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Alaska lawmakers contemplate sinking ferry to save money

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Alaska lawmakers are contemplating sinking a ferry to save money.

Members of the Alaska Legislature have considered turning the ferry Malaspina into an artificial reef, the Anchorage Daily News reported Wednesday. The ship is one of the oldest of the state’s eight ferries.

The Malaspina has been tied down since 2019 because of a lack of funding, but it still costs the state about $450,000 in maintenance per year.

Sinking the ship as an artificial reef could cost between $500,000 and $1 million, but may make long-term financial sense, said state Department of Transportation Deputy Commissioner Rob Carpenter.

In February 2020, Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy ordered a commission to examine the ferry system and recommend general improvements.

Retired Coast Guard Adm. Tom Barrett, who chaired the commission, told members of the Senate Finance Committee that transitioning the state ferry system into a self-funded state-owned corporation would not be the best solution.

“You’re going to have to keep putting money into this system if you want it to operate,” Barrett said. "You’re going to have to subsidize this for some time to come.”

Barrett’s commission instead recommended reforms to how the ferry system is governed. For decades, long-term planning has been subjected to the state’s annual budget.

Budget cuts have forced the ferry system to tie up ships because the state lacks funding to maintain them. There is also not enough money to build ships that require less frequent maintenance, the newspaper reported.

Legislative subcommittees are considering a $7 million increase above the amount proposed by Dunleavy.

That proposal would allow more ferry service but would not address the system’s long-term problems — including declining passenger counts, old ships and a need to serve rural, hard-to-reach communities.

Dunleavy has proposed legislation that would create a ferry operation and planning board to address the problems outlined by Barrett’s commission, Anchorage Daily News reported. A hearing has been scheduled for Thursday in the state Senate.

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