The Army Corp of Engineers are gearing up for the summer season of projects around the state.
Chris Tew is the Chief of Contracting. He says the focus of their work has changed from building new facilities to remodeling existing military infrastructure, weatherizing and bringing aging structures up to code. Resource restrictions mean most of their projects this year will be military rather than in remote coastal areas, but he says climate change has meant a lot of work for the Corp in the past decade, especially in Northern and Western Alaska.
“It is a big deal for Alaska,” Tew said. “Climate change is certainly impacting our program and the citizens who live out in these remote areas.”
Tew says one such project will be at Cape Lisburne on the northwest coast where erosion is encroaching on an Air Force airfield and needs to be fixed. He says it will take around 20 million dollars and expects the design and bid process to conclude this summer with work starting in 2016.
Arctic infrastructure is a big priority as the Corp continues studying the rapidly growing need for larger and deeper port facilities at Nome and possibly Port Clarence.
Bruce Sexauer is the Chief of Civil Works for the Corp, he says as oil, gas and other resource extraction ramps up, bigger port facilities are necessary.
“This isn’t a place where they will be shipping a large amount of oil or other resources out of, rather this port facility is there to provide support to those vessels, say if one gets in trouble or needing to send supplies out to the oil wells or whatnot,” Sexauer said. “This is a very supportive activity. If something bad were to happen, be able to do search and rescue more efficiently from Nome than down from say either Dutch or Kodiak.”
Sexauer says Kodiak and Dutch Harbor will always be important facilities in the winter when the arctic is impassable and it will be years before the port expansion plan is approved and authorized by Congress for funding. But the increase in activity in the arctic continues to build.
“The vessels that are waiting off of Nome,” Sexauer said. “They started with just a few vessels a year, up to dozens, then up to over a hundred vessels a year that would need to wait or anchor off of Nome to come in and use the facilities there.”
Civil works projects need state and local investment, so Nome port expansion and building any infrastruction at Port Clarence would need a mix of hard to come by funds, but Corp Contract Chief Chris Tew says if the U.S. Navy moves forward with their stated goal of taking the military lead in the arctic in the next 15 years, some of that infrastructure funding mix would come from DOD.
“Yes, that would absolutely have to happen. Those are decisions that need to be made fairly quickly in order to get things teed up in order to do that within the next decade or so but I do think it’s possible,” Tew said. “Whether we want it to happen or not, it is happening and it’s not only going to happen within the coastal waters of Alaska but there are other nations that are going to work in the arctic and our ability to put infrastructure in place so this stuff is done as safely as possible seems to be in everyone’s best interest.”
Tew says other projects such as ongoing toxins clean up at former defense sites will continue across the state this summer at Northeast Cape on St Lawrence Island, the Susitna Gunnery Range in the Mat Su Valley and Umiat test well nine on the north slope.