780 AM | 96.1 FM | “Yours for Western Alaska”

Study for Nome Port Expansion On Track, Kawerak Expresses Concerns

The Nome Arctic Deep Draft Port Feasibility study could be finished within the next two months. That’s what Port Director Joy Baker told the Port Commission during their regular meeting last Thursday.

She says that right now, the study is running on-time.

“We anticipate it to get to headquarters for signature and, fingers crossed, meet the WRDA deadline into Congress for the WRDA bill for 2020.”

“WRDA” is the Water Resources Development Act that goes to Congress every two years. If the Nome port expansion project is signed into the current WRDA Bill, it would be able to go straight into the design phase. While the feasibility study wraps up, the Army Corps of Engineers is doing last minute outreach work. Baker says the Corps is currently planning local meetings with regional tribes to hear any last- minute concerns. That news was shared at the City Council meeting earlier this week.

Kawerak has already been critical of the deep draft port plans and asked for an extension of the public comment period, which the Corps denied. In a published letter to the Army Corps of Engineers, Kawerak listed 11 recommendations that the feasibility study still needed to address. Some of their concerns include a lack of small skiff access for subsistence users, impacts to subsistence harvests, and the potential for the port to increase the cost of living for Nome residents. Kawerak also objected to the study’s finding of “No Significant Impact.” The regional corporation calls for an Environmental Impact Statement, saying that the Port could affect the region in many ways.

During their January meeting, the Port Commission passed its recommended tariff to the Nome City Council, but they still haven’t decided how they are going to create a reserve fund for capital projects or emergency repairs, like the West Gold Dock. As City Manager Glenn Steckman pointed out, that was part of the reason they proposed raising the tariff rate in the first place. Though he mentions the Port sometimes has a surplus left over in the operating budget, Steckman says that isn’t a reliable way to build fiscal growth.

We’re going to be looking at a budget that shows a capital reserve line-item that shows a $150,000 in your overall budget.”

Port Director Baker still encourages a tariff rate hike because she says costs and labor operations have continued to increase since Port usage rates were last raised five years ago. The City Council is scheduled to vote on the tariff changes during their regular meeting on March 9th.

The Nome Port Commission members during a regular meeting in January. Photo from Emily Hofstaedter, KNOM (2020).

In other business, Bristol Engineering Services Company LLC. was the only respondent for the Launch Ramp Replacement Project and Director Baker recommends the Port use their services. Nome is required to cost match about $400,000 for that project and $300,000 of that will be covered through Norton Sound Economic Development Corporation (NSEDC). Construction for the launch ramp project is planned for July 1-September 15th.

During his report, Harbormaster Lucas Stotts informed the Port Commission that so far 15 cruise vessels are scheduled to come through Nome next year. If everything moves forward as planned, that would be the most cruise ships to visit Nome in one summer.

As the Port meeting adjourned, Baker encouraged all commissioners to attend the next City Council meeting and speak up in support of the Port tariff.

Image at top: PND’s model rendering for the design of a potential Arctic Deep Draft Port in Nome. Photo from Port of Nome, used with permission (2019).