Alaska and Maine: Partners in the Future of the Arctic
Written by Ilana Zyatitsky, who is interning at Institute of the North this summer. Ilana is from Anchorage and currently attend Colby College in Maine.
Maine’s location and resources ensure its status as a near Arctic state. Its largest city, Portland, is working to establish itself as a gateway to the high latitudes of the North Atlantic, an area that stretches from Maine to Newfoundland and Labrador in Canada, Greenland, Iceland, and The Faroe Islands, by focusing on opportunities in the Arctic such as maritime shipping. Maine is home to many companies investing in Arctic technologies and development that can benefit Northern communities. Additionally, leaders such as Maine Senator Angus King are working with Alaskans to advance collaboration between the two states and in support of goals that both states share in the U.S. Arctic.
Maine’s connection to Alaska can be seen in the states’ similar roles as gateways to the Arctic. Maine’s strategic location is conducive to Arctic shipping interests. The state is located in the midst of multiple trans-Atlantic shipping routes and sits at the northeast corner of the continental U.S, bordering Canada, another Arctic nation.
The private sector is taking notice of Maine’s location and increasingly, shipping companies are using the Port of Portland as a stopping point for northern shipping routes. For example, Eimskip, an Icelandic shipping company, moved operations from Norfolk, Virginia to Portland, Maine in 2013. Having access to a North Atlantic port allows the company to move goods directly between North America and Europe without transferring containers in Iceland, lowering costs. The number of Eimskip containers moving through the Port of Portland increased from 3,381 in 2013 to 6,339 in 2014. Eimskip’s exports from Iceland to Maine grew 807% from 2012-2013, (from $215,205 to $1.95 million). Container shipments are up more than 1,300% since 2011 at the Port of Portland and more than 105,000 metric tons of goods moved through the port in 2015, according to the Maine International Trade Center.
In addition to being a growing center of Arctic trade, Maine is home to valuable scientific and private sector resources such as the Arctic Museum and Study Center at Bowdoin College, the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences and the nation’s oldest climate change institute at the University of Maine. Additionally, the Maine North Atlantic Development Office was founded in 2013 to “increase trade and investment between Maine and markets of the North Atlantic Region and develop Maine’s policy in Arctic affairs.” Finally, Maine companies and organizations such as Ocean Renewable Power Company (ORPC), Pika Energy, and the Island Institute are working on power projects to provide renewable energy to Arctic communities. ORPC’s Maine Tidal Energy Project is “the first commercial, grid-connected tidal power project in the country, and the first ocean energy project in all of the Americas to deliver power to a public grid,” and is actively pursuing project development in Alaska. It was recognized by the National Hydropower Association for bringing hydropower to the Alaskan Bristol Bay village of Igiugig. Similarly, Pika Energy works to provide wind and solar renewable energy to communities including those in the Arctic. The Island Institute works to sustain Maine’s island and remote coastal communities.
The U.S. Senate Arctic Caucus is a great example of collaboration between the two states. Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski and Maine Senator Angus King formed the Senate Arctic Caucus in 2015, “to focus U.S. leadership in the Arctic as it pertains to issues of energy, defense, environment, and trade.” Its launch occurred shortly after Sen. King visited Barrow and the Arctic Ocean on a Navy submarine, and subsequently decided to become the ‘assistant Arctic Senator” to Sen. Murkowski. While the majority of Arctic Council meetings have been and will be held in Alaska under the U.S. Chairmanship of the Arctic Council (2015-2017), the upcoming Arctic Council Senior Arctic Officials’ meeting will be held in Portland, Maine in October 2016. With his and Murkowski’s shared commitment to the Arctic, and growing recognition of the need for partnership at subnational levels as well, Alaska and Maine can work together to advance Arctic interests.
Alaska and Maine both have invaluable roles to play in the future of the Arctic. Alaska benefits from having Maine as an Arctic ally while Maine can complement Alaska’s status as America’s Arctic State, and both can advance a common maritime, economic and security agenda. With both states playing vital roles economically as gateways to the Arctic, collaboration makes more sense than competition.