Participants in the Alaska Arctic Council Ad Hoc Working Group meeting provided updates on current and future Arctic-related events.
The lead speaker was James Robinson, who works on Arctic planning and coordination for the U.S. Coast Guard’s District 17 (Alaska). Reporting on the service’s current Arctic activities, he provided the following highlights:
- USCG will continue its annual build-out of Arctic Shield capabilities. The service will base its operations out of Prudhoe Bay and the Deadhorse airport this year, and also have personnel in Barrow. C-130 patrol flights will originate in Kodiak and patrol the Arctic, using Eielson Air Force Base as a location for overnight stops.
- The HEALY will travel north in mid-summer in support of the National Science Foundation’s 2015 Geotraces project. USCG buoy tenders (225 ft. “black hulls”) will work in the Arctic and a National Security Cutter may also make the journey north.
- USCG personnel will work in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta this year, visiting 32 villages to talk about boating safety and ice breakup training, and continue bulk fuel tank inspections.
- USCG is preparing for a small cruise ship that will travel from the Bering Sea to the Atlantic in 2016.
During the question and answer period, Myron Naneng, president of the Association of Village Council Presidents, asked about emergency contingency plans for shipping routes off the coast of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. If there was an accident, responses that originated in Kodiak, Unalaska or Nome would still be long distances away.
Robinson said Arctic waterway and safety committees are working on plans for routes and responses, and they are accepting input on their work.
Jim Gamble of the Aleut International Association asked about the role of small community preparedness. Robinson answered that USCG is trying to partner and help communities with accident preparedness, and continuing this conversation is a worthwhile effort.
Judith Miller of the Alaska Response Company commented that a cooperative model needs to be in place in Alaska with equipment available locally. The USCG current response is to hire private contractors to handle accidents.
Answering another question, Robinson said dialogue continues with Russia despite international tensions. USCG has good relations with the Kamchatka Border Guard, and both countries work together to enforce international fishing boundaries. He said search & rescue capability could be tested more, and the Arctic Council’s Search & Rescue agreement may provide an avenue for that, with the State Department setting policy for international engagement.
Reporting from Congress, Scott Leathard, Legislative Director for Rep. Don Young, said the U.S. House had passed the Coast Guard Reauthorization Act (HR 1987, approved by voice vote on May 18) with a provision that gave the Coast Guard 270 days to determine the feasibility of repairing the POLAR SEA for continued icebreaker service. Commissioned in 1977, the POLAR SEA has been tied up since 2010 after massive engine failure. Debate has continued through multiple studies about whether cost-efficiency would be better served by decommissioning or rebuilding the POLAR SEA.
In the bill, the National Academy of Sciences was also assigned to study and report on U.S. icebreaking options. The bill is now pending in the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.
Nikoosh Carlo, Senior Advisor to the Chair of Senior Arctic Officials at the U.S. State Department, reported the Arctic officials would meet in a closed session on June 16-17 in Washington, DC, to discuss ways to strengthen the Arctic Council. The officials will have a formal meeting in Alaska on October 20.
Craig Fleener, Arctic Advisor to Governor Bill Walker, encouraged participation in Alaska host committee activities for the Arctic Council. The activities will give Alaskans an opportunity to highlight what is important to them in front of an international audience. Host committees will be organized in the communities where events will happen. Invitations will be sent out soon. The state and committees will be looking for ideas and funding for host activities.