Legislation Could Promote Development of Deep-draft Harbor at Alaska's Port Clarence

Jan 1, 2016

A first step toward a second Alaskan deep-water port project …

Nome Mayor Richard Beneville says a vote last week by the U.S. Senate reassures him that Congress understands the nation’s need for Alaskan harbors that are big enough and deep enough to handle the increasing number of ships passing through the Bering Strait and Arctic Ocean.

“We’re talking about the infrastructure for the nation in our state. It’s for the whole country. It’s very, very important,” Beneville said.

Nome Mayor Richard Beneville: 'It's very, very important" to develop more deep-draft ports to accommodate increasing maritime traffic off Alaska's coasts.
Credit KTOO

The Senate’s unanimous approval of the Point Spencer Land Conveyance Act authorizes the federal government to hand over 2,500 acres of land on Point Spencer to the Bering Straits Native Corporation and smaller parcels to the state and Coast Guard. That could lead to development of a so-called deep-draft harbor at Port Clarence, a remote spot near the tip of Point Spencer about 120 miles northwest of Nome.

“The fact that it happened and that it was announced – I think it’s great,” Beneville said.

The mayor says the measure does not mean the feds have decided against build the port in Nome, as was recommended in an Army Corps of Engineers report issued two years ago. He says if anything, it signals that the feds recognize the need for two or more such facilities.

Beneville and others say Nome is the best site for the first new Alaska deep-draft port, because it already has a harbor. A 2013 Army Corps of Engineers draft study says it would require dredging and expansion to accommodate larger ships that increasingly are passing through the Beaufort and Chukchi seas and Bering Strait. Maritime traffic is growing as sea ice retreats due to climate change.
Credit nomealaska.org

“I think it’s going to be more than just a deep-water port in (Port) Clarence and a deep-water port in Nome,” Beneville said.

Matt Shuckerow, a spokesman for U.S. Rep. Don Young, says that’s what the congressman had in mind in May when he introduced the measure in the House at the same time Lisa Murkowski introduced it in the Senate.

“Congressman Young and the entire delegation have supported the development of multiple port facilities, particularly as activity in the region increases,” Shuckerow said.

A Murkowski aide says that’s also the senator’s position on the issue.

Beneville believes expanding Nome’s harbor is still the better choice for the first deep-draft port, because it has important infrastructure that Port Clarence doesn’t.

“We have a regional hospital,” he said. “We have the airport, with alternative runways. We have the road system. There’s a lot that we have that’s going to be needed.”

The mayor says advocates for both sites aren’t competing. They’re cooperating, because both will be needed, along with at least one more, perhaps around Barrow, on the northernmost tip of Alaska.