Open Letter to President Obama from 8 regional organizations

Dear Mr. President:

Quyaana (thank you) for considering a visit to Qikiktaġruk (Kotzebue), Alaska. We represent Northwest Arctic tribal entities, Alaska Native corporations, local governments, educational institutions, and an energy producer.

We appreciate your recognition of tribal governments’ unique legal relationship with the United States and your commitment to implementing Executive Order 13175.

Our experience in Northwest Alaska is that local governments and Alaska Native corporations face the same challenges as Tribes. We are agreed it is critical the federal government consult with all potentially impacted stakeholders including Tribes, local governments, and Alaska Native corporations regarding any agency action.

Pivotal to the future of the Arctic, in addition to consultation, is our ability to prepare current and future generations to support a sustainable and secure Arctic. The workforce requires education and specific job training to meet the future challenges of the State and the region.

Northwest Alaska supports your desire to keep the United States at the forefront of the global effort to address the impacts and causes of climate change.

CLIMATE CHANGE

While other parts of the nation are just beginning to feel the impacts of a warming planet, Northwest Alaska has been at the forefront of this battle for decades, demonstrating preparedness, adaptation, and resilience.

Our region is home to Kivalina, one of the world’s most visibly impacted communities. Situated on a low-lying barrier island, Kivalina was historically protected from the Chukchi Sea by shore-fast ice formed early in the fall. Now, the protective shore-fast ice forms much later allowing fall and winter storms to barrel into the community, bringing floods and severe erosion in their wake. Water resources, subsistence foods, critical infrastructure, economic development, education of children, and the overall quality of life is at risk because of a warming environment. The continued threat of coastal erosion in Kivalina impacts every resident, every day.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers predicts the current village site will be completely uninhabitable within ten years due to melting ice, coastal erosion, and rising sea levels. Building of a road is imperative now for the safety of village residents for evacuation and relocation efforts. The community has applied for assistance through the Innovative Readiness Training Program but has not been selected. It is not within the purview of any federal agency to currently assist, and we urge you to designate and give appropriate authority to a federal agency to address community evacuation needs.

Through a variety of innovative partnerships, we apply a collaborative approach to coping with climate impacts. For example, the City of Kotzebue worked for many years with support from local and regional organizations to complete the pre-planning and design to address the impacts of yearly storms eroding Sikiagruk Shore Avenue.

This effort resulted in the project being shovel-ready when Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). Now, Sikiagruk Shore Avenue has become a secure and attractive barrier to erosion. This example of a successful climate change mitigation project includes 3,300 feet of sheet pile and 1,100 feet of rock revetment safely protecting Kotzebue. We are proud of Sikiagruk Shore Avenue and the process by which we worked together to make it a reality.

STRATEGIC INFRASTRUCTURE

Developing ports, roads, renewable energy, and broadband positions the U.S. for leadership in the Arctic. As a result, we will have the emergency and defense resources to protect our Nation and our Arctic assets. From a strategic perspective, Northwest Alaska is an ideal location to invest in infrastructure because of its geographic position. Investing in infrastructure will not only benefit the residents of Northwest Alaska today, but it will also provide the backbone of Arctic Infrastructure essential to national security and economic interests.

A port at Cape Blossom will provide the United States a strategic location in the Arctic and provide economic relief to all the communities in Northwest Alaska. Uniquely positioned in a safe harbor, the Cape Blossom Port allows the U.S. Coast Guard and other emergency resources to respond to ship groundings, vessel emergencies and oil spills in the Arctic. For more than 30 years, the City of Kotzebue, with support from partner organizations, has been working to make the Cape Blossom Port a reality. We urge you to invest in a system of Arctic ports and harbors.

To embrace the opportunities of a changing Arctic, the Northwest Arctic Borough School District is preparing youth and adults to meet future workforce needs. We are the only public school system in Alaska with a post-secondary training facility, the Alaska Technical Center (ATC). In partnership with the University of Alaska, Kotzebue High School, and ATC, the Star of the Northwest Magnet School recently opened to prepare students in grades 11-14 for careers in process technology, education, healthcare, and culinary arts. The innovative educational and job training programs we have established require funding for structure and operational costs. GAP funding by the federal government is critical to maintaining these programs.

SUSTAINABLE ARCTIC DEVELOPMENT

Northwest Alaska has real world experience with weighing the economic impacts of subsistence and natural resource development, successfully navigating this area through dialogue and cooperation.

Founded on the principles of consensus, cooperation and mutual respect, the Red Dog Mine, owned by NANA Regional Corp. (NANA), is one of the world’s largest zinc and lead mines and an example of successful Arctic development. The region’s engagement with the Red Dog Mine serves as a model for how indigenous peoples, private corporations, and government can participate in Arctic development in a respectful and mutually beneficial way.

Applying a similar model with respect to Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) drilling will benefit communities, the state, and the nation. Under existing federal law, royalties from OCS development are directed solely to the federal government. Directing a portion of those revenues to tribal and local governments that take on the greatest risk with respect to development is imperative. We draw your attention to a promising solution to this challenge: Senator Murkowski’s recently-introduced “Offshore Production and Energizing National Security Act” (OPENS Act). We support this legislation, including its creation of a Tribal Resilience Program, a fund for tribal entities to promote resilient communities through investments in energy systems and critical infrastructure to combat erosion and improve health and safety.

We ask you to support this legislation so that the Alaska Arctic is provided with a stable, long-term source of support for addressing the impacts of development (including climate change) at a level that is proportionate to the substantial costs and risks that we bear from such activity.

ENERGY

Diesel fuel is the primary source of energy for electricity and home heating in rural Alaska. The communities of Northwest Alaska pay an average of $9.00 per gallon for diesel to heat their homes and businesses. These costs stifle economic development and put many families in the position of choosing between food and heat. Our region is focused on a coordinated approach that includes hybrid systems designed to reduce diesel consumption and increase use of renewable energy.

Renewable energy innovation is a key component of the energy picture in Northwest Alaska. The Kotzebue Electric Association (KEA) Wind Farm, the northernmost wind farm in the United States, is an excellent example of success. In operation since 1997, the KEA Wind Farm is the first utility-scale wind farm in Alaska. Supplementing diesel power with wind, the wind farm carries a total installed capacity of 3 MW of wind power, displacing approximately 250,000 gallons of diesel every year at 20% annual diesel savings. Today, KEA is looking to harnessing excess wind energy to supply thermal energy to the local hospital and will be installing a utility scale Lithium-ion battery.

Solutions like this are helping, but costs continue to remain high. Many Department of Energy programs focus solely on renewable energy. The Department of Energy needs to improve funding mechanisms for hybrid renewable energy projects.

We are committed to working with you to find solutions that will benefit and maintain the security of the Arctic for the nation. As representatives of those who have experienced firsthand the effects of climate change we invite you to study, innovate and collaborate with us, so that together we can create a sustainable Arctic with thriving and vibrant communities. The Arctic is our home. Its future is our future.

Respectfully,

Northwest Arctic Borough
Maniilaq Association
NANA Regional Corporation, Inc.
Northwest Arctic Borough School District
Kikiktagruk Iñupiat Corporation
City of Kotzebue
Kotzebue Electric Association
Native Village of Kotzebue