Dave Bronson: Resolving the Port of Alaska crisis is essential to food security

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By MAYOR DAVE BRONSON

When I came into office, resolving the homelessness crisis in Anchorage was my number one priority. However, as my team and I assessed the dire situation at the Port of Alaska, it became quite clear that rebuilding and modernizing the Port had to become the chief focus of my administration. 

I know Anchorage residents, and folks across our state, have heard about problems at the port for many years. I’m not here to talk about past issues, mistakes made, or score any political points. I am focused on the future, ensuring food security for our state, and rebuilding our great Port of Alaska.  

The Port of Alaska is the single most important piece of infrastructure in our state. Yes, we have the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System, world-class mines, the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, and other critical infrastructure that support commerce throughout our state. But without the Port of Alaska, none of these would be possible.

Why is the port so essential to our economy and way of life as Alaskans? Here are a few pieces of information to consider when thinking about the Port of Alaska:

  • Ninety percent of Alaskans depend on goods handled by the port
  • Fifty percent of all cargo shipped into Alaska crosses the port
  • Annually, the PoA supports $14 billion worth of economic activity
  • It’s the only functioning tsunami-proof port in Alaska
  • Eighty percent of cement used in Alaska crosses the port
  • All aviation gas for the state comes through the port

Unfortunately, the Port of Alaska is in dire need of significant repair and upgrades. Right now, 1,400 pilings supporting port structures are considered seismically unstable. Approximately 1,000 of those piles were reinforced with jackets in the past, but those repairs are nearing the end of their useful life.

Cook Inlet’s harsh environment is rapidly corroding the piles and jackets. Recent engineering analysis indicates the docks may only have six to eight years left of remaining life before vertical load capacity restrictions would have to be imposed. 

The 7.1 magnitude earthquake that struck Southcentral in 2018 caused extensive damage to the port. As a result of that quake, 20 percent of the pilings at our newest dock – built in 1974 – failed.

The 2018 quake lasted 38 seconds. Experts have informed us that had it continued for another seven seconds, widespread liquefaction could have occurred, possibly leading to a total failure and collapse of one or more of the docks. Liquefaction occurs during an earthquake when the soil is shaken and mixed with enough water that it essentially becomes liquid, leaving it unable to support the dock.

It is hard to underestimate the destruction that losing the Port of Alaska would cause for our state. Roughly ninety percent of the food we consume in Alaska is imported, the majority coming across the port. On average, grocery stores have less than six days of food on hand. If we lose the port in an earthquake, and Matson and TOTE are unable to offload their ships, no food will be available in a matter of days. A society without food cannot function. Every household and business from Anchorage, to Bethel, to Kodiak, to the North Slope oil fields would be impacted if the port fails. 

Some have said that we could simply truck or fly in our food and supplies. This simply won’t be practical. Over 700 747 cargo jets would be needed on a weekly basis to replace the food and goods that cross the Port of Alaska.

As a former cargo pilot, I can tell you there aren’t enough idle jets in the world to fill that gap. 

I know this is a stark picture to paint. I was just as concerned as you likely are when I learned of this situation. The time for addressing this problem is now. We cannot wait until a disaster happens to talk about fixing the Port.

The good news is that we have a broadly supported plan and vision for how to fix the Port of Alaska and get us to what I call food security for Alaska. There are two cargo docks at the Port of Alaska. Food security requires we have one-seismically resilient dock that can off-load goods and supplies like clockwork. Currently, we don’t have food security as both docks are seismically unstable.

The technology exists for us to construct seismically resilient cargo docks. The Petroleum and Cement Terminal, which will be fully completed this spring, withstood the 2018 earthquake by utilizing modern engineering technology and design. Our plan for the cargo docks will mimic this same design and technology. 

The entire Port of Alaska Modernization Program is a $1.6 – $1.8 billion construction project. To get us to food security, which is one seismically resilient dock, we need $600 million.

The Municipality of Anchorage is requesting $600 million from the State of Alaska to rebuild cargo dock #1. The Assembly and Port users are supportive of our plan. Recently, the Assembly and I approved a $165 million revenue bond to support this project. We have skin in the game; I am asking the Legislature and Gov. Mike Dunleavy to join in our efforts.

The people of Anchorage cannot do this alone. Alaskans must come together to fix the Port once and for all. Our economy depends on it. Our way of life depends on it. We must save the Port.

Dave Bronson is the mayor of Anchorage.

31 COMMENTS

  1. What? No federal infrastructure money available in the $6 Trillion deficit they just rang up in one year?
    What? No State Capital Budget (so we can pay everyone a “Dividend”)?
    Shocking! I tell you! Who could have predicted this?

  2. Talk to Don Young about the Infrastructure Improvement Act. The State doesn’t have that money – they want to continue stealing the PFD anyway… Needed project, but get real about funding.

  3. Mayor Bronson is right on track. This is not the Port of Anchorage. It is the Port of Alaska and as such the State needs to get on board . We in Southeast are well aware of the implications of no barge service in our little communities. It would be disastrous beyond comprehension if we lost the port. Let’s hope we react in time and move this forward.

  4. While i am generally opposed to a tax, perhaps a state tax for port construction and only for port construction is reasonable. The money would not pass through the legislature, and would be retired when the port is completey paid for. That way all Alaskans would contribute to the new port. Just a thought

  5. Thanks for the update, Mr. Mayor.
    .
    Seems reasonable to ask who or what’ll prevent “past issues, mistakes made” from becoming present issues and mistakes in the making, what’ll keep a $600M one-year project from turning into a $2B, 5 year boondoggle.
    .
    Food security is good. What every level of American and Canadian government is actively contributing to jeopardize food security in the name of Covid hysteria is not good.
    .
    Why bother with a brand spanking new port if you can’t move food off the docks because stevedores and truckers fed up with government bullsh…(hey!) in the name of Covid hysteria pulled a wildcat strike?
    .
    Bottom line is, legitimate crisis notwithstanding, these challenges have to be solved first.
    .
    With respect, Mr. Mayor, if they’re not solved first, you and every productive Anchorage resident may be bloody damned sure of being saddled with the bill for yet another round of “past issues, mistakes made”.
    .
    Why? Because nothing stands in the way of yet another epic, arguably deliberate, failure.
    .
    Anchorage’s Assembly members already made clear their intentions toward you and, by extension, everyone who voted for you.
    .
    So what’s the strategy for fixing the Port, not because of them, but in spite of them?
    .
    To hell with them, let’s figure it out and get started.
    .
    Thanks again, Mr. Mayor.

  6. The Port of Anchorage is a money pit. Cook inlet tides and treacherous mud from glacier silt make it a very ineffective place for a major port. Deep water ports are available in Whittier, Seward and Port MacKenzie but Anchorage continues to force this financial quagmire anyway.

    • Well, the Port of Anchorage, like Anchorage itself, was never really meant to be. Seward was the entrepot to Western Alaska and the US took over building a railroad from Seward into the Interior. They needed a place to dump construction materials and Ship Creek was handy. In the spirit of “if you build it, they will come,” a tent city formed, but The West is littered with the remains of similar tent cities and even more substantial boom towns caused by railroad building and mining.

      Anchorage would have remained just another town in Alaska with an economy based on doing each other’s laundry had it not been for the Japanese and the miracles of trigonometry. Anchorage just happened to be on the “Great Circle” route from the Interior US to The Orient. If you want to go from the Caterpillar plant in Peoria, IL or the Willow Run B-24 plant in Detroit to the Pacific Theater, the shortest route isn’t to strike out West across the Pacific but to go north to Alaska and then South to Japan on an abstract “Great Circle” route that only makes sense if you know a little Trig and understand that the globe is round.

      All that railroad infrastructure in Anchorage was built to support the military. Absent Elmendorf Field, Anchorage would have been little more than a whistle stop for the Alaska Railroad. But since they built it, people came.

      Alaska has a long list of cities that were once the largest or richest place in Alaska. The most interesting speculation is what would have happened had Judge Wickersham not so despised the Guggenheims and the Kennicott Mine and thwarted the Copper River and Northwestern extension from Kennicott/McCarthy on to the Fairbanks area. The CR&NW offered to do it on their own tab, and the US and the Territorial Government turned it down. Had that happened, hippy-trippy Cordova might have become the entrepot to Alaska.

      The problem today is that the Mat-Su doesn’t seem to know how to become anything other than a bedroom subdivision for Anchorage. They seem to like big boxes that pay the minimum wage to provide goods and services to people who commute forty or fifty miles each way to work in Anchorage.

      Anchorage doesn’t really want to build anything. I’ll never forget a presentation by a couple of “captains of industry” back in the Seventies in which they bragged about having bought and sold the same piece of property in ANC four or five times in the last 20 years and made money every time; that is the limit of the thinking of the self-styled leadership cadre of Anchorage.

      During the oil era we’ve had all sorts of pie in the sky projects funded by oil money; all have been failures. The reality is that nobody wants these projects built; if you build it, the money gets shut off. The money is in knowing people in high places who will appoint you to a six figure job to talk about doing something that everybody knows you have no intention of doing. So, maybe we can start studying – again – a Pt. McKenzie port so a bunch of old farts who know the Commissioner of DOT&PF or the Governor can knock down six figures for a decade or so talking about actually building a port.

  7. The Mayor is sounding a clear alarm about what a catastrophe it would be to all of Alaska if the Port suffers wide spread matériel damage and rendered it inoperable. The Mayor has the vision and capability to formulate a plan to deal with this. want to lead.

    Unfortunately, the people of Anchorage continue to re-elect people to their Assembly who are seemingly not very bright and extremely immature. They would much rather spend their time devising legislature to reduce the mayor’s authority and ways to embarrass the administration. How tasteless and childish. So, get with it Anchorage! The first thing you can do to save your port, is to vote out people like Meg Zaletel and Forrest Dunbar. They are a total waste of time.

  8. Mayor, you said, “it’s hard to underestimate the destruction that losing the port of Anchorage would cause for our state.” Are you really that stupid? How about, “It is hard to overestimate the destruction?” If you cannot even understand the English language, how do you expect to inspire confidence? Donn Liston made an excellent point. There are other deepwater ports with railheads, and they are far enough apart to not be disabled by a single earthquake. Since it would be less profitable to upgrade in those places, but better for food security, it is obvious that you just want more money for your political donors.

  9. The homeless and life crisis’ associated with the homeless will always be around. Even the homeless are dependent on the port’s functionality. No functioning port and the services the homeless depend upon are delayed.

  10. I love how everyone here is slapping Bronson on the back for spending money . Money that was recovered because of the efforts of the BERKOWITZ administration over SEVEN years of contract litigation in the Federal Court of Claims against the U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD) for breach of contract.

    The order for damages requires the repayment of approximately
    $369,730, 593 — give or take a few million — by MARAD to the MOA — for losses incurred in the original Port Intermodal Expansion that began in 2003.

    So — Calling all Bronson backslappers, cheerleaders, suck-ups, and all-purpose sycophants — answer the following question:

    Are any of you going to ask what happened to the remainder of the damages $$$$ of approximate
    $204,730,593?

    If it were a liberal mayor — using this monumentally deceitful sleight of hand with Anchorage voters…hmmm — we all KNOW what you would do, now don’t we?

    • Never mind that it was a bunch of liberals who sank the project in the first place….Remember the long time port directors name? Bill Sheffield?

      • BOB: The fact you don’t care about Bronson not accounting for $204,739,593 makes you a monumental, right-wing HYPOCRITE. But…then again… that’s old news…older than Bill Sheffield.

    • That suit was filed under my administration several years before Berkowitz took office. MARAD was responsible for the management of the port construction project and delegated their responsibility, something not allowed under the contract.
      We also stopped the shoddy construction work that began under the Begich administration, re-designed the project, reduced the scope of work and secured $100 million from the state to make repairs and keep the project moving forward.
      I haven’t tracked all the projects in the bloated ‘infrastructure’ bill, but the Port of Alaska is far more important than many of the projects I have read about.

      • Don’t challenge me, Dan Sullivan. And don’t dare to take bows for something you DID NOT do. Unlike you — and I venture to say everyone here — I’ve read the Decision and Order. According to Federal Court of Claims Judge Edward Damich’s decision, this winning case was first filed SEVEN YEARS AGO.

        The case YOU brought asked MARAD to sue a company (ICRC) on behalf of the MOA. MARAD LOST that case and used MOA/Port of Alaska money (millions and millions of $$$) to pay the settlement when they should have paid from Uncle Sam’s Bureau of Ingraving and Printing. In other words, YOU SCREWED UP. The money (approx. $110,000,000) YOU lost makes up a portion of the settlement BERKOWITZ recovered.

        I’ll tell you what I told Suzanne: I’m the daughter of long-time, behind the scenes, political hobbyists. (In fact, I and my late parents are in a few pictures with you) So, please understand — I have the “receipts,” and if don’t have them, I know where to get them.

        So, don’t lie to these people. It’s not a good look.

    • Curious Sophie.
      .
      Are you as angry and bitter about the Assembly ignoring the $37.7 Million in non-discretionary costs they were saddled with when the State chose not to provide bond debt servicing funds, but they decided to spend millions on luxury items anyway?
      .
      There is a big difference between continuing to fight for funds, and knowingly ignoring a budget hit, but spending willy-nilly anyway. You want hypocrisy, look no further than the liberal members of the Assembly.

      • Would you like to provide the same level of elemental specificity I provided? You obviously checked my math. So, reveal the complete equation so I can check your work.
        Or — sit in silence with your what-about-isms.

        I never punch down when facts and truth matter. Only up.

  11. I sure wish Bronson and the rest of the Anchorage politicians would at least be honest about who actually gets served by the fabled ‘port of Alaska’.

    Dang near all of the freight coming into Southeast is coming direct from Seattle and ALL of the fish that leaves is direct Seattle….

  12. So……. Our newest dock is 40+ yrs old and we recently spent $300,000,000 on renovations that didn’t improve the situation at all. The only thing we got from that is a legal win against the maritime administration ……..well……that and Alaska’s usual suspects made millions and walked away. Maybe it’s time we stopped building grain silos in Valdez or hydrofoils in SE Alaska or Seafood Processing plants in Anchorage, or railroad to ports that dont exist or ferries that don’t even have docks or …….. The one thing all of these have in common is that the same people ALWAYS make money and we’re left holding the bag.

    The port of Anchorage will either be $2billiin when it’s done or Alaska will shrivel and die a slow death. The only way to grow is to improve our infrastructure.

    Unfortunately, the people who built the port that has lasted 50+ years are no longer here. We’re stuck paying 1,000 times more for a port that might last half as long. You have to love progress.

    Still………..the same people will get their cut and make Huey Long look like an amateur.

  13. The port is valuable and important for Anchorage, as well as for the State of Alaska as a whole.
    .
    But, this is only one, very small (and nationally unimportant) part of the supply chain machine. Seriously, it does not matter whether the port is unusable, or whether it is modern and running like a well oiled clock. If food and goods are not moving in the lower 48, they are not coming to AK.
    .
    That does not mean I do not support improving the port. It IS vital and necessary for Alaska. And, it is MUCH more important than the “homeless” crisis. (A crisis created by the previous administration). It must be noted that improving the port will not solve any food instability when food is not coming up from the lower 48.

  14. It seems the politics and faults of the past at the port at least could be set aside for a common good here. The fight over who gets credit for past mistakes and of course the future credits of mistakes and successes are open for strategic maneuvers, “Everything is political” just as Perchik of ‘Fiddler on the Roof’. Food seems important enough that MOA, Assembly, State, and Feds ‘ll “get er done”.

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