Commentary: Make your voice heard on draft AMHS schedule

The Cordova Chamber of Commerce and its regional partners are encouraging residents of Prince William Sound to take a few minutes to comment on the Alaska Marine Highway System’s (AMHS) draft winter 2020/2021 Operating Plan.

While the AMHS has not released a draft 2020 Winter schedule, as is usually done, its Operating Plan indicates that the Kennicott will be sailing the Gulf Coast route, making port calls in Ketchikan, Wrangell, Petersburg, Juneau, Whittier, Cordova, Homer, and Kodiak on a two-week cycle from October 1 through January 6, 2021, and then resuming service March 18, 2021. 

Communities and interested people can review and submit comments on the proposed operating plan through August 14, 2020. There will not be a public teleconference during the comment period. Written comments are being accepted through August 14, 2020, via email at dot.amhs.comments@alaska.gov and by fax at (907) 228-6873.  

We urge you to take the time to make your voice heard to the Alaska Department of Transportation and tell them how critical our ferry is for Cordova, especially in a time of such dire economic need.  Our community businesses, schools, and residents depend on this lifeline for local retail freight, school travel, and medical services.  Our ferry isn’t for luxury travel, it is our basic community infrastructure. To access a pre-filled email template, visit cordovachamber.com/amhs.


Commissioner MacKinnon:

My name is ____________ and I am a __(year-round, seasonal)__ resident of ___________. The Alaska Marine Highway System is essential to the economic, social, and civic health of our community and so many others. It has been painful to watch the system deteriorate due to lack of funding and other issues. The impacts have been sorely felt in communities all across Prince William Sound, and particularly in Cordova where we recently endured over nine months without our ferry, our only access to the surface highway system, our road. 

Insert your personal story here of how lack of ferry service this year affected you and/or your business.

While the current schedule of the Kennicott sailing from Cordova approximately four times per month is an improvement upon having no service at all, it will vastly improve ridership if additional sailings per month are added and if sailing dates are adjusted to allow appointments during weekday business hours without the need to wait over a week for a return ferry. The service gap from January 6 – March 18 is also concerning, as February is typically one of the two busiest months of the year for school district travel. If there is a way to cover that gap with the Hubbard or one of the many other vessels currently assigned to layup, service during that month and a half would be a great benefit to our community. In a typical year, on average, Cordova School District uses the marine highway system for six roundtrips per month from August through May, commonly peaking in November and again in February, each averaging around a dozen trips. Departing Thursday and returning Sunday would work best to both accommodate ASAA schedules and allow for appointments during business hours. That would fit Cordova’s main winter festival as well, which takes place in February. 

Please consider adding additional sailings to Prince William Sound during the Winter 2020 season and adjusting the schedule to include at least one full weekday between Cordova and Whittier. Please also consider using a vessel from layup to cover the service gap in Prince William Sound between January 6 – March 18th. 

We appreciate every opportunity to provide input and feedback on AMHS sailings, as our community’s needs vary widely by season and due to special events. When community and user needs are taken into account during the scheduling process, ridership increases, creating increased revenues for the system  The fact that only four days were given for these comments to be submitted along with no draft schedule being provided to give commenters a clear picture of the state’s plan, and the lack of a teleconference sends a clear message that community and user feedback are not being valued or encouraged by the Department. We all want the system to be able to continue serving Alaska residents and visitors. In order for this to happen, we must work together. Email is not a viable option for all users, as many communities in Alaska lack strong, reliable internet connections and a large portion of your ridership may not be regular email or internet users. Please consider offering an extension to this comment period. We’d also encourage you to consider reinstating the teleconference option for those not able to comment via email or fax. 

Thank you for considering these comments.

Sincerely,