MAT-SU - A $72 million ferry in the works for six years is about to officially become the property of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough.

Now, the M/V Susitna may become a gift that starts costing.

Borough Manager John Moosey said he expects that by next month, the borough will take ownership of the ferry, now moored at the Alaska Ship and Drydock in Ketchikan.

But there are no ferry landings in place at Mat-Su or Anchorage in Cook Inlet, and despite efforts by the borough, there are no short-term takers for the unique ferry - the world's first ice-breaking catamaran.

If the ferry isn't put to use, it will have to be stored. Keeping it at the borough's Port MacKenzie could cost upward of $2 million a year, borough officials say.

"Every dollar spent on that is a dollar that's not available for education, roads and everything else," assemblyman Steve Colligan said. "We are all committed and dedicated to putting it to good use, or transferring it to somebody that could put it to good use."

The borough didn't have to pay for the ferry's construction, thanks to the largesse of former U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens. The vessel was built as a U.S. Department of Defense research prototype, a newfangled 200-foot beach landing craft with ice-breaking capabilities and a catamaran design. It can carry 114 passengers and 20 vehicles.

Federal grant language requires the borough put the ferry into service between Anchorage and the Mat-Su. That means the borough can't sell the ship outright, officials say.

Colligan is working with members of Alaska's federal delegation to get that language changed, he said. He hopes to use as a bargaining chip the fact that the ship was originally supposed to carry 40 cars, but it was built for half that.

Meanwhile, it could be a year, or much longer, before a dock facility is built on either side to allow ferry service to start.

The borough has a $7 million grant for the first phase of construction, expected to start this summer, Moosey said. Another $7 million is needed, he said. Borough officials are working with Anchorage municipal officials on getting the requisite permit to build a landing in the Ship Creek area.

Moosey said he's also talked about storing the ferry in Coffman Cove, a small Southeast community on the northeast coast of Prince of Wales Island. He couldn't say how much that option would cost the borough, but that it would be cheaper than Port MacKenzie. A Coffman Cove city official didn't return a call for comment.

Borough officials had hoped to find a way to put the vessel to use in other places, selling it and leasing it back or using some other arrangement. But the vessel is so unique that several possible takers say they aren't interested.

Moosey mentioned the Alaska Marine Highway System.

No thank you, said Capt. Michael Neussl, deputy commissioner for marine operations with the state Department of Transportation. The state's ferry docks aren't compatible with the bow-loading Susitna because state ferries load and offload cars to the side.

"It's really designed to drive up to a beach, which we don't really do," Neussl said.

The state would also have to certify the vessel for routes and train a crew for the ferry's specialized operations, only to have to give the Susitna back in a few years, he said.

Coffman Cove is about to start its own ferry system this summer, said Kent Miller, manager for the North End Ferry Authority. The Susitna wouldn't be fast enough for that run, Miller said, and its fuel costs are too expensive.

The ferry's ice-breaking capacity is "overkill" for Coffman Cove, but great for Cook Inlet, he said. "It certainly would be best to put it in service on the route for which it was intended."

Moosey talked to the U.S. Coast Guard, but that agency doesn't want to take the time to train up a crew only to have to give the vessel back in the future. The Coast Guard is also trying to standardize its fleet, he said.

The borough has also had discussions with the Kenai Peninsula Borough and there are rumors of an undisclosed "foreign location" that might be interested in a beach-landing craft, Colligan said.

There's talk of using the Susitna to do trips to Tyonek or take fishermen out on junkets, Moosey said.

"But really none of this pans out financially unless we have a regularly scheduled ferry business," he said. "We're bugging the heck out of people, trying to make the best we can out of this opportunity."

(7) comments


2 million to store it? Why? tie it to the dock and let it sit! I'll store on my property for 500K! why wasn't the dock upgraded to be ready when the boat was ready? Sure seems odd! Another reason why we need and Elected mayor that is in charge. Having a Borough Manager that runs things and can't be fired doesn't serve the borough well!

tea please
tea please

Looking for blame, look no further than the sitting mayor who was on the assembly and assembly member who was mayor who signed off on this project. Both part of the less government party. Duffy worked at the pleasure of the assembly. A couple signed off on this project. The bucks stops with them.


About 4 or 5 years ago, I invited John Duffy to lunch to discuss various MSB projects, policies, etc. I had no agenda but just wanted to hear about things straight from the horse's mouth. One of the items we discussed was the ferry. Even back then, he acknowledged that in spite of the fact that it was "free", it would never pay its own way. It was destined to be a drain on the budget long before costruction was started.

I voiced my concerns but, as with most other government officials, they were immediately dismissed. It is good to know we have MSB officials that know what is best for us, right? There is absolutely no justification for this embarrassment of a project.

Add another item to the long list of Alaska-based boondoggles that will be paid for with "Other People's Money". Unfortunately, we are all part of the "Other People". And as the article states, the money for Mr Duffy's Folly will have to be taken from other necessities like education, roads, etc.

I can't afford any more quality representation.


Thank you John Duffy and the Mat-Su Brourgh assembly for a gift no one wants


"Could"? That's the funniest headline I've seen in a while. "Could" become a costly boondoggle? It's been nothing but that from the very beginning.

I sincerely hope the borough remembers this painful lesson-There is no free lunch. There is no free money from DC. Just because they offer you something "free" doesn't mean you are required to take it.


Has anyone been paying attention to this a all? Any person with common since knew that the ferry idea from the valley to Anch was a total waist of money. That can be added up to the prison that was build at point mac.The money waited on those two idea could of built the bridge that is so desperately needed.

People need to realize that: People like to drive and trying to take cars away is not going to happen. We can do it better. Caring for the environment is important but when the extreemists think we should be "Living in a cave with a candle" is not the answer.

Stop waisting money on pipe dreams. You want power - use some of the best coal in the world (here) and build a coal plant. Modern coal plant will not harm the environment..Stop waisting money on ferries that use a massive quantity of fuel to get around, BUILD ROADS. It's cheaper in the long run....

John Harkey
John Harkey

What, more waste of money from the party of less government involvement? Unreal hypocrisy , less government means this should have been privately built and funded, geez!

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