Port of Anchorage: Failed Engineering Overseen By Anchorage Officials

The new port of Anchorage was the largest project was the largest project underway in the city of Anchorage Alaska. When the project was begun the completion date was set at 2011, that date has now been pushed back to 2021. With the city living on credit as its main source of income is property taxes (that are inflated as all the property has been overvalued to squeeze any extra cash that it can out of the cities residents), 2021 seems to be yet another date that will come and go without seeing this project completed.

The original price tag of $360 million has escalated to at least $1 billion dollars. With the price of oil well below the price that it takes to even break even the Alaskan economy is living on borrowed time, with that said anchorages seemingly transient population will soon be fleeing leaving the ballooned government that was created during it’s many years of abundant wealth from oil to slowly implode upon itself.

A city advisory commission is wanting a “Independent” review of all aspects of the design of the failed port. Whether the new port can even be built as designed is being questioned by engineers! A large percentage of the work that was done in 2010 was to dismantle construction that had just been completed a year before. Sheets of steel that were drove into Cook Inlet, (even though they were bending as the construction work was being done and not even fitting together as engineered) were then to be ripped up and lay as a demolished reminder of what a mess this project has now become. The steel piles that were used were supposed to hook one into the next down the entire length, creating a strong, interlocked structure.

At the time the port project was started, then senator of Alaska Mark Begich, was a supporter of the project but even he now has doubts about its feasibility. He has sought an accounting of the spending and an explanation of what went wrong with the construction.

“I am troubled by reports I have received of complications during this year’s construction season and of the potential financial ramifications for federal taxpayers and for other entities which have contributed funding for the expansion project,” the senator wrote in a Dec. 15 letter to the federal Maritime Administration, which is overseeing the project.

Alaskans might also be troubled with this, for it is their one billion dollars that will be spent and much of it seems to have been wasted in this failed project which seems to have had little oversight. By coincidence, Begich was the mayor of Anchorage at the time all properties in the city were escalated well beyond their worth, when all fines and fees in Anchorage were raised to bleed the people of Anchorage of any extra wealth that could be bled to feed the bloated government that has now been created. Passing bond after bond, with a populace that seemed to not realize that “bonds” were loans that one day would be called due. That day is approaching fast.

Ken Privratsky recently retired as an executive with Horizon Lines Inc., one of the two major shippers that dock at the port, and has been following the project for years. He stated “What’s becoming evident is we’ve got a real mess on our hands,” he said. Well that may be a understatement!

The port of Anchorage is crucial to every resident of the city as food, clothing, cars and trucks, just about everything that the city survives on comes through this very port. Without the port of Anchorage Residents of the city would be left struggling for just the essentials to survive.

Port Director Bill Sheffield, and also former Governor of Alaska pushed for the current design which was always questioned by engineers. The designed used was a bulkhead system, it was a patented design called (OPEN CELL SHEET PILE). The design consists of a series of horseshoe-shaped cells made of steel sheet pile, with gravel fill behind the dock face within each cell. When completed it would use over 1.5 miles of steel. Long tail walls would reach back toward shore to secure the structure.Instead of using a traditional dock on pilings this design would extend the Anchorage shore into the sea. The old port of Anchorage had parts of it that dated back to the 1964 “good Friday Earthquake”. It was deteriorating and costly to maintain. The replacement of it began over a decade ago and would add over 135 acres of new land to Anchorage.

The project would have accommodated much larger ships, a new port administration building, staging areas for the military, a rail line, and security checkpoints, (which of course have been completed). It would also have added new cruise ship and passenger ferry terminals but even these have been cut from the project yet the cost goes up and up.

In 2009 the work consisted largely of inspecting year-old sheet pile, ripping out damaged sections, replacing damaged cells and installing pads for construction cranes. No new sections were added. Some of the work that was planned for 2011 will include replacing the damaged steel.

In the state of Alaska the port serves 85 percent of the population. One excuse for delays related to endangered belugas have slowed the work. The firm overseeing the construction, Integrated Concepts and Research Corp., or ICRC. Shippers are unhappy at the delays. Horizon Lines Inc. bought three new giant cranes for $25 million to unload containers. But that area won’t be ready for four years. “So we’re selling the cranes,” said Ken Privratsky

Without the help of the late U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, and with a general anti-earmark mood in Congress, Anchorage’s ability to secure the money beyond what has been already spent on the port has taken a big hit. Sheffield insists he will come up with the more than extra money needed to finish the job. He says he has been able to patch together $50 million to $60 million a year through port revenue, loans, state and federal grants, and federal earmarks to keep the work going.

Port officials have stated that “Although these setbacks are frustrating, they are not insurmountable and the project remains on track,” Once done, engineers say, the dock will stand for 50 years and its life span can extend far beyond that with heavy maintenance.

It seems as if no one is stepping forward to take the blame for the port project’s problems. While the city owns and manages the port, in 2003 it gave the lead contracting role to the federal Maritime Administration, which had never run a port-construction project before. That agency hired Integrated Concepts and Research Corp. as project manager. ICRC contends it properly carried out its role as project manager by uncovering problems. It is making changes, including hiring additional staff as on-site inspectors rather than using subcontractors. In a city that wants a inspection and permit for even a electrical outlet installed in a privately owned and paid for home, ( No home in Anchorage is actually ever owned by anyone, even if it has been fully paid for, for with the outrages property taxes, there is always a cost that would be close to renting a apartment to live under the illusion that your house is or will ever truly be yours,)it seems unbelievable that they are not capable of even inspecting their own projects or work. The Maritime Administration says it’s done what was required in its 2003 agreement with the city. “While we have had unexpected complications with the installation, it is not likely to have an impact on the actual construction material life expectancy once the installation problems are resolved,” the Maritime Administration says.

In his Dec. 27 response to Begich’s letter, the head of the Maritime Administration said he too was concerned about the damage. The federal agency ordered additional inspections and has committed more staff members in Washington, D.C., and Anchorage to the project, Maritime administrator David Matsuda wrote.

Port Director Bill Sheffield who directed this project stated: “We’re not happy. We’re disappointed. We’ve lost some time on the schedule,” the project is experiencing delays and increased costs because of required shutdowns related to protections for endangered beluga whales, Sheffield said.

Privratsky, the retired Horizon Lines senior vice president, said there wasn’t sufficient oversight of the work in 2009. “That entire project is suspect because of that,” he said. “We’re discovering some of the warts. Unfortunately I think that the jury is still out on the extent of it.” I am not sure just who this jury is, but in the municipality of anchorage the officials seem to be the prosecutors, judges and jury’s which leaves a lot to be said about anything done by the politicians that run this city.

Port officials stated the project is particularly challenging because ships still must be able to dock at the old port while the new one is being built alongside. The work must be phased in over a longer time than planned initially to ensure ships can access temporary berths, officials said. Apparently some of these things were not thoroughly thought through before beginning the project. Additionally, “In a situation like this, every party stands up and says ‘it’s not my fault,’ ” ICRC chief engineer Brett Flint told the Assembly Port Committee last week. “In reality, the truth probably turns out to be somewhere in the middle.”

When Sheffield first began the project it was going to add 85 acres to the port (50 acres less than what is now planned) and the estimated cost was about $150 million. “It’s a very attractive alternative for us,” Sheffield said at the time. “It’s bigger and it’s millions cheaper, and money is getting harder to come by now.” An equivalent conventional dock would have cost an estimated $230 million, he contended.

A local engineering firm had submitted a design for a smaller conventional dock estimated to cost around $100 million. It could have been completed by 2005.The winning design came from the firm of Peratrovich, Nottingham & Drage Inc., another local firm that now goes by PND Engineers Inc.

One further problems that were apparently not accounted for was that the sheets of steel are driven into the seabed with giant hammers and vibratory machines maneuvered by construction cranes. The sheets are as long as 90 feet, of which as much as 15 feet is buried in the clay, muck and gravel. The metal is one-half-inch thick, and the steel sheets can bend like a bad nail if they hit hard soil or rock.

Of just 66 cells targeted for inspection, 28 showed some damage, some of it dramatic, and three more were said to need further review. Another 26 cells, at the north end of the new barge berths were visible at low tide and are sound, port officials say.
Some of the sheets were “ripped and curled out like a corkscrew about 3 feet above mud line,” in many cases, the joints had separated. Gravel packed behind the steel cells to create new land was spilling out. In some spots, sinkholes were forming.
Further inspections targeted the walls reaching back to shore. They are packed in gravel on both sides. Hundreds of those sheets had to be pulled up for inspection. Out of 2,611 sheets examined at one point it was revealed that there were 635 damaged sheets.

Lynn Dokoozian, a program manager with ICRC told the Assembly Port Committee, “A lot of people have opinions, but they are not necessarily based upon fact and a rigorous evaluation of the data. And that’s still to come.” Stiff clays, hard pile driving, methods used by the contractor or other things, (could have apparently caused some problems) Dokoozian said. “So it could be a combination of a number of causes, not just a single cause,” she said. She maintained: “We know that the structure can be built.” Which is always a good thing if you are taking on a building project.

The contractor that was chosen to install the sheet pile in 2009 was QAP. A different contractor, West Construction Co., took over the work and pre-drilled before hammering in the steel pile. The port says the West-installed sheets, replacing damaged ones, have been problem-free, proving that the design will work when construction is done properly. QAP, which used a subcontractor to drive the pile, hasn’t returned repeated calls.

ICRC has told the city the Army Corps of Engineers did an independent review, But the Corps says it never was asked to sign off on the structure and that it didn’t. “This review has nothing to do with the engineering aspects of the project itself,” Koenig said. “Whether the project fails or does not fail has nothing to do with this review.”

The city Assembly in March 2008 agreed to let the port borrow up to $75 million. The city is not guaranteeing that loan, officials say. When the project is complete, this debt will be rolled into a bond that will be paid off through port revenue, Sheffield said. The city has put in more than $49 million so far, from the loan and port revenue.

Port officials say the project was designed to be built in phases. A new berth for barges is already generating a little revenue. But a second barge berth is one of the areas with the most damage, and much of it must be redone. Temporary berths for the cargo ships are in progress. One of the last steps will involve tearing out the old dock and building new, permanent berths for the big ships. All of the phases don’t have to be built, the port says. “Each phase is independently stable” and can stand even if the money for all the phases never comes through, according to the port.

Although Horizon wanted a bigger dock to accommodate bigger cranes for bigger ships. But Totem Ocean Trailer Express Inc., or TOTE, another major cargo shipper into Anchorage, doesn’t use cranes to off-load trailers from its ships. It has been vocal from the beginning that it didn’t need a bigger dock — and didn’t expect to pay for it.

Totem Ocean Trailers Express Inc. stated that ther cargo ships have had to leave the dock early during extreme low tides because of construction-related silt in its berth. “As a tenant here, we can’t afford for it to remain like this. We need this thing to get funded and get finished,” said George Lowery, TOTE’s Alaska director.

Former Gov. Bill Sheffield retired as director of the Port of Anchorage as of Jan. 15, but will get a $60,000-a-year consulting contract from the city, Mayor Dan Sullivan said Thursday. The 83-year-old Sheffield has been port director since 2001. He has been at the center of controversy recently because of serious construction problems and escalating costs for expansion and renovations of the port. He still is helping Anchorage as he serves on the Board of Directors for the Alaska Railroad.

2015-2016 Board of Directors as pictured, left to right:

Board Chair: Jon Cook, Chief Financial Officer, Airport Equipment Rentals, Inc.

Board Vice-Chair: Governor Bill Sheffield, Consultant

Marc Luiken, Commissioner, Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities

John Binkley, President, Alaska Cruise Association

Chris Hladick, Commissioner, Alaska Department of Commerce, Community & Economic Development

Linda Leary, Transportation & Telecom Consultant

Jack Burton, Track Inspector, Alaska Railroad Corporation


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