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Nome’s Deep Draft Port Review Process Could See Delays if Government Shutdown Returns

Nome port

Progress for a deep draft port in Nome remains steady, despite uncertainty over another federal government shutdown while temporary funding is currently in place (through February 15). But that could change in the event of another prolonged government closure.

Currently, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is completing the review of six design alternatives. In mid-February, they are expected to meet and pick the TSP, or tentatively selected plan. This would be the design for the port, should the project be constructed. But according to Nome Port Director Joy Baker, the effectiveness of that meeting is contingent on a fully operating government.

“Once the alternative is selected, there’s a sixty-day clock where the environmental agencies receive documentation from the Army Corps and have that sixty-day window to respond.”

Environmental review is a key part of picking the TSP, and that is according to the guidelines set by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. And those agencies are considered non-essential and would not be operating should the federal government close down again. Currently, the federal government is only temporarily re-opened. Right now, Baker says there is no update on how the project will proceed.

If the plan is picked by the Corps but then proceeds to review while the environmental agencies are closed, the project loses time on its sixty-day review clock. Baker says that the full window is important:

“Some of them need that full window to actually accomplish and achieve their responses and get them back to us.”

The study is already fully funded by federal and state money; the Army Corps can continue to work regardless of whether or not the federal government remains permanently open.

However, for now, Baker does not seem too concerned about a potential delay, since all six alternatives are still being analyzed. The project won’t be considered delayed unless the meeting happens later than mid-February, and according to her, “that’s not going to be too harmful at this stage.”

When the TSP for the Nome Port has been decided, the selected alternative will be open to public comment and review.

Originally intended to be in late February, Baker predicts that review period to now happen in March or even early April. She is optimistic, despite the few weeks of delay.

“In a study this large for a project of this magnitude, that’s not bad.”

Nome is not the only location in Western Alaska considering a deep draft port. The U.S. Army Corps is also conducting a feasibility study for a port in Kotzebue at Cape Blossom. The Corps hosted a public comment on their alternatives for that study last Thursday in Kotzebue. That port would primarily seek to lower the cost of shipping goods into the Kotzebue Sound.

According to the feasibility study, the projected cost of the project would be just over $104 million, paid through a cost share agreement. Nome Port Director Joy Baker points out that the projects at the Port of Nome and Cape Blossom aren’t in competition for funding or construction approval.

Image at top: The Port of Nome. Photo: Joy Baker, Port Director.