City to Pursue $485 Million Design Strategy for Port of Anchorage

On top is the current Port of Anchorage configuration, and below is the proposed modification, with a draft depth of -45 feet, and other tweaks. Photo: Anchorage Port Modification Plan.
On top is the current Port of Anchorage configuration, and below is the proposed modification, with a draft depth of -45 feet, and other tweaks. Photo: Anchorage Port Modification Plan.

The mayor’s office announced it has selected a design for the Anchorage Port’s overhaul, setting a blue-print for how the half-billion dollar project will take shape in the years ahead. At a work session on Friday, planners and engineers explained their decisions to members of the Anchorage Assembly. 

Representatives from the port and the company managing the project, CH2M Hill, made presentations to on the different plans they analyzed, and how they settled on what was previously referred to as ‘Concept D.’ But now, said the port’s Director of External Affairs Lindsey Whitt, it’s just called ‘the plan’  as they move forward with a longer term solution for fixing the facilities.

“The wharf pilings are rotting, and eroding, and rusting,” Whitt explained after the work session. “So every year we pour money into putting band-aids on the piling. And its really only a temporary fix.”

The plan calls for building out terminals to accommodate bigger ships in deeper water, cutting back a wedge of land to help mitigate sediment build-up and all the expensive dredging it takes to remove it, and adding a new extension for loading cement and fuel.

The three different designs were given a weighted analysis comparing different criteria, from short term costs to effects on cargo handling. Photo: Anchorage Port Modernization Project.
The three different designs were given a weighted analysis comparing different criteria, from short term costs to effects on cargo handling. Photo: Anchorage Port Modernization Project.

The design determines how the port will be configured what it’s done, but it also sets out the different steps getting there, and how to keep construction from interrupting cargo coming in and out of the terminals. The idea is to build a port that can endure for the next 75 years, without hampering commerce too much as it is built. Mayor Dan Sullivan has done a lot to guide the port project’s development, and believes this version will help it progress smoothly during the two major government transitions in the year ahead.

“The key is to have a solid plan with a price tag that’s affordable. And one that has the minimum amount of risk for changing and all the sudden become a project that’s much more expensive,” Sullivan said. “I think what we saw today is a plan that’s really well thought out, and I think we have price estimates that are reasonable.”

That reasonable estimate is $485 million dollars, which was the least expensive of all the options analyzed. There’s already $130 million set aside, but the city will have to raise the remaining $355 million. Whitt says that while it’s expensive, she expects financial support to come from the legislature and elsewhere given the facility’s critical importance for the state as a whole.

“The Port of Anchorage is kind of a magical place, because it brings most of the food and goods for Alaska through the docks,” Whitt said, lighting up as she spoke. “This project is vital to Alaskans, and I wish I could show the port to every single person who lived here.”

So far about $312 million has been spent on an earlier model of port expansion that was halted, and which is the subject of a lawsuit the city has brought against three of the companies previously involved.