Alaska Journal of Commerce

Halibut quota up 2.3 percent overall, dips for Central Gulf

The International Pacific Halibut Commission raised halibut quota for the second time in as many years, adding a glimmer of hope to a fishery troubled by stock declines and political squabbles.

Overall, the commission raised the Pacific halibut catch limits in all except one region: the Central Gulf of Alaska, also known as Area 3A. In particular, it gave a much-welcomed boost to the Central Bering Sea – from where the commission’s newest member hails and holds commercial halibut quota.

Walker bills would shift tax credits to development loans

After more than six months of speculation, Alaska got its first look at Gov. Bill Walker’s solution for what he calls an “unsustainable” oil and gas industry incentive program Jan. 19 when Senate bills 129 and 130 were read for the first time on the Senate floor.

Walker jumpstarted the oil and gas tax credit debate last June when he nixed $200 million in credit payments from state operating budget before signing it.

S&P finds Alaska with ‘unique exposure’ to oil prices

Standard and Poor’s Rating Services took a look at what makes some oil states’ futures look bleaker than others. The hardest-hit states forecasted oil prices too optimistically, tied too much state income to oil revenues, or didn’t save enough from the good old days when prices were high and state coffers were fat.

S&P analyzed eight states: Alaska, Louisiana, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas, and Wyoming. Of the eight, S&P rated Alaska, Louisiana, and New Mexico has having negative credit outlooks.

Interior Energy Project decisions moved back again, to Feb.

The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority should have its new Interior Energy Project partner in place by the end of February, according to project leaders.

A partner recommendation can be expected the second week of February, IEP manager Bob Shefchik said in an interview, with a special AIDEA board meeting to be held later in the month to take formal action on the staff recommendation.

The time between the announcement and the board meeting will allow the AIDEA board and the public to scrutinize the IEP team’s recommendation, Shefchik said.

Legislature gets first update on pros, cons of AK LNG Project

Legislators got their first briefing of the session on the Alaska LNG Project on Jan. 25 direct from the project’s lead manager, ExxonMobil’s Steve Butt.

In presentations to the House and Senate Resource committees, Butt implored legislators to view themselves as the board of directors for the state, as a 25 percent owner of the $45 billion to $65 billion prospective development.

“We view ourselves as kind of a project organizer evaluating technical and economic viability of the AK LNG Project; does it make sense to the investors?” he said to House Resource members.

Alaska Air does it again with record $842M profit in 2015

The State of Alaska might be rubbing pennies together, but its namesake airline is not.

Alaska Airlines’ parent company, Alaska Air Group Inc., once again posted record fourth quarter and full-year earnings in 2015.

Alaska Air Group executives reported a $186 million fourth quarter profit and a 2015 net income of $842 million in a Jan. 21 investor conference call.

The quarterly profit is a 49 percent year-over-year improvement and the full-year return is 47 percent better than 2014.

Gov’s foray into ‘fish war’ ill-fated as Maw faces felonies

Gov. Bill Walker’s early foray into the Cook Inlet fish conflict soon after taking office has turned out to be ill-fated as Roland Maw, his one-time nominee to the Board of Fisheries, was charged with residency fraud just a week after a meeting with Walker and the United Cook Inlet Drift Association.

North Pacific council keeps up work on Gulf bycatch plan

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council will meet in Portland, Ore., Feb. 1-9 to discuss changes to Gulf of Alaska bycatch management, Bering Sea yellowfin sole management, and halibut management framework.

The council is one of eight regional fishery councils oversees federal fisheries within three to 200 miles from the coast.

BP to cut Alaska workforce by 13%

BP is cutting 4,000 jobs worldwide and some of those reductions will be in Alaska.

An intra-company email obtained by the Journal sent to BP Alaska employees Jan. 12 states that the company plans to reduce its total in state workforce by 13 percent.

All employees should know their status by early spring and the majority of layoffs will be conducted by mid-year, according to the email.

Real estate market forecast sees softening in Anchorage

Anchorage’s commercial and residential real estate market looks to be relatively stable this year, although some softening is expected.

Local realtors and brokers gave their best estimates for different segments of the Anchorage bowl real estate market at the annual Building Owners and Manager’s Association forecast luncheon Dec. 8.

IG finds no bias in EPA Bristol Bay assessment

The Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment is on the up-and-up, at least according to the Environmental Protection Agency Office of Inspector General.

Based on “obtainable records,” an Inspector General report issued Jan. 13 found no bias in how the EPA conducted its lengthy assessment of the potential impacts of mining within Bristol Bay watershed.

Judge hits both sides in Anchorage LIO suit

A lawsuit challenging the legality of the Anchorage Legislative Information Office lease will continue, but neither side came out of a court ruling unscathed.

Anchorage District Superior Court Judge Patrick McKay wrote in a Jan. 7 order denying a defendants’ motion for summary judgment that the filer of the suit, Anchorage attorney James Gottstein, waited an unreasonably long time to file the suit.

At the same time, McKay found that the Anchorage LIO owners could in a roundabout way benefit from the building lease being voided.

Smaller budget means ADFG can’t fix faulty Susitna counts

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game cannot undo a set of Cook Inlet driftnet restrictions in place over the last 25 years.

Cook Inlet driftnetters say restrictions unjustly keep them from millions of dollars of sockeye harvest based on faulty data. Protective measures for Susitna sockeye, a designated stock of concern, keep drifters in specific corridors in Cook Inlet from July 9 to 31. Fishermen say the decades have added up to thousands of available sockeye — and millions of dollars — they didn’t need to forgo.

ADFG insists studies were used despite going unpublished

Use it, then lose it, was the fate of a long-delayed Kenai River habitat study until the Alaska Department of Fish and Game finally published it last fall.

A 14-year publication delay on a Kenai River habitat study has made ripples through ADFG and the Cook Inlet fishing sphere as officials have acknowledged that taking so long to finalize the report was a mistake but insist they still used the report’s recommendations in management plans.

MEA says economics of single transmission co. overstated

Matanuska Electric Association is questioning the benefits of transferring regional transmission infrastructure to a single utility.

In a Dec. 29 letter to the Regulatory Commission of Alaska chair T.W. Patch, MEA General Manager Joe Griffith cited eight reasons why the Southcentral electric utility believes forming a Railbelt electric transmission company could be unnecessary and possibly add costs to participating utility ratepayers.

Walker announces hiring freeze as S&P downgrades Alaska

Standard & Poor’s officially downgraded the State of Alaska’s credit ratings Jan. 5, citing bottom-of-the-barrel oil prices that continue to balloon the state’s budget deficit.

The downgrades drop the state’s general obligation debt rating from AAA to AA+; state appropriation-backed debt from AA+ to AA; and the rating on some moral obligation-backed bonds from the Alaska Energy Authority from AA to A+.

S&P also attached a negative outlook to each rating.

After flooding, work continues to re-bury TAPS

Flooding of the Dalton Highway last spring caught a lot of attention, mainly because the vital road link to the North Slope oil fields was cut off for days. Hundreds of trucks delivering supplies and equipment were backed up and delayed.

What got very little, if any, attention was that washed-out areas nearby exposed buried parts of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System to the open air and moving water.

Support for using investment earnings, taxes after cuts

The idea of using a potion of Permanent Fund earnings to narrow the huge state budget gap is gaining traction in the Legislature. Two Senate leaders, Senate President Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage, and Resources Committee Chair Sen. Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, say some way of using investment earnings has to be part of the equation, although both say additional spending cuts should come first.

Board of Fisheries set to take up Yukon-Kuskokwim issues

Years of declining king salmon stocks will control the Alaska Board of Fisheries’ Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim meeting in Fairbanks set for Jan. 12-16.

Since the last AYK meeting in 2013, the board and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game have put a tight leash on Yukon and Kuskokwim fisheries. Villagers along both rivers need ways to keep fed and keep paid, but simultaneously ask for even stricter controls on king salmon, especially on the Kuskokwim where middle and upper rivers users are seeing even less of the already-scarce fish.

Walker: ‘We’re TransCanada now’

If 2015 was Alaska’s “year of the budget,” Gov. Bill Walker is looking forward to 2016 being the “year of the gasline.”

Walker said he hopes his administration can present the Legislature with a virtually complete Alaska LNG Project fiscal package sometime in the second half of the upcoming legislative session, which begins Jan. 19.

The portfolio of Alaska LNG documents the governor wants to take to Juneau includes the project’s fiscal terms, governance agreement and tax policy, and the associated constitutional amendment.

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