For more than 40 years, Knik Construction Co. has been connecting Alaska’s communities and people through building infrastructure. As a general heavy construction company, it specializes in complex, logistically challenging projects in hard-to-reach places, not only in Alaska but in locations as diverse as remote bush Alaska, Guantanamo Bay, Wake Island and Midway Island.
“We’ve been building highways, roads and airstrips since 1975,” Knik president Steve Jansen said. “We also provide asphalt paving, airport construction, excavation, dredging and crushing as well as barge transportation of aggregate products. We have built a lot of runways in rural Alaska over the past 30 years.”
It’s the projects that provide access, such as new roads and airports, that mean the most to Alaskans in rural communities and villages in the western part of the state. “We take our role seriously as a connector of people and places,” Jansen explained. “We view every project as a partnership with the local community, and our work usually results in improving the livelihood of the people living there.”
A few years ago, all 250 villagers of Nightmute hosted a celebration to thank Knik Construction for its work on the Nightmute Airport Improvement Project. The small community, 100 miles west of Bethel, is accessible only by boat or plane. Knik hired more than 30 residents to help with the project and provided training in flagger certification, truck driving and heavy equipment operation. Knik project manager Greg Kelly received a piece of local Native American artwork as a remembrance of the company’s time there.
Harsh weather, changing tides, remote locations, permitting requirements and the ever-changing regulatory requirements are all routine and to be expected in Knik projects. Knik crews work seasonally depending on the work, which may mean moving materials via waterways in summer and constructing ice roads in the winter. In some cases, a helicopter might offload a barge in shallow or frozen waterways.
“We’ve built a reputation on learning how to work with — and in spite of — the elements,” Jansen explained.
“We knew about Knik’s capabilities and expertise with remote airfield projects, so we brought them in during the early stages of planning for the Midway Atoll Taxiway Improvement Project,” said Bill Martz, president of Defense Base Services Inc. “Knik provided the project team with a variety of construction and logistic options. From the beginning to the end of the project, Knik remained professional and safety-minded.
“This was an extremely remote project site, 1,250 miles from Honolulu in a National Wildlife Refuge, so careful planning was vital prior to and during execution,” Martz said. “Knik completed the work on time and with no additional cost overruns. The responses we received from the on-island refuge staff were very positive, not only with the quality of the final product but with the professionalism that the Knik workers showed throughout the duration of the project.”
In addition to construction projects, each year Knik processes over 100,000 tons of gravel, rock, sand and other aggregate, which is shipped to remote sites in Western Alaska and other parts of the world by sister companies Bering Marine and Alaska Marine Lines. The fleet of ocean-going and shallow-draft tugs, barges and landing craft offer safe, reliable materials and equipment transport to almost any marine destination.
“Being a member of the Associated General Contractors (AGC) for the past 30 years has helped Knik build business relationships and meet suppliers and associate members to grow our business,” said Knik vice president Dan Hall, with a nod to the AGC of Alaska’s 25-year membership plaque on his office wall.
“AGC provides its 650 member organizations a platform to work with owner agencies to build a better Alaska construction industry. This is done by sharing the industry best practices to provide project owners with the best available projects. We are all in this together to provide the state of Alaska with the highest-quality construction, whether the project is a hospital, a school, an airport or a highway.”
Currently, Knik is working with the Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities to upgrade a portion of the Parks Highway near Wasilla by reconstructing a two-lane highway to a four-lane, divided highway with new safety features. “Knik is proud to be entrusted with state, federal and military projects that keep Alaskans connected and safe,” said Hall, who is currently president of AGC of Alaska.
Among the more unusual assignments Knik has taken on are the dismantling of a man-made island in the Beaufort Sea and locating and transporting abandoned drill rigs in the far reaches of Prudhoe Bay. The arctic drill rig adventure was one of the first projects for the then young company.
Knik Construction was formed in 1974 as a partnership with two other contractors in a joint venture project. Lynden’s current chairman Jim Jansen headed the company. The group bid on, and won, a $15 million contract to construct a highway near Fairbanks and a bridge across the Chena River. Knik also supplied the project with gravel from a bailing operation it established on a site in Fairbanks.
With the highway and bridge project nearing completion in 1977, Knik became an independent construction business. In 1978, the company was awarded a contract to surface four bush airports in Western Alaska, and four more were awarded the next year. Sensing an opportunity, Knik focused its attention on the Alaska bush where its logistics expertise could be used to benefit the villages there. Alaska funding from taxes levied on the Prudhoe Bay oilfields and matching federal dollars provided for the construction of new schools, hospitals, roads and airports, keeping the new company busy.
Headquarters were established in Bethel, where Knik had operated a gravel source upriver. The initial Knik team, led by Harry Rekers, purchased a small tug, two small barges, a rock crusher that had seen better days, and other construction equipment. What the company lacked in sophistication, it made up for with the ingenuity and determination of a core crew — and they all knew Alaska.
In one of its more daring early jobs, Knik joined forces with Lynden Transport to dismantle and move three abandoned drill rigs off the North Slope. The rigs had been left behind 30 years earlier on the U.S. Navy’s Petroleum Reserve No. 4, long before the North Slope was accessible by a haul road. The Dalton Highway made the removal possible in the 1970s. A crew outfitted with arctic gear and equipment headed to Prudhoe. Climbing aboard tracked vehicles, they traveled for almost four days across barren, frozen tundra following a leader on a snowmobile.
Jim Jansen managed the operation from the seat of his ski-equipped Cessna and delivered parts and supplies as needed. The Knik team used 1940s-era Caterpillar tractors from the drill sites. After some mechanical attention, the tractors pulled sleds across the snow-covered tundra to the haul road, where the cargo was transferred to Lynden Transport for delivery to Alberta, Canada, where it was sold. All the equipment had been well preserved in the arctic temperatures. It was the end of a very challenging project for the new construction company.
Not all Knik projects involve wearing arctic gear and traveling in tundra vehicles, but they always include a team of professionals with experience, ingenuity and a solid work ethic.
“The Knik team has learned construction from the ground up and takes a hands-on approach. Our greatest strength is our people and our ability to work together for our customers,” Hall said.