Thursday, January 22, 2015

Alaska Newspaper editorial calls for the end of Alaska Marine Highway Service to Prince Rupert

With the politicians doing most of the talking in recent days regarding the controversial Prince Rupert Ferry Terminal project, the polarization of the proposed renovation is starting to draw some sharp lines.

As we outlined on the blog yesterday, the Alaska Government made the decision on Wednesday to cancel the Prince Rupert Terminal renovation, leaving the project in a state of limbo while all of those involved in the conversation reassess their next move.

The cancellation order came as a response to an announcement a day earlier by the Canadian Government, which on Tuesday outlined its intention to challenge the Buy America provisions of the project bid sheet.

The back and forth discussion and occasional sharp words between the different levels of government didn't gain much attention in the early days, for the most part they remained the things of trade policy issues that few seemed inclined to follow.

But with yesterday's latest development that appears to have changed a bit for those living to the north or Prince Rupert.

The Ferry Terminal topic now seems to be starting to heat up beyond the reach of the government officials, with the first shot from Alaska coming by way of an editorial today in the Juneau Empire.

A short but concise review of the situation from the point of view from the Alaska capital, with a suggested  solution to the dispute that will surely catch the attention of Tourism Prince Rupert officials.

The main talking point from the Juneau Empire being the call for the State of Alaska to not only end the plan to renovate the Prince Rupert Terminal but bring to an end the State's Ferry service to Prince Rupert.

Some of the key observations from the perspective of the Alaska newspaper include:

Gov. Bill Walker could simply apply for an exemption from the “buy American” clause, but we think there’s a better solution. It involves cutting.

 The state of Alaska is facing a $3.5 billion revenue shortfall. It’s going to be looking for budget cuts. One of those cuts should be Prince Rupert. We’re not just talking about the new ferry terminal. We’re talking about cutting Prince Rupert as a stop on the Alaska Marine Highway.

Cutting Prince Rupert would slice money from the Marine Highway’s budget, preserving funding elsewhere. The Marine Highway’s own traffic figures make the case for this cut.

The state’s budget cap is too wide to be bridged unless every department pitches in. Cutting service to Prince Rupert does not do a disservice to any Alaskans. Service to the Lower 48 will still be available through Bellingham. 

In 2013, the Marine Highway carried 254,437 passengers in Southeast Alaska. Fewer than 8,000 of them were picked up in Prince Rupert. Prince Rupert had about as many passenger embarkations as Petersburg, in fact. 

Prince Rupert does not offer anything that cannot be obtained through another port. 

 As the state cuts its budget, we expect the Alaska Marine Highway to bear its share. If it comes down to a choice between Petersburg and Prince Rupert, we know which option we prefer.

The full editorial from the Juneau Dispatch can be reviewed here.

The review of the ongoing dispute has also become the feature attraction to the comments section of another Alaska news option.

In another article posted today, the Alaska Dispatch News offers up the temperature of those that like to make their views known to the editors.

Some of those who weighed in, offer up solutions, others seem to want to escalate the dispute even further.

You can review the article and full range of commentary from the Dispatch News here.

The comments section of any local newspaper of course basically allows for a bit of venting from the local readership, so we probably can take the heated observations coming out of Alaska with a grain of salt.

The editorial however is something that might raise a bit of concern for those at Tourism Prince Rupert, as that organization has been looking to keep the dispute over the terminal renovation from turning into a much more worrisome issue.

Before we all get to taking to the mattresses as Tony Sorpano might put it, there is one thing that we all should keep in mind.

For all of their bombast, those writing the editorials and taking to the comments pages seem to forget one thing, the Prince Rupert gateway for many Alaskans is. in a way their highway connection to the lower 48 states.

It is an important part of the infrastructure for the state and while they probably won't admit it at the moment, it serves as a valuable transportation option to the rest of the continent.

The Juneau Empire Editorial from Thursday however, does provide an reminder once again as to how quickly these kind of disputes can escalate.

One thing is certain, when politicians have to make decisions, they for the most part do them with their constituency in mind. In the case of Alaska Governor Bill Walker, those that he answers to are at the moment, weighing in with suggestions that offer up a solution that seems to resonate with a number of his fellow Alaskans.

Suggestions that would clearly have an impact on both Alaska and Prince Rupert.

So finding a solution to the impasse is clearly something that both sides should be working towards, as a resolution to the issues would it seems serve the best interest for both countries.

For more background on the dispute see our archive page on Transportation here.

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