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Army Corps of Engineers Could Choose Plan This Week for Nome Deep-Draft Port

Aerial view of Nome harbor and port area and the mouth of the Snake River.
The Port of Nome at the mouth of the Snake River, June 2018 (Photo: Gabe Colombo, KNOM)

This Friday may be the day when a tentatively selected plan (TSP) is established for a deep draft port in Nome.

According to Joy Baker, Port of Nome Director, that meeting has been delayed several times. Now, the Army Corps of Engineers has March 8 as the next date to pick a potential design plan from the current alternatives.

Baker spoke with the Port Commission last Tuesday:

“Headquarters called and said they’d pushed it out a couple weeks. They said they weren’t ready on their end.”

Once a plan is selected, it can undergo more design, cost, and environmental analysis.

Within sixty days, a drafted report must be available for public comment. October is the projected deadline for the culmination of report and comments to go to the Chief of Engineers, who has up to three months to review it. Once signed, it can go to Congress for approval. That would be in February 2020.

February was busy for the Port of Nome. Port Director Joy Baker, Mayor Richard Beneville, and City Manager John Handeland met with the Alaska congressional delegation in Washington, D.C., and brought back maritime updates.

Baker gave her report during last week’s City Council regular meeting and explained how recent legislation benefits the Deep Draft Port Feasibility project:

“The WRDA 2018 bill actually listed Nome as a specific project that would be allowed to precede immediately into design once the chief engineer at the Army headquarters signs the report… That language allowed for that expedition, which is another great bonus for us.”

WRDA is the Water Resources Development Act that goes to Congress every two years.

As a result of Baker’s D.C. trip, part of the port feasibility study now includes the servicing and refueling of Coast Guard national security vessels and icebreakers.

“That jacks up our benefit-cost ratio and put us in a positive net result… on the design that we wish to have approved.”

As the progress on the deep draft Port continues, Nome residents like Austin Ahmahsuak issue reminders about past projects and their destruction of Alaska Native culture:

“I want to point out that, in 2006, the port of Nome destroyed an archaeological site… that place was forever destroyed by the Port of Nome, so I would like you to keep that in mind as this port commission goes forward and does its work.”

Ahmasuak asked that the Port consider the lives of Alaska Native people and their history.

Other discussion at the Port Commission included discussing the Alaskan Arctic Coast study, a proposed maritime “highway” from Diomede to Canada. Commissioner Gay Sheffield mentioned that there should be a way for villages and Nome to have input in that study. The proposed meeting for the Army Corps of Engineers to pick the tentatively selected plan is this Friday (March 8).

Image at top: file photo: the Port of Nome at the mouth of the Snake River, June 2018. Photo: Gabe Colombo, KNOM.

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