Gov. Dunleavy orders panel to recommend Alaska ferries’ future

In the wake of a report that found that privatizing the Alaska Marine Highway System would be impossible as the system exists today, Gov. Mike Dunleavy has ordered the creation of a nine-member work group to draft recommendations for the future of ferry service in Alaska.

Administrative Order 313, dated Friday, requires a final report no later than Sept. 30. The administration’s goal is to implement any changes by fiscal year 2023, but the report’s recommendations are not binding.

Robert Venables, chairman of the Marine Transportation Advisory Board, said he wasn’t informed in advance of the order, but expected something like it. The governor’s order calls for the chairman or someone he picks to serve on the work group.

Asked about his interest in serving, Venables said, “On a scale of 1 to 10, I’m a 40 or 50.”

The work group will also include the chairs of the state’s aviation and highways advisory boards, a union representative, two members of the Legislature, and three members of the public. Members’ travel and expenses will be paid by the state, but they will not receive a salary.

The governor will appoint the board’s members, something expected by mid-February, according to a written statement by the Alaska Department of Transportation. Anyone interested in serving in the group’s public seats can apply at www.boards.alaska.gov/apply, the statement says.

Dunleavy and members of the Alaska Legislature have previously expressed interest in reducing the amount of money the state spends on ferry service.

Venables called the Sept. 30 deadline a “very aggressive time schedule" and said he takes that as an indicator of the administration’s seriousness.

James Brooks

James Brooks was a Juneau-based reporter for the ADN from 2018 to May 2022.