Governor meets with regional advocacy group
Gov. Bill Walker recently spent a day in, and around, Utqiaġvik, after he was invited to attend a board meeting of the Voice of the Arctic Iñupiat, a nonprofit corporation comprising members from local governments to regional corporations from across the Arctic Slope.
Following the meeting, he toured erosion sites along the coast. The Sounder spoke with the governor, after his trip, about what he saw and did.
Q: When the Voice of the Arctic Iñupiat was created, it became kind of a new model for this type of organization. What are your thoughts about the group?
A: I was invited to come up and participate in the Voice of the Arctic board meeting. I had been a follower of what they have been doing for quite some time and I was honored to be invited to participate ... I've been very impressed by the organization. I think it's the appropriate way to address some of the issues in the Arctic. No one knows better than those who live in the Arctic. It's an excellent model. I was very, very complimentary to those who are board members. Sometimes decisions and inputs [are] made a long ways away from Alaska about the Arctic and I was just so pleased to see the board members participating, and the generations and thousands of years of history and culture they bring to the decisions is really impactful.
Q: What were some of your takeaways from the meeting?
A: For me, [that] they were looking at the future of the Arctic and the future generations of the Arctic and making sure things were in place that will help infrastructure and make sure those who live in the Arctic are able to benefit from the development in the Arctic, is what it comes down to. I was extremely complimentary of their approach and I think it's refreshing; I really do.
Q: When talking about the Arctic, it's hard not to talk about all the stakeholders and all the people participating up here. You have the corporations, the local communities, the oil and gas industry, statewide interests, and federal interests. Where do you see that balance being struck and who do you think should be driving that?
A: As far as driving it, I think it should be a group and not necessarily any one [entity] driving it. But, I think what's been missing in the past is a group like Voice of the Arctic because sometimes, the various villages and communities are consulted after a decision is made rather than before a decision. I like the approach and that they are being proactive and they are sort of embracing, somewhat, the opportunities and blending the opportunities with some of the challenges, as well. It's very unique to the region what Voice of the Arctic is doing and I think their approach is exactly what it needs to be.
Q: In general, what are a few of your Arctic priorities or topics you'd like to see discussed over the next few years?
A: Infrastructure is an issue. As we look at ice roads in [parts] of the Arctic, [they] may not be as available as in the past because the warming temperatures will certainly impact them. So, we're looking at infrastructure in the way of roads, but in such a way that it's compatible to those who will be impacted by the roads. We've been reaching out to various communities and will continue to do that to talk about infrastructure before anything is planned and before anything starts to get their input about how it will impact them — both the positives and the negatives. There's all sorts of infrastructure in the Arctic that needs to be updated, upgraded, [and more], but we surely think transportation is important ... I look at the opening of the shipping in the Arctic as really similar to the opening of the Panama Canal and what that did for shipping in that region. We are seeing a potentially significant buildup of shipping and we want to make sure there's infrastructure there from a response and protection capability, as well as from a resource development opportunity. The Arctic is changing and there's no question about it.
Q: I've noticed you've made a few trips up to the North Slope since you came into office and it seems to be a place you enjoy traveling to. Can you talk a little bit about that?
A: I do enjoy traveling there. I enjoy traveling all across Alaska. We had our first cabinet meeting in Bethel a couple of days ago. I don't think that's every happened before. Rather than just have a cabinet meeting in Juneau or Anchorage, we said, 'Let's go to Bethel.' I do get out as much as I can. My background is local government. Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott was mayor of his hometown of Yakutat when he was in his mid-20s and I was the mayor of my hometown of Valdez when I was in my mid-20s. I always learn something, every time I go to the Arctic. I learn something from the Elders. I learn something from the relationship, how the Elders are respected and how they're treated and cared for. I appreciate that very much.
Q: While you were on the Slope, did you hear any concerns from people that they would like the state to pay attention to in the coming months or years?
A: If there's going to be infrastructure development, they'd like to be able to have a say in it early on and we're making sure that happens. We're planning a trip to Nuiqsut. I'm not exactly sure when but I know that's a goal [to do that] very soon. They like to be heard and included in any decisions that are being made and I certainly appreciate that.
Q: Is there anything else you want to add?
A: It was a beautiful day. I did have a chance to take a look at some of the erosion issues there. I've been there before just following a story when I issued the disaster declaration, so on this trip I took a look at the erosion and the status of that. I do try to do that when I'm in an area that's susceptible to erosion.