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The Anchorage Port Expansion Project and its director, former Governor Bill Sheffield has come under fire again. This time coming from Anchorage Assemblyman Paul Honeman. Honeman, is running for Sullivan's seat as mayor of Anchorage in the next election on April 3rd of next year.
Honeman said in a news release yesterday, that Mayor Sullivan should fire Port director Sheffield. This because of the ongoing problems and cost over-runs of the Port Expansion project. In a statement, the Honeman campaign said, “This comes after years and millions of dollars” (wasted on the expansion project). If our municipality is serious about putting the Port of Anchorage expansion back on the right track, then the first step is for new leadership at the port.”
Mayor Sullivan responded to the comments made in the statement by saying, that an investigation by him and his administration has taken place and that they have “taken several critical steps to ensure the success of the project going forward.” As for the firing of Bill Sheffield, the mayor said, “As for the appointment and retention of executive staff, that remains the exclusive responsibility of the mayor.”
Assembly Chairwoman Debbie Ossiander agreed with the mayor and pointed out that until the Corps of Engineer study currently underway comes out, Honeman’s position is premature.
Assemblyman Bill Starr has also sided with the mayor and Sheffield saying the port has performed well under Sheffield. He feels Sheffield should not be dispensed from his position because of a cost overrun. Instead, Starr points the finger at ICRC for not doing their job right.
ICRC, or the Integrated Concepts and Research Corporation, was until 2007, a Koniag subsidiary until it was sold to VSE for $11.6 million as Value Engineering Corporation sought to expand its business in other areas such as port expansion. Until the expansion project, ICRC did not have any experience in the area of port construction or expansion.
Honeman did however find an ally in Dick Traini, who replied when asked what he would do if he were mayor, “I would have already terminated him. There’s been a problem going on there a long time.” he added that when Sheffield was in his prime he was an asset but now it is time for Sheffield to move on.
Elvi Grey-Jackson was of the same opinion and said, “I think Gov. Sheffield has run his course,”
The design the project used was developed in 1980 by Dennis Nottingham at PND Engineering. Problems with the design began early on in the project. The design came under scrutiny and was questioned as early as 2002. Engineering firm Lachel and Associates said at that time that use of the design held potential risks when used at the port location. They predicted “global cell failure” if used in the moving silt of Cook Inlet. Looking at the Point MacKenzie dock, which is of the same design, the Corps of Engineers voiced their concern as well, citing shifting risks.
In 2000, Tryck Nyman Hayes began drawing up plans for the new expansion. The cost of the new facility was $225 million. In 2001, Sheffield was appointed to the position of Port Director by then Mayor George Wuerch.
By 2002, Sheffield brought new plans from Peratrovich, Nottingham and Drage to the Port commission for a larger project that was priced at $146 million. Sheffield said the project could be complete in four years. In response, Richard Burg, the Port’s top engineer, left his position with the port after 12 years.
The cost of the port continued to rise through the years since that first cost estimate. In 2003 that cost rose to $225 million. By 2004 it had reached $300 million. By 2008, $526 million or $700 million depending on who one talked to. It is now 2011 and the predicted costs have risen to over $1 billion.
As the costs of this expansion project has grown, the completion date has been moving further and further into the future as well. In 2005, when actual construction began, the people of Anchorage were told that it would be complete by 2011. By March of 2007, that date had been moved to 2013. By 2009, that date had moved to 2017. In 2010, depending on who one talked to, the date for completion was set at 2015 to 2017. The shipping companies thought it would be more like 2020. At the beginning of this year, 2011, the original completion date, the target completion date is now a decade into the future, it is slated for 2021.
While some of the Anchorage Assembly, and many of the citizens of Anchorage and the state have blamed Sheffield for the delays and huge cost overruns. Mr. Sheffield has not yet released a reply, but as recently as September, he has pointed the finger at MARAD, the Maritime Administration. But, in 2003, when Sheffield promoted MARAD to management of the project, he said that MARAD would only be an agent and the port officials would be in charge of the project.
But even more interestingly, Bill Sheffield has blamed the Beluga whale as the main culprit for the increasing delays and cost over-runs.