Three officials from the U.S. State Department are in Maine this week on a scouting mission to determine if Portland should host an international forum for delegates from eight Arctic nations, possibly including Secretary of State John Kerry.

It would be the first-ever such meeting in the United States outside of Alaska and would draw between 150 and 200 people, including government officials, climate scientists and leaders of indigenous people who live in the Arctic.

The Arctic Council’s Senior Arctic Officials meeting is scheduled for Oct. 4-6, 2016. The State Department will soon decide whether the meeting will take place in Portland or somewhere in Alaska, said Dana Eidsness, director of the Maine North Atlantic Development Office.

“Maine would be in the international spotlight,” she said, “and it’s an opportunity for us as Mainers to show what we have to offer.”

The officials from the State Department are Marilynne Bonner, an administrative officer; Isabel Gates, a conference coordinator; and Nomi Seltzer, an Arctic affairs adviser who is one of nine State Departments officials with leadership roles in the Arctic Council during the next two years, when the United States will chair the council.

In September 2016, Portland will host an Arctic Council working group to focus on protecting the marine environment in the Arctic.


The Arctic Council is a high-level intergovernmental forum that addresses environmental and economic issues faced by the indigenous people of the Arctic and governments with Arctic territories. It has eight member countries: Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States. Each nation takes a turn at chairing the council, which means hosting the meetings and setting the agenda.

Maine is some 1,500 miles south of the Arctic Circle, but officials and businesses leaders in Maine are trying to position the state as a gateway to the “high north” because of its geographic location at the northeast corner of the nation and its business ties with the Icelandic shipping line Eimskip.

Eimskip, which two years ago moved its North American headquarters from Virginia to Portland, connects Maine with ports throughout the North Atlantic, including Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Iceland, Greenland, the Faroe Islands, Norway and Russia.

State Department officials are scheduled to meet Tuesday with Larus Isfeld, Eimskip USA’s managing director, and Eimskip President Gylfi Sigfusson, as well as officials with the Maine Port Authority, the Maine International Trade Center and the New England Ocean Cluster, a private group with an Icelandic investor that plans to build a business incubator on the Maine State Pier.

They will also meet officials from the University of Maine Climate Institute and the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences and then travel to Brunswick to tour the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum at Bowdoin College.

On Wednesday, the group will look at hotels and conference venues in Portland and ride a Casco Bay Lines ferry to look at a location for a lobster bake on an island in the bay.

The Senior Arctic Officials meeting typically takes place twice a year. Canada, which has chaired the Arctic Council for the past two years, has chosen to hold meetings in remote locations in the Canadian Arctic that are difficult and expensive to reach for delegates traveling from different parts of the world. The most recent meeting, in March, took place in the city of Whitehorse in the Yukon.

By contrast, Portland, which has a medium-sized airport and public transportation connections to Boston’s Logan International Airport, would be a relatively easy place to get to.

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