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After $40M Dock Renovation, City Officials Predict More Traffic At UMC

Laura Kraegel/KUCB

The City of Unalaska is celebrating a major dock renovation at the Port of Dutch Harbor.

Officials marked the completion of the two-year, $40 million project with a ribbon-cutting ceremony late last month. The upgrades are expected to prepare the busy port for even bigger business.

Credit Laura Kraegel/KUCB
Mayor Frank Kelty (center) leads the ribbon-cutting ceremony. About 50 people gathered for the event, including city officials, longshoremen, and port customers like Matson, North Pacific Fuel, and Samson Tug & Barge.

Mayor Frank Kelty used to worry a big ship might slam into the Unalaska Marine Center and send dock positions three and four falling into the water. But on May 23, he got to cut a bright red ribbon, signaling their replacement after more than 30 years.

"In my estimation, this dock extension makes the Unalaska Marine Center one of the finest port facilities in the state of Alaska," he said. 

Standing on the newly paved dock, Kelty addressed a crowd of about 50 people, including city officials, longshoremen, and big port customers like Matson, North Pacific Fuel, and Samson Tug & Barge.

He said the renovation — which was almost a decade in the making — has extended the dock by more than 700 feet.

It's also rebuilt the foundation pilings, surrounded the area with heavy duty security fencing, and created another acre-plus of uplands. Those will be leased to companies staging shipping containers on the move domestically or from the West Coast to Asia.

"This brings the total dock frontage to 2,051 feet," said Kelty. "This project will hopefully increase catcher-processor offloads and barge traffic, provide additional space for cruise ships — we have about 20 coming this season — and [allow] the continuation of calls by the Alaska Marine Highway System ferries."

The renovation could also boost Unalaska's strategic importance. That's according to Rear Admiral Matthew Bell, commander of U.S. Coast Guard District 17 in Alaska.

At the ceremony, Bell said the dock will be part of the "next generation of maritime traffic" in the Arctic.

"It is the gateway to the Arctic. That's my personal opinion," he said. "If you look at the volume of traffic, the volume of containers, and the price-dollars of fisheries coming out of Dutch Harbor, it is the capital for the state."

Bell's endorsement was a big deal to Unalaska's port director, Peggy McLaughlin.

She said the recognition meant a lot, especially as the city funded the entire project without help from the state or federal government.

"I'm having a hard time getting a smile off my face after listening to the admiral, because somebody from outside Unalaska gets the connectivity of Unalaska/Dutch Harbor," she said. "This facility is a huge asset. It opens up so many doors for transportation and connectivity, it's just unreal."

While it's still unclear how much traffic will increase with the new dock open for business, McLaughlin said it'll build off some already-big numbers.

"This dock sees 2.1 billion pounds of cargo cross it on an annual basis and nearly 30 million gallons of fuel," she said. "We see 900 vessels ranging from 150 feet — or smaller, on rare occasions — to over 1,065 feet."

The Unalaska Marine Center also hosts more 65,000 shipping containers annually, and city officials said they'll be ready if that number grows dramatically.

The renovation has extended the dock's crane rail, giving the port the option of adding a second container crane in the future.

Laura Kraegel reported for KUCB from 2016 until 2020. She was KUCB's news director starting in 2019. We are proud to have her back in the spring of 2023 filling in as an interim reporter for KUCB.
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