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Tapping into the Prince Rupert Port Expansion Pipeline
and What This Could Mean for S.E. Alaska

By Michael Round


October 14, 2005
Friday AM

There is "transformational" infrastructure being developed by our closest neighbor to the south and that could mean great opportunities for Alaska -especially S. E. Alaska. Prince Rupert is in the process of upgrading its port and rail facilities to become a major gateway port for goods moving between the U.S. heartland and Pacific Rim countries. As the demand for imported goods to the U.S. has risen, there has not been the necessary increase in port capacity to handle these goods. Container ships carrying products imported from Japan and Asia can spend over ten days on anchor waiting to be unloaded at existing crowded Pacific Northwest ports. The development of Prince Rupert as a major world-class port will have the potential to transform and revitalize northern British Columbia's economy, and provide China and Japan the opportunity to take advantage of this faster more efficient trade route. This new un-congested, high-speed transfer facility will be open for business in the first quarter of 2007. With NAFTA in place this should also provide tremendous opportunities for S.E. Alaska.

Alaska has abundant natural resources but a very small population base, and vast distances separating would-be products from world markets. Transporting goods by rail and container ship is the most cost effective way of reaching distant markets. With the development of Prince Rupert's transfer port facility, access to the world markets will be easier and transportation will be cheaper for Southeast Alaska products.

Shipping rates could soon be a business advantage for companies locating or relocating to northern British Columbia and S.E. Alaska. Our electric utility rates, derived mainly from hydropower, will become more and more competitive to "down south" prices as the cost of electricity generated from fossil fuels continues to rise. Perhaps the construction and development of the Quartz Hill molybdenum mine in East Behm Canal will be put back on the drawing board now that access to world markets is right next-door. Value added processing and production of minerals, logs, and seafood could be accomplished locally and shipped most anywhere in the world and be cost competitive. Small businesses, that never had the advantage of discount volume shipping, only have to fill a van to tap into this mega-shipping pipeline. Since most demand is for imports into the U.S., back-haul rates for goods, such as seafood and timber, going to Japan and China should be very attractive. The boom and bust cycle of resource extraction can be replaced with local manufacture of finished and value added products that will bring real wealth and stability to the S.E. Alaska economy.

As you read this, old structures are falling and vast spaces are being cleared at the port of Prince Rupert for the construction of three gigantic cranes that will be capable of moving 500,000 TEUs, twenty foot equivalent shipping containers, a year between huge modern container ships and CN freight trains. This first phase, costing $175,000,000 Canadian, has been funded and scheduled for completion in early 2007. This transfer capacity will increase in the final phase of development to 2,000,000 TEUs! That rate is the equivalent of one container transferred from ship to rail every 15 seconds, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Trains loaded in Prince Rupert will deliver product into Chicago in 108 hours seven days a week. Finally, there will be a cost effective, high volume connection for our seafood and lumber/timber products into the U.S. heartland.

In reviewing the S.E. Alaska Area Transportation Plan completed in 2004, there is no mention of the Prince Rupert development and very little information on the establishment of the AMHS Southern Gateway Shuttle that will bring scheduled daily ferry service between Ketchikan and Prince Rupert. This daily shuttle service will be vital if S.E. Alaska is going to derive benefit from this world-class transfer facility. The transportation plan mentions that the Southern Gateway Shuttle could be online as early as 2010. At present, there is no firm scheduled completion date for the Southern Gateway Shuttle ferry. The Alaska transportation director and the Alaska Marine Highway System need to refocus and emphasize the importance of this ferry project and make it happen in conjunction with the Rupert development.

Presently Ketchikan has daily ferry service to Metlakatla and Prince of Wales Island, and it soon will be connected by fast ferry service to Juneau, Haines and Skagway. The IFA will have its second ferry online serving northern Prince of Wales, Petersburg and Wrangell in 2006/2007 completing a web of daily efficient and reliable transport connections for most of S.E. Alaska. Businesses throughout southeast Alaska will experience a connectivity that has never been there before. However, with a small population base, it is still necessary to move our products to "outside" markets and consumers cheaply and efficiently and the Southern Gateway Shuttle is the missing link in the S.E. Alaska's transportation chain.

An estimated 400,000 independent travelers visited Prince Rupert in 2005; most arrived by automobile and camper. Very few of these adventurers made the crossing to Ketchikan and S.E. Alaska. With a daily shuttle to Ketchikan and connectivity by way of daily ferry service to the rest of the state, independent tourists can venture forth to the Great Land with assurance that they can get where they want to go - and back home again on their schedule.

This huge project is moving forward whether Alaska products are on board or not. In 2007 our "ship is coming in." and "the train is leaving the station", with the Southern Gateway Shuttle ferry in place, S.E. Alaska will be able to take advantage of both these events.

Michael Round
Chairman for the Fisheries Committee for the Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce

Ketchikan, AK - USA




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