Experimental ferry M/V Susitna up for sale

Expensive ice-breaker never went into service, never had a dock

PALMER — The Mat-Su Borough Assembly made moves toward disentangling the borough from its experimental ice-breaking car ferry Tuesday when members voted to insure the vessel and put it up for sale.

“As difficult as it is to spend this money, I think we’re doing the best we can with what we have,” Assemblyman Ron Arvin said at the meeting, which took less than a half hour.

The meeting was called after the Assembly balked at spending $600,000 to insure the M/V Susitna for one year. The Assembly instead chose to wait to see if staff could bring better options to them a week later. In the end, members voted to spend $123,000 for three months of insurance.

Considering that even with a yearly payment the insurer would keep a percentage of the insurance if the ship was sold — a quarter of it, to be exact — the Assembly seemed to agree this was the best deal it was going to get.

As for whether to list the ship for sale, Assemblyman Warren Keogh had pressed for that at the meeting a week ago. He brought it up again Tuesday.

“It is by no means to limit options only to the sale of the vessel,” Keogh said. “If the Alaska Marine Highway System suddenly approaches us and says we want the vessel or there are some other options, I’m fine with that.”

In addition to listing the vessel for sale — Keogh’s successful motion called for putting it on both the federal registry for surplus equipment and listing it through a ship broker — the Assembly also is seeking proposals to bring the M/V Susitna up from Ketchikan and find a way to store it at Point MacKenzie without damaging it.

The Borough also is in discussions with other government agencies that might want it, like the Navy and the Alaska Marine Highway System.

Arvin mentioned that the state Department of Transportation, which oversees the Alaska Marine Highway, took a dry run on the Susitna and found it satisfactory but don’t know quite how it would work with the system’s existing infrastructure for loading and offloading cars.

Borough Manager John Moosey said he fully understands that by listing the vessel for sale the Assembly does not mean to close off other options.

“I would like to have a couple of options for the Assembly to pick and choose from,” he said.

The only person to testify Tuesday was Arvin’s opponent in the fall election who happens to be the woman he beat to win his seat, Michelle Church.

“I thought there was going to be some hard answers that were going to be brought forward on this tonight,” Church said. “Basically, you’ve just decided to do what you decided to do three weeks ago.”

Later in the meeting, Assemblyman Steve Colligan shot back.

“You also left this with us four years ago,” he said, saying she needed to take some responsibility for the ferry situation.

Arvin admonished Colligan on the rules for that part of the meeting, asking him to “please keep your comments to a general nature.”

The vessel was built at a cost of about $80 million in Ketchikan. It was mostly paid for by the federal government as a prototype ice-breaking landing craft.


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