On a quiet afternoon last month – I think it was a Sunday – I happened to take a look at Knik Arm and noticed one of Totem Ocean Trailer Express‘ steamships departing the Port of Anchorage more than a little bit early. To explain a bit, two steamship companies (Horizon Lines and the aforementioned TOTE) have ships that sail from Tacoma to Anchorage, typically arriving early each Sunday & Tuesday morning. Those vessels generally depart in the evening so it struck me as odd that TOTE’s ship had cast off shortly after noon, especially since the tide looked low enough that it seemed unlikely it could clear a mid-channel shoal.
Things got stranger in a hurry; two tug boats from Cook Inlet Tug & Barge, which assists both companies with docking at our port, steamed out and turned TOTE’s ship to point northward. The three craft then “loitered” for a couple hours. Curiosity got the better of me and I called a gentleman at TOTE with whom I’d worked in the past. He explained that the most recent phase of the Port expansion project had created an eddy where TOTE’s ships dock, thus increasing silt deposits the Army Corps of Engineers hadn’t been able to dredge sufficiently so the ship had to cast off lest it go to ground. (For those unfamiliar with ocean shipping grounding a vessel is a very, very bad thing.) Further, funding for the project didn’t seem to be coming as planned and his company was quite concerned.
Given the critical importance of Anchorage’s port – a recent study found that, “about 80% of Alaska’s maritime trade (and 90% of all its consumer imports) arrive through the port.” – I found this information rather disconcerting and asked Assembly Chair Traini to schedule a work session on Port issues so Assembly members could get an update on the project. As part of the work session representatives from Horizon and TOTE, the Port’s two biggest customers, and Cook Inlet Tug & Barge were invited to share their perspectives. Aside from the matters I’d already discovered we learned several interesting facts:
About mid-way through the meeting Chair Traini surprised me by announcing he was forming an Assembly committee to focus on Port-related issues, and that I would chair it. (Okay, it wasn’t a total surprise; he leaned over and told me of his plan about two minutes before he announced it.) The idea seemed well-received; in a subsequent e-mail Governor Sheffield wrote:
I thought the committee was a good idea. As I said the assembly needs to understand the project to be able to support it and field some questions. It takes more than a 15 minute meeting once a year to explain what we do down here. It is a large and complex project and when finished will be a world class port.
I’m shooting for a first meeting on Tuesday, May 18, and have already compiled a list of areas I’d like to address:
There are certainly other topics worthy of discussion so I asked both port officials and port users to offer them. If you happen to have any ideas please pass them along!
Copyright - Patrick Flynn, All Rights Reserved