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Mat-Su

Mat-Su to spend another $1.6 million on failing Port MacKenzie barge dock

PALMER — Another $1.6 million will flow to the little-used and failing barge dock at Port MacKenzie after the Matanuska-Susitna Borough Assembly grudgingly approved the money this week.

Several Assembly members voiced deep concern during a Tuesday meeting but voted 6-1 to move money from several borough accounts to pay for the repairs.

The money is just the latest spent on a failing dock that saw just one barge call last year amid ongoing repairs.

The Mat-Su dock is of the same unusual design — open cell sheet pile construction — used in a botched Port of Anchorage expansion project, though officials say the problems are different.

The Assembly previously approved $2.3 million for a 2016 repair to a large gap in a piece of steel that let seawater undermine part of the dock. The repair failed in October, triggering the need for the new repairs.

In April it approved more than $500,000 to stabilize a damaged cell in the dock ahead of a more permanent fix.

Borough Manager John Moosey told the Assembly Tuesday that the insurance reimbursement on past repairs is "in doubt."

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The dock is part of the larger port created to generate industry for the borough but running in the red.

Assembly member Jim Sykes, who represents a swath of Mat-Su from the Knik River to Lake Louise, said Tuesday's vote marks the end of his support for port repairs without better marketing or activity.

"It's kind of a fine line between … are we farsighted visionaries of an eventually successful port, or are we just fools pouring more money down a black hole?" Sykes said before voting in support of the funding.

Some on the Assembly members still remain hopeful the port will succeed.

Dan Mayfield, whose Big Lake district includes the port, said the repairs are necessary to preserve what he called "an asset that we really have to protect."

Crews "not once but twice" hit buried rock while working on the dock during installation and the repairs last year, Mayfield said. "The new plan does avoid that area."

Others are done with it.

George McKee, representing an area between Wasilla and Palmer and the lone "no" vote, likened the dock to the abandoned Valdez grain elevator and the borough's never-used ferry, sold at a multimillion-dollar loss.

"But we can't get out from under it," McKee said Tuesday night. "I can't in good conscience vote to spend another nickel on that turkey."

Zaz Hollander

Zaz Hollander is a veteran journalist based in the Mat-Su and is currently an ADN local news editor and reporter. She covers breaking news, the Mat-Su region, aviation and general assignments. Contact her at zhollander@adn.com.

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