Congress authorizes deepwater port in Nome

A coputer rendering of  long port of rocks with a lrge boat docked
PND’s model rendering for the design of a potential Arctic Deep Draft Port in Nome. (Photo courtesy of the City of Nome)

After years of waiting, the Arctic Deep Draft Port project in Nome was authorized by Congress on Dec. 21 and is ready to move forward.

Included in the 2020 Water Resources Development Act, which become part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, the Deep Draft Port project proposes plans for an extended west causeway and a new deep-water basin at Nome’s Port.

Nome Mayor John Handeland said getting the Congressional authorization for the project accomplishes a major hurdle.

“This project has been on the planning table and been advanced by the city for a decade,” he said. “Getting over this hump is monumental for our area.”

Now the plan has been approved by Congress, Joy Baker, Nome’s Port Director, said the project now moves into the design phase and continues its quest for funding.

“Once the Alaska District is able to access their federal funds in the F21 Work Plan, we will move immediately into the design phase — that’s a two-year phase. We expect something between now and March. We’re hoping they will get their funds released and we’ll be able to start,” she said.

The price for the project has increased to more than $505 million, compared to $490 million when the Army Corps of Engineers initially signed off on the plan last year.

The Corps will pay around $379 million, leaving the city of Nome responsible for the rest.

But Baker emphasizes the money is not immediately coming from the coffers of taxpayers — a majority of the money will come from project partners, he said, and now the plan is authorized, Nome can request grant money.

Some community members are concerned the project could have negative effects on the marine environment and local subsistence hunters. Kawerak, the non-profit consortium that provides services to 20 tribes in the region, made no comment on the latest development, but released a statement about their concerns about the port project last year. They recommended more be done to enable subsistence hunters’ access to resources, limit negative effects on the environment, and keep the cost of living down in Nome.

Gail Schubert, President and CEO of Bering Straits Native Corporation, said that BSNC “whole-heartedly supports” the port project and trusts it will not greatly impact subsistence hunters and fishers.

“I think that the port location, or the location in and around Nome, has been used fairly regularly and substantially for the past several hundred years by people coming into Nome,” she said. “I think that if there were going to be any sort of subsistence impact, it would have happened already, so I’m confident with the work that the Corps has done and that the port can be built out safely.”

Baker also believes Nome’s new port project will bring many economic benefits to the region.

“I think the region could definitely benefit from the economic injection and boost that this would bring to jobs in the region. I see ten years down the road, a very bustling busy military facility that’s also supporting industry and providing jobs that are desperately needed in our region,” she said.

The two-year design phase will begin this spring, before moving to the construction phase.