Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Port of Anchorage Expansion Delayed

An expansion project at the Port of Anchorage that’s already been marred by delays, cost overruns and political interference, is again being put on the back burner.

Interim port director Steve Ribuffo told the Anchorage Daily News recently that no construction on the project will take place this summer – the peak building season – because engineers will be studying the project to try determining the best way forward.

This would make the third straight construction season that passes without work progressing on expansion of the port.

Difficulties with the expansion have included cost overruns; the August 2011 death of a bulldozer operator who drowned when his machine accidentally slid into gravel fill; the discovery in 2009 that steel sheets used to form a new dock face bent and separated during installation.

The project, which has been in the works for more than a decade, and up to now has been overseen by the federal Maritime Administration, was originally estimated to cost $360 million, and was originally supposed to be complete by 2011. Instead, cost estimates have jumped to about $1 billion and climbing and completion date is nowhere in sight.

However, in February, Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan declared that the project was back on track and that project oversight and technical committees have been formed to review the expansion, and that a quality control program had been created to ensure work was done properly.

Sullivan’s declaration came a little more than a month after port director Bill Sheffield retired after 10 years on the job. Sheffield, who had been heavily criticized for his role in the cost overruns, stepped down effective Jan. 15, but remains on the port’s payroll as a consultant. His replacement, Richard Wilson, assumes his new position May 14, two weeks before the city assumes responsibility for the project from the Maritime Administration on May 31 at the behest of Sullivan and other city officials.