News from Patrick Flynn

Port committee update, first edition

A newly-constituted Assembly Port committee held its first meeting on Tuesday, May 18.  Prior to that, there were three stories in the local paper discussing the subject:

  • The first, which ran on May 10, provided an overview of last month’s work session.
  • The second, which ran on May 18, focused on the growth of the “Port MacKenzie” shoal (not my description – that came from someone who knows Cook Inlet hydrology far better than me).
  • The third, which also ran on May 18, describes the immediate problem faced by TOTE that attracted my attention back in April.

The three members able to attend our meeting spent almost two hours accompanying port and project staff on a tour of the project, ranging nearly to the Elmendorf-Fort Richardson border to view various locations of aggregate materials used for fill.  We also observed a vibratory hammer in use to ensure the fill materials settled according to engineering specifications.  Interesting points here; first, according to project staff in-ground monitors of the portions already completed are proving the new docks more stable than models predicted.  That’s good news.  Second, we also noted construction personnel spraying the working hammer with cool water, quickly evaporating to steam, in an effort to keep the equipment from overheating.  It seems that was a hard lesson learned from last year’s work.

From there we convened a working meeting with more port & project personnel as well as representatives from TOTE, Horizon, Aircraft Service International Group (think of them as the airport gas station, which ships considerable amounts of jet fuel via the port) and Flint Hills Resources.  That gave us the opportunity to discuss the topics I mentioned in my previous post, to wit:

  1. Discussion of engineering challenges and seismic stability.  As alluded to above I came away somewhat encouraged on this point.  ICRC officials, who are the project staff, discussed third-party review and confirmation of their engineering processes and offered to provide a list of similarly-sized projects that employed the open-cell sheet pile technology used in this project.  Stakeholder representatives had no misgivings on the design front and Horizon’s folks said they have the same sort of dock in Dutch Harbor, which has held up for many years.
  2. Update on project time lines and financing plans.  This part was not so encouraging.  The “North Extension” slated to provide temporary berths to TOTE and Horizon as other phases of the project advance were originally slated for completion as early as this year but now isn’t expected to be ready in 2012 (for TOTE) and 2014 (for Horizon).  Port officials believe they have sufficient funds to ensure these two essential elements are completed and offered to provide an updated financial plan, which we expect to receive later this month.
  3. Discussion of migrating steamship operations to the [North Extension] and attendant costs.  To explain, TOTE & Horizon have terminals located quite close to their existing berths.  When they move to what I refer to as their “vacation homes” the berths will be roughly one mile further away, which increases the costs of trucking trailers and containers between ships and terminals.  While no one had exact answers on this subject, TOTE made a rough prediction of an additional $1 million per year in operational cost and Horizon estimated the need for six additional trucks and truck drivers.
  4. Practicality of maintaining operations at the [North Extension] in case of future funding delays.  A couple things to consider here; first, TOTE feels more dredging than originally planned is necessary to ensure the safe turning of their vessels as Knik Arm grows more shallow to the north.  Second, funding questions mean the timing for replacement of existing berths is undefined.  Even under the best-case scenario it appears there will be a period of several years after TOTE returns to a berth near their current location but Horizon remains at their “vacation home.”  Because both carriers dock on the same days (Sundays & Tuesdays) their truck traffic will then intersect, which creates another ground operation complication.

In sum, I feel the discussion yielded good news, bad news and more questions.  The good news is my increased comfort with the engineering and the likelihood that existing operations can be maintained with the completion of the North Extension.  The bad news revolves around funding and the very real possibility that existing operations will end up at their “vacation homes” far longer than expected, which increases shipping costs and, ultimately, the cost of products upon which most of Alaska depends.  The questions stem from dredging issues and concerns.  To that end I spoke with the Army Corps of Engineers last week and am working to set up a committee meeting with them during the week of June 7.  That will give us a chance to better understand the challenges of maintaining shipping operations in upper Cook Inlet, and discuss the related concerns.

With that, I welcome your questions and comments!



This contribution was made on Tuesday, 01. June 2010 at 06:05 and was published under the category Port committee, Transportation. You can follow comments on this entry through the RSS-Feed.

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  1. Pat……………great blog; keep up the good work. I am confused by the staff comments about the stability of the dock being “more stable than models predicted”; if the dock is moving out to sea like a glacier, how stable was it originally suppose to be? Could you expand on that thought in your next chronicle? With regard to Horizon’s comments about the Dtuch Harbor structure, I guess we’ll really know the answer to that question when they get the real “shaker”. Wonder if anyone at Horizon is giving odds on that? Anyway, thanks for taking the time to keep the public informed about doings down at the Port…………..Moose

    Comment: Moose Johnson – 02. July 2010 @ 1:45 pm

  2. Kudos Pat, nice job with the blog! Heard the Port just let a big contract to ‘fix” the new wharf; what’s that all about, is it broke? Knew a Moose Johnson out on Halbouty Road in North Kenai back in the 70s — kind of a wild man in those days. Seems to me engineers are pretty smart guys that are buidling these docks, what’s their name Dennis Drage or something? My nephew is going to one those fancy colleges back east to be an engineer. The kid can’t drive a nail without bending it over, but he sure knows how to fix my computer when it breaks………..tell us more about this fit-it job at the Port…………………

    Comment: Randolph (Randy) Mann – 06. July 2010 @ 8:35 am

  3. Hey Randy, yeah that was me! I lived out there on my dad’s old homestead. We had some wild times at the Bishop Creek Bar in those days!! I was out at Dutch a few years ago and saw that new Horizon dock, wuuueeeeee. Man that thing is sitting right there at the base of Ballyhoo Mountain; the water drops off real quick there. That puppy ever starts to slide they’ll have to look for the debris in Singapore. I’m still on the homestead, so if you ever get to Kenai look me up. Like what this Pat guy is doing with his blog.

    Comment: Moose Johnson – 08. July 2010 @ 7:58 am

  4. Hey Moose…………..I heard they got one of them sheet pile deals down by you somewhere. I think at the old Chevron refinery? Heard the ice and stuff ripped the crap out of it and they’re in the process of hualing it a way. You heard anything about that? Must be close to your homestead. I think we met at Eddie’s Last Frontier Club back in the 70’s………right there near the Kenai City limits. Guess that place was closed long ago………..Randy

    Comment: Randolph (Randy) Mann – 08. July 2010 @ 9:36 am

  5. One of those docks collapsed in Skagway. I think it was in the 60s. Some poor guy died. They traced the whole thing back to an underwater volcano or something like that. They have that all covered in the formulas now. I’m telling you those engineers have a lot of college. If anyone can figure it out they can. Rock solid and dirt cheap, that’s what I think.
    Anyway Randy, it’s all about Economics with a capital E! Once they build this thing the city will make a fortune. All those cruise ships in Juneau and Ketchikan, they will come here. The military too. They have the striker brigade and supply ships for the air force. There is also trade with China. All that plastic junk they sell at Wall mart and Costco, why ship it to California when Anchorage is closer?
    The real kicker Randy is that the Feds are paying for the whole thing. It’s free! All we have to do is sit back and collect the money.

    Rudy Lachinski

    Comment: Rudy Lachinski – 08. July 2010 @ 6:02 pm

  6. Rudy………….thanks for your thoughts on this. I heard about that Skagway situtation, something about the sun and the moon lining up at just the right wrong moment and the sucker let go. Some guy told me they found part of that dock down around Prince of Wales Island, but I don’t beleive all that bar room talk! Anyway it’s good to know that this new city dock is free. I wonder if they have to give the money back if it doesn’t work? Sounds like Tote is grounding their ships on some stuff being deposited from the new dock; jeeze! Is that estra dredging the Corps of Engineers is doing free too? This free money is great stuff, wish I could get some………….I am looking forward to Pat’s next update on this…………Randy

    Comment: Randolph (Randy) Mann – 09. July 2010 @ 7:37 am

  7. Randy……………I heard all that silting stuff is being caused by some dock they built over there at Pt. Mackenzie, somebody needs to figure this out. Pretty soon we’ll be able to walk over to Pt. Mackenzie. I think Anchorage should move their dock down to Nikiski, it will take years to fill up the inlet to here. Do you know why they built that dock over there at Pt. Mackenize, I never see any ships there when I fly to Anchorage? Must be some more of that free money. By the way, we could use some of that cheap plastic stuff down here when those ships start arriving from China, but you can keep the tourists from the cruise ships…………..Moose

    Comment: Moose Johnson – 09. July 2010 @ 7:49 am

  8. Pat, I heard that the new sheetpile dock at the Port is collapsing and some divers went down there and found big problems. Then, there was an unpublished bid solicitation that went out to select contractors to figure out how to fix it? People are saying that is why the second phase of the project is delayed. Who’s paying for all this? Are my property taxes going to increase?

    Comment: Shirley McCraken – 09. July 2010 @ 9:56 am

  9. Shirley……….. at the rate this is going you won’t need to worry about taxes, you’ll have to sell your house to pay them. Luckily, I’m down here in North Kenai so I guess I’m safe for now. Some guy fishing next to me on the Kenai last week mentioned that diving thing. That water is pretty muddy, wonder how thsoe guys do that? Don’t ask too many questions, Shirley; you may not like the answers. Where are those Daily News reporters when you need them?………if you hear anything else about the contract to fix the new dock post it. Why isn’t the contractor that broke it fixing it?……………..Moose

    Comment: Moose Johnson – 09. July 2010 @ 12:52 pm

  10. Wonder if there is a Plan somewhere for all this? Something like those Wall Street guys call a return on investment, but I don’t trust them either. Heck they darn near backrupted the country, we still may be bankrupt by the time its all over. This port thing could bankrupt Anchorage unless they get some more of that free money. I heard uncle sam is printing money faster than they can make paper……………Shirley keep the faith; it just can’t be as bad as it looks. Hope my nephew can get a job with one of these engineering companies when he finishs school………….Randy

    Comment: Randy Mann – 09. July 2010 @ 4:01 pm

  11. That ADN article about TOTE and how their berth is silting in because of the configuration of the new dock is pretty disconcerting. The new area of the port juts into the inlet, and apparently is causing silt to build up there. Now they are probably going to have to dredge more. Don’t they already spend a lot of money dredging at the Port? Seems to me they could’ve designed a dock that doesn’t block the natural flows and processes? Maybe one of those docks on piles like you see in the big Lower 48 Ports where there are environmental regulations and stuff like that that make it harder to fill tidelands. Now TOTE can’t even land at their own berth sometimes and must wait out the tides. That’s gotta cost money. Surely they have to pass on that added expense to each of us when we buy the cargo that’s coming in.

    Comment: Shirley McCraken – 14. July 2010 @ 10:57 am

  12. No, no ! Shirley, that’s free money. You have to wrap your brain around this concept of free money; the government just prints the stuff. What you have to worry about is if they wear out the presses! Stevens and Young had this stuff hot-wired for a while, but with Ted gone and Don running into trouble over that road down there in Florida somewhere, it looks like the money-pipe isn’t pointing at Alaska any longer. The funds seem to be “drying up” without that political clout. I guess the Muni could float revenue bonds or something. That way your home can be used as collateral to secure the debt, and if the Port can’t make enough revenue to pay the bonds the Muni can raise taxes to pickup the difference; it’s called leverage. At this point they only need something like $600M more to finish the job, assuming they fix the broke part of the dock for another $30-40M. Wow, those are big numbers……….Moose

    Comment: Moose Johnson – 17. July 2010 @ 10:57 am

  13. All this makes me real nearvous. I’ll need a full time job just to pay the taxes on that house after it’s paid off. At that rate, I’ll never retire….Florida sounds nice.

    Comment: Shirley McCraken – 26. July 2010 @ 9:42 am

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