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The M/V Susitna is Up For Sale, Again

by Phillip Manning ~ September 6th, 2013

Full audio of Borough Assembly meetings is available at Radio Free Palmer.

The Mat-Su Borough’s ferry is back up for sale. On Thursday, the Borough Assembly backed off of a plan to dry-dock the M/V Susitna, and discussed other options.
At the August 20th meeting, the Borough Assembly voted 5-2 to direct Borough Manager John Moosey to pursue a deal that would see the unused prototype ferry dry-docked at Port Mackenzie.  At Thursday night’s meeting Moosey addressed the Assembly, along with Port Director Marc Van Dongen, the Susitna’s captain, J.P. Stormont, and David Cruz of Cruz Marine, the company the Borough has contracted with regarding dry-docking the ferry.

Port Director Van Dongen informed the Assembly that there was very little chance that the Army Corps of Engineers would issue a permit for the Borough to do the necessary dirt work to build a trench to float the Susitna by October.  The October deadline exists because floating the 198-foot vessel high enough to rest on a special cradle requires a sufficiently high tide, which will only occur in October.  Van Dongen says that the reason the Corps is unlikely to allow the digging is because of a violation of a previous permit regarding wetlands preservation.  The Borough was required to issue deed restrictions on some wetlands in exchange for filling in other areas as part of the Port Mackenzie improvements.  Since the Borough failed to issue those restrictions, the Corps of Engineers has held up any further Port Mack permitting.

Warren Keogh, Assembly Member for District One, outlined where he sees the Borough’s current status with the vessel.

“The essence of the question is, “What is our end goal?”  Is it to sell the ferry, or is it to eventually bring it up here, whether we lay it up wet or dry-dock it, for the purpose of eventually operating it as a ferry.  So, for the last year, we’ve been in the mode of trying to sell it, unsuccessfully, but if our goal is to operate it as a ferry, which I’ve complicity supported in the past, who’s going to do that.  It’s clear that we can’t afford to subsidize it as a ferry.”

After consulting with the Borough staff and contractors at the meeting, the Assembly voted unanimously to adopt a “wet layup” plan for the winter.  That would involve cutting maintenance costs by reducing crew and utility requirements, as well as allowing for cheaper insurance.  The wet layup could occur in Ketchikan, although Seward was also mentioned as a possibility.

Vern Halter, Assembly Member for District Seven, moved that the vessel should be put back up for sale while the cost-saving measures are taken in Ketchikan.  Several potential amendment items were discussed, and many Assembly members sought clarification.  Fortunately, Borough Manager Moosey, whose job it will be to enact the Assembly’s instructions, seemed to understand what they wanted.

“I am to look at sales, at the same time nail down the numbers on keeping it in Ketchikan in a wet layup state.  Also to–the Seward-Port Mackenzie option–get a cost for that, or transfer it to a qualified agency that would de-obligate us to FTA.”

The next steps will likely be discussed at the regular Assembly meeting on September 17th.

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