News from Patrick Flynn

Marvelous Mat-Su

For only the second time during my tenure on the Assembly, this afternoon we conducted a joint work session with our colleagues on the Mat-Su Borough Assembly.  The meeting, which was open to the public, occurred at a very nice B&B off Fairview Loop Road (just a little southeast of Wasilla).  And, since a neighbor called today to say he couldn’t make the meeting but was interested in a report of the proceedings, here’s a quick synopsis of what we discussed:

  1. Trails & Recreation in the Mat-Su Borough.  Lynne Woods, a Sutton resident and Mat-Su’s deputy mayor, explained that under- and un-managed state lands in the borough frequently become problems for area residents when those who seem unable to behave in a responsible manner patronize those lands.  As an example, she explained that this summer’s wet conditions coupled with off-road vehicle use had rendered some trails all but impassable.  A point of frustration voiced by several members was the Alaska Department of Natural Resources‘ apathy toward land management, noting that only oil & gas issues receive significant DNR attention (that’s a complaint I’d heard before).  Why, you might ask, is this relevant to Anchorage?  According to surveys about 85% of Mat-Su DNR-land users are visiting from Anchorage so, if we want quality trails and other facilities in the Mat-Su there’s a logic in Anchorage joining the effort to get DNR to focus resources on managing those areas.  Other suggestions included:
    • Additional engagement of DNR’s Director of the Division of Parks, James King.  Mr. King apparently played a role in the establishment of Trail Mix, a successful recreation-oriented public-private partnership in Juneau.
    • Levying local assessments on state facilities (like parking lots) to fund local governmental management efforts (e.g. policing).
    • Identify and reserve future access points, much as we’re trying to do for Chugach State Park.
    • Continued definition, mapping and public information about RS 2477 trails.
    • Establishment or expansion of programs similar to Anchorage’s Trail Watch.
    • Resolutions from both Assembly’s seeking more active participation by DNR.
    • Encouraging better coordination between state agencies.
  2. Ferry Project Update.  The MV Susitna, built for ferry operations between Anchorage and Port MacKenzie, is complete and undergoing testing.  The problem is that, despite years of effort to find a suitable location for landing on the Anchorage side, such a site remains elusive.  There’s room at the Port of Anchorage but freight traffic patterns, security concerns, costs and other issues seem to make that option unworkable.  Areas near the port but outside the security perimeter have other problems, especially space constraints.  In an effort to resolve that issue they’re looking at a marine-rail option that would, as I understand it, land the ferry on rails and pull it part way out of the water, thereby reducing the footprint of the operation.  We’ll see how that pans out and, in the meantime, here are a few more factoids:
    • Once a landing location is decided upon, permitting and construction of the land-based facilities is expected to take four years.
    • Total costs for the two landing facilities (Anchorage & Mat-Su) are estimated at $45 million.
    • Tyonek and Kenai are interested in ferry service as well (fishermen in attendance liked the idea of a shorter trip to the Peninsula).
    • A previous concern that the MV Susitna has to face a certain direction when docking on the Anchorage side appears to no longer be an issue as testing indicates the vessel can dock in either direction at Port MacKenzie so whichever direction works for Anchorage will work for the Mat-Su.
    • The new Knik-Goose Bay area prison slated for 2012 completion would benefit from the ferry service (employee transit, access to Anchorage courts, etc.)
    • While awaiting opportunities to sail in Cook Inlet, the MV Susitna may be leased to other areas of the state for their use.
  3. Port Issues.  This was the most complicated issue, mostly because there is limited understanding among Assembly members about shipping in upper Cook Inlet.  The discussion began with concerns about recent animosity between management of the two ports and the expanding Point MacKenzie shoal, which impacts marine operations in the area.  Discussion of the former quickly demonstrated how the latter came about when Port MacKenzie director Marc Van Dongen not only denied that the new dock could be affecting the shoal (a plausible, but untested, assertion) but went on to soft-peddle shipper and Port of Anchorage concerns, saying they could easily be resolved with minor operational adjustments.  That precipitated a series of comments which resulted my being asked to explain the larger perspective, and here’s what I said:
    • Actually, before I even started Mr. Van Dongen noted me shaking my head at his suggestion that steamships calling on the Port of Anchorage dock in a northward, rather than southward, orientation.  He acknowledged that TOTE’s vessels were built specifically for this service and could only off-load and on-load on the port side, which means they must be oriented southward.
    • While proponents of both ports emphasize the two operations are complementary rather than competitive (Anchorage generally handling higher-value containerized freight, Port Mac generally handling bulk commodities) it is my impression that Port of Anchorage officials found language in Port Mac’s rail extension draft EIS somewhat derogatory toward their facility and took offense.
    • Adjustments to POA operations, while feasible, are quite expensive.  For example, arriving and/or departing at off-hours increases labor costs and forces exponentially higher fuel burn to make up time.  Further, tug capacity in Cook Inlet is insufficient to handle the TOTE vessels in certain conditions.  While these and other issues caused by the Point MacKenzie shoal are solvable operationally the net effect is increased costs to shippers and, ultimately, higher costs for products we all consume.  In other words, it’s in our mutual best interest to keep shipping conditions in upper Cook Inlet as seamless as possible.
    • The discussion concluded with our inviting the Mat-Su Assembly to designate one or two members to join our Port committee in an ex-officio capacity, to increase monitoring of the Point MacKenzie shoal and, should said shoal more seriously impact operations, work together to address it.
  4. Agricultural Processing Plant and Food Warehouse. This was a quick one but it’s really neat as the Mat-Su is working to establish a facility that will allow smaller farmers to process and store their products so consumers can enjoy them year-round, and increases local food security.
  5. Mass Transit Issues. It was getting late, so we didn’t discuss this very long, but there’s interest in continued integration of our respective bus systems with an eye toward potential establishment of commuter rail service.  An important step in the process is establishment of a Regional Transit Authority, which requires legislative approval.
  6. Highway to Highway update.  Many in the Mat-Su favor this project just as many Anchorage residents favor a Wasilla by-pass so residents from both areas can more quickly traverse those segments if they have other destinations in mind.

With that we made plans to meet again in about three months and adjourned for the evening.  That’s all the news from me, please let me know if you have questions!



This contribution was made on Monday, 19. July 2010 at 21:05 and was published under the category Other, Transportation. You can follow comments on this entry through the RSS-Feed.

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