Port feasibility study proposes causeway extension and outer basin depth of minus 40 feet
As the Port Commission increases services and woos public-private investment interests to select Nome as a major Arctic port, the panel received an update from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Nov. 15.
Jenipher Cate, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Alaska District Project Manager delivered the update on the Port of Nome Upgrade Feasibility Study. The study looks at an extension of the port causeway and an outer basin deepened to minus 40 feet.
The City of Nome has so far contributed $518,000 of its $1.5 million commitment to a federal government $2.9 million cost-share project for a new scope of the draft Arctic deep-draft port study to be followed by a project design, when approved. Nome has $1.5 million set aside through a State of Alaska legislative grant authorized in 2016.
The half million contribution includes $45,000 in work-in-kind to date with planned in-kind credit comprising a vessel for environmental work, third-party design and economic analysis and project management and coordination by the City of Nome.
“The City has really been involved with this project. They have been with us every step of the way,” Cate told port commissioners.
There will be a required 60-day public comment period in 2019 following the availability of 2019 federal funding.
The federal contribution was at $423,000 effective Nov. 15, according to Cate. The budget calls for the feds to contribute half a million dollars this year. The rough budget for 2019 lists Nome and the federal government putting in $1 million each to bring the proposed budget to $3 million.
The USACE-Nome project takes the place of a former federal-state Dept. of Transportation study that has been discontinued.
Cate reported a screening of 15 alternatives for port upgrades that retained seven alternatives to move forward, one of which was to do nothing.
All the other six alternatives include increasing dredge depths to some degree and creating a deep water basin. All the alternatives presently under consideration call for an L-shaped causeway with the short leg at the south end. The alternatives deal with combinations of dredge depths, extension of the existing causeway, modifications of the breakwater to widen the outer harbor entrance or to reshape or increase the number of docks.
For example, alternative three extends the west causeway up to 2,340 feet from shore and adds an L cap to protect the harbor from south and southeast waves and will add three docks, 600 ft., 450 ft. and 400 ft. The plan will remove the tip of the east breakwater to build it in a straight line parallel to the causeway to widen the entrance. The plan increases the depth of the inner, small boat harbor to negative 12 feet and the existing outer basin up to negative 28 feet, currently at negative 22 feet.
“For the deep-water extension, we’re looking at deepening it to negative 40 feet. All the depths will be the same for each of the alternatives,” Cate said. “Also the same will be the L-shape of the causeway. The difference will be in the number of docks and the east breakwater.”
The earlier study, now discontinued, which named Nome as a favored site, flagged when Royal Dutch Shell relinquished leases and pulled out of oil exploration projects in the Chukchi Sea. That development along with a decrease in oil prices helped to weaken a required cost-benefit analysis underpinning sought extensions and upgrades of Port of Nome infrastructure. New legislation passed in Congress in 2016 allowed for the new study to be authorized regardless of reduced economic benefit.
The new analysis looks at a broader range of benefits than the previous study, including Nome’s role as a regional hub for surrounding communities that rely on fuel and goods, as well as social benefits and the needs of communities relying on the traditional food gathering lifestyle.
Nome and the feds signed the 50/50 cost-share plan in Feb. 2018, followed by a planning meeting in April to inform the shape of the project. The time line calls for a tentatively selected plan early in January, and agency decision in May 2019 and a final report in fall 2019. The USACE Chief’s Report that documents the final opinion of the USACE Chief of Engineers is due in early 2020 to begin the funding consideration in Washington D. C.
There will be five public and private reviews of the plan with necessary provisions along the way to the headquarter approval, according to Cate.
Alaska does not have a deep-water port on its west or northwest coast. The nearest U.S. Coast Guard station is way south at Kodiak.
The lack of an Arctic deep-water port was studied when the federal and state governments launched a previous regional port study in 2011. The DOT—USACE report came out in two parts, 2013 and 2015. After consideration of 14 or so sites of marine activity up and down Alaska’s northwestern coast, Nome came out on top in 2015 as a favorable place to keep planning for a deep-water port, very possible as a complement to a system that also includes Port Clarence or another port to the north.
The study cited Nome’s existing infrastructure, including an airport suitable for jet airplane traffic and a hospital.