As the closest deepwater port to the Arctic, Unalaska is set to play a major role in the region’s economic development. Now, the city is positioning itself to influence Arctic politics, too.
The State Legislature announced its appointments to the Alaska Arctic Policy Commission, and three of the 13 civilian members have lived in Unalaska at one point or another. City Manager Chris Hladick was appointed to the seat reserved for a local government representative. Previously, he served as a member of the Northern Waters Task Force. Former resident Stephanie Madsen will be representing the fishing industry on behalf of the At-Sea Processors Association. Pete Garay, who was based in Unalaska until this year, will act as a delegate for the marine pilots.
Southwest Alaska legislators hold two of the six seats reserved for legislators. Those legislators are Rep. Bob Herron, who is running an uncontested in a new district that includes Unalaska, and Sen. Lyman Hoffman.
The commission was born out of the Northern Waters Task Force. While the task force identified major issues — like oil exploration and increased shipping — that may reshape the Arctic, the commission will be figuring out just how to handle those changes. While Alaska only has immediate control of the waters three miles off its coast, the commission’s final report will serve as the legislature’s official take on what should be done in the Arctic Ocean down to the Bering Sea. Rep. Bob Herron says that it will work kind of like a position paper for the federal government and other Arctic nations when it comes to development off Alaska’s shores.
“You know, the fear by some, and it’s a legitimate fear, is that someone who doesn’t even live in Alaska is going to dictate our Arctic policy,” says Herron. “By at least having this debate, Alaskans are saying, ‘We’re not going to let others decide our fate. We are going to work at defining our place when it comes to Arctic policy, no matter what it is.'”
The commission will be holding meetings across Alaska over the next two years, and it will be releasing its initial recommendations in 2014.