ANCHORAGE — Occupy Anchorage protesters showed solidarity with West Coast counterparts Monday by focusing on port issues, but they took a different tack in Alaska’s largest city.
Rather than try to shut down the port, protesters assembled to highlight what they said was mismanagement at the Port of Anchorage, which handles most goods consumed by Alaskans, and its proposed expansion.
“We’re not trying to shut down the port. We’re trying to make a statement and put it out there,” said organizer Brian MacMillan.
The estimate of Port of Anchorage expansion has swollen to more than $1 billion, up from a 2002 estimate of $147 million, MacMillan said. Work done with the nearly $280 million spent so far, MacMillan said, may have to be redone.
He said port director Bill Sheffield, a former Alaska governor, should resign. MacMillan read a proposed resignation letter for Sheffield that noted port expansion’s faulty design for structural components, environmental concerns and safety issues that resulted in the death of a bulldozer operator this year.
MacMillan led 16 protesters from Town Square in downtown Anchorage to the former depot of the Alaska Railroad, which now houses the offices of ICRC Solutions, the company hired by the city-owned port to oversee expansion.
Port spokeswoman Lindsey Whitt said in a prepared statement that port officials respect the right of demonstrators to express themselves. She said the port is unique in the nature of its services and the extent to which the state depends on twice-weekly shipments entering the port, providing 90 percent of the merchandise goods for 95 percent of Alaska’s populated area.
“The issues that have spurred demonstrations in other ports along the West Coast are not applicable to our services or our operations,” she said. “At this time we have not had interruptions of our cargo service operations to the state.”
MacMillan said protesters had no intention of shutting down the port — and couldn’t anyway, since the port is only open two days a week, and Monday was not one of those days. The port, he said, is too vital to close because there’s no rail or practical road option available.
“We rely on the Port of Anchorage for everything up here,” he said. Port expansion should be managed by a more transparent, competent and experienced group, he said.
After MacMillan’s remarks, protesters Tina Robinson and Josh Tucker led some participants to a bridge over Ship Creek near the port entrance. They said the amount of food passing through the port shows Alaska’s vulnerability. Robinson said Alaska needs more local agriculture and suggested more Alaskans start growing more of their own food.
“Gardens on the Park Strip!” she yelled, referring to the downtown park that intersects downtown Anchorage.