Senate Passes Significant Infrastructure Provisions for Alaska’s Port of Nome, Other Projects

WASHINGTONU.S. Senator Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, celebrated the passage yesterday of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2022 on the Senate floor by a vote of 83 to 11 as part of the FY 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The legislation includes key victories for Alaska infrastructure, including increased federal cost-sharing for the Nome Arctic Deep Draft Port (resulting in community savings of an estimated $132 million) and authorization for the Elim Subsistence Harbor project.

“Alaska is a resource-rich, but infrastructure-poor state,” Senator Sullivan said. “The Army Corps of Engineers continues to do its vital work throughout Alaska, and this legislation provides the tools needed to support new water resources infrastructure and improve existing projects. Since serving as a senator for Alaska, I’ve been advocating for projects that will help our state realize its full economic potential and keep our citizens safe.  

“I also want to thank my fellow committee members for their continued recognition of the vital role Nome’s deep-water port will play in advancing America’s capabilities in the Arctic. The Port of Nome is positioned to play a critical role in ensuring the United States is a leader in the Arctic region in terms of national security, international trade, and geopolitical influence.”

Key provisions for Alaska in WRDA 2022:

  • In recognition of the strategic importance to the nation, the bill modifies the cost share for Nome Arctic Deep Draft Port to provide the community with an estimated savings of $132 million.
  • Creates a program for projects to address storm damage prevention and reduction, coastal erosion, and ice and glacial damage in Alaska with a 10% cost share for economically-disadvantaged communities.
  • Authorizes the navigation project for the Elim Subsistence Harbor: Federal cost share: $99.057 million. Nonfederal cost-share: $2.517 million.  Total cost: $101.574 million.
  • Authorizes the Corps to dredge a deeper entrance channel in Unalaska Bay to meet keel clearance safety standards while maintaining the cost share for the community at the existing amount.
  • Provides relief to the City of St. George from retroactive cost increases associated with the previously completed harbor project.
  • Directs the Corps to expedite the Juneau Auke Bay wave attenuator study, and, upon completion, to immediately proceed to preconstruction planning, engineering, and design.
  • Authorizes and improves the Tribal Partnership Program, revising the cost share requirements for projects and studies carried out in partnership with Indian tribes.
  • Requires each Corps district to have on staff a Tribal liaison to serve as a direct line of communication between the District Commander and the Tribal communities.
  • Improves the technical assistance authorities of the Corps.

Timeline on the Port of Nome Expansion: 

  • Water resource projects developed by the Corps undergo a multi-stage process. Standard Corps project delivery consists of the Corps leading the study, design, and construction of authorized projects. However, each stage of that process must qualify for an existing authorization or receive a separate authorization from Congress, as well as receive congressional appropriation at each stage to proceed. Congress authorizes the Corps’ actions through periodic Water Resource Development Acts in the Senate EPW Committee and the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.  
  • In 2012, the Corps launched the Alaska Deep Draft Arctic Port System Study to evaluate potential locations on the northern and western coasts of Alaska, and to determine the feasibility of constructing navigation improvements as part of a larger system of port facilities in the Arctic and sub-Arctic region. Following the selection of Nome as the location for an Arctic port, the Corps began a feasibility study, assessing the costs of the port versus the benefits. The Corps paused the feasibility study following the departure of Shell Oil Company from the Arctic, which significantly tipped the cost-benefit ratio against the port project. 
  • In the 2016 Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act, Senator Sullivan and the late Representative Don Young (R-Alaska) included two provisions to justify a potential Arctic port based on its value to surrounding communities and its importance to national security. 
  • In 2017, following enactment of the WIIN Act, senior Corps leaders committed to Sullivan and Young to utilize the new authority to restart the feasibility study for the port.
  • On February 2, 2018, the City of Nome and the Corps initiated a cost-sharing agreement.
  • On October 23, 2018, President Trump signed America’s Water Infrastructure Act (AWIA), which included Sullivan-Young language to expedite completion of a Corps feasibility study for the Nome port.
  • On May 29, 2020, the Corps announced the completion of the chief’s report for the Port of Nome Modification Feasibility Study, making the project eligible for congressional authorization and funding.
  • In December 2020, President Trump signed the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2020, which included language, championed by Sullivan and Young, authorizing $379 million for the federal share of the Nome Deep Draft Port Project.
  • On November 15, 2021, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) was signed into law. The bill provides $250 million over five years for the construction of remote and subsistence harbor projects. These projects are in locations that are not connected to a road system, and the ports are vital to the long-term viability of the community.
  • On January 19, 2022, the Corps of Engineers announced that the entire $250 million from the IIJA for remote and subsistence harbor projects will be directed to the Port of Nome.
  • On July 28, 2022, the Senate passed the Water Resources Development Act of 2022. The legislation includes key victories for Alaska infrastructure, including increased cost-sharing for the Nome Deep Draft Port Project. 

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