Ferry sale on hold, for now

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The Matanuska-Susitna Borough’s unused ferry Susitna is approaching Seattle on the end of a tugboat’s tow rope. The beleagured ship is close to being sold, but the Borough Assembly is holding off on approving more money for engine repairs.

Two weeks ago, the Mat-Su Assembly heard the bad news. Four engines on the MV Susitna need complete overhauls, and the work needs to be done in Seattle, and soon, to beat a March 31 deadline. The sale of the ship to the Phillipine Red Cross is contingent on successful repairs. The Assembly has approved the removal of the ship from Ketchickan, and has directed Borough manager John Moosey to seek an extension of the deadline from the buyers.

Tuesday night, Moosey explained why the Assembly did not have an extension agreement in front of them.

“Tonight we have a verbal agreement, but we don’t have that in writing.”

He said the Borough has asked the Phillipine representatives for a 90 day extension for completion of the work. That brings the deadline to July 1. But confusing the issue is an earlier contractual agreement with the buyers containing a clause for a 45 day extension on completing the repairs. It was unclear as to which extension the buyers will accept, because the more recent request for a three month extension does not include the extra 45 day fail safe. Mat-Su Borough attorney Nick Spiropolous tried to explain it to the body.

“The full blown contract amendment, it says there is a 90 day extension, but it says if through no fault of the Borough’s the vessel is not ready, we can trigger and additional 45 days. When we pared it down, because they said they could approve it without going to the board the pared down version doesn’t have that.”

Spiropolous says the agreement to purchase the vessel could evaporate if the buyers don’t grant the extension.

An ordinance now before the Assembly would allow the Borough to spend an additional $2 million dollars on the repairs, on top of the $1.1 million already approved for ferry engine work. Moosey says that money would be reimbursed by insurance.

But Assemblymembers balked at approving more money without a signed agreement regarding the extension. Port MacKenzie director Mark Von Dongen urged the Assembly for quick action, but Assemblyman Steve Colligan moved for a delay in voting on the money until an agreement is in hand. A vote on Colligans’s motion ended in a tie vote. Borough mayor Vern Halter broke that tie by siding with Colligan on the delay until a March first meeting.

Manager Moosey says the Susitna is on the way to Seattle and should arrive by Thursday morning. He says, if all goes according to plan, the repairs and sea trials should be complete by May 22. However, he said there is really no plan B if the buyers don’t go along with the Borough’s request for more time.

“You know, it is our intention to get this thing resolved, and eliminate the risk, but every thing about this doggone boat has gone wrong. Every single thing. The only thing they did right is paint the logo on the side of it. And we are just trying to get out of this gigantic floating pickle.”

He said in the end, the “giant floating pickle” may have to be scrapped, at additional cost to the borough.