Seward develops marine infrastructure

The City of Seward hopes to break ground on its new harbor and breakwater in October, provided it can get a contractor in time.

The in-water infrastructure will be the backbone of the Seward Marine Industrial Center that will someday take advantage of several hundred acres of city-owned uplands, combined with the ice-free harbor, to create a sort of marine industrial park, city Community Development Director Ron Long said.

“Nobody wants to invest in breakwaters and lighthouses; they don’t generate any revenue,” Long said. “But when they’re done and then there’s a facility, people are interested in leasing lands in the uplands — do I need a warehouse here or a shop or a net-mending shed or a refrigeration facility or what?”

To make sure the city makes adequate and proper investments in its uplands to attract industry, Seward has contracted with the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority to do a business case scenario and development plan with financing options, he said.

Along with the city’s investment, Vigor Industrial is planning to spend about $1 million to upgrade the operational efficiency of its adjacent shipyard, Vigor Business Development Director Doug Ward said.

Portland, Ore.-based Vigor purchased the shipyard last year. Vigor also operates the shipyard in Ketchikan that is owned by AIDEA.

Ward, also the chair of the Alaska Workforce Investment Board, and a staple in Alaska’s maritime industry, said the development in Seward should be one of many smaller projects that are needed across the state to capture the work that is available and keep it in Alaska.

“I don’t want to say never, but it’s going to be a long, long time before we have the marine industrial capacity to support more than just a fraction of what’s going to be available,” he said in an interview.

With the aging Bering Sea fishing fleet needing replacement soon and offshore oil and gas activity starting to take hold, Ward said those are just two examples of the larger volume of work Alaska can’t capture right now.

He likened what the state needs to Louisiana’s Port Fourchon, which bills itself as “the Gulf’s energy connection.”

Port Fourchon is a 1,200-acre mega port — airport included — that provides facilities for every aspect of the offshore oil industry in the Gulf of Mexico. The State of Louisiana is currently working to double the size of the port.

“Our Port Fourchon will be distributed over a thousand miles and it won’t serve all of the demand that’s out there,” Ward said. “So our trick as a state and as communities is to try and take out personal agendas that want it all and try and focus those market segments that we’re best able to accommodate and manage.”

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