Stutes: Ferry service is a health and safety issue

Stutes: For many families, ferry system provides only access to medical care

Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak. (July 27, 2019) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times

Is reducing ferry service on the Alaska Marine Highway System merely a matter of convenience, as stated by Alaska Commissioner of Transportation John MacKinnon, or is there more to it?

Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, said in a statement issued on Wednesday, Sept. 18, that she is appalled at MacKinnon’s comments posted by Nat Herz on Alaska’s Energy Desk in Anchorage on Sept. 16 that “when we reduce maintenance to our highways, that’s a direct health, life, public safety issue. When we reduce ferry service, it’s a matter of convenience.”

“Winter ferry service is not a matter of ‘convenience’ for any of the communities I represent,” Stutes said. “Particularly in communities like Cordova, which is facing a 7-month gap, the impact on health, life and public safety will be heavily felt.”

“Aside from the direct impact on businesses and the economy, which is a clear contributor to the health and public safety of any community, many cannot afford the price of regular airfare. For these families, the ferry system provides the only access to medical care, basic healthcare products, affordable food and household necessities, and any number of things that communities need,” she said. “This past session the public testified in support of maintaining ferry service in record setting numbers. It is disheartening to hear that at the end of this public process and with communities about to lose their only highway all winter, the head of DOT views ferry service as a matter of convenience.”

According to the Alaska Energy Desk report, MacKinnon rejected the argument that spending on ferries is the equivalent to spending on road maintenance and snow plowing.

Herz said MacKinnon told him that when budgets for paved highways are cut there are more crashes and people can die, but people don’t die in ferry accidents in Alaska.

MacKinnon also said that he wants to restore some level of winter service to Cordova, but the state’s economy may not be able to support all of its communities in the way it used to, according to the Alaska Energy Desk report.