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Port MacKenzie expansion to increase jobs

Rindi White
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News

WASILLA -- The Mat-Su Borough's Port MacKenzie will nearly triple the size of its barge dock next year, thanks to $3 million in federal money received through the federal economic stimulus funding package.

Borough economic development director David Hanson said the borough received word in late September it had won out over other projects competing for funding from the U.S. Department of Commerce's Economic Development Administration.

The administration's Web site lists the borough project and 68 others receiving $104.8 million total in federal funding. By each community's estimate, the 69 projects will create 22,823 jobs and spur private investment.

Hanson estimated the borough project will create 1,000 jobs. The number is based on several factors, including jobs that consultants believe will be created to serve companies and workers at the port.

The borough-submitted figures include an estimated 500 jobs with CH2M Hill, the Denver-based program-management, construction and design firm that last year bought Anchorage oil-field contractor Veco Corp.

Those employees would be building modules for use in the oil field. Hanson said the expanded barge dock would allow the modules to be built on rollers and then rolled from the dock onto barges for shipping to northern Alaska.

OIL MODULES, GAS PIPELINE

Company officials said CH2M Hill is bidding on contracts to build the modules for BP. A previous contract in 2000 to build oil-field modules required 600 to 700 workers, said Tom Maloney CH2M Hill's vice president for business development.

CH2M Hill in 2005 worked out of Port MacKenzie on land leased from the borough by Alutiiq Manufacturing Contractors, a subsidiary of Kodiak-based Afognak Native Corp. CH2M Hill workers built and shipped small modules to house equipment along the pipeline there.

Hanson said the jobs estimate also includes 100 jobs related to welding and preparing pipe for an Alaska natural gas pipeline. Another 100 jobs are linked to potential new activity at Sutton coal mines that would rely on a rail spur and coal storage facility at the port to get coal cheaply to market. Shipping round logs from Interior Alaska through the port accounts for another estimated 40 to 60 jobs, Hanson said. That project also relies on a yet-unbuilt rail spur to make shipping cost-effective.

Between 100 and 200 additional jobs were estimated for businesses that are tied to, but not directly using, the port. That includes jobs such as engine repairs, restaurants, stores and other commercial industry likely to crop up in the area to cater to the needs of port-related businesses.

The numbers may seem inflated, Hanson said, but they were based on careful estimates.

"We aren't off the wall on this," Hanson said.

A FUTURE RAIL LINE?

The borough has to chip in $1 million to the barge project, Hanson said. The investment will come in the form of materials -- the borough will provide dirt and gravel from elsewhere in the 14-square-mile port district to fill in the barge dock, he said.

As required by federal stimulus funding guidelines, the project is ready to go, Hanson said. The borough expects to solicit bids within four weeks. He expects it to be complete by next summer.

An expanded barge dock is a key step in other planned port projects, most notably a plan to extend its deep-water dock and create a turnaround loop for trucks offloading the contents of docked ships. The extension would add more than 500 feet to the dock, Hanson said.

When a cement ship docked there last month, workers used "yard goats" -- trucks with a tiny turning radius -- to maneuver flatbed trailers on the 100-foot long dock. The flatbeds were then hauled ashore, where the yard goats unhooked from them and normal-sized tractors hooked up to pull them up a hill to NPI's warehouse.

NPI chief operating officer Ron Arvin last month said offloading time could have been nearly cut in half if the deep-water dock access was a loop instead of a cul-de-sac.

Tied to the barge expansion plan is a $300 million project to extend rails from the main Alaska Railroad Corp. line between 30 and 45 miles south to Port MacKenzie so goods can be shipped directly through the port. The state in 2007 approved $10 million to complete an environmental impact statement and obtain federal permission to build the line. That process is expected to take several years.

The borough is working on a $6 million project to build a base for a looped rail turnaround on port land in hopes of one day building the rail line. For the meantime, however, the loop will be a road reaching into new areas of the port district. Borough transportation planner Brad Sworts said the loop would also provide access to new bulk-commodity storage pads.

Find Daily News reporter Rindi White online at adn.com/contact/rwhite or call her at 352-6709.


By RINDI WHITE
rwhite@adn.com