By REP. KEVIN MCCABE
The Port of Alaska today serves three core functions: Commerce, national defense, and earthquake/disaster resiliency, response, and recovery. All three are at risk in the event of an earthquake or other natural disaster.
- Commerce: This includes statewide cargo services and economic development a good percentage of which goes over bridges that tie the Glenn Highway to the Parks Highway, thus serving all interior Alaska. Without those bridges, the Port of Alaska is isolated from the rest of the state other than Seward and the Kenai, both of which have their own ports.
- National defense: Once again, with the bridges over the Knik River down or unusable, the military bases in Interior Alaska — Fort Greely, Eielson, Clear, and Fort Wainright — are isolated regardless of the viability of the Port of Alaska. There are just too many national defense eggs to put in the single basket of the Port of Alaska.
- Earthquake resiliency/ disaster response and disaster recovery: The Port of Alaska, due to its location, is proven to be susceptible to “sloughing” during an earthquake. The mere fact that the projected costs to protect it from the results of an earthquake are so huge should tell us that the engineers are very worried about its viability after an earthquake.
A regional port authority encompassing both Port of Alaska and Port MacKenzie is the only viable way to protect ourselves from a natural disaster. The current issues at the Port of Alaska are emblematic of what happens when we do not plan for the future. Any future plans that encompass the resiliency needed to feed and supply interior Alaska, after an earthquake, must include a second or alternate port. Port Mackenzie is that port, as both Seward and Homer would still have to truck or rail over Knik River bridges to provide for interior Alaska.
Any discussion of resiliency or “food security” for Interior Alaska, that discusses earthquake survivability, must also consider the rest of the transportation infrastructure “out” of Anchorage, including not only the Ship Creek bridge but the railroad bridge, the Old Glenn Highway bridge, and the Glenn Highway bridge over the Knik River. Think of Vine Road after the 7.0 magnitude earthquake in 2018..
The Port of Alaska is currently near capacity shoreside: The efficacy of any port, as well as its economics or ability to generate revenue, depend on the amount of land associated with the port. The Port of Alaska, in addition to its small 15.1-acre footprint, seems near capacity shoreside. Notwithstanding the need for storage area, the ability to trailer “doubles” out of the port is limited by the roads near Ship Creek in Anchorage. Transporting trailers and goods out of the port, other than by rail, is highly dependent on the bridge across ship creek, which is a choke point and must be considered during any discussion about an earthquake as its damage or loss would further restrict port truck traffic.
Conversely, Port MacKenzie has 14.5 square miles of land, is already on the rapidly growing Interior side of the bridges across the Knik River and could easily serve not only the North Slope needs but the needs of four of the six major military bases in Alaska before or after an earthquake. It could also effortlessly contribute to the food security of all of Alaska using barges to reach the Kenai Peninsula, Seward, and Anchorage. The rail line north could get goods into interior Alaska and to all points North of the Knik River served by trucking.
The possibilities for Port MacKenzie are limitless: The entire state needs Port MacKenzie. It does not need yearly dredging and can accept a panamax-size ship even during low tide. In addition to 90-foot depth waterside, it has the acreage available to operate not only the rail line, but to store the trailers and warehouses associated with a port shoreside.
There has been discussion in the MatSu centered around becoming partners with Anchorage to develop a regional port authority that could encompass the needs of all of Alaska, not just an Anchorage isolated by an earthquake. Alas, it seems that some are only focused on Anchorage, and not the entire state. This political argument needs to end. We must get out of our silos and work together.
One example of the narrow-minded gaslighting is the discussion of “food security.” This parochial argument is fear mongering to leverage Alaskans, the Legislature, and the federal government to invest all available money in the Port of Alaska. True food security comes from within the state. It comes from developing our own infrastructure and ability to grow food in Alaska. Part of that, in normal times, would entail giving farmers the ability to sell or export their goods. This could be cheaply and more efficiently done by having a deep-water port, which does not need constant dredging, connected by a rail line to the breadbasket of Alaska. That is real food security. When Port of Alaska supporters talk about food security, however, what they really mean is transportation security for food, which likely would only serve Anchorage, Eagle River, and Eklutna.
Can the rest of Alaska afford the lack of an alternate source of transportation security?
Finally, there should be a larger discussion about homeports for Coast Guard icebreakers and cruise ships. The Port of Alaska is incapable of handling either of these. One must wonder why leaders would not want to leverage Port MacKenzie and why people would not want to be on board with the MatSu to attract these types of ships, something that would be good for the entire state.
Rep. Kevin McCabe represents Big Lake in the Alaska Legislature.