Thursday, January 12, 2012

Port of Anchorage Director Stepping Down

After 10 years on the job and mounting criticism over the cost of an expansion project, Bill Sheffield has announced that he’s retiring as director of the Port of Anchorage, effective Jan. 15.

“When I arrived at the port in 2001, we recognized the necessity of modernization and continually worked to develop that objective,” he said in a letter delivered to Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan at the end of December.

“I am confident that I leave the port a more profitable, vibrant, and thriving facility,” Sheffield, 83, wrote. “It is the lifeline for nearly all of Alaska. It is our lifeline for today and the key to economic growth for tomorrow.”

In his own written statement, Sullivan praised Sheffield for his role in developing the port’s Intermodal Expansion Project, an infrastructure improvement program.

“His passion for the Port of Anchorage is unmatched and his recognition and vision that we must plan for the decades ahead by improving this critical facility is solid,” Sullivan said.

However, despite the resignation, the mayor says Sheffield could be retained by the port via a $60,000 a year consulting contract. The agreement, which would only be for one year, would enable Sheffield to continue assisting the expansion project, according to Sullivan.

The project, which was originally estimated to cost $360 million during its origins in 2005, has jumped to about $1 billion and counting, and last year led to Anchorage Assemblyman and mayoral candidate Paul Honeman saying that Sheffield should be fired.

Before joining the port, Sheffield was Alaska’s governor from 1982 to 1986. After one term as the state’s highest elected official, he served as chair of the board for Alaska Railroad from 1986 to 1997 and was then promoted to become the state-owned railroad’s president and CEO.

He served in that role from 1997 until joining the port in 2001, but to date remains on the railroad’s seven-member board as vice chair.

Deputy port director Steve Ribuffo will serve as interim director while the search for a permanent replacement is ongoing, according to Mayor Sullivan.