Will a multimillion-dollar dock help a remote Alaska community get more services?

Alaska’s marine highway still faces uncertainty under severe budget cuts.


Boarding ramps connect to Tenakee Springs, Alaska’s old docks. A new multimillion-dollar dock replaces the 40-year-old docks and will better accommodate large barges and vessels.
Kenneth John Gill/Wikipedia commons

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Boats and airplanes provide the only access to much of coastal Alaska. With few roads linking communities, residents rely on the Alaska Marine Highway System’s fleet of ferries. Severe budget cuts combined with rising maintenance costs, declining ridership and the push toward privatization threaten the system’s vitality. In the past, passengers covered about a third of the operating costs, while the state picked up the rest. But in 2019, Gov. Mike Dunleavy, R,  proposed a 75% cut, dramatically reducing service from Oct. 1, 2019 through June 30, 2020 (“Alaska’s highway of ferries is under threat,” 1/8/20). 

The ferry is a lifeline for the 100 residents of Tenakee Springs. KTOO reported that a new multimillion-dollar dock was completed in time to accommodate a visit from a state ferry Dec. 9 — the first visit the town has seen in months. Private vessels and floatplanes provided the only transportation to and from the island community while the town replaced its 40-year-old dock with a new $11 million dock constructed to better accommodate large barges and vessels. The town used to see about two ferries a week, but after Dunleavy’s deep budget cuts, nearly nine months passed without one. It will be two more months until another ferry is scheduled. On Dec. 11, Dunleavy released his latest proposed budget, which maintains the system at current levels.

Victoria Petersen is an intern at High Country News. Email her at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor.

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