Offshore ice: Going, going, gone?
Port of Nome staff are gearing up for another busy season when Nome folks and businesses will receive new inventory and the exciting stuff—new vehicles, dogfood, long awaited building materials—coming across the causeway.
“The most excitement is with people coming down to the port to get new cars and trucks, ATVs, side-by-sides and other recreational vehicles,” Harbormaster Lucas Stotts said “The other one is gold miners trying to get their dredges off.”
Early ice good-bye will put a hustle on the port opening, kicking off the ice-free season and allowing vessel landings earlier in May. Some say two weeks earlier than the late May, early June average.
Maybe yes, maybe no, Joy Baker, port director, said Monday.
“I think it is definitely looking like an early breakup, but the actual icepack departure will be contingent on the weather remaining as warm as it has been and the winds cooperating,” she said.
Open water east of Nome has been teasing offshore gold miners that the time to scoop up golden dreams that seems so far away at fall freeze-up has finally arrived.
Depends, said one miner.
“What we need is a strong wind from the south to raise the ice and break it from shore, then a north wind to blow it out to sea,” he said, and patted the dog that rides on the back of his pickup.
According to aerial photos he saw online at the NOAA Ice Desk page, there are large areas in the Sound with no ice, Stotts said Monday.
“With parts of the Sound open, once ice farther out starts moving, just one southerly storm or maybe a northeasterly wind,” Stotts said, or maybe a couple weeks.
Stotts doesn’t expect any large ships coming into port until the end of May, even if the ice leaves earlier than usual. A Russian research vessel appears on the schedule at the end of May. The ship carries scientists and equipment for a walrus-tagging project to chart movement.
And then, the first week of June will be very busy with vessel traffic, he said.
And then, while port personnel oversee vessels throwing lines onto cells along the causeway and barges landing at the ramps, gold miners will be moving offshore rigs in and out, crisscrossing the small boat harbor. Add to these activities the hubbub of construction, maintenance, security arrangements and in the port office, port billing and budgets.
The Nome Port Commission revised the port rate and operating tariff and included a 10 percent rate increase across the board; however, the Nome Common Council approved the tariff with a 0 increase. The port, along with other departments will have to find ways to cut spending and at a recent meeting tossed around a short list of tentatively identified expenditures port operations may have to do without.
The port administration and commission would continue to find effective ways to reduce costs without affecting services, and attracting additional revenue, Baker said.
“We are tweaking the FY17 budget right now to include only projections on what we have to spend to keep up with maintenance, known repairs and operations. The actual number is yet to be seen as we’re still getting quotes on the absolute necessities,” Baker said. More information would be available following a May 12 work session on the budget, she added.
The Middle Dock project on the causeway will commence with open water, allowing the remaining dredging and a punch list of items to be finished, according to a report from Joy Baker. She expects the project to wrap up in mid-June. Middle Dock is a sheet pile cell with its own cargo ramp. The port administration has been exploring options for modifying the ramp on the Middle Dock to mitigate surface erosion from significant storm surges. Once they determine a suitable cost effective option through consultation with contractors and engineers, port administration will request a price for consideration by the Commission and Council.
Orion Marine will begin to repair seawall erosion in the middle of this month. OM has already finished stockpiling armor rock near the project site. Port administration expects the project to close early in July.
Port staff expects about 200,000 tons of gravel to be exported over the West Gold Dock of the causeway, headed to Hooper Bay. That volume would provide a nice influx of revenue for Port of Nome and have a vessel coming in every four to five days.
Construction to alleviate lighting and turning radius issues for trucks using Jafet Road and Snake River Bridge should be finished in mid-July, according to a report form Baker to the Port Commission.
Efforts continue on finding new options for clean fill to develop the new Thornbush Subdivision at the port to create additional uplands for lay down storage. Baker reported that port administration is seeking cost estimates from local contractors to find out how to fill the site in stages as funding becomes available. Using spoils from dredging the Snake River moorage presents another option, also based on funding.
Snake River floats Phase II and travel lift project remains in the planning stages while efforts continue to seek an appropriate mechanism or partner to develop the project.
If the ice goes out this week, commercial ships will not be rushing into the harbor.
“The commercial vessel schedules are already in place, but an early breakup allows the construction barges, miners and herring fishermen to get a jump on the season,” Baker explained. “ We will still see the first fuel and freight barges on schedule.”
Meanwhile, “a day in the life” of a harbormaster Monday had Stotts wearing several hats in getting the season underway, making out purchase orders, preparing vehicle work orders, processing applications for two new office staff position openings, and preparing for hazwopper and CPR classes.