(Alaska DJC 10.2021)
If all continues going largely according to plan, the first major piece of a long-sought and badly needed overhaul to the Port of Alaska will be in service by year-end, according to officials.
Construction crews are in their second year of work on the new petroleum and cement terminal, or PCT, located south of most of the city-owned port’s existing docks at a cost of about $200 million.
“It’s on time and on budget,” spokesman Jim Jager said in an interview.
The workers were able to drive the necessary support pilings into the sea floor before Cook Inlet’s endangered Beluga whales started frequenting the water near the port as they feed on late-summer salmon returning to nearby streams, according to Jager.
The new PCT will replace a petroleum offloading terminal originally built in 1965 that sustained significant damage in the November 2018 earthquake, according to port officials. Handling jet fuel shipments for the world-scale cargo traffic at nearby Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport is a primary line of business for the port.
Representatives for fuel-handling companies and cement suppliers initially balked at tariff increases for offloading their products at the port proposed in 2019 and meant to fund the PCT work, contending the rate hikes could disrupt the highly competitive cargo business and would increase the cost of construction materials in the state.
However, the Anchorage Assembly unanimously approved scaled-back tariff increases in late December 2019 shortly before PCT work began the following spring.
Port and city officials repeatedly stressed through the months-long debate that the PCT needed to be done first, and soon, to start a flow of complex logistics and shuffling at the docks that would allow the port to remain open in the midst of a near total rebuild before inspectors deem the current facilities unsafe.
The PCT also marks the first construction of new dock facilities at the aging port since 2010 when severe damage to installed sheet pile was discovered and the original port expansion project was halted. That project cost roughly $300 million of municipal, state and federal money with left little to show for it.
Under the current Port of Alaska Modernization Program schedule, crews will begin attempting to stabilize the shoreline on the northern portion of the port grounds in the next couple years and start replacing the port administration building, which sits on the docks, next year.
Design and permitting for replacing the port’s two general cargo docks — that carry the vast majority of consumer goods entering the state — will continue until 2024. Replacement work on Terminal 1 used by Matson is tentatively set for 2025, with construction starting on Terminal 2 used primarily by TOTE Maritime in 2028 under the current schedule.
While much of the remaining work planned at the port is unfunded, the national focus on infrastructure development and rehabilitation will almost certainly result in additional federal funding avenues for port officials to follow.
The U.S. Maritime Administration, which the city is currently suing for its role in leading the prior failed port expansion project, also awarded port officials a $25 million grant for the PCT in November 2019 that helped mitigate the tariff hikes.
“We see lots of opportunities to pursue money for the Port Modernization Program,” Jager said of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that passed the Senate Aug. 10.
According to figures provided by staff to Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who participated in negotiations with President Joe Biden on the bill that currently adds about $550 billion in new infrastructure spending over five years, includes $2.25 billion in new funding nationwide for the Port Infrastructure Development Program among its many funding provisions.