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Anchorage considers new strategy for port project

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — More than 50 people tied to the embattled effort to overhaul Anchorage's port will begin on Monday to consider another strategy, likely including a reduction in the scope of construction.

The city predicts it will abandon the dock being built to the north and focus on rehabilitating the current 53-year-old structure, port engineer Todd Cowles told the Alaska Dispatch News (http://is.gd/QYuuYM ).

Officials expect the weeklong planning session in Anchorage to lead to the selection of three possible design plans. Engineering firm CH2M Hill, which now manages the project, will present a top design by November, according to Lindsey Whitt, a spokeswoman for Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan.

The project that began in 2003 initially called for more expansion.

"It was a different plan," Cowles said. "It was a much larger program than what we anticipate having to design for with the funding available."

Construction stalled in 2009 when inspections showed that some steel sheets for the dock had bent, jammed and separated, threatening the structure's integrity.

The U.S. Maritime Administration, or MARAD, commissioned a $2.2 million yearlong study. The agency initially was in charge of the project. The study by CH2M Hill said the problems were not just about construction, but went through to the project's design.

A federal audit said MARAD had failed to do its job, did not establish itself as the lead agency or verify the project's costs. Cost estimates increased from $211 million to $1 billion between 2003 and 2011, according to the audit.

The city has spent about $300 million in federal, state and municipal funds on the project so far as well as millions on maintenance for the existing port, said Cowles, the engineer. Two lawsuits initiated by Sullivan have been filed to recoup money spent on the expansion.

A cost estimate to complete port construction isn't known, Cowles said. The city once had nearly $440 million set aside for the project, and about $130 million of that is left, according to a March letter from Sullivan to state legislators.

The Anchorage Assembly plans to discuss the ongoing port lawsuits in a special meeting Friday.

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Information from: Alaska Dispatch News, http://www.adn.com

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