Ferry workers’ strike chokes supply chain to Gustavus

The Tazlina, Malaspina and LeConte moored in Juneau during a strike by the Inlandboatmen’s Union of the Pacific on July 25, 2019 (Photo by David Purdy/KTOO)

With the Alaska Marine Highway System shut down due to a workers’ strike, a retailer and a freight business in Gustavus are making some tough decisions to keep their community supplied.

“Well, almost 100 percent of everything in Gustavus from groceries to lumber to you-name-it comes in on the ferry,” said Toshua Parker, founder of the hardware and grocery story ToshCo. “So not having ferry means we’re basically just stuck. There’s nothing coming in out here.”

He says without the ferry, the town of about 450 people has very few options. There are smaller boats that can move some products around.

“The boats that we have that we can run back and forth to town probably aren’t going to be able to keep up with it. … It’s one of those things where every community out there is facing the same problem: There aren’t enough private people out there to be able to meet the demand,” Parker said.

There’s no barge service to Gustavus, and no prospect of getting barge service anytime soon.

Frontier Freight brings in supplies on the ferry in semi-trailers and shipping containers — about six a week in the summer. That’s according to Frontier Freight President Lee Parker, who’s also Toshua Parker’s dad. Those loads supply ToshCo, Glacier Bay National Park, inns and lodges.

Lee Parker said the business is working on several contingency plans, depending on how long the ferry workers’ strike drags out.

“So between the airlines, the air charters, the landing crafts, we’re using every vehicle at our disposal to try to keep up with this,” he said. “But because of volume we ship, it is a challenge.”

Toshua Parker said he’ll fly milk and eggs in as an emergency measure, which will roughly double their retail prices. A gallon of milk is normally $5.99 in Gustavus.

“Come hell or high water, we’re going to make sure everyone’s got groceries,” he said. “So, whether we’re flying in our plane to bring groceries or whatever, we’re going to find some way to keep the town going. But yeah, it’s pretty serious.”

The ferry LeConte had been scheduled for three to four Gustavus stops a week this summer.

Jeremy Hsieh is the deputy managing editor of the KTOO newsroom in Juneau. He’s a podcast fiend who’s worked in journalism since high school as a reporter, editor and television producer. He ran Gavel Alaska for 360 North from 2011 to 2016, and is big on experimenting with novel tools and mediums (including the occasional animated gif) to tell stories and demystify the news. Jeremy’s an East Coast transplant who moved to Juneau in 2008.

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