Army Corps meets with City for deep-draft port update
A projected 24-month feasibility study on the Port of Nome modification to a deep draft port is underway with a price tag of $2.9 million on the study project to be shared by federal Army Corps of Engineers and money rounded up by City of Nome through public-private partnerships and successful grant proposals.
Some non-federal cost could be laid off by the City through in-kind credit: providing a vessel for environmental work, third party economic and design analysis by its consultant and project management coordination by City staff.
At the time of a project update in July, five months into the study —$323,000 comprising $173,000 federal money and $150,000 non-federal money —had gone into the project near the end of July. An estimated total study cost schedule calls for $1 million to be spent in FY18, which ends Sept. 30, followed by $2 million spent in FY 19.
The City has $1.5 million set aside through a State of Alaska legislative grant authorized in 2016.
Jenipher Cate, project manager, Alaska District U.S. Army Corps of Engineers delivered the update to a gathering of about 20 members of the Nome Planning Commission, Common Council and Port Commission.
At the end of June, the project had arrived at the milestone of narrowing alternatives along the way of achieving a Tentatively Selected Plan, TSP for short, by Nov. 13. Along the path to the TSP there are milestones of data collection, economics and the impacts on environmental and cultural resources.
The project could design to deepen the Small Boat Harbor to minus 12 at Mean Mean Low Water and extend the Outer Harbor to a maximum of minus 28 MLLW. It could increase the Outer Harbor entrance width by modifying the Causeway or breakwater and add more dock space to the Causeway.
What would usually be a three-year study project has been accelerated to two years because it has been able to draw information from a 2015 study that was shut down on a shaky cost-benefit ratio following Royal Dutch Shell’s pullout from the Chukchi Sea exploration in 2016.
New legislation by Congress opened the door to go ahead by saying that other considerations like service to remote communities and increased safety could be factored into weighing benefits of investment in an upgraded port.
A revised problem statement stems from the new legislation: “Vessel traffic in the Arctic, coupled with limited marine infrastructure and available draft in Nome and the region results in port operational efficiencies, vessel damages, decreased safety, increased cost of goods and services, threats to the long-term viability of surrounding communities.”
Upgrading the existing causeway and harbor package would afford the region the following opportunities, the thinking goes:
• Ensure health and safety of smaller communities relying on Nome. Long-term economic growth and stability in various types of harbor activities and associated foot traffic.
• Improve navigation access to community.
• Increase investment in infrastructure. Decrease economic damages.
• Reduce life safety risk.
• Improve system reliability.
The Army Corps has screened seven alternatives which have been reduced to four, in part by applying several constraints and then five screening criteria—completeness, first cost, maintenance costs, acceptability (socially acceptable and legal), avoids or minimizes impacts outlined in planning constraints.
A major constraint is that the design must observe food security, cultural resources and access to natural resources.
Four proposals out of eight moved forward to additional scrutiny:
• An “L” shaped causeway with extension and with increased width of harbor entrance. Main breakwater end modified to increase width of Outer Harbor entrance, which has been identified as a navigation concern.
• An “L” shaped Causeway extension with docks and portion of breakwater converted to a causeway.
• Relocate main breakwater to east to create a larger and deeper outer harbor, extend Causeway to deep water. Shape of Causeway extension can be straight or an “L.”
• And finally, “no change,” a future without action alternative for evaluation.
Three alternatives did not make the cut:
• An “L” shaped causeway extension with docks was screened out because it does not increase the width of the entrance to the existing Outer Harbor.
• Relocate main breakwater to the east to create larger and deeper Outer Harbor—rejected because the current concept does not protect the harbor entrance from waves and there is a high cost to salvage the existing breakwater. Bedrock might be encountered—infilling of channel and basin would be likely excessive in cost for operation and maintenance dredging.
• Detached breakwater across Outer Harbor entrance in deep water—lost out for high cost to construct in deep water, it would create an entrance navigation challenge and it does not meet most objectives developed in the April planning charrette as regards completeness, first cost, maintenance costs, social acceptability and whether the plan avoids the constraints.