Elwood Brehmer

Tourism expected to hold the line in 2014

It’s almost time for the rush of family and friends from the Lower 48, and Alaska’s tourism industry leaders are expecting a good, but not great, 2014 visitor season.

John Binkley, president of Cruise Lines International Association Alaska, formerly the Alaska Cruise Association, said he is expecting 972,000 cruise visitors to the state this year, a slight decrease from the 999,600 cruisers to Alaska in 2013.

Ambler District potential justifies road, says NovaCopper CEO

NovaCopper Inc. CEO Rick Van Nieuwenhuyse said his company is near a goal of 10 billion pounds of copper for potential development in the Ambler Mining District.

The Ambler Mining District, which stretches for approximately 75 miles between the Brooks Range to the north and the upper Kobuk River to the south, is a world-class copper deposit, Van Nieuwenhuyse said at an April 3 Resource Development Council presentation.

“The thing that’s unique about Ambler is grade,” he said.

AIDEA backs first loans for LNG trucking plan

The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority board approved $23.1 million in loans for the Interior Energy Project April 3 — money that will be used to build the first part of the complex natural gas supply chain for Fairbanks-area residents.

A $15 million loan was awarded to Fairbanks Natural Gas, which currently serves about 1,100 customers in the city’s core, and the borough-owned startup Interior Gas Utility was approved for $8.1 million.

Flurry of medevacs stokes road battle

When it comes to a road for King Cove, Sen. Lisa Murkowski has held true to her word and has not let the issue die.

Alaska’s senior senator has railed on Interior Department Secretary Sally Jewell’s decision to deny a land swap that would allow emergency road access between the Alaska Peninsula villages of King Cove and Cold Bay at every opportunity since Jewell announced her ruling Dec. 23, 2013.

Tongass exemption reinstated; FWS moves to list wolves

A federal appeals court overturned a lower court ruling that denied exempting the Tongass National Forest from the controversial “Roadless Rule” on March 26.

In its 2-1 opinion to uphold the Tongass exemption, a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals panel cited the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s attempt to ease the socioeconomic impact to Southeast Alaska created by the Roadless Area Conservation Rule, address regional timber demand and its wish to end litigation as acceptable justifications for the original USDA action.

Alaska has a love-hate relationship with its energy

Every year Alaskans wait with bated breath for the PFD announcement — their personal share of the state’s oil wealth.

While clean, reliable hydropower provides inexpensive electricity to Southeast, residents of the Interior and Western Alaska struggle to afford $5 per gallon fuel oil. Some pay more for heat than their mortgage every month.

For 10 years, Chris Rose, founder of the Renewable Energy Alaska Project, or REAP, has tried to level the energy field across the state.

“We have worked very hard to help people understand this is an economic issue,” Rose said.

Great Alaska Quake shook up science

When North America’s largest-known earthquake shook Alaska for all it was worth at 5:36 p.m., on Good Friday, March 27, 1964, George Plafker was in the right place at the very right time.

At 35, Plafker was an up-and-coming geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Menlo Park, Calif. Because he had spent the previous three years mapping Southcentral Alaska’s mineral resources, Plafker was one of the few USGS scientists familiar with the infant state and subsequently was sent north.

Lawmakers briefed on Ambler, Juneau road projects

Legislators were brought up to speed on $900 million worth of work on two of the road proposals on the state’s ever-growing list of mega projects at a March 6 committee hearing.

The Joint Transportation Committee heard from Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority leadership on the Ambler Road project in Northwest Alaska and from the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities regarding the Juneau Access road.

House aims to revamp high-cost workers' comp system

Workers’ compensation rates in Alaska have continued to climb in recent years despite a declining number of claims.

The House Labor and Commerce Committee took up legislation March 7 aimed at reforming the system and reigning in costs.

Bypass mail proposals draw ire from Alaska delegation

Legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives that would work to cut the cost of bypass mail to the U.S. Postal Service by millions has drawn staunch opposition from the Alaska congressional delegation, who are claiming the changes would have just the opposite effect on the rural freight system.

Anchorage files suit against MARAD over port management

The Municipality of Anchorage is broadening the reach of litigation to include the federal government among the defendants in the ongoing port expansion drama.

During a March 3 press conference, Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan discussed his administration’s decision to file a lawsuit Feb. 28 against the U.S. Maritime Administration, or MARAD, in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.

Arctic players talk infrastructure, spill response in Girdwood

GIRDWOOD — Alaska’s need for Arctic infrastructure — fixed and mobile — dominated the discussion at World Trade Center Alaska’s Arctic Ambitions conference Feb. 27 in Girdwood.

State officials and representatives from Arctic nations and their businesses provided insight into what the state and federal governments can do, and who could be possible international partners with them, as economic activity in the region grows.

Municipality to go after MARAD over port

The Municipality of Anchorage is broadening the reach of litigation to include the federal government among the defendants in the ongoing port expansion drama.

An announcement Monday morning from municipal spokeswoman Lindsey Whitt stated Mayor Dan Sullivan would hold a press conference from City Hall at 11:30 a.m., March 3 to discuss his administration’s decision to file a lawsuit against the U.S. Maritime Administration, or MARAD.

Refinery closing will likely cost railroad $11M per year

The impending closure of the Flint Hills Resources North Pole refinery could cut $11 million in annual revenue to the Alaska Railroad, adding to the “unholy trinity” of challenges facing the state railroad, its president and CEO Bill O’Leary said.

O’Leary made his remarks Feb. 20 to the Resource Development Council for Alaska.

Assembly approves CH2M Hill for Anchorage port mgmt.

After delaying it twice and holding a special meeting the Anchorage Assembly voted Feb. 25 to approve CH2M Hill’s bid for construction management services at the Port of Anchorage.

Passage of the initial five-year, $30 million contract came nearly two months after Mayor Dan Sullivan announced the international engineering and management firm had been chosen among a group of companies to manage future work on the port’s stalled construction project. Additional two-year options could take the contract out to a nine-year, $54 million working agreement.

IRS audits over disputed excise tax weigh on air carriers

Ambiguity in the federal tax code is costing some owners of Alaska flight services their businesses, according to members of the Alaska Air Carriers Association.

Joy Journeay, executive director of the association, said that the Internal Revenue Service has audited six air carriers in the state since 2010 for their application of excise taxes imposed on regular service. Of those audited, three businesses have been sold or gone out of business, she said, and two more are currently being investigated by the IRS.

JBER, Eielson make F-35 short list

The Pentagon announced Feb. 25 that Alaska’s Air Force bases are on the short list of candidates to host a squadron of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, the military’s latest generation of fighter aircraft.

“Today is great news for Alaska because it demonstrates the Pentagon recognizes our state’s strategic position in the nation’s defense,” Sen. Mark Begich said in a formal statement following the announcement. “With Alaska’s strategic geographic position, unrivaled training environment and ample air space, there is no better choice for stationing the F-35s in the Pacific.”

CH2M Hill gives detail to role of VECO in port expansion

A CH2M Hill spokesman issued a statement Feb. 18 in an effort to clarify confusion over the role of VECO Inc. in the Port of Anchorage expansion project.

CH2M Hill purchased VECO Inc. in September 2007, and the Colorado-based engineering giant with nearly 3,000 employees in Alaska now has a contract pending with the Municipality of Anchorage to manage future construction at the stalled port project.

Bipartisan bill would eliminate exit exam

Legislation introduced by Gov. Sean Parnell and a bipartisan group of legislators would do away with the state high school exit exam.

The High School Graduation Qualifying Exam has been administered to high school seniors in Alaska since 2004. Department of Education and Early Development Deputy Commissioner Les Morse said the exam that tests students’ proficiency in reading, writing, and mathematics at up to the sophomore level has run its course.

Roads to Resources adds West Susitna, stalls other projects

As the original Roads to Resources projects await more money, a new state study adds new proposals to the mix.

The West Susitna Access Reconnaissance Study released by the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities in late January highlights five routes, that if constructed, would provide access to the largely undeveloped side of the Susitna River valley and the resources available there.

Collectively, the more than 350 miles of proposed access corridors are more than $1.8 billion of infrastructure, representing another “mega project” for the state.

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