Senate Begins Hearings On Port And Harbor Expansions, Improvements

The Senate today began hearings on improvements and expansion of the ports and harbors around the state.

Jeff Ottesen, director of program development for the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, said he has encountered a lot of public interest in the State’s getting back into the Ports and Harbors business. Alaska started to turn those facilities over to local governments back in the eighties.  But he says now, community leaders are interested in a more unified approach to port management.

Ottesen presented and described the Arctic Ports Study done by the state and the Army Corps of Engineers.

“When you think about a coastline of about a thousand miles that we’re examining – it involves three seas, two oceans, three separate oil and gas provinces all of which are undergoing lease sales,  tremendously large resource deposits of both minerals and coal, gas and oil in this region – and an extremely limited roadside network that doesn’t allow any one port to serve as a redistribution point to other locations, the net result is,  it’s likely to take more than one port to serve the region,” Ottesen said.

He said the initial report is a feasibility study, providing a starting place for various agencies and stakeholders to determine what is needed – and what limitations are inherent – in an Arctic port.   The study begins at Nunivak Island – about 30 miles out to sea from the mouth of the Yukon River – and runs to the Canadian border.

The study group – in 2010 – identified some 800 possible projects for the area. And he said needs vary from place to place.

“There’s no one reason for building a port. There are many different reasons. And those different reasons each generate a different set of criteria for what might that port look like,” Ottesen said.

Reasons include Homeland Security – giving the Coast Guard more access to the region. It also includes protecting the sea and development surrounding oil development in Arctic waters. He says two dozen ships will be in the Chukchi Sea as work gets underway this summer. Another reason for more and better ports is the need to supply communities. He says access to Nome just this winter shows the need for facilities all around the coast.

He says there is limited interest from the federal government – even for national security priorities.   He says, if you build it, they will come.  But they won’t build anything.

The Department of Transportation is asking for a million dollars in the budget being written this year to continue the Arctic Ports Study and to begin work on focusing on one specific site for the first project in the region.

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