Alaska's $78 Million Ferry to Nowhere Looks for Home

PHOTO: High-tech ferryPlayMatanuska-Susitna Borough/AP Photo
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Alaska -- once famous for its "bridge to nowhere" -- now has a $78 million ferry to that same destination.

Upkeep for the high-tech, high-speed, ice-cutting, Naval-grade (but 100 percent idle) catamaran is costing its owner -- the Matanuska-Susitna Borough near Anchorage -- $88,000 a month, according to the L.A. Times. So, the borough is seeking to unload it.

"I don't like the word 'unload,'" objects borough manager John Moosey. But he acknowledges to ABC News that that he is indeed seeking "another home" for the vessel.

Asked what the best-case scenario would be, in terms of timing, for the borough's freeing itself from the ferry, Moosey says, "six months ago." There are as yet no takers, he says, though the City of Los Angeles has expressed interest.

The 200-foot vessel, named "Susitna," originally was developed by the U.S. Navy for amphibious assault, which helps explain its $78 million price tag.

According to the L.A. Times, the agile, next-generation landing craft -- designed by one of the premier naval architects in the world -- carries 120 passengers and 20 vehicles. The Anchorage Daily News calls it a sports car among ferries, with a top speed of almost 18 knots. It can negotiate 11-foot seas, ice, and 45-knot winds, says the News. An international boat show in 2010 named it one of the 10 most significant vessels in the world.

After the Navy chose to take a pass on the prototype, then-Sen. Ted Stevens managed to get it diverted to Alaska for use as a commuter ferry that someday could connect downtown Anchorage with communities to the north, including Wasilla, hometown of former Gov. Sarah Palin and her family.

Stevens envisioned a network of ferry landings linked to an interior railway; but his death in 2008 put an end to that plan, which was dependent on his genius for procuring additional pork. Moosey estimates that $30 million now would be needed to build the necessary landings.

Matanuska-Susitna, he says, has given up hope of raising that money, and is instead offering the "Sustina" for free to any government entity that will take her--or for pennies-on-the-dollar to any private company that wants to buy her. The deadline for sealed bids is March 29.

Asked how many have been received so far, Moosey says none. But that doesn't mean, he says, that bids won't come: It's customary, he says, for potential buyers to wait until the last minute to submit bids.

"We do have some interest," he says, pointing to a letter sent by the county of Los Angeles, whose officials, according to the L.A. Times, last week confirmed that they are in "very preliminary" discussions about taking the ferry.

The Times quotes L.A. County's assistant chief executive officer as saying, "We think a ship like that could provide us with a versatile public safety asset for emergency response, mainly to Catalina Island." As things are now, L.A. County has to rely on Navy ships operating out of Camp Pendleton to get fire-fighting equipment to and from the Island.

Moosey says he's optimistic that "Sustina" will find a new home. "It's an incredible boat."