After several fatal drownings, Alaska’s legislature votes to require harbor safety ladders

Andi story
Rep. Andi Story, D-Juneau, speaks Wednesday, May 8, 2024, in the Alaska House of Representatives. (Photo by James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)

Ports owned and operated by Alaska’s cities and boroughs will be required to install safety ladders usable by someone who falls into the water.

On Wednesday, the Alaska Senate approved House Bill 345, which would require the ladders in all port projects that receive money from the state’s port facilities grant fund.

Before the Senate voted 19-1 to approve the bill, it amended it to include part of a disaster recovery measure from Sen. Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau.

Rep. Andi Story, D-Juneau, sponsored the original bill. When the House voted 38-1 to pass the bill on May 8, she said she introduced it at the request of a constituent whose worker died in 2021 after being unable to climb onto a dock after being in the water gone.

“This bill is about saving lives,” she said.

Last year, the Alaska Section of Epidemiology published a study concluding that 20% of the state’s 342 drowning deaths between 2016 and 2021 were due to falls from a dock or boat.

One of those deaths was Anna Foltz of Juneau, who died in October 2021. In testimony filed with the Legislature, one of Foltz’ friends said the person investigating Foltz’s death concluded that if a ladder had been present , she wouldn’t have died.

“My constituent believed that Anna could have saved herself if there had been safety ladders on the dock,” Story said.

She said the requirement will come at no cost to the state because municipalities will pay the cost of the safety ladders from the subsidies they already receive.

If purchased in bulk, Story says, the ladders cost about $210 each, and she believes the cost is not prohibitive.

The Senate-added portion of the bill allows condo owners who receive state disaster assistance to use that money for collective ownership, such as the creation of a shared condominium.

Kiehl included that item in a larger disaster relief bill that passed the Senate but failed to pass the House of Representatives before the end of the legislative session.

Kiehl’s bill included the condo-related language after a glacier-induced flood in 2023 severely damaged several homes in Juneau, including a series of apartments.

Kiehl’s bill would also have raised the state’s ceiling for disaster assistance, but that provision was removed due to cost considerations, he said.

That left the condo-related language, which in state law guarantees equal treatment between condo owners and the owners of single-family homes, Kiehl said.

That was “the most essential part,” he said.

HB 345 goes to Governor Mike Dunleavy, who can veto it, sign it or let it become law without his signature.

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