Ferry discussions grow heated

PWSEDD: In future, 7-month service gap would be ‘best-case scenario’

The M/V Aurora moored at the Cordova Ferry Terminal. (July 21, 2019) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times
The M/V Aurora moored at the Cordova Ferry Terminal. (July 21, 2019) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times

A public meeting to discuss regional transportation issues was dominated by expressions of outrage against a seven-month ferry service gap.

In theory, the Sept. 12 meeting had been called to gather local feedback on planned revisions to the Prince William Sound Area Transportation Plan, which provides a broad framework for managing the region’s transportation infrastructure. However, the 25 residents in attendance were often skeptical that the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities would care what they had to say.

“You can have all the public comment you want, but, if you don’t listen to it, it doesn’t matter,” said Cordova Jr./Sr. High School student William Deaton. “We’ve had a lot of public comment on the Alaska Marine Highway System, and no one has listened to us.”

Prince William Sound communities should consider alternatives to a state-run ferry service, said Wanetta Ayers, executive director of the Prince William Sound Economic Development District, who spoke at the meeting. In the future, five months per year of ferry service would be “probably the best case-scenario” for the region, she said.

“You’re saying that the ferry’s going away because it’s not economical, we can’t have a road because it’s not economical,” said Luke Borer, owner of Childs Glacier Lodge. “That’s why the government does roads and transportation: because private enterprise can’t do it. There’s not enough economy in it.”

Wanetta Ayers, executive director of the Prince William Sound Economic Development District, addresses a public meeting on the Prince William Sound Area Transportation Plan. (Sept. 12, 2019) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times
Wanetta Ayers, executive director of the Prince William Sound Economic Development District, addresses a public meeting on the Prince William Sound Area Transportation Plan. (Sept. 12, 2019) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times

Ayers responded diplomatically to sometimes hostile questions, defusing tension with humor and expressions of sympathy. Ayers presented the meeting alongside Judy Chapman, chief of planning for the Fairbanks Field Office of the DOT’s Statewide Division of Planning and Program Development.

The Sept. 12 meeting was the latest in a series of public meetings where residents commented on transportation cuts. A July 27 meeting of the Alaska House Transportation Committee drew 250 residents who unanimously condemned the proposed seven-month service gap. Despite this, a revised schedule extended service by only one week.