News from Patrick Flynn

Port committee update, fifth edition

The most recent Port committee meeting, conducted on Thursday, October 14, was interesting for a couple of reasons.  First, the subject matter, which was thoughtful and in-depth.  Second, the large crowd attending the discussion.  More on that latter point later, here was the agenda:

  1. Update on navigability for TOTE at the North Extension.
  2. Inspection results for last year’s work.
  3. Discussion of seismic stability testing for open-cell sheet pile technology employed for this project.
  4. Update on future finance plans.

So, without further ado, here’s a summary of our discourse.

Navigability for TOTE:

Regular readers may recall that marine officials from Totem Ocean Trailer Express raised concerns that they could not safely navigate to their “vacation home” (temporary berth) at the North Extension and suggested additional dredging, which raised concerns from Army Corps of Engineers as changes to dredging plans are difficult to effect.  (Remember the North Extension, so-called because it lies north of the existing dock, is the first major phase of the project and allows both TOTE and Horizon to shift their operations while other phases proceed.)  In the intervening weeks an alternative plan developed wherein TOTE’s berth would be situated further south, thus affording them safer navigation and increasing the buffer space between their vessels and others operating in the area.  To achieve this the North Extension would extend an additional 650′ south, which entails partial demolition of the existing dock.  I know, that sounds complicated, so let’s step it out:

  • There’s plenty of room for TOTE to safely navigate to the southern portions of the North Extension that is already under construction.
  • When that construction is complete, estimated for 2012, TOTE can move to it’s temporary berth, though that will be further south than originally planned in order to ensure safe navigation.
  • The remaining dock face south of TOTE’s modified temporary berth will not be long enough for Horizon, so
  • The aforementioned 650′ of dock face will be built and, as part of that process, a portion of the existing dock vacated by TOTE will be demolished.
  • Once that is complete, estimated for 2014, Horizon can make its move to their “vacation home” at the North Extension.

All this is pending a Corps simulation of silting patterns to ensure the problems that forced TOTE off the dock this spring don’t recur in this new plan.  The TOTE representative at the meeting was in far better spirits than at some of our previous discussions so I’m cautiously optimistic this concern is resolved.  We’ll get a report from the Corps when their simulation is complete.


Given all the rumors floating around about what work went well, what went wrong and who’s ticked off at whom, this was a big issue even if the results were classified as preliminary.  According to project engineers, more than 7,700 steel sheets have been installed to date.  Inspections carried out during the summer found numerous instances of some sort of bulkhead (dock face) damage in portions of the project, while very few in others.  The overall number of instances seemed high to some of my colleagues, one of whom asked if this was considered average, above- or below-average on a project of this type?

Hard to say, came the answer.  Because the data is preliminary after further analysis some instances of damage may be considered de minimus and not require additional work.  Further, because this is a highly scrutinized project, the quality assurance & quality control program is quite vigorous.  That prompted a question from me – is the QA/QC program aggressive enough that damages that might go unnoticed in another project are coming to light in this one?  Basically yes, came the reply.

Another interesting facet of the discussion involved the tail walls, which is the sheet piling that runs perpendicular to the bulkhead (dock face) back into the filled area, thus strengthening the overall structure.  It seems that testing of those sections involves physically removing portions of those walls, as many as a third of all walls, by lifting them out of the ground.  (The whole wall isn’t removed, just a few selected portions.  If those portions pass muster, great, if not, pull more sections.  Similarly if most walls are okay, move on, if problems show up, test more walls.)

This was the part where the size of the crowd was interesting.  I counted at least three attorneys in the room, one of whom represents the contractor whose work was inspected.  There were even more engineers, some affiliated with the project, some not, and various others who might or might not be involved in settling who pays for what related to last year’s work.  Port officials made two points on that front:

  1. The Port has not “accepted” any of the work done to date.  That means any defects can be addressed prior to the Port taking ownership.
  2. Governor Sheffield explained that the Port expects to be made whole, meaning the dollars they’ve committed thus far will result in the facilities for which those dollars were contracted.  If those facilities are not built correctly he expects remedial action will address any shortcomings.

Seismic stability:

The population at the committee table was also bolstered by the presence of three members of the Geotechnical Advisory Commission, a municipal board that advises us on matters like this.  While they’d asked a few questions during other discussions, this portion engendered their most active engagement.

We heard a presentation from PND, the engineering firm with patented open-cell sheet pile technology that offered both an overview how it worked and details of its use in this project.  Here’s a few highlights:

  • While the POA project has the tallest exposed height (lengths of sheet pile above the ocean floor) of any sheet pile dock, it does not have the highest stress loads.
  • To address concerns about soft Cook Inlet mud, that material is removed and replaced with granular fill.  The “toe” of the bulkhead sheet piling (portion below the ocean floor) is driven into stiff clay and dense sand.  (Editor’s note: it turns out there are something like seven different kind of “Bootlegger’s Cove clay of widely varying geological properties – who knew?)
  • “Essential facilities” at the port are constructed to withstand an earthquake similar to the 1964 Good Friday quake, while others are built to withstand or be quickly repaired after smaller seismic events.
  • Yes, there has been extensive third-party geotechnical review.

That last point encountered quite a bit of discussion as GAC members are bothered that much of the independent review, conducted by a company called Terracon, is funded by ICRC, the project management team overseeing the port expansion.  We also learned that the Corps’ Engineer Research and Development Center conducted a rigorous review, though no one was aware of a published report.  (Surprise!  We asked that it be determined if one was available and, if so, that it be distributed.)

(Editor’s note: I learned after the meeting that a member(s) of the GAC might be involved in what increasingly looks like a claims process over last year’s work.  I suggested to the GAC chair that any member involved in such a process should sit in the audience, rather than at the committee table.)


Not much new on this front.  The port apparently received $13 million as a TIGER 2 grant, which is new money for the project, and officials hinted that the 2011 state capital budget could have additional funds but didn’t offer any specifics (the governor, whomever he happens to be, releases his proposed budget in December).


There’s still much to discuss like any information we can obtain from ERDC, effects of construction restrictions caused by the ESA listing of beluga whales, getting to know the folks at MARAD (the federal project sponsor) better and other issues that come to the fore.  I’ll keep you in the loop!



This contribution was made on Friday, 15. October 2010 at 17:25 and was published under the category Port committee. You can follow comments on this entry through the RSS-Feed.

«  –  »


  1. Thanks Pat.
    Interesting contrast to the “every-thing is progressing well, just a bit slower than planned” report that we got from Steve Rubuffo the last time he showed up to our CC meeting. Just the fact that multiple parties are “lawyering up” and a “claims process” is on-going speaks volumes to what is going on behind the scene.

    Too bad also that the Corps of Engineers has yet to publish the preliminary results of the siltation study that they did that included the proposed Knik Arm Crossing (facilitated with some funding provided by Sen. Lisa Murkowski). The COE has said that since KABATA has not submitted a permit application, they cannot finish or publish the results of that study. I guess that makes sense since KABATA’s design is only 35% complete, does not have a “Record of Decision” for their EIS, does not know the cost, does not have a Corps permit, does not have a permit to “Take” beluga whales or other marine mammals, has not updated their toll revenue forecasts to reflect the 50% drop in projected population growth for the MSB, and has not admitted that their latest financing scheme includes annual appropriations from the Legislature to make up that revenue shortfall. They also have not admitted that their new financing scheme essentially violates the conditions placed by AMATS and the Assembly for NO additional state or federal funding beyond what they already have.
    The verbal summary we got from the Corps of Engineers is that they would not be able to issue a permit to KABATA for their present design for the “Bridge to Nowhere” because of the detrimental effects it would have on siltation at the Port. Be a real shame to spend millions to improve the port only to have KABATA cause additional millions to be spent in dredging to keep the port open.

    Comment: Bob – 16. October 2010 @ 10:34 am

  2. Pat

    Sounds like this whole thing with the damage is just a QC issue. Glad to hear that. For a minute I thought there might be a real problem.

    I am also relived to hear the project went through a rigorous independent review by the Corps of Engineers. I know that has been a sticky point for a lot of people with rumors of design issues for earthquakes and all. Please let us know when this report will be released and posted on the port’s web site. Publishing this will help give the project a much needed clean bill of health.

    Keep up the good work. Let’s get on with building this dirt cheap, rock solid, money maker!

    Rudy Lachinski

    Comment: Rudy Lachinski – 19. October 2010 @ 11:58 am

  3. Hey Rudy,

    You smoking that wacky tabaccy Rudy? This thing sounds worse every time old Pat posts a new update. I don’t believe anything those guys down at the port are saying; sounds like they’re trying to cover each others butts! A room full of attorneys sounds pretty ominous to me. If I were the mayor I’d be looking for a an impartial assessment of this mess before things get any worse than they already sound. One of my buddies in Anchorage told me there’s a huge pile of twisted steel laying there at the port that gets bigger by the day. Glad this mess is in your backyard Rudy………….Moose

    Comment: Moose Johnson – 20. October 2010 @ 2:35 pm

  4. Moose,

    Didn’t you read the post? There is no big problem just a little QC project.

    Beside I read a bunch of stuff on the internet This sheet pile dock is really something! I’m telling you the guys who invented this have a lot of college. Brother!

    You see it is a load unlimited dock. Other docks can only stack a few things on them with the weight restrictions and all. Not this dock. You put the Sears tower right out on the face of it and it wouldn’t budge. Rock solid.

    Not only that but they are cheap. They cost something like 1/5 or 1/3 of normal docks. There are charts and graphs right on these web sites that prove this. Dirt cheap!

    But wait it gets better. You know how other docks have to be designed for corrosion? You know how expensive it is to maintain other docks? These sheet pile docks don’t get corrosion. It has something to do about the shape and the electrical field. They are maintenance free. I found that right on the internet! Also, earthquakes just roll right off these puppies. They have been through thousands if earthquakes, maybe millions. Some of them are designed to last 2400 years, or take the 2400 year earthquake, or something like that.

    Anyway according to all the stuff I have heard it really is a kind of miracle dock. Now with this new report from the Corps of Engineers it is a government certified miracle dock. I can’t wait to see the report. We are just lucky to get one. A billion dollars and 20 years is probably a bargain.

    Rudy Lachinski

    Comment: Rudy Lachinski – 21. October 2010 @ 3:48 pm

  5. Pat,

    One niggling little thing, I still haven’t seen the chart of all the new users. I have posted a number of requests and suggestions about this in the past but haven’t heard back.

    See this whole project is all about Economics 101. Economics with a capital E! That’s what Moose down in Kenai doesn’t get. If you could just show a map of all the new land along with all the big new shippers who have leases, well that would demonstrate that this is no run of the mill “build it and they will come” project. Maybe you could put the waiting list right on the port web site alongside the Corps of Engineers report that shows how stable it is. That would seal the deal with these nay-sayers!

    Anyway, keep up the good work.

    Rudy Lachinski.

    Comment: Rudy Lachinski – 21. October 2010 @ 4:14 pm

  6. Pat,

    Wow, this report is a lot different from the last one where everything seemed kosher. Sounds like there’s quite a bit of controversy with geotechnical concerns, structural stability concerns, and budget concerns, load limitations, and even whether or not the whole thing is needed after all! I’m a nearvous nilly type, you know, I was hoping to retire soon. I hope that I don’t have to keep working just to pay my property taxes when they skyrocket to cover the costs of this boondogle. It is good to hear that the port commission is not accepting any of the work until it is inspected and approved. I just hope that the inspector is an independant party, not someone hired by the ICRC or engineer or other impartial party. Keep up the good work, Pat.

    Comment: shirley mccraken – 21. October 2010 @ 5:56 pm

  7. Wow……………..Rudy, you and Shirley are more gullible than I thought. Sources of mine close to the construction, and to Blues Central, are telling me that all is not rosy down there at the Port. The fact that the vultures (attorneys) are starting to circle confirms my suspicions.

    Pat, do you have a copy of that patent; maybe you could post it so we can all see how much research and science is behind it and how much involves smoke and mirrors. If I get another tax increase to pay for this fiasco I am moving down to Kenai with Moose; I’ll be closer to the fishing too…………..let’s see the patent!!


    Comment: Randy Mann – 22. October 2010 @ 4:56 am

  8. Come on down Randy……………you need to get as far away from that carnival at the Port of Anchorage as you can. Wonder if patenting something means it really works, or it just means someone else can’t use it whether it works or not?? Sounds to me like it doesn’t work or they wouldn’t be tearing it out already? Strange way to build something if you ask me. I was in Anchorage a few weeks ago and saw a lot of barges and cranes down there, looked like someone is spending beau coups dollars. If you hear anything about that patent stuff send me a message……………Moose

    Comment: Moose Johnson – 22. October 2010 @ 7:27 am

  9. Pat,

    I was down at F Street last night. I got another ear full from my buddy. He knows all about the project and has lots of college too. Well he told me there is NO rigorous independent review by the Corps of Engineers! He said someone in their permit department just rubber stamped the plans and said they are good to go but no one in the engineering department checked them. I guess, because of all the questions raised a few years ago about stability and all, the review was a condition of the permit. He says that they don’t really want anyone to review the sheet pile wall design because they all know it won’t pass the kind of tests the Corps of Engineers would do on them. Besides it would cost money to have them really test these things. At this point in the game if the port got a review that says it doesn’t meet standards well the whole bottom would drop out and all these lawyers would rush in and sue everyone right to death. According to him they are kind of stuck. He says they can’t really go forward and they can’t really go back.

    Wow! Is this true? Is there a rigorous independent review? Have you seen it? Can you just post it to your web site?

    If they claim there is one and there really isn’t, well that kind of throws a wet blanket on the credibility of the whole darn thing. I mean why would they make stuff up to appear credible? Can’t they just do the real thing and BE credible?

    I sure wouldn’t want to go forward with a project that won’t pass engineering tests. No sir. That would just push problems out into the future. I mean sure enough someone will test it at some point down the road. What if they have to do a big recall because there was a problem all along that never was fixed. It is better to just fix it right in the first place. Of course I can see the problem now. If they admit there is something wrong after all then all the warranty work they are doing now.. ..well who would pay for the all the barges and everything that is down there now?

    The whole thing reminds me of my cousin in Pennsylvania. He has a little drinking problem. Got a couple of DWIs and then before you know it his marriage was on the rocks. He joined this group where they go through a 12 step process to recover. He says it all starts with admitting there is a problem. They have to stand up in front of everyone and admit to a problem. Then they can start to fix things.

    Anyway it sounds to me like the port needs to admit they have a problem down there. The longer they wait the harder it will get. Maybe the port administration and their engineers should enroll in some type of 12 step program. It sure would be nice to drag the truth out into the light of day on this project.

    Keep up the good work.

    Rudy Lachinski

    Comment: Rudy Lachinski – 30. October 2010 @ 1:15 pm

  10. Rudy…………..don’t believe everything those college boys tell you; their the same ones that were packaging mortgages a while back! I’ll bet you two beers that those guys down at the port have that independent study you’re looking for; they’d be pretty silly not to have it if it were a condition of getting a permit; I think they’re college boys too. I guess if this thing is falling apart while it’s being built it really doesn’t matter what some report says, or am I wrong on that? Anyway, try the scallops at F Street Station; they melt in your mouth…………….Moose

    PS I am coming to the big city next week, maybe I could meet you at F Street for a couple of brews and some scallops.

    Comment: Moose Johnson – 31. October 2010 @ 1:42 pm

  11. Moose and Rudy,

    Not sure that Pat is reading these comments; he never seems to provide any responses to them; but count me in at F Street Station and make mine an “Amber”…………Randy

    Comment: Randy Mann – 31. October 2010 @ 1:59 pm

  12. Pat

    How tough can this be? There is one. There isn’t one. They did it. They” didn’t do it. Come on now!

    If there is a rigorous independent review then Pat should just post it to the web. If there isn’t one he should just announce that.

    Seems like there are a couple of ways we can think of things; with our egos or with our brains. (Guess which one gets us into trouble?) See if someone says the sky is blue, and you are thinking with your brain, well then you just look out the window and see if it is blue or not. But if you are thinking with your ego, then it gets a bit more complicated. You see it all DEPENDS on who says it is blue and what their agenda is. Not only that but what’s in it for you and me. I mean what is blue anyway? You say blue but it could really be kind of purple or even a little green. Why if there were enough money and politics involved it might even be pink!

    The point being here that I sure hope there are folks thinking about this project with their brains as opposed to just their egos.

    Rudy Lachinski

    Comment: Rudy Lachinski – 01. November 2010 @ 2:08 pm

  13. Rudy,

    You’re starting to sound like one of those college boys. As far as I’m concerned the sky is Blue, except when its gray or orangey-red, you know like when the sun sets. I’m stilling betting the govenor has that report in his top desk drawer and will send it to ole Pat to post on his blog………….Moose

    Comment: Moose Johnson – 02. November 2010 @ 11:50 am

  14. Well Randy, I may be gullible but even a sucker like me can see that there is something fishy going on here. I know politicians need to cover up their mistakes or else wear egg on their face. But if I were them, I’d rather own up to some mistakes early and so move forward to fixing them, than try to cover up with contradicting lies and an eventual death spiral that not only ruins careers of individuals but puts the whole city into an economic crisis. I think Pat is smarter than that, he seems like an honest guy that is just being whitewashed by these guys. He’ll figure it out–I just hope it’s not too late. If there is an independant report wouldn’t that be public information? Pat, how do I get a copy of this report?

    Comment: shirley mccraken – 02. November 2010 @ 12:08 pm

  15. Shirley, Moose, Rudy & Randy (and anyone else I missed),

    Once I receive more specific information about the Army Corps of Engineers’ review of the port project, whether in a report or some other format, I’ll make it available. That may take a bit since, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, I’m somewhat buried in budgets these days.



    Comment: Patrick Flynn – 02. November 2010 @ 1:35 pm

  16. Pat that’s great. Thanks for the reply.

    You know I built a house a couple of years ago right here in Anchorage. I got a building permit and went through all the inspections. Those guys down at building safety really did a job. Boy I tell you! They had 4 different groups go over the plans: structural, mechanical, plumbing, and electrical. Each one signed off on the plans before they gave me a permit. Not only that, but they all had to inspect the house as it was being built. Went over EVERYTHING with a fine tooth comb. Every one of them had to sign the plans before I started and after it was inspected basically saying it was good to go. It was kind of a pain to be honest but looking back it’s all good. If it weren’t for these guys why buildings here would be like they are in Haiti all falling in and killing people in an earthquake. (Those poor SOBs!)

    Well of course a house is just a little drop in the bucket project compared to the $billions they are going to spend on the port. Not only that but, let’s face it, if my house fell over it would only affect me not everyone in the whole darn city like the port would. I sure do support a good thorough engineering review of a project like the one at the port. We can’t afford to waste that kind of money or risk what would happen to all of us with shipping costs and all if there were a big problem.

    It sounds like the city has a couple of good avenues to ensure they get what they pay for down there. They have the Corps of Engineers who are suppose to review everything as a condition of the permit and they have the Geotechnical Advisory Commission who are a bunch of local experts supporting the city administration. Seems to me the city should be delighted to have these guys go over everything and certify that this project is on the up and up.

    Rudy Lachinski

    Comment: Rudy Lachinski – 02. November 2010 @ 3:11 pm

  17. Looks like, according to Pat, the port got some of those O’Bama Bucks and now that the Feds are printing money faster than they make ink it looks to me Rudy like they’ll be able to paper this problem over with good ole green-backs, so don’t you worry too much…………….Randy

    Comment: Randy Mann – 06. November 2010 @ 3:41 pm

  18. Been pretty quiet here lately; give up on the port Pat?

    Comment: Randy Mann – 29. November 2010 @ 2:14 pm

  19. Pat, This is a pretty curious discussion thread. I’m actually getting a bit confused. It appears that, if you read it a certain way, we may be spending a billion dollars of public money over a 20-year period on a project that no one will use and that appears to be falling down as it’s being built and everyone involved is going to get sued. Is this really a good idea?

    Also, Pat, have you heard what’s happening to New Jersey. They just told the Federal Transit Administration, which is under DOT just like MARAD, that the subway tunnel to New York is too expensive and cancelled the project. Now, the FTA has told them they have 30 days to pony up $271 million to reimburse the federal investment. Could that happen here if the project is stopped? Here is the link: .

    Comment: arcadia – 01. December 2010 @ 5:09 am

  20. Boy, that would be a real kick in the *%&%! The mayor will have to revise his budget some more if that happens or the Port Director will have to start charging for his Sunday hot dog parties…………………holy crap. I think Moose and Rudy smelled these rotten eggs some time ago………..Pat, can you shed some light on this mess at the Port??

    Comment: Randy Mann – 01. December 2010 @ 9:59 am

  21. Hey guys…………maybe Anchorage could get some of that Jersey money the feds are getting, and then the Port (and Anchorage) can spend their way out of this morass………………if they pumped say $1.2-1,5B into it maybe they can fix it? If not, they’d have least given the college boys a chance to bail themselves out…….!!

    Comment: Moose Johnson – 01. December 2010 @ 10:04 am

  22. Group,

    Thanks for all the comments – here’s a little more information:

    Randy – I’m pretty busy with budget matters right now so look to see another port committee meeting some time during the first quarter of 2011. As I mentioned in a somewhat unrelated post, the Corps is working on a letter describing their review process specific to this project and when I get a copy I’ll try to post it for your review.

    Arcadia – the federal reimbursement provision is invoked when you go through the planning process, get the go ahead and then cancel a project. In this case, the port is obligating (which ultimately means spending) the federal dollars they receive so that’s not a risk here.

    Hope that helps!



    Comment: Patrick Flynn – 01. December 2010 @ 11:33 am

  23. Pat,

    Thanks a ton for keeping on top of this; the rest of Anchorage seems asleep-at-the-wheel as a BILLION DOLLAR project crumbles around them. Look forward to your next report and what those guys at the Corps have to say about all this.

    Stop by F Street Station some time and I’ll buy you a beer.


    Comment: Randy Mann – 02. December 2010 @ 5:56 am

  24. Randy……………seems like Pat is pretty busy these days. He’ll be real busy if the feds put the ole hex on this port job you got going up there. A buddy of mine from down this way has been working on that repair job and the stories he tells me about what’s going on there are pretty ominous, ouuuu. I hope someone up there figures it out before it bankrupts the City. I think those Jersey boys may be smarter than we give them credit for; you know, backing out of a project in a financial death spiral. I have an extra room here on the homestead if you need it buddy……………..Moose

    Comment: Moose Johnson – 02. December 2010 @ 6:01 am

  25. Well I just hope we get more than a letter full of damn excuses from the Corps. We need some real answers here or this thing is in big trouble.

    Comment: Rudy Lachinski – 02. December 2010 @ 11:38 am

  26. Pat,

    Well time sure does fly! It’s been almost two months now since we heard about the rigorous independent technical review done by the Corps of Engineers. Of course this was later downgraded to an excuse letter. Still no sign of either one of these. Nothing, zero, zilch, nota. What’s up with the lack of information?

    Rudy Lachinski

    Comment: Rudy Lachinski – 14. December 2010 @ 1:52 pm

  27. Rudy………….this stuff just takes time, relax. You people just don’t have any patience. Good things come to people who wait. Have a couple of rum eggnogs, throw a log on the fire and before you know it the new year will be here, and hopefully the O’bama bucks will start rolling in; this will all just be a bad dream. Lighten up Rudy……………….Your buddy Moose

    Comment: Moose Johnson – 17. December 2010 @ 4:28 pm

  28. Ok I get it. I should just relax and trust them. They are from the government and they are here to help! They will get to all this silly review stuff sooner or later. We sure wouldn’t want to interfere with Sheffield’s efforts to save the taxpayer some money!

    Comment: Rudy Lachinski – 17. December 2010 @ 4:48 pm

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.



Community councils


Local government


State government


RSS Feeds – Admin


Copyright - Patrick Flynn, All Rights Reserved