Manager sought for port project

The Municipality of Anchorage is in the market for a project management team to oversee the stalled Port of Anchorage expansion project.

At a joint meeting between the Anchorage Assembly’s Enterprise Oversight Committee and the Port of Anchorage Commission on May 23, Municipal Manager George Vakalis announced that the municipality is drafting a request for proposal, or RFP, to receive bids for the work.

The four-member Enterprise Committee monitors the actions of the city-owned utilities, Merrill Field and the Port of Anchorage.

Vakalis said the municipality has almost completed drafting the RFP.

“All along we’ve planned to go ahead and hire a third party to help us with project management and all the other areas associated with the (port) construction project,” Vakalis said.

As of August 2012, $439 million of state and federal money had been allocated to the port project, which has been idle since 2010 after problems installing the sheet pile support structure were discovered.

At the time, the U.S. Maritime Administration, or MARAD, was in control of the project on the municipality’s behalf. It was the first construction project MARAD had overseen.

In March, the municipality filed a lawsuit against former port project manager Integrated Concepts and Research Corp., or ICRC; design consultant CH2M Hill; and PND Engineers Inc., the company that designed the sheet pile. The lawsuit was based on a $2.6 million suitability study and alternative concept design report the municipality commissioned CH2M Hill to do last year.

CH2M Hill is named in the lawsuit because it acquired VECO in 2007, and VECO was the contractor that approved the Open Cell Sheet Pile design as suitable for the port expansion.

In its study for the municipality, CH2M Hill determined the Open Cell Sheet Pile was improperly installed and additionally was not suitable for the Port of Anchorage.

PND has rebutted the claim that their design is unsuitable for the project.

The project management team will assist in the development of a work scope for future port construction, draft the necessary documents and handle design and construction oversight, Vakalis said. He added that the team would report with a schedule of “verbatim tasks” to the municipality.

A resolution in support of hiring of an outside port construction management team was introduced by Enterprise Committee members Patrick Flynn and Jennifer Johnston at the May 21 general Assembly meeting. Johnston said the resolution was drafted prior to her or Flynn knowing the municipality was in the process of drafting an RFP for that exact purpose.

The Assembly will ultimately vote on the hiring of a project manager after a candidate is chosen.

The municipality is also investigating the option of driving test piles at the port in preparation for further construction work. The more traditional support piles were recommended in CH2M Hill’s alternative design concept and there is a possibility they will be used in the future, Vakalis said.

Driving test piles soon would also supply information on how long it takes to drive a steel pile and what impact the construction might have on Cook Inlet’s endangered Beluga whale population. The information will be needed for a supplemental environmental assessment report, Vakalis said. The current assessment expires Aug. 31, 2014, and construction will certainly extend beyond that date.

Vakalis said Seyfarth Shaw LLP, the international law firm the municipality hired to assist in the lawsuit, has contracted with an independent engineering firm to review the findings of CH2M Hill’s findings for litigation purposes. The results of the review will also be used by the municipality to determine which design it should use in further port construction, he said.

While Flynn agreed with the idea of saving municipality money by using the same report twice, he expressed concern over the possibility of the review findings being held confidential while court proceedings that could take years are taking place, he said.

Vakalis downplayed the worries saying that it is the most prudent move the municipality can make given the situation.

The Port Commission members were mostly quiet during the hour-long meeting.

Port Director Rich Wilson was in attendance at the meeting and said regular yearly maintenance of the port’s aging support piles is beginning for the year, with 46 piles receiving cathode corrosion prevention systems. The corrosion prevention is expected to cost about $1.5 million.

Court action

On May 10 the municipality filed a motion in U.S. District Court to have the lawsuit moved back to state court, where it was originally filed. The move would separate MARAD, the federal agency in charge of port project oversight when the alleged design and construction problems occurred, from the litigation.

Government entities are typically immune from legal action unless contracts are broken.

ICRC, MARAD’s project manager, has tried to tie itself to MARAD in court through their contractual agreements. In its April 17 motion for dismissal ICRC stated that the municipality cannot sue it because it worked on the port project under a contract with MARAD.

The municipality’s request for moving to state court says that while ICRC contracted with MARAD, the contract made ICRC the party responsible for both design and construction. 

Further, the request states that the defendant bears the burden of establishing that remanding the case to state court is not appropriate.

No further action on the matter has been taken.

Elwood Brehmer is a reporter for the Alaska Journal of Commerce.