Treadwell calls on US to make use of the Arctic

New icebreakers crucial to developing region's value, he said

Posted: Thursday, February 17, 2011

A top official of the state that makes America an Arctic nation said the country needs to recognize and take advantage of that.

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MICHAEL PENN / Juneau Empire
MICHAEL PENN / Juneau Empire

A good first step, said Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell, would be building modern icebreakers so it could patrol and protect its coast.

“Don’t we, with as much coastline as the rest of the country put together, deserve the same kind of coverage?” Treadwell asked.

Treadwell, who resigned as chair of the U.S. Arctic Research Commission to run for lieutenant governor, spoke to the Juneau World Affairs Council Wednesday at Centennial Hall.

Treadwell said he spoke in the building’s Hickel Room for a specific reason, because of the former governor’s commitment to making use of and developing America’s arctic resources.

“Alaska is not just what it is, it is where it is,” Treadwell quoted Hickel as saying.

While the Alaskan Arctic has huge natural resource potential, including as much as 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil and 23 percent of its undiscovered natural gas, its location is now becoming particularly important.

The quickest way from some of the world’s most important cities, such as Tokyo and London, is directly through the Arctic, he said.

Whether that’s by ship, airplane or fiber-optic cable, Alaska stands to benefit, he said.

But that may take action by America, such as building icebreakers and developing special techniques for cleaning up oil in the arctic environment, he said.

Russia has already shipped petroleum through the Bering Strait, and will likely do more, he said.

For responding to others’ accidents or to allow development of its own resources, the country needs better cleanup ability, he said.

“I’m not saying that we have inadequate capability, but what I am saying is that what we do we could do better,” Treadwell said.

The nation’s ice breakers were built during the Nixon administration, and new ones are needed, he said.

“Those boats have been working hard for 30 years, 40 years, and they’re really on their last legs,” he said.

Unfortunately, new ice-breaking capability could cost more than $1 billion, he said, and it has been difficult to get in the federal budget.

“It gave the people at the Office of Management and Budget sticker shock,” he said.

Despite the price, the United States needs ice-capable cutters that are able to operate north of the Bering Strait year-round, he said.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 586-4816 or patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.



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