A new study rekindles hope for Nome port expansion

A feasibility study will determine if social and economic benefits justify improvements to the port.

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The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is proposing to extend Nome’s causeway and dredge for a deeper dock at the end of it to accommodate bigger ships in wake of more maritime traffic. (City of Nome)

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will once again examine the port of Nome to determine if the Alaska city might be a possible stop for large Arctic-bound ships.

In an announcement made on Friday, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also said that the previous 2008 Alaska Regional Ports Feasibility Study, a joint effort between the Corps and the state, was terminated in early January. That study had been paused in 2015 after Royal Dutch Shell PLC suspended its Arctic oil exploration activities.

“The benefits for a project at Nome went away, at least the oil and gas benefits,” Bruce Sexauer, chief of civil works for the Corps’ Alaska District, told the Associated Press.

This agreement with the city of Nome launches a new feasibility study by the Corps to determine whether economic and social benefits justify the cost of improvements to the port. Sexauer told AP that the process typically takes three years and might result in a recommendation to Congress for port improvements. The first meeting, which will refine the budget and scope of the study, will be in April.

The study will be broader than the recently-terminated Feasibility Study, looking not only at how an improved and expanded Nome port would help petroleum development and mining, but also looking at how the port would help search and rescue operations, security, and communities in the area. This wider scope reflects a change to federal law in 2016, which allows the Corps to look at social benefits of future projects in conjunction with economic benefits. Right now, the nearest Coast Guard base is located more than 800 miles away, in Kodiak, Alaska.

Nome has seen its port season expand in recent years in response to increased traffic, thanks, in part, to melting sea ice in the region. The port is also seeing larger ships, including military ships, cruise ships, and research vessels. While it has added a new system to help ships with repairs and a new middle dock, the port is still too shallow for some ships that sit deeper in the water. For now, these ships anchor away from the dock and shuttle supplies—and even tourists—to the Nome port.