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City Council Reviews Nome’s Financial Hit from COVID-19, Plans to Use NSEDC Funding

Only Councilmembers Jennifer Reader and Mark Johnson attended Monday's City Council meeting in-person. The other councilmembers participated via teleconference to meet quorum and social distancing standards. Photo from Emily Hofstaedter, KNOM (2020).

The Nome City Council voted to accept $100,000 of regional COVID-19 relief money and learned of plans for community wide coronavirus testing in Nome during their most recent regular meeting.

Monday night the Council passed a resolution to accept a special Community Benefits Share of $100,000 from the Norton Sound Economic Development Corporation (NSEDC). City Manager Glenn Steckman explained that those funds can be used to help the City cover COVID-19 related expenses that aren’t covered by state or FEMA funding. 

He says the pandemic has caused Nome to lose revenue and force the City to redirect its resources. Some of that could include time the Nome City Clerk has spent processing travel permits or the hire of new city staff to follow up on permits at the local airport.  City facilities are closed through May, thus Nome cannot make revenue by charging rental fees. Earlier in March, visitors were discouraged to come to Nome for the Iditarod Sled Dog Race, but city management doesn’t have estimates yet for the loss they accrued in missed taxes for that time period.

While Governor Mike Dunleavy is beginning to roll-back the strict social distancing measures required at public meetings, the Nome City Council held their regular meeting primarily via teleconference and broadcast it live on the radio.

Only one citizen participated Monday night by calling in with a comment. Francine Johnson of Nome requested the City close down to miners coming in from out of state. Manager Steckman explained that state laws for essential workers do not allow the City to close its doors to miners, as mining is defined by Alaska as an essential activity.

He did share that this week, Norton Sound Health Corporation (NSHC) plans to begin widespread community testing for COVID-19 in Nome.

“They’ve got the test kits available and they want to get a broader sample of the community. Because we still don’t understand how it got here.”

This would allow for asymptomatic people to be tested for the coronavirus. As of now, the hospital has only been testing people displaying symptoms of the novel coronavirus. While visitors to Nome cannot be forced to take a COVID-19 test, Manager Steckman says he is working with the hospital to potentially coordinate voluntary testing at the airport. However, the option for antigen testing is not available in Nome yet.

Other Council business from Monday included a resolution recommended by the Nome Port Commission. Port Director Joy Baker explains that settling permafrost around the Bonanza tank farm is creating a dangerous situation for the fuel pipeline system at the Port of Nome.

“It’s putting pressure on the above ground pipe and valve that are going into the Bonanza tank farm. We could transfer for two more years without a problem or we could try one transfer and have a major failure. So, the risks are just too high.”

Nome is expecting to use that pipeline for a summer fuel delivery in late June. For now, the emergency repair includes lifting and leveling the pipeline and supporting it with “spacers”. That’s a repair that could be done again in the future, if the continually shifting permafrost demands it. The Council approved the emergency repair contract with Seakers Inc. for $132,062. Since that is considered critical infrastructure, the workers brought up to do the repair in Nome will not have to quarantine.

The next regular Nome City Council meeting is scheduled for May 11th and Council chambers may be open to a larger audience, pending social distancing guidelines.

Image at top: Only Councilmembers Jennifer Reader and Mark Johnson attended Monday’s City Council meeting in-person. The other councilmembers participated via teleconference to meet quorum and social distancing standards. Photo from Emily Hofstaedter, KNOM (2020).

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