Water Resources Development Act would benefit two Alaska ports

USACE chief offers full support for projects at Dutch Harbor, Nome

Federal legislation before Congress authorizing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to conduct studies and construction of 34 pending proposed water resources projects would benefit navigational improvements for Alaska ports at Dutch Harbor and Nome.

The Water Resources Development Act of 2020 would give the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers authority to carry out water resources development projects and studies, plus reforms and policy direction to the Corps for implementation of its civil works missions.

The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure anticipated considering or markup of the bill on Wednesday, July 15, and then advancing it to the House floor, where it could be considered within a few weeks.

Regular consideration of locally driven, rigorously-studied, and nationally-significant water resources infrastructure is key to preserving our nation’s economy, to protecting our communities and businesses, and to maintaining our quality of life, according to Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-OR, committee chair, and infrastructure ranking member Rep Sam Graves, R-MO. Such work, typically carried out by the Corps, is made possible through enactment of WRDA, the congressmen said.

Congress had previously enacted three consecutive bipartisan WRDAs in 2014, 2016 and 2018.

More information on the 2020 bill text is at transportation.house.gov/committee-activity/issue/water-resources-development-act-of-2020.

A link to all projects that would be covered by the bill, including those at Dutch Harbor and Nome, is at transportation.house.gov/reports.

Dutch Harbor, some 800 air miles from Anchorage, is a port facility on Amaknak Island within the city. It is the only deep draft, year-round ice-free port along the 1,200-mile Aleutian Island chain and of critical importance to the commercial fishing fleet in the Bering Sea, and serves as the operations center for that fleet.

A bar shallower than the surrounding bathymetry at the entrance to Iliuliuk Bay currently limits access to Dutch Harbor, preventing deeper draft vessels from safe passage over the bar. The recommended plan is a dredged channel to a depth of -58 feet MLLW (mean lower low water) to create a channel approximately 600 feet in length and 600 feet in width.

Lt. Gen. Todd T. Semonite, chief of engineers for the USACE, noted on the bottom of the proposal that “this vital international port (is) key to the Alaskan and national economy and gave his “strongest support” to the project.

Semonite also supports the Nome project as vital “to the nation’s Arctic interests and the Native peoples of Alaska.”

The Port of Nome is the regional port on the Seward Peninsula and adjacent to Norton Sound. Nome, which lies 545 miles northwest of Anchorage, has no road access to the state’s main road system. It is the hub for 50 communities in western and northern Alaska.

The existing port facilities are overcrowded and have insufficient draft to accommodate new, deeper draft vessel traffic. Larger vessels delivering fuel and cargo to Nome for transshipment to other vessels for delivery to villages in the area are often forced to anchor offshore or lighter goods to the port.

Plans call for a new deep-water basin and modification of the existing harbor outer basin to make the basin larger with a wider entrance channel.