Elwood Brehmer

Material cost, limited land makes tight commercial market

The demand for commercial real estate in Anchorage is high and the availability is low was commercial broker Brandon Spoerhase’s message to the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce at its Aug. 5 Make It Monday forum.

Spoerhase, a broker for Jack White Commercial, told the chamber that the current vacancy rate for large industrial space is at 3 percent, with about 580,000 square feet available for lease in the city.

FAA radio rules in area of 2011 crash nearly standardized

Uncertainty amongst pilots over proper radio frequencies west of the Susitna River is being resolved more than two years after a midair collision involving aircraft using different frequencies killed a family of four.

“The confusion over (Common Traffic Advisory Frequencies) CTAFs has been that small airports west of the Susitna were given different frequencies about five years ago, and the areas of differing frequencies overlap,” Alaska Air Carriers Association Executive Director Joy Journeay said.

Pitch-on-a-Train brings entrepreneurs, investors together

The summer scenery of Turnagain Arm, plus the nostalgia of a train ride, plus lunch at a world-renowned resort equals what? Undoubtedly the perfect setting for conducting business.

The Anchorage Economic Development Corp. team combined those elements with investors and some of Alaska’s most promising entrepreneurs to form the first annual Pitch-On-A-Train business competition. The Aug. 1 event was the third leg of the group’s four-part Alaska Entrepreneurship Week, which ran from July 25 to Aug. 4.

Zender wins environmental training grant for rural cleanup

June 20, 2013

A $200,000 Environmental Protection Agency grant will allow Zender Environmental Health and Research Group continue its environmental technician training program for unemployed rural Alaskans.

Lynn Zender is the founder and executive director of the Anchorage-based nonprofit.

“We recruit residents from rural Alaska villages to train them as environmental technicians to work within their communities,” Zender said.

Insurance rates drive high costs for state workers' comp

June 23, 2013

A team from the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Board traveled the state June 17 to 20 holding public meetings to discuss rising medical costs associated with on-the-job injuries.

“At our main meeting our board decided it wanted to get out in the community and get feedback from employers, employees, from doctors, from attorneys — from the stakeholders in the workers’ compensation system,” state Division of Workers’ Compensation Director Mike Monagle said at the June 18 Anchorage meeting.

Other meetings were held in Fairbanks, Kenai and Juneau.

Qualified mortgage rule still worries lenders after revisions

Despite federal agencies taking steps to tweak and adopt the qualified mortgage and ability-to-repay rules set to go into effect in January 2014, private industry officials are nervous about the impact they will have.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the Federal Housing Finance Agency-run mortgage buyers announced in a May 6 agency statement that they will only purchase loans that meet the requirements for a qualified mortgage, or QM, when the rule is implemented.

Defendants in port suit hold their ground

All three defendants in a lawsuit the Municipality of Anchorage filed March 8 over the bungled Port of Anchorage expansion project have firmly denied liability and asked for dismissal in court responses to the municipality’s claims.

PND Engineers, Inc., designer of the Open Cell Sheet Pile dock system at the center of the controversy, and CH2M Hill, owner of former port consultant VECO Alaska, filed responses April 17.

Volunteers help seniors, low income residents prepare taxes

Despite a spring snowstorm, Anchorage residents assembled at the Crosspoint Community Church on the city’s west side April 6 for the opportunity to have their taxes done free of charge.

Three such “Super Saturday” events are held each year in Anchorage during tax season when Internal Revenue Service-certified AARP tax aide volunteers are made available to the city’s low income and senior populations.

State releases draft of amended Bristol Bay land use plan

Groups opposing Pebble Mine are not happy with an amended 2005 Bristol Bay Area Plan released Jan. 4 by the Department of Natural Resources.

The amended land use plan is the result of a 2009 joint lawsuit filed in state court by Trout Unlimited, the Alaska Independent Fisherman’s Marketing Association and five Bristol Bay area village and tribal councils against the Department of Natural Resources, or DNR.

The 2005 Bristol Bay Area Plan designated use for more than 19 million acres of land in the Bristol Bay region.

State energy audit shows potential savings

An energy audit of Alaska public facilities uncovered some of the most, and least, energy efficient buildings in the state. The study, conducted by Alaska Housing Finance Corp., evaluated 327 investment grade audits performed on public facilities.

The study estimates there are 5,000 public buildings in Alaska, spending more than $641 million on energy every year. If appropriate measures are taken, the study calculates a potential energy cost savings of  $125 million yearly to the State.

Born from community effort, Hilltop celebrates 30 years

Mountains and skiing go together like kids and snow. Hilltop Ski Area combines all four. Situated on the edge of Anchorage where the city meets the Chugach, Hilltop is a place for novice skiers to practice the downhill craft.

“We do a lot of after school programs — Kinder Ski, Hotdoggers, that sort of thing. We’re a beginner area,” Hilltop CEO Steve Remme said.

The Kinder Ski and Hotdoggers programs offer after school lessons for kids from ages 4 to 16 years old.

Anchorage, Fairbanks recognized as top winter destinations

Alaska has long been an iconic tourist destination in summer. Now, the state’s largest cities are garnering attention for their winter attractions.

Anchorage was ranked No. 1 on a list of “America’s Hottest Cold Cities” by Livability, an online travel magazine. According to its mission, Livability’s goal is to find “the good stuff in small to medium-sized communities all across America.”

The Fairbanks area recently received similar honors from two travel information outlets.

Port MacKenzie project back on track

Marc Van Dongen is a big man with bigger plans. As director of Port MacKenzie he oversees all operations across Knik Arm from Anchorage, including the largest project at the port since it was built in 1999: the rail extension from Houston to Port MacKenzie.

Work on the rail line had been suspended due to an Oct. 1 stay issued by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. On Nov. 28 the three-judge panel reversed the stay, allowing work to resume and denying a petition for review filed jointly by the Sierra Club and Cook Inletkeeper.

Anchorage unemployment at five-year low

Unemployment in Anchorage fell to 4.7 percent and a five-year low in October, according to a report from the Anchorage Economic Development Corp. It’s the lowest monthly unemployment figure since November 2007.

“4.7 percent is crazy-low unemployment – that compared to the rest of the country is pretty amazing,” said Bill Popp, president and CEO of the Anchorage Economic Development Corp.

Popp said Anchorage’s unemployment rate compares to that of oil-boom North Dakota and government-influenced Washington, D.C.

Biomass saves big bucks to heat and power rural schools

Rural entities across Alaska are looking for alternative sources of energy as a solution to unsustainable fuel and power bills. The Gateway School District, headquartered in Tok, appears to have found its answer to both in the woods.

In October 2010, the district installed a wood biomass-fired heating boiler system in Tok School. Before installing the boiler, district Superintendant Todd Poage said the school burned an average of 55,000 gallons of heating oil every year.

Heating oil currently goes for about $4 a gallon in Tok.

$33M upgrade expands training and adds housing

Construction of more than $33 million worth of new facilities at Kenai Peninsula College in Soldotna is moving ahead as scheduled, College Director Gary Turner said.

Kenai Peninsula College, or KPC, is adding a $17.8 million student housing building along with a $15.25 million Career and Tech Center to its Kenai River Campus. The projects are expected to be finished in August 2013, just time for fall classes.

Gas line projected to generate thousands of in-state jobs

Alaska Gasline Development Corp. CEO Dan Fauske provided figures estimating a major impact to Alaska if the proposed in-state gas pipeline is built.

“It will be the largest project in North America. It will supply 8,000 direct and 15,000 indirect jobs,” Fauske said Nov. 9 in a presentation to the Associated General Contractors of Alaska annual conference.

Partnerships working to reduce moose collisions in Alaska

The Alaska Moose Federation, or AMF, is partnering with state agencies and private industry to implement new strategies to reduce the number of vehicle versus moose collisions.

AMF Executive Director Gary Olson said heavy snowfall last winter pushed more moose into urban environments and onto plowed roadways. That led to more than 1,000 confirmed moose collisions last winter totaling more than $35 million in damage. In one 24-hour period in early February, the federation’s moose salvage program picked up 17 dead moose.

Wood biomass project to power Tok appears promising

Alaska Power & Telephone’s feasibility study for a wood biomass plant in Tok should be finalized by the end of November, Thomas Deerfield, project coordinator, said, and the initial findings for the proposal look promising.

Deerfield owns Dalson Energy, an Anchorage-based energy consulting firm that specializes in the use of wood biomass energy systems.

Wood biomass systems traditionally burn wood harvested as a renewable fuel to power a boiler system, which transfers heat through steam to warm individual buildings, Deerfield explained.

Roads to Resources effort emerging from planning stages

The Roads to Resources proposal set forth by Gov. Sean Parnell as a funding mechanism to jump start work on four surface transportation projects in Alaska is slowly gaining steam, according to officials close to the work.

In late 2011, the governor announced a $28.5 million budget proposal aimed at increasing access to resources currently outside the state’s road system.

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