Shirley Marquardt gets new job title: Exec. Director of ferries - Must Read Alaska
Connect with:
Wednesday, October 21, 2020
HomePoliticsShirley Marquardt gets new job title: Exec. Director of ferries

Shirley Marquardt gets new job title: Exec. Director of ferries


Gov. Bill Walker has appointed Shirley Marquardt as the new executive director of the Alaska Marine Highway System.

She’ll head up a new position in the Department of Transportation that “will provide strategic direction to the system as a whole as well as oversight of operations, engineering, marketing and program development,” according to DOT Commissioner Mark Luiken.

In other words, it’s a deputy commissioner job with a different title, and it’s still a politically appointed job, which makes it highly unstable this election year.

Marquardt is the current director of Boards and Commissions for the governor, and was the mayor of Unalaska before that. If there’s someone who understands instability and politics, Marquardt is all that. Plus, she can bring in the Aleutian-to-Cordova vote come November.

“Shirley is an excellent choice for AMHS because she will help orient the ferry system to a stronger business model,” said Gov. Walker. “For the safety and prosperity of coastal Alaska and the businesses across Alaska who use the ferries, service should be reliable and predictable. ”

Marquardt will start in early June and be based at the AHMS headquarters in Ketchikan.

Changing the title for the person heading the ferries from “deputy commissioner” to “executive director” is a step in the process of making the ferries a separate public corporation.

And it comes after a year of no one at the helm of the ferry system. The most recent deputy commissioner in charge of the ferries was Mark Neussel, who left exactly a year ago. Neussl was a retired U.S. Coast Guard captain with 30 years of service; he was a technically savvy Department of Transportation deputy commissioner running the ferries for two years, and also ran the ferry system in 2011 and 2012.

The new corporation that is planned would still receive public funding but would be better for the public in ways not fully explained in this report, made to Southeast Conference last year.


For the most part, Marquardt’s position as the director of Boards and Commissions has been without controversy. She has overseen the appointments of hundreds of Alaskans to influential policy positions, and few have encountered resistance from the Alaska Legislature.

However, when the name of a Planned Parenthood activist was put forward to serve on a board overseeing the work of direct-entry midwives, the Walker Administration was deeply embarrassed by the choice, after it became public in MustReadAlaska.

And the appointments to the Board of Fisheries have been difficult as well. Walker’s appointment of Roland Maw became a stain on his administration; Maw is still in court fighting several felony charges that he defrauded the Permanent Fund Division by taking dividends when he wasn’t entitled to them.

Walker’s first Director of Boards and Commissions, Karen Gillis, also quit — quite publicly — after saying that Walker had jumped over her and appointed Roberta “Bobbi” Quintavell to a vacant seat on the Alaska Board of Fisheries, undermining Gillis’ credibility. The United Fishermen of Alaska objected to Quintavell’s appointment because of her ties to the Kenai River Sportfishing Association. That group, KRSA, had deep-sixed Walker’s prior choice for the seat, Robert Ruffner.

Again this year, a controversy arose when the governor decided to appoint Duncan Fields of Kodiak to a seat on the board that is normally reserved for a Matanuska-Susitna area person representing sports fishermen. Another kerfuffle ensued and 16 groups signed a letter opposing the appointment. Fields is a commercial fisherman and his appointment would have tilted the board power to the commercial side.

The governor has not yet announced who will take Marquardt’s place running Boards and Commissions.

Donations Welcome


Written by

Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.

Latest comments

  • One day a Governor is going to have to deal with the Alaska Marine Highway System and it isn’t going to be pretty. If you put somebody with a maritime background in charge, they’re going to either come from the USCG or US Navy or from another publicly funded or subsidized Jones Act shipper. From either background they’ll know how to safely operate the system but will have no concept of controlling costs. From time to time they’ve had somebody whose background was strictly political, Jim Ayers and Robin Taylor come to mind and now this appointee seems to have no real maritime background. It hasn’t seemed to really matter how salty the management was, the system was marked by high costs and low efficiency.

    It has been a recurrent theme from the Republican/Railbelt side that much of the AMHS should be contracted out. The regular workforce doesn’t lend itself to that other than to some degree the unlicensed employees providing hotel services, but then they’re the ones most likely to actually live in Alaska and spend their checks here.

    I think the most effective contracting out would be for the management of the system. There are plenty of private companies, though few of them are American, who provide the management for shipping lines, and there really are shipping lines in the World that are operated for a profit. The AMHS doesn’t have to make a profit any more than the Seward Hwy. has to be operated for profit, but the AMHS shouldn’t waste money and it patently does. The system is basically operated for the convenience and remuneration of the shipboard employees. Convenience and cost to the State and the travelling public is hardly a factor.

    The reality is that no Democrat Administration can seek efficiencies and cut costs because they’re in thrall to the marine unions. No Republican Administration can do more than at best hold the line on costs because they fear service disruptions. Make no mistake, any attempt to meaningfully cut costs will provoke a strike and the licensed units, the deck officers and engineers, can strike indefinitely; they’ll just show up at the Hall and bid a blue water ship or even use their credential to work non-union if necessary. The unlicensed employees don’t have that option because entry to their jobs isn’t so restricted, so they hit the street. To get the licensed employees back you’ll either have to give them what they want with cherries and nuts on top or break the strike. Finding replacement employees for the licensed positions would be all but impossible and you can’t operate without them. Nearly two decades after they struck during the Hammond Administration I was still trying to buy stuff back from them that the Hammond Administration had given them to get them to come back to work.

    I really don’t know how vital the system is any more. In winter they’re mostly running empty if running at all and school kids going to sporting events seems to be most of the passenger load. In summer, they function as a lower cost tour boat and few residents seem to ride them. If you’re using the ferry to get your gear and equipment to Kodiak or Dutch because it is cheaper, the ferry should be charging more. Likewise, if the ferry is bringing your container of merchandise because it is cheaper, the ferry isn’t charging enough. In both examples, the AMHS should not be a direct competitor to private shippers. Air service to coastal Alaska is far more plentiful, convenient, and reliable than it was 50 years ago when the AMHS was founded. For most it is easier and cheaper to fly Outside and rent a car or pay to store one down there than it is to take the ferry with your car to the highway system at Haines, Skagway, or Prince Rupert or all the way to Bellingham. John Torgerson and I once did a back of the matchbook calculation that we could let everyone with an Alaska residence ride the ferries anywhere in Alaska for free and save money if we just dropped Prince Rupert and Bellingham service. The only people who’d be really inconvenienced are those whose conviction record makes it expensive or impossible for them to drive in Canada. We joked that the biggest driver of winter ferry traffic was the Alaska State Troopers.

  • You also need to remember that there are unlicensed positions that have to be filled or the ferry can not sail also remember it’s part of the Hwy system and should not make a profit if the state wants it to be more efficient then they should invest in more new ships like the original Alaska class mainliner replacment the hotel services were greatly reduced but the ships would have been able to work on any part of the system except the chain run

    • The solution to the AMHS’ problems involves far more than some new ship type. I think I said it didn’t have to make a profit, but it doesn’t have to profligately waste money either, and it does.

  • This Women has good reason to be smiling, she’s in charge of the biggest money loser in the state and it seems to stay that way indefinitely… It’s like having a gold card worth endless credit…that’s what makes every Woman Happy! Maybe a good yard sale is in order! But please retain the Docks to lease out to the new operators.

  • I have to agree with all that Mr. Chance has said. Maybe a way to cut costs is to limit the sailings. Using the ferry system to get vehicles up from the lower 48 states to Alaska never has been an economic alternative to driving up through Canada. A separate ferry system (Alaska’s Inter-Island Ferry Authority) runs between Ketchican and prince of Wales Is. I have not heard of this ferry system having financial trouble. It is a public non-profit corporation.

    I think that DUI convicts can get a TRP (Temporary Resident Permit), which is time specific, to drive through Canada. If the conviction was five or more years ago one can apply for “Criminal Rehabilitation” if all the conditions of the sentence are met, also there is a charge of about $200. Lawyer costs involved in the applications are above and beyond the the permit fee.

%d bloggers like this: