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Mat-Su Borough May Dry-Dock Ferry in Port Mackenzie

by Phillip Manning ~ August 21st, 2013

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(Full audio of Borough Assembly meetings is streamed at Radio Free Palmer)

At Tuesday night’s meeting, the Mat-Su Borough Assembly voted five to two to negotiate a deal that would see the M/V Susitna placed into dry-dock in Port Mackenzie.  Removing the eighty-million dollar ferry from the water is one of five options presented to the Assembly by Borough Manager John Moosey.  Other options were to sell, operate, or scrap the ferry, or else continue under the current conditions, leaving the Susitna  docked in Ketchikan.  Moosey described what he envisions the dry-docking option as entailing.

“The purpose would be to put the boat back into service where it was originally intended, as a ferry service in Cook Inlet.  Keep in mind that we don’t have landings on either side that we would have to develop, and, personally, I do not recommend, with what we’re doing, that the Borough be in the ferry business or start a ferry business, so we would be seeking a partner.  I do not know who that partner is as of today and who that would be”

The cost to drive the Susitna to Port Mackenzie and complete the dry-docking process is estimated at over a million dollars.   Moosey did not have an estimate available for the cost to eventually return the ferry to the water.

There was general consensus in the Assembly that action needed to be taken to stop or diminish the recurring cost of keeping the vessel in the water in Ketchikan.  Vern Halter, Assembly Member for District Seven,  said that he didn’t believe most of the options presented were viable.

“To me, there’s really only two options:  You dry dock it with the intent to try to sell it, or you keep it in Ketchikan or someplace secure like that with the intent to sell it.  If you dry-dock it and it’s going to cost you $1.1 million to put it on the land, it’ll probably cost you a million to get it back in the water, so you’re two million or more in a two year period.  If you’re keeping it in Ketchikan at $65,000 or $70,000 per month, you’re less per year, and it’s in the water where somebody can drive it or use it and test it.  That’s the two options.  Dry dock it and sell it or keep it in the water and sell it.”

Halter did not discuss the possibility of re-floating the Susitna for later use as a ferry in the Cook Inlet.  In the end, a motion to try to obtain $500,000 in “earnest money” from one of the four potential buyers was defeated, and the Assembly voted to instruct Borough Manager Moosey to attempt to negotiate a lower price for what Assembly Member Jim Colver called an inflated figure for dry-docking.

Warren Keogh, Assembly Member for District One, was one of two votes against the dry-docking deal.

“There’s nothing that I would rather see than have this boat in Cook Inlet, whether it’s dry-docked or operating, but frankly as the dry-dock costs and risks are described here, it’s not prudent to do it.  As much as I’d like to see it here, I think the most prudent option would be–and it pains me to say it–would be to keep doing what we’re doing in the short term, sell the boat and cut our losses.”

While the Assembly voted to move toward a deal for dry-docking the Susitna, the decision will not be final until they approve the renegotiated deal from Cruz Marine, the contractor that would be taking on the project.

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