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Friday, November 30, 2012

ALASKA: The Ferry to Nowhere

by Clifford F. Thies

The Susitna is a unique ship. With roll-on and roll-off ramps, allowing it to be used as a vehicle ferry; a barge deck that can be raised or lowered, allowing it to be used as ferry or as an ocean-going vessel; and, a tough, shaped hull, allowing it to be used as an ice-breaker.

Unfortunately according to some, all this versatiity pushed the cost of the boat to $80 million, with a commensurate increase in its operating expenses. It turned out to be too costly to be used a ferry, connecting Juneau with Anchorake.

It was also too costly to be used as a cargo ship or as an ice-breaker. So, it just remained docked at Ketchikan, Alaska, where it was built, the company that built it having gone bankrupt.

The ferry to nowhere was, of course, the brain-chain of the late Senator Ted Stevens, and was championed by his successor, Senator Lisa Murkowsk and by the then Mayor of Anchorage, now the other Senator from Alaska Mark Begish.

Now, the Mat-Su ferry has been sold, I mean, given away to the Northern Marianas Islands. The Alaska municipality that owns it will no longer have to shell out $90,000 a month in maintenance, docking fees and insurance.

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