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Please, Los Angeles, don't buy what Alaska is giving away

March 11, 2013|By Paul Whitefield
  • This photo provided by the Matanuska-Susitna Borough shows the 200-foot ferry Susitna in Alaska.
This photo provided by the Matanuska-Susitna Borough shows the 200-foot… (Matanuska-Susitna Borough )

With apologies to Stephen Foster:

Oh! Susitna, do not cry for me;

you come from Alaska,

on bended knee.”

OK, so it’s not going to be No. 1 on the Billboard charts (bullet or no bullet). But then again, this Susitna is not a lady. She’s a ferry. Sort of.

The Times’ Kim Murphy wrote Sunday about officials in the Alaskan borough of Matanuska-Susitna who are offering the $78-million vessel free to any government entity in the U.S. that will take it. Seems the late pork-barrel king of the frozen north, Sen. Ted Stevens, procured the Navy amphibious assault vessel for his home state, converting it for use as a ferry for commuters from Anchorage’s rapidly growing northern suburbs (you know, where Sarah Palin lives) to jobs downtown.

But things didn’t quite work out, as Murphy details. And now the ferry’s story is a familiar one to boat owners everywhere: It’s sitting unused, and it’s costing the borough $80,000 a month in upkeep.

So hello, Craigslist, goodbye, Alaska. Or, as Matanuska-Susitna Borough Manager John Moosey said (in a come-on familiar to many browsing that buyer-beware website: “All we really want is to find a good home for it.” (Sure, but is it housebroken?)

But wait! There’s more! Here’s borough spokeswoman Patty Sullivan:

“One of the premier naval architects in the world worked on this ship. It can crawl up on land, offload heavy equipment. It can handle rough sea swells. The ice just passes it by. It's a real beauty, and it just needs the right home, because our dream isn't happening.”

Uh huh. Maybe if you bargain hard, they’ll throw in that “bridge to nowhere”?

But you’ll never guess who’s interested in an $80,000-a-month, ice-breaking amphibious assault vessel/ferry?

That’s right! Los Angeles!

L.A. County officials told Murphy they’re in “very preliminary” discussions about taking the vessel.

“We think a ship like that could provide us with a versatile public safety asset for emergency response, mainly to Catalina Island, where the ability to move people and equipment and firefighting apparatus is currently a challenge,” said Ryan Alsop, Los Angeles County assistant chief executive officer….

Alsop said county officials also had discussed with the current passenger ferry operator, Catalina Express, the possibility of using the Susitna to carry passenger automobiles to the island. “We'll hold some meetings, look at the boat, figure out the cost and all the logistics,” he said.

To which I think the only reasonable response is: Run. Away. Now. As fast as you can. Don’t “hold some meetings.” Don’t “look at the boat.” Don’t “figure out the cost and all the logistics.”

Trust me on this. I once “just went to look at” a pool table. Now it’s swallowed my garage. My son “just wanted to look at” a kitten. Now my wife pampers it instead of me. And don’t get me started about the classic Bugeye Sprite I once “just went to look at.”

Now, if Catalina Express wants to buy the Susitna and add it to its ferry fleet, more power to it. And I’m sure county firefighters could pay Catalina Express something to have equipment ferried to the island in time of need. But we’ve been fighting fires on Catalina for years, and seems to me it hasn’t burned down yet.

L.A. County needs a lot of things. And this “boat to nowhere” will undoubtedly end up somewhere.

Please, just don’t let it be here.


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