What do you do when you need to get rid of a 1,500-ton state ferry? Sell it on eBay, of course.
The state Department of Transportation is retiring the 34-year-old ferry Bartlett in September and using the online auction site eBay to sell it.
The auction began late last week with a beginning bid price of $100,000. By 10:15 Monday night, there were three bids on the item, pushing the price up to $100,300.
Bid on the Bartlett
The 193-foot-long Bartlett was built for the Alaska Marine Highway System in 1968 by Jeffboat Inc. of Jeffersonville, Ind., for $3.25 million. The vessel provides service for the communities of Prince William Sound and holds 236 passengers and approximately 29 cars.
"If we don't sell it, we'll have to pay to park it somewhere," said George Capacci, general manager for the Alaska Marine Highway System.
Capacci said the Bartlett is being taken out of the marine highway fleet because the ferry soon will be out of compliance with federal safety requirements for such vessels.
He said putting the Bartlett in compliance with federal law would require new evacuation systems, fast rescue boats, new lifeboats and a variety of other expensive upgrades.
Jim Jobkar, a property manager for the state Department of Administration, oversees the sale of all the state's surplus property such as automobiles, heavy equipment, snow machines, boats and office furnishings.
He said putting the ferry Bartlett on eBay is the state's first attempt to sell the vessel.
"It's just like any other auction item," Jobkar said. "It goes to the highest bidder."
Jobkar said many items on eBay do not begin generating serious traffic until near the end of the auction. The auction for the Bartlett ends Aug. 10, at 1:34 p.m.
"Then we are able to engage in conversation with the successful bidder and the details will be worked out accordingly," he said.
The ferry is the largest surplus item the state has tried to sell, Jobkar said. He noted that the size of an item can sometimes be an obstacle to finding a buyer.
"eBay is a fairly tough market for items in Alaska because of the geographical separation (from the Lower 48)," he said. "The shipping costs are a significant factor in disposing of the property for the best dollar."
The Bartlett, though, is not the only item the state has tried to sell on eBay. Jobkar said the state tried to auction a few vehicles on eBay within the last couple of years but was unsuccessful in finding a buyer.
Although there had been three bids for the ferry by noon Monday, Jobkar said the state has not heard from any of the potential buyers. He said the bids might be legitimate, but they also could be from someone who has no intention of buying the ferry.
"At this point nothing is guaranteed," he said.
He said if negotiations with the highest bidder fall through, then the state could contact the second-highest bidder for the ferry.
Otherwise, DOT and the Department of Administration will regroup and figure out a plan B for selling the ship.
General Manager Capacci said he is uncertain what ferry will take the Bartlett's place, as DOT still is working out the details for the 2004 summer schedule.
Removing the Bartlett from the marine highway fleet reduces the number of ships to eight. But two new ships will come online next year, the fast ferry Fairweather, expected to provide service for the northern Panhandle, and the Lituya, to run between Ketchikan and Metlakatla.
The two new ships, however, will individually cost less to operate than the Bartlett.
"Our long-term goal is to decrease the general fund subsidy while improving service," Capacci said.
Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at email@example.com.
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