Port sees expansion for shippers' new ships

PHOTO/James MacPherson/AJOC
To predict the economic growth rate for most of Alaska, a good place to start is the Port of Anchorage.

Much of what is worn, driven, eaten or otherwise used by most Alaskans comes across the dock at the port, and major shippers say they expect about a 2 percent to 3 percent increase in activity for 2002.

Many prefer to call the city-owned facility Alaska’s regional port since it serves more than 80 percent of Alaska, with an annual economic impact of $725 million.

At an Anchorage Chamber of Commerce luncheon Dec. 17, port director and former Gov. Bill Sheffield said the port will double in size by 2020, if his plans for expansion and renovation of the port are done.

Proposed plans call for a new deep-draft, multipurpose dock extension that would accommodate ships up to 1,000 feet long. Other work includes deepening the harbor from 35 feet at low tide to 45 feet; installing larger container cranes; renovating and widening the current dock; and developing some 40 acres of land to support the new dock.

Once completed, the new "Intermodal Marine Facility" would handle cargo much more efficiently and enable large vessels to moor here, Sheffield said, adding that a larger dock could accommodate a homeported military ship and attract cruise ships.

At an estimated $200 million, the ambitious expansion surprised Alaska’s senior senator in Washington, Sheffield said.

"Senator Stevens nearly fell out of his chair,’’ Sheffield said, when he broke the plans to Alaska’s longtime lawmaker.

But Sheffield is confident money can be obtained for the expansion, through port profits, and state and federal grants. He said all work at the port could be done by the end of the decade.

Last session the Legislature approved $6 million toward dock expansion and larger cranes that will allow for more and larger containers to be moved more efficiently and safely.

Some 2,500 cargo containers arrive in Anchorage weekly at the peak of the shipping season, the majority of which are handled by CSX Lines and Totem Ocean Trailer Express.

TOTE has two new cargo ships coming on line over the next 18 months, and CSX has plans for new ships on the drawing board, company officials said.

Bill Deaver, vice president and general manager of TOTE’s Alaska division, said his company’s first ship should be in Anchorage in October, with the second ship arriving six months later.

The company is spending $310 million for the new ships, designed for larger 53 foot roll-on, roll-off containers, instead of older 40 to 50-foot trailers. TOTE is adding a new trestle at the port to accommodate the larger containers.

Deaver said shipping activity in 2001 was up about 3 percent, and he expects the increase to be similar in 2002.

Eric Britten, business planning and development manager at CSX Lines, predicted about the same increase in shipping activity for his company next year.

"We see an increase of 1 to 3 percent every year, and that’s probably what we’d expect (next year),’’ Britten said. "Volumes are holding.’’

Anchorage is not alone in ambitious port development plans. Across Knik Arm at Port MacKenzie plans to finish compaction and gravel work at the new dock there are slated for 2002.

Marc Van Dongen, Port MacKenzie port director, said other improvements to the port district next year will include new electric and telephone lines.

The new port, which opened last May, staged more than 4 million pounds of cargo, including 40 homes that were manufactured by Alaska Manufacturing Contractors, the first tenant at the new facility.

Van Dongen said the construction of the homes generated about $8 million in revenues, which flowed back to the Matanuska-Susitna Borough in employee wages and to subcontractors and material suppliers.

In effect, Van Dongen said, the $8 million port already has paid for itself.

12/30/2001 - 8:00pm