Port Mackenzie repairs spread Mat-Su budget thin

Ship unloads at Port MacKenzie. Courtesy of Mat Su Borough.

Recurring structural problems at Port Mackenzie’s barge dock are adding costs to the Mat-Su Borough’s already tight budget. Port officials are puzzled as to the cause of the damage, which seems to be located in a specific area, while a series of repair jobs so far have done nothing to solve the problem.

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Despite numerous fixes, a structural component of Port MacKenzie’s barge dock keeps failing. Since the damage to an engineering brace called a WYE was first discovered in summer of 2015, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough has spent millions of dollars on repairs to the dock.

Port director Marc Van Dongen said even after two attempts to fix the damage, work that spanned the fall of 2015 and spring of this year, another problem appeared this fall

“We had a failure in one of the new sheet piles that was installed in April-June time frame in 2016,” Van Dongen said. “The sheet pile that connected to the new WYE that connects two cells, the sheet pile immediately behind the WYE which connects to a tail wall, that new sheet split and that new WYE subsequently formed a new crack in it as well.”

So the new WYE installed only this year has cracked again. Van Dongen blames a failure of some of the sheet piling installed this year.

A temporary fix last year cost upwards of $40,000, and but this year’s temporary fix cost more, according to Van Dongen.

“October is when this first tail wall sheet split and failed, and within a week we observed a split in the new WYE that was immediately in front of that,” Van Dongen said. “So we have taken temporary action to stabilize the dock. It was only about $60,000-$70,000 to do the temporary work that we needed to do to keep the dock together until the ice melts in the spring and we can do the final repair.”

Van Dongen said a permanent fix scheduled for 2017 could cost $1.5 million.

This year’s temporary fix and next year’s repair job are together, an encore performance. The initial damage to the barge dock was noted in 2015, mended in a hurry, and was presumed to be permanently repaired this year. A $2.5 million emergency loan from the Borough’s Land Management fund paid for the job. Van Dongen said the work was done for about $2.1 million. The Mat-Su Borough Assembly approved emergency funds in December, 2015.

On top of that, elements of a cathodic protection system, which protects piling erosion on the dock, failed this year. The Borough sought insurance compensation for $169,000 in costs related to the work. Van Dongen said insurance has paid that bill, because the damage was discovered before the expiration of the warranty on the initial installment.

Van Dongen, and Mat-Su Borough manager John Moosey, both say insurance reimbursements could pay back the costs of the barge dock repairs. But those insurance payments are not certain, Moosey told the Borough Assembly in mid-November.

“Port MacKenzie, and I know we have had insurance agents out there [this week], to kind of go through,” Moosey said. “They have examined it at low tide. We are sending some more agents out there regarding the buckling of the outsides.”

Moosey said as of Dec. 28, there is still no word from insurance adjusters.

The cause of the most recent damage, the split in the sheet piling at the barge dock, is not known. Van Dongen said he purchased the steel sheet piling from the Port of Anchorage at a cost of $350,000. He said he can’t say if the pilings themselves are defective, without an engineer’s report.

“We don’t know the exact cause of the problem yet, until we pull the piles that have been split,” Van Dongen said. “Once we pull em and study em, we can determine if perhaps we hit a rock on the way down, and started a crack, or if the interlocks came apart or we’ll test the hardness of the steel on the sheet pile to see if it met specifications, it may have been a deficiency in the pile itself. We won’t know this until the spring when we pull the damaged sheet pile and the damaged WYE.”

Van Dongen said there is no warranty on the work done so far, because the sheet pilings were provided by the owner, not by the contractor.

Both Cruz Construction and Orion Construction have worked on repairing the Port’s dock problems, working under no-bid contracts. Port director Van Dongen said seismic activity could be a factor in causing the damage. So could ice. Van Dongen said the temporary fixes are successful for a time because winter’s ice holds the gravel pushing at the sheet piling in place until the spring thaw.

Van Dongen said he won’t know for sure what next year’s repair job will cost until an engineer’s estimate comes in. He said the next step is to approach the Mat-Su Assembly for money before he can put out a bid for the job.

He said with the one insurance payment banked, and the remainder of the emergency money appropriated by the Borough in 2015 still available, the port’s budget can probably pay for the majority of next year’s work.

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