Wednesday, June 19, 2013
Look At What's Going On Under The Port
The I-Team's Andrea Gusty goes on an exclusive tour under the Port of Anchorage and finds corrosion at its worst. The piles are so corroded that the metal flakes off with the slightest touch.
(Anchorage, Alaska) Depending on who you ask, the Port of Anchorage expansion project is ether an essential project for Alaska, or a waste of money. But for those who work there, bringing the port up to par is not coming fast enough.
When the Port of Anchorage was built, engineers assumed it would have a 50-year life span. Now 50 years later, they are running into real structural problems.
“You just don’t have the confidence that it withstand the loads that it was intended,” says port engineer Todd Cowles.
It is a reality that has some port workers scared. Thursday’s 5.2-magnitude earthquake shook the Port offices so much, the director of marketing and public affairs was ready to evacuate.
“I was sitting there with my colleague and she said, ‘I think I felt an earthquake,’” recalls Emily Cotter. “About three seconds later we felt a giant shaking motion and it really rattled me. I was up and out of my chair and headed toward the stairwell telling everyone else to follow me.”
The problem is that the port facilities were not built to last this long. When the tide in Cook Inlet is low, it exposes the corrosion on the steel pilings that hold up the port.
Maintenance crews have made Band-Aid fixes on the problem piles by welding metal sleeves on, but they estimate 1,300 more piles need extensive repairs.
“There's a crack forming right there,” pointed out Cowles during a skiff ride at low tide Thursday afternoon.
Repairs have been focused on the berths where the shipping companies Tote and Horizon dock because those areas hold the heaviest loads. As a result, the steel piles under the port office are in the worst shape.
“Anywhere we have a spilt, or a butt weld that is gone, or a gaping hole, you have lost the capacity of that pile,” says Cowles.
The corrosion is so bad the metal flakes off with the slightest touch. With most of the piles only about a half-inch thick, many holes go all the way through.
“We can’t fix them all every summer—we've got to prioritize,” says Cowles. “We get about 20 a year at the rate we are going, with the money that we are reserving from the expansion activities.”
The price tag to repair just 20 piles a season tops $1.5 million. But those repairs simply made the port operational. No one knows what will happen during the next big earthquake, because the only studies that have been done do not take into account the massive corrosion.
“Our emphasis is largely on just the gravity load resisting system, the types of loads we deal with operationally everyday, not the earthquake loads.”
The only thing that will fix things permanently, and make sure it's able to withstand an earthquake is to rebuild, but with little support for the entire $1 billion project, it has been scaled back. Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan is now pushing a $322 million construction plan, but that plan does not call for replacing any of the problem pilings.