Policy expert says Alaska will be ‘nation’s vanguard’ in a thawing Arctic

Mike Sfraga, left, wearing glasses, speaks at the Alaska Legislature’s annual Joint Armed Services Committee meeting in the Capitol in Juneau on Thursday. Sfraga is the director of the Polar Institute at the Wilson Center, a Washington, D.C., think tank. He told state lawmakers that Alaska will be at the front line of global competition over Arctic Ocean resources. Sen. Donny Olson, D-Golovin, is in the foreground. (Photo by Andrew Kitchenman/KTOO and Alaska Public Media)

A national expert on Arctic policy told state lawmakers on Thursday that Alaska will be at the front line of global competition over Arctic Ocean resources.

Mike Sfraga, director of the Polar Institute at the Washington, D.C.-based think tank the Wilson Center, said climate change is making the Arctic Ocean more accessible.

“That’s why I’ve called Alaska the nation’s vanguard, because this is a new ocean,” he said. “This is a new landscape of competition. And that’s why we must be diligent in what we do, I believe, in the state of Alaska.”

Sfraga said Alaska can no longer be seen as isolated. He noted that China has invested in a gas pipeline through Siberia. And Russia has developed both commercial and military sites in the Arctic.

Sfraga said the U.S. should develop a deep-water port in or near the Arctic. He said research suggests it could be at Nome or another site. And he said the country should be prepared to invest heavily in the project.

“This nation needs a deep-water port,” he said. “We just need one. And we have more reports than we can stack on a table — pick one. And then do a Manhattan Project on it. I mean, if it’s Nome, let’s go all in on Nome.”

Sfraga also said the U.S. should establish a greater military presence in the Arctic.

Sfraga’s testimony was part of the annual meeting of the Legislature’s Joint Armed Services Committee.

Andrew Kitchenman is the state government and politics reporter for Alaska Public Media and KTOO in Juneau. Reach him at akitchenman@alaskapublic.org.

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