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Unalaska's leaders make case for community during annual D.C. trip

Representatives from the City of Unalaska, The Qawalangin Tribe of Unalaska and the Ounalashka Corp. travelled to Washington, D.C. in December to promote the community's needs to federal policymakers.
Courtesy of the Qawalangin Tribe of Unalaska
Representatives from the City of Unalaska, The Qawalangin Tribe of Unalaska and the Ounalashka Corp. travelled to Washington, D.C. in December to promote the community's needs to federal policymakers. (Left to right: Dianne Blummer, Chris Price, Vince Tutiakoff Sr., Dennis Robinson, Shari Coleman, and Natalie Cale.)

King crab and snow crab fishery closures. The Makushin Geothermal Project. Developing Dutch Harbor as an Arctic port.

Unalaska has big things in the works, both in terms of opportunities and challenges. And the steps local leaders take in the next few years could change the community’s path for decades.

Each year, representatives from Unalaska travel to Washington, D.C. to advocate on behalf of the city’s interests.

Unalaska City Councilmember Shari Coleman was on the latest lobbying trip in December. She sat down with KUCB’s Theo Greenly to talk about Unalaska’s priorities. She says that historically, representatives from the city of Unalaska visit Washington, D.C. for an annual lobbying trip, but this trip was the second time that the three parties of the trilateral agreement attended. Those are the city, the Qawalangin Tribe of Unalaska, and the Ounalashka Corp.

Since this conversation took place, the city of Unalaska has been awarded $25 million for the Unalaska Bay dredging project, and $2.5 million to upgrade the city’s electrical grid.

Additionally, the most recent plans for an icebreaker to be homeported in Alaska have stalled.


SHARI COLEMAN: Well, our capital project priorities included the channel dredging, we had some utility upgrades, and the [city landfill] gasifier also came up. Other things were the declaration of the crab fishery disaster, the bycatch issue for the fisheries, and then we were also looking at this Heart of the Ocean Sanctuary designation that was put in by the St. Paul tribe. So we were concerned about that and the impact to the fisheries here.

KUCB: As for the utility upgrades, are you referring to upgrading the city’s electrical grid to prepare for the geothermal project?

COLEMAN: We're supplying the grid and the power is coming from the geothermal project. This is a good move in that we’ve designed it so that even if we don't go to geothermal, these upgrades are still going to be useful and valued, it's not like it's their terminal. So it is just a projection into, like, if we do go into geothermal, these are the things that we need for our system.

KUCB: And the St. Paul Marine Sanctuary, why is that an issue for people here in Unalaska?

COLEMAN: It’s called the Heart of the Ocean Sanctuary, and they're looking for a designation of a sanctuary. It's basically a separately managed place that could restrict fishing. And it's going through the process. So it's on their inventory. And so we had an opportunity to speak with two NOAA representatives. S we discussed that whole process, and how Unalaska can play a part, in voicing our concerns about how this could be an impact to the fisheries for the Bering Sea.

KUCB: So the concern is that it may limit fishing in the region.

COLEMAN: And so, again, it's just for us to pay attention to it. And to, you know, make note of it and to make sure that we voiced our concern and I want to say, opposition to it, because it could definitely have a direct impact on our fishing economy here.

KUCB: Speaking of economic effects on our fisheries, tell me about the crab fisheries disaster relief.

COLEMAN: We have the crab fisheries disaster relief requests. And I think you've reported that that looks like it’s going through. So we just, again, push that agenda to make sure that our representatives realize the importance of this. How we're losing, you know, millions of dollars from lost revenue. But of course, this too, will be years in the making.

KUCB: And what about beyond fisheries. You said there was talk about Unalaska as an Arctic port.

COLEMAN: We did meet with the Department of Defense regarding Arctic policy, and the possibility of any military presence here. There's a big interest, especially because of China and Russia. We're building up. We have an icebreaker coming to Juneau, they're doing buildups in Nome. They're doing some stuff in Adak, supposedly, so we're just kind of saying, “Hey, here's what Unalaska can offer.”

KUCB: What might an increased military look like in Unalaska?

COLEMAN: It can be … it's not like you're gonna get thousands of troops. This could be as simple as the capacity to have more Navy ships come in and make port of calls here. We want to be a station for at least some more activity.

KUCB: And did the city, the tribe and the corporation all mostly concur on these different issues?

COLEMAN: When we met on these topics, we had a resounding cooperative message. And I can't tell you how many times I heard from people that we spoke to saying, “We really appreciate this cooperative effort, because it makes our job, I guess, in a way a lot easier.” Because we don't have differences of opinion from a community, we have the three major groups with three major players all saying this is what we want. This is what we need.

This interview has been edited slightly for clarity.

Theo Greenly reports from the Aleutians as a Report for America corps member. He got his start in public radio at KCRW in Santa Monica, California, and has produced radio stories and podcasts for stations around the country.
Related Content
  • Representatives from the City of Unalaska are traveling to Washington, D.C. next week. The federal lobbying trip is a chance for city leaders to meet with Washington delegation members, and make a case for the island’s top legislative and financial needs. Council member Dennis Robinson serves as the Vice Mayor of Unalaska, and he’ll be on that trip. He sat down with KUCB’s Theo Greenly to talk about what he hopes to accomplish in Washington.
  • A geothermal energy project in Unalaska is taking another step forward in development. Ounalashka Corporation/Chena Power, LLC, the company responsible for the Makushin Geothermal Project, says it’s finalizing negotiations with a renewable energy firm to develop the Makushin Geothermal Project. That could be a major milestone for the project, which aims to develop geothermal energy from Makushin Volcano, about 13 miles from Unalaska’s city center.
  • Bering Sea snow crab will close for the first time in the fishery’s history. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced Monday afternoon that snow crab — also known as opilio crab — and Bristol Bay red king crab would not open for the upcoming fall and winter fishing seasons. Miranda Westphal, an area management biologist for ADF&G, said stocks are just too low to justify opening either fishery. “All of our crab stocks in the Bering Sea have seen declines the last few years,” Westphal said. “[For] red king crab, we've been seeing declines for a little over a decade now. We just see very little recruitment coming into the population — not a lot of crab maturing into a fishable size. And so we're just seeing more of that this year.”