Anchorage puts forth port as top legislative priority

Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz addressed a group of legislators today, presenting them with the city’s one big funding priority.

Download Audio

Anchorage Port, 1999. Photo: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Anchorage Port, 1999. Photo: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“So our proposed Legislative program is fairly straightforward this year: we’re gonna focus on making sure that there’s money so that we can move ahead with port modernization.”

The Administration won’t have a specific dollar amount in its request until later in the session, once the Anchorage Assembly grants its approval. But the Administration laid out a tentative funding strategy, one made up of cash-on-hand, statewide bonds, and payments from an ongoing lawsuit.

Berkowitz described the Port as a “series of rusted out tubes,” one that requires five million dollars in yearly maintenance but is ill equipped to handle increased vessel traffic or even minor natural disasters.

According to figures from Port Director Steve Ribuffo, the total improvements are expected to cost more than $556 million. Speaking to eight members of the state House and Senate, most who are local Democrats, Ribuffo highlighted the statewide dimension of a utility usually framed as a local concern.

“About 85 percent of all Alaskans are serviced by products that come across the docks.”

The Administration also mentioned operating budget requests for programs dealing with domestic violence and sexual assault prevention. And amid a session likely to be shaped by the state’s budget deficit, Berkowitz asked legislators to relax restrictions governing state-issued funds, a step he said would give municipalities more tools for dealing with financial woes.

A slide of projected costs presented by Port Manager Steve Ribuffo.