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Unalaska Will Dredge Entrance Channel — If City and USACE Agree It's Feasible

Laura Kraegel

The City of Unalaska is looking to welcome larger vessels — and ensure smoother passage for ships already cruising through. At a meeting Tuesday night, the City Council approved an agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to dredge the entrance channel of Unalaska Bay.

Mayor Shirley Marquardt said that'll stop the recurring problem of ships scraping against a sandbar or being blocked entirely. In the past, she said two distressed vessels have been unable to dock because of the bar.

The project will begin with a study to determine the feasibility of dredging. City Manager Dave Martinson said it'll take USACE about two years to study the potential effects to Front Beach and the surrounding area. The city will pay for half of the study at $1.5 million.

Councilor Frank Kelty said he's glad the project is moving forward, but he's concerned about the long timeline — and the ships that may get turned away in the meantime.

"The study takes two years or three years. It could be another five years after that before we get construction started," said Kelty. "I'd hope it wouldn't be that long, but I guess we'll have to see about funding levels."

If the study supports dredging, the City of Unalaska would only be on the hook for 10 percent of the cost — about $1 million. USACE would cover the remaining $10 to 13 million.

Meanwhile, the vessel that'll bring high-speed internet to western Alaska is set to pass through Unalaska next month. The telecom company Quintillion is laying fiber optic cable from Barrow to Nome this summer, and Marquardt said the primary ship is using Dutch Harbor as its kickoff point.

The vessel is due to arrive July 19, but Quintillion hasn't made plans to bring fiber to Unalaska. At least, not yet.

“Phase one is finished. It's done. But in phase two , there's a possibility," said Marquardt. "Mr. Martinson continues to work diligently with the folks there to see how we can become part of phase two."

Martinson has also negotiated new union contracts for city workers. On Tuesday night, the City Council approved the three-year contract with the International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 302.

The City Council will hold its next meeting July 12.

Laura Kraegel reported for KUCB from 2016 until 2020. She was KUCB's news director starting in 2019.