Council votes down proposed BSNC man camp site for port expansion in town, looks at two other locations
UPDATE: In a special session, the Council passed a resolution to lease a portion of Satellite Field, west of the Softball Field, from Alaska Gold Co.
NOME—The Nome Common Council voted down a resolution to lease land located in town from Bering Straits Native Corporation for a temporary man camp to house 80 to 100 construction workers for the planned Port of Nome expansion project. The council objected to the close proximity to residential areas of the proposed site, when other, more suitable sites are available.
The City is required by the Army Corps of Engineers to provide a contractor of the expansion project with approximately 4 acres of land, within three miles of the port, and the ability to connect to water, sewer and electricity. The purpose of the requirement is to alleviate any further stress on Nome’s existing housing crisis. The city put out a request for proposals from local landowners and garnered eight responses. Two were disqualified for being non-responsive. The remaining six were from Alaska Gold Co., Bering Straits Native Corporation and Arctic Gold Mining.
A proposal evaluation committee of four looked at the bids and applied a scoring system that took into consideration cost, gravel fill, accessibility to water, sewer, power and closeness to the project site at the port.
It did not take into account suitability in terms of placement in the community.
In a public meeting with the Corps earlier this year, residents voiced apprehension about a man camp in town and the impacts on the community, however, mitigation of these concerns were not part of the scoring process.
The committee recommended that the council sign off on the BSNC option, a partially filled-in property directly south of the Richard Foster Building between Steadman and 6th Avenue. The proposed annual lease amount is $41,817 plus an option to lease lump sum of $2,500 – the same as the other options presented by BSNC’s subsidiary Alaska Gold Co.
Ken Morton, with NJUS, was part of the committee and justified his recommendation for that spot it was the most accessible to water, sewer and power, but also said he didn’t factor in suitability.
The fact that the man camp would sit adjacent to a residential area and very much near the center of town was not well received by council members.
Council member Scot Henderson raised vehement objection to the location, saying that erecting a man camp directly adjacent to a residential neighborhood in the middle of town is not a good idea. Drawing from the experience Nome had in 2006 to 2008 when the Rock Creek mine was built and a large influx of construction workers flooded town, Henderson said, “we had a lot of problems” related to drugs, assaults and the city couldn’t keep up with the amount of crime happening. He addressed Chief of Police Mike Heintzelman asking if the BSNC property would be suitable location for a man camp and received the answer, no, it would not be ideal.
Henderson then pointed to the proposal put forth by Alaska Gold Co. for a 4.3-acre lot, graveled and graded, at Satellite Field, east of the Graphite One work camp. Perfect location, Henderson said, it meets the acreage, is segregated from the rest of town, already in the neighborhood of other man camps. As for water and sewer, he said, it’s the nature of a man camp to be temporary, and that water/sewer requirements could be solved with holding tanks. Mayor John Handeland said that the requirements were dictated by the Army Corps of Engineers, which made it the city’s responsibility to find suitable land for the man camp and the responsibility of the contractor to bring in housing, to make the improvements and maintain the man camp.
The BSNC parcel, Port Director Joy Baker cautioned, was in fact a bit smaller than four acres and had several City of Nome right-of-ways that needed to be sorted out, which could be a problem with strict federal leasing requirements. To that effect, the Corps in a phone call to the city last week, had encouraged the city to offer city property and made the concession to require the contractor to fill a potential city lot with gravel. This would then spare the city the cost of leasing property from private landowners.
The council unanimously voted the BSNC proposal down and agreed to meet again on Wednesday at 5:15 pm to consider a resolution for the Alaska Gold Co. property at Satellite Field and considering city-owned property north of the cemetery, which was set aside for cemetery expansion, to be filled and used as a man camp.
Project partnership agreement
The man camp site is prerequisite for the Corps and the City to sign a project partnership agreement that solidifies the city’s commitment to the port expansion and will pull the trigger on putting the project out to bid. “Moving forward with the Project Partnership Agreement is critical,” Handeland said. Time is of the essence, said Port Director Baker, as a Sept. 30 deadline is looming and if the partnership agreement is not signed by then, the Corps will have to redo the economic study on the project, which will then delay construction of the project for another year. If the economic study has to be redone, solicitation for bids won’t be able to go out until spring of 2024, with bid awards not made until fall 2024 and the construction being pushed to start no earlier than summer 2025. With the deadline this tight, Baker said, the Corps is already making contingency plans to initiate another economic study.
The council had before them a resolution to authorize the city manager to execute the partnership agreement and voted unanimously in favor of it. As the agreement locks in the city’s commitment to pay for its share of costs of the port expansion, Councilman Henderson asked what the cost is. Handeland responded in percentages: 10 percent of the federal obligation and 100 percent of the local service facilities. But what is it in dollar amounts? “The city won’t know what their cost share is until the bids are out,” said Handeland. “But this commitment doesn’t exceed $175 million.” The $175 million were the state’s allocation toward the deep-draft port project.
Incidental Harassment permit
In other port expansion news, the National Marine Fisheries Service issued on Sept. 7 a key permit that allows the “taking of marine mammals incidental to the Port of Nome Modification Project.” Vibratory and impact pile driving would introduce underwater sounds that “may result in take, by Level B harassment, of marine mammals.” Level B harassment is defined as “the potential to disturb a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild by causing disruption of behavioral patterns, including, but not limited to, migration, breathing, nursing, breeding, feeding, or sheltering, but does not have the potential to injure a marine mammal or marine mammal.”
Level A harassment, serious injury or death is prohibited and could result in the modification or suspension of the permit. Trained observers must be employed, and the Corps must coordinate with the local subsistence communities, notify them of any changes in operation and take action to avoid impacts to subsistence harvests. The permit also stipulates that the Corps must meet with local subsistence communities at least once prior to the start of construction and provide weekly updates, during construction season.
The incidental harassment authorization is valid from May 1, 2024 to April 30, 2025.
The story was updated to reflect the development on Wednesday's Common Council meeting to pass a resolution to lease land from Alaska Gold Co. at Satellite Field