Big Lake lawmaker proposes state port authority take over Anchorage and Mat-Su ports

pilings along a body water, two container cranes and a cargo ship
The Port of Anchorage in 2016. It was later renamed the Port of Alaska, and is now the Don Young Port of Alaska. (Photo by Eric Keto/Alaska Public Media)

A legislator from Big Lake has a vision of Alaska where resources extracted in the Interior are shipped by rail to Port MacKenzie, loaded onto cargo ships in the shadow of a bridge spanning Knik Arm and sent off to the global market. 

Republican Rep. Kevin McCabe’s vision has multiple unbuilt megaprojects in it, and he thinks a key piece of unlocking the funding to make those projects happen is for the Matanuska-Susitna Borough and the city of Anchorage to hand their port facilities on opposite sides of Knik Arm over to a quasi-independent state port authority. 

McCabe is sponsoring House Bill 255 to create the Port of Southcentral Alaska Authority. The bill’s first committee hearing was held Tuesday in Juneau. 

“This isn’t envisioned to be any kind of an adversarial buyout or hostile takeover or anything like that,” he said to the House Transportation Committee. “This is designed and the idea – and the discussion that I wanted to engender with this bill was a way for both ports to move forward, whether it be for the bridge, or for the rail spur, or for resilience/redundancy, for earthquakes, or just for the synergies that we both have for docking different vessels.”

Under a port authority, McCabe said the ports would operate together in the entire state’s interest and for Alaskans broadly, rather than for the individual communities. He said that would make it easier for the ports and related transportation infrastructure to secure federal funding. 

“There can be no effective resource development, which our constitution requires of us, without transportation infrastructure,” McCabe said. “You’ve all heard me say it: Even if it’s a goat path and a mule with saddle bags, resources need transportation to reach markets, smelting facilities, energy plants or end users. … We are poised to burst at the economic seams if we have all the pieces in place to help us thrive.”

Committee members peppered him with questions. He said he was unable to answer several of the most substantive ones, such as what compensation the local governments would get for giving up their ports, how the transfers might impact local property taxes or how port user groups feel about the idea. He said the bill is a vehicle for those discussions. 

Anchorage city leaders have expressed resistance to a state takeover of their port, where most of the physical stuff shipped to Alaska arrives. 

McCabe said the bill will be back before the committee, which he also chairs, at a later date. 

A similar bill in the Senate that focuses exclusively on Anchorage’s port has not been scheduled for any hearings. 

a portrait of a man outside

Jeremy Hsieh covers Anchorage with an emphasis on housing, homelessness, infrastructure and development. Reach him atjhsieh@alaskapublic.orgor 907-550-8428. Read more about Jeremyhere.

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