The Alaska Northern Waters Task Force (ANWTF) released its preliminary report today making recommendations for the state and federal government to improve Arctic policy.  The task force was established by the Alaska State Legislature in 2010 to address the state’s interests with the opening of Arctic waters.   I was selected by colleagues to serve as vice chair of the task force which included legislators, community leaders, and representatives of state and federal agencies.

The task force held 10 hearings in communities throughout the state, including Barrow, Nome, Bethel, Unalaska, Kotzebue, Wainwright, and Anchorage.  Our report includes 21 recommendations to advance our state’s leadership in marine transportation, national security, and resource development.   We also identified three top priorities: provide opportunities for Alaskans to participate in Arctic policy, create an Alaska Arctic Commission, and urge the U.S. Senate to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

It’s crucial for Alaska to recognize the strategic importance of its northern waters.  Changes in the Arctic will open new shipping routes and provide access to areas off of state’s northern coast that have some of the richest oil and gas deposits in the Arctic.

Southeast Alaska also has a role to play in Arctic development.  There are several potential locations for deep water, ice-free ports in our region which could provide moorage for oil and gas rigs and vessels.  Southeast can position itself to capitalize on future offshore oil and gas development.  Improving our region’s marine infrastructure and expanding the facilities of the Ketchikan Shipyard will provide jobs and help align our region with the resource development that will drive Alaska’s economy in the coming years.

Alaska needs a better roadmap to achieve success in the Arctic and the task force’s work is a good step forward.  I enjoyed being part of the task force and look forward to presenting our full report to the Legislature later in the session.

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