Timing favors Anchorage port in bid for coal transfers

Timing favors Anchorage port in bid for coal transfers

Timing is behind Agrium Inc.’s preference for the Port of Anchorage over Port MacKenzie to ship coal from Healy to the company’s Nikiski fertilizer plant.

But Matanuska-Susitna Borough officials contend they can get a new railroad spur built to vast — and largely empty — Port MacKenzie in time to make Agrium Inc.’s deadline of 2012.

All things being equal, Agrium still prefers the nearly 9,000-acre Mat-Su port to Anchorage because of all the space there, spokeswoman Lisa Parker testified Monday during a fact-finding hearing by the state Senate Resources Committee.

“However, everything isn’t equal between the Port of Anchorage and Port MacKenzie today,” Parker continued, “and the timeline we’re looking at to bring this project on line is within the 2011, 2012 time frame.”

The Port of Anchorage could be ready by 2009, though the port doesn’t have room to build a loop track for quick coal train turnarounds, port director Bill Sheffield testified Monday.

Mat-Su Borough officials, however, say Agrium shouldn’t rule out Port MacKenzie because of its deadline.

A study by independent contractors and endorsed by the railroad shows the rail spur necessary to move the coal could be built in time, Borough Manager John Duffy testified.

“We believe we can meet their schedule and we can create major statewide benefits, which cannot be done elsewhere,” Duffy told the committee.

With rail, Port MacKenzie could handle new commodities, including a major limestone deposit near Fairbanks, he said. The port is closer to tidewater than Anchorage, making for an annual transportation cost savings of more than $5 million, he said.

If railcars go through Anchorage, a 100-car coal train would rumble through Wasilla every 18 hours, necessitating $150 million in road upgrades at crossings, Duffy said in an interview Tuesday. The project would likely face criticism from Government Hill residents, he said.

Still even to begin work on the spur the borough needs to find a way to pay for a $12 million federal environmental impact statement to study a route, much less the $278 million it’s estimated the new line would cost.

The borough also still must acquire right of way along a proposed route, roughly 10 percent of which crosses private property, according to planning director Murph O’Brien.

The study that showed the spur could be built by 2012 did not factor in any eminent domain proceedings, Duffy said Tuesday.

But he added that the borough assessed the “low number” of private parcels in a proposed route at $500,000, and the borough doesn’t plan to condemn property.

Shae Kosmalski said her home sits within the proposed route through Willow.

Kosmalski “about fell out of her chair” when she read accounts of Duffy’s concerns about pressures on the borough from the Anchorage-bound trains.

“He forgot he still wants to put it through the borough, we’re still part of the borough,” she said. “Hello! We don’t want 100 rail cars either.”

Information from: www.adn.com

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