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Cuts to Alaska ferries could hurt tourism, fisheries

Communities in southeast Alaska are trying to convince Alaska Marine Highway officials not to cuts routes from its proposed ferry schedule for this fall and next winter.
Communities on the ferry system in southeast Alaska could see a reduction in service this fall. In this photo from May 2013, the Alaska Marine Highway ferry Malaspina cruises through Tracy Arm as part of it's 50th Anniversary Golden Voyage. (The Associated Press)

Communities in southeast Alaska are trying to convince Alaska Marine Highway officials to restore parts of its proposed ferry schedule for this fall and next winter, which includes reduced or eliminated services.

A draft ferry schedule, released for public input in June by the Alaska Department of Transportation, reflects budget cuts made by Alaska governor Bill Walker.

It proposes to permanently tie-up the M/V Taku ferry, which was already docked since July 1. Taku's replacement will sail half as often between Ketchikan, Alaska, and Prince Rupert, B.C.

Deanna Garrison, assistant manager of the borough of Ketchikan, says cuts to the ferry service to her community, Wrangell and Petersburg will hurt regional fisheries.

"Specifically, losing the Taku is problematic for Ketchikan fish processors," she said. "It's faster for processors to place a product on the ferry to Prince Rupert and truck seafood to the lower 48."

Jan Hill, mayor of Haines, Alaska, is worried the cuts to ferry service will affect tourism. The ferry system in Haines connects to the mainland highway system through the Yukon. 

Alaska Marine Highway officials say they're taking all suggestions about the schedule changes seriously, but also say there isn't enough money to meet most of the requests.

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