Arctic Councils Test the Waters in Unalaska

Legislators, scientists, and industry stakeholders are flocking to Unalaska this week to work out a plan for exploring the Arctic and they want input from locals.

The United States Arctic Research Commission convened at Unalaska’s Grand Aleutian Hotel today. The independent agency is made up of eight commissioners with diverse backgrounds in fisheries, science, and education.

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Their charge is to help the federal government develop a game plan for conducting research in the Arctic. The commission will talk about their research plans this week. But their focus is going to be on implementing a new, national Arctic strategy plan released by the Coast Guard in May.

That plan laid out three extremely broad goals for Arctic development — preserving peace in the region, conserving the natural environment, and finding a way to work with non-Arctic countries and organizations that want to get in on development.

Brendan Kelly is a polar science director for the White House. Over the past year, that job has taken him throughout rural Alaska and now, to Unalaska. Kelly’s been talking to residents about the Arctic strategy plan.

“There’s a lot of very smart people with a lot of experience — whether it’s shipping or fishing or the science of climate,” Kelly says. “There’s a lot of expertise here in the state. We’re really just trying to make sure that we benefit from that expertise.”

Kelly says he’ll be using the testimony to help find holes in the strategy — things that the federal agencies missed or underestimated when they wrote it.

On Tuesday afternoon, Kelly will host a public hearing for Unalaskans. It’s the last event before the federal Arctic Research Commission adjourns.

But the Alaska Arctic Policy Commission will pick up from there. The state legislators and local stakeholders on the board will spend Wednesday afternoon taking public testimony before they go into a work session all day Thursday.

The goal of that session is to come up with a set of guiding principles for writing Arctic policy in the legislature.

The Alaska Arctic Policy Commission will also be introducing its new executive director this week. Nikoosh Carlo is a neuroscientist by training, with roots in Alaska: She graduated from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and she’s previously worked at the state legislature.

The Arctic meetings wrap up on Thursday night.

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