The Alaska Marine Highway System was on the brink of shutting down due to lack of funding in the state budget, but policy makers have worked out how to approve $140-million to keep the ferry system going.
“The Marine Highway System getting fully funded is huge because they kind of had us on the edge of the chair wondering exactly what it would mean if it didn’t happen. We were very hopeful that there would be a supplemental [budget request] that would take care of it,” said Dennis Watson, general manager for the Inter-Island Ferry Authority and chairman on the steering committee for the Alaska Marine Highway Reform Project.
Prince Rupert is connected to the Alaska Marine Highway System, and with a guaranteed budget for the next fiscal year, sailings will continue twice a week on Monday and Friday for the entire spring and summer months. This past winter up until April, travel to Prince Rupert was halted due to repairs needed on the MV Malaspina.
The next hurdle is rebuilding the Alaska Marine Highway terminal in Prince Rupert.
Mayor Lee Brain travelled to Alaska in early 2018 to discuss with the State of Alaska how to address the approximately $15-million upgrades needed. As a result, the state asked for a waver from the U.S. government to bypass Buy America trade laws, and allow Canadian contractors to do the necessary work on the terminal.
“That is something that is totally out of our hands and I don’t know how that is going to be resolved,” Watson said. For the past couple of years he’s acted as chairman on the steering committee for the Alaska Marine Highway Reform Project to improve governance.
“We’re trying to figure out a possible new governance for the Marine Highway System and some other issues,” he said, such as trying to make an old fleet happy and young again. The MV Malaspina, for example, was built in 1963 and was one of the three ships that made the original fleet.
As general manager of the Inter-Island Ferry Authority, which services Prince of Wales Island and Ketchikan, Alaska, he said Prince Rupert’s terminal is integral to the entire network.
“We’re connected at the hip with the Marine Highway System. If it doesn’t work, we don’t work. We need northbound and southbound traffic,” he said.