My Turn: Cross-gulf ferry trip didn't cost very much

Posted: Monday, October 11, 2004

Because it is the political season some folks are attempting to cook up any story they can to discredit the efforts of the Murkowski administration. The cross-gulf sailing of the ferry Kennicott is a recent example. What are the facts? Our legislative critics forget to mention that they were the beneficiaries of cross-gulf sailings before and after legislative sessions.

The Kennicott left Juneau on Wednesday evening, Sept. 22, arriving in Seward Friday morning. It turned around that afternoon and returned to Juneau, where it resumed its regular schedule early Sunday morning, Sept. 26.

While the Kennicott made the cross-gulf voyage, its regular schedule from Juneau to Prince Rupert was covered by the Taku, another of the Alaska Marine Highway System mainline ferries. The actual cost of using the Taku would establish a baseline for any extra cost of the additional cross-gulf sailing.

To determine that cost, we first have to ask, "What would the Taku have been doing if it had not been used to fill in for the Kennicott?"

As the summer tourist season winds down, some of the state's ferries head to Ketchikan for winter maintenance and lay-up. That is where the Taku would have headed on Sept. 22 had it not been put into service.

The bottom line on the extra costs incurred by the Taku while it took on the Kennicott schedule that week was the cost of handling lines while it was in port in Petersburg, Wrangell, Ketchikan, and Prince Rupert, plus the additional cost of fuel used in sailing from Ketchikan to Prince Rupert and back to Ketchikan.

But what about the cost of the crew? Pursuant to the rules under which maritime union AMHS employees are dispatched to work on the state's ferries, the crew would have been on duty the week of Sept. 22, regardless whether the ferry was used for a revenue run, a non-revenue transit to Ketchikan, or tied at the dock in Juneau.

The bottom line of this particular story is that there was nothing untoward going on, as the media might want Alaskans to believe. The marine highway is not being mismanaged. And the marginal cost of having the Taku cover the Kennicott's schedule for four days is just that - marginal.

Finally, some members of the public have complained to the news media about the governor sending the ferry across the gulf an extra time, as if this has never happened before. The fact is, Alaska's ferries have been scheduled for extraordinary sailings since the beginning of the ferry system. Here are some recent examples:

• March 1998: Extra stop at Hoonah added to accommodate Gold Medal Basketball tournament.

• April 1998: Extra stop at Tatitlek to accommodate Cultural Heritage week.

• June 1998: Extra stop at Hoonah added to accommodate Celebration '98.

• Sept. 1998: Malaspina service extended to accommodate Klondike Relay race.

• March 1999: Tustumena service extended for four days until Kennicott returned from winter maintenance to service in Prince William Sound.

• March 1999: LeConte service modified to accommodate Gold Medal tournament.

• January 2004: Extra cross-gulf sailing of Tustumena added to bring legislators to Juneau (required cancellation of one sailing to Cordova, Valdez, Seldovia).

Further, the special run of the Kennicott was advertised and open to the public on the same full fare basis as our Council of State Governments guests.

What did the trip achieve? It provided the opportunity to showcase our great state to leaders from all across the nation. The annual meeting of the Council of State Governments was held in Anchorage. Some 1,500 delegates and visitors from states across the country attended. By scheduling this trip these visitors were given the chance to ride the Alaska Marine Highway System all the way from Bellingham to Seward if they so chose. To give these visitors a taste of Alaska and interest them in returning for future visits will benefit the state. The governor is committed to promoting Alaska at every opportunity and is proud to showcase our great state.

• Tom Briggs is the deputy commissioner for marine operations, DOT&PF, for the Murkowski administration.



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