The M/V Susitna – the not so “Free Ferry”

ferry susitna

M/V Susitna Timeline:

2002 – Lew Madden comes up with idea for a ferry to connect Anchorage to Point MacKenzie in the Mat-Su Valley & pitches his idea to the Mat-Su Borough

2003 – MSB solicits proposals for the Knik Arm Ferry

Lockheed Martin wins with its proposal to “purpose-build” a transforming Catamaran with an eye towards also pitching the design to the US Navy for its landing craft program

The MSB pays Lockheed over $2.5 million for the design (funds initially are federal dollars)

2005 – Alaska Senator Ted Stevens gets involved and the US Navy partners with Lockheed to develop the M/V Susitna as an experimental ship (a prototype of a landing craft of the future)

2006 – Keel laying at Alaska Ship and Drydock (now called Vigor shipyard) in Ketchikan

Navy spends $78 million to build the ship

June 2010 – Ship Christening

MSB announces that the MV Susitna will remain in Ketchikan for the time being

MV Susitna is docked at Ward Cove, Ketchikan.  The MSB pays tens of thousands per month in upkeep costs.

The Ferry never goes into service because of a lack of funds and landing terminals.

2013 – MSB puts ferry up for sale

and begins negotiating with the Federal Transit Administration which wants its money back. $12 million of FTA grant money (to promote mass transit) was used to build the ferry and ferry terminal building (on Point Mac side) and these items were never put into operation.

2015 – Philippines Red Cross (PRC) makes an offer to buy the ship

MSB tentatively accepts offer – but in Feb, 2015, during a huge rainstorm, the ferry is damaged.  3 of 4 engines needs to be replaced/repaired.

Feb 2016 – MV Susitna travels down to Seattle for the costly repairs

July 2016 – the MSB finalizes the sale of the ferry to the PRC for $1.75 million

March, 2017 –  The Susitna is delivered to the PRC following a 15,000 mile voyage across the Pacific Ocean aboard a Harley Marine Services barge.


In the beginning, there was so much hope for the ferry:



But then, the MSB had to pay for all the ongoing costs for the Ferry which was never put into service:



Posting these links for posterity:

Ferry sale


Below is a good article about the ship with a lot of historical information:

The genesis of the ship was not with the Navy but with the MSB itself.  Many people think we obtained this ferry because it was a surplus Navy item and our U.S. Senators arranged for it to be given to the MSB to use as a ferry.  Not true. An Alaskan named Lew Madden was the force behind this unique ship and it was built specifically for the MSB.  The MSB is the entity that commissioned it.  Here is an excerpt from the article:

Ferry article

The ship today:


Also – posting this for posterity:

The MSB never answered my questions about the $ 3.1 million in Repair Costs.  Here is my email to various MSB staffers from May 16, 2018:


The MSB Attorney announced yesterday that the MSB has settled with our insurer, Lloyd’s of London, and we will be reimbursed $2.5 million for our costs incurred to repair the ferry.  The attorney mentioned that the case we filed in Ohio has been dismissed.  
The attorney told the Assembly members that if they had any questions, they could come by his office to talk to him and/or review the documents. 
As a member of the public, I have some questions: 
1.  Where was the case filed? What court? What is the case name and the case number? 
2.  What law firm did we hire in Ohio and what were our total attorney fees? 
3.  Why did the MSB pay “Associated Marine Providers” $3.093,488  for the repairs instead of paying the company which actually fixed the ferry directly? What company did the repair work? What were the actual costs? (See MSB Resolution 16-015 and Ordinance 16-013)  
4.  “Associated Marine Providers” or AMP is solely owned by John P. Stormont, our “ferry captain.” What was our contract with Mr. Stormont re: these repairs?  In other words, what was his fee for assisting us with this?  Why didn’t we do a regular RFP? Also, were the fees paid to Mr. Stormont to assist with the ferry repair issue above and beyond what we were already paying him to work as our ferry captain? 
5.  Finally, why didn’t the Attorney announce this news during the “Attorney Report” section of the regular 6 p.m. Assembly meeting? It seems to me that this is where such an announcement should be made. (He made his comments instead during the 4 p.m. Special Assembly Meeting which was a meeting dedicated to the annual evaluation of the Manager.) 
P.S. What is the status of the FTA pay-back demand? 

Ferry repairs questions answer

I never did receive these public records.

2/14/19 – Update on FTA money payback issue. This note was including in the newest CAFR which was posted today on the MSB’s website:



Pay Up!

The MSB won’t release these records to me unless I pay…I’m guessing it took the Mayor’s Asst more time to type up this silly “bill” than it would have taken them to just send me the information. I told them – um, it is a new month – February – so I get 5 new hours – and their response was – because you submitted these requests in January, you have to pay. (They fulfilled an earlier one for me in January -which probably took them an entire hour.) THIS IS HOW THE MSB OPERATES.

I am forced to do these Public Records requests because critical information is not available on the MSB’s website or revealed at Assembly meetings and the MSB will not respond to my emails.

And by the way – the MSB doesn’t have to charge for any records.  They can release them for free “in the public interest.” 

When I send emails (to the Mayor, Manager, Attorney, Public Affairs Director) asking questions, literally no one responds.

These people know that I am the administrator of the “Mat-Su Valley News” Facebook group, which has approximately 27,000 members, and that I have this BLOG and yet…they refuse to answer my questions.  #Arrogance

NOTE: There are fewer and fewer reporters covering the Mat-Su Borough. The Anchorage Daily News went from a newsroom of about 100 reporters to less than 10. Our area’s main reporter – Zaz Hollander – now covers Statewide Breaking News a lot of the time instead of solely reporting about the Mat-Su.  The last full time Mat-Su based AK Public Radio Reporter was…ding ding ding..Patty Sullivan..who now works for the MSB! The Frontiersman is getting better and now has a couple of full time reporters but for a while there, they weren’t covering the MSB gov’t very much at all.

So, the Facebook groups and Local Watchdogs and Blogs help fill in the gaps…and you would think that the MSB Public Affairs Dept would realize this. (Of course they do; they get paid a fortune for their “expertise” in Mass Communications.)

I send emails to the MSB occasionally and only about important issues…such as –

Have we settled the Ferry pay back issue? (The Federal Transit Admin issued a decision that the MSB owes them $9 million – back in Jan 2017 – and the MSB has never updated the public on this.)

Why did the MSB pay Wm Gamble $80,000?

Why did the MSB hire former Governor Sean Parnell as a consultant and pay him $103,500? Was this approved by the Assembly?

The MSB’s responses:

sounds of silence

“Fill out a public records request!” And then we will send you a bill!



Stonewalling and Secrecy (OR, Why won’t the MSB release more information to the public?)


The Matanuska-Susitna Borough, compared to the State of Alaska and other boroughs and cities, puts very little information on its website.

The MSB does not have an online checkbook or share executive travel records like the State of Alaska.

The MSB doesn’t post any reports from its Internal Auditor like the Municipality of Anchorage.

The MSB’s Purchasing Officer used to be required to submit a monthly Informational Memorandum to the Assembly of all contracts awarded or amended each month which are $100K or less (contracts for more than that require Assembly approval)…However, I have not seen any of these IMs in the Assembly meeting packets lately.  Here is an example of one from 2011:


The MSB meeting packets are deleted from the website within 2 years (Assembly) or just a few months (boards).

Top Secret

Note: Even when the meeting packets are online, sometimes they are posted at the very last minute and/or are missing information, especially the Port Commission board meetings.  If you attend a meeting in person, there are often additional documents which never make it to the website.  These additional documents are not always available to the public.  Sometimes the additional documents are at the back of the room; sometimes they are not.  At every Assembly meeting, the Clerk inevitably states to the members:  Such and such information was provided in your folders.  These “folder” documents are never in the official meeting packets and they are never available to the public.

All RFPS and Bids are deleted almost as soon as they are awarded. (In contrast, the City of Palmer keeps winning bids listed for over 10 years.)

The MSB’s Press Release section is missing select old press releases.

A source tells me that all of this historical information is online and available for MSB employees to access, but the MSB chooses NOT to allow the public to have continuing access.

Assembly member Jim Sykes has been advocating for more transparency with little success so far.  He did manage to get the MSB to post its (basic, general) budgets online, something that was not done until he advocated for it!!

Thus, the only way to obtain certain information from the MSB is to do “Public Records Requests.”

However, the MSB does not always comply with records requests.  The MSB will give out some records but for other records, they will claim it will take them too much time (more than the 5 hour limit per citizen per month) and send a bill to the requester asking for a payment up front.

Note: A source told me recently that the MSB was “keeping me busy” with records such as the credit card records and employee reimbursement records, but they will never release the more important financial records to me. (I have no way to confirm this.) Further note: I have to pay $10 for most digital records – the cost of the thumb drives.

Here are some examples of the MSB charging high costs for records:

I asked for all Internal Audit reports.  The MSB said not until you pay $540.70:


Note: I doubt it would take the Internal Auditor more than one hour to copy all of his “Internal Audit” reports from his computer.

I asked for all TRAVEL RECORDS for the past three years.  The Travel Authorizations.  The MSB said – not until you pay us $971:

Scan_20180406 (5)





I asked to review financial and contractual records.  I stated that I would come down to the MSB building to look at these records. No need for the MSB staff to pull the records for me or make copies.  The code allows the public to inspect records at no cost.  The MSB told me I still needed to pay $233.