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Nome Port Commission Discusses Coast Guard’s Gold Dredge Regulations

The Nome Port Commission sits around tables in Council Chambers in May 2018.
The Nome Port Commission meets in May 2018. Photo: Zoe Grueskin, KNOM.

Gold miners hoping for a radical change to regulations may be disappointed by the conversation from last week’s meeting of the Nome Port Commission.

The U.S. Coast Guard has had strict safety regulations for larger gold dredges on the books for years but has largely turned a blind eye to dredging vessels. After the announcement late last year that the Coast Guard would begin enforcing these requirements, several local miners voiced their concerns that the rules could put them out of business.

One idea advanced to the Port Commission, and shared with a visiting Coast Guard delegation in March, was to push out the regulatory boundary line. That’s the distance from the shore within which vessels are subject to the regulations. Changing the boundary line would require an act of U.S. Congress.

Port Director Joy Baker spoke about the idea with Nome’s federal lobbyist and congressional staff in Washington. But she said:

“There was a great deal of nervousness and not a lot of support for a boundary line relocation. They don’t see this as being very advantageous, very likely. It would likely be a wasted effort on both the City’s and the delegation’s part, and they would rather participate and investigate something that has a higher chance of success.”

Port Commissioner Charlie Lean, calling into the meeting, put it more bluntly: “That’s a boat that won’t float.”

Instead, the Commission moved to work with Nome’s DC staff to explore possibilities with the Coast Guard of a unique exemption for Nome’s mining fleet. The vote at the meeting last Thursday to support this path forward was unanimously in favor.

Also passed without dispute was a suggestion from Commissioner Lean to formally thank state legislators Donny Olson and Neal Foster for their role in securing $1.6 million from the Alaska capital budget for the design phase of the Nome port expansion.

As Lean put it: “They were there for us, so we owe them thanks.”

City staff will draft a letter thanking the legislators, to be sent when and if Governor Walker approves the capital budget.

And as the Port gears up for a busy season, two new staff members came online this week: Caitlin LeClair began as office manager on May 14th, and Clayton Rodriguez started as dockwatch the next day.

The Port Commission will meet for its next regular meeting on June 21st. Applications for a vacancy on the Commission are also due that day.

Image at top: the Nome Port Commission meets in May 2018. Photo: Zoe Grueskin, KNOM.

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