The Anchorage Assembly is scheduled to vote on Tuesday whether to rename the Port of Alaska after the late Alaska Rep. Don Young, as the Don Young Port of Anchorage.
Mayor Dave Bronson proposed renaming the port in remembrance of Young after the late congressman died last year during a flight home to Alaska. Soon after, the Assembly voted to convene a four-person citizen naming panel, and Bronson and former Assembly Chair Suzanne LaFrance each appointed two members. That panel in June recommended renaming the port as the Don Young Port of Anchorage in a 3-0 vote, with one panel member absent.
Young, who died at age 88, was the longest-serving member of the Congress at the time, serving for 49 years. Bronson in March said that the former chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee “was instrumental in bringing federal dollars to the Port of Alaska.”
”His tireless work for Alaska over the last 49 years has made a tremendous impact across generations for the Port of Alaska, which provides food and supplies for 90% of the state,” Bronson said.
The Assembly had considered the port name change during a Sept. 12 meeting, but postponed voting on it until Tuesday. While some members at that meeting said they support naming the port after Young, others expressed concerns about whether the naming panel followed the process and guidelines in city code.
Member Kameron Perez-Verdia said the Assembly was provided no information about public comment on the name change that the panel received. It’s also not clear if the panel held a process to seriously consider other names, as indicated by city code, he said.
“The Port of Alaska is a significant public institution and area for our city and our state. And I’m not saying that ... this should not be named after Don Young. What I’m saying is, that the process that was done to make this recommendation didn’t follow code, to my understanding. There was no information provided that detailed how they went through the current code and made sure that they followed the guidance,” he said.
Bronson pushed back at that statement, saying “we followed process precisely.”
The Assembly in 2017 voted to change the port’s name from the Port of Anchorage to the Port of Alaska, in part to send a message to state leaders that the port is a statewide asset.
Assembly member George Martinez cited that recent name change, questioning the return to using Anchorage in the port’s name, rather than Alaska.
“That seems to be out of step with what we’ve, this body and this community has already moved toward. And so in that regard, I would love additional clarification,” Martinez said.
Young’s widow, Anne Garland Walton, spoke by phone in support of renaming the port.
“My husband would be deeply touched by the thoughtfulness it represents. Don Young’s contributions to everything and anything maritime in Alaska are nothing short of legendary,” Walton said.
Just ahead of taking up the proposal to change the port’s name, the Assembly during the Sept. 12 meeting unanimously passed an ordinance overhauling how public places and facilities are named. The measure requires the city to establish a 9-member commission to oversee naming of municipal buildings and other public facilities and places, rather than using small citizen panels.
It also lays out several considerations the commission should consider when naming. Considerations include any existing names of public places and traditional Dena’ina or other Indigenous place names, natural features of the area, cultural significance, contemporary and historic events, and the positive impact of an individual or group on the community and history of the municipality. Also, posthumous namings now must take place at least 36 months from the death of the individual that the public place would be named after, according to the ordinance.
That new code does not affect any municipal naming panels underway, including for the port.
However, Perez-Verdia, a sponsor of the ordinance, pointed out that the Assembly could still vote down renaming the port after Young.
Many public place namings in the municipality have occurred after a person dies and loved ones push for their recognition, he said.
Families will still have that opportunity, he said. But the measure should help naming of public places “to be more reflective of our history, of the people who have lived here and currently live here, (and) to have a thoughtful identity for who we are as a city,” Perez-Verdia said.