Mark Begich was mayor of Anchorage from 2003 to 2009, when the most critical design and funding decisions were made about the expansion of the Port of Anchorage, now called the Port of Alaska, although essentially a department of the municipality.
It all went horribly wrong in those six Begich years.
Begich blames the previous mayor, George Wuerch, for signing a contract with the Maritime Administration (MARAD), an agency of the U.S. Department of Transportation, to provide oversight of the project. The contract was signed weeks before Begich took office.
But the project went forward and melted down under Begich.
Now, the Anchorage Assembly has given Begich’s consulting company part of a $45,000-$100,000 contract to see what can be done for a project that has been on hold since 2010.
The contract to look into the port expansion disaster and suggest a path forward has been co-awarded to Ascent PGM and Begich’s Northern Compass Group. They were the only two who bid on the study.
Ascent is a project management group, an incarnation of the old “Rise Alaska” group founded by Leif Selkregg, a man with long ties to the Alaska Democratic Party establishment. Roe Sturgulewski is one of the senior executives in the group; he’s married to Carol Murkowski, one of the Gov. Frank and Nancy Murkowski offspring.
If you’re thinking there are a lot of blue-blood political names in the mix, you’re right. Sturgulewski is also the son for former Sen. Arliss Sturgulewski, while Selkregg is the son of a once-well-known civil rights activist, the late Fred Selkregg, who arrived in Anchorage before Statehood. Leif is also the sibling of Sheila Selkregg, who served on the Anchorage Assembly during the Sullivan Administration. The two are registered and reliable Democrats.
That political lineage also includes former Gov. Bill Sheffield, who was the Port director from 2001-2012. He, too, is a loyal Democrat.
Selkregg’s Rise Alaska has changed hands after it ran out of billable business during the capital project slowdown in Alaska in 2010, when the number of federally funded projects coming to Alaska dried up; Sen. Ted Stevens was gone from office as of January, 2009. Freshman Sen. Mark Begich (2009-2015) was a welter weight senator, unable to steer projects to Alaska, in spite of his friendship with President Obama. Congressional earmarks were out of fashion.
Selkregg is not without expertise, however. His companies have worked on other port projects around Alaska.
Northern Compass is, well, a political arm of Mark Begich. If some famous people are “famous for being famous,” then Begich is politically connected because he’s politically connected. He’s a Democrat, the current mayor of Anchorage (Ethan Berkowitz) is a Democrat, and most of the Anchorage Assembly leans left.
The costs of the port’s 10-year expansion project have skyrocketed from $350 million to close to $2 billion at last count. No one person can figure out why. The work was supposed to be competed in 2013, but was halted in 2010 when the new mayor, Dan Sullivan (not the senator) realized he had inherited a mess. After reviewing the work, Sullivan stuck a fork in the project and declared it “done.” There would be lawsuits. Most have been resolved in the municipality’s favor; the MARAD lawsuit is still pending an outcome.
Maybe Begich and Selkregg can navigate a path forward for the port. The question will then be, how much will tariffs have to go up to support the completion. That’s a question whose answer every consumer and business in Alaska will have an interest.