Corps of Engineers says Mat-Su port may be unstable

Posted: Wednesday, February 07, 2001

WASILLA (AP) -- The Matanuska-Susitna Borough has been advised to stop using its new port at Point MacKenzie because of concerns about the stability of the dock.

Federal highway officials made their point last week after a teleconference with officials at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is conducting a review of the dock's construction.

Corps officials said the dock, across Knik Arm from Anchorage, may not hold up in an earthquake, and noted there were signs, including erosion of soil from around the support pilings, that the structure may already be failing.

The dock and port underpins many of the borough's economic development plans, and borough officials were dismayed by the report.

But, they noted, the Corps has not finished its analysis. The final findings are due in mid-March.

''We think it's fixable,'' said Borough Manager John Duffy. ''We're going to be positive about it. We'll do whatever needs to be done to put this in operational shape.''

At issue is the stability of the several hundred 70-foot-long pilings that surround the 500-foot long dock. Driven into the Cook Inlet silt, the pilings create the framework for the dock, which consists essentially of 350,000 cubic yards of compacted gravel.

Corps officials are worried the pilings could shake loose in an earthquake because of an unstable layer of silt underneath.

Federal highway officials originally requested the review by the Corps of Engineers after cracks appeared in the gravel on the top of the dock, said David Miller, a division administrator with the federal transportation agency.

The port has cost about $7 million -- mostly in federal funds -- to build. Borough officials are seeking millions more to extend the dock, bring in electricity, pave several miles of dirt road that lead to the port and other improvements.

The borough won't know what needs to be fixed and who will pay for it until the Corps issues its final report, Duffy said. But at least for now, halting work on the dock or use of the facility will have little effect. No business is scheduled at for at least the next couple months, he said.

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