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tion of which began in late 1999—is situated at the optimal position several miles northeast of the point along the west shore of Knik Arm where the coast drops off sharply. Here there is sixty-five feet of water off the dock, making it a deep draft port naturally. Another good reason to locate in that spot, explains Port Director Marc Van Dongen, is the swift current that scours any buildup of silt brought downstream by the rivers that feed into the inlet. Economically that is a huge boon since the port doesn’t need to be dredged on a regular basis to ensure ship traffic. “This saves millions of dollars annually,” he says. While MacKenzie was built by design on the best spot for shipping, Anchorage was built at the mouth of Ship Creek to accommodate the building of the railroad in 1915. Even in the early days of the port, when it was called Ship Creek Landing, most vessels anchored out a half a mile or more from the mouth of the creek. Cargo and passengers were ferried by shallow draft “lighters” from the larger ships to the shore. Early piers were built using piling driven deeply into the mud for smaller craft to tie up to. Today the Port of Anchorage has about thirty-five feet of clearance at mean low tide for the tankers and cargo container ships that dock there. The area has to be dredged every year by the US Army Corps of Engineers. Still both ports do depend on the dredging of the shipping channel to Knik Arm as the treacherous currents cause constant shoaling that changes “the depth radically from year to year,” according to a US Coast Pilot, which ships use to navigate the channel. Ships are required to have Alaska ship pilots to guide them through the changing seascape beneath the waters of Cook Inlet. Both ports also have to cope with a semi-diurnal forty-one-foot tidal range, second in North America only to the famous Bay of Fundy tidal range on the East Coast of Canada. This tidal range is also responsible for keeping the lower Knik Arm from being locked up by ice in winter. The changing tide breaks up the ice into a sea of mini icebergs called ice pans instead of a solid thick sheet of ice. Because of its proximity, the port contributed to the growth of Anchorage as it developed into the largest city in the state, far beyond the tent city that sprang up to build the railroad. The Port of Anchorage has been developing infrastructure almost organically for the past one hundred years: the railroad needed the port to build itself, the city needed roads to the port to get supplies like lumber and cement to grow; and the airport needed pipes to carry jet fuel to expand into one of the busiest airports in the world. In 2006, the completion of road and rail extensions improved cargo flow and introduced intermodal capacity. In contrast, MacKenzie was eleven miles from the nearest


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Alaska Business Monthly March 2016  
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...