TAKE A CHILL PILL, WEARY TRAVELER. THIS IS GOING TO BE A WHILE: After being pinned down by weather for three days, the Alaska Marine Highway System was finally able to get the State ferry MV Aurora out of Haines and heading to Juneau on Monday.
The good people of Alaska might rejoice since legislators and some staffers have been stuck in Haines, biding their time at the Mountain Market Cafe while waiting for a spot on a southbound ferry so they can convene at the Capitol to fix the state’s fiscal situation.
Alaska’s lousy fiscal situation is caused in part by overwhelming costs of running services like a Marine Highway System operated by highly paid unions whose members have also spent the weekend in stasis as they waited for the weather to clear — and getting paid for it.
The latest delayed travel event on the ferries started on Friday, when the Aurora sailings in Upper Lynn Canal were scrapped because of high winds and freezing spray.
By Sunday, there was no mercy from the whipping wind, leaving everyone stuck in Haines, Skagway, and Juneau.
A 51-mile road would have solved the problem because a half-hour crossing is manageable in such conditions, whereas a four- or five-hour ferry ride leads to just too much ice accumulating on the lifeboats, creating a hazard.
The weather was great for hotels and restaurants that absorbed cash from the weary travelers. A ferry ride that would have cost $175 all of a sudden was going to cost closer to $400, once you add food and lodging for three days.
Of course, for working class people without expense accounts there was car camping in the dead of winter, with wind and freezing temperatures.
Basketball tournaments were cancelled in Haines and Skagway. At least one traveler vented on Twitter that he had missed his cruise:
It was the same last month, when the Upper Lynn Canal was shut down due to freezing spray, and the people who wanted to go to Skagway to ride the Santa train were out of luck.
December also saw the MV Matanuska break down in Ketchikan, and strand people all across Southeast Alaska. That engine failure disrupted the schedule for nearly a week while it was repaired. The communities of Juneau, Hoonah, Sitka, Kake, Wrangell, Petersburg, Ketchikan, and Haines were all affected.
Similar stories were told by travelers back in mid-October, when they were fogged in in Juneau, with no flights in or out, and the ferry to Haines was broken down in Wrangell.
SEND A NOTE: Sports teams and other bedraggled travelers, including those who missed their winter cruises, can send their thank you notes to Gov. Bill Walker, (Office of the Governor, P.O. Box 110001, Juneau, AK 99811-0001) who cancelled plans for the road to Juneau and is getting ready to use the road funds for other purposes.
Section 16 of Gov. Walker’s draft budget re-allocates the existing Juneau Access money to the Alaska-class ferries ($4.43 million) and “…transportation and infrastructure in the Greater Lynn Canal Area” ($34.14 million). We’re also hearing the airport in Angoon is one project that will get funds. Angoon has 400 residents, but one of them is the mighty Al Kookesh, a leading Democrat who works for Gov. Walker.
Juneau’s new representative, Democrat Justin Parrish, is telling people that the $4.43 million for the Alaska-class ferries will be used to retrofit crew quarters to the vessels.
Those ships, being built in Ketchikan, were specifically designed for use in upper Lynn Canal as day boats to avoid the prohibitively expensive overnighting of crews on board. That’s why no crew quarters were designed into the boats in the first place. But unions want those berths — there’s a lot of money involved when crew sleeps onboard instead of in their own beds. They fought for them before the ferry design was complete, and they’re still determined to get those berths so more “sheet-snappers” can be hired. More paid time can be logged at the expense of the system.
Gov. Walker says he cancelled Juneau Access to save money. Meanwhile, he’s diverting precious federal infrastructure funds to make a ferry system that is already an inefficient money loser even less efficient.
Walker had a decision to make, and he went with the advice of the Neo-Luddites. He decided to take no action at all on building the one thing he could have built during his term as governor. He has no plan for making travel to Juneau efficient and affordable, and even if he had a plan, he has no money to execute it.
Meanwhile, the forecast for Tuesday’s Aurora sailing looks favorable, with 12-foot seas and freezing spray, but no anticipated cancellation. Yet.