Port engineer departs over design

PHOTO/James MacPherson/AJOC
The Port of Anchorage’s top engineer lost his job last month over differences in the direction expansion plans should take.

It’s unclear whether Richard Burg was fired or had resigned, but he is no longer employed by the municipality.

"The port was my life," said Burg, who had almost a dozen years with the city-owned port. "It’s devastating not to be working there anymore."

Burg said he could not support a new port expansion plan being pushed by port director and Alaska’s former Gov. Bill Sheffield.

"I found myself on the wrong side of the sheet pile," Burg said in reference to the newest port design, which would use scalloped-shaped steel plates to create the facility. "I could not support the vision of the administration. Their vision is not my vision, so I decided to step aside and get out the way and let it go in the direction it’s going to go."

Sheffield refused to talk about Burg leaving the port, citing personnel issues.

"Rich is a nice guy and a bright engineer," Sheffield said.

For the past few years, Burg had been working with engineers at Tryck Nyman Hayes Inc. drawing up plans for a new deep-draft dock expansion at the Port of Anchorage.

The city already had spent $1.5 million for that plan. But in March, Peratrovich, Nottingham & Drage Inc. submitted an alternate plan at the request of Sheffield. It envisions expanding the port north and 400 feet seaward of the existing dock, incorporating some 9 million tons of fill to create a nearly mile-long dock. Some 85 acres would be created and added to the port’s existing 100-acre footprint.

The new design, according to its engineers, is bigger, better and cheaper.

At $146 million, the new facility is about $80 million less than what it would cost for the other port expansion plan, said Sheffield.

"It’s a very attractive alternative for us," Sheffield said. "It’s bigger and it’s millions cheaper, and money is getting harder to come by now."

Sheffield has said Alaska Republicans Sen. Ted Stevens and Rep. Don Young have been supportive toward funding the newest port expansion project designed by Peratrovich, Nottingham & Drage.

In time, Sheffield said, an engineer will be hired to replace Burg. Meantime, the port will contract out work to R&M Consultants Inc., which already has been hired to perform a review of the newest port expansion plan.

Anchorage Mayor George Wuerch appointed Sheffield to the post in the spring of 2001. He officially took over as port director last June.

Sheffield has since been aggressive in pushing for an expansion to the port, which serves more than 80 percent of Alaska with an annual economic impact of $725 million from various commodities moved across its docks.

06/09/2002 - 8:00pm