By Margaret Friedenauer and Ed Schoenfeld
State agencies sent out details of what a partial government shutdown in Alaska could mean. The shutdown would happen if the legislature fails to agree on an operating budget by July 1.
Some of the most drastic effects of a potential shutdown for the Upper Lynn Canal are: all ferry service being cancelled, commercial fisheries management could be drastically reduced and about a 100 Haines residents and two dozen Skagway residents could be laid off.
As Gov. Bill Walker spoke as a press conference this afternoon in Anchorage, state agencies began sending out press releases detailing steps they are taking to prepare for a possible shut down. That includes Walker’s announcement that more than 10,000 layoff notices went out to state employees today. According to the Department of Labor, there are about 100 state employees in Haines and 20 in Skagway. It’s not clear how many of those would be affected by a shutdown, but the agencies say only personnel needed to continue essential services would be spared.
Public health is one of those services. Public safety also won’t be affected – most state troopers will remain on the job. The Alaska Court System will continue to operate.
If a shutdown occurs it will happen just two weeks into the commercial gillnet salmon season in the Northern Lynn Canal. That could affect the fleet, as the Department of Fish and Game would have to reduce its workload. Area biologist Mark Sogge at the Haines Fish and Game office says fish wheel and weir operations could continue, but there won’t be enough staff to collect and process data. That means biologists would have to manage the commercial fleet “very conservatively” because they wouldn’t have fish return data.
Perhaps the biggest impacts for local residents would be in the department of transportation.
All state ferries will stop sailing by early July if the Legislature fails to reach a budget deal.
Ferry spokesman Jeremy Woodrow says the 11 ships in the fleet will head to their home ports as close to July 1st as possible.
“We can’t play guessing games that there will be a fully funded budget at some point. And so, we have to play it safe and have the ships enter layoff status in July,” Woodrow said.
Some ferries will stop sailing in the final days of June, while others will tie up a few days later.
Woodrow says a skeleton crew will remain with each ship to keep it ready to return to service.
Notice of the layup plans will be posted on the marine highway website Tuesday. But those scheduled to sail will not hear directly from staffers.
“There’s thousands of reservation holders,” Woodrow said. “If we were to start contacting each one, by the time we reached them all, there might be a budget passed and we’d have to turn around and call them all back.”
Woodrow says those changing or cancelling reservations will not face a penalty.
One ferry — the Taku – was already scheduled to be tied up for July and August as part of budget cuts.
The ferry system serves 35 port communities. Only five are on the mainland road system.
Negotiations are continuing among legislators in Anchorage. Gov. Bill Walker has offered to provide them with a mediator to help facilitate an agreement.