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Arctic Mayors Group Convenes First Meeting, Issues ‘Pan-Arctic Cooperation’ Declaration

A first-of-its kind pan-Arctic meeting of local leaders …

While top diplomats from eight circumpolar nations gathered in Fairbanks last week for national-level meetings related to the biennial Arctic Council ministerial, 11 local-government officials from around the region got together on the other side of town  to share ideas on how they all can better serve their communities.

“We want to make sure that we can unify as a voice that can be heard more in the national and international discussions about the Arctic,” says Christin Kristoffersen, former mayor of the Norwegian community of Longyearbyen. She served as a moderator and facilitator of the Arctic Mayors Roundtable meeting held May 11th at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Credit Tim Ellis/KUAC
Municipal officials from around the Arctic exchange ideas during last week's Arctic Mayors Roundtable in the Butrovich Building on the UAF campus.

“We want to make sure that we have pan-Arctic cooperation, that we share best practices, that we learn from each other, and that our voice gets stronger when it comes to communicating with the rest of the world.” Kristoffersen said.

Madeleine Redfern, mayor of Iqaluit, the capital of the Canadian territory of Nunavut, says the meeting enabled the municipal officials to exchange concerns and ideas on managing communities in often-remote locations.

“Often, what we find is that our regional levels of government or national states are engaging with each other, or leaving us out,” she said. “And yet, we’re the closest level of government to the people. And we often have the least resources, to deal with delivering the most basic needs.”

Credit Tim Ellis/KUAC
Facilitator Christin Kristoffersen, left, presents Declaration of Arctic Mayors signatories, from her left: Madeleine Redfern, Iqaluit, Nunavut; Richard Beneville, Nome; Clement Richards, Kotzebue; Kristin Roymo, Tromso, Norway; Jim Matherly, Fairbanks; Karl Kassel, Fairbanks North Star Borough; Ida Maria Pinnerod, Bodo, Norway; Eirikur Bjorn Bjorgvinsson, Akureyri, Iceland; Esko Lotvonen, Rovaniemi, Finland; Frank Kelty, Unalaska. Missing: Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz.

The mayors all talked about the challenges of running municipal governments in often harsh conditions that climate change has made more unpredictable. And coping with the logistical challenges of operating in sometimes remote locations with little infrastructure -- as recounted by Frank Kelty, the mayor of Unalaska.

“We have no roads,” he said. “It’s a thousand-dollar plane trip from Anchorage 800 miles to Unalaska. The cost of living is very high out there. We have no fiber-optic cable, and the cost of bringing fiber-optic cable is going to be astronomical, probably.”

Near the end of the meeting, the officials drafted a Declaration of Arctic Mayors, which outlines their aspirations for building better Arctic governance.

Kristoffersen says she hopes the roundtable meetings will become an annual event.

Next week: Diverse communities face different challenges, mayors say.

Editor's note: This story was revised to correct a misspelling of Christin Kristoffersen's name.

Tim has worked in the news business for over three decades, mainly as a newspaper reporter and editor in southern Arizona. Tim first came to Alaska with his family in 1967, and grew up in Delta Junction before emigrating to the Lower 48 in 1977 to get a college education and see the world.