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Charrette Looks to Plan Deep Draft Arctic Port

(JUNEAU, Alaska) The State of Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Alaska District, hosted a planning charrette at the Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center in Anchorage May 16 and 17, 2011. The purpose of the planning charette was to shape the scope for development of deep‐draft Arctic ports (greater than 20 feet). This facilitated discussion leveraged the collective expertise of the attendees. The State of Alaska and the Corps of Engineers will use the results of this planning session to help design future development.

“A deep draft port would be a long-term national asset,” said Marc Luiken, Commissioner of Transportation and Public Facilities (DOT&PF). “It is vital to project U.S. presence, to open up opportunities for economic growth, aid in mineral research and development and to support continued scientific studies. The U.S. needs deep draft Arctic ports along Alaska’s coast.”  The State proposes one or more deep draft ports to support the exportation of natural resources and the importation of bulk goods and supplies, as well as a northernmost port for the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) to protect and patrol the state’s Arctic waters and for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Participants included Congressman Don Young, representatives from Senator Lisa Murkowski and Senator Mark Begich offices, Governor Sean Parnell’s office, Lt. Governor Mead Treadwell, Commissioners from the Alaska state departments of Transportation, Natural Resources, Commerce, Community and Economic Development and Environmental Conservation.  Also attending were high level representatives from the Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Navy, Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA), Alaska Homeland Security, University of Alaska Fairbanks and Anchorage, NOAA and the Alaska Marine Pilots.

“This is a historic opportunity,” stated Luiken in his remarks, “We are counting on a roomful of subject-matter experts to determine the best options for developing deep draft Arctic ports in Alaska to best serve state and national interests for generations.”

Congressman Young introduced legislation last February that would provide funding for hydrographic surveys to support safe navigation and deep draft port studies in the Arctic. He says the United States has the opportunity to address the prospects of future industry and can use changing Arctic conditions to its advantage.

In 2009, Senator Murkowski introduced a bill to study the feasibility and potential of establishing a deep draft port in the Arctic to protect and advance strategic United States interests within the evolving and evermore important region.

Luiken wanted to assure the public that they will be invited and are encouraged to participate during the study process.  Possible uses for a deep draft port in the Arctic could be a direct shipping point for resources developed in western and northern regions of Alaska; a strategic military and commercial port as vessel traffic increases; and a major infrastructure asset to any future potential endeavors to produce oil and gas from deepwater reserves in the Arctic, a strategic location to launch Search and Rescue operations and provide emergency response, to name just a few.

With RISE Alaska facilitating the event, participants in the charrette discussed several issues including the following questions:

1. What role does your organization play in deep draft navigation in the Arctic Region?

2. How do you see that role changing over the next 50 years?

3. What design criteria ( e.g. ship length, beam, draft depth, helipad, and related infrastructure) would you need in the Arctic Region to support national security, economic development, life safety, search and rescue, and related needs?

4. How do you envision the international community collaborating in the Arctic?

“We accomplished a great deal,” said Colonel Reinhard Koenig, Commander of the Alaska District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “We’re at the very beginning of the planning stages, but we determined that a deep draft port is needed and would be beneficial to Alaska and the nation.” 

The Alaska State Legislature recently passed a capital budget that contained $972,000 to begin the study and mapping of potential arctic deepwater port sites with the help of the Corps of Engineers.  It is estimated that it will require $2 million more to complete the study by 2014.

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