Knik Arm ferry

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M/V Susitna being outfitted in Ketchikan for delivery to Anchorage.

Knik Arm ferry or Cook Inlet ferry, was a proposed year-round passenger and auto ferry across Knik Arm between Anchorage and Point MacKenzie in Alaska. The project was to use the M/V Susitna SWATH / barge convertible expedition craft, which was built for US$80,000,000, to connect Alaska's financial center with the fastest growing community in Alaska, just two miles across water. No ferry landings were ever built. The ship was never put into commission. Berthing it with crew, lease costs, fuel, etc. ran up to(US$90,000 per month) The Matanuska-Susitna Borough Assembly did not want taxpayers to pay such costs. Mat-Su Borough offered to transfer the ferry for free to government entities in the U.S. in January 2013 or to sell the ship to a commercial interest. Sealed bids were taken through March 29, 2013.[1][2]

M/V Susitna[edit]

The ferry is a one-of-a-kind, ice-capable vessel that can transition from barge to twin-hulled ship, designed by Guido, Perla & Associates based on a concept by Lockheed-Martin Corporation for the Office of Naval Research as a half-sized prototype for a military vessel.[3]

"It's an omnivore. It's not optimized for any one task, but it has a wide range of tasks it can do, and that's what makes it useful. It can work in deep seas, it can work in rough waters, it can break ice, it can work in shallow waters and go up to the beach. There's no other ship in the world that can do that."

— Lew Madden, Susitna Co-inventor[4]

Susitna was built by Alaska Ship and Drydock, Inc., in Ketchikan. Design and construction costs were funded by the United States Navy Office of Naval Research to study the technology for its potential as a new type of expeditionary landing craft, also called an "E-craft".[5] Basic construction of the ferry was completed and she was christened M/V Susitna in June 2010, but it has not yet been put into service as a ferry.[6]

The vessel is 59 metres (194 ft) long and has a capacity is 129 passengers and 20 automobiles. Her design incorporates lift technology that allows changing from the Small Waterplane Area Twin Hull (SWATH) mode to barge mode by lowering or raising her center deck.[3] She is the world's first ice capable twin hulled vessel; and the world's first ship able to convert between a high speed SWATH hull to a shallow barge type.

Timeline[edit]

A ferry in the area was proposed as early as 1999.[7] Susitna was a project of senator Ted Stevens, who helped secure numerous earmarks though Defense Department budgets to pay for the ship. Rather than toss the ship in a scrap heap as all other protypes were, the ship could be put to work as a ferry for taxpayers and a research vessel for the U.S. Navy. The Navy would gather information via the 1,000 sensors on board to learn how the stresses of ice affect the ship helping the Navy construct a better landing craft for foreign seas with icy waters. As of February 2013, the ferry was still docked at Ward Cove in Ketchikan,[8] hundreds of miles from Knik Arm. In 2008 then mayor of the Municipality of Anchorage Mark Begich terminated the 2002 agreement with the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, who now bears sole responsibility for the project. Several landing sites have been proposed, and each time there have been objections. One site could possibly interfere with the endangered Beluga whale population in Cook Inlet. Another was deemed to close to the oil "tank farm" at the Port of Anchorage and was rejected out of security concerns. A third site was objected to by commercial fishermen who feared it would interfere with their operations. Another site was rejected because the ferry needed more clearance than is available there. The borough favored a site at Ship Creek an industrial area already used for offshore docking of tugboats, however, offloading of vehicles requires a ferry landing. No landings were ever built.[4][9]

In August 2011 the Borough government was informed they were expected to take possession of the ship within a month, and that they would be required to provide berthing fees and other expenses even if the vessel is not in service, an estimated annual cost of 1.3 million dollars. Concerned with taxpayers paying for operations costs on a ship that has no revenue, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough Assembly agreed to either transfer the vessel to a government entity in the U.S. or sell it to a commercial interest. They were informed that if they sold it outright they would need to return Federal grant funds used for its construction. The amount is uncertain.[10] Or If the Borough transferred the ship to another government entity, the financial obligation may be reduced.

In January 2012, the Alaska Marine Highway rejected a proposal that they utilize the ship as it is not compatible with their existing facilities or training. A proposal to lease the vessel to the Coast Guard was rejected by that agency on similar grounds.[11] The unused vessel was listed for sale in September 2012.[12]

As of February 2013, the vessel is being offered for free to U.S federal, state and local government entities, or for sale to commercial buyers, who had until March 29, 2013 to submit sealed bids.[2]

In May 2013, the borough agreed to sell the vessel to a private company for $6 million, a small fraction of its worth but enough to cover their obligations related to it. However the buyers did not remit a promised down payment on schedule.[13]

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