It sounds like an April Fool’s news story. But it’s not. Over the weekend a report emerged that should make everyone shake their heads. A brand new, unwanted high speed ferry worth $80 Million was put up for auction receiving only one bid of $750,000.
The 200 foot vessel was christened in 2010. Built in Southeast Alaska it was designed for use in the Southcentral area of the state. Only problem? There is no dock or plans to build any docking facilities for the ferry.
So what happened?
In a nutshell, a boat designer convinced the state of Alaska and the Department of Defense that he could create a new type of boat that could be raised or lowered in the water providing icebreaking ability. This high speed vessel would be used to ferry residents the length of Cook Inlet and would be available for rapid deployment in case a disaster, such as an emergency plane landing in the inlet.
It sounds good on paper right?
Imagine with me a whole bunch of guys spending other peoples’ money talking about this idea. You might call them ‘Yes-Men’. Imagine the adjectives being tossed around: novel, new technology, rapid response, ground breaking. . . Sure, they all said, “Let’s build it!”
But what about the cost?
The population of the entire borough this ferry would serve was only 80,000 residents. In fact, Alaska’s most populated city of Anchorage hovers at 300,000. A pricey endeavor for a small population. Luckily, the Navy was interested and because they were, much of the money was paid from the DoD budget. Alaska Senator Ted Stevens was said to be instrumental in getting the earmarks for this pork project added. (Yes, he was a Republican.)
After its completion, a state study discovered the boat can hold 134 passengers but only 20 vehicles, and burns 375 gallons of fuel an hour. A state ferry with a similar capacity, the Lituya, burns 55 gallons an hour. The borough and the state decided they really couldn’t use it. It was too expensive and docks currently within the state ferry system would have to be reconfigured.
Here we are three years later. It costs the state $75,000 each month to maintain and now we know nobody else even wants to bid on this white elephant…or should we say orca?
One has to wonder, in light of the severe military cuts via the sequestration, how many veterans college tuition costs would have been covered if the federal government had just thought this project through?