City picks CH2M Hill to manage troubled port expansion project

The Sullivan administration has picked engineering firm CH2M Hill to take over management of the expansion of the Port of Anchorage -- replacing a federal agency that left the project over budget and behind schedule.

At a City Hall news conference Thursday, Mayor Dan Sullivan said his administration had chosen CH2M Hill over six competing firms for the five-year, $30 million contract, with an option for two two-year extensions of $12 million each.

The contract must be approved by the Anchorage Assembly at its next meeting, later this month.

The work includes environmental documentation and permitting, budgeting, quality control, and oversight of construction.

The expansion, which began in 2006, has been essentially stalled since the end of the 2009 construction season, as the city evaluated the viability of an initial design called Open Cell Sheet Pile.

Between 2003 and 2011, estimated costs grew nearly fivefold, from $211 million to $1 billion, according to a federal audit.

Some of the work at the site will have to be "undone," Sullivan said. A previous study found that a new dock that's part of the expansion would be at risk of failure in a major earthquake.


Sullivan said that the city next plans to run a request for proposals process to choose a new design firm for the project's completion. The same firm could also end up doing the construction.

Work at the port likely won't resume until 2016, though it's possible it could begin sooner "if we get timely response and timely review and approval of the next several stages," Sullivan said.

Sullivan -- whose term began in 2009, after the expansion was well underway -- contrasted what he said was CH2M Hill's "extensive" experience with that of the U.S. Maritime Administration, which was initially responsible for the work at the port.

"They've got a wealth of experience around the world in just this very sort of project management," Sullivan said, referring to CH2M Hill.

A CH2M Hill executive at the press conference, Stacey Jones, cited the firm's experience with a port project in Gulfport, Miss., as well as its work on the expansion of the Panama Canal.

She said CH2M Hill would be working with three subcontractors, including engineering firm HDR, as well as a firm that supplies cranes, and another that will monitor the acoustics of pile driving and any effects on Cook Inlet's beluga whale population.

Even as the Sullivan administration proposes hiring CH2M Hill to help complete the project, the city is also suing the firm over the port's problems. That's based on work performed by another company, Veco Alaska Inc., that CH2M Hill later acquired.

Sullivan maintained that the litigation would not impact the city's work with CH2M Hill.

Reach Nathaniel Herz at or 257-4311.


Nathaniel Herz

Anchorage-based independent journalist Nathaniel Herz has been a reporter in Alaska for nearly a decade, with stints at the Anchorage Daily News and Alaska Public Media. Read his newsletter, Northern Journal, at