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Vol. 13, No. 48 Week of November 30, 2008
Providing coverage of Alaska and northern Canada's oil and gas industry

AK-WA Connection 2008: Expansion will aid shipping to Alaska

Washington businesses look forward to improvements at Port of Anchorage; infrastructure project aims to stimulate economic growth

Rose Ragsdale

For Alaska-Washington Connection

The multiyear expansion under way at the Port of Anchorage promises new opportunities for transportation companies involved in the Alaska-Washington trade.

But perhaps more importantly, the port’s concerted program of infrastructure improvements could open the way for dramatic acceleration of growth in Alaska’s economy, especially in increased U.S.-Asia economic integration and further development of Alaska’s vast natural resources.

Immediate opportunities include the $30 billion Alaska natural gas pipeline, major new mines that may be developed in Interior Alaska, expansion of tourism within the state and other yet-unforeseen economic stimuli.

As Alaska’s regional port, the Port of Anchorage serves 90 percent of the state’s maritime trade. The strategic locale of the port has enabled its use during several rapid deployments of U.S. combat forces and, most recently, by the Stryker Brigade Combat Team. Anchorage is also homeport for the U.S. Coast Guard Marine Safety and Security Team.

Strategic advantage

The ocean travel time between Anchorage and Asian ports is faster than those to/from West Coast ports. When factoring in total clearance affected by congestion delays, off-loading, customs clearance and inter-modal transfer, the

Port of Anchorage expects to enjoy a strategic advantage often overlooked by others in U.S.-Asia trade, experts say.

The expansion project is expected to double the port’s physical footprint and triple the length of its dock area. Due for completion in 2014-15, the $700 million project was funded with federal and state grants as well as local revenue bonds and port profits.

As the northernmost U.S. deep draft port the Port of Anchorage began operations in 1961 with one berth. Today, it has five berths.

Adjacent to the port is a 128.96-acre industrial park with 63 percent of that area leased by various businesses, including the two major carriers that serve the port - Horizon Lines, Inc. and Totem Ocean Trailer Express, Inc. The former operates a standard cargo container operation, while the latter operates trailer roll-on, roll-off (RO/RO). Both are “Jones Act” carriers, and together, have four to five vessels arriving at the port on a weekly basis.

Bigger ships, better trade

The expansion project consists of three parts: (1) road and rail extension to improve cargo flow; (2) development of a north terminal to accommodate and coordinate an increase in barge shipments and container traffic; and (3) dock expansion to accommodate 1,000-foot ships and berth vessels requiring greater depth.

The seven-year project began in 2005 and encompasses development of 135 acres of land and 8,880 feet of waterfront structures.

Dredging to a depth of 45 feet from the current 35 feet also is being undertaken.

The port’s accommodations will increase 80 percent to nine berths and seven terminals, enabling simultaneous docking of seven large ships and two normal-sized vessels.

“We will be able to accept the (1,000-foot-long) Panamax ships that need a 45-foot draft to dock. They can carry 2,700 pieces of 48-inch diameter pipe” that would be used to build the gas pipeline, said Port of Anchorage Deputy Director Steve Ribuffo.

A large part of the 135 acres being added to the port’s industrial park will be used as a lay-down area for the pipe as it is delivered to Alaska.

“We think we will have the infrastructure to do it more efficiently that some other places,” Ribuffo said.

Contractors have already begun visiting the port to assess how well the expanded facility would meet their needs during pipeline construction.

“The latest company to come take a look was Shaw Pipe, which I believe is a contractor for the trans-Alaska gas pipeline project,” Ribuffo said. “We will be finished with the area of interest to companies building the pipeline in another (18 months.) They won’t have to wait.”

Two new barge docks also are being built adjacent to a lay-down area for construction of oil and gas field modules as well.

Super-sizing the cranes

The expansion also will bring much larger cranes to the port to handle the unloading of containers from very large ships.

The deeper draft and the larger cranes will enable ships that now call only on ports on the West Coast in Los Angeles and Long Beach, to stop in Anchorage, and it will enable existing customers in the Alaska-Washington trade to operate more efficiently as they supply consumer goods to 80 percent of Alaska’s population, Ribuffo said.

Adding more terminals and acreage is very important to Horizon Lines because they are building bigger ships, Ribuffo said.

“The big thing for us is it will allow us to put in bigger cranes and with bigger cranes we can use bigger ships,” said Marv Buchanan, marketing manager of Horizon Lines Inc. “It will be a more efficient port.”

Ribuffo said the expansion also will accommodate changes under way at TOTE.

One key group of sector of shipping customers, automobile dealers and truck fleet managers, are particularly excited about the improvements being made in the port expansion.

Kevin Lauver, fleet and commercial manager for Alaska Sales and Service in Anchorage, said the expansion will enable automobile retailers to move significantly more volume through the port.

“Right now, a ship has to wait to offload, and that will change,” he said.

Alaska Sales and Service moves about 3,000 units a year, and offers one of the state’s largest selections of commercial vehicle.

Other firms that specialize in vehicle fleet sales and are posed to benefit from the port expansion include Cal Worthington Ford and Truckwell of Alaska in Anchorage and Seekins Ford in Fairbanks.

Inter-modal benefits

The port also provides an inter-modal advantage that will benefit shippers and the Alaska Railroad, which will be able to run its trains through the entire development, close to the docks and onto the adjacent military bases, Elmendorf Air Force Base and Fort Richardson Army Base.

“We leased parts of the land to the east of the port from the Air Force and from the Army to the south to bring the rail extension to the port,” Ribuffo explained.

When the expansion is complete, Ribuffo said the port will be bigger, and have deeper terminals, a new maintenance facility and a new administration building on the current docks that it likely will share with the Coast Guard.

The redevelopment also will develop a secured cruise ship terminal to accommodate passengers and baggage, correct landside traffic circulation, relocate port support structures and buildings and install state-of-the-art security and lighting controls in accordance with the new maritime security mandates.

The port also will be connected to Ted Stevens - Anchorage International Airport and four of Alaska’s five military bases –Fort Wainwright and Eielson Air Force Base in Fairbanks along with the Anchorage bases - by the Alaska Railroad’s track system. In addition, the railroad is pursuing plans to extend its rails to Delta Junction to connect Fort Greeley, the state’s third Army base to its system, Ribuffo added.

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