News from Patrick Flynn

Port committee update, eighth edition

I’m struggling as I write this, trying to keep in mind two thoughts from those who preceded me.  The first comes from John F. Kennedy:

“I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered at the White House – with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.”

And the second comes from Thomas Jefferson himself:

“When angry count to ten before you speak. If very angry, count to one hundred.”

So let me take a deep breath…

Friday, May 6, marked what was supposed to be the final Port committee meeting with the intent that the group would morph into the Enterprise Oversight committee providing oversight to all five of the municipality’s enterprises, including the port.  But today’s meeting, which we delayed in order to allow the recently-formed project oversight team (a joint MARAD/MOA/Port management group) to get up and running and present a path forward, was the most disappointing meeting of all the gatherings we’ve held over the past year.

Instead of a rational discussion on how to proceed, we instead received an abbreviated, nebulous “blame-the-previous-project-management-structure” lecture followed by a Hobson’s choice approach to the project – build the whole darn thing for (an estimated) $922 million in additional funds or perform a half-hearted attempt to sort of maintain what’s in place for (once again, an estimated) $397 million in additional funds.  Regular readers won’t be surprised to learn I was nonplussed with this approach.  Here’s why:

  • The half-hearted option would keep existing port users where they are, but would not provide additional protection against a significant seismic event (earthquake).
  • The half-hearted option may resolve the silting issues that have forced TOTE’s vessels off the dock four times already this year, but there’s no evidence that it will do anything other than not make the situation worse, maybe.
  • The half-hearted option is “estimated” to cost more than completing the north extension which, while not ideal (particularly for TOTE), would at least ensure the port would have facilities that could survive earthquakes and accommodate Horizon Lines’ desire to install higher capacity cranes.
  • The half-hearted option would preserve the existing dock, which lacks cathodic protection and therefore costs a great deal to maintain.
  • Despite months of time to prepare, port officials never shared their half-hearted option with either TOTE or Horizon, the two tenants most affected by this project.

In short, in case you haven’t already guessed, I’m deeply disappointed with what I had hoped would be a better focus on this project at both a federal and local administrative level.  Whatever the mistakes that led us to the dilemma in which we find ourselves, any rational person should recognize that the next step is to ensure we have a safe, long-term option for maintaining existing operations (which would be completion of the north extension).

I’m flabbergasted that the Assembly was instead presented with two unpalatable options that fail to address the issues before us.  If the intent was to steer me toward support of a full build-out (that $922 million option) then I’m afraid project proponents took at least 10, and maybe 100, steps back.



This contribution was made on Saturday, 07. May 2011 at 13:45 and was published under the category Port committee. You can follow comments on this entry through the RSS-Feed.

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  1. Excellent advice as always, Mr. Flynn. I was reflecting this morning before Citywide Cleanup on how difficult and stressful it must be to be an Assembly member, and you have been doing an outstanding job recently.

    Comment: Geoffrey G. Humphreys – 07. May 2011 @ 6:46 pm

  2. Mr. Flynn,

    With all due respect, I think that you should have probably waited a little longer and counted a little higher before typing this. The biggest problem with government today, in my humble opion, is the reactionary politician who decides to spit out whatever bit of trivial nonsense they deem worthy of publishing. I think the most responsible way to manage a city is to do so with thoughtful consideration of all the parties involved and how best to manage these ventures as the businesses that they are. We in the private sector, who run businesses, know that in order to stay at the cutting edge of our particular areas, we must devote time, effort and capitol investments to conduct the proper research AND development. Otherwise we stiffle and wither away. The Port Project is a perfect example of that. Yes, it is a big and daring project and like any project there is some risk involved, but that is the nature of this business and of this industry. (Maybe you should look at what our southern counterpart in Tacoma spends annual on port improvement projects for comparison sake.) Perhaps it would be wise to offer up solutions on how the port can continue to grow and become a more viable area of revenue generation, instead of simply sitting back and “casting stones” from afar at those who are currently doing the heavy lifting. Or better yet, perhaps we should desolve some of these oversight committees and use those funds for improvements at the port. Since you are so fond of using quotes form great men, let me use one here. You want those who have worked so hard, to give up and not fight for what they believe is the right course? Well, in the words of Brig. Gen. McAuliffe at the Battle of the Bulge…”NUTS!” For the sake of Anchorage and our future leadership in the shipping industry in the Pacific Rim, I hope that you support the additional work, let the experts do their job and save your emotional reactionary criticism for when there is something to actually be critical about.

    Comment: John – 08. May 2011 @ 11:29 am

  3. Couldn’t hardly disagree more with John.
    As a person in the private sector running a business, I know that successful expansion plans include the following: #1, you have to have a business plan that reliably shows that you can actually afford those plans, #2, you need to accurately analyse your likely future needs, #3, if you need to do the work in phases (to comply with #1), they need to be planned and sequenced, so that you take care of the most pressing needs first, followed only much later by the stuff that might be nice to have. #4 you need to have accurate estimates of costs, and realistic estimates of the benefits, #5 you need to properly manage the project to ensure quality control, and cost effectively manage unexpected occurrences. Sorry, the Port expansion is a perfect example of massive failure on all of those accounts.

    A port does not need “Daring Projects” that take un-necessary risks, and relies on un-identified resources to meet “pie in the sky”, “if you build it, they will come” fantasies of future “needs”. Ports have predictable needs, predictable resources, and can rely on proven, cost effective designs to meet those needs. Unfortunately, Gov. Sheffield and his team did not consider the input of their tenants and didn’t properly manage this project from the get-go. Unfortunately, this failure was also just as predictable.

    Keep up the good work Pat!

    Comment: Bob – 09. May 2011 @ 8:34 pm

  4. Oh yeah,
    How about looking at Tacoma’s Annual Improvements budget per ton of freight vs. the POA’s budget per ton of freight. Even spreading the Port Expansion cost over many years, I don’t think they will come close. The port of Tacoma handles over 18 million tons of freight annually, Anchorage’s record year was in 2005, when they handled just over 3.5 million tons for the first (and only) time.
    Tonnage at the Port of Anchorage has been declining for at least the past 5 years.

    Comment: Bob – 09. May 2011 @ 9:20 pm

  5. Pat,

    Wow! Sounds like this thing is starting to unravel.

    I agree with Bob and disagree with John above. What an idiotic statement: “let the experts do their job”! You’ve got to be kidding me. Maybe John doesn’t get it that the “experts” have turned this from a several year $200 million project into a 20 year $$billion dollar$$$ boondoggle. The only thing our current batch of “experts” is really good at is making empty promises of big projects and spending money. The reality is sinking in that there is no way to EVER fund this and the “experts” have steered the project up the creek and subsequently lost the paddle.

    Well here we are. Now what?

    Maybe John can figure out where we are going to get $900 million! One hint don’t look to the federal government. Just Google “US federal budget” and you might get an idea of what lies ahead in terms of federal funding.

    Rudy Lachinski

    Comment: Rudy Lachinski – 10. May 2011 @ 3:38 pm

  6. The Port – Or Magic-How to make $350 Million Disappear:

    Originally…. timber pile pier was thrown aside for this crypto modern
    sheet pile solution. If you review original decision….it was to save
    money over traditional timber pile cost. { estimated saving
    $25Million} according to someone/consultant/engr etc

    Your real mission Mr Flynn is not ignoring history but to understand what seems
    to be our community systemic habit of messing up public works projects.

    Look what really happened.
    Who made this decision?
    Who did the estimates?
    Are they anywhere near the current uncompleted fiasco?

    Unfortunatel a talented /high potential committee …is no guarantee
    of a good end product.
    To continue current mgmt team / Sheffield or Engineer on this project is
    “intolerable”. To continue any of the current Port Commissioners likewise
    is unacceptable.

    To date …no heads have rolled /no one has paid the price…. but these managers have “managed” to spend all the
    original buget and supplemental funds.

    Solutions abound: Look at port projects across the nation. Most have
    been successfully completed. Traditional pile construction cannot be
    overlooked ….

    It “is important” to play the “blamestorming game” The citizens demand
    an accounting of this fiasco. {local luminaries and companies be damned}
    1] accountability is job #1
    2] citizens trust cannot be assumed if you fail to properly understand
    the systemic problem in this contract.
    3] this is not our only community construction scandal …the list has been
    We cannot support a restart of project…without accounting for this
    systemic construction pimping and fraudulent

    Comment: J Wilkes – 17. August 2011 @ 7:37 pm

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