Alaska Gov. Bill Walker has responded to the Borough Assembly’s Sept. 16, 2016, letter regarding the Alaska Marine Highway System (AMHS) dock facility in Skagway.
The original correspondence from the municipality asked the governor to wrap up the Juneau Access Project in a timely fashion, “so that the region can move past the divisive road question and towards a sustainable ferry system that works for all Alaskans.”
In Walker’s response letter, received by the municipality late in the week of Jan. 30, he stated that he shares the borough’s concerns about the importance of the AMHS to communities like Skagway. The governor goes on to say that, “on the face of it,” he agrees that it makes sense to rebuild the dock in a way that maximizes efficiency and minimizes the turnaround time of the Alaska Class Ferries (ACF).
Walker said he’s asked the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities to work closely with the mayor and the Skagway community to develop an optimal plan for the AMHS dock.
After receiving the governor’s response, the assembly held a discussion on Feb. 2 over what its next step should be.
Ultimately, the assembly voted to direct the Marine Highway Ad Hoc Committee to respond to the governor’s letter. Specifically, the motion instructed the committee to request the ferry dock be replaced, to include the ability accommodate bow berthing for the new ACFs.
The preference of the assembly is to replace, and not to renovate. A 2012 study – which was performed prior to the incident in which the current floating dock sank – depicts the costs for repairing and replacing the dock as being close. In 2012 dollars, repairing the dock would cost approximately $3.4 million, while replacing it would cost $3.6 million, a difference of $200,000. Neither option, it should be noted, includes the additional costs bow-berthing accommodations would add to the project.
The Marine Highway committee met on Feb. 4, and drummed out a few details of the borough’s response.
At the resolution of that meeting, the consensus by committee members was to draft two letters. One would go to the governor, acknowledging his directive to the DOT. A second letter will be sent to the DOT, and will convey the specific goals of the borough in regards to the dock.
The committee informally agreed that they would be seeking a replacement, in-kind dock with the exception that it have the ability to bow-berth the ACFs.
Committee Chair Jan Wrentmore expressed an interest in making sure nearby communities and officials were kept in the loop on the process moving forward, a sentiment Mayor Mark Schaefer agreed with.
“The whole circuit of the ACF is going to effect all these communities,” Schaefer said.