Last week, I had the opportunity to travel with Governor Mike Dunleavy to a few of our communities in Southeast Alaska. We traveled to Ketchikan, Hyder, and Metlakatla.
The governor used this trip to unveil a plan that we and other lawmakers have been working on to stabilize the Alaska Marine Highway System. Released in the new draft of the operating budget, the plan will use $76.8 million of federal relief money to fund the ferries for 18 months from July 1 until the end of 2022. This will allow for the ferry schedule to be planned and released a year in advance. Another benefit of this plan is that it will allow the AMHS to save revenue it earns through ticket sales to increase their fund balances, which are currently projected to be negative $6 million. This will allow more flexibility for planning of servicing of ships. Releasing the schedule further in advance can also boost ticket sales and ridership by about 5% according to the Department of Transportation.
In Hyder, we met with local leaders and residents. Dr. Anne Zink, the Chief Medical Officer of Alaska, helped distribute vaccines to over 50 residents of Stewart in British Columbia, Canada. The governor and mayor of Stewart discussed the importance of opening the border between these towns that rely on each other for services.
We finished off the day in Metlakatla where we met with local leaders and Elders before heading back to Juneau.