Alaska’s Legislature convenes Tuesday, and Alaskans’ and the Alaska congressional delegation’s attention should be on Alaska.
Granted, Washington, D.C. has presented sufficient distractions — most recently a deadly Capitol riot and unprecedented preparations for the upcoming inauguration for a president-elect of a politically divided country.
But, meanwhile, the Alaska Legislature will convene with the economy being its top priority. It affects every other topic of import, especially the state budget.
Alaska’s economy depends primarily on its oil industry, along with commercial fishing, mining and tourism. Presently, tourism is the main economic engine for Ketchikan and the state’s Southeast region.
Southeast Alaskans are well aware of the effects of the dismal 2020 cruise ship season. Essentially, no ships called because of the novel coronavirus response.
Already, four months ahead of the usual arrival of the first ship at the Port of Ketchikan, skepticism outweighs optimism in regard to a May 1 start of the cruise season.
Ketchikan isn’t likely to correct the problems in Washington, but Alaska’s delegation in Washington can work with the state Legislature and the First City to resolve the community’s leading concern.
Bringing tourism back to the region is a multi-pronged proposition.
The government is addressing COVID-19. The cruise industry is expanding its responsibility for the safety of its customers to include protection from and spreading of the virus. The communities will be figuring out how to welcome visitors as the vaccine for the virus lifts customers’ related concerns.
Still, an impediment is out of Alaska’s — and even the United States’ currently — control.
Most ships sail out of Vancouver, British Columbia and through the Inside Passage to Alaska. Canada has shut down ports to cruise ships.
Until Canada believes it’s in its best interest to allow ships to call at a Canadian port such as Vancouver, Victoria or Prince Rupert during this virus season, foreign-flagged ships — the ones that cruise to Alaska — won’t be allowed there.
The ships touch at least one Canadian port because of a law that prohibits their sailing between two American ports. It’s in the federal Passenger Services Act.
This act should be at least temporarily suspended during such a situation as presents itself. It would be fine to do away with it in the case a similar circumstance comes along in the future.
But, this is immediate business for Alaska and its D.C. delegation for the health and well-being of Ketchikan, the region and the state.
And as the legislative session is about to begin, Alaskans will find other impediments to Alaska’s economic success and budget woes. This is where the attention should be.
By solving the economic issues, the others take care of themselves. Here and elsewhere.