February 1, 2013 in Nation/World

Alaska vessel free for the taking

Dan Joling Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

The ferry Susitna, in Alaska, is being offered free by the Matanuska-Susitna Borough.
(Full-size photo)

ANCHORAGE, Alaska – Take my ferry. Please.

An Alaska borough stuck with a $90,000 monthly bill for maintaining a ferry it can’t use is offering the $78 million vessel free to any government entity – federal, state or local – that will have it.

The Matanuska-Susitna Borough also will consider selling the ferry, the 200-foot Susitna, for pennies on the dollar to a private company.

“We’re trying to hook a buyer, and those are folks who might be using or needing ferries,” said borough spokeswoman Patty Sullivan.

If sold to a private entity, Sullivan said, the borough is seeking $7 million to cover the cost of paying back federal grants that may have to be reimbursed if the ferry is not used for municipal public transportation.

The largest communities in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough are about an hour’s drive from Anchorage over a sometimes icy highway. Mat-Su officials have long dreamed of shortening the commute with a two-mile crossing over Knik Arm, a finger of saltwater separating Alaska’s most populous area with one that has room to grow.

The borough more than a decade ago sought help from the federal government.

Former U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, promoted a plan to have a ferry funded by the Defense Department. The Navy paid for the vessel as a high-speed prototype of an amphibious landing craft for northern climates. Prototypes often are scrapped, Sullivan said, but in this case, a deal was struck for the boat to move Alaska commuters as the Navy monitored how it performed. The catamaran can carry 120 passengers and 20 vehicles.

But it’s been expensive simply to own. Borough taxpayers took title to the vessel in August and have been on the hook for monthly expenses of $8,000 to $9,000 for moorage, $33,000 for operation and maintenance costs, which include keeping a crew on board and a whopping $44,000 for insurance.

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