Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak seen in this April 2019 photo was selected to serve on a nine-member Alaska Marine Highway Reshaping Work Group by Speaker of the House Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham. Whether she will be appointed by Gov. Mike Dunleavy remains to be seen. (Alex McCarthy | Juneau Empire File)

Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak seen in this April 2019 photo was selected to serve on a nine-member Alaska Marine Highway Reshaping Work Group by Speaker of the House Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham. Whether she will be appointed by Gov. Mike Dunleavy remains to be seen. (Alex McCarthy | Juneau Empire File)

Who will shape ferries’ future?

Legislators and unions haven’t finalized their picks for governor’s working group

Who will be considered for a nine-person group tasked with making recommendations for the Alaska Marine Highway System’s future is still being hashed out with a deadline fast approaching.

Ahead of Friday’s deadline, both Speaker of the House Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, and Senate President Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, shared intended selections for a work group established on Jan. 17 by an administrative order from Gov. Mike Dunleavy.

However, restrictions contained in the order about the group’s makeup leave whether lawmakers’ picks will ultimately be appointed an open question.

Edgmon in a letter to Dunleavy and shared with the Empire, selected Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, based on “her thorough understanding of the importance of the Alaska Marine Highway System to many coastal communities.”

Giessel said Wednesday during an Alaska Chamber event Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, would be her pick for the group, and he is “perfect” for the role. However, Giessel’s office said Thursday afternoon the selection was not officially submitted.

Both Stutes and Stedman have experience working on ferry-related matters and been vocal supporters of the Alaska Marine Highway System, which has offered reduced services in recent months in light of budget cuts and vessels in need of expensive repairs. They also both represent coastal regions, and that could be a deal-breaker.

The administrative order that established the group states the governor requests it include two lawmakers picked by the senate president and speaker of house. It also specifies that one of the picks be from a coastal region served by AMHS and one from a region not served by AMHS.

Dunleavy spokesperson Jeff Turner would not say if one or both of the selections would or could be disqualified. Turner noted the application process had not yet closed.

Other members of the group, as laid out in the administrative order, include three members of the public and chairpeople or their designees from the Marine Transportation, Aviation, and Roads and Highways advisory boards.

“The application period closes tomorrow,” Turner said by email. “Applications will be reviewed and an announcement on who has been appointed to the nine member group will be made at a later date.”

Per the order, the working group is also to include one member to represent three marine unions — international Organization of Masters, Mates and Pilots; Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association; Inland Boatman’s Union of the Pacific — with agreements with the state.

Who will represent organized labor in the working group and to which union they’ll belong was still undetermined as of last Thursday afternoon, said both Shannon Adamson, union representative for International Organization of Masters, Mates and Pilots, and Robb Arnold, IBU regional vice chair, in separate phone interviews.

“We’re working on that process now in the background,” Arnold said.

Adamson said that conference calls would take place Thursday afternoon, and she hoped a selection will be announced Friday afternoon. She said the three unions work well together and selecting someone for the working group is a matter of determining who will have the best availability and who would be best suited for the task.

However, Arnold said he hopes an IBU member is the pick to be part of the working group.

“We want to protect our workers, our jobs and our communities,” Arnold said.

About the group

The Alaska Marine Highway Reshaping Work Group will consider the reshaping report released Jan. 15, past service levels, demands, cost of service and other factors to define future needs and purpose of the AMHS, according to the Administrative Order.

Recommendations would be submitted to the governor by Sept. 30, according to the order, and implimentation would begin in July 2022.

Contact reporter Ben Hohenstatt at 907-523-2243 or bhohenstatt@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt.

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