Tucked away in this year’s Coast Guard Reauthorization Act, a $175 million bill that just passed the Senate by a unanimous vote, is a land transfer that could be consequential for Alaska’s future role in the Arctic. Conveying 2,500 acres of federal land to state control at Point Clarence on the Seward Peninsula, the provision could set the location for a long-sought deepwater port for the northern half of the state.
It’s the latest in a slow-moving chain of events coming together into a framework for Alaska’s future role as a leader in arctic affairs — if those here and in Washington, D.C. maintain their focus.
Such a port would be instrumental to state efforts to play a larger role in emerging polar shipping routes made possible by receding sea ice in the Arctic. And, as the state learned this summer, enterprise won’t necessarily wait for the state to catch up to its role in the Arctic — tour boats are already beginning to ply the waters of the state’s northern coast, and infrastructure is needed to support such vessels and ensure their safety.
The port is one among several pieces that would help complete the Arctic puzzle for Alaska.
Without strong stewardship from Alaskans both in the state and in Washington, D.C., the projects will founder in much the same way as any number of past hoped-for Alaska infrastructure schemes. That would be a serious handicap for the state as it seeks to chart an economic course in the post-oil era, as new Arctic port and icebreaker capacity would go far toward accommodating new development for the state.