Alex DeMarban

Alaska Native split over ANWR on display at Anchorage hearing

During the federal government’s last public hearing in Alaska before oil leasing is allowed in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge on Feb. 11, some 50 protesters silently holding “Listen to the People” banners turned their back on a federal official trying to explain the regulatory process before drilling can occur. Outside that hearing room at the Dena’ina Center in Anchorage, an equally large audience of Alaska Natives from the North Slope region where drilling is set to occur held signs saying “It’s our backyard,” and called for oil development in the 19-million-acre refuge. “Government is listening to the people,” said Crawford Patkotak, chairman of the Arctic Slope Regional Corp. and a speaker at the pro-drilling rally. “Thank God for that.” “Bought and paid for Natives!” Natasha Gamache, an Alaska Native from Nome, shouted at him. “We’re supposed to be protecting the land.” “1002!” drilling supporters shouted, a legal reference to the 1.6-million-acre coastal plain where drilling would take place. “Shame on you!” Gamache shot back. The dueling protests capped a day of public testimony at the Anchorage hearing, a tamer version of a Fairbanks meeting held the previous week, when opponents of drilling took over and began speaking publicly at what was organized as an “open-house” event without public testimony, according to the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. Public testimony was originally not scheduled for the Anchorage meeting, but BLM changed the format following the Fairbanks complaints, said Lesli Ellis-Wouters, a spokeswoman with BLM. “It’s in response to what we heard in Fairbanks,” she said. One last public hearing on the federal government’s 700-page draft environmental report — released in December and spelling out four different options for oil development in the refuge — was set to take place on Feb. 13 in Washington, D.C. Public comment is allowed until March 13, a month-long extension from previous plans. Speakers filtered in and out of the Anchorage meeting hall through the day — the hearing lasted more than six hours — offering their view on the bitter, decades-old argument. More than 100 people signed up to speak, officials said. More than 400 people signed up to attend. Some 700,000 people commented last year, before the draft report was released, most of them via form letter, according to the BLM. The Republican Congress and President Donald Trump in late 2017 passed legislation ordering the federal government’s first-ever lease sale in the refuge, decades after Congress in 1980 set it aside for possible future exploration. Joe Balash, an assistant Interior Secretary, told reporters on Monday the Bureau of Land Management is still on track to hold the lease sale late this year, auctioning tracts to oil companies. The issue seems anything but decided. On Monday, Reps. Jared Huffman, D-Calif., and Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Penn., introduced legislation in Congress to stop the lease sale, though it’s unlikely to pass a Republican-led Senate. Balash, addressing criticism that the lease sale has been fast-tracked, told reporters the BLM has dedicated employees to developing the environmental report, allowing it to advance more quickly than past reviews when employees were engaged in multiple projects. The federal government’s final report and it’s decision, selecting an alternative for development, is expected in the fall. The development scenarios each provide protections for the Porcupine caribou herd and other prized wildlife, after the agency heard from an array of interests before the draft report was created, Balash said. Asked if he was trying to rush the process before leadership in Washington can change, Balash said that’s an issue for “political prognosticators” to comment on. “I’ve been given a job and we’re doing it as well as we can,” he said. Patkotak, while signing up to speak Monday, said drilling is an Alaska Native “right’s issue” that will benefit Alaskans with jobs and a better economy, not an argument about the climate that has been warming and cooling for ages. ASRC, the Native regional corporation, has joined two other companies to take the first exploration steps in the refuge in decades, by conducting a modern seismic survey that could support oil drilling. “The Inupiaq are the rightful owners of the resource,” and have the right to develop it, said Patkotak, a bowhead whaling captain from Utqiagvik, population 4,500. Patkotak and other drilling proponents wore “We stand with Kaktovik — Open ANWR!” buttons, a reference to calls by the village, the only one in ANWR, favoring drilling in the refuge. Opponents of drilling said they stood with the Gwich’in in Arctic Village south of the refuge, where drilling is opposed in part out of concerns for the caribou they hunt and other wildlife they say are threatened by development. Earlier in the day, Anchorage resident Kengo Nagaoka turned his back on Balash as he spoke, indicating his opposition to drilling and an outcome he said was predetermined by the Trump Administration. “You are here to check a box,” said Nagaoka, with drilling opposition group Defend the Sacred - Alaska, before turning to the audience to speak. “Drilling in ANWR continues the cycle of violence to our lands and our people (and) that must stop.” Sarah Siqiniq Maupin, an Utqiagvik resident with indigenous chin and forehead tattoos, said warming temperatures linked to increased oil development and greenhouse gas emissions has made the ice softer, endangering hunters traveling on frozen rivers and ocean. “Climate change is devastating our world,” she said. “What happens in the Arctic affects everyone.” Ken Federico, who recently worked for a drilling company on the North Slope, and is chairman of the Southcentral Alaska Dipnetters Association, said the oil industry can drill in the refuge and protect the environment. “It can be done responsibly,” he said.

Governor moves to fire chair of Alaska oil and gas regulatory commission

Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy is moving to fire the chairman of the commission that oversees oil and gas operations in Alaska, accusing him of five offenses including security breaches, chronic absenteeism and browbeating other commissioners, according to a Jan. 17 letter from the governor. The two-page letter provides limited details of the alleged missteps by Hollis French, an attorney and former Democratic state senator from Anchorage. French was appointed to the three-member Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission in 2016 by Dunleavy’s predecessor and former opponent in the governor’s race, Bill Walker, an independent. “I think this is happening because I have been firmly standing up for the public interest in oil and gas conservation,” French said Friday. The governor’s letter to French lists “potential grounds" for his removal from office “for cause.” A three-day public hearing on the issue ended Friday. Private attorney Tim Petumenos served as hearing officer after accepting a request from the governor to do so. French, on Friday, said he submitted an exhibit showing correspondence between his two fellow commissioners, Dan Seamount and Cathy Foerster, addressing their attempt to oust him from the board. Petumenos said the exhibits in the case would be made public after he issues his findings in the coming days. “In May of last year, I sent the governor a letter about this topic,” French said Friday, referring to Walker. “In response to this letter, one commissioner wrote to another, ‘we may now have a for-cause case,’ meaning we may now have reason to get rid of me from the commission.” Asked why the commissioners sought his ouster, French on Friday shrugged and said he would not comment before Petumenos issued his findings. The governor will make the ultimate determination in the case, Petumenos said Friday. The state Department of Law conducted the investigation into the case, said Matt Shuckerow, a spokesman for Dunleavy. The governor’s letter says that French, who has a salary of $145,000 annually, breached “critical” security protocols by giving the press information about the “means of accessing” confidential data, as well as the whereabouts of that data, from the lone well drilled in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in the mid-1980s, known as KIC-1 well. Dunleavy does not accuse French of inappropriately releasing the data itself. Information about what the well uncovered has been one of the industry’s tightest secrets, and speculation has only increased as the federal government over the last year moved to allow the first drilling in the refuge since then. The governor’s letter does not provide additional detail about the security breaches. French, under questioning at the hearing Friday, acknowledged he had provided details about the location of the data, and security measures associated with it, in July 2017, to the Anchorage Daily News for a story about the secrecy behind the KIC-1 well. French told Petumenos he understood that a 1992 settlement between the state and oil companies was meant to protect the data the well had found, but not details about its location or security. “My reading of the settlement agreement is that the whole point of the exercise is to keep the data secret. That is, what did that company learn when it drilled that well? What were the (rock) strata? The (rock) porosity? What’s going on downhole?" French said. Foerster, in an interview with ADN for the same 2017 story, also shared the data’s location and details about the security measures surrounding it. Foerster on Friday told the ADN she did not. When pressed that she did, she said: “I’m not under investigation.” Foerster, a commissioner since 2005 who plans to leave the agency when her term ends this month, on Friday sat beside and conferred with the state’s attorney, Dana Burke, a senior assistant attorney general who is representing the state’s case. Foerster declined to address French’s allegation that she sought to oust him. “Out of respect for the process and the parties involved, I have nothing to say,” Foerster said. At least one former commissioner, David Johnston, in a story in the Daily News in 1995, shared details about the data’s location in the agency’s Anchorage office, and some of the complicated security procedures, locked behind a steel door, with two sensors to detect burglars. AOGCC, a quasi-judicial state agency, typically spends its time reviewing oil and gas operations, periodically levying fines for violations to prevent waste and accidents. Internal disputes rarely reach the public eye. But in 2003, Sarah Palin was the public member and chair of the board -- the same position held by French -- before she became the state’s governor. Palin found Randy Ruedrich, the former chief of the Alaska Republican Party, doing party business in his state job as the petroleum engineer on the commission. Ruedrich resigned from the commission that year. He settled state ethics charges by admitting wrongdoing and paying a fine of $12,000. Kevin Fitzgerald, an attorney representing French, said after the hearing that much of the tension on the commission now is related to French’s goals of expanding the agency’s jurisdiction to prevent more natural gas from being wasted. The other commissioners have disagreed with French, Fitzgerald said. The governor’s letter also alleges French: • Typically comes to work four hours daily or less, despite policy that sets work weeks at 37.5 hours. • Has “disrupted” the commission by pervasively browbeating fellow commissioners for decisions he doesn’t agree with. The letter does not describe specific incidents. • Publicly promoted views contrary to the commission’s position. The letter does not provide specific details. • Refused to perform job-related tasks, and pursued non-work interests on the job. Again, specific details aren’t provided. “Alaskans reasonably expect, and have the right to, commissioners, agency heads, and other high-ranking officials that perform the work they are paid to do, and who do not actively undermine agencies they represent,” Dunleavy said in the letter. Dunleavy, in a Jan. 22 letter to Petumenos, said the critical question is whether there is sufficient evidence to remove French from office for cause associated with misconduct or neglect. State law allows a governor to remove an oil and gas commissioner “for cause," but must give the commissioner a chance to defend themselves in a public hearing. Dunleavy, in that letter, asks Petumenos to forward his findings by Feb. 18. Petumenos said he plans to do so earlier than that.

Busiest exploration season in decades planned for this winter

The number of exploration and production rigs working on the oil-rich North Slope should reach its highest level in 20 years this winter, state officials say. Oil field employment is higher than last year, modestly, but a first in more than four years. And the state just had one of its strongest North Slope lease sales in recent history. Those factors and others show the recent plunge in oil prices has not dampened industry’s expectations for the region, amid newfound interest in a little-tapped geological formation, the Nanushuk, state officials indicated in a meeting with the Senate Finance committee last week. But with long development windows for Alaska projects, much of the new oil production is still years away. “It’s very good news” but the state will stay stuck in a fiscal “ditch” at least for at least the next couple of years, said Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka and Senate Finance Committee co-chairman, during the meeting. Still, state authorities said they’re encouraged by positive signs showing that investment in the oil and gas sector, a key driver of Alaska’s economy, is on the rise. In a first since 2014, the sector employs more people than it did one year earlier, said Neal Fried, economist with the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development, on Jan. 22. About 9,250 people worked in the industry in November and December, a year-to-year increase of 100 jobs. The rise followed a long period that saw thousands of oil and gas workers laid off, helping make Alaska unemployment the nation’s worst, at 6.3 percent in December. “The numbers are not dramatic,” said Fried, who was not part of the Finance Committee meeting. “But the fact it appears that the trend is over is what’s real important. It’s important to people working there, and it’s an important signal to our economy.” North Slope oil prices that are critical for supporting industry operations — and revenue for companies and Alaska — sank after breaching $85 a barrel in early October, to current levels just above $60. Still, the recent prices are an improvement from previous years, creating a better environment for the industry, he said. “There’s been volatility, yes, but the price environment has improved a lot, even with the somewhat lower prices in recent months,” Fried said. The North Slope rig count is expected to reach its highest level in two decades, with an estimated 18 exploration and production rigs expected to operate this winter, said Graham Smith, permitting manager in the state’s Oil and Gas Division, in an email on Tuesday. That’s higher than the 17 rigs in 2014, a year of high oil prices, he said. “Some of our legacy fields are picking up rigs, we haven’t seen that for the past four years,” said Chantal Walsh, Oil and Gas division director, speaking to the committee Jan. 24. “Additional to that, we have a high level of exploration activity.” ConocoPhillips, looking to develop the large Willow field, is leading the way with plans to complete its largest Alaska exploration season in 16 years, drilling six to eight exploration and appraisal wells this winter. Oil Search has said it is drilling two appraisal wells this winter to better understand how to develop its Pikka discovery. The large find has sparked industry interest in the relatively shallow and sprawling Nanushuk formation. Oil Search on Jan. 24 reported “encouraging” results from the first well it drilled this winter, with oil confirmed in “hydrocarbon-saturated, high porosity sand,” said Peter Botten, Oil Search’s managing director. The company, based in Papua New Guinea, has rapidly grown its Alaska operations over the past year. It boosted the workforce to more than 100 employees from just a few, after buying a stake in Pikka in late 2017. Also this winter, BP is conducting a large seismic shoot to better understand future production potential in the state’s main legacy field, Prudhoe Bay. “There is a lot more activity, which translates to jobs for people,” Walsh said. Smith said other positive signs of rebounding North Slope activity include a strong lease sale in November. The state received high bids of $27.3 million from oil companies, the third highest in the last 20 years. The extra activity doesn’t necessarily mean additional oil production, Walsh cautioned. “It doesn’t lead immediately to adding money to the state general fund, but it is an exciting indication” that the state’s fortunes are improving, she said. Oil production at Pikka and Willow, perhaps the state’s most promising discoveries awaiting development, aren’t expected to begin producing oil until about 2024. Production could reach about 100,000 barrels daily at each field, possibly more at Pikka. Tax write-offs associated with the cost of developing Pikka and Willow will lower revenue for the state, officials said. Also, at Willow, located on federal land, half the royalties would go to the federal government, and the rest would be set aside by law for distribution to North Slope communities, reducing state revenue. Over roughly 16 years, Willow could bring about $7 billion in revenue to Alaska, the state estimated. Pikka, on state land, could be worth about $10.5 billion during that length of time.

State investigating death at Hilcorp operation on Slope

State agencies and oil field companies are investigating the death of a worker killed Friday in a “pipe mishandling incident” at a North Slope field operated by Hilcorp Alaska, according to a state official. New but limited details emerged Dec. 11 about the early-morning fatality at Milne Point field. Hilcorp, a company that has previously come under investigation for multiple safety violations, and contractor Kuukpik Drilling, the worker’s employer, declined to provide information about the accident while the case is under investigation. “It’s a pretty emotional time for all of us,” said Kenny Overvold, general manager of Kuukpik Drilling, with about 50 employees. He said the companies are conducting internal investigations and cooperating with agencies. “At this point we don’t have anything new to release,” he said. Claire Pywell, with the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development, said the fatality occurred at 3 a.m. Dec. 7. An investigator with the Alaska Occupational Safety Health and Division flew to the scene that day, she said. The victim’s name has not been released, a step awaiting family notification procedures, Pywell said. Hollis French, chairman of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, said he spoke with Dave Wilkins, senior vice president of Hilcorp Alaska, on Friday. Wilkins characterized the death as resulting from a “pipe mishandling incident,” according to French. The worker was struck by heavy drilling pipe, French said. “It looks like a piece of pipe was mishandled on the rig floor,” French said. “They were laying down pipe,” he said, requiring sections of pipe to be moved during a drilling operation. Hilcorp spokeswoman Lori Nelson provided a statement Dec. 11 that “the cause of the incident is not known.” “We are deeply saddened by this news and our thoughts and prayers with their family and loved ones,” the statement said. Kenai radio station KSRM reported the incident Dec. 7, noting that drilling operations were suspended following the fatality. French said the AOGCC is monitoring the investigation and will review details when it’s complete, he said. The incident does not appear to be a violation of AOGCC procedures, he said. In an earlier incident at Milne Point in 2015, the agency investigated the near-suffocation of three contractors for Hilcorp that improperly used nitrogen gas during a well clean-out, forcing oxygen to be displaced from a trailer where the men were working. That led to a $200,000 fine from the agency. It also prompted a close look at Hilcorp missteps at its operations in Alaska, said French. AOGCC later released a lengthy list of Hilcorp violations dating back to 2012, not long after the Houston, Texas-based company began operating in Alaska. But AOGCC later credited the company for taking steps to prevent future problems. The improvements included the company’s Cook Inlet operations, after one of its sub-sea natural gas pipelines leaked for months before sea ice cleared enough for divers to safely repair it in spring 2017. In October, Hilcorp completed a $90 million project to move oil across the Inlet by subsea pipe instead of tankers, a step long sought by watchdog groups.

Habitat initiative defeated by nearly 2-1 margin

A ballot measure designed to boost protections for salmon and other fish failed by a large margin Election Night amid an onslaught of heavy opposition spending by powerful oil and mining interests. With 98 percent of precincts reporting by 1:30 a.m. Nov. 7, Ballot Measure 1 received 145,997 votes against, and 83,479 votes in favor, a 64-to-36 margin. Supporters conceded defeat early in the night. “We had an uphill battle the entire way,” said Stephanie Quinn-Davidson, a measure sponsor and former state fisheries biologist, noting the overwhelming spending by the opposition. “But this effort was unprecedented and we will continue to move this forward.” Commonly called Stand for Salmon, the controversial measure generated more than $12 million in spending. At least $10.2 million of that was spent by industry-led opposition group Stand for Alaska — Vote No on One. Opponents had contended the measure would create project delays and costs, halting some development. “The results of this election signal that Alaska remains open to responsible resource development going forward,” said Kati Capozzi, Stand for Alaska campaign manager. More than 100 supporters of the measure, gathered at 49th State Brewing Co. in Anchorage on Election Night, took early indications of defeat quietly in stride as they appeared on a big screen. Some said win or lose, they’d been successful in starting a statewide discussion about the need for stronger protections for salmon habitat. “Salmon now have a seat at the table, they’re no longer just on the platter,” said Mike Wood, another measure sponsor and a Cook Inlet commercial fisherman. Capozzi, speaking by phone from the Captain Cook Hotel Quarter Deck, where Stand for Alaska had gathered, said the large amount of money spent by the group was needed to help educate Alaskans about the negative effects the measure would have on jobs and the economy. “We just had to explain what it really meant,” Capozzi said. “Alaskans are really smart and they got it.” The measure was launched more than a year ago as major mining projects such as the Pebble prospect in Southwest Alaska advanced, and conservation groups, fishing interests and others grew concerned over state laws they considered weak and outdated. The third sponsor was Gayla Hoseth, an Alaska Native from the Bristol Bay region. More than 40,000 Alaskans signed the measure. The measure would have mandated public comment periods for major projects and added other regulatory steps before the Alaska Department of Fish and Game could permit activity affecting anadromous fish habitat. Such habitat includes streams or other waters where ocean-dwelling fish such as salmon return to spawn. Supporters saw the measure as a way to restrict, if not stop, projects like Pebble. It also would have added regulatory steps for smaller activities, and for existing mines, oilfields and other development seeking permit renewals. Quinn-Davidson said her group is ready to work with Alaska Native corporations and state lawmakers to introduce a bill that increases habitat protections for salmon and other fish. “It’s clear Alaskans want stronger protections for salmon,” she said. “We just disagree about the approach.” Alaska’s major oil producers ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips and BP, along with mining corporations such as Donlin Gold, Kinross Fort Knox, Teck Alaska and Pebble Limited, led funding for Stand for Alaska at $1 million each. A total of about 550 organizations around the state formed the Stand for Alaska coalition. Yes for Salmon and other pro-measure groups spent at least $2.3 million. The fight over Stand for Salmon shared some similarities with the $15.3 million battle over Alaska oil taxes in 2014. Voters then faced ballot language designed to repeal and replace a new oil-production tax. Industry, led primarily by the state’s major oil producers, heavily outspent the pro-measure forces then, too. Voters rejected that measure, though by a much slimmer margin.

52nd AFN convention seeks innovative solutions

The Alaska Federation of Natives convention in mid-October will bring together more than 6,000 people from across the state for a gathering that will boost the Anchorage economy with more $6 million. The event has been held 52 straight years, long enough that some forget a fight for traditional lands started it all. Many view the gathering, which begins Oct. 18, as a cultural spectacle for Native art and dancing, a reunion for friends and family. “And there’s always politics,” said Willie Hensley, who helped form the Native organization and has attended every meeting since the first in 1966. At the time, Emil Notti, who became the first AFN president, was concerned about threats to long-occupied Native lands as the young state of Alaska selected acreage from federal inventories. Homesteaders and hunters were laying claims to cultural sites. Notti wrote the letter that called Alaska Natives to Anchorage to discuss the problem. Word spread. “Mostly in the Tundra Times (newspaper),” said Notti, now 85. “There were no Bush phones.” “All we had was mail,” said Hensley. More than 400 Alaska Natives showed up over three days, representing 17 organizations, AFN says. Their demands led to a 1971 congressional law, the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, providing 44 million acres and nearly $1 billion to a unique system of Native-owned corporations. A lot has changed since then. A lot hasn’t. AFN now represents about 140,000 Alaska Natives statewide, plus 200 regional and village Native corporations and 186 tribal governments. Its convention remains a political catalyst, where culturally diverse groups find unity, then promote social change. The bonds built there are critical, says Julie Kitka, the nonprofit’s president. “I love seeing people I haven’t seen since last year,” she said. “That is bar none my favorite part.” Billed by AFN as the nation’s “largest representative yearly gathering” of indigenous people, the event still runs for three days. More than 4,000 AFN delegates arrive from gobs of villages. The event is webcast to 70 nations. It features a massive Native arts bazaar with more than 150 artists, a health fair, awards ceremonies, a legal clinic, plus two nights of popular Quyana, showcasing traditional village dance groups in crowd-filled halls. The convention has grown so much that it now anchors other events. Starting off the week, on Oct. 15, First Alaskans Institute hosts the three-day Elders and Youth Conference, where leaders are born and traditions instilled. More than 1,000 participants will attend. AFN and the National Congress of American Indians are also hosting a tribal conference, to discuss views on tribal issues, on Wednesday, Oct. 17. It all makes for a busy week, capped by the convention, where election-year politics will add to the drama. A governor candidate forum Oct. 19 will pit incumbent Bill Walker against his challengers, former state Sen. Mike Dunleavy and former U.S. Sen. Mark Begich. For Alaska’s seat in the U.S. House, Rep. Don Young will meet challenger Alyse Galvin. Convention speakers will include: • Keynote Valerie Davidson, a Yup’ik who leads the state’s health department and has supported Medicaid expansion and improved health care access for Natives and other Alaskans. • Tara Sweeney, assistant secretary at Interior for Indian affairs and former AFN co-chair. • Joe Balash, assistant secretary at Interior for Land and Management. • Jacqueline Johnson Pata, executive director of the National Congress of American Indians. • Terrence John O’Shaughnessy, a U.S. Air Force four-star general, head of the U.S. Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command. • Mark Trahant, editor of Indian Country Today and former Atwood Chair of Journalism at the University of Alaska Anchorage. Kitka said AFN, working with the broader Native community, has achieved many successes over the decades. Alaska Native organizations now run hospitals and clinics statewide, improving access to health care. Modern improvements have come to villages, including Internet, power plants, water and sewer systems. Over the decades, AFN has worked with Congress to address social and economic disparities, and helped protect the rights of Native subsistence hunters and fishermen, Kitka said. The best accomplishment has been the education and development of young Natives ready to run the corporate, social and health sectors their elders built, Kitka said. “That’s important because we’re dealing with a lot of change that will hit us on many fronts in Alaska,” she said. The convention theme this year, “Innovation in the Past, Present and Future,” speaks to the continuing need to tackle technological, economic and social disruptions while staying grounded in family and tradition, she said. AFN plans to focus future energy on finding ways to combat rising health care costs and improving educational opportunities, she said. Another key area will be addressing changing climate, working with state and federal agencies and others to find ways to improve erosion-threatened roads, runways and buildings in numerous villages. One idea involves creating an Arctic Development Bank, like the poverty-fighting World Bank that provides affordable loans and other funds for projects. “This last Congress, you saw major efforts for tax reform, but never saw a big infrastructure bill,” Kitka said. “We’ll see how we can get attention on infrastructure needs up here.” Building ties with the U.S. military will also be part of the group’s agenda. AFN’s policy plans for 2019 will be shaped by dozens of resolutions from delegates, after a vote on Oct. 20, the conference’s final day. Both Notti and Hensley said they’re amazed AFN has grown so large over the years. But there’s more to accomplish. Both cited the need for increased jobs and job training in rural communities to combat poverty and other social woes. Money is required these days, and climate change is altering animal populations, raising questions about access to wild food in the future. “If you can’t make a living on subsistence, you have to have a substitute,” Notti said. For those who can’t make this year’s convention, the event will be webcast live, said Jeff Silverman, a communications officer with AFN. You can find the event at the website. It will also be available on 360 North, Alaska Rural Communications Service or ARCS, and GCI channels in some communities. “It’s in every village and every city,” Silverman said.

APOC hears complaint against initiative backers

The industry-led group fighting the Yes for Salmon ballot initiative told Alaska campaign regulators in a hearing Sept. 25 that their opponent is benefiting from more “dark money” than it originally thought. Also, the initiative campaign director, Ryan Schryver, said in a hearing that his paychecks come from the Washington, D.C.-based New Venture Fund. But Schryver said he reports to an Alaska organization, SalmonState, that receives financial assistance from New Venture. Stand for Alaska-Vote No on One brought the complaint Sept. 20. The group asserts that Yes for Salmon-Vote Yes on One, as well as Stand for Salmon, and The Alaska Center, have violated multiple disclosure laws. The Alaska Public Offices Commission said it will issue a ruling on Oct. 3. Members of the pro-initiative groups maintained during the hearing they have worked closely with APOC staff to avoid any reporting errors. “We value transparency,” Schryver said. “We’ve worked every step of way to do this above board.” The initiative, set to be decided by voters Nov. 6, seeks to increase salmon and other fish habitat protections in Alaska. A chunk of the Sept. 25 hearing focused on New Venture, a nonprofit charitable group. The organization is not specifically mentioned in the complaint, but is part of the “dark money” the complaint alleges, said attorney Matt Singer, representing Stand for Alaska. Holly Wells, an attorney representing groups on the Yes for Salmon side, said New Venture complies with APOC requirements. “So they are transparent,” she said. New Venture is the second-largest source of the roughly $1 million in contributions to Yes for Salmon, providing more than $200,000, almost entirely in non-monetary contributions such as staff time. Commissioners sought to understand what the group does, and whether its contribution is transparent to voters. Schryver said New Venture is a “fiscal sponsor” to SalmonState, providing financial support and administrative services such as payroll. Schryver said for practical purposes he’s an employee of SalmonState, reporting to SalmonState director Tim Bristol, a Homer resident. New Venture helps launch budding social and environmental efforts, such as SalmonState, said Lee Bodner, its president, in an email to Anchorage Daily News. Projects operate independently, so organizers can determine the best strategy to achieve goals, he said. Tim Dietz, an APOC commissioner, asked at the hearing how the average Alaskan voter can know who is supporting the campaign, if much of the contribution is from New Venture. Schryver replied: “My question would be, ‘How does the average voter know where the money is coming from with BP or ConocoPhillips or any of the groups working to fund the other side?’” “I’m the one asking the questions here,” Dietz said. “It’s obvious they get the money from oil they get out of the ground.” Oil and mining companies have provided the bulk of funding for Stand for Alaska, more than $10 million. Schryver told Dietz he did not know how every penny could be traced back to its origin. Schryver said SalmonState has other employees assisting with the campaign, with others working on other projects to protect fish. New Venture’s payment for employees who assist with the initiative shows up as a contribution to the campaign. SalmonState was involuntarily dissolved as a nonprofit corporation by the state in March. Singer said after the hearing SalmonState is “not a real organization. They call themselves SalmonState, but are just a project of New Venture Fund.” Bristol said in an interview that after forming SalmonState as a nonprofit, he learned it didn’t in fact need to be registered as one. The goal is to become completely independent in the future, he said. “The bottom line is all the ideas and strategies and tactics, everything we work on, all the issues and programs, are born here in Alaska,” Bristol said. He and Schryver said only Alaskans are working on the ballot initiative. The Alaska Center, meanwhile, has reported contributions of about $500,000 to the campaign, largely in non-monetary services, such as for door-knocking or phone calls, according to the complaint. Singer said in the hearing he thought he had identified the source of about half of that contribution. But based on information at the hearing provided by Meghan Cavanaugh, political and field director for The Alaska Center, he said he’s not sure of the “true source” of the entirety of that contribution, either. “It’s a mystery,” Singer said. Cavanaugh said the source of that contribution is The Alaska Center’s general fund. She said she’s fully disclosed what’s required by APOC, but would support efforts for broader disclosure. “My feedback to APOC would be (the required) contribution form could be more comprehensive,” she said. Schryver said his side may have made a misstep in one small area — the “paid-for-by” identifiers at the end of campaign materials. “If there’s not a ‘paid-for-by’ on it, and we didn’t catch it, apologies, we’ll work to correct it,” he said.
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