Alaska’s House of Representatives on Wednesday unanimously passed legislation that represents a step in a good direction for the Alaska Marine Highway System.
House Bill 63, sponsored by Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, would set up a new eight-member marine operations board tasked with assisting the Alaska Department of Transportation in preparing short-term and comprehensive long-range plans for the development and Improvement of AMHS.
The current version of HB 63 approved Wednesday would set the board membership as the DOT deputy commissioner responsible for the AMHS and one governor-appointed representative from an Alaska Native tribe or organization from a community served by AMHS. The other six members are collectively intended to have experience in “enterprise, architecture, business operations, financial management, risk management, logistics, supply chain management, engineering, project management and controls, marine operations, strategy, regulatory compliance, ship maintenance, construction and repair, quality management, continuous improvement, sales, marketing, communications, customer interface, or experience management.”
Two of such members would be appointed by the governor, while two each would be appointed by the Senate president and speaker of the House of Representatives, respectively.
Board members would serve staggered, six-year terms, according to the House version of HB 63, which now goes to the Senate for consideration.
We continue in our view that this is a partial measure, and certainly nothing near a full remedy for what ails AMHS. There’s nothing in the proposal that requires action beyond short- and long-term planning. DOT likely has a storage unit stuffed with old AMHS plans and studies. What’s needed now are decisions and positive action toward reliable ferry service.
If the Senate gets on board in approving HB 63, perhaps this new entity can provide the necessary spark toward action. Stutes herself described it as an “important step toward building the system Coastal Alaskans deserve by utilizing marine business expertise and focusing on improving fleet design and vessel deployment strategy.”
Well, if it’s a step, let’s take it. Then another, and another, and another. The recent sad sight of the AMHS ferry Matanuska languishing for days at the Ketchikan Ferry terminal reminds us that the marine highway system is desperately in need of a fresh fleet and a true course.