For more than 30 years, Sitka has been a hub in Southeast Alaska for many people in outlying communities. These communities rely on theirconnection to Sitka for essential needs such as grocery shopping and medical attention.
The Alaska Marine Highway System announced in May that the direct service between Sitka and the villages of Hoonah, Angoon and Kake by the ferry LeConte would end in June. Pulling the LeConte service to Sitka effectively cut Sitka's ferry service in half.
The reason behind this move is that the AMHS must turn the LeConte into a day boat in an attempt to comply with U.S. Coast Guard orders related to the work-rest schedules. Prior to the Coast Guard directive, the LeConte was assigned the Northern Panhandle run from Juneau to Petersburg with stops in Angoon, Hoonah, Kake, Pelican, Sitka and Tenakee Springs and operated 24 hours a day.
The changing and lack of service to Sitka and the outlying communities impacts Sitka greatly. The Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium Mt. Edgecumbe Hospital is located in Sitka and serves these outlying communities. It is feared that the lack of affordable convenient travel routes from Sitka and these communities could eventually lead to the relocation of the SEARHC hospital to Juneau which is the hub of the Southeast Alaska Northern Ferry Service. SEARHC is the cornerstone of Sitka's economic base and the largest single employer in the community. SEARHC relies on the AMHS to transport its' patients some of whom are elderly, frail or disabled from Hoonah, Angoon and Kake by ferry to Sitka.
The Department of Transportation has implemented a supplemental ferry service via a private corporation between Angoon and Sitka in response to the request from the public.
Providing direct service from Angoon to Sitka is a good first step however, it is a temporary Band-Aid for the problem at hand. Reliable ferry service makes Southeast Alaska the community that it is today. Without dependable ferry service the unique community that is Southeast Alaska crumbles.
The Department of Transportation has provided an effort to work with Sitka and the outlying communities.
This summer Sitka will see passenger service from the Columbia, Matanuska, Malispina, Taku and the Fairweather when it returns to service in July.
Keikkala was raised in Juneau and recently moved to Sitka to become the executive director of The Greater Sitka Chamber of Commerce.