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Port of Anchorage and Port MacKenzie Work Together Proximity promotes reciprocal economic development

Fuel comes and goes through the Port of Anchorage. Courtesy of POA

By J. Pennelope Goforth


he Port of Anchorage and Port MacKenzie are both located on the upper end of the Knik Arm of Cook Inlet. Anchorage is located on the east shore, MacKenzie on the west. Other than sharing the same body of water, the two ports seemingly have little in common. One does a tremendous volume of business today, the other hopes to be doing the same tomorrow. MacKenzie is still building infrastructure, Anchorage is intermodal with rail, trucking, and airport access. MacKenzie has a little over 9,000 acres of “uplands” while Anchorage has about 130 acres of industrial parklands. For existing a mere mile and a half as the gull flies across Knik Arm, the two ports couldn’t be more different. Yet from a busi-

ness perspective, their very proximity promotes reciprocal economic development. The two ports intersect at one critical point: combining their relative strong points. As the Port of Anchorage’s Port Director Stephen Ribuffo put it, the two ports should not be in competition. “If you sensibly carve up the kingdom and play to strengths: Anchorage imports and MacKenzie exports,” he says.

Location Matters

Don’t confuse Point MacKenzie with Port MacKenzie, both located in the MatanuskaSusitna Borough. A brief look at the nautical chart will tell you why: the ubiquitous mudflats that form the primary coastal feature of the shores of Cook Inlet create a wide apron of shallows around the point punctuated by rocky outcrops. Port MacKenzie—construc-

A Little Port Whine: Port of Anchorage not first major port By J. Pennelope Goforth


ronically, the first major “port” in Knik Arm was not Ship Creek in Anchorage, but the old village of Knik a few miles north of the current Port Mackenzie. The Russians established a mission opposite the inlet from modern Anchorage in 1835, but little development occurred until the discovery of gold in the late nineteenth century. Most of the commercial activity centered at Knik—the crossroads of trails from the Interior to Southcentral Alaska. “Knik was an essential re-supply stop for prospectors traveling overland to the Willow Creek, Susitna, Yentna, Chulitna, McKinley, Gold Creek, Flat, and Iditarod gold strike areas. It provided essential goods such as boots, shoes, rain gear, guns, ammunition, hardware, furs, groceries, coffee, tobacco, dried fish for dog teams, oats and hay for horses, and mail from home,” writes Knik historian Colleen Mielke. 102

Here the Alaska Commercial Company established a trading post to supply the miners; goods were lightered in from ships anchored in the Knik Arm roadstead. A post office opened in 1904 and by 1914 the population of five hundred made Knik the largest community in Cook Inlet, all centered along the wharves and docks built along Knik Arm. A small boom town, Knik was a major point on the Iditarod Trail, opened in 1911, with saloons, hotels, stores, cafes, and churches. But the location was right on the mud flats and eventually the erosion by tides and ice floes became too costly to sustain. With the railroad headquarters growing at Ship Creek Landing, gradually the residents moved to that side of Knik Arm, abandoning the area. The Port of Anchorage intentionally grew into its role as the pre-eminent maritime facility in the state. When air transportation and the US military became more important between the 1930s and 1950s, both port and

city boomed. In 1930, Merrill Field opened. The 1940s saw the construction of the military installations of Elmendorf Air Force Base and Fort Richardson, both of which utilized the port. Then in 1951, Anchorage International Airport opened. In March 1964, a magnitude 9.2 earthquake struck the state, knocking out the ports of Valdez, Seward, and Kodiak—leaving the Port of Anchorage with relatively little damage and the ability to supply the entire stricken region. When oil was discovered in Prudhoe Bay in 1968, the oil boom created greater growth for the Port of Anchorage. The North Slope relied on materials coming through the port first to build the Haul Road and then to build the trans-Alaska oil pipeline. Following a brief but calamitous economic recession in the 1980s, the city and the port continued to grow into the 1990s with capital building projects, housing development, and the increasing expansion of Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport.  R

Alaska Business Monthly | March

Alaska Business Monthly March 2016  

“Forever Alaskan” Carol Gore, president and CEO of Cook Inlet Housing Authority, is a quintessential leader in creating affordable housing f...

Alaska Business Monthly March 2016  

“Forever Alaskan” Carol Gore, president and CEO of Cook Inlet Housing Authority, is a quintessential leader in creating affordable housing f...