Nome could be home to a deep-draft Arctic port as early as 2020, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The Army Corps released a joint study with the Alaska Department of Transportation this month, "tentatively selecting" the Port of Nome as the site for a deep-draft expansion.
The plan calls for a roughly 2,000-foot extension to Nome's existing causeway and would involve dredging the harbor to a depth of minus 28 feet. That would accommodate vessels with a draft exceeding the harbor's current depth of minus 22 feet.
However, in a meeting with Army Corps representatives earlier this month, Nome city officials debated whether the additional 6 feet of depth was going far enough.
While minus 28 feet of depth would accommodate medium-sized Coast Guard cutters and research vessels that must currently lay anchor offshore, Port Project Manager Joy Baker says it still wouldn't accommodate large cruise vessels and icebreakers like the Coast Guard's Healy -- which has a draft of 30 feet.
After reviewing the Army Corps study, city officials discussed the possible advantages to developing an even deeper port than recommended -- dredging to a depth of minus 35 feet.
Bruce Sexauer, chief of the Army Corps' Alaska district, says that while a depth of minus 35 feet may be appealing, the current plan is likely to be more cost effective. As is, the city could face a total bill of $113 million dollars for the project.
The complete renovation, which is projected to cost about $211 million dollars, would be federally funded to the tune of $98 million dollars -- leaving the City of Nome on the hook for the remainder.
The tentative plan still has to pass through a series of reviews before it heads to the Army Corps' federal chief. In the meantime, the plan will be open to comments from the public, with a tentative meeting scheduled for April 15 in Nome.