Murkowski: Where’s that Arctic port?

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When President Obama was in Alaska last year, he said he wanted to advance plans for a deepwater port in the Alaskan Arctic, possibly in Nome. Today, Sen. Lisa Murkowski followed up on that with the head of the Army Corps of Engineers.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski speaks on the senate floor. (YouTube screenshot/Sen. Lisa Murkowski)
Sen. Lisa Murkowski speaks on the senate floor. (YouTube screenshot/Sen. Lisa Murkowski)

“Given the President’s support for this, why have we not included construction funding going forward in this next fiscal year?”Murkowski asked.

The assistant Army secretary for the Corps, Jo-Ellen Darcy, says her agency and the state of Alaska put the port feasibility study on hold last fall. That was shortly after Shell announced its halt of oil exploration in the Chukchi Sea. But, Darcy says, the Corps will take another look at the Arctic port idea.

“We are now going to look at further scoping of that study, because it was limited to just some economics involving oil and gas, but there are other things that can be included in this,” said Darcy. “For instance, that the Port of Nome may be considered a port of national significance, in addition to the fact that it could possibly house the Coast Guard’s icebreaker in the future.”

Murkowski says she was surprised the whole study was based on one company’s project. The senator says the region is opening to lots of activity other than oil and gas.

“It’s almost as if a new ocean has been discovered at the top of the globe,” Murkowski said. “And so how are we preparing for that? You can’t really be in the game. You can’t be that Arctic participant, unless we have that system of ports.”

The exchange took place at an Appropriations subcommittee hearing to review the president’s budget. The budget includes $150 million for planning and design of a new icebreaker.