- Associated Press - Sunday, January 15, 2012

ANCHORAGE, Alaska The ice that has cut off a remote Alaska town for months will connect it to the world again when crews build a path over it to carry fuel from a Russian tanker that was moored a half-mile from the town’s harbor Sunday.

A Coast Guard cutter cleared a path through hundreds of miles of Bering Sea ice for the tanker as it made its way toward Nome, a town of 3,500 on Alaska’s western coastline, where residents are coping with their coldest winter since the 1970s.

The tanker got into position Saturday night, and ice disturbed by its journey had to freeze again so workers could create some sort of roadway across the 2,100 feet from tanker to the harbor in Nome, upon which they will rest a hose that will transfer 1.3 million gallons of fuel.

It’ll take about four hours to lay the hose, said Jason Evans, board chairman of the Sitnasuak Native Corp. Workers on Sunday morning were walking around the vessel and checking the ice to make sure it is safe for the transfer.

A storm prevented Nome from getting a fuel delivery by barge in November. Without the tanker delivery, supplies of diesel fuel, gasoline and home heating fuel in Nome are expected to run out in March and April, well before a barge delivery again in late May or June.

The tanker began its journey from Russia in mid-December and has slowly made its way toward Nome, stalled by thick ice, strong ocean currents and one of Alaska’s snowiest winters in memory. It picked up diesel fuel in South Korea, then headed to Dutch Harbor, Alaska, where it took on unleaded gasoline. Late Thursday, the vessels stopped offshore and began planning the transfer to Nome, more than 500 miles from Anchorage on Alaska’s west coast.

A Coast Guard cutter cleared a path through hundreds of miles of Bering Sea ice for the tanker.

Now, residents await the journey’s final leg, which comes with its own hurdles: In addition to waiting for the ice to freeze, crews must begin the transfer in daylight, a state mandate. But Nome has just five hours of daylight this time of year.

Despite the complicated logistics of delivering fuel by sea in winter, Sitnasuak opted for the extra delivery after determining that it would be much less costly and more practical than flying fuel to Nome.

A Coast Guard spokesman didn’t know how long it will be before fuel flows, as crews must wait 12 hours to ensure that the disturbed ice has refrozen.

“We were able to successfully navigate that last bit of ice,” Coast Guard spokesman Kip Wadlow said. “We were able to get it pretty much right on the money, in the position that the industry representatives wanted to start the fuel-transfer process.”

Though the transfer must start during daylight, it can continue in darkness, Betty Schorr of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation has said. It could be finished within 36 hours if everything goes smoothly, but it could take as long as five days, she said.