Alaska Journal of Commerce

Feds file to dismiss suit over Kenai River subsistence gillnet

The Ninilchik Traditional Council filed a response March 3 to a motion by the Federal Subsistence Board and U.S. Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture seeking to dismiss a lawsuit filed last October.

NTC filed the complaint after requests were denied by the board to remove federal fishing manager Jeff Anderson and to approve a subsistence gillnet on the Kenai River.

According to the motion seeking dismissal by the federal defendants filed Jan. 25, the court should not take up the lawsuit because the Kenai River approval is ongoing.

Federal Subsistence Board restores Saxman’s rural status

The Federal Subsistence Board has ended a decade-long struggle for the Southeast Alaska village of Saxman by restoring its rural designation.

As a formally recognized rural village, Saxman residents now regain subsistence hunting and fishing rights they lost in 2007 when the board declared the village “nonrural.”

Tribal leaders expressed relief, saying their practical survival and cultural survival depend on subsistence rights.

University cuts could damage fisheries, Arctic research

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

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

IEP talks advance with Cook Inlet gas partner

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

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

Museum exhibit to celebrate century of Alaska banking

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

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

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

Fishing industry: Maximize existing rates before raising taxes

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

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

Laukitis, Peterson nominated for North Pacific council

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alaska Communications posts positive net income to close 2015

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

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

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

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

Plan for Southeast alternative fuel revived with propane

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

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

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

Bleeding cash, still exploring on the North Slope

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

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

DOD to spend $325M on Clear missile defense radar

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

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

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

Tax credit changes show unpredictability, consultant says

A consultant to the Legislature reviewed the oil and gas tax credit changes proposed by Gov. Bill Walker and concluded the State of Alaska needs one thing above all else: fiscal stability.

Budget deficit hits state energy programs, rebates cut

Belt tightening throughout the State of Alaska has reached the Alaska Housing Finance Corp.

The state-founded lending agency announced Feb. 24 it will suspend its popular Home Energy Rebate Program at the close of business March 25 due to lack of funding. Applications for energy efficiency improvement funding will be accepted through the late-March date; however reimbursement will be subject to available funds in addition to applicant qualifications.

The program held about $5 million as of last December, according to AHFC Director of Public Affairs Stacy Schubert.

Legislative legal, CFEC question Walker’s adminstrative order

Ed. note: An earlier version of this article referred to Rep. Stutes' bill as not having passed the fisheries committee. The bill did pass that committee in 2015 and is currenlty awaiting a hearing in the House Resources Commitee. 

The Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission is once again fighting to stay abreast of fisheries officials who want to narrow its scope of duties.

TAPS value settled at $8B for 5 years

The next court battle over the value of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System won’t be for at least another five years.

Two settlements over the taxable value of TAPS between the State of Alaska, its owners, and municipalities along the pipeline corridor were announced March 1. The agreements fix the value of the 800-mile pipeline, for property tax purposes, at $8 billion through 2020, according to a release from the North Slope Borough.

All pending litigation in Alaska courts regarding TAPS value will be dismissed as part of the deals as well.

Valley bills seek fishing dollars

Gov. Bill Walker’s commercial fisheries tax bill is stalled in committee, but legislators continue digging into the industry for revenue.

Two bills, sponsored by legislators from the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, would impose new taxes on either the entire industry or the longliners and trawlers in the federal and state fisheries.

HB 358, sponsored by Rep. Mark Neuman, R-Big Lake, and Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage, would require non-salmon and non-halibut trawlers and longliners to pay a tax on halibut and salmon bycatch.

Gov’s bill would double strict liability commercial fines

Fishermen worry that Gov. Bill Walker’s industry taxes hikes may fall on them alone as a litany of fish bills stacks up.

The Senate Resources Committee heard SB 164 on Feb. 22, also from Walker’s office. The complex bill concerns hunting and fishing permits – specifically, how ADFG can discourage wildlife violations while making extra money off them. The bill includes measures to increase commercial fines and recoup money lost in the recreation hunting and fishing licensing process. It will have a second hearing March 3.

Employment up 0.4 percent in Q3

Alaska’s workforce keeps growing despite ever-present concerns about the impact of low oil prices on the state’s economy.

Average monthly employment in the state increased by 0.4 percent in the third quarter of 2015, according to the state Labor Department. Overall employment averaged 354,204 jobs for the quarter, up 1,551 jobs compared to 2014.

Wages also grew, with employers paying out $4.6 billion late last summer, which was up 2.4 percent year-over-year after an inflation adjustment, the department states.

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