Prince Rupert’s Alaskan ferry terminal is facing closure in the wake of dramatic budget cuts proposed by the state’s new governor.
In February, Gov. Mike Dunleavy revealed his first budget suggesting that $98 million be cut from the state ferry system budget of $143 million. This has left the operating agencies to work out the details on how to continue a functional system after losing 69 per cent of the ferry budget.
“Literally today there was a big ‘Save Our Ferries’ rally on the steps of the Alaska State Capitol,” said Ken Alper, legislative assistant for Dan Ortiz, representative of Ketchikan.
The ferry’s summer schedule will remain the same for now, with uncertainty in the fall.
In Dunleavy’s initial budget proposal on Feb. 13 it was suggested that there will be no ferry service from Oct. 1, 2019 until June 30, 2020.
But on March 12, there were three possible scenarios laid out to keep ferry service beyond Oct. 1 — all of them include cutting service to Prince Rupert.
“There is a lot up in the air regarding the entire marine highway system and a lot that’s unresolved… and Prince Rupert is sort of potential collateral damage in all this,” Alper said.
The ferry system services communities from Skagway to Bellingham, Washington, with a stop in Prince Rupert. There was an average of 790 passengers a week in 2018, and 314 vehicles. Up to February 2019, Prince Rupert’s terminal has seen 78 passengers, according to the Port of Prince Rupert monthly traffic statistics.
The threat of losing the coastal network isn’t unfamiliar. Last year when the Alaska Marine Highway System faced possible shut down due to lack of funding in the state budget. But $140 million was worked into the budget to cover the service for the fiscal year.
There have been ongoing issues with the Alaska Marine Highway terminal in Prince Rupert, including the need for approximately $15 million in upgrades and changes to ferry schedules that prevented basketball teams from Metlakatla, Alaska from participating in the 60th All Native Basketball Tournament.
With the fall in the price of oil, the new governor has proposed sweeping cuts in not only transportation budget, but also with education, and state-funded health care.
Shannon Lough | Editor
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