EDITORIAL: Ketchikan urges locally made ferries, state should follow suit

No economic decision is as important to Ketchikan at the moment as the awarding of the Alaska Class Ferry contract to the local shipyard.

That’s why both the Ketchikan City Council and Ketchikan Gateway Borough are passing resolutions urging that all state-owned marine vessels be built in Alaska shipyards — not just the ferries, but any Alaska-owned vessel. The state Legislature should follow suit.

The resolutions point out that the city — along with the Ketchikan shipyard’s operator, Alaska Ship and Drydock, and its owner, Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority — has been actively working to make the shipyard industry viable in Ketchikan.

The shipyard isn’t only valuable to the state, but to Ketchikan as it develops and expands its maritime industry.

Ketchikan Shipyard is successful in building and maintaining marine vessels, and has earned its reputation for quality work completed on budget and deadline. It also provides year-round, well-paying manufacturing jobs in Ketchikan. Manufacturing jobs are the key to any successful economy.

The shipyard has a great future as industries, such as fisheries and oil, expand in Alaska. The Alaska Community Development Quota shareholders are purchasing vessels in the Bering Sea groundfishing fleet, according to the resolutions, and they desire to locate their fleet in Alaska ports. The American Fisheries Act will allow Bering Sea vessels to be rebuilt and replaced over the next 30 years; this represents up to $10 billion of new shipbuilding, which could be done in Alaska shipyards, particularly Ketchikan’s.

The oil and gas industry is expected to need new ships for its exploration, development and production on Alaska’s Arctic Outer Continental Shelf. Over 50 years, that’s 54,700 jobs, and an untold amount in shipbuilding that could be completed in Alaska to enhance the state economy, particularly Ketchikan’s.

The oil and fishing fleet work isn’t anticipated for another 10 years. In the meantime, the shipyard needs work. The next obvious project(s) for the Ketchikan Shipyard or another Alaska shipyard is the Alaska Class Ferry.

For Ketchikan, it could mean a reversal of declining or stagnant population, school enrollment and employment numbers. The Alaska Class Ferry contract would produce 200 jobs for the next three to four years, with a $35 million payroll. The shipyard would spend another nearly $27 million on purchases, many of them locally or within Alaska.

This doesn’t mean that Alaska shouldn’t get a fair deal with any Alaska-based shipyard. It should, and it would. Alaska shipyards recognize the danger to their operations, their communities and the state, by doing anything else.

The Council and Assembly clearly have a vision for the shipyard, Ketchikan and Alaska in mind. But it’s state government that will make the final decision on the ferries. It’s the people’s government, and the people’s voice ultimately needs to be heard. Tell state officials Alaskans prefer keeping jobs at home instead of shipping them out.

The City Council and Borough Assembly said it well. The people can make it louder.



09/16/2011 - 12:17pm