Wednesday September 03, 2014




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Lone $750,000 bid for unwanted Alaska ferry worth $80 million; vessel funded through earmarks

PALMER, Alaska - An unwanted, $80 million ice-breaking ferry owned by an Alaska borough has only one bid to buy it, and it's for $751,000.

The bid was the only entered by Friday's deadline set up by the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, which has been trying to get rid of the 200-foot ferry. The borough doesn't have to accept the offer, The Anchorage Daily News reported (http://bit.ly/Zuh2SN).

The vessel was completed in 2011 and born out of a partnership between the borough, which wanted a ferry, and the Navy, which wanted a fast military landing craft.

Named the Susitna, the ferry was built as a Navy prototype that would be owned and operated by the borough. The project was funded mainly with Department of Defence earmarks wedged into the federal budget by then-U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens.

The borough has no suitable docks or a workable business plan to operate the vessel as a ferry between Anchorage and Port MacKenzie in the Mat-Su.

With monthly costs to the borough averaging $75,000 for insurance, maintenance, fuel, docking fees and other expenses, the Borough Assembly has directed employees to find the most economical way to shed it.

While the borough solicited buyers, it also launched a parallel track to give away the boat to a government organization that met federal requirements. Of those that expressed interest, proposals by Los Angeles County and the U.S. Virgin Islands are still being evaluated by the Federal Transit Administration.

On Friday, Russ Krafft, the borough purchasing officer, opened the sole bid, a $751,000 offer from Workships Contractors BV, based in The Netherlands. It wants to use the vessel to support offshore wind farms, according to the borough.

"I was expecting more offers and higher offers, even if it was just for scrapping the vessel," said Marc Van Dongen, the borough's port director.

The borough asked the state ferry system if it would want the Susitna. But in a new draft study, the ferry system concluded the Susitna would be expensive to run and that existing docks would need to be reconfigured.

The study said the boat can hold 134 passengers but only 20 vehicles, and burns 375 gallons of fuel an hour. A state ferry with a similar capacity, the Lituya, burns 55 gallons an hour. The state ferry system doesn't want the Susitna, the staff report said.

The vessel is docked near the Ketchikan shipyard where it was built.

The government of the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. territory, said it was interested in the Susitna but then seemed to back off. A community college in Seattle inquired about acquiring it to train merchant marines, but that's not a public transit purpose. A fledgling research laboratory in Wisconsin wants it, too. A village of Native Hawaiians sent representatives in an executive jet to Alaska to check out the boat, but federal officials told the borough that the village would have had to partner with the state. And that hasn't happened.

At least two governments are still on the list being considered by the Federal Transit Administration, the borough said.

Ultimately, the Borough Assembly will decide the Susitna's future.

___

Information from: Anchorage (Alaska) Daily News, http://www.adn.com


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