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Rep. Bryce Edgmon talks education, Trident and Dunleavy executive orders

View of Trident Seafoods processing plant in Akutan, AK.
Courtesy of CoastView Science
View of Trident Seafoods processing plant in Akutan, AK.

Dillingham Independent, Bryce Edgmon, represents Unalaska as part of the 37th District in the Alaska House of Representatives. He’s co-chair of the House Finance Committee. He spoke with KUCB’s Andy Lusk on Feb. 9 about a range of local issues, including education funding, the status of Unalaska as an Arctic port, the Makushin Geothermal project and a slate of recent executive orders from Gov. Mike Dunleavy.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.


Andy Lusk: I wanted to hear directly from you what some of your priorities are going into 2024 and what I as a reporter should be keeping my eye on, as I get the lay of the land out here.

Bryce Edgmon: Very interesting, this session. Education funding is probably the biggest topic at hand. Normally, education funding — which is about a quarter of the entire state budget — is something that is a product of negotiation. This year, a different sort of tactic emerged. The governor, working with the House Republican majority, put a bunch of controversial education elements into one bill. That's really been the hot button issue for the first two to two half weeks here. I'm obviously an advocate for as much education funding as we can afford and cognizant that smaller schools really need as much as possible given the high expenses in the outlying areas.

Lusk: My understanding is they're working to get the Nikolski school open again. Do I have that right?

Edgmon: I think it's the first time in a number of years, it's really exciting. The minimum threshold to get state funding is 10 students. It is a pervasive problem, particularly in a number of communities up and down the chain. In Akutan, it's a challenge. Adak School closed completely because there isn't a student in the community, I'm told. False Pass, Cold Bay and Nelson Lagoon are having a real hard time keeping families in the community and children.

Lusk: Right, and with companies like Trident selling off a lot of the processing plants, we know that these communities are going to be facing real challenges in retaining their populations, especially with students. What are some of the ways that that's being addressed right now?

Edgmon: Well, I talk to Trident officials — not regularly — but I do talk to them on occasion. But that's a topic of discussion. They're a private sector company, so they do what's best for their community. I understand their conversations with the community of Akutan, for example, in terms of any possible repurposing of the facility there, when the new plant gets built in Unalaska. The shutting down of an older facility in Bristol Bay, and things like that, does have reverberations. We talk about it, and we're cognizant of it, and I think they're as responsive as they can be, but there’s not anything, per se, we can do in the legislature about it.

Lusk: Another thing that I wanted to hear about from you is the status of Unalaska and Nome as Arctic ports. What does that mean to you?

Edgmon: Unalaska is in my district, so I always give deference to Unalaska. This goes back a number of years, several leadership regimes ago, when I first started representing the district. The value of Unalaska, of course, is that it's a year-round, deepwater, ice-free port. It has accessibility, its proximity to the great circle trade route, and the fact that there's a lot of traffic in and around the community. There is the ability to fuel big ships. All of this can be done without having to do what they're attempting to do to Nome, which is deepwater dredging and essentially reconfiguring a port that was never designed for bigger ships like Coast Guard cutters, smaller cruise ships and even some military vessels at the tune of at least a billion dollars.

Lusk: The last thing that I want you to weigh in on is the status of the Makushin Geothermal Project.

Edgmon: When the time arises, we hope the state will be able to contribute to the funding and that there will be enough energy to provide for a very robust local economy with seafood plants and everything else that’s going on locally.

Lusk: In that case, is there anything else you wanted to talk about today or anything I might have missed on any of these topics?

Edgmon: There is certainly no shortage of things to talk about. One thing to point out: the governor issuing a number of executive orders this session, which really are almost like fiats. If the legislature fails to take action within 60 days from the start of session, which was Jan. 16, they go into law.

One of them that we're all keeping an eye on is the governor having the ability to appoint all nine members of the Marine Highway Operations Board, which came about, I think, back in 2022, in a bill that Rep. Stutes from Kodiak introduced and got passed. That would allow a marine highway board to basically take a fresh look at the marine highway system, but have membership that would be comprised of two appointed by the Speaker of the House, two by the Senate President and the rest by the governor. Gov. Dunleavy, for reasons I guess best left for him to explain, wants to be able to appoint all nine members himself, which is, as you might imagine, countering resistance in the legislature. I think that might be of interest to local folks in Unalaska.

Born and raised in Raleigh, North Carolina, Andy Lusk is a writer, travel enthusiast and seafood aficionado who won the jackpot by landing in Unalaska/Dutch Harbor. When he's not hiking or working on his latest story, you can find him curled up with his cats and a good book. Andy is a Report for America corps member and an alumnus of New York University.
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