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Long-awaited dredging project to commence in Unalaska Bay this fall

The dredging project first hit Unalaska’s radar in 1995.
Berett Wilber
The dredging project first hit Unalaska’s radar in 1995.

A long-anticipated dredging project in Unalaska is expected to commence in September despite a temporary delay in signing the project agreement earlier this week.

The Unalaska City Council unanimously approved the final phase of the multi-year project during a special meeting on Monday, but city officials ultimately decided to hold off on transferring funds to the Army Corps of Engineers until after their next meeting on March 26.

The Corps’ announcement that they would start the project came suddenly. City Manager Bil Homka said he didn’t expect it to be presented to the city so fast.

“I will say that this is not something that we had anticipated. We’ve not typically done business this way,” Homka said. “It’s on the Army Corps’ end — it’s some sort of requirement that they have. They want all the funds in hand, not even in escrow. That’s why we had to convene this meeting, because they’re ready to go.”

The Corps is dredging an underwater bar across the floor of the entrance channel into Iliuliuk Bay, located roughly between the spit and the city landfill. Creating a channel in the bar will allow large cargo ships to pass freely into the Port of Dutch Harbor without waiting for high tide. The project was first adopted in 2017.

Port Director Peggy McLaughlin said the city council has been involved in and approved every phase of the project so far and that the council planned for the project in their budget.

“Council appropriated this,” McLaughlin said. “The funds are there. This is just following the same three steps that we have done with each process.”

The dredging project first hit Unalaska’s radar in 1995 when a study from the Army Corps of Engineers identified the entrance channel as a potential dredging project. A feasibility study was released in 2018, followed by a planning, engineering and design phase.

Council voted unanimously to support the resolution despite multiple council members raising eyebrows at the short notice from the Corps. Homka said the signing delay should not impact the proposed start date in September.

Born and raised in Raleigh, North Carolina, Andy Lusk is a writer, travel enthusiast and seafood aficionado who won the jackpot by landing in Unalaska/Dutch Harbor. When he's not hiking or working on his latest story, you can find him curled up with his cats and a good book. Andy is a Report for America corps member and an alumnus of New York University.
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