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Alaska Beat

Ice-busting ferry for Mat-Su puts Alaska shipyard on map

  • Author: Craig Medred
  • Updated: July 6, 2016
  • Published February 10, 2011

Ketchikan's Alaska Ship and Drydock plays an increasingly important role in the Southeast economy and may become "the maritime support center for the North Pacific and Arctic oceans," according to The shipyard was commissioned by the Office of Naval Research to build the M/V Susitna -- "the first ice strengthened twin hull ferry" -- and the first-of-its kind Expeditionary Craft. It could one day ferry people and goods across the Knik Arm, from Anchorage to Point Mackenzie, and back, thanks to hundreds of millions in earmarks from the late U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens. Stevens directed some $452 million to fund the "experimental ferry project." USA Today reported several years ago that the M/V Susitna cost taxpayers $84 million. But its construction -- and the money funneled from Stevens' earmarks -- have evolved the Ketchikan shipyard into "a naval sea base ... without the large shipyards and defense contractors," according to former Navy Rear Adm. Jay Cohen. Alaska Ship and Drydock is state-owned and was initially intended to be a winter maintenance facility after the Marine Highway System was built-out in the 1960s. It now services vessels for various branches of the state and federal government as well as private industry. Cohen told the Mat-Su Borough he initially doubted whether a remote shipyard on an Alaska island capable of building an "impossible ship." Work Boat magazine called the M/V Susitna one of the 10 most important boats of the year.

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