Sen. Ted Stevens played a key role in the development of science facilities throughout Alaska, particularly in rural Alaska. He felt that solutions based on science could help solve many of the problems communities faced. He also understood that climate change was real, and happening quickly.
In 2003, Stevens appropriated funds to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, to evaluate science needs in the arctic, to facilitate getting accurate scientific data, and to gain knowledge of the impacts of climate change. This came as a direct request from the residents of arctic Alaska, specifically the community of Barrow.
The senator was concerned about the lack of scientific research being conducted in the arctic. It was generally acknowledged that impacts of climate change appear first in the arctic. In the late 1940s through the 1970s, significant science was conducted in Barrow at the Naval Arctic Research Laboratory, In the early 1980s the Navy ended its research in Barrow. The facilities were turned over to Ukpeagvik Iñupiat Corp., the village corporation of Barrow.
Sen. Stevens felt it was critical to resume arctic research — taking the lead rather than falling behind other nations.
A year-long survey of the scientific community was launched to find entities interested in doing arctic research at new facilities in Barrow. This task was undertaken by BTS Professional Services, a UIC subsidiary, under a grant from NOAA.
Those familiar with NARL acknowledged that while the facilities did provide a limited support base for scientific research, they were dated and in need of replacement. Over the next 18 months, several meetings were held across the country to determine what a new research facility should include. Opinions were diverse, but at the end of the programming process, a vision had emerged. Stevens was very supportive of a new facility in Barrow as well as the prospective research to be conducted there.
Throughout this process, Stevens continued to remind program planners that budget constraints were a critical part of the process. These constraints resulted in the facility being broken into five phases. The senator was able to get congressional approval for funding to begin the first of these phases in 2005. Supplemental funding in 2006 allowed the completion of the first phase of the project in 2007, now known as the Barrow Arctic Research Center.
The first phase brought modern laboratories, a communications auditorium, and infrastructure for all five phases including site development, IT space and mechanical systems.
Stevens attended the grand opening ceremony held in June 2007 along with Rep. Don Young and many community and local government members.
During the trip, Stevens took note of what was going on in the community. On the ride out to the facility, although it was freezing, he stopped to observe the erosion occurring along the coast. He also visited the old NARL facility, looking at how it had aged and had become obsolete in the role of supporting modern science.
As things changed in Congress, Stevens said that it was becoming much harder to get funding for specific projects such as the remaining phases of BARC. He truly believed that the science conducted from this facility was needed for the scientific community to understand climate change on a national and international level. He also believed that decisions in regard to climate change needed to be based on science, not on events.
Although it was an uphill battle, the senator continued to push Congress for funds to begin the next phase of the facility. He continued his support as long as he was a senator, and beyond. Thanks to the tenacity of Ted Stevens, there is a functional first phase of a modern scientific research facility in Barrow that researchers are using to better understand the environment in which we live.
The UIC board of directors, employees, and shareholders extend their deepest condolences to the family of Sen. Ted Stevens, and celebrate the contributions he has made to the people of Alaska, Native communities, his family, his friends, and our great nation.