those decisions have yet to be corrected," said Bob Doll, a Juneau Assembly member and former general manager of the ferry system.
At the time Murkowski moved the ferry headquarters to Ketchikan, his hometown, it had a lease on office space on Juneau's Glacier Avenue, with a lease that ran through 2014 at $127,000 a year.
Though Ketchikan officials greeted the move enthusiastically, Doll, a former U.S. Navy officer, described Murkowski's action as a "torpedo in the side of the ferry system."
Contact Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or email@example.com.
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