Matanuska-Susitna Borough

Structural Steel goes up on ferry terminal

Mat-Su | Patty Sullivan | Thursday, June 29, 2006

Port MacKenzie -- As the Glacier Wind tugboat plied the silty waters, approaching the MAT-SU shoreline, the steel supports of a $3.6 million ferry terminal came into view. "It looks just like the plans. That's what I like to see," said Linda Gehrke, deputy regional administrator for the Federal Transit Administration, Region 10.

Gehrke and ferry grant manager Amy Changchien are up from Seattle, making goodwill visits to entities that received grants from the U.S. Department of Transportation. MAT-SU Borough Manager John Duffy is giving them a full day's tour. They want to see with their own eyes the projects they are responsible for funding and the Alaskans they mostly only deal with on the phone.

The terminal will provide shelter for ferry passengers as well as house the offices of Port MacKenzie. The ferry will, among several other services, provide a fast commute for contractors working at the MAT-SU Port.

"I can remember when this was pie-in-the-sky," Gehrke said, looking at the red steel framework of a building that will be done in November.

The ferry began with the notion of carting snowmobile enthusiasts across the 2.4 miles of Knik Arm from Anchorage to the MAT-SU Borough. Today the ferry is drawing an international oil field service company to set up shop. The company, VECO Corporation, is now convinced that spacious Port MacKenzie is ideal for manufacturing oil field modules so gargantuan that only a barge can deliver them to the North Slope. The modules rise several stories high and are welded into 1,500 tons of steel. Hundreds of skilled workers can take about a year to manufacture one of the five modules that could be erected here.

The ferry will cost about $44 million and is a federally-funded project. The MAT-SU has also received some $17 million in earmarks, to date, from Congress through the Federal Transit Administration. The FTA is funding the ferry terminal buildings, the Anchorage and MAT-SU landings, and the engineering, design, and furnishings aboard the ferry.

Lew Madden accompanied the federal representatives on the now familiar water trip between Anchorage and the MAT-SU. Madden is one of the ship's inventors. He also represents the Borough as the Owner's Representative for the construction of the ferry.

"The high-speed ferry will be the only ice-breaking catamaran in the world," Madden said. "It will also be the only twin-hulled vessel capable of reconfiguring as a landing craft."

It will hold between 126 and 149 passengers, and 20 standard vehicles or 14 Alaska equivalents. It will ply the water at up to 20 knots or lower its vehicle deck eight feet to the water and act like a barge. In the lifted catamaran position, the ferry can handle waves like a vessel five times its size. In the lowered barge position, the ferry has the advantage of a shallow draft, allowing it to pull up to any boat ramp to load cars.

"It's unique for a ship that can operate at that shallow of a draft to carry such weight at such a high speed," Madden said. The nation's top defense contractor Lockheed Martin developed the preliminary design. Contract and detailed design work is being done by Guido Perla & Associates, a well known Seattle-based naval architecture firm. The MAT-SU will be the owner. The Office of Naval Research is paying the construction cost in exchange for information on operations and maintenance.

"The Navy is using this ferry to test out the concept for a much bigger amphibious ship that goes straight into the beach," Madden said.

The ferry will be built this summer in Ketchikan by the Alaska Shipyard and Drydock company.

"We will lay the keel in late August or early September," Madden said.

The keel is the steel backbone of the ship. The keel laying is when the first welds are made. "It marks the official commencement of construction."

For more information, contact Manager John Duffy 745-9688.