Dock designer says Point MacKenzie port is stable

Posted: Thursday, February 22, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Concerns the Point MacKenzie port may be unstable and could collapse in an earthquake are misinformed, the dock's designer told a group of Matanuska-Susitna Valley business people Tuesday.

Engineer Dennis Nottingham dismissed concerns raised by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and said the Mat-Su dock was in better shape than the Anchorage port.

''The old Port of Anchorage would go down (in a major earthquake),'' he said.

The Point MacKenzie port was shut down after a preliminary review by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers found soil underlying the dock contained a weak layer that could cause the dock to collapse. Corps officials also noted possible signs the dock is shifting.

Federal highway officials requested the review last year after cracks appeared in the gravel on the top of the dock. The final report is not expected until late March.

Several hundred 70-foot-long pilings surround the 500-foot long dock. Driven into the Cook Inlet silt, the pilings create the framework to hold about 350,000 cubic yards of compacted gravel.

Nottingham said he had no problem with the review but took issue with the Corps' findings. He said the underlying soil does not contain a weak layer. The Corps simply did its calculations wrong. The soil is actually some of the most stable he had ever worked on, he said.

''Our friends didn't do it correctly,'' he said.

Cracks on the surface are caused by ice melting in the soil underneath, which he expected because the dock was built in winter. The solution is simple: compaction, he said, something the borough had already planned to do.

He noted the port has already withstood nearly three dozen earthquakes.

Nottingham also took issue with the claim that the dock may be shifting, saying his measurements showed that it had moved less than an inch in the past six months.

''So why the big question? Why would anybody be concerned?'' he said. ''I'm pretty confident that it should be OK.''

Corps officials at the Waterways Experiment Station in Vicksburg, Miss., who are conducting the review, could not immediately be reached for comment. But John Killoran, a spokesman for the Corps in Alaska, said Nottingham's statements were premature since the agency had yet to finish their report.

''We take strong pride in the Waterways Experiment Station's record,'' he said.

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