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Army Corps seeks permission to disturb marine mammals during Nome port modification

Jathan Garrett, the Army Corps of Engineers project manager in Nome, speaks at a community meeting on May 17.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers held a wide-ranging community meeting regarding the Port of Nome Modification Project on May 17.

The Corps has requested authorization for non-lethal harassment, or disturbance, of marine mammals as part of the deep-water port modification in Nome.

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) requires the requests for an Incidental Harassment Authorization (IHA) as part of the Marine Mammals Protection Act.      

Jathan Garrett, the Army Corps of Engineers project manager in Nome, spoke to residents and community organizations during the meeting, and he said citizens have about a week left to comment on the proposal.

Garrett said once comments are received, the project team will review them and use them to assist in the conversation with NMFS.   

Nome resident Chuck Menadalook said walruses should be included in the authorization.  Currently, only seals, sea lions, porpoises and whales are listed as marine mammals in the proposed IHA.

“There have been documented cases of walruses hauling out at the end of the port, so I would recommend that walruses be put on the IHA,” Menadalook said.

 The public comment period for the request to take marine mammals is open through June 1.

But the authorization wasn’t the only topic of last week’s meeting. Garrett said the Corps is concerned about housing all the folks needed for the project.

“Each of the contractors that we’ve met with over the past two years, and then during two of our industry days, have all indicated that they would bring in a man camp to house their personnel,” Garret said. “That remains the plan. We’re currently working with the city right now to identify where that land will be.”

 Garrett said residents are also concerned about debris being hauled around for the construction. He said they will increase maintenance on the roads they use to reduce dust in town.  

“All haul routes will be maintained with proper dust abatement, according to the specs,” Garrett said.

 Merlin Peterson is the design lead for the port project. He said a bypass route around town is planned for the expected increase in traffic.  

 ”We’re trying to, as much as possible, eliminate a lot of the larger heavy vehicle traffic that will be going through town, and utilizing the haul truck or the bypass road to facilitate movement of stone and other materials,” Peterson said. “We are not using the existing city streets.”

 The project aims to provide larger vessels improved access to Nome’s existing harbor by enlarging the outer basin and creating a new deep-water basin with a depth of minus-40 feet.  

Dredging will be required to deepen and maintain both basins and associated navigation channels. 

Image at top: Jathan Garrett, the Army Corps of Engineers project manager in Nome, speaks at a community meeting on May 17. Photo by Greg Knight/KNOM

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