The port of Nome as seen from the air on Nov. 22, 2019.

Army Corps wants the public’s view on port upgrades

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers opened a public comment period Jan. 1 on Port of Nome proposed upgrades and environmental assessment; time’s wasting. The deadline to submit comments—yay or nay or suggestions—closes Thursday, Jan. 30.
The total cost of the project is an estimated $491,126,200, with the feds picking up $319,218,380 and the “non-federal sponsor,” meaning Nome, hustling for funding sources to provide $121,907,820, plus local service facilities costing $119,693,000, an approximate Nome “non-federal” cost of $291,600,820.
The effective price level is FY 2020, without inflation.
Selected following evaluation of 13 alternatives, the tentatively selective plan 8b calls for extending the existing 1,200-ft. causeway to 3,484 ft. to approximately 40 ft. Mean Low Low Water depth (MLLW). Additionally the plan would remove the existing east breakwater and construct a new causeway aligned with F Street. Seventy-five percent of materials from the old east breakwater would be recycled to the new project. The new East Causeway-Breakwater combination extends out to minus 25 ft. MLLW with a combined length of 2,400 feet.
Two 450-ft docks and one 650-ft dock would be incorporated into the design of the West Causeway.
The current causeway hosts three docks—Westgold Dock, Middle Dock and City Dock. The upgrade would add a spur at the end of the causeway where deckhands could throw lines from vessels with a length up to 600 feet.
The purpose of the study is to find a solution to a harbor Outer Basin which, at a depth of minus 22 ft. MLLW, currently excludes vessels with a draft over 18 ft. The purpose of the study is to provide safe, reliable, and efficient navigation and mooring for vessels to serve the hub community of Nome. According to the feasibility study and port promoters, the project is to alleviate these vessel restrictions along with results in operational efficiencies, lowered safety levels, vessel damages increased costs of goods and services and threats to viability of surrounding communities to which Nome provides a critical link to other places in Alaska and beyond.
The concomitant environmental assessment looks at the effect on marine resources. The plan provides for relocation of cobble and boulders—potential juvenile crab habitat—that are recovered from the sea floor during project construction dredging, avoidance of marine mammals and protected species during construction, and minimal impacts to cultural resources by having an archaeologist present  during land construction. Additionally, the new east causeway would include a passageway and bridge to allow nearshore fish passage. The assessment considers noise from shipping traffic.
A Wildlife Conservation Society marine acoustic monitoring program headed by operation risks were characterized as low risk and include a change to existing laws on benthic trawling and commercial fishing that could change the composition of vessel traffic in the area, changes because of oil and gas development that could cause changes in vessel traffic in the Arctic, impacts of sea level change and uncertainty whether assumptions regarding shippers’ potential change in their own operations would materialize.
Kawerak Inc. represents 19 federally recognized West Alaska villages as an interface between them and the federal government. In a position letter to U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Melanie Bahnke, president, said the organization wants a closer look at impacts related to changes in shipping and industrial use of Arctic waters associated with to rapid climate changes and changes in habitat use for Arctic marine mammals, as well as inclusion of indigenous people and food gatherers with experience and traditional knowledge.
The Bering Sea provides more than half the wild-caught seafood consumed in the United States, plus three-fourths of the subsistence harvest feeding Alaska Natives and others living in coastal communities.
Bahnke’s letter to Murkowski was written Dec. 20 and addresses the legislation Murkowski put forth in Washington D. C. calling for an Arctic Shipping Advisory Council Committee Act, which would feature a review panel including Alaska Native membership to advise on activities impacting the Arctic, including construction.
Bahnke notes that current changes put the ecosystem—critical to culture and food security — at risk.
“Kawerak respectfully suggests that your office consider other legislation that enhances Arctic environmental stewardship, conserves Arctic biodiversity, truly supports and engages Alaska Native tribes, and incorporates traditional knowledge into decisions,” Bahnke wrote.
Bahnke said Kawerak would like to see planning and policy recommendations for issues requiring attention such as ballast water, underwater noise, marine mammal ship strikes, oil spills, waste water and impacts to communities, for example.
Departure of sea ice and redistribution of fish in Arctic waters had increased use of culturally and environmentally sensitive locations. She noted that large scale commercial fishing had “expanded into our homeland via catcher processors operating north of Saint Lawrence Island” because of an increase in abundance of Pacific cod.
“The Bering Strait region is facing critical catastrophic environmental change,” Bahnke continued. “Kawerak staff have worked extensively to address community concerns, and much work remains to be done in relation to Heavy Fuel Oil phase-out, ship air emissions, discharge impacts to wildlife, impacts to communities, climate change, other-yet-to-be-realized issues on the horizon”, she wrote.
The feasibility study says that the proposed Port of Nome upgrade would not by itself increase ship traffic.
A previous study was abandoned when during a downturn when Dutch Shell Oil pulled out of waters north of the Bering Strait and Alaska. That study did not pencil out on cost-benefit analysis.
However, federal legislation in recent years addressed such port projects under different criteria. A section of the 2016 modification of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act: Additional Studies, Arctic Deep Draft Port Development Partnerships” allows for consideration of transportation cost savings benefits to national security.
“The proposed port modifications tend to improve navigation efficiency to reduce the costs of commodities critical to the viability of communities in the region,” the feasibility study states.
Nome has no access to the road system and is 545 miles as the crow flies northwest of Anchorage. It is a regional hub and identified in previous studies as a center of waterborne transportation and recommend improvements to the marine navigation system, according to the feasibility study.
The partnership? “This study has been cost-shared with 50 percent of the study funding provided by the non-federal sponsor, which is City of Nome, per the Federal Cost Share Agreement.”  
The combined feasibility study and environmental assessment, a document of 267 pages, has been made available for inspection at City Hall, along with digitized takeaway versions for those who want to read the study elsewhere.
Comments may be addressed to this e-mail:
Brent.S.Howard@usace.army.mil

 

 

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