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Nome Port Prepares For Summer Dredging Activity

Nome’s port on a cloudy autumn day.

Early break-up has freed the Nome harbor from ice, and preparation for the summer season is now underway.

At a meeting of the Nome Port Commission last week, the agenda addressed Nome’s offshore dredging season — and large-scale construction efforts like the Middle Dock and Middle Beach projects.

Commissioners reviewed a long-awaited study from Alaska’s Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development (DCCED), which looked at the impacts of suction dredging on city revenues and infrastructure. The report pointed to issues consistently voiced by both miners and city officials – including Nome’s housing crisis, and safety considerations for handmade dredges. However, commissioners were largely unimpressed by the document, which took nearly a year to complete.

Commissioner Bryant Hammond was disappointed by the lack of fresh information, or recommendations, put forth by the state.

“It’s not as extensive as I would have hoped,” said Hammond. “Most of it seems common knowledge to anybody who’s paying attention in Nome.”

Port project manager Joy Baker echoed the sentiment, saying the document “provided a lot of detail, but didn’t really say very much.” Acting chairman Charlie Lean added that slow turn-around had also dated much of the information.

As if to underscore that point, harbormaster Lucas Stotts announced new Department of Natural Resources regulations would go into effect this season — treating all dredging vessels, regardless of size, as commercial operations.

He said this will mean a shift in permit requirements for dredges previously treated as recreational vessels. The changes will start small, allowing dredge operators to adapt throughout the season. DNR will host a meeting on June 11 in Nome to address the changes and answer questions.

Finally, commissioners reviewed a concept drawing for the proposed green space at Middle Beach. The plan calls for a public restroom, playground, amphitheater and open lawn area for recreation. Acting chairman Lean said the last of these struck him as odd, considering Nome’s lack of natural grass.

“Whoever drew this is unfamiliar with the climate and the actual situation. Trees and shrubs — I just can’t believe that’s a serious plan,” he said.

Lean also voiced concern about how compatible the design will be with Middle Beach’s seasonal use as a dog lot for Iditarod sled teams. Planning commissioner Kenny Hughes, who also attended the meeting, said the concept drawing is just that — a concept. It’s currently in the comment-gathering stage, and will likely change based on city feedback. He added that the greenery planned would be more reminiscent of natural beach grasses than a manicured lawn.

The Middle Beach concept will go next to Nome’s City Council for feedback, before returning to the designer.