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What might Alaska do with $80 million ice-breaking ferry to nowhere?

Alaska Dispatch staff
Aaron Jansen illustration

The Matanuska-Susitna Borough is now looking for ways to ditch its state-of-the-art, $80 million ferry, the M/V Susitna. In a fine example of putting the race car before the horse, some borough leaders once dreamt of a shuttle service across upper Cook Inlet, but frustration arrived in the form of fine print, broken plans and rising costs. And now the project looks more like a classic Alaska boondoggle than a legitimate mode of transportation.

The Susitna was originally built as a Navy prototype, with expectations that it would eventually serve as a ferry across Knik Arm. Instead of ending up in the scrap heap, like most prototypes, the ferry was essentially gifted to the borough. But faced with costs that came with the ship -- about $66,000 a month to dock in Ketchikan and $123,000 for three months of insurance -- the borough has all but forgotten hopes for a ferry. The Mat-Su Borough Assembly is now considering four options for the Susitna: sell, surplus, use or store.

Last month the Assembly requested the ship be listed with a broker and on the federal surplus, indications that the world's first ice-breaking catamaran may soon set sail.

Along the way, other options for the Susitna have emerged. Some far fetched, some completely possible. The Naval Underwater Warfare Center has expressed interest in the ship, which it could use to launch submarines off of into the Persian Gulf. The Alaska Marine Highway System has also expressed some interest in the Susitna, though its small size -- room for only 130 people and 20 cars -- would make it one of the smallest vessels in its fleet.

Whatever happens, the Borough Assembly seems poised to act soon, meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 18 to discuss a host of ferry-related items, including authorizing a $21,000 payment to move storage units onto the vessel.

Alaska Dispatch asks: What to do with the star-crossed ferry?

Alaskans, ever vocal about how tax dollars are spent, have a few ideas for the ferry, too. They range from legitimate and sweet to absolutely absurd. Below we've collected some of the highlights, some of which have been edited for clarity and length:

Michael O'Brien: Use it to deliver people/goods/tourists up and down the Yukon River, offsetting the price of rural barge deliveries.

Teresa Nunes: Give it to the Alaska Marine Highway system so that it is still benefiting people within Alaska. Ted Stevens would have wanted it to benefit Alaskans.

Amber Holliday-Stinnett: Turn it into a floating museum for a tourist attraction and include a photo tour of the failed ferry amid a recession. People would pay to see that.

Robert W. Hayes: Let the state ferry captains drive it onto the spit at Homer and make it a bar called BEACHCOMBERS!

Jim Hunt: New casino for Resurrection Bay?

Jeanne Hale: Send it up to the (North Slope) area and contract it out to the oil companies for transport ship to port.

Janet Taylor: Dock it and turn it into condos. Or use it to go between Washington and Anchorage.

Joan Hope: Require the Legislature to meet on it, with a couple tug boats hauling housing barges. Set up a rotation, on a seasonal basis, for sessions, so they're sometimes up the Yukon, sometimes in Southeast, sometimes on the Kuskokwim River, sometimes heading for Prudhoe Bay and -- once in a blue moon -- docked in Anchorage. We'd have the shortest sessions ever and accessibility to politicians that no one could argue.

Ken Federico: Give it to me. It would make a really decent dip netting platform on the Kenai for next year!

Alaska Dispatch staff weighs in

We had to weigh in too, of course. See if you can match the ferry idea with the Dispatch staffer!

Give it to the Moose Federation: With a ferry they could even move adult moose for transplant, or better yet haul a whole load of adult moose to Bethel, where hunters could line up to shoot them as they came off the boat, thus saving a lot of time and energy.

Give it to Shell, or to whichever company assembles the next Arctic oil armada.

Bridge to Somewhere (Sort Of): Fill it with concrete and sink it. Use as the first underwater footing for a highway bridge from South Anchorage to Fire Island, ending at a new highway from Point Possession to Nikiski. The Point Mackenzie bridge wishes it could save that much time for drivers.

Reality TV: Donate it to Greenpeace for "Whale Wars" with a contract making sure Alaska gets some perk in return from the film credit program.

Just use it: Once-a-week round trip between Anchorage or Kenai and various western Cook Inlet destinations like Beluga and Tyonek, maybe even a whistle stop to Katmai, Point Possession or Hope. It just seems a no-brainer not to actually deploy this thing to places just across the water whose residents are forced to fly to stock up on supplies.

Floating bandstand: Dedicate it to hauling recycled glass to the Lower 48, and returning with stacks of fresh indie rock.

Tourist distraction: Beluga whale research station and/or Beluga watching vessel (No more traffic jams on the Seward Highway!)

Restaurant: Dinner cruises on Knik Arm. There used to be such a thing; it was kind of cool. Bring it back!

Plan C: Akutan, just in case the hovercraft doesn't work.