PACIFIC NORTHWEST REGIONAL REVIEW
Alaska's Port-by-Default Readies for Expansion
It stands to reason that the Port of Anchorage, Alaska the state's largest city by far would serve as the state's principal seaport. But that was not always the case. Up until 1964, ports at Seward and Whittier handled the lion's share of freight into and out of south-central Alaska. But an earthquake in 1964, measuring 9.2 on the Richter scale, changed all that.
Anchorage, Alaska, as seen from the Port of Anchorage. The port is embarking on a major expansion to meet increased demand for port services from cargo carriers operating to and from Asia.
"The port facilities in Seward were completely wiped out, and the ones in Whittier were damaged significantly," says Kevin Bruce, director of communications and business development at the Port of Anchorage. Bruce reports to former Gov. Bill Sheffield, port director, who was a private businessman in Anchorage at the time, and who experienced the quake firsthand. "While we had about a foot and a half of movement on the dock here at Anchorage, we were operational again within two days," says Bruce. "So from that point, we became the port for Alaska. To this day, we supply 80 percent of the state's population with 90 percent of their goods. We are the regional port."
Regular service to Asia from the port began in March 2003. "That can be very significant for us in that companies in Asia can ship parts into Anchorage, and we could warehouse, assemble, package and distribute, lowering the overall transportation costs for that specific product," points out Kevin Pearson, vice president of business development at Anchorage Economic Development Corp.
Bruce says the port is looking at developing intermodal solutions involving air and sea transportation for incoming freight from Asia. "Much of the freight isn't really that timely, but when you ship it here by sea, warehouse it and put it on air freight to the lower 48 states, you can create a just-in-time supply chain with significantly reduced transportation costs," he explains. Air freight carriers typically have full loads coming into Anchorage from Asia. Making the port a center into which non-time-sensitive goods could be shipped, stored and sent on by air to North American destinations would both create new business for the port and reduce shippers' overall freight costs.
But the facility is at, or very near, capacity. Besides Anchorage's international airport, which is a key air freight hub for Federal Express, UPS and several air carriers, the seaport is a vital link to regional and global trade and a key driver of the city's and state's economic growth. "We are working at or above what our consultants have determined to be our practical sustainable capacity," says Bruce.
A $236-million expansion is in the works that by 2009 will double the acreage of the port and enable larger container ships to call there. Plans call for deepening the port to 45 feet (13.7 m.) from 35 feet (10.6 m.). Cranes will be upgraded to reach 16-container-wide vessels. And the port's ability to handle barge traffic, which is central to reaching rural Alaska, will be enhanced.