Army Corps of Engineers moves forward with Unalaska bay dredging project

Unalaska Bay
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says funding for an Unalaska Bay dredging project could become available as soon as the end of 2022. (Berett Wilber/KUCB)

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is moving forward with dredging the entrance to Iliuliuk Bay, a project that has been in the works for years.

Once finished, the project would create a channel to pass through a large shoal of glacial moraine that runs across the bay. Currently, those compressed glacial boulders and rocks make the water much shallower than the surrounding areas.

Jathan Garrett, a representative for the Corps, spoke at a meeting last Wednesday to update the community on the project.

“I’m sure everyone there is aware of the bar that goes across the bay there,” Garrett said. “And it does create a kind of barrier.”

He said the barrier becomes a blockage for larger and deep-draft vessels, requiring extra precautionary measures, such as light loading, waiting for wind or tide conditions to improve, or for carrying less fuel.

“I’m sure there’s been several instances where you’ve seen the ships lined up about two miles apart in single file, waiting for a turn to get in there,” Garrett said.

Dredging is expected to reduce those delays, and increase economic opportunities in Dutch Harbor.

The Unalaska City Council first approved the project in 2016, and the Corps produced a feasibility study two years later.

Now, the planning and design stage is 65% complete, according to the Corps, and is expected to be 95% finished in several weeks.

The project would require blasting explosives underwater to break up the bar, and then disposing of the rocks and boulders nearby, in a part of the bay with deeper water.

There are environmental concerns in the area, such as protected wildlife. The Corps determined that the recommended plan is likely to have a negative effect on local marine mammals — sea otters, sea lions, and humpback whales.

But, the Corps is required to work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service to minimize those impacts, by measures such as timing the blasts around animal migration.

The project was estimated to cost around $30.5 million in 2020, but Garrett said they will update that number based on today’s costs. More than two-thirds of the cost will be federal funds, but the City of Unalaska is also responsible for some of it.

Garrett said the federal funds could become available as soon as the end of this year.

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