Seventeen of 23 state ferry system employees have retired, quit or transferred to another area of state government rather than move to new ferry headquarters in Ketchikan.
Alaska Marine Highway System General Manager John Falvey said it is the first leg of some 40 ferry system jobs that will be transferred to the administrative building at Ward Cove, about four miles north of downtown Ketchikan.
He said eight more positions will move at the end of September, and another seven are slated to move at an unspecified date. Eight other employees will stay in Juneau.
The state estimated earlier this year that 21 employees would make the move to Ketchikan.
The controversial decision to move the ferry system administrators was announced in March by Gov. Frank Murkowski, who said it would create efficiencies in the system and result in substantial savings. Those claims have been hotly contested by local lawmakers and many within the ferry system.
On Thursday, ferry system offices in Juneau were cluttered with moving boxes and various office equipment, as workers prepared to head to Ketchikan or on to another job.
"I had nothing against going to Ketchikan myself," said ferry system safety officer Larry Kotila, one of the six who will head to Ketchikan this weekend. "The frustrating part about it was not being confronted."
Many employees voiced similar frustration earlier this year, when the administration announced the move before asking AMHS employees whether it would help them in running the system. Many have since said it would not.
Kotila said his four children live in the Lower 48, giving he and his wife the flexibility to make the move. Kotila, however, said the five days he was given to move his office and his personal belongings was not enough time.
"It's been horrible," he said, noting that he's moved 17 times over the years while serving with the Coast Guard.
Otis Chapman, a training specialist for AMHS who has worked for the ferry system for almost 10 years, said he's taken a job with the state that pays $800 less per month than his current job.
"I've put in for several jobs," he said. "And everything I'm interviewing for is below my range."
Chapman said he owns a home and has children and grandchildren in Juneau. "I can't move," he said.
Falvey said AMHS is rehiring workers who have quit, retired or transferred. Falvey replaced ferry system manager George Capacci earlier this year, who left shortly after the announcement of the relocation.
"The week of Sept. 8, I'll be going down to interview my secretary and personal assistant, another administration manager and possibly a port captain," Falvey said. "So there's possibly four more coming back the week of Sept. 8. With the 15 that are still here, we're not going to be too far off the pace."
Falvey said AMHS has subcontracted a security officer position and an international safety officer position until the state finds permanent employees. He said the arrangement is temporary and that maritime unions have been notified of the arrangement. Falvey noted that AMHS has no plans to contract out any other positions.
"You would hear from the shoreside unions because they would be right in the middle of it, and they would be fighting to stop it," he said.
He said the 50-year-old building at Ward Cove, formerly serving as the Ketchikan Pulp Co. administration building, should be completely renovated by the Sept. 1 move-in date.
Mark O'Brien, with the Department of Transportation, said the Ketchikan Gateway Borough has installed a new membrane roof to stop dozens of leaks throughout the facility. It also has updated fire sprinklers, heating and air-conditioning units, lighting fixtures, and made the facility compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, among other renovations.
O'Brien said some renovations that the state has paid for up front will be reimbursed by the borough, but others will not. He said the cost to the state will not be known until the entire system transition is complete.
Meanwhile, the state still is working to fill the soon-to-be vacant office space in Juneau.
Tanci Mintz, state leasing and facilities manager, said the state has signed a 10-year lease for the Juneau space that doesn't expire until May 2014.
The 5,944-square-foot space in Juneau costs the state approximately $127,677 per year. Mintz said another state entity in Juneau is considering moving into the space, but she would not reveal which section of state government is pondering the move. She said the Coast Guard also has expressed interest in leasing the facility.
Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.