Mat-Su Assembly votes to dry-dock unused ferry

Zaz Hollander
The ferry MV Susitna performs during sea trials in September 2010. CHARLIE STARR / The Mat-Su Borough

Desperate to cut its losses on the $80 million ferry that's cost nearly $1.2 million to dock near Ketchikan since last year, the Mat-Su Borough Assembly is now moving to store the vessel at Port MacKenzie -- indefinitely.

In a 5-2 vote at a Tuesday night meeting in Palmer, the Assembly directed Borough Manager John Moosey to "continue negotiations with Cruz as hastily as possible to dry dock the vessel," as Assembly member Ron Arvin put it.

Cruz Construction Inc. has lodged a proposal with the borough to dry dock the U.S. Navy prototype in a specially designed cradle at the port, Moosey said. The manager gave an estimate of $1.1 million to get the ferry to the port but couldn't provide future costs of maintenance or refloating the ferry should a future user surface.

Cruz told Moosey the company can only float the double-hulled vessel into the port at high tides on two days, one in September and one in October. The company sent Moosey a message Tuesday afternoon asking the Assembly to make a decision by Friday, which chafed at several Assembly members.

Assembly member Jim Colver backed the idea but asked Moosey to lower what he called the "inflated" costs of getting the ferry to the port.

"This comes down to a gut-level confidence for me," Assembly member Steve Colligan said just before the vote. "We've got to shore up and stem the bleeding here."

The borough does have several serious offers on the table, Moosey said. Two are from foreign companies with U.S. affiliates; it's unclear whether federal restrictions on the ferry's sale would slow the process for a foreign buyer. Most of the offers are in the neighborhood of $1 million. The borough got the ferry for free but needs $6 million to pay off a Federal Transit Administration grant.

Assembly members Warren Keogh and Noel Woods voted against the dry dock option. Keogh said he's heard too much about the potential dangers to the delicate ferry. He described the negatives of having the ferry settled at the port with a cracked hull.

"There's nothing I'd rather see than to have this boat in Cook Inlet, whether it's dry docked or operating," Keogh said. "But frankly as the dry docking costs and risks are described here, it's not prudent to do it."

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