Mat-Su Assembly OKs $1.75-million sale of ferry

The Matanuska-Susitna Borough’s big boat nightmare might finally be over.

Borough Manager John Moosey got approval from the Mat-Su Assembly last week to sell the M/V Susitna ferry for $1.75 million to the Philippine Red Cross.

“I’m elated that this ship will be put to the noble work of saving lives after disasters in the Philippines,” Moosey said in a borough release. “We exhausted our options on disposing of this vessel. It’s time to give it new life and release our taxpayers from the burden of its upkeep.”

The Susitna has cost the borough about $30,000 per month in maintenance, moorage and insurance, Moosey has said.

Once envisioned for ferry service between Point MacKenzie and Anchorage, the borough has been trying to sell the 195-foot Susitna for about three years since plans to build a landing terminal outside of Anchorage fell through.

A $12.3 million bill issued to the Mat-Su Borough more than a year ago by the Federal Transit Administration for federal grant money spent on the borough landing terminal and other parts of the failed ferry plan is still unresolved, according to the borough statement. 

Borough officials said shortly after the repayment was demanded that a smaller settlement could hopefully be reached.

The $78 million prototype vessel was built for the U.S. Navy at the Ketchikan Shipyard and was donated to the borough after the Navy was finished with it.

Philippine Red Cross CEO Richard Gordon said in the borough statement that there are an average of 170 maritime accidents each year in the country’s waters and the Susitna will be used to respond to those emergencies and others.

“The Susitna will serve as a mobile clinic-hospital ship serving some of the most isolated of the 7,107 Philippine Islands,” Gordon said.

It will also be made available to Red Cross societies and non-government organizations for disaster relief when needed, he said.

Despite being unwanted, the 195-foot Susitna is a vessel with remarkable capabilities. 

The catamaran ferry has the space to hold up to 129 passengers, 20 vehicles and has a 35-ton overall freight capacity. It has a main deck that can be lowered to offload equipment and can land on beaches in as little as four feet of water.

In addition to the $1.75 million sale price, the borough will get another $60,000 for “upkeep costs” while repairs are made to the Susitna. It sustained engine damage earlier this year from heavy rainfall while it was moored at Ward Cove near Ketchikan — where it has been for several years.

The Mat-Su Borough rejected a $2 million offer for the Susitna in 2013.

The sale is not final until federal agencies approve it because the Susitna is a military prototype vessel, according to the borough.

Elwood Brehmer is a reporter for the Alaska Journal of Commerce. He can be reached at elwood.brehmer@alaskajournal.com.

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