Ferries don't need to pay their own freight

Letter to the editor

Posted: Monday, September 13, 2004

First of all, I would like to say that I am totally in favor of a road between Juneau and Skagway, but, that is many years away at best, and perhaps never, at worst.

In the meantime we do need continuous and uninterrupted ferry service by the Alaska state ferries.

The Juneau Empire of Wednesday, Sept. 1, had an article listing some of the costs of operating the state ferries. One item being $8.9 million in unanticipated fuel costs. The ferry system is presently offsetting part of the additional fuel cost by levying a 10 percent surcharge on passenger fares. While the system is currently paying more than usual for fuel, it should be remembered that the state of Alaska owns the system and the state's financial coffers are presently awash with unexpected revenue due to the unusually high crude oil prices.

The other items, such as increased workers benefits, wage increases and training ferry workers, are all costs of doing business. I don't agree with the $500,000 cost of moving ferry administrators to Ketchikan.

It appears that this is an attempt to delete the ferry system. One bad omen was when a former state senator who opposed funding for the ferry system because it didn't pay its own way was recently appointed as the person in charge of changes to the Alaska Marine Highway System.

The ferry system was never expected to "pay its own way." It was established as a service to those communities who are not on the highway system and to connect them to each other and to the highways. Our land highways don't pay their own way either. And we do not hear a hue and cry over some highway costs.

The Alaska Marine Highway System has been invaluable to all the communities it serves ever since its inception in 1963. And we must continue to rely on it at least until all the communities are connected by roads, bridges or tunnels. Just because most of us in Southeast Alaska are not on the land highway system doesn't mean that we are to be discriminated against.

Clifford Berg


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