Bon Voyage, Susitna

The saga of the Matanuska Susitna Borough’s ferry “Susitna” just got a little more complicated at a special Borough Assembly meeting on Tuesday night.

A new chapter has been written in the year’s -old tale of the Mat Su Borough’s ailing ship, MV “Sustina”. At a special meeting last night hastily called by Borough mayor Vern Halter, new information was presented about the cost of the repairs necessary to meet the terms of a potential buyer of the vessel.

In early December, the Borough Assembly accepted a down payment of $250,000 for the purchase of the vessel from the Phillipine Red Cross. The deposit is to be used to help pay for repairs on three ruined ferry engines. At the same December meeting, the Assembly approved spending $870,000 from Borough reserves to complete payments for the repairs to the engines. The two sums total one point one million dollars, all of which is expected to be reimbursed by insurance.

But now the plan has hit a new snag, according to Borough Manager John Moosey:

“So subsequently, the one point one million dollar fix is slightly North of three million.”

It seems an insurance company engineers’s analysis indicates a need for a complete rebuild of all four engines on the ship, before it can become operable, and that can’t be done in Ketchikan. So an arrangement has been made with tug operator Foss to tow the “Susitna” to Seattle.. at a cost of  $100,000.

Moosey said time is of the essence, as the Borough has a March 31 deadline for completing the repairs.

Borough port director Marc Van Dongen assured the Assembly that the towing costs would be paid for by insurance, but he cautioned that repairs would take 60 to 90 days. And sea trials have to be completed before the sale, so there is no way the Borough can beat the deadline.

Assemblymember Steve Colligan wanted a contract with the buyers before any action on the ferry move

“And I don’t think we should do anything unless the buyer is going to agree, and we have a date out there far enough so that we know one hundred percent, you’re going to get that work done. Otherwise, we should cut our losses now.”

“Scrap it” Colligan said.  “We would be better off spending $500,000 to send it to the scrapyard.”

But Colligan could not convince the rest of the body to get a written agreement with the Red Cross before launching a new plan for the vessel. The Assembly approved a motion by Assemblyman Dan Mayfield that would allow the ferry to be towed to Seattle as soon as possible, with it’s final fate as yet to be determined. A second motion passed by the Assembly directed manager Moosey to seek an extension from the Phillipine Red Cross on the final sale date.

Dan Mayfield:

“The reason I made the motion that we should move the vessel, really comes down to my experience in insurance in the private industry. The vessel has been sitting in Ketchikan for quite sometime, without a lot of action to pro-actively repair it. So we need to show good faith both to our insurance company and to the Red Cross that we are going to proceed with repairs.”
Mayfield says the Borough’s maritime insurance company has not guaranteed full payment for the repairs. He says some expenses are being questioned. But, he says, if the Borough nets some insurance reimbursement and the sale price of the ferry, at least the Borough will not take a total loss on the ship.

Mayfield says if the Phillipine Red Cross does not grant the extension, and the sale falls through, the vessel could be scrapped, and there are more resources in Seattle to do that than there are in Ketchikan.

The unused ferry Susitna is expected to exit Ward’s Cove in Ketchikan on the end of a tow rope, within the next couple of days, weather permitting. I’m Ellen Lockyer

APTI Reporter-Producer Ellen Lockyer started her radio career in the late 1980s, after a stint at bush Alaska weekly newspapers, the Copper Valley Views and the Cordova Times. When the Exxon Valdez ran aground in Prince William Sound, Valdez Public Radio station KCHU needed a reporter, and Ellen picked up the microphone.
Since then, she has literally traveled the length of the state, from Attu to Eagle and from Barrow to Juneau, covering Alaska stories on the ground for the AK show, Alaska News Nightly, the Alaska Morning News and for Anchorage public radio station, KSKA
elockyer (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  |  907.550.8446 | About Ellen

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