Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan estimated Monday that the city needs about $300 million in additional funding to complete the problematic Port of Anchorage construction project.
Sullivan’s cost projection is the first made public since the city began its latest effort to resume work on the port. He spoke briefly at a week-long, closed-door “charrette” that was attended by more than 50 stakeholders, including shippers, port administrators and employees of CH2M Hill, the company tasked with management of the project.
“It’s probably the most important thing on our agenda in terms of capital projects. We’re not only serving Anchorage; as you know, we’re serving the whole state,” Sullivan said. “Other than a gas pipeline, I’m not sure there’s a more important project the state will be considering in the next decade.”
The effort to revamp the port dates back to 2003. Since then, the city has spent more than $300 million on a rail line, roads, utilities, drainage systems, acreage and a new dock to the north that will likely be at least partially removed as the city restarts and simplifies its course on the project.
“The need for a large expansion project and the vision that the previous administration had is not really close to reality of what we ... can afford and ... what the port needs for the next 30 years as far as business, growth and population,” said Municipal Manager George Vakalis.
Design concepts pinned to the walls inside of the port administration building Monday highlighted the city’s new focus on stabilizing the existing dock instead of expanding it as it grapples with limited funding. The city has spent all but $130 million of its $439 million in federal, state and municipal funds allocated to the project.
“I think convincing our legislators and our federal funders to finish this project is the biggest challenge,” Sullivan said.
CH2M Hill presented the four design concepts to the stakeholders. Lindsey Whitt, spokesperson for Sullivan, said the designs were very preliminary. The concepts call for a more traditional dock-on-piling design, similar to the port's current infrastructure. If the dock is extended, it will move south.
Construction at the port stalled in 2009, after initial plans proved ill-conceived. Cost estimates to complete the port project skyrocketed from $211 million in 2003 to $1 billion in 2011. The city filed two lawsuits to recover funds spent.
Since construction stopped, the city has been taking a piecemeal approach to repairing the port. It has spent more than $3 million to fix corroding piling since 2012, Todd Cowles, port engineer, said last week.
Sullivan said that while this week’s meeting was private, the port design process will be more public than it has been.
"I guarantee you, there will be a wide public process once some of the initial technical decisions have been made," he said.
The city intends to unveil a preferred plan by November, and construction could begin as soon as fall 2015, he said.