By Lilly Milman
Friends of the Alaska Marine Highway System, a new non profit that will advocate for more state funding for the ferries, is looking for additional members as it tries to reach more Alaskans before the start of the state legislative session Jan. 21.
Skagway is part of the effort, as are Pelican and Gustavus in Southeast, Cordova in Prince William Sound, and Kodiak. Cordova and Kodiak were hit hardest by state funding cuts to the ferry system this year. Cordova is without service from late September 2019 into May 2020, and Kodiak will be without ferries from mid-January to late April.
In addition to cities, small businesses, community organizations and individuals can also join the 2-month-old organization.
Juneau resident Percy Frisby formed the support group mid-October, just a couple of weeks after the greatly reduced winter ferry schedule took effect.
The governor had proposed slashing more than two-thirds of state funding for the ferries, though the Legislature succeeded in reducing the budget cut to about one-third, or $43 million this year. The large cutback severely reduced service throughout the system.
“Put the money BACK!” is the headline on the group’s website.
“Ferry service is our highway, and we need it all year long. State support for it represents an investment in our economy, our community, our future. Public transit is a fundamental right,” Frisby said in a letter to the public.
The organization wants “to speak with one voice in support of full funding,” the group said in its initial press release Dec. 1.
“There are small towns that are being cut off from vital resources,” Susan Horsfall, the group’s acting administrator, said Dec. 20. “There are towns that cannot get the foodstuffs and essential supplies that they need. … If the ferry is no longer running, they can’t afford to use alternate transportation to bring in these supplies. It’s too costly,” he said.
“The other issue, which is very close to my heart, is sports teams. Sports teams use the ferries to go play teams in neighboring towns,” Horsfall said.
Earlier this month, Skagway’s middle school First Lego League robotics team telecommuted to a regional competition in Juneau rather than traveling.
The Friends of the Alaska Marine Highway System website will collect and share news about the ferry system. Its goal is to help people stay up to date on news without needing to scour the internet, Horsfall said.
“We’re hoping that if citizens and voters become aware of these cutbacks and how the cutbacks were made, they’ll speak to their local representatives and share their concerns,” she said.
For more information, email friendsAMHS@yahoo.com or visit the website www.friendsofamhs.org.