The Alaska Marine Highway System’s M/V Kennicott pulls away from the Auke Bay Ferry Terminal in this August 2014 photo. The Kennicott was the first vessel on the scene to help five Canadians who jumped into the water south of Bella Bella, British Columbia, Canada, to escape a sinking ship. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

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

Alaska government announces Oct. 1 end of Ketchikan-Prince Rupert service

Ferry service from Prince Rupert to Alaska might be ending in a couple of weeks, but Mayor Lee Brain and Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen remain optimistic that it will only be a temporary closure.

On Wednesday, the Alaska Marine Highway System (AMHS) announced that service between Ketchikan and Prince Rupert will be officially closed due to a failure to secure an armed RCMP presence to protect American personnel during inspections in Canada.

On Tuesday, Cullen stated that he is in discussions with the RCMP, officials from the City of Prince Rupert and the federal government, including Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, to find a federal solution.

“I’m confident that we can find federal support, including potential funding for the RCMP, that will ensure the ferry continues,” Cullen stated.“This service is vital to the community in Prince Rupert. I’ve heard from city officials, small business owners and in particular the tourism industry just how important it is that we keep a regular service out of Prince Rupert to Alaska.”

The issue is a multi-jurisdiction, multi-stakeholder problem that spans two different countries. Mayor Brain said there are some solutions up in the air but he could not provide any specifications until he gets all parties in one room.

“I don’t believe this is the end of the ferry service to Prince Rupert. I believe this issue can be solved. The demand for cross-border tourism and potential trade opportunities continue to be at the forefront of this conversation. I believe now is the time to solve this issue to ensure long term ferry service between our two nations,” Brain stated in an email.

READ MORE: Failure to secure armed RCMP presence at Prince Rupert’s terminal leads to end of Alaska ferry service

Brain will be heading up to Juneau the week of Sept. 16 to meet with officials in the Governor’s Office and Alaska’s Department of Transportation.

In March, AMHS was given an Oct. 1 deadline by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency to secure a Canadian law enforcement presence for U.S. ferries calling on Prince Rupert.

The U.S. government cannot employ American guards on Canadian soil, requiring a need for the armed RCMP officers. The U.S. Government said they will cover the costs for the extra staff.

“The City of Prince Rupert explored all options to provide armed support to customs for the Alaska Marine Highway System. Unfortunately, given our remote location and existing police capacity, it would have necessitated hiring additional full time police officers, an expense that neither the Alaska Marine Highway System or the City are able to support financially,” Brain stated.

READ MORE: Alaska ferry service may have to pay armed RCMP at Prince Rupert terminal

Other monetary issues are also plaguing the ferry service to Prince Rupert.

Early in August, Alaska’s governor, Mike Dunleavy, signed a bill finalizing the state’s budget for the fiscal year including a $5 million cut to AMHS. The route from Ketchikan to Prince Rupert was identified as one of the potential services to close.

In addition, there are jurisdiction issues regarding structural upgrades needed for the AMHS dock in Prince Rupert in order to continue service.

In regard to the budget constrains, Brain stated no decision has been made as to which routes will be cut, however potential solutions have been identified to help with operational costs for the Prince Rupert ferry route. He is also looking to solve the issues surrounding the Buy American program that prevent the city from buying local for these upgrades.

READ MORE: Severe budget cuts could mean ending service to the only Canadian stop on the Alaska Marine Highway


Jenna Cocullo | Journalist
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