The Alaska Army Corps of Engineers is looking for public comment on a proposed plan to expand the Port of Nome.

The Corps released a feasibility plan and initial environmental study last month, looking into possibilities in an effort to open the Nome port to larger vessels. 

The size of the port is the central impetus for the planned expansion. At the moment, any ship movement within the port is limited by the depths of the outer basin of 22 feet, a depth that has been categorized as inadequate in order to accommodate larger ships. Currently, any vessels with drafts greater than 18 feet aren’t able to use the port. The draft is the measurement from the waterline to the bottom of the ship’s hull.

The goal is to dig a deep-water basin harbor to 40 feet and outer basin to 28 feet.

There have been no public meetings held on the preliminary plan and none are scheduled, according to John Budnik, spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers Alaska region.

“Right now the Corps is initiating the final series of reviews which will ultimately lead up to a final determination by the Corps’ headquarters,” Budnik wrote in an email to the Daily News-Miner, adding that the timing will likely depend on the nature of the comments received from the public. 

Construction will largely depend on funding, Budnik noted. This size of project must be considered by Congress before receiving approval and funding. 

The expansion is projected to cost approximately $491 million.

Alaska Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan has long championed the idea of a port expansion in Nome. 

The deep-draft port outlined in the study would be the first of its kind in Arctic U.S waters, a concept Sullivan says would greatly benefit both the state and the country. 

“There’s challenges of course, but there’s also opportunities opening up in the Arctic as the sea lanes become more prominent and the shipping traffic increases,” Sullivan said in February of last year after the Army Corps and the City of Nome entered into an agreement to begin the study. 

The City of Nome and the Army Corps agreed last year to split the $3 million cost of the study, funding that the City of Nome has already secured from the state. 

At that time the study was expected to take up to three years but the Corps is hoping to have it done sooner. 

“The agency is working very hard to have the project approved in time for consideration in the Corps’ next authorization bill that would be expected near the end of this calendar year,” Budnik said. 

Members of the public are encouraged to send their comments on the study via email or mail.

Public comment can be emailed to Brent.S.Howard@usace.army.mil or sent by mail to: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Alaska District, ATTN: CEPOA-PM-C-ER (Howard), P.O. Box 6898, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska 99506-0898.

Written testimony will be accepted until Jan. 30. 

The 245-page feasibility study and more information on the proposal can be found at: https://bit.ly/2SThzET

Contact staff writer Erin McGroarty at 459-7544. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMpolitics.