SIGN HERE — Colonel Jeffrey Palazzini, commander of the Alaska District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, shakes hands with Nome Mayor John Handeland after both signed the project partnership agreement for the port expansion.

City, Corps officially enter partnership on port expansion

This story has been updated on Feb. 2, 2024

With the signing of the partnership agreement, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the City of Nome are now official partners on Nome’s port expansion project.

A crowd gathered at midday on Thursday, January 25 inside the Council Chambers at City Hall. Colonel Jeffrey Palazzini, who is commander of the Corps’ Alaska District, sat side-by-side with Nome Mayor John Handeland. The men both signed the project partnership agreement, which paves the way for construction to begin on the port’s long-planned expansion.

With this agreement, the Corps can now request bids from contractors for the first phase of the project. That request for proposals is expected to go out sometime in late February and in-water work is not expected to begin until 2025.

The $548 million figure made public in a press release by the Corps represents only the estimated federal cost of the project and would pay for the armor rock and dredging. The figure does not include the city’s responsibility to develop additional infrastructure, the so-called local service facilities. The Corps is putting up 90 percent of the funds for the armor rock and dredging while the City is responsible for 10 percent of the same.

The additional costs to install local service facilities are the city’s responsibility to bear.

Joy Baker, the city’s port expansion project manager and former long time port director, explained that in addition to the 10 percent cost share for armor rock and dredging, the City of Nome will have to entirely pay for other features such as docks, sheet piling, dolphins, all fuel headers, fuel, water and sewer lines, electricity, communication infrastructure, lighting, road surfacing, and other service infrastructure. An estimated cost for these expenses is $250 million. The legislature two years ago has appropriated $175 million towards the Port of Nome expansion to cover part of those costs incurred by the City.

“As sea ice recedes and shipping traffic increases in the Arctic, Nome finds itself at the center of an evolving world,” Palazzini said during the signing ceremony. “A more efficient transportation hub, in the form of this port expansion, will create opportunities to improve housing, food security, and infrastructure by reinforcing the region's supply chain, which will then enable an influx of important goods and lower prices for consumers across western Alaska is communities.”

Palazzini added that the planned general navigational features of the project have an estimated cost of $548 million, which he called “the largest Alaska District’s civil works project to date.”

The commander also said that the Corps was committed to “protecting cultural and environmental resources” during construction, and meeting its obligations to the region’s tribes.

“We are dedicated to meeting our federal trust responsibilities with the Nome Eskimo Community, Village of Solomon, Native Village of Council, King Island Native Community and the Kawerak community,” Palazzini said. “We are already doing great work with you in the creation of the subsistence working group to help enable those who rely on the region's natural resources. Our collaboration will be an important key to success during the construction of this project.”

“A project of this magnitude is pretty mind blowing and wasn’t being pursued on a whim,” Handeland said in his remarks. “While there are those who cannot yet fathom the benefits it will bring, I’m confident they will far outweigh the planning and projections that have gone into the project.”

The mayor acknowledged representatives from several local entities in the room, including City, the Nome Common Council, the Port Commission, and Bering Straits Native Corporation, which Handeland said, is “poised to be a very large participant in this project.”

Though U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski did not come to the signing ceremony herself, Greg Kaplan, her military and veterans liaison, joined. 

“This project will be transformational to Nome and Western Alaska, bringing increased vessel traffic both commercial and for national security purposes, including cruise ships that will bring millions of dollars every year to Nome, as well as cargo ships and military vessels to increase the U.S. presence in the Arctic,” Kaplan said.

Murkowski released a statement hailing the news and urging U.S. President Joe Biden to request “all remaining construction funds needed to complete this pivotal project” in his upcoming budget for fiscal year 2025.

So far, the Corps has received $250 million to put toward phase one of the project. These funds were appropriated from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

Handeland brought out a bottle of champagne, not to drink, but for him and Palazzini to sign with the hope that they could break it at the port several years from now when the final rock is in the water.

“We’re just going to put it into the display case, and somebody needs to remember when it comes around the time that we need to take it back out,” Handeland said.

“Who’s the youngest in the room?” said Joy Baker.

If construction begins as projected in 2025, it will take about three to four years to complete just the first phase. That first portion of work will extend the west causeway by over 3,400 feet. The next step involves dredging the deep-water basin to a depth of 40 feet. The new outer basin, meanwhile, will be dredged to 28 feet. The third and last piece of the project has yet to enter its design phase, but it will see the east breakwater demolished and replaced by a new causeway in line with E Street.

 

 

The Nome Nugget

PO Box 610
Nome, Alaska 99762
USA

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

www.nomenugget.net

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