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Unalaska names Arctic port development as one of its top priorities for DC lobbying trip

Laura Kraegel
"We have everything here that is needed in an Arctic port that they don't have to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on," said Vice Mayor Dennis Robinson. "It exists here."

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.


KUCB: Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me today. So, every year, representatives from the city travel to Washington, D.C. to push for help with different projects and issues that are important to Unalaska. Sometimes that’s legislative support, sometimes it’s financial support. This year, you, along with Mayor Vince Tuttiakoff, Sr., Councilmember Thomas Bell, and City Manager Erin Reinders are taking the trip. What are some of the issues and projects that you will be focusing on this year?

DENNIS ROBINSON: Sure. The city council annually sets its state and federal legislative priorities. For instance, we’re always looking for existing state and federal support for stabilization of commercial flights into Tom Madsen Airport. We're also looking for any kind of support they can give for high-speed internet, environmental remediation, and a new one this year is we are informing our federal delegation of the importance of Unalaska as an Arctic port. We have everything here that is needed in an Arctic port that they don't have to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on. It exists here.

KUCB: Let’s get into the Arctic port in a minute. First though, can you tell me a bit more about the capital projects?

ROBINSON: So for our capital project funding support, the top of the list is the Captains Bay utility improvements and road project. And then we also have in there, newly added this year, Robert Storrs [Small] Boat Harbor improvements, as well as Unalaska Marine Center cruise ship terminal. And, of course, the dredging of the entrance of the channel, which has been a federal priority and is in the works. And also looking for money for the Makushin geothermal interconnection projects. And then also a solid waste gasifier.

KUCB: That’s a big list.

ROBINSON: It's a big list, but I think the council's thinking on putting everything forward like this is due to the infrastructure package that has been proposed and hopefully gets fully funded.

KUCB: So there’s a lot of federal money on the table right now from the infrastructure package and we’re taking our shot. So, let’s move onto the Arctic port. The city named that as a top priority this year. Very simply, what would it mean to make Unalaska an Arctic port?

ROBINSON: It would mean that we have a greater Coast Guard presence here than we already do. It would mean that the icebreakers that that the U.S. was building would be home ported here. And it would quite possibly mean that we would have a small military presence. And all all of those above would create an economy that is not solely reliant on fishing.

KUCB: Obviously building a military base would be a huge change for this community. And we’re going to be reporting more on this in the coming months. But for right now, let’s the impetus for this, the need behind it. Which you bring up as diversifying the economy. This is a very obvious question, but I'll ask it anyway — why is it important for Unalaska to diversify its economy?

ROBINSON: Well, it's really important, because if that fish stops swimming out there in the Bering Sea, if we take any more hits on some of the main species, like we did on crab this year, we are going to have a lot of people leave this community due to lack of jobs. And in doing so, it's quite possible that Safeway would not be able to continue to exist here, as well as Alaska Ship Supply. We would be back to a sleepy little village with no services.

KUCB: Well, there’s a lot going on, and a lot is at stake. And you’ll be heading to the capitol to make the case for Unalaska. We thank you and wish you the best of luck.

ROBINSON: Thank you.

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.
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