Koplin seeks accord with Dunleavy

City to prepare white papers on ferry system, fisheries for governor

Mayor Clay Koplin revises a white paper on the ferry system in his office at Cordova Electric Cooperative. (Jan. 16, 2020) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times

Around Cordova, blunt hostility toward Gov. Mike Dunleavy has almost become the norm. Last year, a campaign to recall the governor collected signatures from around one-quarter of residents. However, Dunleavy has at least one potential ally in Cordova: Mayor Clay Koplin.

Dec. 4, Koplin, Native Village of Eyak Executive Director Bert Adams and NVE Tribal Council Chairman Darrel Olsen met with Dunleavy at his Anchorage office. Although there had been mutual interest in such a meeting during the previous legislative session, logistical difficulties had interfered, Koplin said.

“We want to have a positive working relationship,” Koplin said. “We recognize he has his back against the wall, politically. We’ll give credit where credit’s due in the same way we share frustrations when we develop them.”

Koplin emphasized to Dunleavy the importance of improving ferry service to Cordova, and made a business-based case for helping to diversify the community’s highly fishing-dependent economy with aquaculture and mariculture projects. At the end of the 30-minute meeting, Dunleavy said he saw no reason not to support Koplin’s proposals, Koplin said.

Dunleavy, Koplin, Adams and Olsen also discussed alternatives to a state-managed ferry system, such as a city port authority. The possibility of a Tribally operated port authority was also raised, though this would require changes to the Alaska Statutes. Dunleavy asked Koplin to submit a pair of white papers on the ferry system and on fisheries, to help devise long-term solutions in these areas.

Public response to the unprecedented seven-month gap of ferry service to Prince William Sound has been intense and sustained. Though a proposed state budget for the coming fiscal year does not restore funding to the AMHS, neither does it make additional cuts. Nonetheless, a further effort to override a previous $5.5 million cut to the AMHS is planned for the opening week of the legislature’s upcoming session, commencing Jan. 21. In light of all this, Koplin believes the administration is unlikely to ask Prince William Sound to endure another ferry service gap of this magnitude.

“We’ve made a lot of noise this past year,” Koplin said. “We’ve made the case that the Prince William Sound ferry is critical for the region’s economy and for Cordova. I think that, now that the governor has heard it, we’ll get support for better service. I just don’t think we’re going to have anything happen between now and April 15.”

All in all, the meeting was fairly successful, Koplin said. Dunleavy proved as good at listening and at asking intelligent questions as any of the other three governors with whom Koplin had previously met, Koplin said.

This new accord between the administration and the city of Cordova was marred shortly after the Dec. 4 meeting, when the Recall Dunleavy campaign published a video prominently featuring Koplin. This drew a perturbed phone call from one of Dunleavy’s assistants, after which Koplin decided to ask the Recall Dunleavy campaign to take the video down. The campaign complied with Koplin’s request.

Koplin did not call out the governor personally in the video, he said. Nonetheless, the image of Koplin overlaid with the Recall Dunleavy logo made for poor optics.

“As an elected representative of the community, you try to keep yourself out of partisan issues and whatnot,” Koplin said. “However, if I see a political end to do what’s right for Cordova, I’ll do it, like putting pressure on a governor through a political campaign… I saw the recall effort as an opportunity to get his attention and, frankly, I think it has.”

Following the Dec. 4 meeting, the governor’s office has reached out directly to relevant state agencies, asking them to work more closely with Prince William Sound communities, Koplin said. While some residents see in Dunleavy’s transportation cuts the expression of a vendetta against small-town Alaska, Koplin believes that Cordova and the administration share some basic aspirations.

“We have a shared goal of improving the ferry service for Prince William Sound and improving the fisheries,” Koplin said. “This is a conversation about the long-term.”