The Kloosterboer South Dock, seen under construction, was designed and built by Turnagain Marine Construction.
By 2014, Jason Davis had already been working in Alaska on marine construction projects for several years, and he was frustrated. “There was just no company that focused specifically on Alaska marine construction at that time,” he recalled. “It felt like we struggled with the same conditions over and over again.”
What if, he thought, instead of scrambling to make existing methods and equipment work in Alaskan conditions, he created a new company that was entirely tailored to the unique needs of Alaska’s heavy marine construction industry?
His idea would lead to Turnagain Marine Construction, a new name in the industry but one that is built on years of experience and dedicated to addressing Alaska’s specific needs and challenges.
“Unlike most marine contractors that kind of evolve over time, Turnagain was designed to be an Alaska marine company from the beginning,” Davis pointed out. That means that from its inception, Turnagain designed its own equipment — from crane barges to pile driving gear — around the conditions that are encountered in Alaska. For example, Turnagain’s barges are longer than those you would find in locations such as Puget Sound, where barges move easily around harbors and the developed infrastructure there.
“Our barges are considerably longer, which means they’re less nimble, and so there are places they can’t go,” Davis explained. “But when we’re out in a remote location with choppy seas and a lot of wind, we can work in conditions that would either shut down other contractors or inhibit their productivity.”
A lot of marine construction work in Alaska means traveling to remote places that don’t have existing port or harbor infrastructure to support a company like Turnagain getting its crane assembled on site with enough boom length to do the job. “Prior to Turnagain,” Davis said, “we would frequently spend four or five days on a project site just trying to get our crane put together, and sometimes we would have to bring in other pieces of equipment just to put our equipment together.”
Because of its longer barges, though, Turnagain can move around the state with longer booms and arrive in places like Akutan or Cold Bay ready to work.
Turnagain also invested in drill systems that could handle the amount of bedrock and the geotechnical conditions present in Alaska. The company boasts a state-of-the-art drilling system that can socket piles from 8 to 48 inches in diameter.
Out of the gate in 2014, the team secured several jobs with the Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities that immediately made a name for Turnagain. The company also won a competitively bid design-build project to construct a complete cruise ship facility in Hoonah. “Even though we were just getting started then,” Davis recalled, “our team’s experience and reputation allowed us to win the best value proposal, and we had the highest-ranked technical score.”
That project went on to win an AGC Parker Smith & Feek Excellence in Construction award for projects over $15 million.
By having equipment specially tailored to Alaska’s needs, combined with the experience to know which application of marine foundation is best for what the company encounters, Turnagain’s team is able to reduce the risk of whatever site conditions workers confront. “We can be a little more prepared prior to each project, and by being prepared rather than reacting, it’s less cost impact or disruption to the project,” Davis said.
That ability to pull into a site ready to work allows Turnagain to be more competitive on its bids — not to mention keep its crews safe. “It can be pretty dangerous work when you have to assemble your equipment in areas that don’t have the right infrastructure or support,” Davis explained.
From the beginning, Turnagain has made it a point to acquire some of the best local maritime workforce; most of those laborers come from the pile drivers and operators unions. Turnagain’s professional staff consists of five to seven employees, most of them from Alaska.
“More than anything, we strive to add value,” Davis said of his company’s values. Achieving that goal, he believes, relies upon everyone involved on a project looking at their individuals roles on a project — from construction or design to the end-user experience — and taking into consideration what each aspect brings to the table. Anything else, he said, creates inefficiency.
Turnagain’s emphasis on planning, its ability to execute work well, and its ability to bid competitively has won the company several important projects, including the $34 million replacement of Unalaska Marine Center dock positions III and IV, highlighted in “Shoring up: Dutch Harbor invests in dock improvements” in the Fall 2017 issue of The Alaska Contractor. Turnagain received the highest technical score and was the lowest bidder on this best value determination.
A smaller, but nevertheless highly valued project by Turnagain was the Kodiak Channel Transient Float replacement, a design-build project for which the company once again scored the highest technical response and the lowest bid price.
“That project was one of the best construction projects, and one of the highest value-for-the-dollar projects we’ve done in recent history,” said Lon White, City of Kodiak Harbormaster.
Turnagain, an AGC member since its inception, benefits from the net-working opportunities offered by AGC, Davis said. “It’s a chance to know our peers and the other contractors in the area, which I think is necessary to really participate in this market.”
Davis also appreciates AGC’s advocacy on behalf of its contractors and how the organization lends an effective voice in addressing issues that affect the industry.
“When we put Turnagain together,” Davis said, “we sought out people who had a similar desire to be more than just a hard bid contractor — people who had the technical experience, plus the desire to do business a little better, with an eye toward excellent customer service. That’s what Turnagain delivers.”
Jamey Bradbury is a freelance writer living in Anchorage.