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By Dan Rudy 

SEC names 12 to ferry restructure steering committee


A steering committee has been selected to head up restructuring of the Alaska Marine Highway System.

In May the office of Gov. Bill Walker tasked regional economic forum Southeast Conference with revitalizing the state’s maritime transportation network, a two-phase process which will involve looking both at its organizational structure and business model. To that end, a committee representing AMHS’ varied user base was selected from around 25 applicants.

“We had quite a few names to choose from,” commented Robert Venables, transportation and energy coordinator for SEC.

Craig’s mayor and Alaska Inter-Island Ferry Authority general manager Dennis Watson was named chairman of the 12-member body.

The committee will also include:

• Dave Kensinger, vice president of the Petersburg Chamber of Commerce and a co-chair for the SEC Transportation Committee

• Will Ware, Petersburg resident and transportation manager for Central Council Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska

• Greg Wakefield, CEO and owner of AAA Moving and Storage in Anchorage

• Shannon Adamson, state representative to the International Organization of Masters, Mates and Pilots Maritime Union, and formerly an AMHS employee

• Elizabeth Bolling, Ketchikan resident and chief of staff for Rep. Dan Ortiz

• Dan Kelly, a manager for Alaska Marine Trucking in Ketchikan

• Josh Howes, president for Premier Alaska Tours in Anchorage

• Sharon Hildebrand, an assistant director at University of Alaska Fairbanks

• John Whiddon, Kodiak Fish Market managing partner and sitting member of both the Kodiak City Council and Southwest Alaska Municipal Conference

• Dennis Bousson, a former Skagway ferry terminal manager

• Michael Anderson, a Cordova-area artist

The members were selected for their professional experience working for or interacting with the state’s ferry system. Additionally, Kelly, Wakefield, Adamson, Howes and Kensinger are current or former members of the Marine Transportation Advisory Board, which advises the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities on ferry service operations.

The steering committee will work closely with the ADOTP&F during its deliberations. Its first task will be to develop two or three options for a workable governance model for AMHS. This process will involve taking input from specialists in the field as well as from ferry users and connected communities, and the committee’s recommendations will be put forward to SEC for discussion during its mid-session summit in Petersburg beginning on September 20. A final draft will then be put to the Legislature during next year’s session for adoption.

The second phase of the committee’s function will be to assess the ferry system’s management and business model, and put together a strategic plan to guide the service over the coming quarter-century.

“It will be a lot more work and will most likely take the entire calendar year,” Venables explained.

During this lengthy process, public input will be sought, with meetings of the committee publicly noticed.

“There will be plenty of opportunity to comment,” Venables said.

The need to refocus the service coincides with budget cuts to various public services as Alaska contends with its budget deficit. This fiscal year, cuts to the AMHS budget have caused the service to start drawing from its reserve funds and offer up a leaner post-summer operating schedule.

Service for the year will be down by eight percent, from 355.7 operating weeks to 330.2. As the proposed schedule currently stands, AMHS intends to run operating weeks for only nine of its vessels, with the Taku and Chenega both placed on layup for much of the next fiscal year as cost saving measures. Entering its second year of inactivity, the Taku may be headed for eventual divestment.

SEC credits the AMHS with

generating thousands of jobs and commercial activity valued in the hundreds of millions of dollars each year. For coastal communities across Alaska, British Columbia and Washington, the ferry system has become a critical component of the public transportation network.

In addition to discussion of the ferry system’s governance options, other items of regional importance will be discussed during the three-day SEC mid-session summit. A draft agenda is available to review on its website, http://www.seconference.org/midsession.

The organization is still looking for people willing to be board members, and applicants are encouraged to submit letters of interest by August 15. There are currently five open seats, each carrying a three-year term. Details are online.


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