Senator Jesse Kiehl (center) speaks with constituents at the Chilkat Center in Haines. (Photo by Henry Leasia)

State Senator Jesse Kiehl visited the Upper Lynn Canal over the weekend to speak with constituents in Haines and Skagway about issues facing the region. On Friday, Kiehl spoke with Haines residents at a town hall-style meeting. The majority of the discussion centered around Governor Mike Dunleavy’s proposed budget.

Last week Governor Dunleavy released his state spending plan for 2020. The proposed budget includes cuts to education, health care programs and the Alaska Marine Highway System.

The budget still has to pass the legislature to take effect. Cuts to certain programs such as Medicaid may require changes to laws and regulations before they can be approved.

At a meeting in Haines on Friday, Kiehl told constituents that scaling back some state services is inevitable.

“I don’t want to give the impression that we’re going to come out of this budget process without some significant cuts in what the state does,” Kiehl said. “Working with my colleagues on keeping the pain from those cuts to families, the economy, at a minimum is going to be a big part of the work.”

Some residents were particularly concerned about how the proposed budget would affect ferry service in the Upper Lynn Canal.

Over the last few months, the Alaska Marine Highway System (AMHS) has been modifying its plans for the Tazlina and the Hubbard. The two new Alaska Class Ferries were built to service the Upper Lynn Canal starting in 2019. Recently, AMHS announced changes to the ships’ routes and plans to retrofit them with crew quarters for longer journeys.

Kiehl says the governor’s proposal to privatize the ferry system and cut state funding for it by 75% has disrupted discussions about the Alaska Class Ferries.

“I was hoping we could come here and talk about what the plan was for the Hubbard and the Tazlina. Crew quarters or not, Lynn Canal day boat or not. The governor knocked that conversation off the table a little bit. We have sort of preserving the system at all in front of us right now,” Kiehl said.

One resident raised concerns about a potential mining project in the Chilkat Valley and the impact it could have on salmon habitat.

Kiehl said that he brought up the issue with Jason Brune, Dunleavy’s choice for Commissioner of Department of Environmental Conservation. He said he was concerned with some of Brune’s responses to his questions.

“He is definitely an advocate for resource development. There are a lot of folks who are concerned about putting him at the head of Department of Environmental Conservation, which will oversee water quality and some of those permitting aspects,” Kiehl said. 

Kiehl also said he had been discussing the issue of providing police service outside the boundaries of the Haines townsite with Amanda Price, Dunleavy’s pick for the Department of Public Safety Commissioner.

According to Kiehl, Price is open to the possibility of restoring a trooper post to Haines. However, Kiehl said the governor’s budget does not add any resources to the Department of Public Safety.