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$78M Alaskan ferry free to any good government entity

| Thursday, Jan. 31, 2013, 7:24 p.m.

ANCHORAGE — Take my ferry. Please.

An Alaska borough stuck with a $90,000 monthly bill for maintaining a ferry it cannot use is offering the $78 million vessel free to any government entity — federal, state or local — that will have it.

The Matanuska-Susitna Borough also will consider selling the ferry, the 200-foot Matanuska, for pennies on the dollar to a private company.

The borough appealed for a taker last week with a letter to the Passenger Vessel Association, a trade group for companies that operate ferries, dinner cruises, tour boats and gambling boats.

“We're trying to hook a buyer, and those are folks who might be using or needing ferries,” said borough spokeswoman Patty Sullivan.

If sold to a private entity, Sullivan said, the borough is seeking $7 million to cover the cost of paying back federal grants that may have to be reimbursed if the ferry is not used for municipal public transportation.

The largest communities in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough are about an hour's drive from Anchorage over a sometimes icy highway. Mat-Su officials have long dreamed of shortening the commute with a two-mile crossing over Knik Arm, a finger of saltwater separating Alaska's most populous area with one that has room to grow.

The borough more than a decade ago sought help from the federal government.

Former Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, promoted a plan to have a ferry funded by the Defense Department. The Navy paid for the vessel as a high-speed prototype of an amphibious landing craft for northern climates.

Prototypes often are scrapped, Sullivan said, but in this case, a deal was struck for the boat to move Alaska commuters as the Navy monitored how it performed.

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