Assembly seeks solution for coastal transportation

When it comes to the M/V Tustumena’s long-overdue return to service, absence is not only making hearts of Seldovia residents grow fonder, it also has created a hardship for residents and businesses in communities the state ferry serves.

That was the message delivered by Tim Dillon, Seldovia’s city manager and chairman of the Alaska Municipal League’s transportation committee, to the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly when the assembly held its annual meeting in Homer on Tuesday. It also was behind Resolution 2013-066.  Sponsored by assembly member Mako Haggerty, who represents areas of the southern peninsula including Seldovia, the resolution requests Gov. Sean Parnell and the Legislature “act swiftly to develop a long-term solution to the problems that face (the Alaska Marine Highway System) and work to provide uninterrupted service to Alaska’s coastal communities.”

“Our committee’s focus is trying to increase funding for roads, airports and the ferry system,” said Dillon. “We’ve provided communities and boroughs with a draft letter and resolution to go to the governor and are asking communities to highlight their mode of transportation for statewide funding.”

Dillon said the AML is aware that funding at the state level is “pretty slim,” but the state does “have a big bank account and at some point it might be time to dip into it.”

The AML transportation committee’s second focus, and one hitting closer to home for Dillon, is the Alaska Marine Highway System and the lengthy delay to return the Tustumena to service since it underwent maintenance in Seward in November 2012. An update Dillon received from Patrick Kemp, commissioner of the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Safety, for the week of Sept. 16 indicated some welds had failed the latest round of testing and “most likely, the planned launch date of Sept. 20 will be pushed back to next week, with sea trials and other in-water work to follow. Based on that schedule, the Tustumena should still be in service mid-October.”

The schedule of the Kennecott, the Tustumena’s sister ship, has been revised so it can provide twice-a-month service between Homer, Seldovia and Kodiak through Oct. 17; however, Dillon pointed out that is considerably less than the three-times-a-week service the Tustumena provided.

“Some people believe the ferry system is the poor man’s cruise ship, but for a community such as ours, it’s our Glenn Highway. Imagine if the Glenn Highway only allowed you to drive form Anchorage to Eagle River twice a month,” said Dillon “That’s the situation we’re in in Seldovia, Kodiak and other places that rely on the Alaska Marine Highway System.”

The governor has allocated $10 million to design a ship to replace the aging Tustumena, but Dillon said, “We need the governor to put approximately $120 million into the budget to go directly into the building. Transportation is a key for all Alaskans. Communities like Seldovia cannot survive economically with two ferries a month.” 

Assembly member Kelly Wolf, Seat 1-Kalifornsky, cautioned Dillon that “pointing out that it’s not a luxury to 60 legislators in Juneau might make us look like we’re sticking it in their face.” With $10 million already budgeted for ship design, Wolf said requesting $120 million was a big request.

“I think we need to do it with a little more humble pie,” said Wolf.

Pointing to energy and transportation needs in Alaska, assembly member Charlie Pierce, Seat 5-Sterling and Funny River, said living in Alaska was expensive.

“Are there any other states in the nation that have a savings account that comes close to what Alaska has? Yet we haggle over basic needs to provide economic infrastructure so we can sustain ourselves 12 months a year,” said Pierce, adding to Dillon, “I applaud your efforts.”  

When time came to vote on Resolution 2013-066, Wolf said he had changed his plan to amend it.

“Mr. Dillon has a very good point. There are some members of the Legislature, especially Anchorage and the Interior, that think it’s a luxury,” said Wolf, asking and receiving unanimous consent for the resolution.

Bob Letson, South Peninsula Hospital’s chief executive officer, and Lori Meyer, the hospital’s chief financial officer, also took advantage of the assembly’s visit to present the hospital’s quarterly report. *** Is there something we can say about this?*****

The troublesome Tall Tree bridge that crosses Stariski Creek was discussed in Mayor Mike Navarre’s report. Navarre said it also would be discussed in an upcoming meeting he has scheduled with Gov. Parnell.

Recent rain has caused deterioration of bridge abutments and other damage and Hilcorp, who uses the road and bridge, has agreed to help pay for the cost of repairs.

“The reason they’re doing that now is because the road is not part of the borough’s Road Service Area,” said Navarre, adding that if the bridge and road accessing the bridge can be put in the governor’s budget, “then we’ll ask the Road Service Area to adopt it and from then on the responsibility and authority would rest with the Road Service Area.”

Navarre reported he has made several presentations in Kenai and Soldotna to discuss the propositions on the Oct. 1 municipal election ballot. He also will be speaking at today’s noon meeting of the Rotary Club of Homer-Kachemak Bay Rotary at the Best Western Bidarka Inn. 

The assembly took action on the following ordinances and resolutions:

• Enacted Ordinance 2013-19-16, appropriating $23,693 to support activities of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Local Emergency Planning Committee;

• Enacted Ordinance 2013-19-17, appropriating $125,000 for the Kenai Central High School track and field project;

• Enacted Ordinance 2013-30, authorizing the assessor to accept the late-filed senior exemption application of Leona Broker for 2012; 

• Adopted as amended Ordinance 2013-31, authorizing the mayor to execute the sublease and operating agreement with South Peninsula Hospital Inc. for South Peninsula Hospital and other medical facilities;

• Unanimously opposed Resolution 2013-065, authorizing a new classified position to replace a temporary clerk position for the Anchor Point Fire and Emergency Medial Service Area. “This is something that needs to be done, however there’s some change in management and it was brought to our attention that maybe this was a little premature, maybe we should bring in management before we hire positions,” said Haggerty.

The next meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly is 6 p.m. Oct. 8 in Soldotna.

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at