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Port of Anchorage future hangs in limbo

By Emily Carlson 5:02 PM December 13, 2013

The port expansion project will end up costing taxpayers ten times more than it was supposed to.

ANCHORAGE – The Port of Anchorage is the place you rely on to take in everything you need on a day-to-day basis. It’s been under construction, however, for more than a decade.

In the first two parts of our series, we told you the problems and the people who may be to blame. Now, we look to the future.

Silence has echoed at the port for three years. Construction is at a halt. Right now, no one can agree on how to move forward.

“We’ve been doing about four and a half years of clean up,” said Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan.

Sullivan said he walked into a mess and is doing his best to move forward. He’s been working with the Anchorage Assembly to find a solution. Many, such as Assemblyman Paul Honeman, are so angry, he said, it’s hard to see a clear path out of the mess.

“Clearly we’ve lost a lot of ground and a lot of time and a lot of money over this project,” Honeman said.

It’s been 12 years since the expansion began. According to numbers from the Port of Anchorage, $300 million has already been spent there. Three years with no progress. The question now: Does the municipality start from scratch?

“We won’t have to start all over, but there’s definitely some stuff that has to be undone,” Sullivan said.

The municipality is weighing its options. It paid engineering consultant CH2M Hill $500,000 to come up with a plan. They came up with six and recommended three.

Option one:  It’s the simplest plan and calls solely for completing the existing construction on the wharf. That would cost $337 million.

Option two: Finish the wharf and add a new barge berth. That would cost $642 million.

Option three: A hybrid of the first two plans. It adds a new barge berth, replaces the old terminals and allows for future expansion. It would cost about $602 million.

“It’s not a cheap project, it has never been a cheap project,” said Sen. Mark Begich. “We’re have to figure out these mechanisms to fund it and move forward.”

Begich would know. It will be his job to go, hat in hand, to the federal government to ask for much of that money.

“Up to this point they’ve funded about half the project and going forward people are skeptical that they’ll still be able to contribute at that level, but we’re going to try,” Sullivan said.

The problem is the federal government has already shelled out millions for the port. KTVA tracked the money, and here’s what we found:

According to the Municipality of Anchorage, the port expansion has received $439 million so far — $220 million of that from the State of Alaska, $139 million from the federal government and $80 million from the port. More than $300 million is already spent, leaving just $137 million left to fix the mess, well shy of the $600 million the plans call for to finish the project.

“It’s frustrating, but I really do feel like our hard work is gonna pay off with clear direction and good, solid management instead of what happened in the past,” Sullivan said. “It’s such a vital piece of public infrastructure; it has to get completed.”

The final price tag is somewhere near $1 billion. The port will end up costing taxpayers ten times more than it was supposed to. In the meantime, cargo ships do the best they can to deliver goods on aging, rusty docks, hoping they’ll hold up until your elected leaders decide how to finish.

The Municipality of Anchorage will reveal the contractor who will finish the project in the next few weeks. Meanwhile, the mayor is asking state legislators for $250 million next year to complete the project. Sullivan said at this point, he just wants to put a Band-Aid on the port and complete a scaled-down version.

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