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Nome Harbor Operational But Not Cleared After Dredging

Nome's Small Boat Harbor. Photo: Matthew F. Smith, KNOM

Nome’s annual harbor dredging is finished and mariners are good to go. But with funding short, only part of the harbor was cleared, which is expected to cause problems come springtime.

Joy Baker is the Port Project Manager and gave an update on the project at yesterday’s Port Commission meeting. “The channel is dug to depth, said Baker. “The inner harbor didn’t actually need any dredging. And the outer harbor has some 19’s and 20’s out there, and the entire bowl should be minus 22 [feet].”

Every year the Army Corp of Engineers dredges the Nome harbor. But with funding short this season, they could only dredge about 19,500 of the harbor’s 70,000 yardage— about 28 percent— forcing operators to pick and choose sections necessary for the harbor to function.

“We agreed that the most important area was the approach to the docks, since they couldn’t get it all,” said Baker.

One of areas left untouched is the sump, the deposit trap for sediment rolling in from the west beneath the causeway bridge. The Corp did not have the funding to dredge the sump this year or last year. And now that deposit site is about 65 percent full, which Harbormaster Lucas Stotts expects will cause problems in the months ahead.

Stotts said fall storms come from the west, driving sediment straight into that sump. And what does not fall into the sump hits the channel, right in the path vessels need to enter the harbor.

“So come spring time when we get our first barges, landing crafts, freight of the year, they may not be able to get in, or they’re limited to very shallow draft,” Stotts said, explaining the issue.

That is the situation some vessels faced this year, Stotts said, when they tried to enter the harbor only to get stuck in mud from too shallow of a draft. Stotts said last year’s fall storms scoured the sediment from the deposit, dumping it into the channel.

Now it is mid-summer and already the sump is over halfway full, making Stotts worry the issue will be ongoing. “With it not being dug again this year,” Stotts said,  “I’m foreseeing the same problem but worse next spring. By fall it’s going to be filled back up.”

Project Manager Baker said the harbor and channel are operational. To fully dredge the harbor next year, the Army Corp and the Port are lobbying the federal legislature for increased funding.