ANCHORAGE - Plans for two historic celebrations in 2009, honoring the centennial of the Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition, and Alaska's 50th year of statehood, are gathering steam in Anchorage and Seattle.
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The events are one area of focus of the Anchorage Seattle Economic Cooperation Council, established on June 29 in Anchorage when mayors Mark Begich of Anchorage and Greg Nickels of Seattle signed an agreement on economic development and cooperation.
"It will be a big deal for both communities; these are milestone events," said Michelle Chen, a spokeswoman for Nickels.
Seattle's mayor has also expressed strong interest in joint training exercises in emergency services between Anchorage and Seattle, Chen said.
In Anchorage, meanwhile, Begich is planning to host a national climate change conference in Girdwood Sept. 16-18, inviting about 40 mayors from around the country to attend, said Dave Ramseur, a spokesman for the Anchorage mayor.
Climate change was one of several issues which Begich and Nickels agreed in June to tackle together, along with expanded business and other ties between their cities.
Begich said he supports Nickels' initiative to encourage American cities to reduce emissions that contribute to global climate change. This initiative will encourage energy efficiency and waste reduction, and could result in lower city utility bills and other reduced fuel consumption, resulting in savings to taxpayers, Begich said.
Nickels said he applauded the work of University of Alaska scientists for leading the world in research related to climate change, and the Alaska Legislature for legislation to create a commission to study the impact of global warming.
"For me the 'aha' moment came during the winter of 2004 and 2005," Nickels said. "We experienced a record- low snowfall in the Cascade Mountains, which meant no ski season, which is a tragedy in and of itself. But, more importantly, it meant less water for us to drink and for us to create electricity from our dams."
Nickels said he felt that even in the absence of federal leadership on the issue of global warming, government entities could make a difference at the local level.
Anchorage was the first city in Alaska to sign on to Nickels' U.S. Mayors Climate Agreement, pledging to reduce greenhouse gas emission by 7 percent compared to 1990 levels.
Individuals alone cannot conquer the global warming issues, "but together the power of 57 million Americans, taking local action on a city-by-city basis can make a huge difference," Nickels said.
Begich and Nickels also said they want to work jointly on economic development, higher education, emergency preparedness and cultural exchanges.
"Our two cities are linked by a shared history and a shared future," Nickels said. "By working together, we will create new opportunities to strengthen our economies, enliven our cities and improve our environment."
"For years, Seattle and Anchorage worked together for mutual prosperity," Begich said. "Lately that cooperation has given way to partisan squabbling. It's time to put that behind us and capitalize on the enormous opportunities before us in business, culture and education."