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Port Commission Discusses Winter Operations, Future of Projects Like Deep Draft Port

Aerial view of Nome's port. Photo: Joy Baker, City of Nome.
Aerial view of Nome's port. Photo: Joy Baker, City of Nome.

As the last boats prepare to haul out for the winter season, the Port of Nome is hoping to move forward with a number of maintenance and construction projects.

Last month, Port Director Joy Baker announced that the city had been awarded a $1.6 million-dollar grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA). The EDA money, which will be released in December, will be used to repair the current Inner Harbor launch ramp. However, during November 21st’s Port Commission meeting Baker said she is already having problems locating an engineering firm to complete the project under EDA guidelines.

“The problem is—they’re treating the little remote areas like the big cities.”

– Joy Baker

The Port had hoped to commission the engineering firm PND for the project, but EDA regulations require the city to give contracts to the “lowest qualified bidder.” According to Baker, who is appealing the EDA decision, these constraints present challenges with respect to both distance and time. If construction on the ramp is to be completed by next summer, the Port doesn’t have much time to schedule repairs. Operating in the dead of winter requires specific equipment and a wealth of knowledge.

Baker also worries about the potential repercussions of putting off the project for another year. 

“I’m not an engineer but I think we’re playing with fire the longer we allow it to go.”

– Joy Baker

Also during the regular Port Commission meeting, Harbormaster Lucas Stotts elaborated on other ongoing in-house maintenance projects, which include floating dock repairs, installing new ladders, and maintaining timber beams in the harbor’s “high ramp.” Stotts is hoping to complete these repairs in the spring of 2020.

Following these discussions, the Port Commission opened up the floor to citizen’s comments. Austin Ahmasuk took the opportunity to formally speak out against Nome’s port expansion.

“I’ve been very critical of the port expansions. I hope that it does not go forward for many reasons, primarily because that it is port development purely for the sake of port development. The reasons that are cited, such as arctic security interests, those are not true. The economic appendix for the tentatively selected plan has a number of shaky statistics.”

– Austin Ahmasuk

While the debate continues over Nome’s strategic importance, a Department of Defense report to Congress in June cited the changing climate in the Arctic as a catalyst with geopolitical consequences. These consequences could range from increased international shipping to potential conflicts with other countries over newly accessible resources.

Ahmasuk also focused on the potential negative impacts port expansion might have on the Nome subsistence community. Nome resident Howard “Chugie” Farley, who was also in attendance, responded to Ahmasuk by stating that traffic through the Northwest Passage will steadily increase over the next several years, and port expansion could present a financial opportunity for the City.

In October Congress passed the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), part of a larger bill on water infrastructure. The legislation includes a provision calling for expedited completion of several feasibility reports, including a “project for navigation” in Nome. If the feasibility report is a success, the city will be able to move forward with initial planning for a Nome Arctic Deep Draft Port project.

The next Port Commission regular meeting is scheduled for December 19th.

Photo at top: Aerial view of Nome’s port. Photo: Joy Baker, City of Nome.

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