Bill Aims To Create Arctic Port on Bering Sea Coast

A U.S. House subcommittee today considered a bill aimed at creating a deepwater dock at Point Spencer, a narrow curlicue of land on the Bering Strait, just south of the Arctic Circle. Alaska Congressman Don Young says his bill would divide the 2,000 acre spit among the Coast Guard, the state and the Bering Strait Native Corp., creating a partnership to build a port.

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“I want to move this legislation. I think it’s badly needed for Alaska and the nation,” Young said. “And of course it will help Bering Straits out. There’s no doubt about that.”

Gail Schubert, CEO of the regional Native corporation, says the land transfer bill will protect cultural artifacts now vulnerable to looting.  She also says developing Point Spencer will give residents the hope of employment.

“We believe it could become a critically important economic engine in our region, as the Arctic opens to commerce,” Schubert said.

Kip Knudson, Gov. Sean Parnell’s representative in Washington, agrees the project is badly needed.

“There are no deep-water ports between Point Barrow and Unalaska,” he said. “That’s a stretch of coastline longer than from Tacoma to Long Beach. We need to redress that shortage.”

But Knudson says the state objects to some of the bill’s details, particularly how it divides the land. Knudson says, for example, that while the bill would give the state an airstrip, it doesn’t provide enough adjacent land to operate it as an airport.

“Our due diligence that we’ve invested in to date is telling us that a fragmented ownership of the land is going to hinder efficient development and potentially slow down funding sources,” he said.

Congressman Young says he’s open to changes and hopes to move the bill forward this year.