Nome Port Commission Wants to Delay Port Opening, Proposes Balancing Business and Coronavirus Concerns

Nome port

The Nome Port Commission would like to open the Nome Port for business on May 31st. They discussed those plans and COVID-19 preparations in a work session last week [April 16th].

The catch is that barges, vessels, miners, fishermen, and all other port operators will have to submit a detailed plan of operation outlining their COVID-19 preparations, which includes any plans to quarantine incoming workers. Nome’s Harbormaster, Lucas Stotts, explains those detailed plans would be submitted for the required entry permit by incoming Nome visitors.

“Housing: where are you going to meet that quarantine requirement? Who’s living there? [And secondly there’s] food, water, and fuel. Who’s going to stock all those items for you? And hygiene? If they say their residence is at West Beach, how are they going to wash their clothes? That can’t just happen.”

Stotts said that if miners or commercial fishers are coming up together in groups, they need to understand that if one person in the house gets sick, they all need to quarantine for another 14 days. That policy is in line with what City Manager Glenn Steckman said earlier this month to the Nome City Council.

Most Port commissioners agreed that such a procedure would be appropriate for allowing business to continue while protecting the public health of the community. And as Commissioner Gay Sheffield pointed out, there will likely be ice in the Nome harbor well into the middle of May so May 31st isn’t much of a delayed open at all.

Shore fast ice continues to hold in the Southern Norton Sound, however, Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy’s (ACCAP) climatologist Rick Thoman says this is the 4th lowest year for sea ice in 42 years. Thoman has said the Norton Sound is expected to hold its ice longer than the rest of the region, which has already been seeing large areas of open water since March.

Larger barge companies such as Alaska Marine Lines have already announced they will be quarantining any shore-based crew as per City of Nome guidelines. Stotts says right now U.S. Customs and Border Patrol and the Coast Guard are monitoring international vessels in the Bering Sea. 

“Those will be regulated very closely off-shore. At this time they won’t be allowed to do crew transfers. There’s a lot of restrictions being put on them.”

In a similar measure to Nome, Wrangell wanted seasonal workers to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival into the city, a stricter requirement than the state’s. By the state mandate, fisheries and mining are considered critical industries. Ultimately, Wrangell did not pass that ordinance.

The Nome Port Commission’s discussed measures would still need to be passed by the City Manager through an emergency ordinance. Nome’s travel ordinances are also set to expire on May 17th, unless they are extended before then.

Image at top: The Port of Nome during the summer. Photo from Joy Baker, Port Director, used with permission.