Elizabeth Earl

Ninilchik tribe finishes Kenai subsistence season

The heads of passing boaters swiveled toward the bank, curious to see the only subsistence gillnet allowed in the Kenai River. The Ninilchik Traditional Council’s subsistence gillnet takes up about 30 feet of bank. The net swayed in the strong current, bucking when a fish struck the mesh. Though the gear made it in the water this season, whether it will make its way through the regulatory process next year is unclear yet. “Seeing any rainbows?” a boater called out to the tribal staff near the net as his boat passed. “None!” called back Daniel Reynolds, one of the designated fishers for the tribe. “Just reds.” The boaters nodded and called back good luck before navigating down the river. Gina Wiste, an environmental technician who fishes for the tribe, said the exchange was one of the kindest they’d had since their first day fishing there July 28. “It’s a mix. Some people can be really unpleasant, and some are just curious,” Wiste said. Wiste, Reynolds and Resource and Environmental Director Darrel Williams have fished for Ninilchik residents most days this summer. The tribe got permission to use a subsistence gillnet in the Kasilof River in January 2015 and ran that for the beginning part of this summer. However, though the tribe was approved for nets on both the Kenai and Kasilof rivers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service only granted the permit for the Kasilof net in 2015. The federal agency issued a permit for the Kenai River net on July 27 after the tribe filed a special action request with the Federal Subsistence Board, the body that oversees subsistence activities in Alaska, amid a year-long legal tangle with the U.S Department of the Interior and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The tribe has been working on a permit to fish with a gillnet in the Kenai since 2006. Williams said the tribe didn’t know what to expect from the special action request. “To be honest, we were all pretty surprised that it went through,” Williams said. Williams zigzagged the tribe’s boat up the Kenai River from Swiftwater Park outside Soldotna on Aug. 14. He passed lines of anglers casting for silvers and reds in the Moose Range Meadows and the yellow sign marking the end of state waters, passing into the portion of federally managed part of the river. Williams said they have tried out different portions of the river to find where is the most effective to set up. About 40 feet offshore, Williams stalled the boat and Reynolds dropped an anchor and sandbags off the bow, following it with a buoy to mark the edge of the net area. Williams guided the boat over to the shore, where Reynolds disembarked with the gear. Williams and Wiste joined him after mooring, running the 5.25 inch-mesh net out into the current. The first fish hit within six minutes. “We’re in a channel right here, and the fish like that,” Wiste said. “They head right up this way and toward the bank, and that’s where we catch them.” The tribe staff fishes for Ninilchik residents who may not be able to do it themselves. They can only harvest as many fish as people who submit permits — 25 per head of household with five additional fish per family member. So while they were allowed to harvest up to 2,000 sockeye, 50 king salmon, 50 rainbow trout and 100 Dolly Varden this year, they can only catch as many fish as the submitted permits allow. Wiste tallied each fish caught while Williams and Reynolds picked them from the net. Per regulation, she clipped each one’s dorsal fin and recorded it on the permits. They deliver the fish whole to the permit holders, who clean them at home. Regulations prohibit the tribe’s fishermen from cleaning the fish on site because it could attract bears, Williams explained. The fish are fewer and smaller on the Kasilof. Williams said some days on the Kasilof would produce less than 10 fish after several hours of netting. “These fish (on the Kenai) are so much bigger, and some people will say, ‘Those fish are huge, I can’t take any more’, ” Wiste said. “Everybody on this list has gotten fish.” Only tribal employees can fish because of the federal requirement to carry a $500,000 insurance policy. They also take samples of every king salmon they catch. “People were sort of wondering if they were going to get any (fish from the Kasilof gillnet),” he said. “That’s really what this is all about, doing something for the people.” After three hours of netting, the designated fishers had hauled in 54 salmon, all sockeye except for two coho. As of Aug. 14, the tribe had only caught one king salmon and one Dolly Varden, both of which were less than 18 inches long, according to the catch records. The Federal Subsistence Board, the body that oversees subsistence activities in Alaska, approved the nets on the Kenai and Kasilof rivers in January 2015 but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service did not issue a permit for the 2015 season. The permit for the 2016 season only came after legal action in the courts, and it was approved as experimental, meaning that next year’s gillnet activity hangs in the balance of federal approval. A subsistence fisheries regulation cycle is approaching this winter as well, bringing two proposals to ban the Ninilchik tribe’s gillnet in the Kenai River entirely — one from Fish and Wildlife Service itself and the other from the Cooper Landing and Hope Federal Subsistence Community. The latter complains that the net is detrimental to stocks of conservation concern. Fish and Wildlife Service managers haven’t had time to evaluate what happened on the fishery but they will do so since the fishing season ended Aug. 15, said Andrea Madeiros, spokesperson for Fish and Wildlife Service in Anchorage. “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service remains concerned about the use of a gillnet in the Moose Range Meadows because it is a spawning area,” Madeiros wrote in an email. Both Williams and Wiste said they were unsure what would happen for next year. Williams said he understands the conservation concerns and the tribe has carefully evaluated the net’s effects on the river’s habitat and the fish populations. The tribe brought on a fisheries biologist for advice as well. “If anything, we’re conservation minded,” Williams said. As they were packing the fish into bags to leave the site Aug. 14, Wiste said they would have to plan for more fish storage next year because more people would likely take part. What she’d really like, she said, is a fish tote. “It’s not gonna do us any good this year, since the season’s almost over,” Williams said. “Wait ‘til next year.” Reach Elizabeth Earl at [email protected]  

KPB marijuana ban petition won't be on October ballot

A citizen initiative seeking to ask voters whether commercial marijuana is legal in the Kenai Peninsula Borough outside the cities is a no-go. The borough clerk’s office finished verifying the signatures Friday and found the petition came up short. The petitioners were 62 signatures shy of the 898 they needed to qualify for the Oct. 4 general election ballot, said Borough Clerk Johni Blankenship. “They submitted 998 signatures,” Blankenship said. “We were only able to validate 836.” The petition cannot get onto the October ballot. However, it doesn’t rule it out entirely from a vote. The petitioners still have 10 days to gather additional signatures to supplement the ones they have, and if they succeed, the clerk’s office has another 10 days after that to verify them, Blankenship said. If the initiative at that point has enough valid signatures, the petition would then go to the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly. Assembly members would be able to decide then whether it would go to a special election or would have to go to the October 2017 ballot, she said. The clerk sent out a notice to borough assembly members and the petitioners letting them know the petition had been certified as insufficient to be placed on the ballot for the Oct. 4 regular election. The petition has been a political football for the past few months, after an ordinance that would have placed the question on the ballot failed to be introduced at the borough assembly in May. A group of citizens circulated the petition booklets this summer and turned them in on July 26, just before the borough assembly meeting. The technical deadline fell at 5 p.m. on July 21, but the petitioners requested and were granted a five-day extension, according to the letter from the clerk. Reach Elizabeth Earl at [email protected]

Upper Cook Inlet commercial fishermen near 2M salmon harvest

KENAI — Salmon are rolling into Upper Cook Inlet’s commercial fishery. The drift fleet and setnetters in Cook Inlet have been out frequently in the past two weeks and were out for extended hours Thursday. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game also opened the drift gillnet fishery in the Expanded Kenai and Expanded Kasilof Sections of the Upper Subdistrict and the Anchor Point Section of the Lower Subdistrict for an additional 12-hour period on Friday to increase harvest on the sockeye salmon bound for the Kenai and Kasilof rivers, according to an emergency order issued Thursday. The salmon harvest came in just shy of 2 million as of Tuesday, with sockeye leading the pack at 1.6 million, followed by pink salmon at approximately 244,000 fish. Silvers and chum are starting to come in as well, with about 43,000 silvers and about 57,000 chums so far, according to Fish and Game’s inseason harvest estimates. The drifters in the central district have brought in 868,959 fish so far as of Tuesday, with 648,248 sockeye and 147,740 pinks. The chum salmon are mostly coming into the central district drifters — they accounted for 43,662 of the total 56,434 caught in the Upper Cook Inlet Central district. All told, the setnetters in the Ninilchik, Coho, Kalifornsky and Salamatof sections have brought in about 629,000 fish as of Tuesday, according to Fish and Game’s data. Similar to the total, the vast majority of those are sockeye, followed in numbers by pinks and kings. Fish and Game is expecting large runs of sockeye to return to the Kenai River this year — the river is already more than halfway to its escapement goal of 1.1 million to 1.35 million fish, with 607,787 fish having passed the sonar as of Wednesday. The department widely exceeded the upper end of its escapement goal last year, putting more than 1.7 million fish into the river by the end of counts on Aug. 26, according to Fish and Game data. However, the harvest is less than would be expected from a high forecast, said Division of Commercial Fisheries Area Management Biologist Pat Shields. It looks like the run will be multiple days later than the typical midpoint this year, similar to last year’s run, he said. “Based on our forecast, the harvest so far is probably a little bit less than you would expect of this time in July,” Shields said. Prices have varied between $1.10 and $1.20 for sockeye, less than the average of $1.54 that Cook Inlet fishermen received last year. Competition and a strong U.S. dollar damaged salmon prices in the state last year, but commercial fishermen had hoped prices would improve after last year because of an algal bloom that killed millions of farmed salmon in Chile. Anne Poso, the dock manager at Snug Harbor Seafoods, said the low prices have disappointed fishermen so far. The season so far has been “tepid,” despite the fact that the third week of July should be the peak of the season, she said. “I would normally expect it to be a lot better right now,” Poso said. Sorting fish at the Pacific Star Seafoods’ dock on Thursday, dock manager Mike Johnson said the season has looked best for setnetters fishermen so far. “It’s been looking good for the shore-based guys right now,” Johnson said. “Not so much for the drifters ... The fish have all been down low, with the warm water.” In the Kenai River, Fish and Game biologists have observed the sockeye salmon migrating further out into the river than they normally do, Shields said. They are still trying to understand why, but the migration pattern could contribute to the low success rates in the sportfishery and the personal use dipnet fishery on the Kenai, he said. Because of the low success rates in the personal use dipnet fishery, Sen. Bill Wielechowski (D-Anchorage) sent a letter to Fish and Game Commissioner Sam Cotten’s office requesting a suspension of emergency commercial fishing openers on the Kenai and Kasilof rivers. Many of his constituents complained that they had traveled hours and spent days on the river with little success while Fish and Game issued several emergency commercial fishing openers last week, according to a news release from Wielechowski’s office. A representative from Cotten’s office said he was not currently crafting a response to the request. Reach Elizabeth Earl at [email protected]  

Marine jobs the dominant sector for Kenai Peninsula

KENAI — The Kenai Peninsula’s economy depends even more on the ocean and rivers than is apparent on paper. Some are obvious: commercial fishing, shipping and marine fishing guiding all depend on the ocean directly. However, others — such as fish processing, oil and gas support services and fishing gear retailers — only “touch” the water and may not be counted in a cursory glance. When added together, about 3,400 people on the peninsula work in a maritime-related profession, the most of any sector in the region, according to the 2016 Situations and Prospects report from the Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District. The annual report, which provides data and forward-looking estimates on the economy for the Kenai Peninsula, details a growing maritime sector that paid approximately $177 million in wages in 2014, the most of any industry in the region. Most of the employment is in commercial fishing — almost half the workers are self-employed commercial fishermen, as are the vast majority of the earnings, according to the report. The Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development would not classify some maritime-related professions, such as fish processing, as farming, fishing or agriculture — they are classed as manufacturing. That separates some of the data, said Rick Roeske, the executive director of KPEDD. Because the economy on the peninsula is relatively small compared to cities like Anchorage, KPEDD has to blend together some data for confidentiality purposes, he said. “You wouldn’t think that the peninsula manufactures a lot, but when you look at that data, 80 percent of it is fish processing,” Roeske said. Fishing is a major driver in the four largest cities on the peninsula — Homer, Kenai Soldotna and Seward. The three ports in Homer, Kenai and Seward landed 85.2 million pounds of commercial fish in 2014, with Homer leading. Homer commercial fishermen landed 74 percent of all pounds of fish that Kenai Peninsula residents harvested and earned 65 percent of the gross earnings that year, according to the report. However, other industries that depend on the sea are also growing. Cook Inlet is home to a vast number of seafaring boats, supporting a large boat service industry. More cruise ships are coming to Seward and Homer each year as well, bringing in tourism revenue and funds from the state’s commercial passenger vessel excise tax. City administrations in Seward and Homer are in the process of improving their ports. Homer recently finished a paving project to provide access to its deep water dock. The city is also in the process of conducting a feasibility study to expand the dock, which should be finished and sent to the Homer City Council for review in the fall, said Bryan Hawkins, the harbormaster. “There was a lot of survey and interviews with the customer base that use the dock now and expanding that out to other possible customers, to talk about Homer as a hub and connection point,” Hawkins said. The deep water dock currently serves as the port for the handful of cruise ships that come to Homer each summer as well as a dock for industry, as in the case of the jack-up rig Randolph Yost, which spent the month of May at the dock before Furie Operating Alaska moved it to its Kitchen Lights Unit near Nikiski to drill additional gas wells. Seward recently completed work on its harbor, replacing floats and installing lighting, said Matt Chase, the deputy harbormaster for Seward. The work was completed in April and replaced many older sections of the floats for the first time since the 1960s, he said. The city is also in the process of building a breakwater near the Seward Marine Industrial Center on the east side of Resurrection Bay, which will establish more harbor space for larger vessels, Chase said. In addition to the breakwater, the city has also been working on the uplands to lease out more space to businesses, and many have shown interest, he said. “When we started getting the permits and the rocks (for the breakwater) and the bids, it was like the gold rush was on,” Chase said. Homer and Seward saw more cruise ships arrive last year — 19 percent more for Seward and twice as many for Homer between 2014 and 2015, according to the Situations and Prospects report. Hawkins said the number of cruise ships varies from year to year but has been relatively consistent for the past few years; Chase estimated that approximately three cruise ships arrive per week in Seward. Tourism continues to grow on the Kenai Peninsula, with increasing visits and a predicted record-breaking year for 2016 amid an oil and gas downturn and a state budget crisis. Year over year for five years, guided water and land activities have increased, with sharp upticks in 2014 and 2015. Most of the industries that showed significant growth in 2015 were related to tourism, according to the report. Although guided land activities are included in those numbers, gross sales from guided water activities outpace them by more than 19 times — more than $65 million to approximately $3.4 million in 2015, according to figures from the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s finance office. The Situations and Prospects report works in complement with KPEDD’s submitted draft Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy plan, which encompasses five-year goals for the peninsula’s economy. KPEDD wants to provide information and collaborate with the various governments and organizations around the peninsula to work toward economic goals in the next few years, Roeske said. “Although we’re connected by the road and the internet, we’re all pretty focused on our own little areas,” Roeske said. “We’re going to try to get these silo groups to become more cluster groups.” Reach Elizabeth Earl at [email protected]

Oil, gas properties boost Kenai Peninsula Borough tax take by $1.1M

KENAI — The values of some oil and gas properties in the Kenai Peninsula Borough jumped in the most recent state assessment, producing about $1.1 million more for the borough in property taxes. Much of that increase comes from the Nikiski area, where the tax values for the year increased by approximately $559,991, according to the borough’s fiscal year 2017 budget. The increase allowed for a mill rate decrease for residents of Nikiski from 2.90 to 2.80 for the next year. The borough assembly approved the new mill rate at its June 7 meeting. Another portion of the increase comes from the Anchor Point Fire and Emergency Medical Service Area, which surrounds the unincorporated community of Anchor Point and reaches into Cook Inlet to include the Cosmopolitan development, where BlueCrest Energy is drilling for oil. The projected tax collection for oil and gas in the area is expected to increase by about $129,852, according to the budget. The state taxes oil and gas properties at a flat 20 mills. When the property’s value increases, so does the amount paid. The state Department of Revenue assesses the properties annually, said State Petroleum Property Assessor Jim Greeley. The increase comes from additional investment in the area, stemming from Furie Operating Alaska’s Kitchen Lights Unit northwest of Nikiski and BlueCrest’s Cosmopolitan development. The Kenai Peninsula has seen about a decade of increases in oil and gas property value, he said. “There’s been about a 10-year trend of increase in (oil and gas property) values on the Kenai,” Greeley said. “Statewide, I would characterize them as stable.” The state collected more than $125 million in oil and gas property taxes in fiscal year 2015, according to the Department of Revenue’s annual Oil and Gas Property Tax report. That is slightly less than in fiscal year 2014, when the state collected a little more than $128 million, but more than the approximately $99.2 million it collected in fiscal year 2013. The infrastructure investments by Furie and BlueCrest are the main driving forces in the increase, Greeley said. Oilfield service companies’ properties are included in the oil and gas assessments, he said. Though the Alaska LNG Project has been in the process of purchasing about 600 acres of land in the Nikiski area, it would not have an effect on the property tax values. The land is not being used for oil and gas purposes at present, said Larry Persily, the special assistant on oil and gas to Borough Mayor Mike Navarre. “Right now, it’s just undeveloped land that happens to be owned by an oil and gas venture, but it’s not oil and gas property,” Persily said. “It’s only oil and gas property if it’s used in production, exploration or pipeline.” The Alaska LNG Project will likely not materialize for a number of years — the project team is still completing its resource reports and preparing its Environmental Impact Statement to submit to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which will then take some time to review the application. Workers will be conducting water tests, borehole drilling and marine work in the Nikiski area this summer, and the project will contract with demolition crews to remove 20 structures on the land the project has acquired so far, according to an emailed update from Josselyn O’Connor, the community stakeholder advisor for the project. Though the project managers are also looking at moving the Kenai Spur Highway to allow for the approximately 800-acre facility to be built, there is no planned work on the highway relocation for the summer, according to the email.  

Murkowski hosts Kenai field hearing on federal conflicts

KENAI — Sen. Lisa Murkowski visited Kenai on May 31 to hold a field hearing for the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee that she chairs on how federal management conflicts with local management on the Kenai Peninsula. Wildfire management drove much of the conversation, but federal land management that limits access to fishing and hunting were also major points. “We’ve got some serious work in front of us,” Murkowski said. “I think we recognize that in the past 20 years or thereabouts, the management of our public forests, or lack of management, translates to a very real threat to the health and safety of communities not only in our state but really across our nation.” A panel of five state and local leaders joined Murkowski to offer testimony on conflicts they saw in federal land management policies: Chris Maisch, state forester and director of the Alaska Division of Forestry; Mike Navarre, Kenai Peninsula Borough mayor; Cindy Clock, executive director of the Seward Chamber of Commerce; Ricky Gease, executive director of the Kenai River Sportfishing Association; and Ted Spraker, who represented the Kenai chapter of Safari Club International. The federal government is the largest landowner on the Kenai Peninsula — much of the land is encompassed by the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and the Chugach National Forest. Murkowski said her office has gotten complaints that the U.S. Forest Service is not offering enough logging opportunities in the Chugach National Forest, making it more prone to wildfires and insect infestation. She called for the federal government to give more wildlife management authority to the state and to simplify National Environmental Policy Act documents so projects to alleviate fire danger would be easier to complete. “We need new, revised and better policies to fix all these issues, and we’re working on it,” Murkowski said. Murkowski held the meeting at Kenai’s Challenger Learning Center of Alaska to collect feedback from local stakeholders before going back to Washington, D.C. and continuing to work on a draft for a wildfire management bill. Last week, she introduced the draft to change the way federal firefighting money is withdrawn. Currently all the funds are withdrawn from one account, which takes resources away from other activities in the forests, she said. Maisch said at the hearing that the Division of Forestry expects April through late June to have greater than normal fire activity in the Mat-Su Valley and on the Kenai Peninsula. This year, there have already been 15 carry-over fires statewide, which are fires that crop up from hotspots in the areas that burned in prior years. He called for a streamlined approach to NEPA applications, which would allow federal agencies to respond more quickly to changing environmental conditions. He said he supports the draft legislation Murkowski put forward but called for a budget cap adjustment because fighting fires has become more expensive, possibly including an ability for fire managers to access funds from the Federal Emergency Management Authority under a disaster declaration. “(The year) 2004 was the tipping point for this state,” Maisch said. “We went from burning about 800,000 acres a year to now almost 2 million a year, on average. I think due to long term climate issues, we’ve seen a big change in the amount of fire on the landscape and an elongated season.” Navarre said one major contributor to fire prevention on the Kenai Peninsula has been to leverage state and federal funds into the spruce bark beetle prevention programs on the peninsula. He said when he originally put forward a plan to thin some of the trees on the peninsula during the spruce bark beetle infestation, he received opposition from some of the environmental agencies in Washington, D.C. “I recognize the need to talk to these folks about what it is going on,” Navarre said. “I met with the state forestry and met with the federal forestry and put together a task force that was a very collaborative effort to work with everybody … to try to make sure that we could identify the problem and find a way to work through it.” The peninsula has been lucky over the years to get significant funding to help alleviate the problem, but those grant programs need to be renewed to keep up the work, he said. Cooperation between the agencies has not been unduly burdensome, Navarre said later in the hearing — complaints are usually about specific issues. Local managers have been helpful and willing to cooperate with his administration, Navarre said. Some of them may have orders coming from Washington, D.C., which can cause conflicts, so the management should include local influence, he said. Murkowski also asked for feedback on access to public lands. A recent ruling on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge that would block hunters from baiting bears on refuge lands, as well as other changes related to game, have raised concerns among hunters. Spraker, who is also the chair of the state Board of Game but was only representing the Safari Club at the hearing, said the conflicting rules between federal managers and state managers will confuse hunters. “The refuge should allow the taking of bears because this is a difficult place to hunt bears because of the dense vegetation, and the use of bait is a very successful method,” Spraker said. “It’s also been proven that hunters can be very selective, and one of the management tools on harvesting bears was not to take too many adult females. That works very well if you have a bait station and you can take your time and be selective. That’s an inconsistency between federal and state agencies that I wish we could address.” Sparker is also concerned that the refuge seems to have adopted a policy of “closed until open” for hunters rather than vice versa, he said. Moose hunting participation has declined in recent years, and unless managers can actively control predators and boost the population, the numbers of moose on the peninsula may continue to drop, he said. “Until the service’s passive management policies driven by preservationist ideology and natural diversity and biological integrity are removed, no one should have any hope that the moose population will recover,” Spraker said. Murkowski said in an interview after the field hearing that she appreciated the feedback and will keep the comments in mind as she continues to work on the legislation. “We’ll be looking at this record that we have created today and (asking), ‘How do the federal managers work with the state?’” Murkowski said. “The ability to have these fuel breaks is critically important … you’re leaving (the community) in a threatening situation, because you are not managing this land.”  

Peninsula support companies feel pinch of oil industry layoffs

KENAI — The round tables were fringed with people chatting leisurely and exchanging bits of news, like they were on lunch break. A few feet away, two young men ignored the conversation and clicked away on desktop computers. Yet another group stood on the edges of the room, pacing and waiting, their heads snapping up when the front doors opened. All heads turned as soon as Rachel O’Brien called for session participants, and all rose, shuffling slowly toward the back room of the Peninsula Job Center in unison. As soon as the door closed, the room fell silent. All the jobhunters had come for an informational session on Hilcorp’s job opportunities. There were limited seats in one session, so those who didn’t make it in time signed up for the second session, held an hour later. With the downturn in oil prices taking its toll, former oil company employees and related service companies are actively out hunting for work. About 4.2 percent of Alaska’s population worked in oil and gas jobs in 2015, according to an April 2016 report from the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development. The department expects there to be about 1,000 fewer jobs in oil and gas from month to month in 2016 than in 2015, according to the January 2016 job forecast. The Kenai Peninsula was home to approximately 60 oil and gas-related businesses in 2015, according to the Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District, and many workers who are employed by companies that operate elsewhere in the state. It’s not just the direct support businesses that are feeling it, either — many other types of businesses, like hotels and restaurants, are feeling the reduction, said Rebecca Logan, the general manager of the Alaska Support Industry Alliance. “Everybody’s truly a support company for oil gas and mining,” Logan said. “We have drillers, but we also have hotels, graphics companies. … You’d be hard pressed to find a company that isn’t supporting the oil and gas industry in some way.” The support industries have been hard pressed by the oil industry contraction for more than a year now, and they have been slimming down in an attempt to compensate, Logan said. Many started with benefit and salary reductions before moving to layoffs, but lay off they did — about 2,000 employees to date, Logan said. There is no booming shale gas marketing in the Lower 48 to run to now, either, she said. “When this scenario happened before, our companies went to North Dakota and Texas,” Logan said. “There was a lot of work for them there. That is not the case now.” She said the Alliance has weighed in a number of times to the Legislature about the proposed changes to the oil and gas tax credits in the state, requesting that the Legislature leave the tax credits alone for now. The state’s Oil and Gas Competitiveness Review Board plans to issue a report on the effects of the Cook Inlet tax credits by January 2017, which would provide useful information to the Legislature, Logan said. And even with the additional revenue from reducing the tax credits, the budget deficit remains more than $3 billion, she said. “Our recommendation is to wait,” Logan said. “Get that Cook Inlet report in place, have a much better understanding of where you are. Don’t react to things to fill a budget gap, but come up with good policy that addresses the needs of the state.” The Peninsula Job Center in Kenai has seen an increase in traffic in all levels of the oil-related and support positions, said O’Brien, the Gulf Coast/Southwest Regional Manager for the job center. Every person who comes in looking for work has a unique situation, O’Brien said in an email. “We look at what other jobs may be available in or outside the local area, if the person is willing to relocate, that matches their personal needs and qualifications,” O’Brien said. “We also look at whether assisting that person with higher education or industry certifications might increase their chances of returning to (the) oilfield or another career field that will come close to replacing their lost income.” When someone is laid off, the Department of Labor and Workforce Development offers Rapid Response Services, which connects the person to resources and helps them transition back into the workforce. The program is designed to minimize impacts of income loss to the families and individuals, according to the Department of Labor and Workforce Development’s website. The job center staff will notify the local radio stations, and post flyers in the job centers and throughout the community with information about any upcoming information sessions, as well as send emails to people registered in ALEXsys — the state’s online job bank — who have a valid email address and are receiving unemployment insurance, O’Brien said. “We work with our local employers very regularly to offer informational sessions such as the one Hilcorp Alaska held here at the Peninsula Job Center this week,” O’Brien said. Reach Elizabeth Earl at [email protected]  

Furie positions jack-up for drilling at Kitchen Lights Unit

KENAI — Residents and visitors to Nikiski might notice a new silhouette on the skyline of Cook Inlet as the Randolph Yost jack-up rig moves into the neighborhood. The tall legs of the rig can be seen from the bluff in Nikiski. The rig is situated in the Kitchen Lights Unit, leased by Furie Operating Alaska. Furie has brought the rig to Alaska specifically to drill additional gas wells, and is currently planning to drill up to two this year. The jack-up rig has been docked in Homer for the last two months, and shipped out for the northern part of Cook Inlet on May 5. However, it won’t be ready to drill until roughly a month from now, around the second week of June, said Bruce Webb, Furie’s vice president. The rig still has to be outfitted, crewed, stocked, arranged and run through some preliminary tests, he said. The rig will drill two new producing wells close to the currently producing well. The reservoir of gas is centrally located — by regulation, producers are not allowed to drill new wells within 3,000 feet of an existing well. Furie had to file for an exception to the regulation, which is mostly like “checking regulatory boxes,” Webb said. Some companies will file for pool rules on a field, allowing them to operate without having to file for exceptions each time they make a new move, but Furie does not plan to file for pool rules, Webb said. “We’re a small platform and the reservoir is pretty centrally located,” Webb said. “Going for pool rules is a little bigger exercise than we are … planning.” Furie is only producing natural gas and has signed contracts with Enstar Natural Gas Co. and Homer Electric Association. With the two new wells drilled this year, the company should be able to fill its contracts until 2019 or 2020, when the market opens again, Webb said. The company plans to continue drilling exploration wells in the intervening years, though, he said. “The current permits we have out are up to two permits (to drill wells) every year for five years,” Webb said. “That’s just in case we have time to drill more than one every year. It’s easier to permit two and drill one rather than permit one and want to drill two.” One factor that could provide an outlet for more gas from Furie would be the restart of the Agrium fertilizer plant in Nikiski that closed in 2007. The Alaska Legislature recently approved a bill that would grant a tax credit to urea, ammonia and gas-to-liquid products, which would benefit Agrium with a payment equal to the percentage of the amount of royalties paid on natural gas from a state lease that is delivered to the plant to use. The tax credit would remain budget neutral by balancing the deferred tax revenue from the credit with income from royalty payments made by the gas supplier. Agrium is in talks with the gas suppliers in Cook Inlet about potential deals, as previously reported by the Clarion. However, Agrium would also have to spend a certain amount before obtaining that credit, said Larry Persily, the special assistant for oil and gas in Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Mike Navarre’s office. The gas supplier would have to provide a competitive price to Agrium to entice the company to reopen the plant, he said. “Agrium restarting is going to depend on finding a gas supplier who can guarantee them five years, 10 years of supply at an affordable price, and that price is going to have to be less than what Southcentral utilities are paying,” Persily said. “They’re going to have to hope that someone strikes a big reservoir and says, ‘OK, I can give you a lower price if you sign a long-term contract and buy a lot.’” The other factor in play is the future of the oil and gas tax credits in the state. The Legislature is still in discussions about whether to cut down the tax credit program, and if so, how that might look. Webb said Furie is not dependent on the tax credits, but they do accelerate the pace of development. “You can accelerate faster when you have a AAA rated partner (like the State of Alaska) with you,” Webb said. “If the tax credits go away, that just means we’ll slow down.” Reach Elizabeth Earl at [email protected]

AOOS launches portal for Cook Inlet beluga whale data

KENAI — There’s a lot of research happening on Cook Inlet beluga whales at any given time. Unfortunately, a lot of the data has stayed isolated, held by the entities that collect it. The Alaska Ocean Observing System, an organization that monitors ocean and coastal conditions, is trying to link some of the data with a new online portal called the Cook Inlet Beluga Whale Ecosystem Portal. Varying information about the endangered whales, ranging from sightings to ocean conditions in their habitats, is presented in a map available to the public on AOOS’s website. Holly Kent, the program coordinator for AOOS, said some of the information — such as the records of sightings in Cook Inlet — has never been made available to the public before. Anyone can log onto the portal and use the data, mapped like color-coded honeycomb cells, showing the frequency of beluga sightings in any one area of northern Cook Inlet, Turnagain Arm or Knik Arm. The map allows for layers to be stacked, too, juxtaposing historical data from agencies like the Alaska Department of Fish and Game with other information pertaining to beluga whales, such as water temperature and the Marine Exchange of Alaska’ ship tracking information. “(The portal) gives you more information on how the whales interact within their ecosystem, which gives you a handle on how to better manage that resource, when you’re also dealing with development going on,” Kent said. “This is the first time that agency people and resource managers have had the ability to look at all of these things in one place at one site.” The public may find it interesting, too, Kent said. The data sets are available to be downloaded for research purposes as well. “We’re just trying to make the information easier and more accessible to more people,” Kent said. “That includes agencies.” The AOOS is one of a network of ocean observation system organizations in the Integrated Ocean Observing System, spanning from Alaska along the coasts of the U.S., reaching to Puerto Rico. Though these organizations receive funding from, and are overseen by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, they function separately, Kent said. AOOS had collected significant data on the Cook Inlet beluga whales, which are considered one of eight species most at risk of extinction in the near future, according to a February announcement from NOAA. The agency recently issued a five-year plan for managing the belugas, which have an estimated population of about 340 as of 2014. The priorities listed in the plan include reducing human-generated noise in the whales’ habitat, habitat protection to encourage foraging and reproduction, research on the whales’ population characteristics, ensuring prey is available and improving the stranding response program. Cook Inlet beluga whale managers from NOAA had initiated the process of accumulating information on beluga whale sightings from different sources several years ago, said Mandy Migura, the Cook Inlet beluga whale manager for NOAA’s Alaska Region. NOAA made contact with groups such as the Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson and the Port of Anchorage to use their data from beluga sightings, she said. “There were all these different data sets of monitoring for beluga whales, but they hadn’t actually been compiled and made available … we wanted to go for the scientific sightings so we had some quality control over what was actually a beluga,” Migura said. “I’m not going to say it’s comprehensive of every potential data set that is out there, but these are the ones for the initial effort that we got permission to use.” Migura said AOOS approached NOAA to use its data for the beluga whale portal as part of an ecosystem-based management. Although the map tool is useful, it will not be a single stop for all the information about Cook Inlet beluga whales — there are still caveats to the information available there, she said. “I think this would be one tool in our toolbox,” Migura said. “We don’t expect that’s every single sighting. Just because there’s one area that doesn’t show beluga presence, it doesn’t mean there are no belugas there. (The map shows) just positive sightings. If there are not sightings, we can’t assume that means there’s no belugas there.” The portal links together data and allows viewers to see different data points in layers, possibly illuminating connections that bear implications for the whales, Kent said. With NOAA’s data available on the portal as well as other data, agencies and researchers can network on how to best manage the whales, she said. “We have now got (NOAA’s data) out on a map, open to the public, for lots of researchers and agency resource managers to do what’s called ecosystem based management, where they can manage that resource by using the ecosystem factors,” Kent said. “They can see if there’s any kind of connections.” The Cook Inlet Beluga Whale Ecosystem Portal can be accessed at portal.aoos.org/cibw.php. Reach Elizabeth Earl at [email protected]

Federal commission questions Inlet permits over Belgua concerns

Proposed geotechnical work has raised concerns for the beluga whale habitat from the federal agency tasked with enforcing the act protecting marine mammals. The Marine Mammal Commission, an independent government agency that enforces the Marine Mammals Protection Act, has taken issue with the National Marine Fisheries Service for approving permits for oil and gas operations that may disturb several species of marine mammals in Cook Inlet. The commission asserts that the agency should not allow the permits because the cause of the decline of the Cook Inlet beluga population is still unknown. When an oil and gas operator in Cook Inlet thinks marine life might be affected by the activity, the operators apply for an incidental take permit from the federal government. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service share the responsibility for the permits. In this case, the geophysical and seismic activity being conducted by ExxonMobil Alaska LNG, LLC, BlueCrest Energy and SAExploration Surveys could have effects on several protected species, including the endangered Cook Inlet beluga whale population. The Marine Mammal Commission raised concerns particularly for the beluga whales because of the declining population. Vicki Cornish, an energy policy analyst and marine biologist with the commission, said the main concern is that the cause for the continued whale population decline is still unknown. “There are a number of human and natural forces that could be contributing to the continued demise of beluga whales, we just aren’t sure what the circumstances are,” Cornish said. The most recent count concluded that there are approximately 340 Cook Inlet beluga whales in the inlet, a slight increase from the previous count. The population may be stabilizing, but the Marine Mammal Commission would like to see the numbers increase and the population recover, Cornish said. It also seems the whales’ habitat may have shrunk to only occupy the northern part of Cook Inlet, while they used to roam the whole inlet, she said. “We just don’t know how much of their habitat they’re using throughout the rest of the year,” Cornish said. “There are some acoustic studies being done to try to track the beluga whales throughout the rest of the year, but that information is still being synthesized.” The National Marine Fisheries Service received an application for an Incidental Harassment Authorization, a type of take permit, for ExxonMobil’s LNG-related activities and is in the process of reviewing it. Public comment closed on March 7. If issued, the permit would authorize the incidental harassment of up to 34 beluga whales, 13 killer whales, 54 harbor porpoises and more than 4,600 harbor seals. (Incidental harrassment is defined as causing injury or disturbance by NOAA Fisheries.) Marine Mammal Commission Executive Director Rebecca Lent wrote a letter to the National Marine Fisheries Service urging the delay of any permits proposing sound-based activities until the agency can establish clear criteria that the activities would not harm more than a small number of Cook Inlet belugas. “Such a conclusion should be based on clear and consistent criteria regarding the (Marine Mammal Protection Act’s) small numbers and negligible impact requirements, the standards for which currently do not exist,” Lent wrote in the letter. Lent called on the National Marine Fisheries Service to develop a systemic plan to address the cumulative effects of all the marine activities on beluga whales in Cook Inlet. The agency has developed a draft environmental assessment of the activities, and will make the final environmental assessment available when it publishes, said Connie Barclay, the director of NOAA’s Communications and External Affairs office. “This Environmental Assessment, which analyzes multiple proposed Incidental Harassment Authorizations, is the interim step taken by NOAA Fisheries until a Draft Environmental Impact Statement can be completed,” Barclay wrote in an email. The draft includes some additional oversight measures, such as annual reports to the National Marine Fisheries Service at the end of the drilling season covering monitoring efforts, marine mammal sightings and weekly reports when in-water surveys take place. Cornish said the Marine Mammals Commission is most interested in minimizing the overall impact of activity on the whales, and possibly employing tactics like shutting down operations while whales are in close vicinity. But the risks to the whales aren’t just in the geotechnical activities — many kinds of boating traffic and marine activities pose a risk to belugas, such as commercial fishing, recreational boat traffic and changing ocean conditions. The National Marine Fisheries Service is actively monitoring the whales alongside the Marine Mammal Commission, Cornish said, trying to determine the cause for the whales’ decline and how to help them recover. The other stocks of belugas in Alaska, such as those in Bristol Bay and the Chukchi Sea, are doing well and can help provide a health baseline for biologists studying the whales in Cook Inlet, she said. “Each animal has value in the environment, and it’s hard for us as people to understand of that,” Cornish said. “All of them are connected, all of them have a role to play.”   Reach Elizabeth Earl at [email protected]

AK LNG summer fieldwork includes water tests at plant site

KENAI — The managers of the Alaska LNG Project are moving forward on field work planned for this summer, including water tests, offshore work and borehole drilling onshore in Nikiski. With only one season left before the project will go to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for approval, the summer field work will be more limited in scale — about a third the scale of what it was in the summer of 2015, said Jeff Raun, project advisor for the Alaska LNG Project, during a community meeting on April 14 at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center. Field work will begin both onshore and in Cook Inlet beginning in April, with the offshore work ending in June or July “to get out of the way of the fishermen,” Raun said. An offshore vessel will do more follow-up bathymetry work on smaller scale than the work done in 2015, filling in patches that need more information on the surface geology on the bottom of Cook Inlet, he said. Onshore, the workers will drill approximately 50 more boreholes about 150 deep, part of a requirement for any project that deals in hydrocarbons, Raun said. “The purpose of this year’s program is really to hone in on the equipment locations,” he said. “We’re getting those site-specific geotechnical data and information by drilling more holes in the proposed locations of the major equipment for the facility, and we’ll be providing that information to FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) so they can review it and say, ‘Yep, looks good.’” The one new component will be water tests. Residents have raised concerns about the proposed plant’s water use, worrying that such a large plant will reduce the amount of water available for locals. Geotechnical information has shown three aquifers beneath Nikiski, two shallower and unconfined, the third deeper and confined, Raun said. Two pump test wells will be drilled into the second aquifer and 350 gallons of water per minute will be pumped out of it for 10 days as a test, mirroring the maximum amount required during construction, Raun said. One of the wells will be converted to go deeper into the lowest aquifer and 1,000 gallons per minute will be pumped from it for 8 hours, a test for resupplying tanks during firefighting, he said. “We want to know, although we don’t believe there will be impact on the existing aquifers from this operation, but we need to test that,” Raun said. “We understand that 1,000 gallons per minute, that’s quite a draw. We want to ensure that if we ever need to draw at that rate, we’re able to do so without impacting other water users in the area.” Tweaks to the plans The proposed megaproject, consisting of an 800-mile pipeline bringing natural gas from Prudhoe Bay and Point Thompson on the North Slope to a plant in Nikiski where it will be cooled and condensed into liquefied natural gas, is now in its third year of field work but is still in the pre-FEED phase — the preliminary front-end engineering and design work. The design work proper has not even begun yet, a process estimated to take two to three years. The plans for the plant are still being tweaked, said Mike Britton, the Alaska LNG Project manager. The latest edition downsized some of the footprint for the plant, changing the number of tanks from three smaller tanks to two larger tanks and condensing the administration building, he said. With the new plans, the plant itself will take up a little more than a third of the total 900 acres of land that the project managers intend to acquire, he said. Many of the space requirements are ruled by required buffers, such as the buffer required around the LNG tanks for pools and another for potential spill hazards, and play roles in how they design the plant, he said. “Every change we make is on a cost-benefit basis,” Britton said. “If you can have A with B and using C is a little cheaper, but you can’t have C with A, then you’re restricted there.” The proposed dock will be a little different as well — it has been raised off the beach to allow access to the beach beneath it and is about 3,600 feet out into the water. Additionally, the designers are proposing to use a type of equipment for the pipeline called pipe-in-pipe, which is safer in case of leaks and allows the pipe to go straight out from the bluff to the tanker docking location, Britton said. One thing that will not change, however, is the size of the pipe. At the request of Gov. Bill Walker, the project managers spent five months investigating the option of using a 48-inch pipe rather than the originally planned 42-inch pipe. Raun said the project team officially recommended staying with the 42-inch pipe. “A lot went into that decision,” Raun said. “Our recommendation as a project team is to stay with a 42-inch pipeline. Despite months of meetings, the dozens of Nikiski residents and other locals who turned out for the meeting still grilled the project managers with questions right up until the end of the allotted 90 minutes. Most of the concerns centered around additional land acquisition and the proposed water testing. “How deep is that (third aquifer)?” a woman in the audience asked, jotting notes throughout the presentation. “I’m at 170 (feet). What’s that going to do to me?” Raun said the third aquifer is at 250 feet and said the engineers do not expect there to be an impact, but they will be measuring the effects in the area when they do the pump test. In addition, the water will be discharged into a gravel pit on Robert Walker Avenue, a move the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation will have to review and approve. “I think in all of the conversations that the team has had with the community, water has been a very serious topic of discussion, and rightly so,” Raun said. “We’ve said that we are going to start a program to better understand what’s going on with groundwater in our area of interest.” Mike Peek is concerned about crime from the leftover, empty homes that the project has bought but not demolished yet. From his home across the street from the LNG-purchased property, he said he has seen crime pick up in that area, and with no Alaska State Troopers station and no local police in Nikiski, it is a concern, he said. He urged the project managers to carefully consider the consequences of their property purchases if they do not tear down the houses and secure the property. “Just so you know, the ones right outside that boundary (of the property you intend to buy) are the ones most impacted,” Peek said.

Cosmo drill permit filed as credits debated

KENAI — If it gets the state’s approval, BlueCrest Energy will switch its drilling operations from onshore directional drilling to an offshore jack-up rig. The company’s Alaska arm, BlueCrest Operating Alaska, applied to the Alaska Division of Oil and Gas to change its operating plan, adding an extra well and changing its drilling method. The company originally planned to drill three wells from its onshore facility near Anchor Point, drilling diagonally out into Cook Inlet to reach oil in its Cosmopolitan lease. The change in plans would bring a jack-up rig — either the Spartan 151, currently in Resurrection Bay, or a similar rig — to Cook Inlet to drill the two remaining wells and a new one for BlueCrest, according to the application. The Cosmopolitan formation has both oil and gas assets. The gas is situated above the oil, and because of the shallow depth of the gas, drilling for it from onshore is impossible. The wells drilled from the offshore rig would delineate the oil and gas formations, according to the application. However, the gas production would not begin immediately — after the wells are drilled, they would be plugged and abandoned below the lowest gas reservoir once logging and evaluation of the oil formations has been completed, according to the application. “The wells may be re-entered and developed for gas production operations under a future development and production authorization,” the application states. If approved, the company would drill one well in 2016 and the remaining two in 2017. If there are delays, two may be drilled in 2017 and the third drilled in 2018. One well has already been drilled from onshore, a hydraulic fracturing well, also known as fracking. Drilling operations would include casing and cementing, geologic evaluations, flow testing and well plugging and abandonment. If the company decides to flow test a well, it will develop a testing program. Two helicopter flights per day would support the operations at the offshore rig. The flights would come from either the Kenai or Homer airports, changing rig crews and handling cargo, according to the application. The Spartan 151 is currently docked in Seward, with its seasonal contract under negotiation, according to Spartan Offshore Drilling’s website. Furie Operating Alaska brought the rig to Cook Inlet to drill in its Kitchen Lights lease in 2011 and used it until 2015, when its permanent gas production platform was installed. BlueCrest’s president and CEO Benjamin Johnson has said the company would not be able to drill offshore if the oil and gas tax credit program were to change significantly. The expense of developing the gas limited the company’s ability to conduct operations offshore. The jack-up rig is not a permanent offshore operation, but it places wells offshore. The Legislature is currently debating a number of options to change the structure of the oil and gas tax credit regime at the prompting of Gov. Bill Walker, who has called the current tax credit system unsustainable for the state because there are no caps on how much the state will pay. One proposed bill would cut all the Cook Inlet oil and gas tax credits by 2018; another would cap repurchases at $25 million per company per year. The Legislature’s regular session was scheduled to end on Sunday, but was extended with the oil and gas tax credit bills still in limbo. With $525 million sunk into developing the Cosmopolitan field with no revenue yet — oil production is estimated to begin in April — BlueCrest representatives have spoken out strongly against the tax credit cuts. The company submitted testimony to the Legislature on a committee substitute for HB 247, one of the oil and gas tax credit bills, urging the Legislature to leave the tax credits stable so the company could continue to develop the resources even at low oil prices. Johnson testified to the House Finance Committee on April 4 that any changes should be gradual. He said the state’s investment has been a good one at Cosmopolitan because the company has done low-risk drilling on known resources — the company bought its field in 2014 from Pioneer, which was planning to operate on a former Pennzoil discovery in the area. “I want to emphasize that the state’s investment through its tax credit program has facilitated our success at Cosmopolitan,” Johnson said at the meeting. “BlueCrest is in Alaska today directly as a result of Alaska’s tax credit program.” Reach Elizabeth Earl at [email protected]  

Hatcheries made up one-third of 2015 salmon harvest

KENAI — Though hatcheries are a major part of the commercial fishing industry statewide, they’ve remained a small portion of the harvest in Cook Inlet. Fish from Alaska’s salmon hatcheries made up a third of the total commercial fishery harvest in 2015, mostly in pink and chum salmon. However, in Cook Inlet, hatchery fish made up less than 2 percent, according to a report from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. The report, which is updated annually, provides a broad picture of the state of Alaska’s 28 producing hatcheries. Since their beginnings in the 1970s, the hatcheries have grown to be a substantial part of the fishing industry and contributed 93 million salmon to the commercial fishery last year, nearly a third of the 264 million total fish, according to the report. Cook Inlet’s hatcheries carried a total ex-vessel value of approximately $3.2 million in 2015, with approximately $1.7 million coming from sockeye and the remainder coming from pink salmon. However, Cook Inlet has the smallest hatchery value in the state — Prince William Sound led the market with a total of $79.5 million in ex-vessel value, followed by Southeast with $37.5 million and Kodiak with $4.5 million, according to the report. The commercial fisheries in Cook Inlet harvested 144,000 hatchery-produced salmon in 2015, approximately 2 percent of the total catch. Most of the return was harvested for cost recovery, approximately 2.2 million fish. One of the reasons for the smaller harvest is the recently reopened Tutka Bay and Port Graham hatcheries, operated by Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association. Both are building up their broodstock over time to reach the returns the facilities can handle. In 2015, only enough fish to fulfill broodstock and cost recovery returned to those two stocks, according to the report. Cook Inlet’s hatcheries mostly produce sockeye salmon, which garner a higher price per pound than pink and chum. Most of the hatcheries rely on pink and chum salmon, which are lower-value fish. However, Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association is in the process of diversifying its stock to include both pink salmon and sockeye. Sockeye are more expensive to raise because they must be retained in freshwater longer, requiring the hatcheries managers to overwinter them, said Mark Stopha, a fisheries biologist with Fish and Game in Juneau who wrote the report. They are more expensive to feed and run a higher risk of mortality, possibly because of the longer rearing time. Pink and chum salmon, on the other hand, can hatch in the spring and go directly to salt water, providing a faster return on investment, he said. The number of hatchery fish harvested in other fisheries is much smaller — the sport, personal-use and subsistence fisheries harvested about 275,000 salmon, rainbow trout, arctic char and grayling in 2015. The hatcheries are managed with the wild stocks as a priority, according to the report. Coded wire tags and thermal marking, which is the process of marking the earbones of hatchery fish to determine their origin and brood year, allow fisheries managers to sample returning fish during the season and estimate the total return for hatchery fish and thus more accurately estimate wild stock escapements. Straying of hatchery fish into wild fish systems has long been a concern with the programs statewide. There have been straying reports conducted on most systems where hatcheries operate, but not on Cook Inlet. Stopha said the relatively small hatchery operation did not necessitate a straying study. “I don’t know of any that have been done in Cook Inlet … and maybe that’s because we don’t have any concerns there because of the low level of hatchery production in some of the areas,” Stopha said. “I don’t think it has come up as a concern.” Fish and Game originally began evaluating all the hatcheries in the state as part of the Marine Stewardship Council certification process in 2012, but eventually reviewed them all, Stopha said. One of the main things he said he’s seen is that the hatcheries do not seem to have been damaging salmon runs. Many of the hatchery programs have enhanced the already existing stocks rather than shipping eggs in from elsewhere, he said. “I think the main thing, when I’ve looked at these over 40 years, no one just went in and put in a 100, 200, 300 million egg hatchery and said, ‘We’re just going to do it,’” Stopha said. “In truth, there’s been a lot of bad press about hatcheries over the years, and hatcheries down south have not followed the same protocols we have. 2013 and 2015 were some of the highest returns over the state.” Reach Elizabeth Earl at [email protected]    

AK LNG pre-FEED work continues onshore and offshore

KENAI — More geophysical and technical work will take place in Nikiski this summer as preparation for the Alaska LNG Project. The partners on the liquefied natural gas pipeline project — ConocoPhillips, BP, ExxonMobil and the state through the Alaska Gasline Development Corp. — are moving forward with fieldwork for the 2016 season. The fieldwork will be on a smaller scale than it was last year, but the partners want to finish the preliminary front-end engineering and design work, or pre-FEED, said Josselyn O’Connor, the Community Stakeholder Advisor for the project. “The project partners are committed to completing the pre-FEED work,” O’Connor said. “This work that we’re doing is going to inform and help shape future decisions.” Although the ultimate fate of the project is still undecided, the project partners approved a budget of approximately $230 million for field work for the 2016 season. The 2016 season’s geophysical work will include some onshore work near the proposed site of the LNG production facility in Nikiski and offshore work in the Cook Inlet from three vessels, all up to 240 feet in length. The vessels will collect data about the bottom surface and subsurface of Cook Inlet, evaluate seabed features and identify soil conditions. Offshore, surveyors will be doing bathymetry — submarine topography — to gather information to determine the best route for the proposed pipeline. O’Connor said the work would begin as soon as April or May. She also said project managers are still working on the resource reports for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. “That’s a big milestone for 2016,” O’Connor said. “The second round of the resource reports will be coming out later this spring or summer.” Throughout the process, Alaska LNG Project managers will coordinate with the other marine operations in Cook Inlet to ensure there are no issues, O’Connor said. She also said the marine communications team will also work closely with fishermen, both the drift fleet and the setnetters, to apprise them of what is going on. “That’s very important to us,” O’Connor said. “We recognize the fishermen as an important stakeholder and are committed to communicating with them on a very regular basis.” Throughout the winter, project coordinators have hosted “Coffee with AK LNG” community meetings to update locals with information about the project. The meetings have been well-attended, O’Connor said. Another is scheduled for April 14, where the hosts will present more information about the upcoming field season. “The format of these coffee meetings has been absolutely wonderful,” O’Connor said. “It has allowed for this back-and-forth, two-way communication. It has allowed us to present bits and pieces as the project goes along.” The next Coffee with Alaska LNG meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. April 14 at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center in Kenai.   Reach Elizabeth Earl at [email protected]    

Larger expected king run loosens restrictions on setnets, drifters

Commercial fishermen in Upper Cook Inlet will be somewhat freer to fish at the outset of the 2016 season thanks to a larger projected king salmon run. For the past few years, Alaska Department of Fish & Game commercial fisheries managers have had to work around restrictions on their fisheries because of low king salmon runs to the stream systems across Upper Cook Inlet. However, with a projected late-run return of 30,000 king salmon to the Kenai River and improved runs to the Deshka and Little Susitna rivers, managers will be able to operate under normal restrictions, according to the 2016 Upper Cook Inlet commercial salmon fisheries outlook. “This will be the first year we’ve had the luxury of operating those fisheries without the restrictions,” said Pat Shields, the area management biologists for the Commercial Fisheries Division in Soldotna. For the first time in three years, setnetters in the Upper Subdistrict will be managed by the Kenai River Late-Run Sockeye Salmon Management Plan, restricted only by inseason assessments of sockeye salmon runs and the escapements of late-run kings to the Kenai. In the past, they have been constricted by the low projected run of king salmon to the Kenai River, limiting the number of hours they can fish. This year, they will be able to operate with an additional 84 hours of fishing each week, with a mandatory 36-hour closure each week beginning between 7 p.m. Thursdays and 7 a.m. Fridays, Shields said. The season is set to open June 27 unless opened earlier by emergency order, based on an inriver estimate of 50,000 Kasilof River sockeye salmon before the opener. The earliest it could open would be June 20, according to the outlook. As the season progresses, managers will be carefully watching both the number of sockeye salmon and king salmon in the rivers. “What we’ll do is watch the king salmon numbers as they come in each day in July, and we’ll plan our strategy for how to fish based on the combination of those two sets of numbers,” Shields said. Additionally, commercial setnetters in the Northern District of Cook Inlet will be able to target king salmon again at the season opening. King salmon escapements in the Northern District, which includes all of Cook Inlet north of Boulder Point, have improved in the last few years. More king salmon have been returning to the to the Deshka and Little Susitna rivers as well, and Fish & Game is willing to open up the fishery as well. Shields said it is a relatively limited fishery targeting kings specifically early in the season, with limited fishing periods and fewer nets allowed. The commercial setnet fishery in the Northern District will open with four fishing periods in the 2016 season: May 30, June 3, June 13 and June 20, according to the outlook. After June 27, there will be two 12-hour fishing periods per week with a full complement of gear with at least 600 feet between nets. However, the area from the wood chip dock to the Susitna River will remain closed, reducing the king salmon harvest by approximately half, and the Deshka River will be watched closely. Any closures will come from inseason counts, according to the outlook. The drift gillnet fishery will open by the third Monday in June or June 19, whichever is later. There will be an additional 12-hour fishing period in the Expanded Kenai and Expanded Kasilof sections and Drift Gillnet Area 1 because the Kenai River sockeye run is projected to be greater than 2.3 million fish, according to the outlook. Between July 16 and July 31, there will be an additional 12-hour fishing period each week in the Expanded Kenai, Expanded Kasilof and Anchor Point sections, and no additional restrictions on the remaining regular 12-hour fishing period. One of the challenges of managing this season will be balancing the king run, which is projected to be above the 22,500 target set in the Kenai River Late-Run King Salmon Management Plan, with the sockeye salmon run. A larger than average sockeye return is projected for this year — 7.1 million total, with a 4.1 million commercial fishery harvest, 1.2 million more than the 10-year average annual harvest. Shields said the department has a number of tools for managing the sockeye overescapement if the fisheries are restricted by emergency order again. “It’ll be an interesting year to watch,” Shields said. “Everybody will be watching those two numbers really closely. Our strategy and challenge here will be how many of those extra (setnet) hours will we need to use to keep the sockeye salmon escapement in check.” Last year, both the Kenai and Kasilof rivers saw large overescapements of sockeye salmon, partially due to the closures of the setnet fishery. Managers tried to control the escapement by opening up the drift gillnet fleet for more fishing, which worked “moderately well,” Shields said. “It’s going to put the department in a difficult position — how far do you let the sockeye salmon run go above your escapement objective while you still maintain all the provisions in the (management) plan?” Shields said. One option the managers have is to discuss going outside the Upper Cook Inlet Salmon Management Plan to control escapement, which has been done before. It is a serious decision and requires input from the upper echelons of Fish & Game, but it was done as recently as last year, Shields said. A proviso in the management plan allows Fish & Game to deviate from the management plan to make their escapement goals, he said. However, that doesn’t mean the decisions are always clear. Shields said the decisions to go outside the management plans often generate disagreements within the department and commentary from the public. “When you start exceeding (escapement goals) by quite a bit on the upper end, you see a likelihood for smaller returns,” Shields said. “I wished it was a square decision with nice straight 90-degree corners, but sometimes the lines get a little fuzzy.” Reach Elizabeth Earl at [email protected]

State reaches royalty oil deal with Tesoro

KENAI — The state is considering selling an additional 20,000 to 25,000 barrels per day of its royalty-in-kind oil to Tesoro Refining & Marketing Co. per day as a way to prop up its finances. The state negotiates sales of the oil it collects from North Slope producers instead of taxes to the in-state refineries. Tesoro’s Nikiski refinery is one of three that produce commercial products in Alaska at present. The Alaska Department of Natural Resources has negotiated a five-year contract with the company to sell some of the state’s North Slope royalty oil to be refined at the company’s facility in Nikiski. The five-year contract is shorter than in the past, giving the state more flexibility to respond to the changing market for North Slope oil. The Nikiski refinery is currently producing less than its nameplate capacity of 72,000 barrels per day, or approximately 65,000 barrels per day during the peak season in the summer, according to the state’s Best Interest Finding, issued March 17. “Under the proposed contract, the sale of royalty-in-kind oil will maximize the revenue the State receives for its royalty oil,” the Best Interest Finding states. “In light of the State’s current and projected fiscal condition, the State has a heightened interest in maximizing revenue.” The contract would at least double the current amount of royalty oil sold to Tesoro, which was approximately 15,000 barrels per day, according to the 2014 Best Interest Finding for the sale of royalty oil to Tesoro. The state estimates that the sale of the additional oil under the contract will bring in an estimated $45–$56 million in revenue in addition to what would have been obtained in value, according to the Best Interest Finding. The finding emphasized multiple times how the state is focused on maximizing revenue through royalty oil and that the sale would help the administration to do so. Tesoro will have a choice in how much royalty oil it purchases from the state each month. If the company chooses to purchase the maximum amount from the state, between 45 and 68 percent of the total forecast North Slope royalty oil will go to the company, according to the Best Interest Finding. The state originally asked the state’s five refiners — BP, ConocoPhillips, Petro Star, Tesoro and FHR — whether they would be interested in purchasing more royalty oil in January 2015. Because of the state statute requiring that royalty oil be sold and used for the benefit of Alaskans, BP and ConocoPhillips were not able to meet the standards because they ship their product out of state. Petro Star and Tesoro are the only two commercial refineries that met the requirements and responded with interest, according to the Best Interest Finding. Of the two, Tesoro offered to accept a higher differential in price. “…In light of the very small number of interested parties and the low probability that competitive bidding would maximize total State value, the Commissioner determined that seeking a non-competitive, negotiated agreement was in the State’s best interest, and therefore, waived competitive bidding,” the Best Interest Finding states. Under the proposed contract, the oil will be sold to Tesoro for the monthly average of the daily high and low prices for Alaska North Slope crude. However, the state reserves the right to negotiate a price directly with Tesoro if either party feels the true market value of the crude is not being reflected in the averages. The state has the right to limit how much oil it sells so that the total amount of royalty oil sold does not exceed 95 percent of the total forecast production, according to the Best Interest Finding. There is also a built-in failsafe for both parties: if Tesoro fails to purchase oil for three months in a row, the contract automatically terminates. The Nikiski refinery currently employs 210 Alaskans and between 20 and 30 contractors, not counting the employment at its gas stations throughout the state. Though Petro Star’s refineries also produce commercial fuel, they focus on jet fuel. Tesoro is the only refinery that produces consumer gasoline in Alaska. Tesoro is also in negotiations to purchase two oil-importing terminals previously owned by Flint Hills Resources, which shuttered its refinery operations in North Pole in 2014. The company does not plan to acquire the refinery and storage components, taking aim only at the two terminals in Anchorage and Fairbanks. Tesoro Kenai Refinery Vice President Cameron Hunt said at a speech to the Kenai Chamber of Commerce in February that the company plans to use them to expand its market in the state. “What we see there is an opportunity to provide fuel to the Interior at a low cost,” Hunt said at the meeting. The contract will require the Legislature’s approval. Gov. Bill Walker’s administration introduced a pair of bills to the Legislature, SB 205 and HB 373, requesting approval for the sale on March 23. The Senate Resources Committee will discuss the bill on Wednesday, and the House Finance Committee will discuss it March 31. Reach Elizabeth Earl at [email protected]

Cook Inlet seismic, exploration work underway

KENAI — Despite pessimistic oil and gas outlooks, two companies are conducting seismic data-gathering activities on the Kenai Peninsula this spring and another is planning more exploration work. Hilcorp Alaska is planning to gather more seismic data on the oil and gas beneath the southern Kenai Peninsula, and SAExploration, a Houston, Texas-based oilfield services company, is gathering 2D and 3D seismic data on an area of the northern Kenai Peninsula near Nikiski. After April 1, Furie Operating Alaska plans to use a jack-up rig to drill new wells in its Kitchen Lights Unit. Hilcorp, which is also based in Houston, contracted with Global Geophysical Services Inc. to do a seismic survey of the area east of Anchor Point. The exploration is planned to through roughly May 31, and will cover a scattering of different lands on the southern peninsula. The Alaska Division of Oil and Gas is working to respond to public comments and approve the application. The areas included will be near the North Fork of Deep Creek, an area south of Ninilchik on the Stariski Creek, the whole vicinity of Anchor Point, a patch of land north Homer on the South Beaver Creek and an area near the end of East End Road. Global Geophysical Services plans to primarily use shotholes as an exploration method, though vibroseis — using heavy trucks pressing plates to the ground to shake the earth and measuring the reaction on ground-based sensors — is still a possibility. The company plans to drill 800 shotholes, three inches wide and 35 feet deep, approximately 330 feet apart in the exploration areas. Shothole drilling will be supported by helicopters, and if necessary, the company will clear an 8- to 10-foot diameter space around each hole to allow access, according to the application. All the equipment and personnel will come from Deadhorse and Anchorage, setting up a base of operations on private property between Ninilchik and Anchor Point. However, the company may look to hire support personal and utilize services locally, such as housing and waste disposal, according to the application. “Efforts will be made to hire community members and utilize local resources for select support positions,” the application states. Some have raised concerns about the environmental impact of Hilcorp’s seismic work, though. Bob Shavelson, executive director of Homer-based conservation organization Cook Inletkeeper, wrote in a public comment on Hilcorp’s application that the company “does not have a realistic grasp of the complex and sensitive habitats in which it seeks to operate.” Shavelson called for more detailed information from Hilcorp about the fish habitat in the proposed exploration areas, saying the application did not include detailed enough information about stream crossings. He also noted that while the company treated shotline trajectory as confidential, it released that information at a community meeting in Anchor Point and to the private landowners. “While Inletkeeper is disappointed in the cursory information provided by the applicant to make important decisions around our invaluable salmon habitat, its intent is to help (Department of Natural Resources) and other state and federal agencies improve the process for assessing the impacts — and mitigating the impacts — from projects such as the South Kenai 2D program,” Shavelson wrote. SAExploration’s project is in a more limited space north of Nikiski and being conducted entirely from helicopters, according to the application, which was approved Jan. 8. The area includes 85 square miles in portions of the northern Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and adjacent to the Captain Cook State Recreation Area. The work was originally expected to run through April 15, but it may be done by the end of March, said Rick Trupp, the general manager for SAExploration’s Alaska operations. The company was contracted by Cook Inlet Region Inc., the Southcentral Alaska Native regional corporation, to do the exploration work, Trupp said. “We have a staging site that’s fairly close to the coast, and we’re supporting operations from on the refuge,” Trupp said. CIRI’s goal in the project is to gain more specific information about the resources that it is fairly confident are there, said Jason Moore, the senior director of corporate communications. It is a fairly small-scale operation compared to other seismic work, Moore said. “We’re confident there’s gas resources where we’re looking,” Moore said. “We’re trying to get some very specific data.” In addition to the Hilcorp and SAExploration projects, Furie has applied to conduct further exploration projects in its Kitchen Lights Unit near the west side of Cook Inlet. Furie plans to drill nine more wells over the course of the next five years, or roughly two wells per year, according to its permit application. The exploration will drill through the Tyonek and Hemlock formations into the Jurassic formation. To conduct the exploration, the company has brought a new jack-up rig to the Kenai Peninsula, the Randolph Yost. The rig is currently docked in Homer for mechanical modifications and will be deployed to the Kitchen Lights Unit when the drilling season opens on April 1, according to Furie Senior Vice President Bruce Webb. Webb said the company is ready to drill, but the rate at which the wells will be drilled will depend on what the Legislature decides about the oil and gas tax credit program. Furie is a relatively small company and has invested a fair amount in the Cook Inlet area and is just beginning to see the first money come back from its investments, he said. “We’re told ‘when is the first day we can be out there?’” Webb said. “A lot hinges on what the state does with the (oil and gas) tax credits.” Reach Elizabeth Earl at [email protected]

Apache to shutter Alaska operations

Apache Corporation, which has been exploring oil and gas resources in the Cook Inlet area, announced Thursday that it will exit the state. The Houston, Texas-based corporation has been exploring north of Nikiski since approximately 2010. Apache’s Alaska general manager, John Hendrix, informed the Legislature of the company’s decision. “Low oil prices are certainly affecting the way companies do business not just here in Alaska but across the nation,” said Walker in a release. “My team and I are committed to working with the federal government and producers to increase oil production into the Trans Alaska Pipeline System and achieving a balanced and sustainable state budget.” The company had not yet released a public notice of its decision, but the news was publicly announced during the Alaska House of Representatives morning press conference Thursday. Low oil prices informed most of the decision, said Speaker of the Alaska House of Representatives Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski. Chenault said he spoke to the company Wednesday about its decision. “With oil prices the way they are, they don’t really have much choice,” Chenault said. “They can’t keep investing money without a short term investment.” He said the local economy will likely feel the company’s departure. “It could be just about anyone, all the way down to the restaurant down the street that’s providing food (to the workers),” Chenault said. “Each time one of these smaller companies goes away, it affects everyone.” The company had been engaged in stop-and-start exploration and seismic data gathering, marked by multiple delays and consideration of other potential projects, such as extending the North Road. In its annual report to the Securities and Exchanges Commission, the company called 2015 “a transitional year for Apache.” Most of its adaptation to low oil prices was to reduce activity and cut overhead and operating costs, according to the report. “We are prepared for a potentially ‘lower for longer’ commodity price cycle, while retaining our ability to dynamically manage our activity levels as commodity price and service costs dictate,” the company wrote in its annual report. Sen. Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, the chair of the Senate Resources Committee, said in a statement that she was disappointed that low oil prices forced the company to exit. “My hope is that we, as a state, can set the right environment and conditions for our private economy to weather the economic downturn,” Giessel said. “We owe it to Alaska’s economy, Alaska’s communities and Alaska’s families to be measured in how state government moves forward.”   Reach Elizabeth Earl at [email protected]

Report: More imported gasoline drives up in-state price

The market for Alaska’s refineries is becoming even tougher with reduced demand and increased pressure to compete with imported fuels. Though the state’s refineries are closer to markets in Alaska, reducing transportation costs, competitive pricing from refiners in Asia and the U.S. West Coast may challenge their businesses, according to a December 2015 report prepared for the Alaska Department of Natural Resources. California-based Econ One Research, Inc., completed the report in response to a request from the Alaska Senate Finance Committee. The state is down to three commercial refineries after Flint Hills’ North Pole refinery ceased operations in 2014: Petro Star’s refineries in Fairbanks and Valdez and Tesoro’s refinery in Nikiski. Petro Star mostly produces jet fuel while the Tesoro refinery mostly produces gasoline and exports the remaining heavy oil to other markets. Alaska’s refineries are smaller and simpler than other operations, and in Tesoro’s case, the distance from other markets that insulates it from competition may also make it difficult to export other products. Tesoro exports about 30 percent of each barrel in the form of fuel oil, for which there is no market in Alaska, because the facility in Nikiski is limited by its technology and cannot convert it to lighter fuel oils. The refineries on the West Coast can convert up to 90 percent of a barrel, making it harder for Tesoro to compete, according to the report. About 70 percent to 80 percent of total demand for petroleum products comes from in-state refineries, while the rest comes from the Pacific Northwest or Asia. In-state refiners supply most of the demand in Southcentral and Interior Alaska, according to the report. Exports from Alaska have been gradually decreasing. Before 2008, Alaska was a net exporter of refined petroleum product; after 2009, the state became a net importer. Imports represented 22 percent of Alaska’s supply in 2013, according to the report. “Alaska’s refineries supply the majority of demand for refined product in the State, though their contribution has declined over the past decade as imports have claimed an increasingly larger percentage of Alaska’s product demand,” the report states. Diane Hunt, the special projects and external relations coordinator for the Alaska Division of Oil & Gas, said the report was requested by Sen. Anna MacKinnon, R-Eagle River, in the wake of the Flint Hills refinery closure and had been sent to the senate roughly the same time as the Department of Natural Resources. The report also shed a little more light on refined petroleum product prices in Alaska. Prices are generally higher than they are in the rest of the U.S., although it is not consistent across products — the biggest difference is seen in gasoline and diesel, while the least difference is seen in jet fuel. Tesoro is now the only gasoline and diesel producer in Alaska, and concerned about a monopoly, some have called for an investigation into the company’s practices because Alaska’s gas prices are consistently much higher than other states’. The Alaska Department of Law has looked into the higher cost of gas in Alaska several times over the past few decades. The latest was in 2008, when an investigation concluded that there was no evidence of collusion between the state’s refiners. Price gouging itself is not illegal, but collusion between companies to raise prices is illegal, according to the investigation. The renewed call came from Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, who sought to block Tesoro Alaska’s proposed purchase of several Flint Hills assets to expand distribution in the Interior region. “The already delicately balanced retail gas market in Alaska will be dominated by the company should this sale be approved, keeping further competition from the state and hiking prices for customers,” Wielechowski wrote in a January letter to Alaska Attorney General Craig Richards. The report puts forth an alternative explanation for higher gas prices in the state. Essentially, the authors suggested large buyers of gasoline secured purchases at prices similar to what the cost of importing would be, called “import parity.” “While gasoline is generally not imported into the Southcentral or Interior of the State, imports are a potential alternative to local supply,” the report states. “Large buyers of gasoline and diesel, including the State, have been able to purchase gasoline and diesel at prices that generally reflect the cost of importing product … from the Pacific Northwest.” Reach Elizabeth Earl at [email protected]

Nonresidents pass residents in individual guide permits

KENAI — The number of guides and guiding businesses in Alaska is staying stable but the percentage of nonresidents is still climbing. Since the state saw a drop in guide participation in 2009, the numbers have stabilized, according to the 2014 license and logbook data published by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. In 2014, there were 1,805 licensed guides in Alaska and 132 licensed businesses, with 983 holding a combined license. The majority of licenses are in the Southcentral region. Nonresident individual licensed guides overtook resident individual licensed guides for the first time in 2014. Between 2010 and 2014, the number of licensed resident guides fell from 1,009 to 892, while the number of nonresident guides climbed from 702 to 913, according to the report. However, there are still significantly more residents who hold either combination or guiding businesses licenses than nonresidents. Of the 983 total combination licenses in 2014, 868 went to residents. Of 132 licensed businesses, 105 went to residents, according to the report. Overall, 63 percent of licensed guides were residents, while 37 percent were not. The percentage of nonresidents has been slowly increasing by about 3 percent every year, climbing from 33 percent in 2012 to 35 percent in 2013. In Southcentral Alaska, freshwater guiding remains dominant over saltwater guiding. The Southcentral region dominates the freshwater guiding market statewide; 81 percent of freshwater participation occurred in the region in 2014, according to the report. Sockeye, coho and king salmon were the most common species harvested, comprising 45 percent, 44 percent and 6 percent of the statewide harvest respectively. Out of a total of 95,003 freshwater guided angler-days in Southcentral, 8,123 were spent by residents, and 84,396 were spent by nonresidents. The remainder were compensated, crew or unknown, according to the report. The demographics of target species for freshwater guided trips are changing, too. With tightened king restrictions for the past several years, guides have had to change tactics to other species. Sockeye and coho are taking an increasingly larger role as target species for all guided trips, while kings are on the decline, according to the harvest data for 2012–2014. On the Kenai River specifically, the statistics are fairly similar to those statewide: of the 336 total registered guides in 2014, 32 percent were nonresident. That number has also steadily increased over the years, climbing from a 25 percent in 2010 to 33 percent in 2015. The total number of guides continues to fall, though — 2015 saw the fewest guides of any year since 1994, according to the registration records. The large number of guides on the Kenai River, especially of nonresident guides, has been a concern for some time for Kenai Peninsula locals. The Kenai River Special Management Area advisory board, composed of citizens and state agency representatives, has been discussing for some time whether to limit the number of guides on the river and how it could be done. At an open house for peninsula guides in November, some complained about the behavior of nonresident guides and asked if the state could charge nonresidents more in the guide registration process. However, others were more settled with nonresident guides. Courtesy on the river has improved since the implementation of the Kenai River Guide Academy, a mandatory class for guides on the river, said Mike Fenton, a guide with Fenton Bros. Guided Sportfishing Alaska in Soldotna. “I don’t see a lot of disparity in the quality of the nonresident guides,” Fenton said. “From a courtesy standpoint, I think all the guides that have gone through the course understand courtesy on the river.” Nonresident guides do have to pay steeper fees. They should be able to guide in Alaska if they want to, the same way Alaskan guides should be able to guide elsewhere if they choose, said Rod Berg, co-owner of Rod N’ Real Charters in Soldotna. “I know some of the public thinks it should be all resident guides, but if I want to go down to Washington or Oregon and guide, that’s my right,” Berg said. “I don’t care about nonresident guides. We have far more pressing issues.” Reach Elizabeth Earl at [email protected]  

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