Berbice River taxis time change… no moves yet to further reduceBerbice Bridge tollsBerbice taxi drivers can expect some relief after Junior Public Infrastructure Minister Annette Ferguson pledged to meet with them to address their concerns over the amended operating hours of the water taxies.Hire car drivers picketing the T&HD office in NAFrom September 1, the speedboat service began operating from 06:00h until 09:00h and then again from 14:30h until 18:00h. Previously, the service operated between 06:00h and 18:00h.The taxi drivers, operating from the New Amsterdam Ferry Stelling, have complained that the change in the operating hours will severely affect their trade since it will limit the frequency of passengers who normally utilise their services after disembarking the boats.Minister Ferguson told a recent news conference that she intends to address these concerns to ensure everyone “enjoys a piece of the pie”.“In the past, we have received complaints from minibus operators about not getting a share in the pie because of the timings. So we took a conscious decision to have the timings rescheduled,” she explained, noting that the move to reschedule the operating hours was done to facilitate the bus drivers.But now, taxi drivers seem to be affected by this shift.“They are now complaining of now being able to get a daily bread. So I am expected to meet with them so we can have that addressed,” she stated.Nonetheless, the Minister indicated that the hire car operators are just being difficult since they had previously operated under similar circumstances without complaint.“Prior to the river taxies coming into operations, the Transport and Harbours department (T&HD) had a pontoon providing services and the time for the operations were between six in the morning to about 9:30 and then it resumed its operations from about two in the afternoon to five. So, it’s not a case whereby Government, or the Ministry, of the management of TH&D wants to take bread out of persons’ mouth. Those were in existence long before river taxies came into operations,” Ferguson explained.However, the Minister pledged her commitment to resolve the issue but she noted that decision may not be in favour of all stakeholders.BBCI shareholdersMeanwhile, close to 10 months after the reduction of the Berbice River Bridge tolls, Government on Wednesday said is yet to hold talks with shareholders on the further decrease in the fares.Government had indicated that it would work towards continuing the lowering of tolls, with January 1, 2016 being the first move.However, Minister Ferguson disclosed that no progress has been made in this regard.After months of debate and negotiations between Government and the company, Government reduced fares to cross the Berbice Bridge by granting a $40 million subsidy to the Bridge Company.Government prior to its ascension to office had promised a toll reduction, but seemingly did not take into consideration the numerous legal and other issues involving such a move. As such, there was much debate between the Bridge Company, its shareholders and the Government over the issue.
SAGA AmeriCorps volunteer Maia Wolf (second from right) poses with other AmeriCorps members last year. (Photo courtesy Maia Wolf)Nineteen AmeriCorps volunteers throughout the state were told this week their positions, including stipends and benefits, could end on Monday.Download AudioAs a second year AmeriCorps member, Maia Wolf volunteers at Discovery Southeast, a nature education nonprofit. She got the news the same way fellow AmeriCorps volunteers in Juneau, Anchorage, Homer, Seward and Cordova did – in a teleconference Tuesday.The volunteers thought they had secure positions through July. Wolf says they’re frustrated.“It’s financially difficult for a lot of people. We’re coming out of college. We don’t have a lot of savings and so not having something lined up and having so little time to look for a new position is difficult,” Wolf says.The volunteers affected are specifically AmeriCorps members with Southeast Alaska Guidance Association, or SAGA. The Juneau nonprofit is ceasing operation of its AmeriCorps program due to financial troubles, and hopes another program in the state can take it over. SAGA has been bringing AmeriCorps volunteers to Alaska for 20 years to work on service projects on public lands and volunteer with schools and nonprofits.Discovery Southeast Executive Director Shawn Eisele says the organization plans to support Wolf for the full length of her contract, regardless of what happens to the AmeriCorps program.AWARE hopes to do the same for its AmeriCorps volunteer.Saralyn Tabachnick is the executive director of Juneau’s domestic abuse and sexual assault prevention nonprofit. She says the AmeriCorps volunteer at AWARE serves as a children’s advocate and fills a real need.“She works with kids who are living in shelter, acclimates them to shelter, spends time with them, safety plans with them, facilitates groups for them, helps them feel like the unique people that they are,” Tabachnick says.She says if SAGA’s AmeriCorps program doesn’t get picked up by another organization, AWARE will try to raise funds to keep its volunteer on as long as possible.Faith Lee is the coordinator of Sitka AmeriCorps, the program that might take on SAGA’s volunteers. If it’s financially viable, Lee says Sitka AmeriCorps could ensure SAGA members had support to complete their terms.“We would take on all of the reporting, filing, payroll, health insurance,” Lee says.The Sitka School District runs the community’s AmeriCorps program. Lee says the administration is figuring out what the budget implication of doubling the number of AmeriCorps members will be to the district.SAGA receives $250,000 in federal funds as well as community contributions to run its 11-month AmeriCorps program.Lee hopes Sitka AmeriCorps can help out.“I felt really bad that 19 young adults were maybe not going to have an advocate and that’s something that I really take to heart because I want them to have a great experience. I want them to leave a footprint and make an impact and feel good about their service. And hopefully continue to volunteer for the rest of their lives,” Lee says.Sitka’s 6-year-old AmeriCorps program and SAGA’s have had a great relationship in the past, Lee says.“They actually mentored us and shared everything when we first took on AmeriCorps. They were wonderful. Without them, we would’ve really struggled. SAGA has contributed to our state for many years. If I can help in any way, I’m more than happy to put that extra time in,” she says.SAGA board member George McGuan says faced with a $350,000 debt and no way of repaying it, the board is seeking legal counsel to figure out what to do next.