Coastal villages complain of being left out of Arctic planning

The long-standing president of Alaska's Association of Village Council Presidents asked officials on Monday to take steps to include coastal villages he represents in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta in their Arctic planning.

"We feel that we're part of the Bering Strait, but we also feel that we're not included in any of this planning," Myron Naneng Sr. said Monday, during a question-and-answer session at The Alaskan Arctic, a conference on Arctic ports and shipping. "We live off the sea and the river systems there …We haven't seen anyone from any of these agencies come out and say, 'What can we do to work with you?' "

The event is being held by The Arctic Circle, an organization co-founded by Alaska Dispatch News Publisher Alice Rogoff.

Naneng's comments came on the first day of the two-day summit, following a session in which panelists referenced a recent U.S. Coast Guard report that proposes no-shipping zones for ecologically sensitive or dangerous areas in the Bering Strait.

The Coast Guard's Port Access Route Study for the Bering Strait examined the effects of an influx of marine traffic in the area.

AVCP represents 56 tribes across 48 villages in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta region, nearly half of which are on the coast, so some of the increased shipping traffic would pass by villages represented by the association. But those villages weren't consulted, Naneng said.

A public comment period on the report closed on Aug. 18.

Naneng's comments elicited an apology from a Coast Guard official present at the conference.

Coast Guard Chief of Staff Charles Cashin, who had earlier presented on the report, said the agency did try to reach as many stakeholders as possible.

"I apologize to those who were not as aware of it as we would have liked." Cashin said. "We can see if there's something we can do to take in some additional input that we may have missed."

Speaking later to Alaska Dispatch News, Naneng said Y-K Delta villages are often left out of Arctic conversations, yet are increasingly concerned about the impact of such issues. Communities are worried about an increase in shipping traffic, in particular because of the possibilities of shipping emergencies, such as an oil spill.

Cashin said it's not only coastal villages, but the entire state of Alaska that depends on the shipping, so "our overarching desire is that we're as inclusive as possible."

He was unable to say, however, whether AVCP would be able to contribute input on the access route study, with the public comment period already closed.

Correction: An earlier version of this story said AVCP represents 56 villages. The organization represents 56 tribes, but 48 villages.