Charting a Course for Growth: The Port of Anchorage’s Ambitious Plans for the Future

A critical component of Alaska’s economy is making big plans for its future. The Port of Anchorage in January 2014 expects to select a project management team that will make recommendations for capital projects including dock replacements and other physical upgrades that will take place over the next five to nine years. Building on the port’s data on waterfront facility service life, the “2023 Business Plan” released in February 2014 identifies a number of business opportunities and related facility requirements.

“We are excited about the advice we’re receiving regarding our facilities,” Director Rich Wilson says, noting the original docks date back to 1961. “Our goal is to provide up-to-date port facilities for our private sector partners so they can do the best job they can shipping in and out of our port, which is the state’s largest gateway.”

Improvements will focus on replacing existing dock structures that have deteriorated due to severe corrosion. This will include reconstruction of at least two existing berths and may include construction of one new cargo berth to facilitate phasing.

Balancing Cost and Value

The Port of Anchorage is a “landlord” port to eight private-sector companies that use port facilities. The port is an enterprise department of the Municipality of Anchorage, and funds its operations through the revenue it receives from its tenants and other customers. Port officials are responsible for safely maintaining and managing facilities, security, roads, utilities and infrastructure improvements.

Future upgrades will be recommended and performed in a manner that provides maximum value and quality to the port and the people it serves. “We are very aware that driving efficiencies and getting our customers the lowest possible cost of services is a way of keeping costs down to Alaskans,” Wilson notes. “Our challenge will be to find a way to upgrade our facilities to get them where they need to be in the long term with minimal impact on costs to customers.

“Our finances are strong, and we need to keep them that way,” Wilson adds.

Port improvements will also likely lead the port to new business opportunities including a barge line of business. Wilson anticipates growth in large project cargo to serve the industrial and energy sectors.

One project cargo delivery was completed in August 2013, when 10 diesel/natural gas-fired engines made in Korea and Italy by Finnish manufacturer Wartsila were offloaded at the port.

A Valued Partner

The Port of Anchorage handles about 90 percent of the goods entering the state including consumer goods, gasoline and turbine aircraft fuels. The port fueling companies handle fuel used at Joint Base Elmendorf/Richardson and Ted Stevens International Airport in Anchorage.

In addition to providing goods for the vast majority of the state, the port also supports local oil, gas and mining firms, as well as the state’s military bases. “We are one of 19 ports recognized as strategic ports by the U.S. Defense Department,” Wilson says. “We are a strategic port for our military, and they value us highly.”

The port’s private-sector tenants are also valuable. “Our business partners and tenants are the lifeblood of this port,” he adds. “We’re a partner in every sense of the word with the private-sector lessees and others who use this port. When you’re in an environment like ours with the winter ice, winds, wide tidal range and salt water conditions, there are a lot of things that can go wrong. But when an issue comes up, all of us cooperate, bring our collective skills to the table and find a way to stay open every day of the year.”

Wilson also credits port staff with its success. “I have a small, experienced team and staff here that I’m proud of,” he says. “They know how to get the job done and certainly deserve the recognition.”