Congressional and local officials this week welcomed news that the Port of Alaska is set to receive $68.7 million in grant funds from the U.S. Department of Transportation.
The money is part of a larger bundle of federal spending on “port-related infrastructure and ferry terminal projects” approved under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that passed last year in Congress, according to U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s office.
“This grant award comes at a crucial time for the Port of Alaska and Municipality, as we work to rebuild and modernize Alaska’s most important piece of infrastructure,” said Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson in a written statement. “Progress like this puts us one step closer to delivering food security for Alaska through a seismically resilient and modern Port of Alaska.”
The federal money unlocks additional funds approved by the Alaska Legislature in its last capital budget. Lawmakers sent $100 million for port improvements, and set aside another $100 million only to be released if they were matched by federal dollars.
“This grant is a 60-40 match,” said Port of Alaska spokesman Jim Jager of the federal funds. “This is 60% of it, and the other 40% will come out of state funds.”
The spending will pay for phase one of what’s known as the North Extension Stabilization at the port, part of a longer, pricier overhaul of the cargo terminals under a modernization project expected to take a full 10 years to complete. Stabilization work to shore up the physical terrain undergirding the port’s pilings, docks and terminals will begin in the spring of 2023 and be completed by 2024.
“If we had an earthquake and that land liquified, it would very likely flow into the existing dock and cause a progressive failure of that whole dock,” Jager said of the need to stabilize the land mass at the port’s north end. “We’re gonna go in and harden all that land up.”
Workers will start with “deep-soil mix-in,” boring holes into the ground, removing material, mixing it with cement and then reinserting what are essentially support columns to fortify the terrain. After that they’ll begin digging out fill material for disposal, cut out old sheet pile, and deposit sloped rock to further protect port infrastructure, all while keeping cargo docks open for the ship deliveries that bring in a significant share of the state’s food and goods.
“It’s half of the repair project. And it’s the half that we have to do before we can move forward with a cost-effective dock replacement program,” Jager said.
The phase one work will incur no costs on port users like commercial shipping companies.
According to Murkowski’s office, in addition to the Port of Alaska, other grant recipients include:
• $10.1 million for the Port of Adak “for making repairs and updates to the primary supply pier as well as for planning and permitting work.”
• $5.3 million for adding more than 1,000 feet of new floating dock on the Sand Point Floating Dock project.
• $28.2 million for “upgrades and modifications at three Prince William Sound ferry terminals — Cordova, Tatitlek, and Chenega — to accommodate Alaska Marine Highway System ferries.”
Murkowski, as well as her fellow Republican colleagues Sen. Dan Sullivan and the late Rep. Don Young, all voted in favor of the Infrastructure bill.
“Working together with Senator Murkowski and Congressman Young, we’ve been able to secure roughly $120 million in federal grants for the Port of Alaska in the last three years,” Sullivan said in a written statement.
“It’s a very substantial chunk of change,” Jager said of the latest funds.
The full modernization project at the state’s largest port is expected to cost $1.85 billion, according to city officials in Anchorage, who for years have asked state and federal lawmakers with help funding repairs.