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Former Unalaska mayor appointed to AMHS oversight board

m_v_tustumena.jpg
Hope McKenney
/
KUCB
The 57-year-old M/V Tustumena is one of 10 vessels that navigate 3,500 miles of Alaska's coastline and serve 35 communities.

House Speaker Louise Stutes has appointed a former Unalaska mayor to a new ferry oversight board.

Shirley Marquardt will be joining the nine-member Alaska Marine Highway Operations Board, which was established through the passage of House Bill 63 — introduced by Speaker Stutes last session.

The state board aims to develop a long-term, steady vision for the marine highway, which extends across 3,500 miles of Alaska coastline and serves more than 30 communities.

Marquardt said when Speaker Stutes called her last week about the appointment, she wasn’t immediately sure how to respond.

“It's a big responsibility,” she said. “And it's really going to take time and effort and solid engagement to do due diligence for what this board is meant to do — the intent of the board. So I thought about it for just a couple of minutes, and I just thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, are you crazy, Shirley?’ I mean, I love the Alaska Marine Highway System and anything that has to do with the maritime industry. So I called her back and I said, ‘Yes.’”

Marquardt currently serves as the Executive Director of the Southwest Alaska Municipal Conference, also known as SWAMC, representing interests of communities throughout southwest Alaska, including the Aleutians. She also served as mayor of Unalaska for about 14 years and has more than four decades of experience in marine transportation and the seafood industry.

Stabilizing the state ferry system will be a challenge, according to Marquardt, given the lack of long-term planning and funding over the years. But, she said, developing a stable operating and budget plan is feasible and extremely important to communities around the state — especially along the Aleutian Chain, where people rely on the ferry as a vital connection between islands.

“It's a piece of Alaska's history,” she said. “One of the first things that the State of Alaska did when she became a state was to create this ferry system, realizing that it was going to be really important to grow economies and connect communities. And it was. It's changed over the years, but it's still just extremely valuable to these places that are not on the road system, and even some that are.”

Marquardt will serve a term of six years on the state board. She will be joined by Stutes' other pick, Wanetta Ayers, who has decades of experience in the tourism and economic development of Alaska’s coastal communities.

Gov. Dunleavy has also appointed three members: former Kodiak lawmaker Alan Austerman, Old Harbor village corporation executive Cynthia Berns and Norm Carson, a retired Alaska State Trooper who lives in Pelican.

Alaska Senate President Peter Micciche has yet to announce his appointees to the nine-member board.

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