Posted on March 15, 2023
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said Tuesday it had received funding approval for the Unalaska Bay dredging project, which aims to clear a channel through an underwater shoal at the entrance to Iliuliuk Bay, just outside Dutch Harbor and the Unalaska Spit.
In a meeting with Unalaska City Council, Project Manager Jathan Garrett says dredging the bar will make it easier for larger, deep-draft vessels to get in and out of the bay.
“The big goal is to increase the efficiency of the fleet of ships and of the port itself, as well as create a safer environment for those who are coming in to seek refuge or to transfer cargo and commodities,” Garrett said.
The project has been in the works since 2016, and an analysis a few years later pegged the cost at about $35 million, but Garrett says the final price tag will likely be less.
The federal government is responsible for 75% of that cost, which Garrett said is fully funded, in part due to the infrastructure package passed in Washington last year. The city will still need to fund the remainder.
Councilman Thom Bell asked the Corps representatives at the meeting if creating a channel in the bar would create the risk of erosion by allowing more water to pass through to the shore – namely on Front Beach, a concern that local residents have raised since the project’s inception.
“Does that increase the flow of water in and out, and potentially cause more erosion on the beach?” Bell asked.
Corps officials say they’ve run models to try to anticipate erosion impacts, and they don’t believe dredging will cause problems.
Explosives pose another potential threat. The military left behind lots of unexploded ordnance after World War II. Garrett says a team of specialists analyzed the area to gauge the risk of encountering undetonated munitions and explosives.
“We were able to work with our center of expertise, and we’ve received a low probability of encountering any in the bay,” Garrett said.
The Corps will be back in Unalaska to host a community information and outreach event on March 16.