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Let's float this idea

Posted: February 7, 2013 - 12:54pm  |  Updated: February 8, 2013 - 10:42am

With personal-use dipnet fishery and the M/V Susitna ferry in the news this week, we’d like to pitch an idea that could, perhaps, alleviate some of the challenges associated with both issues.

The city of Kenai has been debating what to do about the dipnet fishery, which takes place at the mouth of the Kenai River every July. Thousands of Alaskans take advantage of the opportunity to fill their freezers with sockeye salmon, but the city has been tasked with managing the hordes — and cleaning up after them.

Meanwhile, the $78 million Susitna sits unused by its owner, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, which last month announced that it would offer the vessel free of charge to any government entity that wants it.

We see an opportunity here. The Susitna is a remarkable vessel. It was designed as a prototype for the Navy and constructed in Ketchikan. It not only was designed with ice-breaking capabilities, it also has landing craft capabilities. It can accommodate 129 passengers and 20 vehicles.

Here’s our idea: Load up the Susitna in the Mat-Su with all those sockeye-hungry dipnetters, then run them down to the Kenai or Kasilof. With its landing craft capability, drop them off right on the beach at high tide, then pick them up and run them back up Cook Inlet on the next high tide.

Think of all the benefits. It would keep hundreds of vehicles off the road during July. The city of Kenai could still charge a head tax to cover costs associated with managing the fishery. Offer some sort of assistance with loading and unloading, and dipnetters might be more inclined to take their fish home whole, or perhaps fish carcasses could be dumped out in the inlet on the way. Passengers could pay a fairly high rate and still come out ahead when the costs of travel to and from the Peninsula are factored in.

Now, our pitch is given somewhat tongue-in-cheek. Unless someone can come up with something to do with the Susitna for the other 11 months of the year, a month of service probably isn’t going to cover the costs of operating and maintaining the vessel. And we won’t even get into the headaches associated with permitting and construction of landings for the Susitna at Port McKenzie or Anchorage.

But our point is this: The Mat-Su Borough currently owns a vessel with capabilities that don’t match its envisioned use, which was to ferry commuters across Knik Arm to Anchorage. However, Alaska has some 6,000 miles of coastline, much of it in the Arctic, and there is a constant clamor over our lack of maritime resources along large swaths of it. Surely someone somewhere can put a state-of-the-art vessel like to Susitna to good use.

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santini 02/08/13 - 03:10 pm
Let's float this idea

This not a bad idea to consider. However, there are some issues that would need to be overcome.

I am sure that Susitna is a 'remarkable' vessel. The vessel would have to inspected by the U. S. Coast Guard and certified as a passenger vessel. No information has been provided as to gross tonnage and therefore what regulatory requirements would apply. A structural evaluation, a full technical plan review, and a stability test would have to be performed for the Coast Guard. What the Navy builds often will not meet USCG passenger vessel standards. Simple issues like adequate bathroom facilities and cover for passengers in the event of rain must be considered (landing craft are not built for any passenger amenities)

In addition, getting a landing craft close to the beach where passengers and their gear can disembark while being in shallow water is not as easy as it seems. Tides would have a major influence on schedule which may not be convenient to the average dip netter. (I assume you are not conceptualizing cars being transported, also). We don't want to have a replay of the landing at Normandy without the gunfire, of course. Docking Susitna at other locations would create transportation issues for the passengers.

You are quite correct in stating that it would be expensive to utilize Susitna for a one month period each year. The Susitna Borough would become a passenger vessel operator with all the headaches, expenses and liabilities involved. They can try to pass these expenses onto the passengers. The City of Kenai would have to contend with the headache of receiving these passengers on their beaches. This would only compound their all too well known dip net complexities. Additionally, there is a point where dip netters may conclude that driving down to the Kenai River, as they have always done, makes more sense.

I do appreciate your brain storming. Good ideas come from 'thinking outside the box'. I know that my comments suggest a lot of bureaucratic "can'ts". But all these rules (and the others not detailed here) are meant to provide the passengers with the level of safety they are entitled to.

Overall, my solution is for the Susitna Borough to get out of the vessel owning business and for the State of Alaska to provide real solutions to the City of Kenai during their month of chaos called "the personal use fisheries".

cheapersmokes 02/13/13 - 06:27 am
Good idea but!

Finally someone is putting some serious thought into solving a couple of major problems for the area. However, I feel that it would be much more effective and also cheaper just to pass a law that cleaning fish or leaving garbage on the ground is a $250 dollar fine and you will be ticketed for it. Post this on about one dozen signs in and near the dip net area and then ask a service club or individuals to volunteer their time in patrolling the area and deputizing them to give them the authority to issue tickets to people they see violating this law. They could all have to attend a single training session and of course, their authority would only pertain to this single area and cause so they couldn't issue tickets to those who have made them mad prior.

I feel that this would utilize the efforts of those who really care for this area and allow the costs of patrolling and enforcing common standards of "pack it in....pack it out!" to keep this fishery going for long into the future without becoming a major burden on the taxpayers. The money collected in fines would more than pay for the signs and then after the season is over any extra money could go towards an appreciation picnic for those who volunteered to serve.

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