Alaska Journal of Commerce

State sues feds over predator control restrictions

The State of Alaska has taken the Obama administration to court one last time.

State attorneys filed a lawsuit against outgoing Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and U.S. Fish and Wildlife and National Park Service leaders Jan. 13, contending new regulations limiting predator control on federal wildlife refuge lands unlawfully step on state management authority.

Delegation revs up for another ANWR fight

Alaska’s congressional delegation is hoping the 13th time will be the lucky one for legislation to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and natural gas development.

That’s because — as he is quick to note — Rep. Don Young has successfully shepherded such bills through the House 12 times before, only to see them falter time and again before becoming law.

Only once has a bill opening ANWR reached a president’s desk, and it was vetoed by President Bill Clinton in 1996.

Silver, gold production steady in Southeast

The metal mines of Southeast Alaska had consistent and positive production in 2016, according to year-end results released by the operating companies.

Hecla Mining Co. reported Jan. 10 that its Greens Creek underground, primarily silver mine on Admiralty Island west of Juneau produced 9.3 million ounces of silver during the year, the highest production level since the company took full ownership of the mine in 2008.

State, Doyon, miners opposed to Eastern Interior plan

The State of Alaska and mining proponents are once again at odds with Bureau of Land Management; this time the dispute is over the agency’s updated plan to manage 6.5 million acres of federal lands in Eastern Alaska.

On Jan. 5 BLM released the decision documents to its Eastern Interior Resource Management Plan that would keep approximately 4.8 million federal acres off-limits to development, namely mining in the region known for gold production.

Study: New North Pacific fleet would cost $11.6B

Rejuvenating Alaska’s large vessel fishing fleet could be nearly an $11 billion boon for Outside shipyards, according to a new McDowell Group report.

The Alaska-based research firm pegged $11.3 billion as the cost to completely replace the 414 fishing and processing vessels longer than 58 feet that participate in North Pacific fisheries off the coast of Alaska in a study commissioned by the Port of Seattle and the Washington Maritime Federation.

State projects $2B investment loss

Not surprisingly, Alaska’s fiscal picture got worse with the March 21 release of the 2016 Spring Revenue Forecast.

Total state revenue for the 2016 fiscal year, which ends June 30, is now projected to be about $3.6 billion, down more than 60 percent from the $9.5 billion of income estimated in the Fall 2015 Revenue Forecast released last December.

The fall outlook for investment revenue had the state taking in $3.8 billion in fiscal year 2016, while the spring forecast expects the Fund to take a loss of just more than $2 billion for the year.

Army officially delays plan to slash Arctic Warrior force level

The U.S. Army has officially announced that it will delay the proposed reduction of 2,600 “Arctic Warriors” stationed at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.

Army officials first announced plans to cut 2,600 soldiers from the 4th Airborne Brigade Combat Team of the 25th Infantry Division, also known as the 4-25, last July as part of an Army-wide cut of 40,000 troops.

Alaska’s congressional delegation and state political leadership hailed the delay as a win for national security. The full division stationed in Alaska is about 4,000 troops.

Cultivation dominates marijuana applicants

The first batch of marijuana business licenses is available to the public, and so far Alaskans have more interest in growing than selling.

The Marijuana Control Board began accepting license applications on Feb. 24, but only made them available to the public March 14. Public figures from various marijuana industry and political groups have filed, including members of the Marijuana Control Board itself and the Alaska Marijuana Industry Association.

After record price year, construction loans and permits dip

Editor's note: this article has been updated to reflect that the current 2016 average home sale price only includes January and February, which are historically the lowest priced months of the year. 

Alaska housing prices peaked in 2015 – and according to statistics, so did homeowners’ willingness to pay them.

With layoffs on the North Slope and a precarious fiscal situation for the state government, homeowners in Anchorage appear less willing to fund new residential construction projects than in 2015.

Analysis finds buying Anchorage LIO close to moving cost

An independent review of the Legislative Council’s options to deal with the Anchorage Legislative Information Office building found the cost of purchasing the building to be nearly on par with moving the Legislature’s Anchorage offices elsewhere.

San Francisco-based Navigant Consulting Director Nigel Hughes concluded in a report dated March 14 that purchasing the Anchorage LIO would cost 4 percent more, on a per square-foot present value basis, than moving to the nearby Downtown Atwood Building, which houses state executive branch agencies.

No bonds means bare-bones capital budget

With little appetite from legislators for a general obligation bond package, bare bones capital budgets the next couple years are probably a harsh reality of the state’s fiscal situation.

The administration’s proposal for a $500 million general obligation, or GO, bond package to fund up to $250 million of capital appropriations in each of the 2017 and 2018 fiscal years received, seemed possible, if not likely, to pass the Legislature based on reactions when the idea was first offered by Gov. Bill Walker in December.

Board of Fisheries hopefuls, legislators playing nice in 2016

The 2016 Board of Fisheries appointees represent no one, and everyone, they insist.

2015 and 2016 took a toll on fisheries leadership. The last 12 months include one botched interview, one forced resignation, three failed nominations – including one denied by the Walker Administration – a fistful of felony charges, and two recent resignations – one of which chairman Tom Kluberton said comes from political burnout and stress, the other, Bob Mumford, coming before he even had the chance to be confirmed by the Legislature. 

Enstar, Furie seal gas deal through April ‘21

Enstar Natural Gas Co. appears to have locked up 90 percent of its gas supply needs into 2021 after finalizing a deal with Furie Operating Alaska.

The gas supply and purchase agreement filed March 14 with the Regulatory Commission of Alaska is for a firm supply of 6.2 billion cubic feet, or bcf, of natural gas per year from April 2018 through March 2021.

Committee bill cuts Cook Inlet credits, not much more

Legislators began putting their imprints on Gov. Bill Walker’s oil and gas tax credit overhaul with the first committee version of the legislation released March 19.

The House Resources Committee substitute of House Bill 247 is a mild version of the original bill; it gradually reduces the value of credits companies could claim for capital expenses, but does not address the minimum production tax rate or “tax floor.”

Medicaid reform passes Senate

Medicaid has been a divisive topic in Alaska since Gov. Bill Walker announced his plan to expand the federal insurance program in the state early last year, but the Medicaid reform package that unanimously passed the Senate March 11 seems to be something lawmakers and health care leaders can agree upon.

Sen. Pete Kelly’s Senate Bill 74 that was sent to the House after a 19-0 vote combined parts of the administration’s Medicaid reform and expansion bill with an earlier version of Kelly’s bill, both of which were introduced last session.

Banks, CUs haven’t seen downturn yet

Alaska’s state budget and economy hang over dangerous cliff, but the state’s financial institutions haven’t been pushed to the edge yet.

Alaska’s banks and credit unions showed growth in 2015, driven by commercial lending growth statewide and optimism for housing markets in the Interior.

Alaska trawlers furious about Walker’s council nominations

Editor's note: This article has been updated to include comment from Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Sam Cotten.

Two months after a heated meeting, trawlers are again accusing Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Sam Cotten of short-changing their industry. 

Gov. Bill Walker submitted nominations to fill two seats of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council on March 9, sending waves of dissatisfaction throughout an industry segment that claims Walker’s administration is forcing it out of the process at the worst time possible.

Victors in suit against NMFS want hired skipper rule scrapped

The victorious plaintiffs in a case challenging a federal rule over hired skippers in the sablefish and halibut fisheries filed a motion Feb. 24 to vacate the National Marine Fisheries Service action.

Fairweather Fish Inc. and Ray Welsh filed suit against the National Marine Fisheries Service, or NMFS, in 2014, following the finalization of a regulation that prohibited the use of hired skippers to harvest halibut and sablefish quota acquired after Feb. 12, 2010.

Alaskans note lack of input in pushback against Arctic plan

Alaska’s leaders in Juneau and Congress had harsh words for a joint March 10 statement from the White House and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announcing plans for new emissions caps on the oil and gas industry and preservation of significant chunks territory in each country’s Arctic.

The statement was released as Trudeau made the first official visit by a Canadian prime minister to the White House in nearly two decades.

Ahtna cites tax credits as it prepares to spud gas well

Ahtna Inc. is preparing a drill site near Glennallen to further its hunt for natural gas in the Copper River basin.

The Copper River-area Alaska Native regional corporation is building a gravel road and four-acre pad now, with first drilling of its exploration well Tolsona No. 1 scheduled for next month, according to a March 12 company release.

Tolsona No. 1 will be on state land about 10 miles west of Glennallen along the Glenn Highway.

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