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Alaska Arctic Policy Commission hears concerns about economy, climate change

  • Author: Jillian Rogers
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published October 19, 2014

After nearly two years of meetings and conferences in which members of the Alaska Arctic Policy Commission heard from Arctic stakeholders, the group made another stop in Barrow recently to hear from delegates again before submitting their final report.

This time, the commission met with locals on the North Slope as part of the Week of the Arctic, an event featuring workshops, presentations and testimony, and hosted by the Institute of the North.

The weeklong event started in Nome, then moved on to Kotzebue and finished up in Barrow on Friday and Saturday.

The commission met at the North Slope Borough chambers seeking comments from officials and delegates about the work done over the past 17 months, as well as to gather any new information to add to the commission's implementation plan for Arctic policy.

The commission released a preliminary report in January and will meet again in November in Anchorage to finalize the draft. The final plan will be delivered to the Alaska State Legislature in January.

"We're looking forward to input from the people of the region," said Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, a member of the commission.

Common threads among the testimony were food security threats, increased shipping traffic in Arctic waters and increased development.

The final implementation plan will focus on four key strategies: addressing the infrastructure gap; encouraging continued Arctic scientific research; supporting healthy communities; and promoting economic development.

With changing climate, increased development interests, and a boost in vessel traffic through the Northwest Passage, North Slope residents are seeing the changes first hand.

"In this town, every week is a week of the Arctic," said Richard Glenn, vice president of the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation. "Next week will be another one."

Glenn and ASRC president and CEO Rex Rock addressed the commission about solidarity in the Arctic.

"We're coming together," Rock said. "We know what's right for our people so let's take it to that level. We feel that we're not heard (and) it's time for us to come together, work together, and make things happen."

Glenn added that it was important for the commission to also realize that what might be true for Barrow is not necessarily the same concerns or needs from the surrounding communities. Change in the region is obvious, but residents have been taking note of transformations long before climate change was measured, he said.

Community survival by way of protecting subsistence rights and economic development should be main factors in the strategy for the Arctic, he said.

George Edwardson, the vice president of the Inupiat Community of the Arctic Slope, voiced concern about the lack of preparedness when it comes to oil spill response and other marine emergency situations.

He also shared anecdotal climate change observations, speaking about hunting with his father as a young boy.

"The shoreline has receded a mile within my dad's lifetime," Edwardson said. "Global warming has exploded."

Eugene Brower, president of the Barrow Whaling Captains Association echoed those sentiments and said that federal regulations are making self-determination harder and harder.

"They don't live and breathe our environment," Brower said. "We've been very adaptive to the regulations imposed over the years. (But) each village is different. Resources don't know those boundaries that are imposed on the people of the North Slope."

The commission is heading in the right direction, said North Slope Borough Mayor Charlotte Brower. But there are still plenty of issues that need to be addressed.

Brower noted the need and desire for the North Slope Port Authority to regulate traffic, bolster infrastructure and provide safety for vessels and crew.

"The North Slope Borough is going to make sure that (of everything) we do, infrastructure is going to be one of them," she said. "We know where our limitations are."

The testimony brought to the commission in Barrow was just one session of passionate presentations over the week. In its fifth year, Week of the Arctic is designed to open dialogue with stakeholders and policy makers, along with youth and Elders that will hopefully facilitate positive change and advancements.

"I think the value over the whole week was huge," said Institute of the North executive director Nils Andreassen. "To be able to listen and to share in each community overall was powerful."

There were plenty of similarities between Nome, Kotzebue and Barrow in terms of priorities and concerns, though the approaches and perspectives were different between each region, which is part of the reason the event was held between the three locales.

And the resounding theme throughout the entire event, through governance roundtable discussions, workshops and updates from state and federal agencies, was less talk, more action.

"People who have never been to the Arctic ... are making rules and policy on our behalf," Eugene Brower said. "This is our lifestyle, this is where we live and this is where we're going to die."

This story first appeared in The Arctic Sounder and is republished here with permission.

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