r

NEW AGAIN – Amy Rowe-Danielson arranges a display at the Sitka Sound Science Center's newly opened Mill Building on Lincoln Street this afternoon. The reconstructed 1940 building houses Ludvig's Chowder Cart, which opened today for the first time this season to a steady line of socially distancing customers. It also houses the center's gift shop which, like many businesses in town, offers online ordering and free local delivery. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

State Ferries Overhaul Hitting Choppy Waters

By PETER SEGALL
Juneau Empire
    JUNEAU (AP) — With an aging fleet, fewer riders and major budget reductions, the Alaska Marine Highway System is feeling the hurt. Six of the state’s 11 ferries have been taken out of service as of Dec. 9 and service to coastal communities has been reduced multiple times.
    Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have said they believe ferries are a vital economic engine for Southeast Alaska, but how to keep that engine running is up for debate.
    One proposal, or at least the idea of it, has gotten the attention of a number of stakeholder groups dependent on the ferry system: a public corporation.
    Public corporations are companies which are structured and operate just like any other private company, but are ultimately owned by a government entity. One example already operating in the state is the Alaska Railroad Corporation.
    But public corporations can take many forms and a potential ferry corporation may look nothing like the ARRC. The idea is to free the ferry system from the whims of the political process and provide long-term stability.
    “The No. 1 issue with the Marine Highway is the governance,” said Robert Venables, executive director of Southeast Conference. “The goal is to make the tenure of the (Board of Directors) longer than the political cycle.”
    Venables is part of the AMHS Reform Project, a collaboration of municipalities, tribes, business groups and others that are looking at ways to reform the ferry system. The City and Borough of Juneau is listed as one of the group’s sponsors, along with Central Council Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, and the Masters Mates and Pilot Union.
    While sponsors have donated money — $10,000 in the case of CBJ — Venabables said he wouldn’t consider that an endorsement of any plan the project might ultimately design.
    Having a corporate structure similar to a private business would allow a potential corporation flexibility to make more quickly and with greater latitude than the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, which currently runs AMHS, Venables said.
    “The board would be to better control the costs,” Venables said. “Perhaps be able to structure in a more business-like manner, raise new revenue streams.”
    New revenue could involve partnerships with private corporations, in some cases outsourcing certain runs to private companies. It could potentially mean bringing private companies onboard to provide certain services, such as bar service, Venables said.
    Venables was emphatic that a public corporation was not a private company with a profit motivation. A public corporation would have to balance a fiduciary responsibility to sustain itself while maintaining a public service mission, Venables said.
    The Legislature would ultimately be responsible for defining the structure of the public corporation, and that’s where things get murky.
    “We’re not completely shut out to the idea,” said Robb Arnold, regional vice chair for the Inland Boatman’s Union of the Pacific, who members work on the ferries. But, “there’s so many questions,” he said.
    Arnold said IBU was somewhat skeptical of the idea because there isn’t yet a concrete plan. He did say the union would like to be involved in future discussions but emphasized the importance of keeping ferries a public institution focused on serving the public.
    Ben Goldrich, Juneau representative for the Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association, was similarly cautiously interested in the idea.
    “We don’t know what we might have,” Goldrich said when asked if his union supported the idea. MEBA has participated in talks with the reform project but is waiting to see what the ultimate result might be.
    “The union felt it was better to participate than to not,” Goldrich said. “We chose to participate in the program because we wanted to have some say in the process.”
    Labor would have a seat at the table as part of the management team, Venables said.
    Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration has said it’s waiting on a report commissioned earlier this year from Anchorage-based Northern Economics before making any major decisions about the ferry system.
    That report was meant to come out this month but has been delayed until the new year. But studies of the system have been done before, and Goldrich was skeptical it would produce anything new.
    “I don’t know that the Northern Economics study would provide any insight that’s not been provided for already,” Goldrich said.
    Dunleavy and former Office of Management and Budget Director Donna Arduin have suggested privatizing the system outright as a way of taking the financial burden off the state. But some legislators have expressed skepticism that a private company would be able to make a profit and provide an affordable service to the state.
    “Every significant ferry system requires some public investment,” Sen. Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau, recently told the Empire. Kiehl said he supports the public corporation model.
    “It’s an unfortunate perfect storm, we’re a decade behind were we should be,” Venables said of the Marine Highway. Venables said he understood the skepticism arising from the fact the project still lacks so much definition.
    “There’s so many unknowns, that’s understandable,” he said. “But I don’t think there’s anyone who supports the marine highway system that thinks the status quo is acceptable.”
   

______________________

 

Alaska COVID-19
At a Glance

(updated 5-29-20)

By Sentinel Staff

The state Department of Health and Social Services has posted the following update on the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Alaska as of 10:20 a.m. Friday.

New cases as of Thursday: 5

Total statewide – 430

The state says the cumulative number of cases hospitalized is 47, and the cumulative number of deaths is 10.

To visit the Alaska DHSS Corona Response dashboard website click here.

______________________

 

Welcome to the Sitka Sentinel's web page. In order to make the Sentinel's news more easily available during the COVID-19 pandemic, we have taken down the paywall to access articles on this page. Just click on an article headline to read the story. 

March 23, 2020

NOTICE FROM THE PUBLISHERS

TO READERS AND ADVERTISERS

For the duration of the COVID-19 disaster emergency declared by federal, state and local authorities, the Sentinel is taking additional measures to reduce virus exposure to its employees and contractors as well as to the public, while continuing to publish a daily news report for Sitka.

To the extent possible, Sentinel news and sales staff will be working from home. For the protection of our carriers, home delivery of the newspaper will be stopped effective Tuesday, March 24.

The Sentinel will continue to publish on its website sitkasentinel.com. Access to the website will be free to all users. The Sentinel will also produce a print edition Monday through Friday. It will be available to all readers without charge, at locations throughout town.

Initially, these locations are those where the Sentinel's newspaper vending machines are already in place. The coin mechanisms will be disabled or the doors removed to permit easy access. The Sentinel will work with the stores where the paper is usually sold, to designate a place inside or outside the store where the free edition can be made available.  

Home delivery subscriptions are on hold, and after the end of the disaster emergency, subscriptions will be extended at no charge for the number of days that there was no home delivery.

The Sentinel will make its print edition available to the public as early in the day as possible. with all personnel taking precautions to prevent spread of the virus.

The Sentinel is calling upon its customers to observe the COVID-19 emergency precautions already in place, particularly in maintaining a six-foot social distance from others at newspaper distribution sites.

Following is the statement issued by the Sentinel on March 16, stating the Sentinel's emergency procedures, which remain in effect.

The Sentinel office at 112 Barracks Street is closed to the public. We encourage people to use the phone, email or the U.S. Postal Service as much as possible.There is a slot in the front door of the office for ads, news items and payment checks. Emails may be sent to  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and the phone number is (907) 747-3219.                                                                          

Login Form

Most recent Sentinels — PDF edition

May 22, 2020

May 26, 2020

May 27, 2020

May 28, 2020

May 29, 2020

Facebook

calendar