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University cuts could damage fisheries, Arctic research

A state fiscal crisis looms, and some of the Legislature’s budget cuts could send ripples into Alaska’s largest private employer and international political affairs.

Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole, passed a series of university budget cuts out of her subcommittee on March 4 that would lop $50 million from the university budget, largely from research and outreach funding.

IEP talks advance with Cook Inlet gas partner

The Interior Energy Project took a big step forward March 3 when the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority announced it is negotiating with a sole project partner to supply Cook Inlet natural gas to the Fairbanks area.

IEP Manager Bob Shefchik said to the AIDEA board that the proposal by Salix Inc. to build a small natural gas liquefaction facility on Point MacKenzie in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough is the best option for the project as it faces viability challenges brought on by low oil prices.

Museum exhibit to celebrate century of Alaska banking

The Alaska Heritage Museum will feature exhibits and speakers on March 14 at Wells Fargo’s Northern Lights Boulevard headquarters to celebrate a century of banking in Alaska.

Event speakers will include Ed Rasmuson, chairman of the Rasmuson Foundation, Terrence Cole, a professor of history from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, former Wells Fargo Alaska Regional President Richard Strutz, and current Wells Fargo Alaska Regional President Joe Everhart.

The event will begin at 5:30 p.m. on the first floor of 301 Northern Lights Blvd.

Fishing industry: Maximize existing rates before raising taxes

Gov. Bill Walker’s fisheries tax bill is still lingering in committee as fishermen and legislators try to stave off new taxes by turning the discussion to maximizing collections at existing rates.

By this point, several of the state’s largest fishing industry trade groups — including the United Fishermen of Alaska, Alaska Salmon Alliance, and the Pacific Seafood Processors Association, or PSPA — sent letters to legislators supporting the concept of fishing taxes but calling the bill too simple and too rushed to not harm the fishing industry unfairly.

Laukitis, Peterson nominated for North Pacific council

Gov. Bill Walker submitted nominations to fill two seats of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council on March 9.

Walker has nominated Buck Laukitis and Theresa Peterson to replace Duncan Fields and David Long among the 11 voting members of the council, one of eight regional councils established by the 1976 Magnuson-Stevens Act to oversee federal fisheries from three to 200 miles off the coast.

Fields has served his maximum of three, three-year terms, while Long has served just one.

Western governors: Changes needed to Endangered Species Act

DENVER (AP) — The nation needs to change the way it protects endangered species because the current practice is bogged down in lawsuits and weakened by mistrust, the head of the Western Governors Association said March 9.

Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead said March 9 the problem is nationwide and that he hopes to build bipartisan support for changes in the federal Endangered Species Act, the primary tool for protecting species on the brink of extinction.

Enstar to save $14M in first year of new gas deal with Hilcorp

The eventual return to a free Cook Inlet natural gas market is looking good for consumers as the latest round of gas supply contracts are signed by utilities.

Enstar Natural Gas Co. has reached a deal with Hilcorp Energy to fuel the lone Southcentral gas utility through March 2023 at prices more favorable than those outlined under the Consent Decree that regulates Inlet gas contracts through 2017.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Higher taxes on oil industry won’t fix fiscal gap

It was just 18 months ago that Alaskans voted for more oil production when they soundly rejected Ballot Measure 1, which sought to repeal Senate Bill 21, the More Alaska Production Act.

That vote has paid big dividends to Alaska, with forecasts projecting an additional 50,000 barrels of new oil per day through the Trans-Alaska pipeline System by 2020, and stabilizing the flow rate this year for the first time in many years.

FISH FACTOR: Arrowtooth flounder study focused on food competition

Fish stomachs could help solve the mystery of why Alaska halibut are so small for their age.

Halibut weights are about one-third of what they were 30 years ago, meaning a halibut weighing 120 pounds in the late 1980s is closer to 40 pounds nowadays.

One culprit could be arrowtooth flounders, whose numbers have increased 500 percent over the same time to outnumber the most abundant species in the Gulf: pollock.

EDITORIAL: University of Alaska isn’t to blame for state budget woes

Last week, the University of Alaska faced a barrage of skepticism from legislators unlike any the institution has seen in years. In hearings by the House Finance Committee’s subcommittee on the university budget, chairwoman Rep. Tammie Wilson put forth a mammoth cut that would have represented a loss of nearly a fifth of all state funding.

Alaska Communications posts positive net income to close 2015

Alaska Communications Systems Group Inc. posted strong final quarter for 2015 closing the year after the sale of Alaska Wireless Networks to General Communication Inc. in a move that reduced the company’s debt by $240 million and primed it to focus on increasing business revenues.

Balance sheets still reflect the sale and the departure of wireless revenue. Total operating revenue for fourth quarter 2015 declined, from $77.5 million in 2014 to $56.6 million in 2015. For the year, operating revenue declined from $315 million to $233 million.

GCI posts record revenue, but net income loss, for 2015

General Communication Inc. finished the fourth quarter of 2015 strong, with record revenues but negative income, courtesy of the purchase of Alaska Wireless Network. GCI posted a $10 million net income loss for 2015, following a $7.6 million net income in 2014.

Plan for Southeast alternative fuel revived with propane

Alaska has a love affair with natural gas, but Frank Avezac says rural areas of the state should at least consider a date with its little sister, propane.

Avezac is CEO of Alaska Intrastate Gas Co., a startup utility that March 4 announced plans to provide 17 coastal communities — from Kodiak to Metlakatla — with propane as an alternative to fuel oil with construction starting as soon as this year.

The aggressive proposal by Alaska Intrastate Gas Co. would start in Cordova with infrastructure buildout in 2016 and then move to Juneau, Valdez and Ketchikan.

The Bookworm Sez: Simple steps to success for newbies

Your to-do list doubled overnight.

That seems to happen once or twice a week, and it never gets any better. Tasks are finished and something else replaces them, which is what you’re told happens when you’re an entrepreneur — but if you read “The 100” by Tom Salonek, it might help you keep the list to a manageable status.

Movers and Shakers 3/13/16

Anna Kohler has been promoted to sales executive in USI’s Commercial Insurance Division at its Anchorage office. In her new capacity, Kohler will consult organizations on risk and insurance programs and will advise them as to the best coverage for potential risks unique to their business. Kohler has been with USI as an account manager since 2014. Kohler’s background includes more than more than six years of experience in insurance and risk management, with extensive knowledge of both health and property/casualty insurance. Kohler is a graduate of Baylor University.

Week 7 in Juneau: budget discussions quicken pace

JUNEAU—The Legislature passed its halfway mark this week, Day 45 on Thursday, and the pace of work is quickening.

Budget subcommittees in the state House finished their work on agency budgets last week. The House Finance Committee folded those into a draft operating budget bill.

Final amendments to that will be made in the committee. A final budget is set to go to the floor of the House by Wednesday, and then to the Senate by Friday. Meanwhile the Senate’s own budget subcommittees are at work.

Bleeding cash, still exploring on the North Slope

It might not be a great time to be an oil company, but independents across Alaska are saying “the show must go on” through their exploration and development work this winter.

One of the newest players on the North Slope, Australia-based junior 88 Energy Ltd. announced Feb. 29 that positive results from its first well Icewine No. 1 have led the company to start a two-dimensional seismic survey this month. 88 Energy plans to drill a second, horizontal exploration well, Icewine No. 2H, this year on its leases south of Prudhoe Bay, according to a company release.

DOD to spend $325M on Clear missile defense radar

Another big chunk of the roughly $1 billion the Defense Department is spending to upgrade the country’s missile defense system is headed to Alaska.

Missile Defense Agency Director Vice Admiral James Syring said Feb. 23 to during a presentation to the Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce that more than $325 million will be spent at Clear Air Force Station over the next six years to install a new power plant and missile detection radar.

Clear Air Force Station is a radar base located near Nenana along the Parks Highway southwest of Fairbanks.

Slashed spending by drillers could lead to price spike by 2020

HOUSTON (AP) — Oil prices will more than double by 2020 as current low prices lead drillers to cut investment in new production and gradually reduce the glut of crude, the head of a group of oil-importing countries said Feb. 22.

Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency, said oil would rise gradually to about $80 a barrel.

Oil prices shot to more than $100 a barrel in mid-2014 before a long slide sent them crashing below $30 last month.

Report: More imported gasoline drives up in-state price

The market for Alaska’s refineries is becoming even tougher with reduced demand and increased pressure to compete with imported fuels.

Though the state’s refineries are closer to markets in Alaska, reducing transportation costs, competitive pricing from refiners in Asia and the U.S. West Coast may challenge their businesses, according to a December 2015 report prepared for the Alaska Department of Natural Resources. California-based Econ One Research, Inc., completed the report in response to a request from the Alaska Senate Finance Committee.

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