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Unalaska's Arctic agenda: Win funds and influence people

January 24th, 2014 | Jim Paulin Print this article   Email this article  

Stung by not even being considered in a recent Arctic port study, Unalaska city officials believe they know what they need to do to keep federal funding flowing into the Aleutian Islands community: Always attend meetings where Arctic agendas are discussed.

The city's Arctic agenda: win funds and influence people. While Unalaska is about a thousand miles away from the Arctic, the city is already feeling the impact of increased commerce as the nearest year-round open water port, city officials said.

The Unalaska City Council last week approved sending the mayor and a council member to the Arctic Encounter Symposium in Seattle next month. Several Alaska officials are set to speak, including U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell.

Mayor Shirley Marquardt said it's important for the city to maintain a lobbying presence, since other Arctic entities are constantly present, and that maintaining good personal relationships is essential to access federal dollars.

Marquardt said she plans to approach Treadwell at the symposium to discuss the city's exclusion for consideration as an Arctic port.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers favors building an Arctic port in the Nome area, perhaps at Port Clarence, to support increased activity from offshore oil exploration and more shipping through the Bering Strait, a shortcut between Asia and Europe thanks to ongoing melting of the polar ice cap. Arctic conferences generally focus on preparing for increased activity, while emphasizing safety, security and environmental concerns.

In a Jan. 14 written report to the council, Unalaska city manager Chris Hladick said the Corps will publish a report in March or April outlining the development of an Arctic port, which excludes Unalaska.

"The Port of Dutch Harbor should have been included in the study but was excluded because the study indicates that our port is too far from possible activities in the arctic. Yet we have been used as a staging area for those activities by Shell, and that activity will increase over time. I will be working to ensure that our comments are included in the study" he wrote.

The council approved the travel of both Marquardt and council member Dennis Robinson to the symposium, hosted by the Seattle University School of Law on Feb. 7 and 8. Robinson emphasized that the city needs representation at every arctic-oriented conference, to stay in the loop.

The symposium also features a talk by U.S. Coast Guard Rear Admiral Thomas Ostebo, who recently told the Alaska Public Radio Network that shipping through the Bering Strait will eventually reach a high level of traffic comparable to the number of vessels passing through the Panama Canal.

Unalaska's state representative, Bob Herron, D, Bethel, is also set to address the symposium, along with the Alaska Arctic Policy Commission's other co-chair, state Set. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage. Former Unisea seafoods manager John Iani, now a corporate environmental attorney with Perkins Coie LLP, will also speak.

In other development news, Hladick said the city is progressing towards a study for replacing diesel fuel at the city powerhouse with liquefied natural gas. The city's utility consultant, Mike Hubbard, is now reviewing documents from WesPac for LNG. It remains to be seen if the conversion would make financial sense, and the project would require the significant expense of new equipment and storage facilities, he said.

"WesPac is willing to perform a feasibility study for us that would outline the capital outlay needed to convert our powerhouse engines to dual fuel and the costs for a new turbine powerhouse and associated distribution lines for both electrical and fuel lines," Hladick wrote.


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