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Unused Mat-Su ferry will get tuneup but will keep barnacles for now

Zaz Hollander

WASILLA -- The Matanuska-Susitna Borough’s never-used passenger ferry Susitna will get a much-needed tuneup, but one that doesn't include removing the layer of sea life coating its hulls.

The Mat-Su Assembly on Tuesday approved nearly $115,000 in work on the long-idle craft, in need of maintenance after being berthed since April 2012 in Ward Cove near the Ketchikan shipyard where it was built.

The Federal Transit Administration this month demanded the borough repay $12.3 million in grant money because the $78 million U.S. Navy prototype was never put to use ferrying people and vehicles across Cook Inlet. Officials continue to try to sell the ferry, showing it to the Philippine Navy this week. Borough Manager John Moosey said he still hopes to meet with top transportation officials and has requested an extension to the FTA’s 30-day deadline, which otherwise expires Sept. 5.

The Assembly on Tuesday weighed the merits of sinking more money into the ill-fated ferry.

Borough managers had asked for $144,569 to pay for operation and maintenance needs for July and August -- the cost includes sea run and beach landings for potential buyers from the United Kingdom and the Philippine Navy -- as well as a list of “essential” maintenance and fuel items.

The Assembly instead approved a pared-down amount of $114,969, according to Borough Clerk Lonnie McKechnie.

Members agreed to replace corrosion-fighting zincs on the vessel’s hulls and add 5,000 gallons of fuel.

But they cut a $17,000 item to scrape barnacles off the hulls, plus additional money to troubleshoot a generator and stabilizing gyro, in an amendment that passed 4-3.

“Paying for fuel and zincs ... but barnacle bill, I don’t know,” said Jim Colver, the Assembly member who proposed the amendment. “I’m not supportive of that at this time.”

Assembly member Jim Sykes noted that port director Marc Van Dongen told him the barnacles are slowing the ferry to the point the ferry didn’t hit the speed it was designed to on a recent run.

“They think that part of it was because of the drag on the boat,” Sykes said.

Moosey responded that the barnacles are “not a huge issue” compared to fixing potential issues with the gyro that helps stabilize the 195-foot craft, another deferred item that didn’t get funded.

“The barnacles -- I mean, that’s just a bonus for anybody who buys it,” he said. “We can wait on that.”

The Assembly passed the total ferry funding package in a 5-2 vote, with Colver and Assembly member Ron Arvin opposed.

Contact Zaz Hollander at zhollander@adn.com.