Alaska Legislature

Gov. Dunleavy proposes new board to develop plans for Alaska’s ferry system

JUNEAU — Gov. Mike Dunleavy has proposed establishing a new board to help devise plans for the Alaska ferry system, with a goal of providing greater stability and reliability for the system.

Dunleavy’s bill would repeal an existing advisory board and establish a new Alaska Marine Highway Systems Operation and Planning Board.

The new board would be expected to work on short- and long-range system plans that would be submitted to lawmakers. Reports also would be made to the governor.

Dunleavy, a Republican who has used veto powers to cut system spending, said addressing long-term operations and finances are important amid restructuring efforts.

Robert Venables, chair of the existing advisory board, told CoastAlaska the types of plans that the bill proposes are needed and were a key recommendation of a working group Dunleavy convened last year.

Venables said there has “never really been a long-term plan specific to the marine highway system.”

The bill proposes a board that includes the transportation department commissioner and 10 public members appointed by the governor.

Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, a Sitka Democrat, called Dunleavy’s bill an “incremental improvement.”

But he said he doesn’t think anything will change unless management power and governance for the system is depoliticized.

Kreiss-Tomkins is co-sponsor of another bill aimed at giving the existing board greater authority. But he said that proposal still wouldn’t provide the system the level of autonomy he would like to see.

The ferry system has struggled from declining subsidies and from reduced ridership amid lower service levels and COVID-19 concerns.

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