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Alaska governor says state will use private ferry companies

February 21, 2020 GMT

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities will use one or more private companies to operate ferries during an ongoing breakdown in state service, the governor said.

Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy said the state needs private companies to operate ferries to coastal communities, The Anchorage Daily News reported Wednesday.

“We’re going to have to rely on the private sector as a stopgap to some degree,” Dunleavy said Wednesday.

Only one of the state’s fleet of 12 ships is operating, with four laid up in temporary storage and seven undergoing overhauls for scheduled or unscheduled work, Department of Transportation Commissioner John MacKinnon said.

Coastal towns that cannot be reached by road in the winter are reporting food shortages because of the lack of service by the Alaska Marine Highway System. Hundreds of residents protested in a series of events across the state last week.

The state requested information earlier this month from companies that might be able to provide interim sailings until state ferries exit the shipyard. There were three responses, but the state has not executed contracts with any of the companies.

“If the lack of available ships continues, we’re going to engage them,” MacKinnon said.

The transportation department has not released a firm plan for providing private service, and it is unclear how the state would pay the companies.

The ferry Matanuska, which was scheduled to be the only operating mainline vessel in the state, broke down last month.

Establishing a timeline for Matanuska to return to service is “a very complicated issue,” MacKinnon said.