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With Nome Port Plans Refined, Army Corps Seeks Feedback on Deep-Draft Ambitions

Aerial view of Nome harbor and port area and the mouth of the Snake River.

Western Alaska now has the chance to speak up on a recommended plan for a deep-draft port in Nome.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers modification feasibility study extends the existing West causeway at the Nome port by 3,484 feet (or nearly two thirds of a mile), creating a deep-water basin. The new basin could be either 30 or 40 feet below the mean low water level; both options are being considered. It would also create five new docks. Currently, the nearest deep-draft port is in Dutch Harbor, and according to Port Director Joy Baker, this would change the type of traffic coming through Nome.

“(It) allows us to service deep-draft fleets transiting the Arctic that presently have to anchor or are presently passing Nome by, as they know that their vessels cannot get into the dock.”

Those could include large commercial fishing ships, cruise ships, and barges.

The Eastern breakwater would be removed and replaced by a new 3,900- foot causeway.

“They’re trying to be cost-effective and efficient with the actual space and the attributes of the existing facility and meet the needs and demands of the maritime industry… as well as look into the future: twenty, forty, fifty years.”

But the demographic and economic changes the new port could bring may also pose a risk to the cultural identity of the Alaska Native community. According to the draft report, that has been a concern expressed by local Native communities who want assurance that the project will not displace them or interrupt cultural practices.

Part of the draft feasibility study includes government-to-government meetings between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and tribal governments. According to U.S.A.C.E., they have discussed the issue with Nome Eskimo Community, Kawerak Incorporated, King Island, Council, and White Mountain. Some of the conversations included concerns over how construction could change the local housing market to accommodate for outside workers, as well as concerns about increased oil spill potential.

The Kawerak Marine Program issued a press release on Thursday urging the public to make their voice heard, noting concern over discharge in the ocean, the increased potential for oil spills, and the effect of shipping on marine wildlife.  

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released the 253-page modification feasibility study on May 8, opening up the 30-day window for public comment. Those who are interested can view the entire document online at the Army Corps website or at City Hall in Nome during business hours.

Citizens should get their comments in by June 6.

Image at top: The Port of Nome at the mouth of the Snake River, June 2018. Photo: Gabe Colombo, KNOM file.