$350M for port project tops mayor's wish list

Rosemary Shinohara

Mayor Dan Sullivan wants to ask the state Legislature for $350 million to complete a scaled-back version of the troubled Port of Anchorage expansion project.

That amount is an estimate of what it will take to finish enough of the project to take care of the port's needs for the next 40 to 50 years, though not to finish the whole project as it was originally envisioned, said Larry Baker, the mayor's chief of staff.

"The bottom line is we wanted to move forward with certainty at this point," Sullivan said Wednesday. "This project is too important to keep nibbling at, and you never know in the future whether another Legislature or future (state) administration will be in a position to fund a project like this."

A draft of the mayor's legislative requests appeared on Tuesday night's Anchorage Assembly agenda. The Assembly plans to consider the requests Nov. 8, and city officials will present the final version to the Anchorage legislative caucus Nov. 18.

Besides the port, the draft legislative request includes another $327 million for Anchorage roads, city buildings, parks, police and fire equipment and other projects.

Sullivan is right that the state does have the money for another big capital improvement budget, said Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, who as Senate Finance Committee co-chair takes a lead role in writing that spending plan.

Stedman said he hasn't yet sat down with Sullivan to get an understanding of the port project as it now stands, but he generally supports the port.

"The question is, how big a budget is going to be comfortable with the legislators or the governor," said Stedman. Last year, after vetoes, the approved capital budget stood at $2.8 billion.

Stedman thinks the state should go for a sizeable capital budget again this year to keep the economy moving. "Robust capital budgets keep our employment numbers up."

Sullivan said money for the port could be part of a statewide bond proposition, or it could come in a direct appropriation.

The port project has been stalled because of construction problems and lack of funding. Hundreds of steel sheets placed in 2009 were damaged during installation, resulting in the need for expensive repairs.

Estimates for rebuilding a whole new port were more than $1 billion as of late last year.

In the 2011 legislative session, port director Bill Sheffield asked the state for $320 million but received only $30 million.

The project has progressed since then, Sullivan said.

"The difference now is that we've got the project back on track. We've got new oversight," he said.

"We've got a new memorandum of understanding with the federal agencies. We've got the Corps of Engineers analyzing the whole project. And we've got new contractors potentially coming on board in the spring," Sullivan said.

After the 2011 legislative session, Sullivan convened a group of the major port users, federal agencies and others involved in the project, and the group came to consensus on reducing the size of the expansion for now, Baker said.

Most of the improvements will focus on the north end, to provide space for the existing major shippers and new ones in the future, Sullivan said.

Besides the port money, Sullivan's legislative request list includes:

• $34.5 million in other priority projects. Half of that money is for renovations and upgrades to Project 80s buildings and grounds including the library, Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center, Sullivan Arena parking, and Performing Arts Center, for example.

• $244 million for roads and drainage projects from Chugiak to Girdwood and in between.

• $26.8 million for public safety items such as new fire trucks and updated computers for police patrol officers.

• $8.3 million for parks, trails, an upgrade to the library system for sorting and tracking materials, and more library materials.

• $13.3 million for safety and code upgrades to municipal properties.

Reach Rosemary Shinohara at rshinohara@adn.com or 257-4340.

PDF: Read the mayor's proposed spending request
Anchorage port project mired in cost
construction woes (5/16/11)
More on the Port of Anchorage project
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