Updated Arctic port plan report objects to further deepening

The Port of Nome’s inner harbor. Credit: Yereth Rosen

The latest draft report of a feasibility study, released at the end of December 2019 by the US Army Corps of Engineers, for expanding the Arctic port of Nome gives few expansion options and does not call for deeper dredging.

The initial proposal, which featured in the first draft plan published in May 2019, was to double an existing causeway of 914 m, build a second causeway of the same distance, and to dredge the seafloor, lowering the current depth of 7 m to 12 m, to accommodate larger vessels traveling through the region. The outer basin was also expected to be dredged to 8 m, as recommended by the Corps of Engineers.

However, concerns were raised about the dredging depth in May by Democrat representative Sean Maloney, who noted the port needed to be dredged to at least 14 m to accommodate larger vessels from the Navy and coast guard.

Nome’s port director, Joy Baker, in response said that such details would be sorted out in the public comment periods, the first ending in June 2019.

“If it needs to be 12.5 m or 12.8 m, that’ll be sorted out when we go into final refinement before the report goes final and up to headquarters, which is towards the end of the year, first part of next year,” Baker said in May. “So, there’s plenty of time to weed out the specifics.”

The Corps of Engineers ruled that further dredging to a depth of 14 m would be cost-ineffective and further analysis showed that the initial 12 m depth would be sufficient to accommodate icebreakers and Arleigh Burke-class destroyers.

One significant change in the new draft report addresses the effects of construction on protected and endangered marine animals and minimising the effects of noise pollution from pile-driving work. To combat this, the engineers propose changing the dock design from a concrete caisson to a sheet pile dock.

The updated draft report is available for public commentary until the 30 January and can be found here. It narrows down the alternative expansion options from 13 to seven, including an option of taking no further action in the port. Possible substitutes include making changes to the existing breakwater and converting all or part of it to a causeway, as well as creating different numbers of docks.

The Alaskan city of Nome plans to expand its existing port into the only deep-water port in United States Arctic waters, as it is closer than the current full-service deep-water port that US vessels rely on, 1,600 km away, the Dutch Harbour at the Aleutian Island of Unalaska.

The port drew the attention of the US Army Corps of Engineers and was deemed the most appropriate site to be the first deep water US Arctic port.

The total cost of the project is estimated at USD491 million, with the final report due out in Spring 2020 and will be submitted to Congress in the Summer.


This article has been updated and was originally published on 15 August 2019.