Fighting for Alaska ferries

Mayor Lee Brain and a delegation of Prince Rupert business leaders returned from Alaska last Wednesday...

Mayor Lee Brain and a delegation of Prince Rupert business leaders returned from Alaska last Wednesday after a busy trip to promote the relationship between the state and the community.

One of the focal points for Brain — who traveled with Maynard Angus of the Prince Rupert Port Authority, Scott Farwell of Tourism Prince Rupert and John Farrell, Rosa Miller and Herb Pond of the Prince Rupert and District Chamber of Commerce — was to prevent a reduction of service in the number of visits from the Alaska Marine Highway this summer.

“We’re hoping legislators don’t cut funding for this year, otherwise starting July 1 we will have one sailing per week. That will be the beginning of the demise for the service … now is not the time to cut off the tie, so we told them to perhaps give us this year to see how things play out as well as give us a year to prepare,” said Brain.

“What we’re trying to do is ensure that this summer we are not going to get our sailings cut. Right now Alaska is losing $12 million per day, about $4 billion per year, and they subsidize their ferry by $160 million per year. A lot of the legislature is all new and a lot of them are based in Anchorage, so they don’t see, necessarily, the importance of the ferry system. That is why I spoke to the House Transportation Committee directly.”

During the trip the delegation met with the Governor of Alaska, the Alaska Transportation Commissioner and spoke in front of the House Transportation Committee and a number of Alaskan Senators. Brain said the meetings and discussions were very productive, but the Prince Rupert representatives will now have to wait and see what the Alaskan government decides to do.

“We had some solutions that we entertained with them … they are looking at a couple of different options – do we cut Prince Rupert, do we cut Bellingham? What is the thing to do? We explored other options,” he said, adding there is support for maintaining the service from the highest seat in the state.

“The Governor has already tried to stop that from happening, but he doesn’t have the power over the budget that the Premier here has. He’s actually bound by what happens in the House of Representatives and the Senate, but he went and found some money for the service … it’s getting the people who don’t necessarily see the impact of this marine highway and getting them to see the importance of it.”

As well as focusing on ferries, the group met with mayors and Chamber of Commerce representatives from throughout Southeast Alaska.

“This has been a sacred relationship for over 50 years … what we wanted to do was to show, with this big delegation, that Prince Rupert still cares about Alaska and hopefully Alaska still cares about Prince Rupert,” said Brain.