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Condemned NOAA port in Alaska to get major makeover

Site will be home once again to veteran coastal survey vessel

The former homeport to one of the U.S. government’s oldest survey vessels is scheduled for a long-overdue makeover.

The Ketchikan, Alaska, port facility became home in 2001 to the Fairweather, a ship that belongs to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). NOAA is an agency under the Department of Commerce. The port was condemned after a failed 2008 inspection.

NOAA has awarded a contract to Ahtna Infrastructure & Technologies LLC for a project to revitalize Ketchikan port, with work likely beginning later this month.

Under the terms of the $18.8 million contract, the Alaska-based company will make major improvements, including the construction of a new office building, large floating pier and a steel access trestle, as well as updated power and water utility systems for servicing visiting ships.

Related: New NOAA ship to explore, study the oceans

“This NOAA port revitalization project is a great example of building back better by investing in modern and sustainable infrastructure,” U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina M. Raimondo said in an April 7 announcement. “The improvements to NOAA’s Ketchikan facility will enable the agency to support safe navigation and commerce in Alaska and the region more effectively than ever.”

The project will begin with the removal of the existing pier and related structures, such as sheds, mooring dolphins, an old laboratory building and the trestle that connects the pier to shore.

David Hall with NOAA Public Affairs told FreightWaves that the renovation will not interfere with Fairweather’s operation.

NOAA Ship Fairweather in Alaskan coastal waters. (Photo: NOAA)

“Since 2008, NOAA Ship Fairweather has utilized Coast Guard Base Ketchikan for port calls, when necessary, while operating in Alaska,” Hall said. Fairweather has also been operating out of NOAA’s marine operations center in Newport, Oregon.

The Ketchikan facility was a former fuel terminal, and Hall stated that this will be the first major renovation since 2004. The reason it has taken so long was purely financial.

“Until recently, NOAA has not had the funds available to make the necessary improvements to the facility,” Hall added. “A recent change in federal law has allowed NOAA to accept state funds for this project. This combination of state and federal funds has made it possible to repair and improve the facility.”

The Fairweather is one of 15 NOAA ships, mainly mapping coastal waters to update nautical charts. It primarily operates in Alaskan coastal waters. Launched in 1967 and commissioned the following year, it was named after Mount Fairweather, the tallest peak in the Fairweather Range straddling southern Alaska and western Canada. In addition to supporting marine navigation, Fairweather’s data is used for marine ecosystem studies, fisheries habitat mapping and ocean research.

Related: On the level: How NOAA water data updates help maritime shippers

Upon completion of this project, Fairweather will be able to return home to a fully functioning port that will also be able to welcome visiting government vessels. NOAA expects the project to be done by December 2022.

“We look forward to serving Alaska and the nation from this greatly improved facility,” Rear Adm. Nancy Hann, deputy director of the NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps and NOAA’s Office of Marine and Aviation Operations (OMAO), said in the April 7 announcement. “This represents a major milestone in NOAA’s effort to recapitalize the agency’s fleet and supporting infrastructure.”

NOAA’s fleet of ships is operated, managed and maintained by OMAO, which is composed of civilians and officers with the NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps, one of the nation’s eight uniformed services.

Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Nick Austin.

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Nick Austin

Nick is a meteorologist with 20 years of forecasting and broadcasting experience. He was nominated for a Midsouth Emmy for his coverage during a 2008 western Tennessee tornado outbreak. He received his Bachelor of Science in Meteorology from Florida State University, as well as a Bachelor of Science in Management from the Georgia Tech. Nick is a member of the American Meteorological Society and National Weather Association. As a member of the weather team at WBBJ-TV in Jackson, Tennessee, Nick was nominated for a Mid-South Emmy for live coverage of a major tornado outbreak in February 2008. As part of the weather team at WRCB-TV in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Nick shared the Chattanooga Times-Free Press Best of the Best award for “Best Weather Team” eight consecutive years.