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Sealaska shareholders have dividends to spend, but with reduced ferries, it’s tough to shop

Dec 2, 2019

A view of Skagway from a May 2017 ferry trip. (Photo by Tripp J Crouse)

Sealaska Corporation announced its biggest dividend in decades to shareholders with ties to Southeast Alaska. Thousands live in the Inside Passage and there’s a tradition to take shopping trips to larger communities. Gaps in ferry service means many aren’t able to make the trip.

Sealaska distributed $8 million to shareholders on Friday. Albert Kookesh III lives in Angoon where he’s the city’s clerk. He says he usually spends a night or weekend in Juneau this time of year.

“We go over on a Thursday, do our shopping Friday, come back on a Saturday,” he said.

The capitol city has larger retailers like Fred Meyer and Costco.

“You get basically 16 good hours to shopping in, and then you jump back on the ferry the next day,” Kookesh said.

But this year, he’ll likely have to shop online — if at all. Angoon has no ferry service since the LeConte was taken out of service abruptly over a $4 million repair bill. With seaplanes charging around 85 cents a pound on freight, flying back with goods wouldn’t pencil out.

It’s a similar story for Haines, Skagway, Gustavus, Hoonah, Tenakee Springs and Kake. All are operating on a reduced ferry schedule.

More than 2,000 Sealaska shareholders live in these outlying communities near Juneau. More than 200 are in the Upper Lynn Canal. They’re usually likely candidates for capital city shopping sprees.

“You’re not gonna buy a giant flat screen and then stick it on the airplane,” said Craig Dahl from the Greater Juneau Chamber of Commerce. He says lack of ferries is bad for business. He says Native corporation dividends — much like the PFD — give the Southeast economy a shot in the arm.

“I’ve been here a long time and certainly enjoy and appreciate the impact when people do distribute this ton of money,” he said.

“It’s important to the merchants.”

The 3,500 shareholders in Juneau should give local businesses a boost. And local merchants in outlying communities may benefit if shareholder spending stays close to home.

Sealaska CEO Anthony Mallott says the corporation is more than just dividend checks — they’re working to keep the Southeast region in ferry service, too.

“The ferry budget is a top priority for us,” he said

“Whether it’s dollars, whether it’s just, you know, letter writing, whether it’s being up in the halls of our legislature… We’ve done all of it.”

State officials are working on restoring ferry service to affected communities. But for places like Angoon, the added sailings won’t be until next month at the earliest.