By Russell Stigall for Seward City News–
For decades Seward’s Marine Industrial Center North Dock has eaten untold waves cast out of the Pacific. It has also eaten hundreds of thousands of City dollars.
Built to berth ships uncomfortable in Seward’s small boat harbor, North Dock was meant to offset its construction costs through moorage. However, a stone barrier designed to protect the dock was never built and the city waved goodbye to its potential maritime customers.
Brutal conditions at the dock darkened SMIC’s reputation within a close-knit commercial maritime community.
“Word got around, at least for [SMIC] that Seward is not a friendly place for boats or business,” Assistant City Manager Ron Long said in a recent interview.
Waters are about to calm
After years of work and $25 million, cobbled and stretched by city staff, Seward is about to have its North Dock breakwater.
At the Fourth of July Creek staging area contractor Hamilton Construction has stockpiled impressive rows of sorted gravel, rocks and stones. Much has come from Seward’s own rock quarry behind Spring Creek Correctional Center. Other large stone came as leftover from Hamilton’s airport runway job on Kodiak Island.
“Monster stones; 10,000- to 15,000-pound stones,” Long said. Much of which Seward could use. “This made [Hamiltion] a very competitive bidder,” Long said.
Getting the rock is the slow part. Once enough stone is stockpiled Hamilton can proceed with building up the breakwater.
“This project…probably looks glacial from From the outside the project’s proceedings may look glacial,” Long said. “It takes a long, long time to stockpile all that rock up on the beach. When they actually start pouring it into the water at full rate it will disappear like that.”
Hamilton’s contract runs through April 2017. However, Long said he expects the contractor to have a breakwater in place this fall. While salmon runs can put an end to pile driving and dredge work, those parts of phase one construction are complete and placement of rock can proceed.
“It is in everybody’s interest to do it in one…cycle. The contractor is very motivated to get it done without having to take a break and come back and start everything back up,” Long said.
The City paid off its North Dock in 2013. It had made payments since the late 1980s. Ron Long has been there for much of it.
“I’ve been working to get that place enclosed, get it funded, for twenty-plus years,” Long said.
The North Dock breakwater was priced at between $5 million and $7 million in the mid 1990s, Long said. The same designed jumped to more than $27 million today.
Seward was caught in a cycle where its dock couldn’t generate the funds needed to build a breakwater until SMIC had a breakwater. The private sector does not traditionally invest in breakwaters. Like lighthouses, breakwaters generate no income, Long said.
Maritime businesses didn’t bring cash to the North Dock either.
“No private investment is going into a facility like that that is not fully functional or useable. People are not going to cut loose and invest,” Long said. The maritime community is small and tight-knit, “word spreads like wildfire. Reputation is everything.”
So the City raised its own funds. Over time city staff scraped $20 million from state-wide bonds and legislative appropriations.
“Now we are getting close,” Long said.
Long and city staff took another look at the breakwater’s design. They fed the project’s data into Alaska Vocational Technical Center’s bridge simulator reconfigured a channel opening and “shaved a couple million off the cost,” Long said.
The City took this new price to the State. Long said their request stood out by costing less than the previous year.
“Everybody else had costs that had gone up,” Long said. Seward received its requested $5.9 million.
Soon a GPS guided dump scowl will build up the breakwater by 1,600-ton loads.
“These are massive quantities of rock,” Long said.
The core of the breakwater is made of unsorted rock and gravel, “stuff,” Long said. The secondary armor is built of larger stones with its primary wave-busting layer a jig-saw puzzle of those 15,000-pounders interlocked on top.
As an upshot of SMIC’s new breakwater both the prison’s sewer outflow and the outflow of a nearby fish processor are extended further into Resurrection Bay and into an more effective mixing zone.
Where to from here?
The hope is that SMIC’s harbor will calm, its reputation stabilize and private enterprise takes root.
Long said future phases of improvement at SMIC may include a doubling of dock space to over 800 feet – floating dock or long-shore dock – and in-water work to repair existing infrastructure. Another phase includes upland work to improve utilities and other services. Operators on board during these phases would enjoy extra customizations compared to later comers.
Already marine services companies like Raibow, Alaska Marine Coatings, Catalyst, Vigor and others have made Seward Marine Industrial Center home. Multiple users with unique specialties allow better quality service – a fiberglass repair shop need not repair generators.
“When we work in a cooperative way it’s better for business, better for customers, better for [Seward’s] overall reputation,” Long said.
The deepening ecosystem of services also makes Seward’s investment robust. And more operators may come.
“Just securing funds [to build the breakwater] stimulated lease proposals,” Long said. Ongoing construction projects at SMIC have kicked out even more proposals.
The goal for the city is to play landlord to private players, not to pick those players.
“We don’t want to get into a position where we are deciding that we need two point five propeller repair shops, or so many square meters of cold storage,” Long said. “We don’t do that, that is private sector stuff, those folks that are in the win/lose position should be making those decisions.”
Revenue from lease payments feeds back into SMIC to focus on infrastructure and services “[private businesses] make it work from there,” Long said.
A poster child for pay-as-you-go, this project’s phases do not have hard set time-lines. Long said the city plans to reexamine the budget as the breakwater project winds down.
“See what if anything we have to work with,” Long said. And if funds permit “do some of the initial phase two stuff.”
For more information on the North Dock breakwater project, please visit www.cityofseward.us/DocumentCenter/View/1992
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