Providing coverage of Alaska and northern Canada's oil and gas industry
May 2019

Vol. 24, No.21 Week of May 26, 2019

Corps publishes draft Nome port study

Recommends expansion of current structure, deepening of outer basin, creating new deep basin, and construction of new docks

Alan Bailey

Petroleum News

On May 8 the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers published a draft report on the results of a feasibility study into the expansion of the Port of Nome, and an environmental assessment of the potential port expansion. The Corps has recommended an option involving extending the portís west causeway by 3,484 feet; replacing the existing east breakwater with a new 3,900-foot causeway; deepening the portís existing outer basin to 28 feet below mean low water; and creating a new deep-water basin with a water depth of 30 to 40 feet below mean low water beyond the extent of the current port. The Corps is also recommending the construction of five new docks. The agency has assessed that there would be no significant environmental impact from the port modifications. Dredged material collected during the port deepening would be placed east of the port.

Apparently the outer basin dredge depth is constrained to 28 feet by the sheet pile construction of the west causeway docks.


Other alternatives considered but not recommended included only making minimal modifications to the east breakwater, converting only part of the existing east breakwater to a causeway and varying the number of docks. A potential more extensive modification would involve removing the east breakwater and replacing it with a new causeway farther east. A primary factor in deciding on a preferred alternative was the need to separate non-industrial pedestrian traffic from industrial activities, the report said.

Public comments on the draft report must be filed with the Corps within 30 days of the reportís publication.

A long debate

The issue of whether and where to develop a deep-water port for Arctic Alaska has been a subject of debate for many years, with more recent planning activities dating back to conferences held in 2008 and 2010. Currently the Port of Nome can only handle shallow draft vessels - large cruise ships, for example, have to anchor offshore, with passengers being transferred to the shore in small boats. A deep-water port could provide logistical support for large vessels plying Arctic waters and could act as a port of refuge in the event of stormy weather. The current small port also suffers from overcrowding, the draft feasibility study says.

Vessel traffic in the region is expected to increase, as the Arctic seas open up with reduced sea ice.

In late 2014, after a study into a number of potential deep-water port locations in Arctic Alaska, the Corps determined that Nome presented the most cost-effective solution and developed a tentative plan for expanding the port there. The Corps embarked on a feasibility study for the port expansion but announced a pause in this study in October 2015, following Shellís withdrawal from its Arctic offshore oil exploration program. Apparently Shellís potential use of the port had been a factor in the economics of the port expansion.

In early 2018 the Corps announced that it had signed an agreement with the city of Nome to look again at the costs and benefits of port expansion. Hence the feasibility study that is now being completed.

Option to maximize benefits

The new draft report says that the option that the Corps is recommending was favored on the basis of maximizing annual economic benefits, and on the basis of economic benefits coupled with national security benefits. Security benefits would accrue from the use of the port by U.S. Coast Guard vessels - the Coast Guard could use the enlarged port as a port of convenience for fuel, for example, the draft report says. The recommended option minimizes costs while meeting the objectives of the port expansion, the report says.

Other benefits potentially include support for 18 communities in the Nome region.

Construction could take up to four to five years to complete, with construction activities having to take place during a four-month summer construction season. Activities would be designed to avoid marine mammals and protected species. Crab habitat lost during construction would be replaced. The east causeway would include a bridge to allow the passage of fish. And an on-site archaeologist would ensure minimal impacts to significant cultural resources during construction.

The estimated cost is $418 million. Under the federal Water Resources Development Act, the federal government could pick up $313 million of this cost, the draft report says.

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