Unalaska city officials join Alaskans headed to Finland

Jim PaulinDutch Harbor Fisherman

Three top Unalaska city officials will travel to Finland for a conference next month, and to Norway to meet with a shipping company that plans to transport fish from the Aleutians to Europe via the Arctic Ocean, according to Unalaska City Manager Chris Hladick.

At last week's meeting, the Unalaska City Council approved travel funds for council member Dennis Robinson. At an earlier meeting, travel money was OK'd for Mayor Shirley Marquardt. The city manager's travel is likewise covered by the city but didn't need city council approval since it comes out of the administration's travel budget.

Hladick said the per-person cost is $8,200. The council approved Robinson's participation after he complained that the city's governing body lacked a representative, since only the mayor and manager were originally planning to go to Europe.

The June 15-20 "Finland Policy Tour" is organized by the Institute of the North, an independent research organization based in Anchorage. Institute executive director Nils Andreassen said two area legislators are also scheduled to attend, State Reps. Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham, and Bob Herron, D-Bethel.

Andreassen said fellow travelers include participants from Native corporations and other businesses, government, and academics who will travel to Helsinki and then north to Rovaniemi Lapland region.

"It's a diverse group," he said, declining to disclose all their names. "We try to preserve the integrity of the group," he said.

"Exploring Finland's Economic Development and Arctic Strategies" is the tour's theme.

Two northern European projects are of special interest to Unalaska, Hladick said.

The Finnish government is backing a proposed railroad to Norway's northernmost port, Kirkenes, which would provide an Arctic Ocean connection to the rest of the European rail system. That port, he said, is owned by a Norwegian shipping company, Tschudi, which plans to export fish from Unalaska to Europe this summer through the Northwest Passage, sailing north through the Bering Strait and across northern Canada to the Atlantic Ocean, with the help of Unalaska businessman Andrew Murphy.

The Unalaska group also plans a stop in Oslo, Norway, to talk to Luquiline, a global gas technology company that has pioneered small-scale shipments of liquefied natural gas. Unalaska is considering using LNG for generating electricity. Presently the city powerhouse runs on diesel fuel. Hladick said the city needs to learn about more about the technology, to see if conversion is cost-effective, based on the special equipment needed for LNG.

The LNG would not be exported from Europe, Hladick said. In a visit to Unalaska two years ago, Gov. Sean Parnell urged Unalaska to consider LNG from Alaska's Kenai Peninsula.

While in Finland, the Alaskans are invited to a steam bath and dinner with U.S. Ambassador Bruce Oreck at the Finnish Sauna Society, and a tour of an ice-breaker base.

This story first appeared in The Bristol Bay Times/Dutch Harbor Fisherman and is republished here with permission.

Bristol Bay Times/ Dutch Harbor Fisherman