Dillingham port crane out of commission, awaiting costly repairs

May 19, 2016

Fractured gears found by expert technician during inspection, thankfully before any accidents. Estimated cost to repair: $190,000. Newly arrived smaller crane will backup dock operations for now.

KDLG: A crane at the Dillingham harbor is out of commission on account of fractures in the gearbox, and it may take a month and close to $200,000 to repair.

"This is our main crane on the dock, it’s the Manitowoc," said Port and Harbor Director Jean Barrett. "It’s the one we use primarily for all of our dock lifts and all the heavy picking that we do down there."

Earlier this year Barrett recommended, and the city council approved, the purchase of a second crane which just arrived and will fill in for most lifting. The city's dock is a lifeline for Dillingham and upriver communities, especially when it comes to preparing for the summer fishing season and shipping out the catch.

Recently, Barrett brought in a technician from Anchorage to inspect the brakes and clutch system on the 120-ton Manitowoc crane.

“As they were going through it, they found the fractured gears," said Barrett. "The gears had not come apart yet, but there were multiple fractures in them. The gearbox I’m talking about is the one that does all of the lifting of the boom and our cable systems. If it had let loose, things could have been pretty catastrophic to the point where we could have ended up with boom failing and falling on to the ground or on top of something or someone.”

Barrett says city mechanics are able to do some of the routine maintenance on the crane, but the more complete inspection takes the expert help from Anchorage.

“We’re going to try to do this on a yearly basis, so that we don’t have to come up with these huge numbers to fix and repair. We’re looking at about $190,000 to repair this," said Barrett.

Just a few months ago, the city council agreed to purchase the additional 60-ton Grove crane as a backup for the port. It will now be the primary crane while the Manitowoc is repaired. Barrett expects the Grove will lift most of what needs loaded or unloaded from barges during a year without any major construction projects scheduled here or upriver.

The crane repair will present a major unexpected cost when the city is already projecting a deficit for next fiscal year. "It's likely to impact our ability to make improvements at the dock in the near future," said Mayor Alice Ruby.

The dock itself has been damaged twice in the past four years by "hard" barge landings. During the first incident, part of the sheet piling gave way and left a huge hole in the east corner of the dock. Then a barge company damaged the bull rail and piling when they bumped into the dock on a hard landing. The city council is moving forward with plans to repair the damage and put two new dolphins in on each side on both sides of the dock, which will cost close to $300,000. Some of that funding will come from the barge company that caused the damage.

The dock enterprise fund has a balance of $1,217,033, according to the city.

While the crane repair costs came as grim new to the city, Mayor Ruby offered some positives about the situation. "First," she said, "the City crew recognized that the crane wasn't working right and had it inspected so a major accident was avoided. Also, it's very positive that we had the second crane that just arrived on a barge a short while ago."

Reach the author at dave@kdlg.org or 907-842-5281.