Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Nome Advocates for Deep Water Port Expansion

By Margaret Bauman

Nome, Alaska, site of the legendary 19th century gold rush, also is well known as the destination for the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, but local officials are looking forward to the day when their port will be recognized for playing a role in developing the Arctic.

“The Arctic is the next economic hot spot,” says Nome Mayor Denise Michels. “This is going to happen. Our job is to be proactive rather than reactive.

“They have been coming. They will come … and with the ice cap shrinking, there will be more and more vessels in the Arctic.”

The message that Nome wants to get out is that Nome needs the infrastructure in place now,’ Michels said.

The challenges for the bustling port are two-fold: First, Nome is a seasonal port, with first dockings about early June, with the inner harbor closed by the end of October and the outer harbor by the end of November. Second, it will take millions of dollars to complete the project and a request likely won’t go to Congress until early in 2015.

Right now the deep draft vessels anchor off of Nome and lighter their passenger in to the small boat harbor, said Josie Bahnke, city manager. Cruise ships also come into the causeway at Nome. With an expanded causeway, the port would also be able to accommodate the Coast Guard, Bahnke said.

So Michels, Bahnke and retired Nome harbormaster Joy Baker, now projects manager for the Port of Nome, are working with the US Army Corps of Engineers in Anchorage and state of Alaska to develop their a deep water port expansion project. They are seeking $250 million for design and construction of the extension of the existing causeway to establish the deep draft area.
In 2012, the state of Alaska awarded $10 million toward the project.

The US Army Corps of Engineers in mid-November produced its Alaska Deep-Draft Arctic Ports Navigation Feasibility Study, which notes that “increased vessel traffic coupled with limited marine infrastructure along Alaska’s Western and Northern shores poses risks for accidents and incidents, increased response time for search and rescue, and requires international coordination.”

Plans are for a 30-day public review in March, then a US Corps of Engineers review would begin in June, a civil works review board in August and a chief’s report in December 2014. The draft feasibility report, to be released the beginning of March, would announce where the state and corps cost shared study is leading planners in term of a recommended plan… and then the corps would seek public comment, said Lorraine Cordova, project technical lead.

Nome is on the short list, but there were 14 broad geography regions initially evaluated. Details are online at

Once signed, that final report will be sent on to Congress for authorization and funding, said Cordova.

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