GOVERNOR TOURING PORT OF NOME— On Monday, August 30, Governor Mike Dunleavy visited Nome to take a tour of the Port of Nome.

Governor Mike Dunleavy visits Nome to tour Port

By Julia Lerner
Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy visited Nome to discuss the potential Port of Nome expansion project on Monday afternoon.
“We came up to have a discussion with the City Council and the Army Corps of Engineers on the potential port expansion here in Nome, and it was pretty valuable,” Dunleavy told the Nugget. “We went over some numbers, timelines, where the folks here in Nome think things are at, potential models to look at for the port, and it was a pretty good conversation.”
The governor visited the Port of Nome on August 30 “to take a look at the future port expansion site, to get more information, to wrap his brain around it, and ask some questions,” said Harbormaster Lucas Stotts.
The project, turning the Nome Port into a deep-water port able to support significantly larger vessels, has been in the works for years, and is currently in the design phase. In December, Congress authorized funding for the design and planning phase of the project, though more work is necessary before construction can begin.
Port Director Joy Baker says it could be several years before construction begins on the port. Project participants are still in the early stages of the design phase, which typically takes around two years.
“The next phase of the port expansion has finally commenced, with design teams having been determined and individual roles having been assigned,” Baker wrote in a Port Commission memo to City Manager Glenn Steckman earlier in August. “After teams were defined, a technical meeting was held on July 29, 2021, to make introductions, review the design components with the Corps and ask technical questions to ensure each of the project scopes reflect the exact layer expected by the other design teams. The meeting was long but very productive.”
A deep-water port in Nome means the community could “take in a lot more traffic, which hopefully means more jobs and more commerce for the area here, whether it’s servicing smaller cruise ship lines that are coming through the Northwest Passage, whether it’s helping the folks here that are doing some mining, [or] potential Coast Guard work in the future,” Dunleavy said. “Having a larger port here is going to enable Nome to handle more capacity.”
Nome is already starting to see that increased need. Mining projects, including the proposed Graphite One mine, are exploring use of the Nome Port, and next summer, the port is anticipating almost 30 cruise ships to dock throughout the tourist season.
A deep-water port in Nome “could be the place where folks tie up, where they fuel, where they get provisions, where they have to repair any damage to their ships,” Dunleavy said. “If there’s a large volume of work here, whether its passengers coming in from the Northwest Passage, whether it’s Coast Guard activity, better handling units, hopefully what you would see is a reduction in cost in some of the goods and services. It’s also going to produce jobs and there’s a real opportunity for mining activity.”
The next step, the Governor says, is to identify funding for the project.
“There’s potentially money being put into the federal infrastructure bill that everyone is talking about in [Washington] D.C.,” he told the Nugget. “If there’s money earmarked for this particular port, then that gives this concept a lot more juice behind it beyond just talking.” Dunleavy says a significant portion of the project funding will come from D.C. and the federal government if the project construction takes place.
Identifying sources of funds is an important step in any construction project, but particularly so when the price tag is this large. Baker estimated the cost of the port construction to be anywhere from $400-$600 million during a recent Port Commission open house, and the City of Nome is on the hook for almost half of it.
“Historically costs have been borne by local users and local taxpayers,” according to a 2020 letter from Kawerak, Inc.’s president Melanie Bahnke. “This project has the potential to affect the community of Nome and the Bering Strait region in many ways.”
Though Kawerak has not taken a position on port expansion, they advise the USACE to withdraw the Finding of No Significant Impact for this project and to incorporate subsistence uses into the feasibility design.
City staff who participated in the meetings told Stotts the meetings with Dunleavy went well. “Several of the members that worked with the Corps had commented that they believe this was a success and that this project was definitely happening in the future,” Stotts said.
Historically, the Port of Nome has served as a seasonal port, only available in the summer months when the Bering Sea is ice free. In the coming years, though, scientists warn the region could experience years without any sea ice cover because of the climate crisis, opening the Northwest Passage, and, potentially, the Nome Port for year-round use.
“It’s tough to know what the future is going to hold,” Dunleavy told the Nugget Monday. “I’m not a climatologist, but I’m sure that the design with the Army Corps of Engineers will probably take into consideration the best science on that topic to make sure that the port is built in a manner that’s going to be able to deal with any change over the next 50 to 70 years.”
The Northwest Passage, a sea route that cuts through the Arctic Ocean along the northern coast of North America, currently serves as a seasonal route for both freight and passenger vessels.
“This could be the point coming out of the Northwest Passage where they do it on the American side,” Dunleavy said. “I’m not quite sure what they’re going to do on the Russian side, but I think this is a real opportunity for Alaska and for Nome and for those travelers coming over the Northwest Passage.”
Dunleavy said Nome is a prime location for a deep-water port of this size.
“There’s a lot of points along the coast where you could potentially have a project like this, but Nome’s already got a little bit of a jump here,” Dunleavy said. “They’ve got a lot of good rock here, and they’ve already got a bit of a port here, but I think places like Kotzebue, … there’s some potential, too. You can’t build a port everywhere. You’re just going to have to decide where it’s going to make the most sense for the people in the area.”
Nome’s Port Commission will host an open house on Thursday, September 16, from 5-8 p.m. at Old St. Joe’s, where Nomeites can learn more about port construction and infrastructure updates from commissioners.


The Nome Nugget

PO Box 610
Nome, Alaska 99762

Phone: (907) 443-5235
Fax: (907) 443-5112

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