CH2M Hill selected to manage Anchorage port construction

CH2M Hill has been selected by the Municipality of Anchorage to manage the design, engineering and reconstruction for the troubled Port of Anchorage expansion project, Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan announced Jan. 2.

The company will take over management responsibility from MARAD, a federal agency that previously managed the project, and will help the municipality develop a Request For Proposals for design and engineering services, select a firm to provide the services, and then manage the construction, Sullivan said.

The municipality’s key questions on the troubled port project are, “What went wrong in the construction, and who is responsible? What is the path forward, and how to we assemble a team to ensure the project moves forward?” Sullivan said.

CH2M Hill’s proposal was selected as those most responsive to the municipality’s RFP by a panel of seven reviewers.

“The contract does not include the design or build, but to lead the development of the team to do those,” Sullivan said. “The program manager responsibility is to provide day-to-day oversight of contractors and subcontractors, and does not include development of a design or engineering.”

CH2M Hill, which has home offices in Denver, will help select a firm for the port construction design, although it could also be a firm to do a design/build project, Sullivan said. HDR Inc., of Omaha, Neb., will be part of CH2M Hill’s team, and will handle environmental permitting and “stakeholder” outreach, Jones said.

Both CH2M Hill and HDR have long had a presence in Alaska. CH2M Hill is the largest engineering firm in the state and has more than 2,900 employees in Alaska.

Separate contractors will be retained to provide specialized work, one on cranes designed to serve container ships, and a second to help with acoustics monitoring related to endangered beluga whales in Cook Inlet.

Because the port is owned by the Municipality of Anchorage, municipal officials will retain overall responsibility for the port project, including legal issues, the mayor said.

“The MARAD relationship has not ended, but the agency is not longer the program manager. The federal legislation that allowed MARAD to take on the project remains in effect, however, so any new federal money for the project would come through the agency,” Sullivan said.

While MARAD had responsibility, major construction defects occurred on some of the work done through 2010, which will now have to be repaired. Some of the previous construction can be used, however, the mayor said.

Sullivan said he hopes to get construction restarted by 2016 and that the rebuilding would likely take three to four years. Environmental permits will have to be acquired once again, he said.

The $30 million contract is for five years with options for two extensions of two years, with $12 million for each extension. The contract must still be approved by the municipal assembly, which will take up the matter at its Jan. 14 meeting.

Sullivan said the municipality has $130 million on hand for the project in remaining federal, state and port funds. The state has been asked to provide an additional $100 million next year but Sullivan said this was just a “placeholder” to keep the project in the minds of state legislators.

The request will likely be modified when engineering and designs are completed, and construction costs estimates can be made.

Sullivan said he hopes to keep the cost of the reconstruction at $500 million or less. To date, $439 million in federal, state and local money has been put towards the project, which had an estimated cost of $211 million when it began in 2003.

Sullivan acknowledged the oddity of the municipality engaged in a lawsuit with CH2M Hill over early work done on the port, but said this work was done by VECO Corp., which was purchased by CH2M Hill after the work was done.

CH2M Hill had nothing to do with VECO’s work, Sullivan said. However, as the new owner of VECO the engineering company may be responsible if any liability for the early work exists.

VECO provided consultation services on the project while the Open Cell Sheet Pile dock design — now in question — was being approved.

As for the path forward, “we believe we can put a wall between the lawsuit and the new work that will be underway,” the mayor said.

Port designer PND Engineers Inc. and the first project management firm, Integrated Concepts and Research Corp., are co-defendants in the lawsuit as well. Oral arguments over the plaintiffs’ motions for dismissal were scheduled for Jan. 9 in federal District Court in Anchorage.

Stacey Jones, CH2M Hill’s vice president for west coast port projects, said her first step will be to put together a project management plan in consultation with the city’s port director, Rich Wilson.

The company does not have a favored design, but will help the municipality select a design. Several concepts for design and reconstruction are already on the port’s website, but that does not mean one of them will be selected, Jones said.

In November 2012, CH2M Hill released a study claiming the Open Cell Sheet Pile design originally chosen for the port expansion was unsuitable for seismic stability reasons. The study was commissioned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the municipality.

Subsequently, CH2M Hill was awarded a contract to develop a new port concept design, which it released in February 2013. The resulting “preferred alternative” was a pile supported dock structure, similar to what is at the port now.

Together, the engineering firm was paid approximately $2.6 million for its consulting work.

CH2M Hill has had extensive experience with coastal ports including those in areas of seismic activity, such as west coast ports, but a project the company was involved in with challenges similar to those at Anchorage port was at Gulfport, Miss., where the port suffered damage from Hurricane Katrina, Jones said.

The company’s team will include people based in Alaska with local experience, “so we’ll be able to hit the ground running,” Jones said. She anticipates her project team having people located at the port to facilitate day-to-day interaction with contractors.

Sullivan contrasted this with MARAD, the previous project manager, which did not have people at the project.

Tim Bradner can be reached at [email protected]. Journal reporter Elwood Brehmer contributed to this story.

01/08/2014 - 10:47am