Port of Alaska struggles with funds for upgrade

Port of Alaska (credit: Port of Alaska)

The bill for the Port of Alaska, previously Port of Anchorage, seven-year modernisation project has doubled, officials have been informed by the engineering contractor CH2M, a subsidiary of Jacobs Engineering.

While the city was prepared to fork out USD1 billion for the works to future proof Alaska’s biggest port, Anchorage Assembly has now been told that due to increased steel prices, limited availability of dredgers and changes to the design to make the port more resilient against further sea level rise, it would need to pay USD2 billion.

Urgent works include repair of corroded dock pillars, prepare the bulk and fuel terminals for future seismic incidents – Anchorage was site of a major earthquake in November 2018 and the port suffered minor damage to its power lines and light infrastructure, allow larger vessels to call at the terminal and make the port more adaptable to market changes.

The municipality of Anchorage has asked state officials to help with USD298 million of funding to help replace main cargo terminals. “All remaining project funds are either in hand or will come from other sources, including port revenues, which mostly derive from inbound shipping,” the port stated.

According to Anchorage city manager Bill Falsey, “in order to pay for the most immediate improvements, the city will begin assessing new tariff proposals in the months ahead, which could mean fuel and some building materials will become more expensive”.

This would, consequently, be the most potential alternative to state funding and ultimately be paid for by state residents, “either in the form of taxes or cargo tariffs that would likely average about USD1,000 per Southcentral/Railbelt household – a few cents at a time added to the cost of every gallon of milk, tank of gasoline, and every other commodity shipped through the port,” the port stated in a project description.

It has previously said that “Construction on the cargo terminals will not commence until the project is fully funded in order to minimise costs and potential disruption to port and tenant operations.”

The project is the second try to upgrade the port. Another one started in 2003 and was abandoned in 2010, after damages to newly installed sheet piling occurred and Anchorage tried to recover the tax money spent on the project by suing the contracting companies in the project, partly successful.

The port’s ongoing troubles with its struggling modernisation project might have played a factor in a recent family tragedy, too. In January, the port’s chief engineer, Todd Cowles, who was until then in charge of the project, has been charged with attempted murder after he tried to drown his eight-year-old daughter and previously said he had planned to kill himself and his wife. The court filing says he cited trouble at work and wanting to escape for his actions.