Legislature(2019 - 2020)BARNES 124
04/18/2019 01:00 PM House TRANSPORTATION
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HJR 14-URGING SUPPORT FOR NOME DEEP-DRAFT PORT 1:18:09 PM CO-CHAIR WOOL announced that the final order of business would be HOUSE JOINT RESOLUTION NO. 14, Urging the Alaska Congressional delegation to pursue infrastructure funding for a deep draft Arctic port in Nome; requesting the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities to send a letter from the state to the Alaska Congressional delegation supporting a deep draft Arctic port in Nome; and requesting the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities to work collaboratively with the City of Nome on a deep draft Arctic port in Nome. 1:18:50 PM REPRESENTATIVE NEAL FOSTER, Alaska State Legislature, as prime sponsor, presented HJR 14. He stated that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began an evaluation of 13 potential sites for a deep draft Arctic access port in 2012, and in 2015, it selected the Port of Nome as the preferred site. The proposed joint resolution asks for three things: for the legislature to urge the congressional delegation to pursue infrastructure funding "to extend the ports"; that the Department of Transportation & Public Facilities (DOT&PF) send a letter to the congressional delegation in support of a deep draft Arctic port in Nome; and that DOT&PF work collaboratively with the City of Nome to provide technical support. REPRESENTATIVE FOSTER clarified that HJR 14 does not ask for funding from the State of Alaska; the joint resolution has a zero fiscal note. He said the project has been underway for some time, and "thanks to previous funding from the state, it is ready to complete final feasibility and design." He said passage of HJR 14 would express the legislature's and DOT&PF's support for "this critical maritime transportation project." He deferred to the mayor of Nome, Alaska, for more information. 1:20:49 PM The committee took an at-ease from 1:21 p.m. to 1:22 p.m. 1:22:45 PM RICHARD BENEVILLE, Mayor, City of Nome, provided a PowerPoint presentation in support of HJR 14. He said his time in Norway, Greenland, and Iceland showed him that those countries and others are not looking to the future but are living in it. He said the U.S. is "trying to catch up." He said many people do not even realize that the U.S. is an Arctic nation. As shown on the first few slides of the PowerPoint, he related that out of the 13 communities considered, Nome rose to the top for a number of reasons, including existing infrastructure, intermodal connections, upland support, water depth, and navigation accessibility. He said the City of Nome is just under 100 miles from the Bering Strait; it has 350 miles of roads; it has a level four trauma hospital; and it has an airport, with five different freight companies that fly into it. He said the move to increase the size of the port should be continued, because "outside of Dutch Harbor, we're it." He mentioned ships that visit the Port of Nome. 1:25:41 PM MR. BENEVILLE pointed to the map on slide 5, which impresses upon the viewer the current maritime activity in the Arctic by a variety of vessels, including cruise ships, cargo, and military. He emphasized that there are only two means by which to navigate by water from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean: the Panama Canal and the Bering Strait. He said the focus is on the far north, and "we need to catch up." He mentioned a visit last summer with U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan, Secretary of the U.S. Navy [Richard Vaughn] Spencer, and the new Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) [Karl L. Schultz], and he said all agreed on the need to "get a lot of these processes - that are happening offshore - on shore." He talked about the Polar Code, which mandates that ships not take galley waste and heavy fuels into the Arctic, and he said that "that is something that we are looking forward to being able to assist with." 1:27:34 PM CO-CHAIR WOOL asked how long Mr. Beneville has been the mayor of Nome. MR. BENEVILLE answered he is in the middle of his second term, and he will run another term. In response to another question, he showed the photo of a cruise chip backed into port, shown on slide 6. He anticipated that the Port of Nome would be altered by moving the breakwater over approximately 3,000 feet and building three finger piers to accommodate the variety of vessels. To a question about [slide 5], he talked about the various color-coded vessels on the aforementioned map, and how crossing the northern route is a cost-saving measure for shipping companies. He said the melting of ice, which allows the shipping, is happening three times faster than anyone had expected. He indicated that permafrost is melting, as well. 1:30:46 PM REPRESENTATIVE DRUMMOND relayed that she represents midtown Anchorage and that the Port of Anchorage requires regular dredging to be functional. She inquired how often the Port of Nome would require dredging. MR. BENEVILLE answered annually. He said the continental shelf "is just out there," so by extending the causeway another 3,500 feet means "getting closer and closer to deep port." He said, "So, it'll all be dredged out to 36 feet." He named several other places in Alaska where the coastal waters are "very shallow." He said Port Clarence is not shallow, but it does not have the necessary infrastructure. He said eventually there will be a series of infrastructures going north, "because the traffic is going to demand it." He talked about discoveries that need to be made in the Arctic. In response to Representative Drummond, he talked about a vessel that comes from Seward to Nome. In response to a query from Representative Drummond regarding the handling of waste, he said there are several different types of waste, including gray water, galley waste, and mechanical waste. There will need to be new infrastructure to accommodate the waste, including an incinerator and expansion of an existing gray water treatment facility. He said [the Alaska Chamber] has long been a proponent of diversification of economy, and he said a deep water port in Nome will do just that. He mentioned the idea of "waste that becomes something else" [rather than being stored in landfill]. 1:36:52 PM MR. BENEVILLE relayed his upbringing during the Cold War and said that "we can't forget the past." He said that "we've got good relationships with Russia," but impressed upon the committee the strategic importance of Alaska's expansive coastline. He said there is presently only one ice breaker vessel, but indicated that may change with the help of U.S. Senator Sullivan and U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski. He mentioned strategy in relation to protecting subsistence and fisheries. He stated, "Huge challenge; big opportunities." He spoke of other countries coming into Arctic waterways and the need for money to spend to develop the infrastructure "to be able to handle them." He recalled a time when the City of Nome ran out of fuel one winter and the effort that was involved in bringing up fuel from Dutch Harbor. He mentioned "a cold pocket" in the water below St. Lawrence Island that maintained a fish population but is now gone. He related that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is checking its numbers; he indicated that [changing water temperatures] result in change of fish populations. He spoke about the adaptability of the Native populations in the vicinity of Nome and how "what we're doing" affects them. 1:40:44 PM REPRESENTATIVE STORY asked about community discussions that may have taken place. 1:40:56 PM MR. BENEVILLE responded that "the discussions have been many" and varied, including Native women's rights, assault, housing, and labor needs. He stated, "The effect has been much broader than just the port." He offered his understanding that "by and large," the people of Nome support [a deep draft Arctic port]. He said someone, whose opinion he trusts, opined that the deep draft Arctic port should be in Nome rather than west of Nome, because the coastal area at Nome had already been affected. To that point, he noted that 40 years ago, 30-40 ships called on Nome, while in 2018, 760 were in port. He said that affects the environment. 1:44:33 PM REPRESENTATIVE TALERICO noted there is a large deposit of graphite near Nome; therefore, he assumes the potential is there to develop it. He asked if there are other like interests near Nome. MR. BENEVILLE stated that Nome has access to gold, although not to the extent it has in the past. He confirmed there is a source of graphite inland, which poses concern about routes going through subsistence land to get it to market. He said there has been much work and discussion on the issue, but he thinks [the graphite] would go through the Port of Nome. 1:46:31 PM MR. BENEVILLE, to the remaining slides of the presentation, mentioned the USCG cutter, service vehicles, tender buoys, the "lay down areas" being developed, and a diagram of the extension of the causeway. He talked about the port's role in exporting goods. In response to Co-Chair Wool, he said overall, the port has been open for longer periods of the year [because of climate change]. He said the ice is still there, but it is thinner and the water beneath it is warmer. 1:48:42 PM JOY BAKER, Port Director, Port of Nome, stated the following: The ocean went to ice-free in February this year, and the ice between the breakwater broke on ... Monday, fifteenth of April, which is extremely early. And we did not get ice that formed to any significance until ... mid-January of this year. ... The old period of freezing in November and thawing in late May/early June - we haven't seen that in a number of years. 1:49:23 PM MR. BENEVILLE stated that the USCG asserted that the Port of Nome is icebound from October 1 to June 1. He posited that the port is actually icebound from mid-December to the end of April or mid-May. He drew attention to a bullet point on slide 12, which read: "To provide suitable maritime infrastructure for Arctic tour ships - attracting more ships to the state." He said "we" considered "what-if" scenarios with the USCG. 1:50:15 PM REPRESENTATIVE STORY sought to clarify that the plan before the committee has been approved to go forward, and that there have been several community discussions about it and there would be more going forward. 1:50:40 PM MR. BENEVILLE indicated there has been discussion and will be more. He then remarked on the inevitability of change. 1:51:15 PM REPRESENTATIVE FOSTER, in response to Co-Chair Wool, reviewed the three previously stated points in HJR 14 and reiterated that the proposed joint resolution was accompanied by a zero fiscal note. 1:52:22 PM CO-CHAIR WOOL expressed appreciation for the presentation. 1:52:44 PM REPRESENTATIVE STORY said the project is exciting and she appreciated hearing from the mayor about it. [HJR 14 was held over.]