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The Port of Anchorage, crucial to Alaska’s success

Rep. Don Young

I have been a long time supporter of the Port of Anchorage Intermodal Expansion Project because I believe that this project epitomizes the kind of forward-looking Alaskan project that our state needs if we are to be ready for the exciting opportunities of this new century.  I commend Mayor Sullivan, the mayors before him and Governor Sheffield for the leadership they have shown in sticking to the critical task of revitalizing our largest port.

In 2003, as Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, I had the opportunity to visit with former Governor Bill Sheffield and hear him speak about his vision of rebuilding the Port of Anchorage so that it would thrive for decades to come. The original Port facility was fast approaching the end of its useful life and needed major repairs and improvements, and I was determined to help in any way I could. I believed then, and continue to believe now, that with the right investment and commitment, the Port of Anchorage will continue to be one of the main forces of Alaska’s economic success, today and well into the future.

Alaska is unique in the sense that we are among only a handful of states where it isn’t economical to transport the majority of goods and materials from other states by truck or rail. Alaska’s ports serve that purpose. All across Alaska there are ports that play essential roles such as the Port of Dillingham, which serves as a crucial hub for rural Alaska, and Southeast ports such as the Port of Juneau or Ketchikan, which supply the majority of goods upon which those communities rely. The fact of the matter is, no matter where you live in Alaska, ports play a critical role in our quality of life. Due to its size and location, this is especially true of the Port of Anchorage.

Today, the Port of Anchorage serves 85 percent of the Alaska’s populated areas and provides 90 percent of their consumer goods, including 120,000 containers and 11 million barrels of fuel each year. One of only 19 commercial ports around the country that has been designated by the Department of Defense as a Strategic Port, it is essential to serving the thousands of Army and Air Force personnel, and their families, throughout Alaska. Additionally, it is a key driver in the Pacific Northwest economy helping to provide thousands of jobs. As Alaska continues to grow in population and expand its economy, it would be short-sighted to not continue to invest in a project that positively impacts so many.

Like many projects of comparable size and complexity, the Port of Anchorage expansion has had its setbacks.  Construction of our oil pipeline cost nine times the original estimates, but its revenues have been orders of magnitude greater than originally projected. No project worth doing, especially a large, multifaceted and essential infrastructure project, is without its serious problems and challenges. The key is to learn from mistakes, make corrections, and move forward with improved procedures and techniques -- I believe Mayor Sullivan, Governor Sheffield, The Maritime Administration, and others connected to the project have made the corrections needed to move the expansion project forward on a solid footing.  I am encouraged by the actions that have been taken to increase oversight, accountability and to ensure that all project partners are living up to their commitments.

Alaska’s future is bright, and whether it’s providing support for the buildup of a natural gas pipeline, or for storing and shipping construction materials for offshore drilling and pipeline construction, or providing support to our military forces -- make no mistake about it -- the Port serves as an economic engine to the state. Alaska’s economy has enormous potential, but without continued investment in crucial projects like the Port of Anchorage expansion project, we will struggle to reach that potential. The need to invest in the Port of Anchorage for the long-term will undoubtedly provide countless economic dividends well into the future and I remain committed to this important, All Alaskan project.

Congressman Don Young is serving his 20th term as Alaska’s sole member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch. Alaska Dispatch welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, e-mail commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.