Future of Alaska Marine Highway System remains hot topic

Former Gov. Bill Walker, campaigning in Cordova for another term as governor, speaks during a meet and greet evert at the Reluctant Fishermen on Sunday, June 5. Photo courtesy of the Walker/Drygas campaign

Gubernatorial candidate Bill Walker and running mate Heidi Drygas were in Cordova the weekend of June 3-4 for a meet and greet with supporters and to help celebrate the opening of the new Prince William Sound Science Center.

Walker and Drygas toured the new facilities with Katina Hoffman, president and CEO of the science center, and also attended the Copper River Nouveau fund raising dinner.

At the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Prince William Sound Science Center, from left, Seth Walker, Verne Martell, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, Katrina Hoffman, Bill Walker, Mike Webber, and Heidi Drygas. Webber craved the totem poles for the new Prince William Sound Science Center facilities. Photo courtesy of the Walker/Drygas campaign

The biggest topic of discussion among supporters who showed up at the meet and greet at the Reluctant Fisherman on Sunday, June 4, was the Alaska Marine Highway System, said Walker, who previously served as governor from 2014 to 2018.

There were times in the past when Cordova did not get ferry service for several months and people want assurance of access to the marine transportation system, he said. Walker praised steps by the legislative session recently concluded that funded the AMHS at $143.8 million, with $60 million from unrestricted general funds, which Speaker of the House Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak said headed the ferry system in the right direction.

Walker said he would like to see the marine highway system with some sort of an endowment of its own, “You can’t run it based on the price of oil,” he said. The ferry system has great potential, but needs s different focus, he said.

On commercial fisheries issues, Walker spoke of the need for more research dollars to better understand the impact of hatcheries to the fishing industry and said as governor his administration would find that funding, as well as work to bring back coastal management measures for the state.

The federally approved Alaska Coastal Management Program expired on July 1, 2011, after 32 years of Alaska’s participation in the program, significantly impacting the state’s ability to manage its coastline and resources.

The focus of their campaign has been to rebuild the state and transform the economy for the future.

Former Gov. Bill Walker, campaigning in Cordova for another term as governor, speaks during a meet and greet evert at the Reluctant Fishermen on Sunday, June 5. Photo courtesy of the Walker/Drygas campaign

Both Walker and Drygas spoke of the role the state could plan to support further development of the maritime industry, including expansion of the blue economy.

Walker also said that resource development, including that of oil and gas, is needed with an eye to the impact of climate change.

“We need to be sure it is done safely,” Walker said. “We want responsible resource development.”