The rest of the state needs to take an interest

Legislators from the Railbelt, which covers the state’s population centers from the Kenai Peninsula to Fairbanks, expect Southeast lawmakers to understand, to care and to spend state dollars on their constituents’ energy needs. They want money to help rebuild electrical transmission lines to move more renewable power and help from the state treasury to promote more natural gas production out of Cook Inlet.

The Railbelt wants help for its local needs.

Same for rural legislators who seek attention and funding from the state for a long list of local needs in Bush communities, including schools, safe drinking water and sewage systems, energy-efficient housing and public safety services.

And it’s the same for Arctic coastal communities that look to the state to help repair and prevent the damages of erosion caused by climate change and destructive seas.

Alaska is a conglomeration of multiple regions, each with its own needs.

For Southeast, it’s the Alaska Marine Highway System.

Or, more accurately, the lack thereof.

The latest bad news for state ferry travelers and the communities that need dependable service is that the Columbia, the largest vessel in the fleet, will be in the shop much longer than expected. It was pulled from service for repairs in November and had been scheduled to return to work earlier this month.

It didn’t happen. More corrosion in its fire-suppression lines means more time in the shipyard, which means no Columbia until toward the end of the year. The Kennicott was diverted from layup to fill in, but its smaller car deck means reservations are hard to come by. Try booking a reservation for a car, truck or RV from Bellingham, Washington, to Wrangell, and as of Sunday the first available sailing was Aug. 9.

Ferry system officials say the plan is to bring back the Columbia to work toward the end of the year when the Kennicott will leave for almost a year for installation of new generators. Then when the Kennicott returns, the Columbia will go into a shipyard for work on its controllable-pitch propellers.

The reality is that the ferry system is dependent on two ships that each need months off for repairs — assuming they never both end up in the shop at the same time. With the Matanuska in perpetual layup due to tons of rusted steel, the state needs to accelerate its planning for new ships.

Electricity and natural gas are important for the Railbelt, just as other issues are important in rural Alaska, the Interior and the Arctic. The 52 legislators who do not represent Southeast need to pay attention to the ferry system the same as they want the eight Southeast lawmakers to support their needs.

Alaska will do better if all regions pay attention to their neighbors.

-- Wrangell Sentinel


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