AJC Web

Travel writer visits Alaska to advise on 'geotourism'

Veteran travel writer Jonathan Tourtellot was in Alaska last week meeting with community leaders on “geotourism,” a strategy for enhancing regional historic and cultural values as a way of strengthening the local benefits of tourism. Tourtellot originated the concept, he said, during years writing for National Geographic Magazine and National Geographic Traveler, where he developed the magazine’s annual survey of Destination Stewardship and the Geographic’s Center for Sustainable Destinations. In Alaska, Tourtellot is working with communities through the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Cooperative Extension Service. Tourtellot says mass tourism, if not properly managed, can be destructive to a community. The industry is being driven globally by a sharp increase in international and domestic tourism and that underpins the industry’s steady growth in Alaska, Tourtellot said in an interview. Tourism brings a lot of benefits, but it also has downsides for communities on the cruise ship circuit, including congestion when several ships are in town. For community leaders, the message is, “if you live in an attractive place like Alaska and you don’t take charge of tourism management, someone else will. Tourism should be up to the people who live in a place,” Tourtellot said. “However, done well, tourism can do a lot of good. It can bring economic benefits to places that need it, and it can be one of the few ways we have to educate adults,” about places and the need to protect them. “For the community, it also creates an economic incentive to protect local assets, which can include historic buildings as well as scenery.” The concept of eco-tourism is well understood these days and cultural tourism, a variation, is growing as a market niche. However, the concept of “geotourism” that Tourtellot in nurturing is broader and includes historical sites. The idea is to preserve all of a community’s local assets so as to sustain a niche industry, he said. Alaskans often think of tourism with cruise ships and tour buses in mind but there are a lot of people in the mass of visitors coming north each year who are interested in the history and culture of places they visit, Tourtellot. Surveys in other states, such as Montana, show that visitors with special interests tend to stay in places longer and spend more money, he said. He suggested that Alaska visitor surveys done periodically by the Alaska Travel Industry Association include questions about specific interests visitors may have as well as gathering general information about spending. Tourtellot is working with the university’s Cooperative Extension Service on possible cataloging of historical and cultural assets in the Bristol Bay and Lake and Peninsula Boroughs that could become visitor attractions. Meetings were held last week with officials from both municipalities on the project, according to Tony Nakazawa, a UAF professor of economics, who sat in on the meetings. While in Southeast Alaska, Tourtellot visited Huna Totem Corp.’s Icy Point destination for cruise visitors and came away favorably impressed. “It was all done pretty well, including the interpretation so that people could understand what they were seeing,” in the way of historical and cultural displays, he said. “The cannery there was very well restored, and it’s a nice example of an old facility being reused. “The shops do well with displaying ‘Alaska-made’ and the sales there also benefit the local schools. The place has a pleasant summer-camp feeling.” The zip-line rides, a mile-long ride through the tops of the Southeast Forest, is the only bow to commercial-type recreation but time during the 45-minute bus ride up the mountain to the zip-line was used well to explain the local environment and terrain, he said. Juneau was another matter. The capital city has a stunning natural setting and plenty of interesting history, but visitors have to navigate the t-shirt and jewelry shops to get to it, Tourtellot said. “I saw lot of Tanzanite jewelry. Who comes to Alaska to buy Tazanite? There’s only one place in the world where Tanzanite is found — Tanazania. Certainly not Alaska,” he said. Juneau’s community leaders aren’t happy with all that, either. Tourtellot met with local business and tour industry officials and found plenty of frustration. “They felt the wrong image of Juneau was being sent, and also felt the economic side effects, like rents being jacked up in the summer,” Tourtellot said. Tourtellot also gives good marks to Seward and the Alaska Sealife Center there as an example of an interesting educational offering to visitors. The Sealife Center is conceptually modeled on the highly-successful Monterey Bay Aquarium near Carmel, Calif., he said. Local tour leaders in Juneau would like to see something like Seward’s center, perhaps more focused on ocean interpretation, which seems natural given the access to coastal environment and the presence of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s prestigious Auke Bay Laboratory in the city.

AJOC EDITORIAL: Greenpeace has earned a contempt citation

With Greenpeace USA engaged in yet another attempt to thwart Shell’s Arctic exploration efforts, it is time for a federal judge to hold it accountable for continued and brazen violations of the injunction she issued May 8 ordering the group to stay away from the company’s vessels. On July 29, a group of 13 activists dangled themselves from a bridge in Portland, Ore., in a declared attempt to stop the 380-foot ice handling vessel Fennica from leaving port after repairs are complete on the hull damage suffered on an uncharted shoal while leaving Dutch Harbor July 3. Speaking for the group was none other than Greenpeace USA Executive Director Annie Leonard. This follows Greenpeace USA leading a kayak blockade against the Polar Pioneer drilling platform as tugs were attempting to pull it out of Puget Sound on June 15 in which more than a dozen were arrested for violating Coast Guard safety zones around the vessels. A couple days later off the coast of Vancouver Island, the Greenpeace USA vessel Esperanza intercepted the Polar Pioneer in transit, repeatedly dropping a banner supported by bouys in front of the rig and even tossing swimmers into its path. The Esperanza, you may recall, also facilitated the scaling of the Polar Pioneer by six pirates including one from Greenpeace USA as it crossed the Pacific Ocean during April. They quit the rig April 11, just before the issuance of a temporary restraining order against Greenpeace USA that preceded the full injunction issued May 8.  Reckless, stupid and illegal only begin to describe Greenpeace USA’s actions. The only question now is how long Alaska U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Gleason will continue to allow Greenpeace USA to thumb its collective nose at her injunctive order. Shell isn’t sitting idly by in the face of Greenpeace USA’s lawlessness. The company has filed a request with Gleason seeking nearly $60,000 in attorneys’ fees from Greenpeace USA based on its expenses responding to not one, not two, not three, but five different motions filed in the Alaska U.S. District Court and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals seeking to have the injunction stayed. Shell is alleging that Greenpeace USA never had any intention of complying with Gleason’s injunction, and points to the fact that the stay motions were withdrawn at the early dawn hour of 5:46 a.m. Pacific time on June 15. That’s the precise time of day Greenpeace USA was leading the kayak blockade of the Polar Pioneer in Seattle. Shell is also pointing to the testimony of Greenpeace Arctic Campaigner Mary Sweeters, who stated the following under direct examination from the group’s attorney during the injunction hearing: Q: “Does Greenpeace USA at this time have any plans to physically block Shell from moving its vessels up to the Arctic?” A: “To my knowledge, no.” Q: “Does Greenpeace USA at this time have any plans to block Shell, physically, from doing anything with respect to its Arctic exploration campaign?” A: “To my knowledge, no.” The attempt at plausible deniability — “to my knowledge” — is cute, but the dishonesty of Greenpeace USA’s representations to the court is anything but. It is obvious Greenpeace USA never intended to obey Gleason’s injunction, and once it was clear the group wasn’t going to get a stay it abandoned all pretence of compliance. The group is also well aware of the risks of civil contempt it is taking. In Sweeters’ declaration to the court seeking relief from the one-kilometer safety zone Gleason ordered, she stated the fear of civil contempt charges should Shell allege it wasn’t keeping a proper distance from its vessels. Greenpeace USA is protesting Shell’s request for attorneys’ fees, calling the motion a disguised attempt at a contempt order. In response, Shell wrote in a July 20 brief that it has every intention of filing a contempt motion. The bridge danglers in Portland and the open role of Greenpeace USA in their action, combined with a long list of violations of the injunction preceding it, should be all Gleason needs to hold the group in contempt.

Sockeye harvest tops 2014 as Bristol Bay run nears forecast

Bristol Bay’s late-arriving sockeye run has contributed to a healthy commercial harvest of more than 47.6 million sockeye statewide, though some fisheries have yet to heat up with strangely behaving tardy returns. Statewide, the sockeye harvest has already surpassed the 2014 total and on the contentious Kenai River, king salmon have rebounded from the lows of 2012-14 and the run size has eased restrictions on all user groups. After one of the latest run starts in the history of the fishery, Bristol Bay is nosing closer to its original Alaska Department of Fish and Game commercial harvest projection of 37.6 million. As of July 29, the total commercial sockeye harvest in Bristol Bay is 35.5 million fish. Volume is only one part of the equation that’s started Bristol Bay fishermen at 50 cents per pound for their sockeye, far less than the $1.20 per pound paid last year. In Upper Cook Inlet, the sockeye harvest is less rosy but biologists from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game are confident it will improve. The July 24 cumulative commercial harvest was 1.7 million sockeye, far less than the average for that date. On July 28, ADFG loosened bag limits for sockeye sport fishermen in response to healthy projections for Upper Cook Inlet salmon. ADFG projects the Kenai River sockeye salmon late-run will exceed 2.3 million fish and anticipates the escapement goal of 700,000 to 1.2 million sockeye salmon will be achieved. For king salmon, the Kenai River is looking up from previous years. ADFG restored the Kenai River sport fishery to bait and allowed for the retention of one king salmon per household in the personal use dipnet fishery. On July 27, the in-river run totaled 15,082 kings at the Mile 14 sonar counter, barely crossing the lower end of the escapement goal and exceeding the cumulative count for same date last year by nearly 8,000 fish. Copper River reds are coming in on average. As of July 24, the total Copper River District harvest is 1.42 million sockeye and 22,800 chinook salmon. The 5-year harvest averages for July 20 1.77 million sockeye salmon and 11,345 chinook salmon, respectively. Prince William Sound pink salmon are setting records. The total pink salmon harvest through July 22 is estimated at 33.5 million fish, the largest amount on record for that date. Chignik had a late run similar to those in Bristol Bay and Upper Cook Inlet. On July 28, the total commercial sockeye harvest was 989,000 sockeyes, far fewer than the projected harvest of 1.9 million. Through July 27, the Kodiak commercial haul is 4.9 million pink salmon and 1.6 million sockeye salmon. Southeast Alaska harvests total 3.7 million pink salmon and 3.2 million chum salmon to date. For the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim management area, the chinook salmon run has been characteristically low. At the Pilot Station sonar/weir site, the Yukon River has counted 115,699 chinook salmon, which is less that last year’s count of a 137,558 at the same date and roughly the same as 2013.

Movers & Shakers 8/02/15

Better Business Bureau serving Alaska, Oregon and Western Washington announced the 2015 winners of the Alaska Business of the Year Torch Awards: CIRI Alaska Tourism Corp., Alaska Large Business of the Year; The Wilson Agency, Alaska Medium Business of the Year; Hogins Plumbing & Heating, Alaska Small Business of the Year. This year’s Alaska judges included Brenda Hanson, Maureen Haggblom, Archana Mishra and Kevin Turkington.  The Torch Award winners will be honored at the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce Make it Monday Forum on Aug. 17. Katie Reeves has joined CIRI Alaska Tourism as lodging sales manager. A graduate of Northwestern University with a bachelor’s degree in communications, Katie brings to CATC experience in negotiations, presentations, TV and video production, and strong writing skills. Her recent work experience has been with Connect Alaska and the State of Alaska Division of Economic Development over the past three years. She is also an experienced Olympic Trials swimmer and triathlete, published author and on-air anchor/reporter Producer for Channel 11 in both Fairbanks and Anchorage.  Rob Luis has accepted the position of Construction Division general manager at UIC Design Plan Build. Luis will work with company managers to oversee operations for three UIC-owned construction firms: UIC Construction, Rockford Corp. and Kautaq Construction. Prior to joining the UIC Design Plan Build team, Luis most recently served as division manager for Sunland Construction in Colorado. There, he led project teams constructing oil and gas distribution lines and was responsible for approximately $100 million in project revenue. Luis holds a bachelor’s degree in aeronautics from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University and a master’s degree in business administration from Keller Graduate School. The University of Alaska Southeast announced the appointment of Ketchikan Campus Director Dr. Priscilla Schulte as UAS Interim Provost for the coming academic year. A search for a permanent Provost is slated to commence in August. Schulte will begin her new assignment on Aug. 9. She is expected to remain in the role through the 2015-16 academic year with a hope that a new provost will be on board in early summer 2016.  Schulte will remain Ketchikan Campus Director but she will move to Juneau for the duration of this assignment. She will continue to return to Ketchikan periodically over the course of the academic year. Herman G. Walker Jr. was appointed to the Anchorage Superior Court. Walker will replace Judge Philip Volland, who is retiring on Aug. 31 after serving on the Anchorage Superior Court for more than 12 years. An Alaska resident of 23 years and a practicing attorney of 22 years, Walker has worked in both private practice and the public sector throughout Alaska. For the past 15 years, he has been a partner at Limón & Walker, where he has represented injured parties, criminal defendants, corporations, and family law litigants. Walker has also worked for the Office of Public Advocacy and the State Public Defender Agency. He received a bachelor degree in political science from Arizona State University, and a juris doctor from the University of Wyoming College of Law. Matson Inc. announced that Kenny Gill, previously senior director of operations for Horizon Lines’ Alaska division, has been promoted to the position of Vice President, Alaska. In his new role, Gill has management responsibility for all Matson operations in Alaska, including terminal operations, customer service, sales, and financial performance of the company’s terminals in Anchorage, Kodiak and Dutch Harbor. Gill’s appointment follows Matson’s May 29, 2015, acquisition of the Alaska operations of Horizon Lines and subsequent retirement of Marion Davis, Horizon’s vice president and general manager for Alaska. As senior director of operations for Horizon since 2009, Gill was responsible for overseeing and coordinating operations at the company’s terminals in Tacoma, Anchorage, Kodiak and Dutch Harbor. Gill holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from Boston University, an MSA in accountancy from Bentley College Graduate School of Business and an MBA from the University of Washington’s Michael G. Foster School of Business. The Board of Trustees of the Nature Conservancy in Alaska announced the election of four new trustees. The board elected Joe Marushack, John Springsteen, Bob Waldrop, and T. Henry Wilson at its recent meeting in Talkeetna. Marushack is president of ConocoPhillips Alaska. Previously, he served as president of ConocoPhillips Canada, where he managed the company’s oil sands and Canadian Arctic developments, and as president of the company’s Asia Pacific and Middle East operations. Springsteen is the executive director of Anchorage Industrial Development and Export Authority. Before joining AIDEA, he worked for global audit, tax and advisory firms Grant Thornton LLP, PwC, and Deloitte and with the management consulting firms Bridge Strategy Group and The Chicago Group. Waldrop is the former executive director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association. He is a founder and past vice president of NorQuest Seafoods, served as special assistant to Alaska Gov. Jay Hammond, and has served as a business consultant for clients across Alaska. Wilson is a lawyer, pilot and part owner of the Tordrillo Mountain Lodge. He currently works as a pilot for Rust’s Flying Service. As an assistant attorney general for the natural resources section for the state of Alaska, he played a role in fisheries law and policy.

Tongass exemption to Roadless Rule overturned

Editor's note: This story has been updated with a response from the Alaska Department of Law. JUNEAU — The Tongass will be roadless once more. The U.S. 9th Circuit Court today upheld a lower court ruling 6-5 that overturned the Tongass National Forest’s exemption to the President George W. Bush-era rule prohibiting road construction and timber harvests on 58.5 million acres of Nation Forest System Land. In 2003, the Tongass was granted an exemption, which was successfully appealed in 2011. The issue has been in and out of courts ever since. In March 2014, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the exemption but decided to rehear arguments. The en banc court, which means all 9th Circuit judges heard the case, found that the 2003 exemption was invalid because the U.S. Department of Agriculture “failed to provide a reasoned explanation for contradicting the findings of the 2001 Record of Decision” while also not meeting requirements under the Administrative Procedure Act. Without an exemption, Alaska can’t build new roads in the Tongass, where they are crucial for logging interior sections of the archipelago that makes up Southeast Alaska. Opponents of the rule have argued it blocks the state from millions of dollars of economic development in the nation’s largest national forest. Proponents say the rule is needed to protect wildlife and natural habitat. In actuality, the decision isn’t likely to have a major impact since no road projects are underway or planned at this time, said Earthjustice attorney Eric Jorgensen. “This is mostly about ensuring roadless protection continues into the future,” he said. Environmentalists are hailing the ruling as a victory all the same. “Today’s decision is great news for the Tongass National Forest and for all those who rely on its roadless areas,” Eathjustice attorney Tom Waldo said in a statement. “The remaining wild and undeveloped parts of the Tongass are important fish and wildlife habitat and vital to residents and visitors alike for hunting, fishing, recreation, and tourism, the driving forces of the regional economy.” Earthjustice, a nonprofit law firm, was one of 12 plaintiffs in the case. The 2003 exemption of the Tongass was first challenged in a lawsuit filed by the Organized Village of Kake, Earthjustice, the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council and other environmental and tourism organizations. “This is great news for fishing families like mine, tourism businesses, and all who are working to create diverse, stable economies in Southeast Alaskan communities,” SEACC Executive Director Malena Marvin said in a statement. “Our leaders should join those of us on the ground in building economic prosperity for local communities by saving the Tongass’s wild salmon strongholds and making sure the Forest Service invests in our booming tourism and fishing industries.” The Department of Agriculture was named as a defendant of the suit, but it declined to appeal the district court’s ruling against exempting the Tongass. The state of Alaska then stepped in as an intervenor-defendant in the most recent lawsuit, as did the Alaska Forest Association. A statement from Gov. Bill Walker and U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski were not immediately available. Murkowski has long advocated for the Tongass to be exempt and in March introduced legislation that would exempt Alaska. “Striking down the Tongass’ exemption to the roadless rule was a terrible decision. … The people of Southeast Alaska knew it, and so did the state,” she told the Empire in 2014. Robert Dillon, Murkowski’s energy expert, said the issue isn’t just about logging but developing infrastructure. “There have been multiple promises that (U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell) would be flexible in how they applied it in Alaska because there are no roads, ... they already exist in the Lower 48. That doesn’t exist in the Tongass. ... (The ruling) really makes building roads to renewable energy projects, ... transmission lines to lower energy costs, roads to critical mineral mines ... very difficult now. It’s frustrating, I’m sure, to the residents of Southeast just as it is to our office." Gov. Bill Walker’s office referred comment to the Alaska Department of Law. “We are deeply disappointed by the Ninth Circuit’s ruling striking down the Roadless Rule exemption for Alaska,” Assistant Attorney General Cori Mills wrote in an email. “The exemption had been the result of a settlement between Alaska and the federal government, and its unfortunate that we have to go back to square one. In Southeast Alaska, the Roadless Rule sets aside so much land from timber harvest and road construction in support of mineral development, power projects, and geothermal development that the economy of Southeast is likely to suffer. The State will consider its options in this case, and we are still hopeful that our additional challenge to the Roadless Rule that is now before the D.C. District Court will be successful.” Judge Alex Kozinski wrote in his dissenting opinion: “... We are in the home stretch of the Obama administration and still litigating the validity of policy changes implemented at the start of the George W. Bush administration. How can a President with a mere four or eight years in office hope to accomplish any meaningful policy change — as the voters have a right to expect when they elect a new President — if he enters the White House tethered by thousands of Lilliputian ropes of administrative procedure? The glacial pace of administrative litigation shifts authority from the political branches to the judiciary and invites ... judicial policymaking.”

New director chosen for Alaska Division of Elections

JUNEAU (AP) — Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott has chosen a new director for Alaska's Division of Elections. Mallott asked for and accepted the resignation of Gail Fenumiai on Friday, said Claire Richardson, a special staff assistant to Mallott. Fenumiai will be replaced by Nome city manager Josie Bahnke, who is scheduled to begin her new role Oct. 1. Lauri Wilson, a regional elections supervisor, will serve as acting director in the meantime, Richardson said. It was Mallott's prerogative to make the change, and there was nothing personal about it, Richardson said. Mallott is thankful for the work Fenumiai has done for the state and wishes her well, Richardson said Monday. The lieutenant governor oversees elections in Alaska. Mallott took office Dec. 1. Fenumiai garnered national attention in 2010, during the hand-count of ballots in the U.S. Senate race between Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski and tea party favorite Joe Miller. Murkowski mounted a write-in campaign to keep her job after losing the GOP primary to Miller. Fenumiai's charge from legal counsel during the hand-count was to count for Murkowski's tally names phonetic to Murkowski or with slight misspellings. Murkowski ultimately prevailed. Richardson said there are a lot of changes happening within the division and now seemed like a good time to bring on a new director. Fenumiai had served in the role since 2008. The state has been involved in trying to reach a settlement in a 2013 lawsuit brought by several Native villages that alleged the state had failed to provide accurate, complete translations of voting materials in Native languages. As part of that case, the state argued that it had taken reasonable steps to implement standards for voting materials for non-English speakers. Bahnke is known as a collaborator, Richardson said. Bahnke said the opportunity to serve as the new elections director was unexpected, but she's excited to take that on. She said she's heard the division has a great team and looks forward to listening to and working with them. She will be based in Juneau. Efforts to reach Fenumiai by phone were not successful Monday.  

Exploration permits up in air after court ruling

State attorneys and natural resources officials are wrestling with the implications of a May 29 state Supreme Court decision requiring expanded public notice and review procedures for certain Miscellaneous Land Use Permits issued by the Department of Natural Resources. The decision, in a lawsuit brought by Nunamta Aulukestai, a Bristol Bay Tribal group, and three individuals, could have widespread effects in natural resource development if it opens opportunities for new litigation. At the least, it raises new uncertainties for projects, people familiar with the case say. Nunamta Aulukestai was contesting Miscellaneous Land Use Permits, or MLUPs, and Temporary Water Use Permits, or TWUPs, issued for mining exploration at the large Pebble copper/gold project near Iliamna. In addition to Numamta Aulukestai, four others were plaintiffs: Bristol Bay residents Ricky Delkittie Sr. and the late Violet Willson, state constitutional delegate Vic Fischer and former First Lady Bella Hammond. The original case, filed in 2009, argued that the drilling of exploration drill holes, which are commonly done in mining exploration, was causing environmental damage through pollution, that the public hadn’t been given adequate public notice and that cumulative effects of the Pebble exploration program, which was extensive, weren’t considered. The Superior Court initially sided with the state and with Pebble Partnership, the company doing the exploration, but the Supreme Court reversed the lower court decision on the public notice aspect. The plaintiffs also challenged DNR’s issuing of TWUPs, but the Supreme Court found that those were indeed temporary and were functionally revocable, unlike the land permits. The Supreme Court found the MLUPs to be functionally irrevocable based on the large investment made by Pebble in exploration that the state would be unlikely to halt, and that the well casings left behind after drilling constitute a permanent “disposal” of public land that requires notice and comment under the state Constitution. “This decision means that all Alaskans, especially those whose rights and livelihoods are jeopardized by intensive exploration activities like those at Pebble, have the constitutional right to participate in those decisions affecting them,” said Trustees for Alaska Executive Director Vicki Clark in a formal statement after the decision. Trustees for Alaska represented the plaintiffs in the case. “The State has issued permits behind closed doors without even looking at the harm to public resources.” The Supreme Court did not give the state resources agency much guidance in correcting the legal defects. The matter is now more or less left to the DNR to interpret what court said and devise new procedures, and then wait to be sued again to see if the interpretation is correct. State attorneys and resource officials are not saying what steps they may take to correct the situation. In a statement, Cori Mills, spokeswoman for the state Department of Law, said, “DNR’s evaluation of the regulatory changes necessary to address the Nunamta decision is underway and will take a bit of time to establish and implement. Any rulemaking that is require to codify changes would be subject to public review and comment.” The state Legislature may have to step in to clarify statutes, although those already distinguish permits that need public notice from those that are minor, and do not. Mills said the case is now back to the Superior Court, which will soon issue a declaratory judgment to the DNR that recognizes the Supreme Court decision. A motion on attorneys’ fees has also been made, she said. The Supreme Court also reversed the Superior Court order to make the plaintiffs pay a portion of the state’s and Pebble’s legal fees. The Supreme Court wrote in its decision it expected Nunamta to file a motion to collect legal fees from the state and Pebble after becoming the prevailing party. The May 29 court decision didn’t invalidate the MLUPs at Pebble, which were all expired by then, but it has caused a big wrinkle over how certain MLUPs are to be issued in the future, and a variety of industries besides mining could be affected. This has created a dilemma for state land managers. “The court didn’t say we couldn’t issue the permits but dealt with what kind of public notice we should issue,” for certain permits, said Wyn Menefee, Chief of Operations for the state Division of Mining, Land and Water. The division makes all MLUPs available to the public through the state’s on-line public notice system. The public can comment within 14 days but it must be in writing or e-mail, Menefee said, because the state’s on-line system is not set up for on-line comments. The same notification goes to other state agencies, and the agencies often provide comments and sometime ask for more time to look at the permits, he said. Essentially, the May 29 decision said that the on-line posting isn’t enough for certain types of land-use permits, those that can be considered “irrevocable,” or more permanent in nature, compared to “revocable” permits which are truly temporary and which the state DNR can rescind within the period of the permit, typically three to five years. The state high court found that the specific exploration holes drilled at Pebble, some of which were drilled to 7,000 feet and involved placement of permanent steel casing, were irrevocable permits similar land easements issued by DNR and thus needed a broader public notice procedure. While the decision doesn’t appear to be retroactive in affecting existing land permits there was also little guidance from the court as to how the agency can define the types of activities that can distinguish between irrevocable and revocable MLUPs going forward. Most important, the court didn’t signal what type of public notice procedure would be acceptable other than it must be more than what is now done.  “We’re still evaluating the decision, but there wasn’t a lot of guidance,” Menefee said. “Almost everything we do is noticed, but is it enough?” The department will certainly plan a more widespread public notice procedure once it sorts out how to distinguish between activities that are irrevocable (most likely major mining drilling programs of the sort done at Pebble) but whatever the department does will be challenged by environmental groups, said John Shively, chairman of Pebble Partnership and a former state Commissioner of Natural Resources. “How can this be sorted out? It’s a guessing game. I suspect the environmental groups will keep bringing lawsuits,” Shively said. “Anything the NGOs (non-governmental organizations) can to do make life miserable for miners they will do,” he said. Shively said the original Nunamta Aulukestai lawsuit “was aimed at shutting us down at Pebble. It didn’t work.” “They (the plaintiffs) had theories that we were destroying the environment with our drilling, but the Superior Court said there was no evidence of that and the Supreme Court didn’t disagree,” he said. Pebble has tried to do its exploration in as much a benign way as possible. Exploration there began in 1988 and as of 2010, when the Superior Court trial was held, 1,269 holes had been drilled, along with seismic surveys. When the mineral cores were extracted from the holes they were plugged with concrete and rigs and drill-pads were removed by helicopter. The plaintiffs lost on that point but the decision has still opened up a Pandora’s Box of other issues for land developers. What concerns people most, Shively said, is whether continued litigation on the public notice procedures will ultimately lead to a formal Best Interest Finding, or BIF, procedure for mining exploration, but also a lot of activities that require temporary state land permits. Best Interest Findings, or BIFs, is a state equivalent to a federal Environmental Impact Statement that are done with significant actions on state lands, such as oil and gas lease sales, forest sales or other land actions, and even sales of state royalty oil to refining companies. Like the federal EIS, the state BIF procedure has provisions for public appeals of agency decisions. They are expensive to do, and can set the stage for litigation, but state BIFs were adopted to formally document state agency decisions and the weighing of alternatives, similar to what an EIS does on the federal level. Ironically, the procedure was adopted to minimize the disruption to the state oil and gas lease sales cause by environmental lawsuits by spelling out in detail the rationale for the state decisions and consideration of alternatives. Since BIFs were adopted no state oil and gas lease sale has been held up by an environmental lawsuit. Nunamta Aulukestai raised the Best Interest Finding issues in the Pebble lawsuit but while the Supreme Court discussed it in its decision the matter was left unsettled. The state high court said the state Constitution does not require a best interest finding. However, the decision did connect the issue with a previous Supreme Court decision, known as REDOIL (brought by Resisting Environmental Destruction on Indigenous Lands), which dealt with cumulative effects of a state decision. “They (the plaintiffs) were obviously playing into the REDOIL decision,” Shively said. Under the REDOIL decision an agency is required to perform some form of “continuing assessment” of impacts from a permit authorizing future actions. This moves in the direction of a cumulative effects analysis by a state agency, long a goal of environmental groups. “I’m sure there will be more lawsuits on all this,” Shively said. Other attorneys who familiar with the case, and state land management procedures, felt the Supreme Court decision, in finding the Pebble TLUPs permanent, or irrevocable, was correct. “I think the court was swayed by the length of time and controversy of the interminable Pebble exploration, which comprised $300 million of expense and explosives, portable rigs, structures, fuel storage and helicopters,” said Jim Barnett, a private attorney who is also a former deputy state resources commissioner. The sheer scale and the duration of the Pebble exploration is what set it apart, Barnett said. The department should have conducted some form of expanded public notice, he said. Barnett said he believes that complying with the Supreme Court decision will ultimately require DNR to conduct a review of cumulative impacts, as required by the REDOIL decision, on mining exploration. Menefee said many activities on state lands that are non-intrusive and don’t require permits, such as small-scale mining or activities with what are essentially hand tools. More substantial uses, such as drilling core holes to certain depths, do require the temporary land-use permits, the TLUPs. The interpretation will be in what is a temporary permit, and revocable, compared with a de facto permanent permit, in practice irrevocable. The Supreme Court decision cited Pebble’s major investment in exploration at the time the lawsuit was filed, $300 million, as a factor in decided those particularly permits were permanent, but did not give any guidance as to what investment threshold might drive the determination. Menefee said the installation of metal casing around drill holes, although discussed in the decision, might not be a workable threshold in a determination because many mining bore holes are cased and it is impractical, and very costly, to require the casing be taken out. “The casing is always cut off below ground and covered,” and typically poses no environmental threat, Menefee said. “We often allow piping, cable or concrete to be left behind as long as it is non-polluting and doesn’t create a safety problem,” he said. Once mining exploration gets to the stage where a lease is required it does trigger the DNR’s public notice requirements and often a formal Best Interest Finding process, Menefee said. If the Legislature had wanted land-use permits to be subject to Best Interest Findings it would have required it in statute. Instead, the permits are specifically excluded from the BIFs, he said. Meanwhile, the DNR will have to come up with some way of dealing with the court decision. “For now, we don’t see this as a big problem. It is something we can manage. But we’re left trying to interpret what the court meant, and someone may still sue us,” Menefee said. “We want to ensure that our (new) procedures will match what the court said, he said.

Greens Creek, Kensington mines expanding production

Minerals prices are still low but Alaska’s producing mines are doing well, for the most part. Two underground mines near Juneau, the Greens Creek Mine on northern Admiralty Island and the Kensington Mine at Berner’s Bay north of the capital city, both showed increases in production and improved efficiency. Hecla Mining Co., which owns Greens Creek, said production of silver at the mine was up 10 percent in the second quarter of 2015 compared with the same period of 2014. Gold production dropped at the mine but silver is the more important metal in the ore being mined. Greens Creek also produces zinc and lead. A key element in the higher silver output was improved recovery of the metal in the Greens Creek process mill, the company said. “Higher grades and recoveries at Greens Creek during the quarter continued to improve the mine’s already strong performance,” said Hecla President and CEO Philips Baker Jr. in a statement issued with the quarterly report. Mike Sarte, Hecla’s manager of Alaska external relations, said the improved recovery is a “game changer” for Greens Creek. “This is very significant. Historically most mines produce higher grades first and then the grade trends lower,” as lower-quality ore zones are tapped, he said. “In this case, while we can’t control the grade of the ore we can control how we process it. Changes in the mill process have increased silver recovery.” In another development at Greens Creek, Hecla has started work on the long-planned expansion of its tailings storage facility. All permits are now in hand for the expansion and SeCon, a Southeast Alaska construction company, has been contracted to do the work and removal of surface overburden is now underway. The $44 million expansion, which will cover 18 acres, will take three years to complete. The larger tailings facility will be sufficient to support Greens Creek until 2027 to 2028, and Hecla has already started discussions on another expansion after that, which would further extend the life of the mine. Greens Creek now employs about 413 workers, most who live in Juneau, with a $62 million annual payroll. At the Kensington Mine, which produces gold, the volume of ore mined averaged 170,649 tons in the second quarter of 2015, up from 163,749 tons in second quarter 2014, and gold production increased to 29,845 ounces compared with 28,089 ounces in second quarter 2014. The average gold grade was the same in both periods, at 0.18 ounce per ton, but the gold recovery rate, in the process mill at the mine, improved slightly to 94.9 percent in second quarter this year from 94.5 percent in the same period of 2015. The big news for Kensington is that the mine is expanding into the nearby Jualin deposit, with work on access the deposit beginning in July. When mining from Jualin is fully ramped up in 2018 the total Kensington gold production is expected to reach 149,000 ounces annually, up 26 percent. Operations at the underground Pogo gold mine near Delta, in Interior Alaska, are proceeding normally this year except for challenges with forest fires this summer, which blanketed much of the Interior with smoke. “In some weeks we had smoke at the mine no matter which way the wind was blowing,” said Lorna Shaw, spokeswoman for Sumitomo Metal Mining, the owner and operator of Pogo. One fire broke out five miles from the mine and grew to 1,000 acres until being controlled by state Department of Natural Resources crews with the assistance of Pogo staff. The fire did not threaten mine operations, however. Pogo is approaching two important milestones. The mine will reach the 3-million ounce production threshold late this summer, and is also close to operating for two years without a lost-time accident, Shaw said. “This achievement will be a first for Pogo and it takes dedication and hard work from every single employee to make sure we achieve it,” she said. The mine employs about 315 workers directly as well as another 150-plus contractor employees, Shaw said. At the Fort Knox gold mine near Fairbanks, Kinross Gold, the owner and operator, is on track for 2015 production at about the same level as 2014, according to spokeswoman Anna Atchison. The mine currently employs about 660, she said. Milestones for this year include the company’s purchase of two new 793F haul trucks in the first quarter of the year. Fort Knox is also investing in improvements of its ore process streams to include construction of a new process solution booster pump station, she said. “As part of our overall drive for further efficiencies and cost reductions in a tight gold price environment, we recently increased haul truck payloads by 7 percent and cut shift change times by an impressive 23 percent in the first quarter alone,” Atchison said. “At the Usibelli coal mine near Healy, production is down this year because of slipping export sales of coal, but sales of coal within Alaska, the bulk of it for power generation, remain strong. Total coal production for 2015 is expected be approximately 1.4 million tons for but it could still be a bit higher, Usibelli Coal Mine, Inc. spokeswoman Lorali Simon said. “We’re still working to do more export sales.” The domestic Alaska coal market appears stable at about 1 million tons per year but exports in 2015 may slip from about 600,000 tons in 2014 to 400,000 tons this year, she said. The strong U.S. dollar makes Alaska exports expensive and is hurting export sales, she said. Other factors include the opening of a new coal mine in Chile that is cutting in that market for Alaska and South Korea’s imposition of an import tax on coal for utilities in that nation. South Korea has been a traditional customer for Usibelli. The company employs about 115 full-time workers at its mine near Healy, Simon said. In a new development, a state administrative appeals officer has sided with the Department of Natural Resources in awarding Usibelli renewals on coal mining leases at the Wishbone Hill coal deposit near Palmer, which the company hopes to develop. Opponents of the mine may file a lawsuit, however. If Wishbone Hill is developed it would produce about 500,000 tons per year and employ 75 to 125 people.

Federal judge rejects state effort to explore ANWR plain

Alaska U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Gleason has dealt the State of Alaska another setback in efforts to conduct exploration of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge’s coastal plain. In a decision issued July 21, Gleason upheld Interior Secretary Sally Jewell’s interpretation that her authority to approve limited exploration of the 1.2-million-acre coastal plain expired in 1987. State attorneys said they are still studying Gleason’s decision and have not yet decided on an appeal to the 9th Circuit Court. “After we have had time to review it, we will evaluate our options,” said Corri Mills, spokeswoman for the Department of Law. Under former Gov. Sean Parnell in 2013, the state had proposed a limited winter seismic program to gather more information on potential resources, arguing that Jewell’s authority had not expired and the 1980 Alaska National Interest Lands and Conservation Act, or ANILCA, required her to allow ongoing resource assessments and approve any third party proposal to do it, such as from the state. After Interior agencies repeatedly rejected the state’s plan, the lawsuit was filed in federal court in 2014 and oral argument was held Jan. 20. Exploration in the Arctic refuge has been a hotly-contested issue for years. The 18.9-million refuge was created in 1980 by Congress, as an expansion of an 8.9-million-acre wildlife range created in 1960. However, the coastal plain area was withheld from wilderness status by Congress and set aside for potential oil and gas exploration. Under the 1980 law Congress must approve oil and gas development in the coastal plain but gave the Interior Secretary limited authority to conduct exploration to assess the resource potential. Congress actually passed a bill approving ANWR exploration once, when both the U.S. House and Senate were under Republican leaderships, but then-President Bill Clinton vetoed the measure. Former Alaska U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens tried a different tack, placing the question on a budget resolution, a procedure that is not subject to a Senate filibuster (which requires 60 votes to overcome) but the effort failed by one vote. Bad luck and timing has played a part in foiling the state’s efforts in ANWR at times. Congress appeared close to approving exploration in 1988 and early 1989 but that ended when the tanker Exxon Valdez hit a reef in Prince William Sound in March, 1989, causing a major oil spill. Meanwhile, ANILCA required Interior to do a resource assessment that included seismic exploration for the purpose of preparing a report to Congress by 1987. When the state submitted its proposal to continue exploration, Jewell ruled that her authority to allow it had expired. State officials contended that the authority had not expired, and that under the language of the 1980 law the Secretary was actually required to approve an application from a third party. Gleason disagreed, however, ruling that there was an ambiguity in the statutory language that required that deference be given to Interior’s interpretation that the authority had expired. In her decision, Gleason wrote: “Congress authorized the Secretary to approve limited-duration exploratory activity on the coastal plain and ordered a report generated from these activities by 1987. Whether the statute authorizes or requires the Secretary to approve additional exploration after the submission of the 1987 report is ambiguous. “The Secretary’s interpretation that her statutory authority and obligation to review and approve exploration plans ceased after 1987 report has been completed is based on a permissible and reasonable construction of the statute.” The language in ANILCA is unambiguous as to the Secretary’s authority up until the deadline for the 1987 report but is silent, and therefore ambiguous, on any deadline after that, Gleason noted in the decision. The state argued in the January trial that the lack of any explicit deadline for the authority meant that it continued in effect, while Interior argued that the lack of a deadline for continuing authority in the statute left 1987, when the report was required, as the only deadline. The fact that Congress did not insert another, later date for any continuing authority after 1987 indicated that the body intended 1987 to be the final date, Interior officials argued in the trial. Gleason noted that there could be alternative ways the language can be interpreted but that she was bound to defer to a reasonable construction of the statute by the agency. “The Court need not find that the agency’s interpretation is the only permissible construction or that it is the Court’s preferred construction,” Gleason wrote, but noted that Interior had stuck with its interpretation since a legal opinion was written by the agency’s Solicitor in 2001. The consistency of the agency’s position was a factor in her decision, Gleason wrote. The issue of exploring in the coastal plain has a long history. The area has high potential for significant oil and gas discoveries, federal agencies concluded in the 1987 review of resource potential. Many geologists, government and industry, feel the coastal plain is the last remaining unexplored onshore region of Alaska with potential for very large oil discoveries, such as those made in the central North Slope region. Inupiat leaders of the North Slope have largely favored ANWR exploration and development because it is onshore, where development can be done carefully, and not offshore, where there are threats to subsistence resources created by potential oil spills. The Inupiats also have an economic stake in ANWR through a 91,000-acre inholding of surface and subsurface lands in the coastal plain where the surface lands are owned by Kaktovik Inupiat Corp. of Kaktovik and the mineral rights are held by Arctic Slope Regional Corp. of Barrow, the regional Alaska Native development corporation.

Idaho biologists haul sockeye on trucks to avoid warm water

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Five sockeye salmon swam in tanks at the Eagle Hatchery on July 15 wearing the scars of their shortened trip to Idaho. Idaho Department of Fish and Game biologists took the unusual step of capturing the migrating adults in a trap at the Lower Granite Dam southwest of Pullman, Wash., the last of eight dams Idaho salmon swim through on their way from the Pacific to the Sawtooth Valley. That’s because the Columbia and Snake rivers are as much as 6 degrees warmer than usual. Northwest rivers are so warm that salmon and steelhead are dying in tributaries such as the Willamette and Deschutes rivers in Oregon. Oregon fisheries officials said Thursday that they are limiting fishing for trout, salmon, steelhead and sturgeon statewide to protect the fish from stress. When temperatures in the main rivers reach at least 70, the heat places stress on the already challenged migrants that face sea lions, lamprey and the natural wear and tear of fighting the current on their return trip from the ocean to their Idaho spawning grounds. River temperatures have been gradually rising for 50 years, due in part to the changing climate and the dams, where slackwater reservoirs capture extra solar radiation. But with this year’s temperatures higher than normal, dam and fisheries managers are working overtime to protect endangered wild salmon and steelhead as a federal judge decides whether they are doing enough to keep them from going extinct. U.S. District Judge Michael Simon, presiding over the latest salmon lawsuit brought by Oregon, the Nez Perce, sport and commercial anglers, and conservation groups against federal officials, was set to tour Lower Granite on July 16. More fish kills Joseph Bogaard, executive director of the Save our Wild Salmon Coalition that includes many of the plaintiffs, said the agencies aren’t doing enough to address warming rivers. “We ought to take steps wherever we can to help improve fish survival in an unusually warm and bad years,” Bogaard said. “Unless the weather changes, we’re going to see more fish kills throughout the basin.” In late June the Salmon River climbed to 76 degrees at Whitebird, warm enough to kill salmon and steelhead. Fortunately, the young juveniles, which left their spawning rivers and lakes early this year due to a warmer, earlier runoff, had mostly finished their trip to the Pacific before the heat wave, said Ritchie Graves, a biologist with NOAA Fisheries. The spring-summer chinook adults also had migrated early upstream, reaching the higher, cooler spawning streams such as the Upper Salmon River, the South Fork of the Salmon, and Marsh and Bear Valley creeks. But the sockeye, which naturally spawn in Redfish and other Sawtooth Valley lakes, have faced the full brunt of the heat wave. About 3,900 returning Snake River sockeye were detected passing Bonneville Dam east of Portland, the first dam on the Columbia River. Just 234 had passed Lower Granite as of Wednesday, including 15 that Fish and Game biologists had trapped as of Thursday. At the Eagle Hatchery, the trapped fish swam in some of the same tanks that held Lonesome Larry, the single returning sockeye in 1992 whose genetics began the captive-breeding program. The sockeye show the effects of the heat stress. One had bulging eyes and a tail shredded down to the flesh. Others had gaping ulcers and sores that were sapping their strength. With so many sockeye apparently killed in the lower rivers, state and federal biologists decided to trap and haul these returning sockeye 320 miles from Washington state to Eagle. “This is giving them the best chance for survival,” said Pete Hassemer, Idaho Fish and Game salmon and steelhead fisheries manager. Tapping natural selection But it comes with a cost. The success of the captive breeding program, which produces more than 1,500 sockeye in a good year, is due in part to biologists being able to restore some of the wildness to the sockeye gene pool. This wildness, or “fitness,” as biologists call it, increases the sockeye’s productivity and makes more of them able to make the long journey from the gravel of Redfish Lake some 900 miles to the Pacific, and then thousands of miles of swimming and growing in the Pacific before returning to Idaho in the fourth or fifth year of their life. Capturing them at Lower Granite Dam cuts off their final migration in the Snake, through the Salmon and up to the Sawtooth Valley, 6,500 feet above sea level. That’s not the scientists’ first choice: It would be better if river conditions allowed the natural migration. “We want those fish to make that last leg on their own,” said Mark Peterson, a senior research biologist for Fish and Game. “There is some natural selection there we want to tap,” Hassemer said. The first sockeye are expected to arrive at the weir on Redfish Lake Creek anytime. Despite the more than 200 that did pass Lower Granite before trapping began, Fish and Game officials don’t expect many to complete the trip. Part of the challenge has been the warm temperatures at the Lower Granite Dam ladder. At 70 degrees Tuesday, the warm water was forcing salmon to hang in the cooler waters of the tail race below the dam. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is working on a permanent modification to the ladder to flow cooler water to encourage migration. But the temporary fix isn’t bringing temperatures down enough. Different fish, different effects On the larger scale, warmer water is going to become a bigger issue for salmon survival as the climate change trend continues, fisheries biologists say. It’s different for each species. Fall chinook below Hells Canyon just experienced the warmest winter temperatures in the Snake since the dam was built, NOAA’s Graves said. But the very adaptable fall chinook simply emerged from their eggs earlier. Fall chinook have delayed their migration until spring in some cases to improve their productivity. Steelhead and other salmon find cold springs along the migration route where they can stage until the rivers cool. “With climate change, there’s going to be winners and losers,” said Graves. “With sockeye it’s going to be a challenge, but for Snake River fall chinook it may not bother them at all.” About Idaho’s sockeye • When is water too warm for salmon and steelhead? Each species is unique, and even species in different parts of the same rivers have different tolerances for temperature. But generally water warmer than 68 degrees begins to stress salmon, making them more susceptible to bacteria and affecting their swimming. Salmon will avoid or stop migrating through 70-degree water, and it becomes lethal for most salmon at 75. • What are federal fisheries managers’ goals for sockeye recovery? NOAA Fisheries says the Snake River sockeye will be recovered when 2,500 natural-origin spawners return on average annually to the lakes of the Sawtooth Valley in Central Idaho. The agency calls for an average population over 10 years of 1,000 naturally spawning sockeye in Redfish and Alturas lakes. Another 500 would be required in either Petit, Stanley or Yellow Belly lakes. • How many naturally spawning sockeye returned to the Sawtooth Valley in 2014? Biologists say 460 returned in 2014, beating the old high of 179 in 2010. Just 78 returned in 2013. Overall, nearly 1,600 sockeye adults — both naturally spawned and hatchery-raised — returned to the Sawtooth Valley. • When did they become endangered? From 1985 to 1990, just 58 wild sockeye returned to Idaho. The fish was listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1991 after a petition from the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes.

Movers & Shakers 7/26/15

The First National Bank Alaska board of directors recently elected Lucy Mahan to the position of vice chair. A licensed professional counselor with offices in Anchorage and Homer, Mahan resides in Homer where her family fishes commercially. She graduated from Anchorage’s West High and earned degrees from the University of Colorado and Alaska Pacific University. Mahan owns and facilitates Transitional Counseling LLC. She is the sister of bank President and Board Chair Betsy Lawer and daughter of the late D.H. Cuddy, the renowned Alaskan pioneer and banker who died earlier this year. Joining Mahan on the board are Lawer, Dr. Maurice Coyle, Perry Eaton, Margy Johnson, Jane Klopfer, Loren H. Lounsbury and Fran Ulmer. Jennifer Bolding is replacing Dana Reese as operations manager for Webb’s Consulting & Management Services Inc. Bolding, who is an Alaska resident for the past six years originally from Seattle, is excited about making the Anchorage Market & Festival, Bear Paw Vendor Court, Holiday Food & Gift Festival, Arts & Crafts Emporium and Christmas Village even better for Alaskans and visitors alike. Rep. Bob Herron was elected chair of the Arctic Caucus at the 25th Annual Summit of the Pacific NorthWest Economic Region, or PNWER, in Big Sky, Mont., on July 13. The Arctic Caucus, a working group within PNWER, is a partnership of public and private sector members from Alaska, Yukon and the Northwest Territories. The partnership aims to provide a forum to share information, discuss issues of mutual concern, identify areas for collaboration between the three jurisdictions, and provide Arctic-relevant input to other PNWER working groups. Herron has been active in the Arctic Caucus since 2010 and recently served as co-chair of the Alaska Arctic Policy Commission. He also chairs the House Economic Development, Tourism, & Arctic Policy Committee and has passed nine pieces of Arctic-related legislation in recent years, including HB 1, Alaska’s Arctic Policy. After three years as the commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-Alaska District, Col. Christopher Lestochi relinquished his duties to Col. Michael Brooks during a July 16 change of command ceremony. Brooks, a native of Alabama, became the 27th commander of the district during the event at the district’s headquarters. He is the former deputy chief and engineer planner for the Domestic Operations Division at U.S. Northern Command, Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado Springs, Colo. Brooks will now oversee a multimillion-dollar program that provides engineering, construction, planning, contracting, real estate, emergency operations, environmental and regulatory services to the military, federal, state and local governments, as well as to the public in Alaska. Additionally, he will oversee the district’s support to U.S. Pacific Command’s Humanitarian Assistance program and the Department of Defense Foreign Military Sales program. University of Alaska President Patrick Gamble announced UA Regent Mike Powers as University of Alaska Fairbanks Interim Chancellor. Powers has been an executive at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital for nearly three decades, first as chief financial officer and, for the past 20 years as CEO. He retired from FMH on July 1.

Federal judge rejects state stance on ANWR exploration

Alaska U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Gleason has dealt the State of Alaska another setback in efforts to conduct exploration of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge’s coastal plain. In a decision issued Tuesday, Gleason upheld Interior Secretary Sally Jewell’s interpretation that her authority to approve limited exploration of the 1.2-million-acre coastal plain expired in 1987. Under former Gov. Sean Parnell in 2013, the state had proposed a limited winter seismic program to gather more information on potential resources, arguing that Jewell’s authority had not expired and the 1980 Alaska National Interest Lands and Conservation Act required her to allow ongoing resource assessments and approve any third party proposal to do it, such as from the state. After Interior agencies repeatedly rejected the state’s plan, the lawsuit was filed in federal court in 2014 and oral argument was held Jan. 20. Exploration in the Arctic refuge has been hotly-contested issue for years. The 18.9-million refuge was created in 1980 by Congress, as an expansion of an 8.9-million-acre wildlife range created in 1960. However, the coastal plain area was withheld from wilderness status by Congress and set aside for potential oil and gas exploration. Under the 1980 law Congress must approve oil and gas development in the coastal plain but gave the Interior Secretary limited authority to conduct exploration to assess the resource potential. The law required Interior to do a resource assessment that included seismic exploration for the purpose of preparing a report to Congress by 1987. When the state submitted its proposal to continue exploration, Jewell ruled that her authority to allow it had expired. State officials contended that the authority had not expired, and that under the language of the 1980 law the Secretary was actually required to approve an application from a third party. Gleason disagreed, however, ruling that there was an ambiguity in the statutory language that required that deference be given to Interior’s interpretation that the authority had expired. In her decision, Gleason wrote: “Congress authorized the Secretary to approve limited-duration exploratory activity on the coastal plain and ordered a report generated from these activities by 1987. Whether the statute authorizes or requires the Secretary to approve additional exploration after the submission of the 1987 report is ambiguous. “The Secretary’s interpretation that her statutory authority and obligation to review and approve exploration plans ceased after 1987 report has been completed is based on a permissible and reasonable construction of the statute.”

Supreme court finds local mining initiative unenforceable

JUNEAU  — Alaska's highest court has ruled that an initiative seeking to restrict large-scale mining in the Bristol Bay region "seriously impedes" a regulatory process set out in state law and is unenforceable. The Alaska Supreme Court affirmed a lower-court ruling Friday in litigation over the initiative passed by Lake and Peninsula Borough voters in 2011. The initiative was aimed at the Pebble mine project and potential development of the massive gold and copper prospect near the headwaters of a world-premier salmon fishery. The Supreme Court found the initiative impedes implementation of state law giving Alaska's Department of Natural Resources charge of matters affecting exploration, development and mining of state mineral resources. The Pebble deposit is on state land. The state and group behind the Pebble project had sued over the initiative.  

CH2M CEO expects quick turnaround based on core values

Jacqueline Hinman, CEO of CH2M, discussed her company’s lofty goals for 2015 during a July 13 presentation to the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce. After a down year financially in 2014, Hinman said the company plans to, among other goals, double its new business generation, improve already excellent safety performance by 10 percent and continue working towards reducing its carbon footprint by 25 percent by 2017. “We’re going to go from the worst financial performance in the history of the company to the best financial performance in the history of the company in one year,” Hinman said in her speech. CH2M shortened its name from CH2M Hill in April. The Colorado-based engineering giant employs more than 25,000 people worldwide and nearly 2,000 people in Alaska that mainly work on North Slope oil and gas. CH2M’s North Slope business, derived from its purchase of the former VECO Corp., accounts for about 90 percent of the company’s business in the state, Hinman said, and Alaska business accounts for about 10 percent of the company’s corporate portfolio, according to Hinman. The in-the-red year she described saw CH2M absorb a $182 million net loss in 2014, compared to a $118 million net income the year prior. Its revenue for the year of $5.4 billion was down 8 percent from 2013. Overall, the losses calculated to a diluted loss of $6.42 per share, according to the company’s annual financial report released in February. CH2M’s stock traded at $51.14 per share May 7. It’s next stock price announcement is Aug. 3, according to the company’s website. Early results this from this year look better. In quarter one CH2M reported $23 million in net income, compared with a $6 million loss in the first quarter of 2014. Overall revenue was about $1.3 billion, down 1 percent year-over-year. Its Oil, Gas and Chemicals Division grew revenue by 5 percent in the first quarter, according to the quarterly report. In January, CH2M pulled its Alaska oil and gas business off the market. The regional division had been publicly up for sale for several months. Initial interest from potential buyers turned to increased uncertainty as oil prices fell, according to company leaders who talked with the Journal in February. The company is the program manager for the now on-hold state-led Alaska Stand Alone Pipeline, or ASAP, and is engaged in prefeasibility engineering and design work on the Alaska LNG Project. CH2M is also heavily involved in the nearly $500 million Anchorage Port Modernization Project as the project manager and concept design lead on the second go-round of construction at the Port of Anchorage. Hinman also discussed at length her company’s philosophy of placing an emphasis, often above financial returns, on corporate citizenship and sustainability, although those terms have not always been used. “If you look into our early charter documents, which date back to the 1880s, some fashion of corporate citizenship and sustainability, in terms of good for the environment, caring about employees, caring about the well-being of communities has always been part of what we are,” Hinman said. The “money side” of performance is just one of eight metrics CH2M uses to measure business success, she said. The eight according to Hinman: • environmental compliance • climate change and carbon emission control • ethics and corruption standards • human rights and employee welfare • workforce engagement and diversity • client satisfaction and community engagement • health and safety • economics and financial performance Poor results in one area lead to struggling in each of the others, she said. “From my perspective — I’ve been the CEO for about a year-and-a-half now — we can’t work, much less lead in our fields of infrastructure, energy, environment and sustainable facilities without balancing all of these elements,” Hinman said. Short-term financial success cannot be continued long-term without a continuous loop of managing these priorities. According to Hinman, there is no binary tradeoff between any of the metrics. Working in communities and under governments that have the same values is paramount, too, Hinman said. She said CH2M has gone as far as to pull out of major infrastructure projects that do not meet the company’s standards for one reason or another.

Marijuana Industry Association rolls out

Those hoping to get in on the ground floor of Alaska’s legal marijuana industry now have a supporter. The Alaska Marijuana Industry Association announced it is open for business July 9 during a briefing at The Boardroom workspace in Downtown Anchorage. Alaska Marijuana Industry Association President and board member Bruce Schulte, a pilot by trade, said the five-member board recognized a need for an organized industry resource to help a burgeoning group of cannabis entrepreneurs. “Our focus as a group, AMIA, is the business, the commerce (of marijuana) and all the things that are entailed there,” Schulte said. “We’re a seed-to-sale industry association.” The group is in the process of completing the requisite steps with the Internal Revenue Service to become a 501(c)(6) nonprofit eligible to advocate and lobby on political issues. Formally organized in April, the four board members present at the introductory meeting said they have all been busy working in their hometowns across the state to help the local governments learn about legal marijuana and how they should manage associated businesses. The board has five members now, but Schulte said the table would likely grow to 11 seats to assure each aspect of the farm-to-retail industry is included. AMIA will be accepting guest members until businesses are able to pay for full memberships once the marijuana business is legal in Alaska, according to the board. Full AMIA membership will be contingent upon holding a valid State of Alaska marijuana establishment license, according to the group’s maturing code of conduct. Until then, the Marijuana Industry Association board members will continue their work pro-bono. Ballot Measure 2, passed by voters in November and promoted as a push to regulate marijuana like alcohol, allows persons 21 years of age and older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana. It also allows local governments to regulate or prohibit marijuana-based establishments and establish annual operating fees, creating a local regulatory authority. Possession of marijuana became legal in February, on a timeline laid out by the statewide referendum. The next major deadline is Nov. 24 for the recently established state Marijuana Control Board to adopt its regulations for the drug. After that, Feb. 24, 2016, is the last day the state can start accepting business license applications from those wishing to grow, process or sell marijuana — one year after it became legal to possess. The state will then have up to 90 days to review license applications. AMIA Vice President and board member Brandon Emmett of Fairbanks is a founder of one of the state’s current leading marijuana advocacy groups, the Coalition for Responsible Cannabis Legislation. Emmett also serves on the Fairbanks North Star Borough’s Marijuana Advisory Board. Schulte is a member of the Anchorage Assembly’s Committee on Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana. Kasilof contractor and AMIA board member Leif Abel chairs the Kenai Peninsula Borough Marijuana Task Force. Emmett said the Fairbanks council has been focused on zoning issues — where potential businesses of all types related to marijuana production and sale will be allowed to locate. Zoning is going to be one of the most important issues for the industry in Alaska, he said. While ultimately an advocacy organization, AMIA will not try to push communities in their decision-making regarding marijuana, according to Emmett. “Our goal is not to try and continue the campaign and convert these local governments that have decided not to regulate marijuana within their boarders,” he said. “But those that have, we’re going to be the resource for the industry and help provide best practices to make sure that the industry that they choose to have within their municipalities works well there.” Schulte said the “obvious comparison” of AMIA to the Alaska Cabaret, Hotel, Restaurant and Retailers Association and alcohol is a fair one. AMIA board member Kim Kole, founder of the Alaska chapter of Women Grow, said the group would eventually set up a group health insurance plan for its member businesses as well. Abel said he would expect to see product on retail shelves no sooner than late August 2016, given the time it takes to grow the plants after growers could start legally operating. Emmett and Schulte were also appointed as industry representatives to the Marijuana Control Board, giving them at least some say in how the state regulations are molded. As a result, Schulte said the two are limited as to what they can discuss with other AMIA members and what opinions they can offer about regulatory issues. Gov. Bill Walker announced the initial five-member board July 1. The group quickly held an introductory meeting July 2 in Fairbanks. The board is under the state Commerce Department along with the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board. A rough draft of the regulations would restrict anyone with a marijuana establishment license from operating within 200 feet of schools, daycares, churches or correctional facilities. Other issues likely to be addressed include THC levels in marijuana edibles and concentrates and on-site product security for all aspects of the supply chain. Emmett said the successes and failures of legalization and business regulation in Colorado and Washington are being studied and learned from. “What we know from the other two states (where recreational marijuana is legal) is that the sky hasn’t fallen and they’re both making money in the form of tax revenue, but also in new business popping up,” Emmett said. “People make money, they spend money.” Schulte said Alaska’s marijuana rules need to be acceptable to not only to those in support of legalized marijuana, but also to the 47 percent of voters who opposed the law change for the initiative to be successful. “This is very much the ground floor of a newly legal industry. There’s a lot of opportunity; there’s a lot of unknowns; there’s a tremendous amount of work to be done,” he said. “There’s a lot of good people that are willing to operated in a rational, reasonable manner as a regulated industry. We support that.” Taxes and financing The ballot measure imposes a $50 per ounce excise tax on all marijuana dealt between a grower and a manufacturer or retailer. Abel said limiting other local taxes and fees will be paramount to ensuring a healthy legal marijuana industry in Alaska can marginalize the black market. “If we’re overtaxed, then in effect, we will not be an industry,” he said. Abel noted that marijuana tax revenue will be a “drop in the bucket” compared to oil and gas taxes and other state funding sources. While Colorado has a much larger population than Alaska, the tax revenue there has not been insignificant, and it’s growing as the industry stabilizes. Through May, the State of Colorado took in nearly $102.4 million in marijuana taxes and business fees this year. That is about triple the $34.8 million generated over the first five months of 2014. Colorado has an overall 12.9 percent sales tax on marijuana, which includes the general 2.9 percent state sales tax on all consumer goods. Recreational marijuana is also subject to a 15 percent excise tax on the average market retail price for a given quantity; medical marijuana is exempt from the excise tax. The State of Washington simplified its marijuana tax structure July 1 to a straight 37 percent excise tax on retail customers, eliminating taxes levied on producers, processors and retailers. Kole noted that tourists have buoyed sales in Colorado. With more than 1.5 million visitors coming to Alaska each year, the tourism market could be a big one in the state, she said. Finding traditional financing has been an issue for many marijuana-based businesses in the first states to legalize recreational marijuana. The Justice Department under the Obama administration has said it will respect states’ decisions in regard to marijuana, but it is still an illegal substance under federal law. How a new administration in 2017 will treat the drug is a big unknown. As a result, federally-insured banks and credit unions are wary of providing loans or lines of credit in an industry that could get caught in a tug-of-war between states’ rights and federal authority. That’s a big difference than saying Alaska banks are not interested in a new market, according to Emmett. “Any financial institution, if you’re able to have a one-on-one sit-down with the leaders, they’re saying, ‘Yes, we want to be a part of the marijuana industry,’” Emmett said. The industry has grown in Colorado and Washington on primarily a cash-only system, which has not only made security an issue, but also tax collection. Alaska U.S. Rep. Don Young introduced the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States Act in March with Tennessee Democrat Rep. Steve Cohen. The bill is one of several pieces of legislation with bipartisan support in the House — eight Republican and eight Democrat co-sponsors — that would allow financial institutions to provide banking services to marijuana-based businesses in legalized states without fear of federal retribution. Young and Cohen’s bill and others would also make it a Schedule II drug, lift other federal restrictions and allow Veterans Administration doctors to prescribe medicinal marijuana. Young said in a formal statement when the bill was introduced that marijuana is an issue of states’ rights to him. “My position aims to reaffirm the states’ rights to determine the nature of criminal activity within their own jurisdictions, which I believe is critical for states to effectively legislate within their borders,” he said in March. Ultimately, the marijuana industry needs what every industry needs to succeed, reasonable taxes and regulations, the AMIA board members said. Without support from the state, law-abiding businesses will not be able to extinguish a black market nobody wants. “We’ve got to make it a better option to work with the state than to keep avoiding the state,” Emmett said.

Movers & Shakers 7/19/15

The following realtors were awarded the Graduate, Realtor Institute, or GRI, designation by the Alaska Association of Realtors on June 19. These realtors were awarded the designation after completing more than 67 hours of classroom instruction and examinations, covering subjects such as contract law, professional standards, sales and marketing, finance and risk reduction. They are: Andrea Gribbin, Jack White Real Estate, Anchorage; David Johnson, RE/MAX Dynamic of the Valley, Wasilla; Yvonne Lee-Kuehn, Lee Realty, LLC, Wasilla. Jason Carlson has been promoted to Camp Services vice president of operations for NANA Management Services, or NMS. NMS Camp Services, a division of NMS, provides services to people living and working in remote camps like the North Slope and Red Dog Mine. Services include food service; housekeeping, janitorial, and laundry services; water and wastewater services; billeting; commissary management; and facilities maintenance and management. NMS Camp Services also manages the BP Building in midtown Anchorage. NMS is the fifth-largest private employer in Alaska and has provided services to the North Slope for 40 years. Most recently, Carlson served as director of operations and provided oversight to Red Dog, Eni, Badami, Nixon Fork, PGI, Veritas, Dahl Creek, Bornite, Hilcorp, and Alyeska Camps/Contracts. Prior to working with NMS, Carlson held several positions with Alaska Airlines, including operations and customer service. He holds a bachelor’s degree in organizational management from Alaska Pacific University. Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz named Andrew Halcro as the new director of the Anchorage Community Development Authority. ACDA is part of the mayor’s plan to aggressively develop downtown and other areas of Anchorage. Prior successful ACDA projects include developments in Mountain View and Government Hill. Halcro grew up in Anchorage, attended local public schools and the University of Alaska Anchorage. For the last 30 years he has managed extensively in the private sector, including roles as the CEO of Avis Rent a Car of Alaska, and most recently as the President of the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce. He is a former two-term Republican state legislator representing Sand Lake, and is currently chair of the 90% by 2020 education initiative and is a past board member of AEDC, Visit Anchorage, Anchorage Downtown Partnership and School Business Partnership. Sen. Lisa Murkowski announced that Michael Pawlowski will serve as deputy chief of staff for Coordination of Alaska and Washington, D.C. Affairs beginning Aug. 3. He will join Kate Williams, who serves as deputy chief of staff coordinating Murkowski’s legislative priorities. Pawlowski joined Murkowski’s personal office after spending six months working as senior energy policy advisor in the Senate Energy Committee. A graduate of Alaska Pacific University, Pawlowski has also worked for the Alaska Permanent Capital Management Co., the Alaska Natural Gas Development Authority, the Alaska State Legislature and as the deputy commissioner of the Alaska Department of Revenue. Erickson Inc., a global provider of aviation services, named Michael Williams as the company’s Alaska regional manager. Erickson is expanding its presence in the Alaskan market and has created this leadership position to directly serve local customers. Williams will direct day-to-day activities for all Alaska operations from Erickson’s Merrill Field Hanger in Anchorage and will promote future expansion in the region. The company currently has facilities in Anchorage, Nome and Deadhorse. Erickson has more than 50 years of experience serving Alaska, and currently operates locally supporting customers in the areas of firefighting, oil and gas operations support, cargo and passenger transport, and power line transmission aerial support. Before entering private industry, Williams served in the United States Air Force as a structural engineering specialist. Williams holds a bachelor’s degree in engineering business management from the University of Texas-Arlington, and attended the United States Air Force Academy.

Audit: Xerox Medicaid project could be 6 years late

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — At the pace it's going, Xerox Corp. will be six years past its renegotiated deadline by the time it completes an $84 million state contract for a new computer program to manage Medicaid payments, according to an audit of the project. State officials received the report last week after the Legislature sought an outside review. Since the Medicaid Management and Information system project began in 2012, Xerox has been found in breach of contract for missing deadlines and a legislative panel has given them a vote of no confidence. The state and Xerox resolved breach of contract issues last year and renegotiated the contract with a new deadline of May 2017. The audit by Public Knowledge, LLC, predicts the project could take until 2023 — more than eight years past the original deadline of February 2015. "At the current average pace of completing work, it would take approximately 96 months to complete the project," the audit says. Xerox spokeswoman Debbie Field said the company's review of the report suggests its methodology is flawed. She said it bases its prediction on the pace early on in the project, when productivity was slow and assumes that productivity level will remain throughout. "Xerox has already been performing well above the productivity assumptions used for the schedule projections for the past year," she said in a statement. But state project director Jeff Buska said at a Legislative Finance Committee meeting in June that Xerox is under a plan to speed things up and is still struggling to meet deadlines. Department of Health and Human Services staff is also monitoring the project and is reviewing the audit and Xerox's response, according to department spokesman Jon Ebelt. "Our contract does not require us to pay Xerox until certain system development milestones are achieved. We are obviously concerned about Xerox's performance and are likewise committed to protecting Montana taxpayers," DPHHS director Richard Opper said in a statement. The computer system to handle payments to Medicaid providers, including doctors and hospitals, is supposed to replace one that is more than 30 years old. The federal government is picking up the tab on 90 percent of the project. Ebelt said state officials will give recommendations on whether to keep Xerox on the project at the next meeting of the Legislative Finance Committee in September. A similar project in New Hampshire completed more than seven years past its original deadline received federal certification in June, meaning the system meets federal requirements and the state is eligible to receive the maximum amount of federal funding for its Medicaid program. Other Xerox systems are in use in Alaska and in the works in three other states.

Tribes got more say on management, but not more fish

Tribes got more say in chinook management in 2015, but that didn’t mean more fish in the river. Chinook returns have been looking better this year in much of Southcentral Alaska, but for subsistence communities on the Yukon and Kuskokwim the situation remains tenuous. “It’s the perfect storm of successive poor runs,” said Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist Aaron Poetter. “Same runs as the crash years. We’ve been in chinook conservation mode.” On the Yukon River, ADFG does not yet know the chinook run size, but the count of chinook passage through the Pilot Station weir as of July 6 is 110,131. This is 22,000 less than the same time last year, but equal to 2013. The 2015 chinook salmon run is on track to be near the lower end of the preseason outlook range of 118,000 to 140,000. Because the run takes roughly one month to move from Pilot Station to the Canadian border at Eagle, ADFG has little indication of whether the Canadian escapement goal minimum of 42,500 fish will be met this year. On the Kuskokwim River, the only predictor for run size is the Bethel test fishery, which measure catch per unit of effort for salmon and attaches that number to a likely corresponding number of fish. For kings, the average catch per unit of effort, or CPUE, for 2015 chinook is on the high end of the average from 2009-2014, but less than 2014. “We’re projecting to be somewhere just below 600 CPUE, which is a little less than last year. Last year was a total (run) between 118,000 to 120,000,” said manager John Linderman. Rural Alaskans have been pinned by depressed king salmon stocks, though not for lack of representation or managerial effort. Tribes wrangled more allocation for themselves this year than last, but the management of Kuskokwim River fisheries was virtually identical in 2015 to other years, despite switching from state to federal control, and Yukon River fisheries have been largely the same in the absence of federal management. In the end, results have been mixed. Typically, ADFG manages all in-season actions related to chinook harvest. In April, however, various Tribal representatives along the Kuskokwim River successfully pled the Federal Subsistence Board to replace ADFG management of chinooks with federal management. Yukon River villages and Tribes asked for similar federal controls, but were denied. Tribes also requested co-management in the form of the Kuskokwim River Intertribal Fishing Commission, with which ADFG and federal refuge managers are now required to include in management talks but not required to defer to for management decisions. The commission selected a three-person team to confer with federal and state managers on day-to-day management decisions. A similar Yukon fishing commission was also established. Federal and state managers have a largely positive opinion of the intertribal commissions, which they said have helped smooth tensions brought about by lesser resources. “In general, there seems to be less anger and angst on the river than there was last year,” said Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge manager Brian McCaffery. “In terms of threats to our law enforcement officers, that dropped off dramatically.” McCaffery said the individuals who actively engaged with subsistence fishing on behalf of their Tribes and villages got an important taste of management experience — the good and the bad parts of it. “In each community that did the community harvest, there’s a point person who coordinates,” said McCaffery. “Several of them reported back that it went great, some that it went OK but that people were always complaining to them. I think it allowed them to get some perspectives on the realities of management.” Management, however, could do little to put more king salmon into the river; conservation-minded approaches to chinook management were instituted from the start of the season, and the remoteness of the region lead to scofflaws creating even more stringent closures. “There were several different types of harvest allowed through the king run,” said McCaffery. “Early, we had weekly three-day, 4-inch mesh openings, late May and early June, for whitefish and other species. One of the things we were able to determine was that a large number of them were used to target chinook. We saw some of that last year, and it continued to this year.” Four-inch mesh size is a restrictive measure of its own, as the large king salmon cannot fit into the gap and ensnare themselves. McCaffery and ADFG managers said the common practice was to rig the nets so that the mesh was looser and could snare the off-limits king salmon. In response, federal managers closed the gillnetting opportunities but opened a cultural community harvest system, which allocated 7,000 chinook to 32 villages represented by the intertribal fishing commission. Originally, the commission had asked federal managers for an allotment of 8,000 to 12,000, but had to compromise in the face of conservation concerns. Only 20 villages participated, and 5,000 of the fish were harvested, which McCaffery said is a comparative success. “We weren’t planning to do it at all until the steering committee asked us, and we were thinking about a much smaller number,” said McCaffery. “It has a lot to do with the frankness of the conversation. We found it really helpful.” Apart from the community harvest, most of the time the Kuskokwim remained closed with sporadic, brief openings for 6-inch gillnets. Area restrictions moved with the fish as the bulk moved upriver towards spawning grounds. The majority of the king run is now past the refuge’s borders, and the federal government ceded its management authority back to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game on July 2. “U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service basically said that they feel that their actions have provided adequate conservation measures for kings, and that the federal priority for subsistence harvest of chinook had been met,” Poetter said. Kuskokwim management is particularly conservation-minded in large part because of its run strength index, a test fishery in Bethel at the river’s mouth. According to Poetter and ADFG coordinator John Linderman, more chinook would loosen up for subsistence harvest if the Kuskokwim area managers had a sonar counter, which would give more accurate in season accounting. ADFG is currently doing feasibility studies for a sonar project, but funding could become an issue. It costs $220,000 for the feasibility study and a roughly equivalent amount for the next few years of phased studies to even determine if the project could work. However, because the state has officially entered the scaled down fiscal year 2016 as of July 1, the ADFG has asked Bethel, like most departments, to highlight areas to cut. Lindeman said the sonar project has been funded through 2017, but after that they will have to look for more options.

EDITORIAL: Governor makes solid picks for marijuana board

The state of Alaska now has its first Marijuana Control Board. Selected by Gov. Bill Walker and announced on July 1, the initial board members will face a weighty task: charting a course to commercial permitting and regulation of retail marijuana sales. Given the magnitude of their responsibility, it’s a good thing the marijuana board has as much time to draw up policy as it does. Some of the five initial selections to the board will be familiar to those who pay attention to local government or state action on the marijuana issue so far. In particular, the two seats on the board allocated to representatives of the marijuana industry will be filled by the two figures most prominent in the legalization campaign and legislative process. Brandon Emmett, of Fairbanks, is the executive director of the nonprofit Center for Responsible Cannabis Legislation, which was active in promoting marijuana legalization during 2014’s ballot initiative campaign. And Bruce Schulte, of Anchorage, was the marijuana industry’s representative in Juneau. Mr. Schulte helped explain the practicalities of legal marijuana to legislators debating law changes and argued against what he saw as attempts to thwart the will of voters in making the drug legal. The other three seats on the board will be filled by representatives of the public health, public safety and rural communities. Loren Jones is a Juneau Borough Assembly member who has served as director of the state Division of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse. Peter Mlynarik is Soldotna’s chief of police. And Mark Springer sits on the Bethel City Council. All three will have valuable experience and insight that will help inform the board’s decisions as it weighs its options on commercial marijuana. The structure of the board is well crafted and, given its makeup, is likely to ensure state residents’ perspectives on the marijuana issue are represented in the determination of policy and regulation. The marijuana industry’s two seats for the coming year will ensure the voices of the majority of Alaskans who voted in favor of legalization are represented. At the same time, those likely to be dealing with some of the negative consequences of the drug’s legal status — law enforcement, health professionals and rural residents (who are sometimes short on both of the former) — will also have a seat at the table to make sure implementation of marijuana regulations protects residents from as many pitfalls as possible. There’s a knock to be made against the governor’s selections. While all of those selected are well qualified, they’re also all men. This is likely partly the consequence of the makeup of those who applied — out of 132 applicants for the board, only about one-fourth were women. But among the roughly 30 female candidates, some were well qualified, would have served the state well and also added additional perspective to the group. It will be something for Gov. Walker to keep in mind when making future selections. The members of the marijuana control board have their work cut out for them. Between now and Nov. 24, the group must draft and approve all of the state’s policy for dealing with retail marijuana growing, marketing and sale. By February 2016, they will begin accepting license applications for commercial marijuana operators, and by May 2016 those licenses will be issued and the full breadth of marijuana legalization in Alaska will be in effect. It’s going to be a tough job, but those in the newly filled board seats volunteered for it. Their first meeting took place in Fairbanks July 2 — there’s no time to waste.

Movers & Shakers 7/12/15

Sen. Lisa Murkowski announced the names of her second session summer interns made up of recent high school graduates who will work in her Washington, D.C., office from July 6-31. Murkowski selected Kellie Chong of Fairbanks; Cassandra Adams and Gwendolyn Ranniger of Ketchikan; Malia Walters of Healy; Christian Escalante of Unalaska; Katlin Bowers, Taylor Sheldon, and Alexander Wong of Anchorage; Max Blust of Juneau; and Steven Murphy of Palmer. Annie Dietderich and Tavish Logan, both of Anchorage, will continue as intern coordinators, supervising and counseling the summer interns in partnership with members of Murkowski’s staff. Dietderich attends St. Lawrence University in New York and is majoring in government and communications. Logan attends Queens University in Ontario, Canada, and is majoring in political science. Anthony Christianson of Hydaburg has received the 2015 Susan Ruddy Community-Based Conservation Award from the Alaska chapter of The Nature Conservancy. Christianson leads the natural resources program at the Hydaburg Cooperative Association, a federally recognized Tribe on Prince of Wales Island. Under his leadership, the Tribe has led numerous science projects to ensure the long-term health of the local tradition of collecting and harvesting wild foods. In 2001, Christianson developed the Hetta Lake Sockeye Salmon Stock Assessment Study. In this unique project, Tribal members are working as hands-on managers of the fishery and operating a remote field station, which allows them to closely monitor fish populations. This study has been the driving force behind the rebuilding of the Hetta sockeye salmon run. Christianson also led the Hydaburg traditional ecological knowledge project, which systematically collected information from Tribal members in a series of interviews about the places most important for local subsistence harvests. John A. “Jay” Gibbons III and Laura Emerson were elected to three-year terms of the Rasmuson Foundation board of directors at a meeting July 1. Both are grandchildren of Elmer Rasmuson. Gibbons, of Greenwich, Conn., is founder and managing partner of Swanson River Capital Partners LP, an investment management firm based in Greenwich. Previously, he spent 11 years at Trust Company of the West, the last three years as managing director and co-portfolio manager of the Value Added and Value Opportunities strategies. Earlier in his career, Gibbons was an equity analyst at Odin Partners LP, Merrill Lynch and Co., and Bear, Stearns and Co. He began his career at BayBanks, Inc. He received an MBA from the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University and a B.A. in Biochemistry from Bowdoin College. Emerson was born and raised in Anchorage, where she lives with her husband and two young children. She earned a bachelor’s degree in English literature in 1996 from the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Wash. Emerson has worked in a range of jobs, including janitorial, retail, banking and as a video editor. She currently teaches yoga. Emerson serves on the Anchorage Museum Board of Directors and previously served on the board of Cyrano’s Theatre Company. The Bureau of Land Management has new district managers for the BLM Alaska Anchorage and Fairbanks District offices. Mark Spencer is the new BLM Anchorage District Manager. Spencer joins BLM Alaska from BLM Nevada, where he served as field manager at BLM’s Red Rock Canyon and Sloan Canyon National Conservation Areas. Prior to that, he was field manager for the Pahrump (Nevada) Field Office. He also served as state planning and environmental coordinator for BLM New Mexico. He is a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners and has a master of planning degree from the University of Virginia and a bachelor’s degree from George Mason University. Geoff Beyersdorf is the new BLM Fairbanks District Manager. Beyersdorf served most recently as the Lewistown field manager in central Montana. He began his BLM career as the subsistence biologist for the Anchorage Field Office in 2008 and completed the National Training Center Emerging Leaders Program in 2010. Prior to his time with BLM, Beyersdorf spent 16 years with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Alaska where he served as a pilot-biologist. Beyersdorf began his federal career in Oregon working as a biological technician for the U.S. Forest Service. His graduate studies were conducted at Humboldt State University in wildlife biology, with an undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan in wildlife research. Erin Coughlin Hollowell is the new executive director of 49 Writers. Hollowell’s administrative background includes working with the Kachemak Bay Writing Conference and Friends of the Homer Public Library as well as coordinating the 2012 Alaska Arts and Culture Conference. Hollowell is the recipient of the Alaska Literary Award (2014); Connie Boochever Award (2013); Rasmuson Foundation Fellowship (2013); and the author of Pause, Traveler a collection of poems published by Red Hen Press (2013). In its fifth year, 49 Writers supports the artistic development of writers, fosters a statewide writing community and builds an audience for literature throughout Alaska. PND Engineers Inc. announced two professional achievements in its Anchorage office. Matthew Wasson earned a professional engineer, or P.E., license in Alaska. Wasson is a civil engineer and land surveyor with six years of experience throughout Alaska and the contiguous United States. His expertise includes Arctic road and pad design, construction administration, estimating, field inspection, project planning, gravel mine site development, and field surveying. Wasson holds a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Maine College of Engineering and has been employed full time with PND since 2013. Steven Halcomb recently passed the California Geotechnical Engineer, or G.E., exam. The G.E. requires an additional eight-hour exam beyond the Professional Engineering exam. Halcomb joined PND in 2010. He holds master’s degrees in civil and Arctic engineering from the University of Alaska Anchorage and P.E. licenses in both Alaska and California.

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - AJC Web