By Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak
For The Cordova Times
I hope this finds you well, warm and in good spirits. I am happy to have this opportunity to recap our first few weeks of session and give you a glimpse of our anticipated path forward this session.
I am happy to say I have the opportunity to work once again with a coalition consisting of many of the members I have worked with over the past six years. It is always an easier road when working with people that have similar district needs and commonalities. A few of the priorities of our coalition are a sustainable budget and PFD, funding of education, and addressing the public employee retirement system. It appears we are on track in working with the Senate on these issues, which makes for a smoother road in accomplishing our goals.
The coastal legislators had the privilege of having a private meeting with Sen. Lisa Murkowski regarding our Alaska Marine Highway (AMHS). Here are a few of the highlights from that meeting: The state was successful in securing grants in the amount of approximately $285 million, which is in addition to the federal dollars that have already been designated for AMHS. One award of $45 million will be shared among five rural communities including Cordova and Tatitlek, for ferry dock upgrades to accommodate the M/V Tazlina and Hubbard.
Sen. Murkowski and her Washington, D.C. staff have been very instrumental in shepherding our applications through the system in securing these additional grants. I should add, the federal dollars already awarded were not only Alaska specific, but AMHS specific, again a big thanks to our senator.
The new Tustumena Replacement Vessel (TRV) has secured bids for the propulsion system, as well as the elevator system and will be going out for the RFP for construction by the end of March. It is anticipated that the TRV will be in service by 2027.
The summer AMHS sailing calendar, for May through Oct. 7, was posted on March 6. One significant change in this year’s ferry schedule is the Columbia and the Kennicott not sailing at the same time, resulting in decreased ferry service to Prince William Sound. A statement from the Alaska Department of Transportation attributes this to insufficient crew to run them.
In addition to the crew shortages for the Kennicott and Tazlina, the Matanuska requires repairs. The Aurora will continue a regular route, calling on Cordova and linking with Valdez via Whittier. It will call on Chenaga Bay traveling to Cordova and Tatitlek once a month. Currently, not only AMHS, but ferry systems nationwide have had difficulty crewing their vessels.
On other fronts, once again I am going to try to move forward with the Board of Fish conflict bill (HB20), as well as regional fish associations self-assessing a tax for development of a new fishery (HB18), and HB19 addressing the duplicative charge of registering vessels. I am also working with the administration with input on making sure the appointee for the North Pacific Fishery Management Council will have a wide perspective and represent all Alaskans.
I have the good fortune of having two new great staff people join the office, Donna (907-465-3271) and Claire (907465-2487). Both of these gals have extensive legislative experience both inside and outside of the Capitol building itself, and I certainly feel grateful to be able to work with them.
Many of you know Matt, who was with me for six years, I am somewhat sad to say he is no longer with me. Matt had an opportunity to move up the ladder to finance and certainly I encouraged him to do so, and I am happy for his promotion!
Remember, I work for you. Please reach out to me with any questions or concerns on these or any other issues important to you and your family.
Louise Stutes is the Alaska State Representative for District 32. The republican proudly serves Kodiak, Cordova, Seward and several coastal communities. Rep. Stutes can be reached via email at Rep.Louise.Stutes@akleg.gov or by calling 907-465-2487.