State Mulls New Deepwater Arctic Port in Nome

Monday, February 04 2013

The state moved one step closer to establishing an Arctic deepwater port last week. The US Army Corps of Engineers released a draft report Wednesday, naming Nome and Port Clarence as the best locations for a port.

"The Nome and Port Clarence area bubbled up to the top in part because there's naturally deep water there, and they've got the upland support that many of the other communities lacked," says Lorraine Cordova, the Corps' project manager.

Other options included Cape Darby, on Norton Sound, and Barrow.

Right now, the port of Dutch Harbor is Alaska's closest deepwater port to the Arctic. It's the jumping-off point for many Arctic research expeditions, and most recently, Shell's Arctic oil exploration in the summer of 2012.

But increased vessel traffic in the Arctic has sparked interest in building a port somewhere in the Northwest part of the state. The state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities has been studying options for an Arctic port system with the Army Corps of Engineers since 2008.

Then, an Alaska Regional Ports Study in 2010 established criteria for state investment in a ports project, and a joint state and federal planning process began a year later.

Cordova says that the state is ready to move forward with feasibility study on Nome and Port Clarence. it will take years before the state is actually ready to build there, though.

"We're still in the feasibility stage," Cordova says. "It's going to take another two years to get through the feasibility report, and we don't know where the funds will come from for construction. So this study does not imply construction of any kind."

That's part of the reason why Unalaska city manager Chris Hladick says he isn't concerned about how another Arctic port could affect the port of Dutch Harbor.

"I'm not sure a port will ever be built up north," Hladick says. "You're talking about $150 million to get any of those ports up and running, and they have a three-month window to make it work. I have a hard enough time figuring out how to make a $150 million project work in Unalaska, where you have 12 months."

Cordova says the Corps will try to release a draft of the Nome site study by 2014.

Site by Joseph Redmon