Just a couple of miles across the Inlet from Anchorage's soon-to-be sprawling port sits another that's hardly being used.
The last ship to dock at Port MacKenzie came in July. It picked up wood chips from Valley forests to ship to Taiwan, but the wood chip export business is pretty much at a standstill, at least temporarily.
No matter, say Mat-Su port boosters. Another company is building homes and other structures in a warehouse at the port just across Knik Arm from Anchorage, and they are confident that more business will come, like cement shipments this summer.
"We see Port MacKenzie as being complementary to the Port of Anchorage, not being competition," said Port Mac director Marc Van Dongen.
Critics say the Mat-Su port makes no sense so close to the big city port and call it a waste of money.
Greg Strong, a retired developer who lives on Horseshoe Lake, says Port MacKenzie just isn't viable, especially without a rail line, estimated to cost maybe $275 million. One proposed rail route would run close to pristine lakes, he said.
"The port cannot stand alone. It was ill-advised to begin with. It's no different than the dairy farms. It's no different than the fish processing plant in Anchorage," Strong said.
But the Mat-Su port has its own mission, said borough manager John Duffy.
Port MacKenzie opened for business eight years ago to focus on exporting natural resources. It has plenty of gravel to extract and thousands of acres of land in a designated industrial area to lease, cheap compared with Anchorage prices, Van Dongen said.
In fact, the borough expects to sell gravel for the Port of Anchorage expansion, he said.
The Anchorage port is much busier. Fuel comes through it, and container ships dock there that bring food, clothes, cars, snowmachines and most everything else to much of Alaska.
"We think both ports can make sense if they stick to what they do best," Duffy said.
Unlike Anchorage, deepwater Port Mac doesn't require expensive dredging to keep channels clear for ships, and can handle ships with much deeper draft, Van Dongen said.
Plus, "we don't have to make land. They are making land over there," said Cindy Bettine, a borough assemblywoman, referring to the Anchorage port project. "This is silly when you have us right across the pond."
The two ports may find themselves competing when it comes to a gas pipeline. Each side is eager for shipments of materials to build a pipeline, if that project ever happens.
"We're still in our infancy," Van Dongen said.
Find Lisa Demer online at adn.com/contact/ldemer or call 257-4390.