Assembly approves contract with CH2M Hill to manage port expansion

Tegan Hanlon

The Anchorage Assembly approved the contract with CH2M Hill to take over management of the city's troubled port expansion, replacing prior efforts that left the project flawed and over budget.

At the Assembly meeting Tuesday, nine assembly members voted to approve the five-year, $30 million contract. Assemblyman Bill Starr voted against the measure and Assemblyman Patrick Flynn abstained.

Discussion before the vote swirled around assembly members' uneasiness to commit to the contract and move forward on a project that has been stalled since the end of 2009, while the city evaluated its Open Cell Sheet Pile design.

"I don't disagree that something needs to be done and I think that we've all had an interest," Starr said. "And on my watch, something has been done and it hasn't gone very well."

A federal audit revealed that estimated costs grew from $211 million to $1 billion between 2003 and 2011.

The city is currently in a lawsuit with CH2M Hill -- the consulting firm it has contracted with. CH2M Hill bought VECO Corporation, the company that did engineering work years ago and said the design of the port would work. CH2M Hill completed a study that established that the port's design was at risk of failing in an earthquake.

"We've put a whole lot of money into the port and we haven't got a whole lot back," said Assemblyman Adam Trombley.

Mayor Dan Sullivan's administration selected CH2M Hill over six competing firms for the contract, with an option for two two-year extensions of $12 million each. The work includes environmental documentation and permitting, budgeting, quality control and oversight of construction.

In approving the contract, supporting assembly members said Anchorage needs a safe port and a functional port and the project needs professional oversight.

"Are we uneasy? Yes. But I think we have to step up to the plate," said Assemblywoman Jennifer Johnston. "We have to look at the stakeholder... I urge a yes vote."


By Tegan Hanlon