Port of Anchorage at risk of collapsing into Cook Inlet

Published: Jul. 28, 2017 at 6:11 PM AKDT
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Roughly 85% of statewide infrastructure comes into Alaska through the Port of Anchorage, a port that is nearly 60 years old, covered in rust, and according to city officials, at risk of collapsing into the inlet.

"The engineers who do the inspections on an annual basis have told us that we've got about 10 more years of useful life in the facility that we have right now," said Steve Ribuffo, Director, Port of Anchorage. "If we don't do anything significant to improve that, we're going to have to start shutting down portions of the dock, because they'll be in such condition that they won't support operational loads anymore."

Ribuffo says that 10 year lifespan is solely based on the current condition and structure of the port. He says if a seismic event were to occur anytime between now and then, the damage would be catastrophic.

To fix the problem, the city is in phase one of a five-phase Port Modernization Project. Ribuffo says phase one includes stabilizing the shore line along the north and south sides of the port, and building a new petroleum cement terminal.

To complete the project, the city estimates it will cost at least $556 million, a price tag that could go up based on funding and timing. To help pay for the project, money could come from the private sector, federal funds, tariffs put on cargo that comes through the port, a lawsuit left over from the failed port expansion project, which could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars, and state money in the form of a grant or general obligation bond.

"The state should definitely be a partner in this moving forward, and they should be a partner because 90% of the goods that cross those docks go into all of Alaska and all of Alaska benefits from the port here in Anchorage," said Mayor Ethan Berkowitz. "There's a measure of uncertainty we feel because of the state's fiscal predicament aggravates the uncertainty. So the sooner the state gets its act together, the sooner we have fiscal stability and the easier it'll be for us to chart a path forward."

Once the project is complete, Ribuffo says the port won't get any bigger, but it will be brand new. The city plans to build all new marine terminals, upgrade facilities to accommodate modern shipping operations, and build a new dock which will extend about 150 feet into deeper water and will be moved about 300 feet from where it currently sits.

While the Port website says they plan to complete the project by 2022, Port Director Ribuffo says that's a bit optimistic, saying it will likely still be another 8 or 9 years before the project is complete.