BY ANCHORAGE MAYOR DAN SULLIVAN
The Port of Anchorage may be the most important piece of infrastructure in the state of Alaska. Nearly 90 percent of merchandise goods enter the Port of Anchorage from Tacoma, Wash., serving approximately 85 percent of Alaska's population. This includes more than 250 villages and rural towns across Alaska.
In addition to the 4 million tons of goods annually transported in more than 240,000 containers, the port provides 100 percent of the jet fuel used at Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson (JBER) and 65 percent of the jet fuel used at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport.
The port also is a designated Department of Defense (DOD) National Strategic Seaport, and has supported more than 30 deployments and moved more than 18,000 pieces of military cargo since 2005.
I mention these statistics to underscore the importance of the Port of Anchorage Intermodal Expansion Project, a project that will upgrade our 50-year-old port, and one that certainly merits the description of being "too important to fail."
Shortly before I took office in July 2009, it was reported that there may be significant construction problems with the expansion project. For the last 2 1/2 years, my administration has worked diligently to first determine the extent of the problem and chart a path forward.
A comprehensive review has revealed that many of the sheet piles that comprise the front facing of the port and the connecting tail walls had been damaged during installation, and would have to be replaced. For the last two building seasons, removing and replacing the damaged areas has been the primary construction activity and this delay, coupled with the dramatic increase in the cost of steel and other materials, has made the project costs increase dramatically.
Realizing that it may be difficult to obtain funding for the original design concept because of the increased price tag, I asked for a scaled down design that would accommodate our primary shippers, Totem and Horizon Lines, while also providing opportunity for new business with a wet barge dock and a dry barge dock.
Along with the new design, it was important to revise the relationship between the municipality and the Maritime Administration (MARAD), the federal agency in charge of the construction project. We have been successful in crafting a new Memorandum of Agreement, which sets the following parameters:
- A full-time MARAD representative is now assigned to the project to allow better direct oversight and communication with the federal agencies.
- A project oversight committee has been formed that consists of members of the municipality, the port and MARAD. The committee meets weekly and approves work schedules, budgets, sets benchmarks and approves changes.
- A technical committee has been formed to review project documents, work progress and makes recommendations to the project oversight committee.
- A quality control and quality assurance program has been established to ensure the work is done correctly.
- The municipality is now insured for liability and covered by the contractor with a performance bond.
- The Corp of Engineers is providing a third-party review of the construction to date and a review of the design to help guide the best direction of the project going forward.
- Next spring, the termination of current contractual relationships will allow the MOA to contract with other entities for future contract management design and construction.
This past summer, West Construction was successful in installing sheet pile and tail walls in areas where there had previously been problems, proving that the design works when good construction techniques are utilized.
With the project back on track, the only remaining component is funding. I am extremely pleased that Gov. Sean Parnell included a ports and harbors bond in his budget proposal. The $350 million bond package includes $200 million for the Port of Anchorage.
I will be working with our Legislature to provide any additional information they may need to support the governor's proposal, and give this critical project the fiscal certainty it needs going forward.