The Seward Phoenix Log - News of the Eastern Kenai Peninsula since 1966

By Wolfgang Kurtz
LOG Editor 

Seward's port expansion projects advance



The next phase of Seward Marine Industrial Center begins within the 35 percent of the SMIC Development Plan depicted here. Funding for the completion of the breakwater sections has reached 71 percent of the projected costs of 27.9 million with $10 million added during the just concluded legislative session. City managers will be seeking the remainder from federal sources, promoting the project as self-sufficient and vital to the region’s economic and industrial interests.

The just concluded legislative session added $10 million to the funds available to construct the next phase of the Seward Marine Industrial Center. The total project cost for the SMIC breakwater, the centerpiece of that portion of construction, was pegged at almost $18 million. Combined with $10 million from the recent statewide transportation bond package, the legislative appropriation barely covers the budget for remaining engineering work as well as construction of the breakwater. City officials are prospecting for other monies to cover completion of the phase 1 engineering as well as phase 2 design and other expenses.

The SMIC area is within Seward city boundaries and located across Resurrection Bay from the historic community. The center is connected to the Seward Highway by Nash Road, a state maintained artery which also provides access to adjacent Spring Creek Correctional Center. Room for industrial growth with direct access to deep water channels were the principal advantages cited for developing the present day SMIC. Separated from the Alaska Railroad-dominated headwaters of Resurrection Bay, SMIC doesn’t contend with the continual deposit of material from Resurrection River, a further benefit.

Two extensions of the breakwater including a 790-foot section will employ rock from the city’s quarry and protect the bracketed area including the existing north dock from prevalent ocean swells. The wave action currently eats away at the north dock and makes docking, mooring and cargo handling a sometimes hazardous exercise. The swells also ripple through the rest of basin causing damage to vessels and dock facilities.

At the April 8 Seward City Council meeting discussion regarding damages to facilities at SMIC caused by wave action and the Alaska Marine Highway System ferry Tustumena highlighted the present lack of adequate protection for vessels moored at SMIC docks. This type of liability which routinely sidelines SMIC from consideration for some business will no longer be a detriment with the construction of the phase 1 breakwater.

According to Ron Long, Seward’s assistant city manager, just getting the breakwater in place is an essential step to adapting the SMIC basin for use by Coastal Villages Region Fund vessels. The home-porting of the CVRF fleet became the predominate justification for state funding of Seward’s port expansion. Identified as a State of Alaska priority by Governor Sean Parnell and championed within the legislature, the FY 2013 appropriation recently passed through the Alaska legislature was accordingly labelled “SMIC/Homeport Coast Villages Region Fund’s Fleet to Alaska Project.”

According to a 2012 City of Seward project funding applications, implementation of this project will have a dramatic positive economic impact on the entire state. Coastal Villages reports their CDQ fleet spends $5 to $10 million annually on maintenance of vessels, approximately $20 million annually in Seattle on moorage, vendor support and maintenance and approximately $2 million annually in airfare for crew members to reach vessels in Seattle. Several Coastal Villages vessels are now effectively home-ported in Seward and more are expected to relocate as construction progresses.

As the move continues, CVRF will see savings from elimination of long distance commutes for crew members and other staff and as well as reductions in travel time and costs, especially fuel, to their fishing area. Another benefit cited was the fact that Seward has road, rail and air access with close proximity to Anchorage and a broad resource base ranging from Anchorage and Kodiak to communities spread across the Kenai Peninsula which will engage all these communities in the increased commerce based in Seward.

Long indicates that the benefits from CVRF jumpstarting the SMIC expansion will cascade through to other customers and local businesses, creating moorage capacity beyond that required by the fishing fleet as well as offering benefits to existing services such as Seward Ship’s Drydock. This week City Manager Jim Hunt expressed optimism that work on the breakwater extension may commence as soon as this summer. Of course, the additional financing to complete the required portions of the overall project budget will help grease the rails. Hunt and Long are looking for a favorable reception as the city prepares to make the case for that funding to federal agencies and legislators over the next couple of weeks.

Paralleling the advancing SMIC expansion, the Alaska Railroad Corporation is working toward their submission of an application for federal funding of a portion of the ARRC’s master plan. In advance of any federal funding, ARRC administrators expect to gain the approval of their board to build on the gains seen by their marine freight business through widening and other enhancements to the ARRC cargo dock at the Port Avenue terminal facility. The ARRC has seen a 143 percent increase in freight revenue for their Seward operations since 2008.

During a recent city council meeting, the ARRC’s Vice President of Facilities Jim Kubitz highlighted the complementary nature of the two initiatives and said that both deserved the support of community leaders. City administration and ARRC managers have indicated that they are working together to expand these facilities which will continue to sanction Seward as Alaska’s top-notch port.


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