Anchorage officials took two big steps forward Tuesday toward rebuilding the aging and vulnerable cargo lifeline almost the entire state relies on.
Most of the state’s incoming freight, fuel and consumer goods flow through the city-owned Port of Alaska, built in 1961. Corrosion and age are wearing down the sections used for cargo, which don’t meet modern shipping standards.
Tuesday, the Anchorage Assembly voted 11-0 to approve key design decisions about what two rebuilt cargo terminals will look like, and new user fees that they intend to leverage for big state and federal grants to pay for it. The port facilities are being designed to last 75 years and to stand up to earthquakes. The Assembly’s action puts this phase of the massive port project on a path for construction to begin in 2025.
Assembly Chair Chris Constant called modernizing the port a generational project, and highlighted Tuesday’s action as a key point in breaking the logjam. The project has been bogged down for years in political, legal and technical processes.
“We decided tonight, Terminal 1 design is going forward,” he said. “Terminal 2: We’re going to have two options to look at with the analysis of the user base, and we have a vehicle to finance the project. All of that in one night is a pretty damn good deal.”
Firm cost estimates aren’t available, but the entire project is likely to cost more than $1 billion.
Meg Zaletel chairs the Assembly committee that shepherded this chunk of the project forward. She said Tuesday’s action will lead to more design work in 2024, and a menu of options with cost estimates for various components, ranging from port essentials to individual users’ wants.
Once the cargo terminals are ready to build, she said, “We can assure the public that we’ve thoroughly looked at the options, that we are picking options that allow the Port of Alaska to function as the Port of Alaska is intended to, and that we have a good plan of finance in place that doesn’t place the cost considerably on consumers.”
An earlier phase of the port modernization project to replace the petroleum and cement terminal was completed last fall. The first ships used the new, $219 million facility in May.