The community of Metlakatla, located on Annette Island, is about a 45-minute ferry ride away from Ketchikan. But with Alaska Marine Highway workers on strike, the community of about 1,500 is without one of its main sources of transportation to connect with other communities. But, the community is coming up with ways to cope while the strike continues.
The state ferry Lituya provides service between Ketchikan and Annette Bay five days a week – Thursday through Monday. While there is a clinic in Metlakatla, residents often rely on the ferry to get to higher-level medical care, such as imaging or surgery.
Mischa Chernick is the marketing and communications manager with PeaceHealth Ketchikan Medical Center. She says the hospital and clinics see between 80 and 100 patients from Metlakatla each month.
“We provided them with specialty services such as surgery, obstetrics, imaging, physical therapy, psychiatry and a lot more. The likelihood is, most of those that traveled to Ketchikan for this care were on the Alaska State ferry system.”
Iris Kober lives in Metlakatla. When the strike began she was in Anchorage with her mother who recently underwent heart surgery. The two were planning to fly to Ketchikan International Airport, Wednesday and then take the ferry home.
“Being here in Anchorage, a lot of people don’t understand our highways-by-water. And they don’t understand the importance – how we get from port to port relying on the ferry system. Sometimes planes aren’t able to get us unless it’s a real life-threatening emergency, like what happened to my mom.
Kober wasn’t sure how they would get home. Because of her mother’s health and the weather, they couldn’t plan on a small plane. She ended on a charter boat from Ketchikan. Kober, a former AMHS employee, says she supports the strike.
“The State has stalled the negotiations to allow real wages to continue to be eroded by inflation. And I’m standing strong with the AMHS employees and hope that the State will support our Alaska ferry system so our people can have reliable ferry service.”
Karl Cook is the mayor of Metlakatla. He says the town is coping well, but because the community relies on the link to Ketchikan it could become challenging if the strike lasts long.
“A lot of shopping is done over there. And we have to get over there for the airlines, and so we’re just finding different ways to make that happen and it’s just (that) the convenience of it is gone.”
Cook says the community’s fire department emergency boat is on-call for medevacs, and is being used daily to transport patients from the clinic to Ketchikan. For appointments or a link to the airport or shopping, Cook says residents have been chartering boats or flights.
The community was reaching out to the Inter-island Ferry Authority to see if Metlakatla could be added to its ferry route while the strike continues. IFA representatives met Saturday to discuss options, requests for comment were not returned by story deadline.