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GCI Completes First Marine Survey for AU-Aleutians Fiber Project

Jul 12, 2021 | News, Telecom & Tech

Team returns to Homer to process data and plan for next phase after spending a month at sea

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GCI recently completed the first marine survey for the AU-Aleutians Fiber Project, which will deliver high-speed broadband connectivity to some of the most remote communities in the nation. The survey, conducted by Benthic GeoScience, an Alaska-based company and crew, marks another significant step towards the completion of the multi-year, multimillion-dollar project.

With a crew of sixteen—including five ship crew members, ten survey crew members, and one GCI representative—Support Vessels of Alaska repurposed a former crabber and fish tender called the Norseman II and set out from Homer on May 12. Since departing, the survey team has successfully mapped a route from Mill Bay in Kodiak through Unimak Pass, joining up with a 2017 survey that ends in Unalaska. A second geotechnical survey will launch in August to analyze samples of the seafloor.

“Our crew formed a resilient and effective team that overcame not only a challenging route, but also mechanical and instrument malfunctions common in any complex maritime voyage,” says GCI Senior Staff Engineer Bruce Rein. “With the help of GCI site agents in Chignik Bay and Cold Bay who delivered vital parts to the vessel, the crew made onboard repairs to keep the project moving. Knowing our end goal is to ultimately connect these remote Alaska communities makes for a motivated and rewarding journey. We’re ready to start processing our data and looking ahead to the next survey.”

The route included narrow passages with high tidal currents: the open, exposed seas of Shelikof Straits, rough seafloor topography in the approaches to Chignik Bay, high-impact trawl scar zones, 20-meter-high ancient sediment waves; cargo ship traffic through Unimak Pass, and passed by two possible shipwrecks. Despite the expected challenges, the crew successfully surveyed 792 miles of cable route which approximates to 95 percent of the total planned route.

From the earliest planning stages of the GCI AU-Aleutians Fiber Project, GCI has taken special precautions to ensure the safety and maintain the integrity of Alaska’s ecosystem and cultural resources. During the marine survey processes, crewmen act as observers and abide by strict guidelines to not impede on marine wildlife. And throughout the fiber laying process, onboard marine biologists will monitor animal activities including tracking migration patterns, fishing grounds, and mammal groups.

“This first marine survey checks a vital box when we look at our project timeline,” says GCI Senior Manager of Corporate Communications and Community Engagement Jenifer Nelson. “Our next steps will be the geotechnical seafloor sampling in August which will help us determine where we can bury the cable along the route. Not far behind is the actual laying of the fiber cable. We remain on track to meet our goal of delivering fiber service to Unalaska in late 2022.”

The project is expected to cost $58 million. GCI was awarded a $25 million grant from the US Department of Agriculture’s ReConnect program in support of the project. The company will invest $33 million of its own capital to pay for project costs not covered by the ReConnect grant. More information about the project can be found at http://www.gci.com/aleutians.

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