Legislature(2005 - 2006)CAPITOL 17

03/21/2006 01:30 PM House TRANSPORTATION

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* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
Moved CSHB 432(TRA) Out of Committee
Moved CSHB 417(TRA) Out of Committee
Moved Out of Committee
HB 432-YUKON RIVER FERRY SERVICE                                                                                              
1:39:12 PM                                                                                                                    
CO-CHAIR GATTO announced  that the first order  of business would                                                               
be  HOUSE BILL  NO.  432,  "An Act  expanding  the Alaska  marine                                                               
highway system to Yukon River locations."                                                                                       
REPRESENTATIVE  SALMON,  speaking  as  the  sponsor  of  HB  432,                                                               
explained  that   HB  432  would   require  the   [Department  of                                                               
Transportation &  Public Facilities] to study  the feasibility of                                                               
a state  ferry system on  the Yukon River.   [A ferry  running on                                                               
the Yukon River] will impact around  30 villages.  He opined that                                                               
tourists from surrounding areas [and  outside of the state] would                                                               
be interested  in riding routes  once traveled by  the steamships                                                               
in  the late  1800s.    He pointed  out  that the  infrastructure                                                               
necessary  for  this operation  wouldn't  be  major because  [the                                                               
routes] would only  be in operation for four months  of the year.                                                               
Furthermore, [regular]  ferry [service]  on the Yukon  River will                                                               
provide those  living along the  Yukon River with  another option                                                               
for the  shipment of goods.   He then noted the  connecting roads                                                               
from the villages  along the Yukon River.   Representative Salmon                                                               
opined  that the  ferry  system  could also  be  utilized on  the                                                               
Kuskokwim  River and  the  Stikine River.    Utilizing the  ferry                                                               
system will provide residents with safe transportation.                                                                         
1:44:41 PM                                                                                                                    
CO-CHAIR  ELKINS  inquired as  to  the  cost  of  a study  as  is                                                               
proposed in HB 432.                                                                                                             
REPRESENTATIVE  SALMON  drew  the committee's  attention  to  the                                                               
fiscal  note  specifying that  the  feasibility  study will  cost                                                               
about $250,000.                                                                                                                 
CO-CHAIR  GATTO recalled  his  many canoe  trips  from Dawson  to                                                               
Eagle  and also  recalled  that there's  a  private ferry,  Yukon                                                               
Queen, that  is fast.  From  that he surmised that  it's possible                                                               
to make money  with a ferry.  He then  expressed concern with the                                                               
new  language in  Section  2, which  requires  the department  to                                                               
construct  or  obtain  ferry  terminal  facilities  at  locations                                                               
"including   communities   along   the   Yukon   River".      The                                                           
aforementioned requires a different fiscal note.                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  SALMON  said that  although  it  sounds like  the                                                               
state would  be purchasing,  this would  require the  approval of                                                               
CO-CHAIR GATTO suggested  that perhaps the language  in Section 2                                                               
should  specify that  the department  "may"  rather than  "shall"                                                               
construct or obtain ferry terminal  facilities depending upon the                                                               
results of the  Section 1 study.  Such  language wouldn't require                                                               
a costly fiscal note.                                                                                                           
REPRESENTATIVE SALMON said he is always open to amendments.                                                                     
1:48:25 PM                                                                                                                    
ROBIN  TAYLOR,  Deputy  Director/Director of  Marine  Operations,                                                               
Alaska  Marine Highway  System,  Department  of Transportation  &                                                               
Public  Facilities,  drew  attention to  the  existing  statutory                                                               
language  in  Section 2  of  "it  selects".   The  aforementioned                                                               
allows  the  department  to  move   forward  with  the  purchase,                                                               
construction,  or  lease  of   terminal  facilities  but  doesn't                                                               
require  the  department to  do  so.    He  said that  he  didn't                                                               
disagree with Co-Chair Gatto's suggestion,  but opined that "may"                                                               
and "it selects" accomplish the same thing.                                                                                     
CO-CHAIR  GATTO suggested  a  conceptual  amendment, which  would                                                               
insert  language in  Section 2  to ensure  the department  is not                                                               
required  to construct,  maintain, or  purchase facilities  until                                                               
the legislature  approves the  expansion of  the ferry  system to                                                               
the Yukon River locations.                                                                                                      
CO-CHAIR  ELKINS asked  whether the  "shall" in  Section 2  could                                                               
merely be changed to "may" and accomplish the same goal.                                                                        
CO-CHAIR GATTO replied yes, but he  expressed the need to be very                                                               
REPRESENTATIVE SALMON pointed out  that changing "shall" to "may"                                                               
will  change  the  current  statute and  impact  the  main  ferry                                                               
MR. TAYLOR  agreed, adding that  is why he believes  the existing                                                               
language "it  selects" addresses  the concern.   Furthermore, the                                                               
department  is  unable  to  purchase   any  facility  unless  the                                                               
legislature includes  funding in the  budget for it.   Mr. Taylor                                                               
opined  that  [the new  language  in  Section  2]  may be  a  bit                                                               
premature  until the  study  is  completed and  thus  may not  be                                                               
necessary until the study is completed.                                                                                         
1:53:09 PM                                                                                                                    
CO-CHAIR GATTO said  he was surprised that  the original language                                                               
doesn't  specify that  the ferry  terminals shall  be constructed                                                               
subject to the approval of the legislature.                                                                                     
MR. TAYLOR  noted that oftentimes  [DOT&PF] has had to  move with                                                               
some dispatch.  Furthermore, these  often aren't major options to                                                               
acquire   property  for   terminal   facilities.     Mr.   Taylor                                                               
highlighted  that   terminal  facilities  aren't   built  without                                                               
federal  funding,  which  has  to   move  through  the  Statewide                                                               
Transportation   Improvement   Program   (STIP)  and   the   full                                                               
legislative appropriation process during the capital budget.                                                                    
CO-CHAIR GATTO opined that the  language is fairly broad approval                                                               
for spending state money.                                                                                                       
MR. TAYLOR  said, "We've  not utilized  it in  recent years.   In                                                               
fact, legislative  drafters are  very reluctant  to put  the word                                                               
'shall' in."  He said that the language has worked well.                                                                        
CO-CHAIR  GATTO  indicated  disagreement  that  the  language  is                                                               
working well because [the state]  spends $3.00 for every $1.00 of                                                               
CO-CHAIR  ELKINS  pointed out  that  the  state receives  $5  [in                                                               
federal funds] for  every $1.00 spent.  Therefore,  there isn't a                                                               
highway in the state that makes money.                                                                                          
CO-CHAIR GATTO  moved that  the committee  adopt Amendment  1, as                                                               
     Page 1, line 12;                                                                                                           
          Delete "shall"                                                                                                        
          Insert "may"                                                                                                          
CO-CHAIR  ELKINS   announced  that  he  would   support  HB  432.                                                               
However,  he commented  that Representative  Salmon has  his work                                                               
cut out for  him because [the legislature] is  fighting to return                                                               
the 10  percent that was cut  from AMHS's budget back.   Co-Chair                                                               
Elkins  highlighted that  the notion  is to  return AMHS  back to                                                               
what it  was 25  years ago  with regard  to quality  and vessels.                                                               
Although this legislation  would fit with those  goals, there are                                                               
members  of  the legislature  who  would  like to  eliminate  the                                                               
entire ferry system.                                                                                                            
CO-CHAIR GATTO  asked if AMHS  always encompassed  the facilities                                                               
that it currently has.                                                                                                          
MR. TAYLOR  replied no, informing  the committee that  AMHS began                                                               
with  three vessels  serving  from Seattle  or  Prince Rupert  to                                                               
Skagway.   Over  the years  two vessels  were added  in order  to                                                               
provide  service to  the outer  villages of  Craig, Klawock,  and                                                               
Hydaburg.   Over about  20 years ago,  service was  expanded such                                                               
that two vessels served Hoonah,  Angoon, Pelican, and Kake.  With                                                               
the purchase  of the M/V  Kennicott, service was  expanded across                                                               
the  Gulf.   Two other  vessels were  used to  expand service  in                                                               
Prince William  Sound and to  the Aleutian  Chain.  The  run from                                                               
the Pacific Northwest to Skagway  remains the basic core level of                                                               
service that was  expanded out to the Aleutian  Chain as detailed                                                               
above.    In  further  response to  Co-Chair  Gatto,  Mr.  Taylor                                                               
informed  the committee  that in  1973 DOT&PF  performed a  study                                                               
regarding the concept of a  shallow-draft ferry that would push a                                                               
small barge in front of it.   He offered to provide the committee                                                               
a quick presentation on the concept.                                                                                            
CO-CHAIR  GATTO said  he would  pass on  the presentation  at the                                                               
moment.   He  then  inquired as  to the  situation  with the  M/V                                                               
MR.  TAYLOR clarified  that  the M/V  Tustumena  is undergoing  a                                                               
major   overhaul,  an   almost   $3.5  million   project.     The                                                               
aforementioned is  funded by  federal money.   However,  he noted                                                               
that  typically a  portion of  each of  these contracts  is state                                                               
money appropriated  from the general  fund for vessel  repair and                                                               
maintenance.  To the extent  possible, such contracts are kept in                                                               
2:01:01 PM                                                                                                                    
MR. TAYLOR  related that  DOT&PF is  moderately supportive  of HB
432  due  to the  struggles  to  fund  the  current budget.    He                                                               
cautioned against having 30 villages  reliant on the ferry system                                                               
as  is  the  case  with the  isolated  communities  of  Southeast                                                               
Alaska,  Prince  William  Sound,  and the  Aleutian  Chain.    He                                                               
suggested that such  dependence on the ferry  system could result                                                               
in the communities of the  Yukon River facing concerns related to                                                               
increased costs.  Mr. Taylor  highlighted that the private sector                                                               
can and  does provide service  where it's  economically feasible,                                                               
as is the  case with the barge service currently  provided on the                                                               
Yukon River.   He projected that  to provide ferry service  to an                                                               
area with very little revenue base will be costly.                                                                              
2:03:04 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE SALMON,  in response to Co-Chair  Gatto, explained                                                               
that Yutana Barge Lines, a  private company, only carries freight                                                               
and only services some areas along  the Yukon River once or twice                                                               
CO-CHAIR  GATTO  asked  if  $250,000 is  the  correct  amount  to                                                               
perform the study.                                                                                                              
MR. TAYLOR  replied yes, it  should allow adequate  assessment of                                                               
the  proposal  and  promptly  return   to  the  legislature  with                                                               
REPRESENTATIVE SALMON,  in response to Co-Chair  Elkins, answered                                                               
that  the Yukon  River  is free  of  ice mid-May  to  the end  of                                                               
2:04:43 PM                                                                                                                    
CO-CHAIR  GATTO  related  his understanding  that  the  ferry  at                                                               
Dawson City is operated by the government since it's free.                                                                      
CO-CHAIR GATTO  reminded the committee  of the pending  motion to                                                               
adopt Amendment  1 and asked if  there was any objection.   There                                                               
being no objection, Amendment 1 was adopted.                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE THOMAS moved to report  HB 432, as amended, out of                                                               
committee  with individual  recommendations and  the accompanying                                                               
fiscal  notes.   There  being  no  objection, CSHB  432(TRA)  was                                                               
reported from the House Transportation Standing Committee.                                                                      
2:06:21 PM                                                                                                                    

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