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Idle ferry proves to be tough sell after lone bid opened

Posted: April 24, 2013 - 11:42am

As any boat owner knows, they are expensive. The Matanuska-Susitna Borough’s venture into large boat ownership gets more expensive by the day with no easy way out.
The borough released a statement March 29 that it received a bid of $751,000 from a Dutch company to purchase the M/V Susitna. With it currently sitting idle in Ketchikan, the borough is spending about $75,000 a month to harbor and maintain the 200-foot vessel.
“We’re disappointed with the results, but this shows market demand. We’ll continue to work with the eligible agencies and the (Federal Transit Administration) to come to a reasonable conclusion to this story,” Mat-Su Manager John Moosey said in a statement.
While the U.S. Navy paid for most of the costs to build the $78 million Susitna, the borough was awarded $8 million in grants from the Federal Transit Administration, or FTA, to revamp the Naval prototype vessel into a ferry, borough spokeswoman Patty Sullivan said.
The borough is in discussion with FTA officials to determine how much, if any, of the grant money would need to be repaid if the Susitna was sold. Ownership of the Susitna was transferred from the U.S. Navy to the borough in June 2012.
The one-of-a-kind Susitna was intended to be used as a ferry to run the roughly two miles across Knik Arm between Anchorage and the Mat-Su Borough’s Port MacKenzie. Ferry plans fell apart when a landing area for the Susitna could not be settled upon so the borough has been trying to rid itself of the vessel since then.
The two-hulled, catamaran-style Susitna is a multi-faceted vessel that was designed by the Navy as an experimental landing craft. It can act as a barge in slow operations or land quickly in as little as four feet of water for offloading equipment onto a beach.
In September 2012, the borough hired several ship brokers to help market the Susitna and it began soliciting sealed bids for the vessel in January. The bidding process ended March 29.
Netherlands-based Workships Contractors BV made the lone, low offer. The marine services company would use the Susitna as a crew vessel for offshore wind energy work, according to the borough’s statement.
The borough also has looked at giving the Susitna away. Donating the Susitna has garnered interest from the U.S. Virgin Islands and Los Angeles County in recent months. If the borough can hand over the Susitna to another government in the United States, it’s financial obligation to FTA may change the statement reports.
In a letter to the borough, U.S. Virgin Islands Senate President Shawn-Michael Malone wrote, “We are in dire need of reliable inter-island travel at this time and our current situation makes this need particularly acute. The ferry providing service between St. Thomas and St. Croix was severely damaged in an accident at sea in July of 2011. Since that time, we have not had regular service between these islands despite the fact that it is desperately needed.”
L.A. County CEO William T. Fujioka wrote to the Mat-Su Borough that the Susitna would be used as a public access ferry for transportation and cargo shipments between the Catalina Island and the county mainland. It would also serve as an emergency response vessel in California.
The borough has tried to gather suitors for the Susitna from in-state, but Alaska’s oil and gas industry and the Alaska Marine Highway System have been hesitant to take on the vessel.
Elwood Brehmer is a reporter for the Alaska Journal of Commerce.

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