Weyhrauch: Fire director for ferry system troubles

Posted: Friday, September 03, 2004

A Juneau lawmaker called for the firing of the state ferry system director in response to the Tuesday announcement that the state will need $20 million or more to keep the system running this year.

Rep. Bruce Weyhrauch, R-Juneau, sent a letter Thursday to Gov. Frank Murkowski calling for the "immediate termination" of Alaska Marine Highway Director Tom Briggs.

"Driving the entire marine highway system on the rocks, which has occurred since Mr. Briggs took over as its skipper, is similar to driving the LeConte on the rocks, and like the captain of that ship, those responsible for the mismanagement of the AMHS should be held accountable," Weyhrauch said in the letter.

Briggs declined comment, stating: "I'm not going to respond to that until I've talked to the governor."

The governor was not immediately available for comment Thursday, but Murkowski spokesman Mike Chambers said the administration supports Briggs' methods in running the system.

"The governor wants the marine highway system to be around for a long time and Tom Briggs has made the tough decisions that will make it so," Chambers said. "This administration is confident in his leadership and we stand behind him."

Weyhrauch's request comes just two days after the state's ferry advisory board recommended the ferry system ask the Legislature for a supplemental appropriation to stay afloat. During the Tuesday meeting of the Marine Transportation Advisory Board, Department of Transportation administrative manager Gary Cuscia advised that the ferry system would need up to $20 million extra in fiscal year 2005 to pay the ferry system's annual expenses.

It is not the first time Weyhrauch and Briggs have butted heads. In March, Weyhrauch, who serves as chairman of the House State Affairs Committee, held public hearings scrutinizing Briggs' and the department's decision to move 40-plus ferry system administrators from Juneau to Ketchikan.

Briggs and transportation Commissioner Mike Barton argued that the move would save the state money and create efficiencies in the system. But Tuesday's ferry system advisory board meeting revealed that it will cost the state at least $500,000 in direct costs.

Weyhrauch said the use of state funds for the move should be immediately halted.

"There has never been a substantive financial justification for that proposed move," Weyhrauch said, calling the move unnecessary and wasteful. "It still is not necessary but seems to have in fact forced the retirement or resignation of most of the qualified ferry management team."

Weyhrauch, like other public officials around the state, also complained that Briggs and the transportation department have not kept him abreast of the status of the ferry system.

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