Aboard an Alaska Marine Highway System ferry. (Courtesy Photo | Vivian Faith Prescott)

Prince Rupert not alone in fight to save ferry to Ketchikan: Alaskan Rep. Ortiz

MLA Jennifer Rice weighs in saying ferry closure to impact all North Coast

Mayor Lee Brain and the City of Prince Rupert are not alone in their fight to save the Alaska ferry service from Ketchikan.

Rep. Dan Ortiz, an independent member of the Alaska House of Representatives, came to Prince Rupert this week to meet with officials from the RCMP, North Coast MLA Rice, Mayor Brain and chief fiancial officer Corinne Bomben, to discuss solutions to restoring service and said countless people in Alaska will be effected in terms of impact.

“If Alaska cannot maintain service to Prince Rupert it will have an impact not only on tourism but also the business community and the ability for fish to be shipped to the closest direct transportation line.”

The Alaska Marine Highway System (AMHS) announced on Sept. 10 that service between the two cities will be officially closed as of Oct. 1. The reasons for the closure is due to a failure to secure an armed RCMP presence to protect American personnel during inspections in Canada.

Budget cuts to the AMHS and jurisdiction issues regarding structural upgrades needed for the AMHS dock in Prince Rupert are also problems impacting the route.

READ MORE: This is not the end of Alaska ferry in Prince Rupert: Cullen and Brain

Ortiz said the projected growth of Prince Rupert is vital to commerce for Southeast Alaska and that they frequently use Rupert’s line to the CN Rail.

Individuals from Ketchikan will now have to sail down to Bellingham, Washington — a 36 hour ride as opposed to a six hour ride — costing individual riders three times the monetary amount than travelling to Rupert, according to Ortiz.

Ortiz said he received countless letter from individuals regarding their desire to save the highway. In addition, the mayor of Ketchikan, Chamber of Commerce in Ketchikan and mayor of Wrangell have all sent letters to the representative.

Ortiz sat down with Brain on Friday afternoon and said the mayor will be presenting very viable options for the State of Alaska to pursue come their meeting in Juneau on Sept. 16.

“I can say that I am very heartened from the response by all the government officials while down here in Prince Rupert. Everyone on the Canadian side is interested and concerned in maintaining it’s [AMHS] routes in Prince Rupert,” Ortiz said.

READ MORE: This is not the end of Alaska ferry in Prince Rupert: Cullen and Brain

Province staying attuned of the situation

Although the problems involving the RCMP involves discussions with the city and the federal government, North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice is paying close attention to the issue saying the matter is multi-jurisdictional and involves a range of government departments.

Approximately 13,000 passengers travel the route from Prince Rupert to Ketchikan annually, the majority of which occurs during the summer. Rice said the majority of these visitors spend significant time in B.C. as they travel from the lower 48 states through B.C. up to Prince Rupert to board the AMHS.

Last weekend, Rice met with B.C.’s Minister for Tourism, Arts and Culture, Lisa Beare, who was in Prince Rupert to meet with tourism stakeholders. Part of their discussions included the importance of the Alaska Marine Highway System to the sector.

“The recent decision to cease operations of the Alaska marine ferry system into Prince Rupert will negatively impact the tourism economy not just locally but throughout the region. The impacts will also be felt for North Coast families as many have community connections to Southeast Alaska,” Rice said.

Rice also met with Oritz this week to discuss solutions.

“We both share a community by the same name – Metlakatla. These First Nation communities are culturally related and only separated by U.S. and Canadian borders. The Alaska Ferry service is also important for maintaining family and cultural connections between these communities,” she said.

In regards to the RCMP issue, Rice said that the provincial government cannot direct police operational decisions.

READ MORE: Ferry schedules cost an Alaskan team a spot in the All Native Basketball Tournament


Jenna Cocullo | Journalist
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