Anchorage brings in consultants to review troubled Port of Alaska project

26 April 2019 3 min. read

Anchorage, Alaska officials have awarded a $45,000 contract to project management firm Ascent PGM and consulting firm Northern Compass Group. The pair of firms will review the best path forward for the city’s port modernization project, which has been severely delayed as cost projections skyrocket.

The Port of Anchorage - which was renamed the Port of Alaska (POA) in 2017 - was constructed mostly in the 1950s, during one of America’s greatest periods of infrastructure development. Completed in 1961, the deep-water port today boasts three bulk carrier berths, two petroleum berths, and one barge berth. The critical piece of infrastructure is the main entry point for consumer goods and commodities shipped across Alaska.

Now, like many of the aging infrastructure from America’s colossal post-war construction efforts, the POA is in grave need of refurbishment. Port engineers say the POA has fewer than a decade of operational life left.

The port’s modernization project has thus far been a boondoggle. In 2003, the construction project was placed under leadership of the US Maritime Administration (MARAD), despite the agency’s lack of project management experience. Initially priced at $350 million, the project ran into construction problems in 2008-2009, and has since been mostly stalled. Anchorage is currently suing MARAD in Federal Claims Court to recoup lost construction funds.

Anchorage brings in consultants to review troubled Port of Alaska projectA new, scaled-back modernization design forwarded by engineering consultancy CH2M has a price tag of nearly $2 billion. The massive sum is too rich for the State of Alaska, given the context of ongoing budget deficits and a small tax base, according to the Alaska Journal of Commerce.

Facing a stalled project, an unpalatable cost estimate, and a pressing timeline to maintain one of the state’s most pivotal pieces of infrastructure, the Assembly Enterprise and Utility Oversight Committee has reached out for external consulting help. The Assembly, which oversees the POA modernization project, approved up to $100,000 in late March for consultants to determine why costs have skyrocketed, how the project should be designed, what infrastructure and amenities are required, and the optimal way to fund it.

Boston-based project management firm Ascent PGM and Anchorage consulting firm Northern Compass group ultimately won a $45,000 contract to deliver a report on the above questions.

Ascent VP Roe Sturgulewski, based out of the firm’s Anchorage office, has previously supported major port projects in Unalaska and Kodiak, and has worked on numerous marine infrastructure projects in the past three decades.

Business consultancy Northern Compass is headed by Mark Begich, former Democratic US Senator and Anchorage mayor. His consulting firm boasts “unmatched” Alaskan expertise, and offers services in business consulting, crisis management, communications, political consulting, and Indigenous and tribal relations.

The consulting partnership expects to have a final report ready for the Assembly by mid-September, according to Begich.

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