Save Our Ferries!

By , February 12, 2020

You may have heard that one of our regional highways here in Alaska has been completely shut down.

I’m talking about the Alaska Marine Highway, the state ferry system that has connected the island and landlocked communities of Southeast Alaska and the Gulf of Alaska for almost 60 years. If you live outside of Alaska, you might know them as a great way to visit Alaska, and many people see it as primarily a tourist vehicle in the summer.

But it’s more than that. For those of us who live in the region it is, quite literally, a lifeline.

Haines Ferry Rally

The Ferry Rally in Haines February 11, 2020 (Photo: Michelle L. Zeiger).

I won’t go into the whole story, but our Governor Dunleavy, in a desperate effort to keep a campaign promise, yet “fix” our state’s budget problems through austerity, has drastically cut back many state services, including the ferry system. And, why not? He lives in the interior, where a road system provides his every want and need. Why should a state serve its outliers, those who refuse to live in the population centers of the state? Why, indeed? The policy only cripples an entire region of the state, after all.

But, I’m bitter, and outraged. And, that’s not what I set out to describe today.

In short, the various vessels of the ferry system have been docked or removed from the schedule for routine maintenance and certification, until one mainline ferry remained. Then, it broke down. The highway, for all intents and purposes, closed for he foreseeable future.

The upshot is that our region has taken a huge hit. This is a disaster!

So, all we can do is protest. Yesterday, in communities around Southeast Alaska, residents gathered to rally to support the ferry system.

Haines Ferry Rally

The Haines Ferry Rally, held in the parking lot of the Pubic Safety Building (Photo: Michelle L. Zeiger).

I’d intended to attend the rally in Haines, but decided not to at the last minute, because the tides would have kept me in town too long after the event. Instead, I took advantage of a rare sunny day to cut firewood for the homestead. Aly and Michelle both needed to be in town, so they attended.

I can’t describe what a bad situation this is for our state. Haines has seen problems from it, but we’re not nearly as effected as some communities, which have no ferries scheduled to serve them even in the long range proposed schedule! Imagine if you suddenly couldn’t make it to the hospital for medical treatment, or couldn’t shop for food at your local grocery store. Imagine if you found yourself stranded in another town, living in your car, unable to return to you home at all. These are just a few of the problems this situation has created.

Thankfully, our homestead isn’t effected much by this situation—at present. We shudder to think what might happen should one of us need medical attention beyond the capabilities of the local health center. A death in the family? We’d have to stay put.

This has gone on for far too long, considering I’m only mentioning it here now. Maybe that’s because I can’t think of a clear call to action. What might the common person do to change this, particularly someone who is not an Alaskan? I don’t know. And yet, here we are.

2 Responses to “Save Our Ferries!”

  1. Linn Hartman says:

    Sorry to see this – The ferry is one of the things that comes to mind when I think of Alaska – I have friends that have taken it – believe they camped on the deck -Hope the gov comes up with a plan to put it back in service

  2. Mark Zeiger says:

    Linn, for years, I told people wanting to cruise to Alaska that if they really wanted a taste of Alaska, they should take the ferry, and camp on the deck with the locals. I love riding the ferry and talking to visitors! But, because of this current situation, tourists taking the ferry, if and when they can find one, have a much lower chance of actually meeting and talking with actual Alaskans. The latest word is that Haines won’t get ferry service till the end of March, but we’re still so much better off than some communities in Southeast Alaska which have no ferries scheduled at all for the foreseeable future! We’re hunkering down, hoping we don’t have to be anywhere on a schedule. I’m considering whether or not to tell my loved ones down south ahead of time not to expect to see us at death beds, funerals, or any other critical events, because we simply can’t get out of town to get south!

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