For those who might have blinked and missed it, here’s a reminder that the public comment period regarding the Alaska Marine Highway System’s proposed Winter 2020-21 operating plan (Oct. 1 through April 30) ends on Friday.
AMHS announced the draft plan and comment period on Monday morning.
That’s not a lot of time for comment. Then again, there’s not a lot of plan.
The novel coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated earlier state funding cuts and vessel layups, quickening the system’s downward service spiral.
“AMHS revenues are significantly lower than expected due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” stated Monday’s AMHS announcement. “As a result, it has become necessary to build the operating plan with minimal essential service to most communities. Some service gaps will still exist for vessel overhauls and layups as a result of available funding.”
Translation: Only one mainliner, operating between Bellingham, Washington and Kodiak on a two-week cycle, in service between Oct. 3 and Jan. 6.
No mainline service anywhere from Jan. 7 through Feb. 9.
No service, period, to Prince Rupert, British Columbia.
No northern panhandle — Juneau, Haines, Skagway, Hoonah, Gustavus, Angoon, Pelican, Tenakee, Sitka (intermittently), and Kake (intermittently) — service between Feb. 15 and April 11.
Service would start to improve in mid-March when a second mainliner returns to service, followed in mid-April by the AMHS ferry Tustumena between Homer and the Aleutian Chain.
In normal circumstances, such a schedule would prompt (rightful) howls of protest. But nearly six months of pandemic have, no doubt, lowered expectations. Given the difficulties of operating vessels under these circumstances, there’s reason to be thankful if the scheduled ferries can operate as planned.
If you have a opinion on the proposed winter schedule, we hope you find the time to comment. There’s no public meeting as in years past. The only options are to comment by email to firstname.lastname@example.org or by fax to (907) 228-6873.
For the future, one good way to boost Alaska’s return to economic vibrancy will be to rebuild robust, regular and reliable marine highway transportation.