photo courtesy of Port of anchorage
Upgrade of city's port, key to state imports, is mired in a battle over its sheet-pile design.


Even as it remains enmeshed in lawsuits against former contractors and even a federal agency over its problem-plagued port upgrade, the city of Anchorage—and its new project manager, CH2M Hill—are changing its design and scope to resume work on a project stalled since 2010 and at least $300 million in the hole.

Work started in 2003, then halted when inspection revealed faulty pilings that compromised the structural integrity of new docks. In a 2013 report in its previous role as a consultant, CH2M Hill blamed the project's patented open-cell sheet-pile design. The sheets buckled during construction, and portions already installed proved faulty and seismically vulnerable, according to the city and the firm, which was hired earlier this year to manage the project revamp.

"This is now a rehab, not an expansion, project," says port director Steve Ribuffo. He says several design alternatives now are being pursued to modernize the facility, opened in 1961. Three will be developed to 15% completion and presented to the port commission in November. Officials hope to complete design by spring of 2015 and start construction in the fall.

Meanwhile, the city already seeks an additional $1.5 million from the state for legal fees in its 2013 state lawsuit against former lead design firm PND Engineers Inc. and consultants Veco Alaska Inc. and Integrated Concepts and Research Corp.

CH2M Hill acquired Veco in 2007 but has said that it is not liable for work done by the unit in 2006. In March, Anchorage also sued the original project owner, the U.S. Maritime Administration, which is trading responses with the city over the agency's July motion to dismiss the lawsuit, says Ribuffo.

"We still don't know a lot of specifics about the case against us," says Kenton Braun, vice president of PND Engineers, which designed the open-cell sheet pile system. He contends the city has "cut us out of the redesign process and has tried to saddle us with the blame for the construction problems."

PND pins the system's failure on the installation by three Integrated Concepts subcontractors that are not named in the lawsuit. "We have close to 100 of these systems in place and are confident that our design will be proven," he says.

Braun also questions the appropriateness of CH2M Hill's 2013 report. The firms did not respond or could not be reached.

While 85% of Alaska's goods come through the port of Anchorage, getting state money for the upgrade remains a challenge. "The legislature is going to have to pass over other needed projects," says Jomo Stewart, an economic development advisor for Fairbanks.