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Begich Welcomes Progress on Arctic Port Study

Study Marks Important Step to Create Alaska Foothold in Arctic

U.S. Senator Mark Begich today welcomed the progress toward completion of a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers study that identifies potential locations for deep water ports in Alaska as an important step toward greater resource development and maritime activity in the region.  Begich called for the port study in his Coast Guard authorization legislation passed in the last Congress.  The Corps announced today it would release its preliminary recommendations in March.

“Ports and harbors are economic lifelines to Alaska communities, especially those off
of the road network,” said Sen. Begich.  “For too long a cumbersome bureaucratic process has blocked the Army Corps from moving these vital projects forward.  This plan is a great sign of progress.”

Sen. Begich has led efforts to encourage the United States to take a leadership role in Arctic development and has linked successful resource development to investments in Arctic infrastructure.  In May the Senate approved the Water Resources Development Act of 2013 (WRDA) to authorize ports, navigation and flood control projects.  The bill included an important provision inserted by Sen. Begich to help develop Alaska’s remote harbors.  The provision for remote and subsistence harbors sets aside $100 million over 10 years to allow the U.S. Army Corps of engineers to plan, design, and construct harbors in Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico.  It also eliminates the need for every project to be voted on by Congress multiple times.

As chair of the Senate subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and the Coast Guard, Sen. Begich convened hearings in Alaska and in Washington D.C. to discuss how increased marine traffic and economic opportunities in the changing Arctic will create a need and demand for an Arctic port in Alaska.  Sen. Begich also invited key federal agencies to Alaska to explore the Arctic port issue and hosted former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and former Defense Secretary Robert Gates during their visits to Alaska on this issue. 

“We know increased shipping traffic, oil and gas development, tourism, and research in the Arctic will lead to a significant jump in vessel activity throughout the region,” said Sen. Begich.  “In the last ten years, traffic has already increased from just a handful of vessels every year to over 1,000 expected this summer.  It is time for Alaska and our nation to step up and become leaders in shaping Arctic policy, transportation and resource development.”

Noting private sector interest in developing the Port Clarence (Point Spencer) area as a future base of operations, Begich said he has been working to convey land at the now-decommissioned Coast Guard LORAN station to the Bering Straits Native Corporation that recognizes the interests of the U.S. Coast Guard and State of Alaska in maintaining a presence in the area.

A steadfast supporter of U.S. leadership in the Arctic, Sen. Begich introduced legislation in 2013 to create an infrastructure fund to expedite development of an Arctic port, name a U.S. Arctic Ambassador, fund increased research needed in the Arctic, share revenues from energy development in offshore federal waters in the Arctic with local communities, tribes and the State, and has pushed for increased icebreaking capability for the U.S. Coast Guard to assert a presence in Arctic waters necessary to address increased maritime activity and national security needs. A pending bill will address other Coast Guard needs to prepare for increased maritime and energy activity in Arctic waters.

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