Whittier residents brace for Dunleavy budget's ferry cuts
As Gov. Mike Dunleavy's budget proposes deep cuts to state ferry service, residents of one Southcentral Alaska port fear what the blow could mean for their community.
The ferry Aurora arrived Monday in Whittier from Cordova. Among the passengers was Danny Delozier.
"The view, I'm an on-water kind of guy," said Delozier, who frequently rides the ferry.
All state ferries are scheduled to sail through August, but what happens after that is still uncertain as a result of the governor's proposed budget. The Alaska Marine Highway System will offer limited ferry trips until Sept. 30, and no reservations are being accepted after that date.
"We've proposed a possible solution, reduce the size of the budget, to get it in line with our revenues," said the governor.
But for Whittier City Manager Jim Hunt and other locals, the ferry system is a major lifeline to their community. Whittier's only other access is through a toll-based road/rail tunnel, which like the ferries is also operated by the state.
"We are the kind of jumping-off point for Prince William Sound, and points south, southeast," Hunt said. "We're a community of 220 (people). We live and die with our summer trade, but, it's ultra-critical to have that available for people coming and going; like today, it's our other highway."
The state Office of Management and Budget said ferries carried 250,000 passengers last year, nearly half the number who rode the system annually at its peak in the early 1990s.
Without ferry service to Whittier, life in the area would be difficult according to Delozier.
"It makes it hard for us because we can't go nowhere. We don't have a road out where we live," he said.
That won't be the only loss to the community if the ferry stops operating.
"We (would) probably need to cut some hours, lay off some employees," said Anchor Inn owner Joe Shen.
The Dunleavy administration is calling for the Alaska Marine Highway System to work with a marine consultant to pursue options which may include privatization.
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