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Alaska Beat

$80 million ferry docked in Ketchikan has Mat-Su officials flummoxed

For months now, a top-of-the-line, $80 million ferry has been docked in Ketchikan, thousands of miles from its owners in the Matanuska-Susitna valley north of Anchorage.

The Mat-Su borough assembly is looking at options about what to do with the Susitna Ferry, which including whether to use the boat, store the boat or sell it, according to the Anchorage Daily News.

The Daily News reports that at a July 17 borough assembly meeting, members were told the latest estimates for the keeping the ship are about $67,000 a month. That includes docking, security, utilities and maintenance.

The ship could be moved to Port MacKenzie, but where to put it poses a question. One option is bringing the ferry on land, but the designer of the ship, Lew Madden, said the design of the ship's twin hulls aren't structured to take the strain of beaching the vessel. No landing structure has been built for the ferry -- and won't be anytime soon. Mat-Su Port Director Marc Van Dongen said funds have been frozen until a suitable landing site across the water in Anchorage can be found.

Currently, permits for a landing are being reviewed by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers. The municipality of Anchorage supports a landing if those necessary permits can be secured, according to Lindsey Whitt, spokeswoman for Mayor Dan Sullivan.

It was Madden, a former program manager for Lockheed Martin, who nudged the borough into considering a commuter ferry that could also perform rescues in Cook Inlet. The $80 million ship, which can hold 20 and about 130 people, was paid for with federal and state grants, as well as significant congressional earmarks from late Sen. Ted Stevens.

What the Mat-Su assembly will do is unclear. Some members, like former borough mayor Darcie Salmon, want to see the ferry return to the Mat-Su.

"If we can't use it in Anchorage, maybe we can run it in Tyonek or run it to the Kenai or use it for logistic purposes in the Cook Inlet," he told the Daily News. "But to just trash can it and throw it away or sell it or get rid of it before we ever put it to use ... it's just the sensibility of it."

Other assemblymen, like Steve Colligan called the ferry a "hairball." Even the borough mayor, Larry DeVilbiss is skeptical the Mat-Su will ever have a working ferry.

The borough will hold a meeting Aug. 9 to discuss plans for the ferry.

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