If the port were to be disrupted for any reason, it would take less than two weeks for every householder shopping in Anchorage to experience the shortage and to know exactly where his or her family's food comes from and how long it takes to get here.
"We're a meat and potatoes port," says William J. Sheffield, former governor of Alaska and current director of the Port of Anchorage, "We're the first point in the groceries delivery system for the whole state, except Southeast, and we have a seven- to 14-day supply of food and fuel here in Alaska."
In 2008, there were 4.4 million tons of goods shipped through the port, approximately eight-and-a-half tons per each of the state's 510,000 residents served by the facility.
Marion G. Davis is vice president and general manager of Horizon Lines, one of two cargo container transportation companies serving the port. He agrees with the governor.
"Eighty to 85 percent of all foodstuffs and other freight coming into Anchorage, the Interior, Seward, Kodiak, the Aleutian Chain and Western Alaska comes through the Port of Anchorage," Davis said.
"There are a few exceptions," Sheffield adds. "The Alaska Railroad contracts for a barge from Seattle to Whittier, which takes a week to get here. Alaska Marine Lines is the barge company. That's part of Lynden Transport. About two-thirds of the barge capacity is dedicated to containers of nonperishable foodstuffs. The containers are offloaded to railroad cars in Whittier and brought to Anchorage and on to the Interior."
Sheffield should know. He also was CEO for the Alaska Railroad for a number of years.
"Seven to 10 percent of the state's food, I'd say, comes in on that railroad barge. A small portion is trucked up the highway system or flown into the villages, but the majority is shipped via container ships."
So it is that Alaska relies on food and other products from Outside (the state). Aside from some home gardening and a bit of barley, milk and beef, Alaska today relies, as we have in the past, upon a complex web of container ships, steamships, tugs and barges, boats, fleets of big trucks and privately owned small trucks, hundreds of railcars and a flock of airplanes of all sizes, to move canned goods, dried foods, fresh produce and meat, exotic spices, whatever the chef in your house could possibly order, plus heating oil for rural areas and jet fuel and gasoline.
Alaska has approximately 200 towns and villages ranging in size from the Municipality of Anchorage with almost 300,000 residents, to Wiseman, in the Brooks Range, with a population of 21. Everybody from Anchorage to Wiseman has to eat and to stay warm. How are the fuel and goods shipped to Alaska and distributed to these communities?
"We are a container port," Sheffield says.
A container is a standardized, truck-sized, cargo-shipping module, which is sealed and loaded intact onto container ships, railroad cars, planes or trucks. Huge cranes lift the containers off the docked ship and lower them onto the backs of waiting trucks, or are rolled off of roll-on/roll-off vessels.
Totem Ocean Trailer Express (TOTE) with about 10 Hostler trucks, and Horizon Lines (formerly SeaLand), with about 25, are the main suppliers of container-transportation services at the Port of Anchorage. These two competitors work with individual companies and also with...