Study: port design, construction flawed


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The M/V North Star owned by Totem Ocean Trailer Express Inc. approaches the Port of Anchorage in June 2010. In the distance at left, the unfinished northern expansion of the port is seen. A study of the troubled expansion project by CH2M Hill concluded the design and construction of the open cell sheet pile system was flawed, and a recommended a new design that may cost $600 million.

Photo/Andrew Jensen/AJOC

The Municipality of Anchorage is slowly realizing the challenges it faces in fixing the broken down project to expand its port.

CH2M Hill, the engineering firm contracted by the municipality to determine the structural suitability and reliability of work done at the Port of Anchorage, announced the findings of its study at a March 8 Anchorage Assembly meeting.

The study found that the much-debated Open Cell Sheet Pile foundation system chosen to support the revamped port is “not adequately designed to meet global stability and seismic displacements based on the design criteria.”

Further, the study found that faulty installation of the sheet piles in three of the four expanded port sections means the “structures are deficient in the normal operating condition.”

At the meeting, CH2M Hill also unveiled its preferred alternative concept plan for future port construction.

Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan said the municipality has decided to have a “forensic audit” done of both CH2M Hill reports.

The total cost of the studies is said to be $2.2 million.

“We’re actually going to have a third party review so that we can make our decisions going forward on what design to use and how much to expand the port,” Sullivan said.

The municipality assumed control of the project from the U.S. Maritime Administration, or MARAD, in late 2011 after damage to some of the sheet pile was discovered. At the time it was unknown just how severe the damage was.

No work has been done on the port since the municipality took over the project.

Sullivan said the review of the study is necessary because of conflicting stances taken on the quality of the sheet pile system by its designer, PND Engineers Inc., and multiple contractors hired to install it.

PND has held the stance that when installed properly the sheet pile system can work at the port.

CH2M Hill’s suitability study uncovered that soil pressure pushing out on the dock side of the sheet pile caused the structure to bulge in some instances. It also found that, “Large rock encountered during driving of the sheet piling impacted pile-driving alignment,” particularly in the new wet barge berth.

The final ruling of the yet-to-be-started audit will most likely determine just how much work needs to be redone, Sullivan said.

“If it’s simply a matter of good construction techniques that can be cured — but if it’s true that it would not meet global suitability standards for static or seismic loading then that’s a problem and we have to go some different direction,” he said

In the event that the sheet pile design is found to be deficient, Sullivan said it would be “like starting a construction project from ground zero again and we just have to make sure this time it’s done correctly.”

It has not been decided who will conduct the review of the study, but Sullivan expects that decision to be made soon.

MARAD has incurred criticism for not having an individual or team in Anchorage to oversee the port expansion while construction was going on. Sullivan said the municipality’s port Project Executive Committee will include officials from the port, the municipal manager, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials and the future contractors when they are chosen.

“This group will meet regularly to make sure everything is on time, on schedule and being done properly,” he said.

CH2M Hill’s preferred alternative for the port expansion calls for a $600 million budget. At one point the price on the original port design was moving towards $1 billion before Sullivan asked for a revised plan. Until it is determined exactly how much of the existing structure needs to be overhauled the project has no definitive price tag or timeline, Sullivan said.

When work does resume at the port Sullivan said everyone will ultimately answer to him.

“The buck stops at the mayor’s office, probably where it should have all throughout this project before we came on board,” he said.

The preferred concept plan proposes one terminal at the north end of the port built to the highest seismic standards — something Sullivan said he likes. It would allow for ships to continue servicing Anchorage in the event of a catastrophic earthquake while keeping total project cost in mind.

The plan also moves Horizon Lines and Totem Ocean Trailer Express, Inc., the two largest and most frequent customers at the port to dock near their on-shore facilities, something former plans did not do. Sullivan called keeping Horizon and TOTE at their original berths the “most important” part of the plan design.

The municipality has approximately $130 million in reserve funds for the project, most coming from state capital appropriations and $50 million from the bond package passed in November.

Sullivan said the bond money proves the Legislature and Gov. Sean Parnell understand how important the project is. Sullivan was scheduled to meet with Parnell on March 20 to brief the governor on the CH2M Hill’s reports.

Elwood Brehmer can be reached at elwood.brehmer@alaskajournal.com.

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