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The William Jack Hernandez Sport Fish Hatchery

A marvel of modern science and art

Returning adults provide eggs for the next generation. Here, a hatchery worker releases trout to grow in start tanks.

Returning adults provide eggs for the next generation. Here, a hatchery worker releases trout to grow in start tanks.

© Jim Kohl Photography

Ninety million dollars may seem like a lot of money to spend on raising fish. For Alaskans, who dream of and brag about their fish, the price tag for the new sport fish hatchery on Ship Creek in Anchorage is worth the money. After all, fishing contributes an estimated $1.4 billion to the State’s economy and produces more than $500 million in income every year. Fish are important to the Alaska lifestyle.

The William Jack Hernandez Sport Fish Hatchery, built through a collaborative effort of fourteen government and industry partners, is the largest indoor sport fish hatchery facility in North America, capable of rearing 6 million fish a year. The facility features an energy efficient system that recirculates warm water to save money while fostering fish growth. It incorporates natural lighting and mechanical lighting that mimics nature.

Part of the imposing three-acre facility is a visitor/education center that allows the public to observe hundreds of thousands of tiny fingerlings, or smolt, swimming in their individual species tanks. Five species of fish are reared in the hatchery: chinook and coho salmon, rainbow trout, Arctic char, and Arctic grayling. They are released in more than two hundred lakes, streams, and saltwater locations across Southcentral Alaska to feed the appetite of sport anglers, says Andrea Tesch, hatchery manager for Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G).

The project was paid for by sport fish license fees, taxes on fishing equipment, and state grants, she says. The fishing public is welcome at the facility to view king salmon smolt and other fish in a mini hatchery of their own. The second-floor observation deck is equipped with digital screens interpreting the rearing and stocking processes. The displays vividly tell the story of the salmon’s lifecycle and how the hatchery enhances the sustainability of this important natural resource.

1 Percent Well Spent

As with other State buildings, 1 percent of the budget was dedicated to art. A number of artists contributed to the décor in and around the hatchery. Michael Anderson’s ceramic wall hangings are featured in the visitor corridor. Pat Shelton created a glass mosaic of fishing lures installed in the entrance. Cammie Walker fashioned the fish that hang in the east corridor. Ray Troll’s whimsical characters transform the stocking trucks into a mobile mural, and Peter Busby’s giant sculpture graces the exterior of the building.

Last July, the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure (ISI) selected the Hernandez hatchery as the first ever recipient of its Envision TM Gold award for sustainability. ISI, a nonprofit educational organization formed by industry organizations, created the tool to provide the public sector with guidelines for sustainability in civil works such as roads, bridges, pipelines, and public buildings.

 

Early construction work included pouring concrete into the foundation walls of the William Jack Hernandez Sport Fish Hatchery in Anchorage.

Photo courtesy of HDR

The hatchery’s recirculation technology reuses up to 95 percent of its water.

Photo courtesy of HDR

Envision the Future

The self-evaluation process uses the broad categories of Quality of Life, Leadership, Resource Allocation, Natural World, and Climate & Risk to encompass best practices in the building field.

ISI Executive Director Bill Bertera says, “The William Jack Hernandez Sport Fish Hatchery provides a great fit for the first-ever ISI Envision project award. As the heart of Alaska’s sport fish stocking program and the largest indoor sport hatchery in the nation, it is also the largest application of water recirculation technology for a hatchery. The sustainability of this project guided the vision and development of every aspect of the hatchery, and all facets of building and site design incorporated sustainability principles that will last far into the future.”

The hatchery project was spawned by the need to replace two aging hatcheries on Fort Richardson and Elmendorf military bases. Those facilities, built in the 1970s, made use of waste heated water from the military power plants to provide warm water in which to rear the fingerlings and smolt.

When the military privatized its electrical systems, the power plants at both bases were decommissioned, eliminating the warm water supply.

Tesch says ADF&G staff wanted a new facility that would be easily accessible to Southcentral’s population and the lakes and streams stocked with fish each spring and that the public could enjoy.

Of the sites considered, the Elmendorf Power Plant cooling pond location offered a supply of clean well water, proximity to the brood stock in Ship Creek, and is ideal location for public visitation and education programs.

Dave Kemp of the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities took on the task of project manager, bringing together the hatchery staff, design team, and the contractor for the planning, site selection, design, and construction of this very technically complex project.

“Since the free heat from the military power plants was no longer available, a new much more energy efficient hatchery was the logical option,” says Kemp. He credits Jeff Milton, Sport Hatchery Program Manager, and the hatchery staff for setting the goal of sustainability.

ADF&G’s mission is, after all, to develop the resources for the people of Alaska in a sustainable manner.

Milton, who served as the ADF&G representative on the project team, says he always tried to ask what the most durable and sustainable building and fish culture systems were, how they could be utilized, and if the State could afford them.

“Every choice is likely a tradeoff of some sort. We essentially tried to design things as sustainably as possible within our budget. Once we had capital funding fixed we tried to do as much as possible within that limit to minimize operational costs by choosing longer lasting materials and systems such as passive lighting,” he explains.

 

Transcending the Vision

What resulted is a recirculating aquaculture system that is innovative and efficient. Fifteen water-recirculating systems provide the treatment and reuse regimes in the hatchery. They include 107 round rearing tanks that have a dual water separation system for fish waste and particulate matter. Water is treated to remove ammonia and excess carbon dioxide, then oxygenated. Treatments vary with the species. More than 8.5 miles of pipe and conduit course through the facility in a complex network conveying domestic wastewater, compressed air, natural gas, and water for the building heating system as well as the rearing pond water. Add to that the conventional conduits for electrical, communications, and data control systems, and you have one giant maze.

Milton says the group did not set out to make such a mechanically complex facility, “It just turned out that when we considered all the requirements associated with the fish production programs we had few alternatives available that would meet the demands. The recirculating aquaculture systems provide the environmental control needed to regulate fish development and growth effectively enough to achieve our production goals within a single facility.”

HDR, Inc. the international firm selected to design the hatchery, is a charter member of ISI and the first company to commit to credentialing its staff as Envision Sustainability Professionals. In 2006, when HDR was considering the hatchery design, says Dan Billman, vice president and project manager, the firm did not have a formal procedure for inserting sustainability techniques.

“It is just the way we think,” he says, “part of our culture. What we did have was a client that was passionate about the concept of sustainability.”

The decision to locate the hatchery at the site of the old power plant cooling pond posed both opportunities for sustainable operations and some challenges. The cooling pond offered a supply of clean water, proximity to the brood stock in the creek, and an ideal location for public visitation and education programs. However, the pond would need to be drained and the water table lowered to dry out the top twenty feet of alluvium. Soil stability and ground table water levels were key factors in construction.

HDR’s design solution involved allowing the sediment to settle by placing a permanent sheet-pile cutoff wall on two up-gradient sides of the building. These walls would divert subsurface water flow around the site. That and a curtain drain lowered the water table enough to consolidate the surface for construction.

Another challenge was the presence of soils contaminated with petroleum waste.

HDR’s staff immediately addressed the need to remove contaminated soils and restore the brownfield while protecting Ship Creek and the fish that provide brood stock for the hatchery. The question was how would they drain the pond, lower the water table, and improve the site with that in mind?

They proposed a three-step approach to dealing with contaminated soils, preventing damage to any cultural artifacts and maintaining Ship Creek quality. Uncontaminated high quality soil would be used for site backfill. Other soil material and low-level contaminated soil would be placed in berms to be used for landscaping. Only the most contaminated soil would be shipped for incineration and disposal.

Techniques such as these, along with those of prime contractor, Kiewit Building Group, and the other partners, PRA Aqua Supplies, BBFM Engineers, Shannon & Wilson, Inc., McCool Carlson Green, Land Design North, MBA Consulting Engineers, Inc., Alaska Construction Management, WHPacific, Superior Plumbing & Heating, and Alcan Electrical & Engineering, would later be reviewed against the ISI’s criteria.

HDR and the people associated with the hatchery conducted a self-evaluation rating it for best practices as identified in sixty credits, explains Bertera. The evaluation team was led by an individual credentialed by ISI. That evaluation is later verified by an independent firm on contract to the Institute, also credentialed as a peer reviewer.

Each project is evaluated on its own merits, Bertera says of the Envision award. The process is meant to be a tool that designers and builders will use to encourage sustainable practices at every point in the construction process.

“Our goal as an educational and research organization is to encourage public sector entities to incorporate sustainability in their civil works,” he adds. “This matter of sustainability would not be on anyone’s mind if it wasn’t increasingly apparent that our world only has a future if we begin thinking about that future differently than we have to this point.”

Michaella Wittman, HDR’s sustainability director, says, “We think Envision will be a game changer, doing for sustainable infrastructure what the now-commonplace LEED rating does for sustainable architecture.”

 

Connecting process water supply pipes at the Repump building.

Photo courtesy of HDR

Putting it Together

A critical element to the success of incorporating so many innovative techniques in the hatchery project was Kemp’s leadership in facilitating the team and his method.

“We made a decision early in the project,” says Kemp, to use the Contract Manager|General Construction (CM|GC) method of procurement. The CM|GC method brings the contractors into the planning and design phase of the project so that “the individuals who will actually perform the construction are familiar with both the technical aspects of the project, as well as the vision of the folks who will own and operate the hatchery.

“This was a bit more costly at the beginning of the project but ultimately resulted in a less expensive overall project because the contractor was part of the planning and design, and their expertise is incorporated early instead of via expensive change orders during the construction phase.

This method also avoids the ‘us versus them’ atmosphere that can occur on many traditional design|bid|build projects.”

Kevin Welker, senior vice president Kiewit Building Group, notes, “The benefits of the CM|GC method of procurement allowed the entire project team to mature quickly. The team developed a relationship where they actively sought the clients’ input and shared responsibility and ownership of the many challenges the hatchery presented. The result was far fewer questions and changes during construction.”

The atmosphere was decidedly positive according to Tesch. “Early on everyone understood the intention to make this a model of innovation, a once in a life time project. Workers were really psyched,” she recalls. “One subcontractor even had jackets made with the hatchery logo.”

In its critique of the project, ISI reviewers noted how the partnership approach positively affected the operations. The team earned points for repurposing existing water and sewer infrastructure; creating connections to existing bike trails; and creating a parallel bike trail through a park-like setting with trails, boardwalk, and educational signs. This resulted in a high score for improving community quality of life.

Actions such as Kiewit’s implementation of an on-site recycling program and vehicle|equipment idling policy also ranked well in the Natural World category. Welker feels Kiewit Building Group’s environmental stewardship contributed to the focus with its on-site mitigation measures and policy to mitigate impacts on neighboring residents.

In selecting the artwork that adorns the building exterior, the team also carried forward the sustainability theme. It considered the durability of materials. Rather than choosing a wood carving that might require special care, they opted for wire sculptures that would be more easily maintained just as they chose durable materials for interior doors that would stand up to the humid conditions.

Since completion, the hatchery has also been awarded the Alaska General Contractors’ Alaska Excellence in Construction award. It was a top finalist in the 2013 ACE Outstanding Engineering Achievement Awards.

Kemp, who describes the project as one of the easiest yet most complex of his forty-year career, calls it a joy for the opportunity to work with so many smart, creative people.

“The Alaska public has a hatchery that is as efficient as possible and was built to meet the demands of the future,” he says.

Joette Storm writes from Anchorage.

Accepting the first Gold award for Sustainable Infrastructure, from left, Dave Kemp, PE, PMP, Chief Statewide Public Facilities, ADOT&PF ; Andrea Tesch, fish hatchery manager; Jeff Milton, regional hatchery-program director; and Wayne Klotz, PE, chairman, Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure, which awarded the first Envision ™ rating to the William Jack Hernandez Sport Fish Hatchery in Anchorage.

Photo courtesy of HDR

This first appeared in the October 2013 print edition of Alaska Business Monthly magazine.

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