Nome and Kotzebue projects await bond vote

Proposed port development and improvement projects in northwest Alaska are moving forward with environmental and planning surveys, officials in Kotzebue and Nome said.

A $10 million grant for the city of Kotzebue to fund study and initial construction work on the proposed Cape Blossom access road, which would link the future port site to Kotzebue, is a part of the $453.5 million in transportation projects on the proposed state bond package up for a vote Nov. 6.

If approved, the money would be appropriated to the city of Kotzebue through the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development. In total, Kotzebue requested $28 million, with the other $18 million still awaiting approval.

Chris Johnston, project manager for the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, said initial work has been done using $4.6 million provided by the Federal Highway Administration.

“This summer we went out and did environmental and engineering fieldwork. We did break-up studies along the project corridor at Sadie Creek,” Johnston said. “We went and did some bird surveys, wetland surveys, things like that.”

When asked about possible port construction, Johnston clarified that all the money currently awarded is for road development only and that it must be completed before the port project is fully undertaken.

The Cape Blossom site is approximately 12 miles south of Kotzebue. A 1983 state DOT study determined it to be the closest viable spot for a deepwater port relative to the city.

Overall road development cost will largely depend on the route chosen, labor costs, and, most importantly, where road-base material comes from, according to a 2011 state DOT reconnaissance study on the project. Study estimates range from about $35 million for the shortest route supplied with locally sourced materials, to more than $258 million for the longest route if material must be transported in by barge.

While a route final route has not been finalized, Johnston said the more direct southerly paths appear most feasible to avoid Air Force property and trim cost.

“We’re looking at the southwest option,” he said. “We may go west to the upstream part of Sadie creek to save money on culverts and bridges and environmental impact.”

Using local fill material is of utmost importance for the project, Jessup said, and noted that gravel resources have been located seven miles east of Kotzebue. While it’s not yet clear as to how much usable material may be available at the site, Jessop called the find “significant.”

He also said the military assisted in project survey work through the Department of Defense’s Innovate Readiness Training, or IRT, program. IRT is a way to “improve military readiness while simultaneously providing quality services to communities throughout America,” according to the program’s website. The site lists the Cape Blossom project as one that the Marine Corps Reserve and Army National Guard have both already participated in.

“Once a (route) recommendation is made the city is hoping the we can continue to utilize the IRT program to lower our labor costs down the road,” Jessup said.

Cost estimates from the 2011 DOT study, contingent on local material sourcing, drop as much as 60 percent when IRT labor is employed for construction versus a hiring a private firm.

If the project continues on its current timeline and funding is secured, Johnston said the start of construction could be on the horizon.

“There’s a lot of variables, but if we’re able to award a contract in the fall of 2014 then the contractor may be able to start work that winter, assuming we get the rest of the funding we need,” Johnston said. “Or we might just build part of the road with the funding we have available.”

The timetable for the Nome port and harbor expansion project is not as clear, Joy Baker, Nome’s harbormaster said.

“We’re still moving forward with the studies and concept design and looking for funding and all of those steps. When you’re talking about a big project like this it’s a slow process,” Baker said.

Nome applied for an appropriation similar to Kotzebue, but for more than $181 million, encompassing the entire project cost. Early port and small-boat harbor designs submitted with the grant application call for increasing the depth of the port from 22 feet to 35 feet at average low tide, along with construction of a third large dock and several smaller maintenance projects. Estimates for the large port project come it at $150 million, according to the design summary.

An expansion of moorage for small boats is needed to accommodate the growing fleet of gold-dredging vessels working offshore from Nome. The design summary states three dredging craft launched from Nome in 1996, and that number had grown to 39 in 2011. The fleet doubled in just the past year, Baker said. Small-boat harbor expansion is projected to cost roughly $13 million.

The Nome project would receive $10 million through the bond package, the same as Kotzebue.

“It’s not approved yet, but we’re hoping,” Baker said.

Elwood Brehmer can be reached at elwood.brehmer@alaskajournal.com.

Updated: 
11/11/2016 - 5:46pm

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