Jonathan Grass

After origins in pipeline days, AVTEC goes gourmet

SEWARD — Not all classrooms use books. Some have knives and heat.

That’s everyday life at the culinary program at AVTEC, Alaska’s Institute of Technology, and is what encouraged 18-year-old Jenna Mahoney of Homer to enroll.

Mahoney learned about the program while at a state technical competition, and it happened to fit her interests.

She said she might like to start her own catering business someday and professional training was important now, especially when that training can be learned through her scholarship.

UA embarks on improvement plan before centennial

The University of Alaska’s 100-year anniversary is coming up soon. As part of an effort to maximize what the students are getting before the centennial, UA is implementing an initiative called Shaping Alaska’s Future 2017.

A major part of this is the Strategic Direction Initiative, or SDI, which is now entering its next phase of development.

Forum offers ideas to control health expenses

Health care spending in Alaska reached $7.5 billion in 2010, according to Commonwealth North. The public policy organization hosted a forum in Anchorage on July 26 to offer some ideas on ways the private sector can step in to help bring that number down. Here’s a summary of their presentations:

Alyeska Pipeline Service Co.

Congress passes bill that preserves most railroad funds

The threat hanging over the Alaska Railroad Corp. has been lifted.

Congress passed a 28-month surface transportation bill on June 29 that allows the railroad to keep the majority of its annual federal dollars.

The surface transportation bill that passed the Senate in March would have reduced annual funding to the Alaska Railroad from $36 million to about $6 million annually. Losing the funding would have induced a technical default on capital improvement bonds sold in 2007, led to immediate layoffs and would have put passenger service in jeopardy as well.

Southcentral sales, prices still strong

Prices are lower and homes stay listed longer, but the major Alaska real estate markets are still performing well compared to the rest of the nation.

So far this year, 1,065 residential properties have sold in Anchorage with an average price of $281,179 and an average 72 days on the market. There have been 487 units sold in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough at an average price of $220,464 and an average 99 days on the market.

Multiple Listings Service data shows that residential sales statewide dropped sharply after 2007 before rebounding in 2009.

Akiak gets $4M power upgrade from rural energy program

Every remote Alaskan community knows reliable power is vital. The tiny city of Akiak knows what it’s like to experience a power failure, but a gift from the Alaska Energy Authority may help ensure it won’t have to again.

Akiak is a city of about 350 people in the Bethel Census Area. It is a predominantly Alaska Native community with a strong Yup’ik population that relies on subsistence and fishing. According to the 2010 Census, there are 90 occupied housing units in the community.

Alaska delegation cheers decision to hold off F-16 move

The U.S. Air Force is holding its proposed action to transfer the F-16 squadron from Eielson Air Force base in Fairbanks to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage.

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has directed that the Air Force not take action until Congress has completed action on the fiscal year 2013 authorization and appropriations bills.

CIRI Fire Island wind farm nearing completion

After more than a decade of planning, the Cook Inlet Region Inc. wind project for Fire Island is close to powering up.

Fire Island Wind LLC, a CIRI subsidiary, has all but finished constructing foundations for 11 wind turbines for a commercial-scale wind farm. This will be the first of its kind in Southcentral. The next major step will be installing the towers, which are waiting to be barged from Anchorage to Fire Island.

Native organizations lifting Interior economies

Native organizations are giving the Interior major lift, according to a new study conducted by Doyon Ltd., Tanana Chiefs Conference, Fairbanks Native Association and the Interior Regional Housing Authority.

An economic impact report reveals that Interior Native organizations are a significant contributor for the region, accounting for nearly half a billion dollars in economic impact and the fifth-highest employment.

AVTEC wind turbine powers energy training and Seward grid

SEWARD — Driving through a city as small as Seward, one can’t help but notice one of its tallest structures looming off of the sole highway near Resurrection Bay. This 121-foot wind turbine was built as a teaching tool for AVTEC, Alaska’s Institute of Technology, but has since become an extra power source for Seward.

AVTEC has just attached the turbine to the city’s power grid. The structure powers the campus’ Applied Technology campus, which consists of three buildings, and any excess energy goes to the city.

Begich urges vote on transportation bill

The Senate and House remain tied up in a conference committee to negotiate a version of a surface transportation reauthorization bill that could make or break the Alaska Railroad Corp. These negotiations are taking their toll on Alaskan legislators who want to see more progress.

CUNA: Economic outlook OK but not what it should be

SEWARD — The recession is over, but that doesn’t mean everything is back to normal yet. Economists with the Credit Union National Association say the national outlook is a slow recovery, and this is something credit unions need to be aware of when lending.

Mike Schenk, CUNA vice president of economics and statistics, addressed the Alaska Credit Union League about the slow recovery during the league’s annual meeting in May.

“I can tell you that we’re now growing at fairly healthy rates but certainly not rates that are reflective of a normal economic recovery,” he said.

CUs look to Congress for larger loan limits

SEWARD — There is a fight between the banks and the credit unions, and the credit unions are turning to Washington, D.C., to change the game.

Bill Cheney, president and CEO of the Credit Union National Association, addressed current legislation at the Alaska Credit Union League’s annual meeting in May.

Cheney said credit unions rely on legislative and regulatory support to be successful. While examiners do play an important role in establishing and maintaining rules, he said there can be conflict between the examiners’ judgments and those of the managers.

New program brings Fairbanks students and unions together

Fairbanks students have a new way to get into the workforce. The school district has teamed up with the University of Alaska Fairbanks Community and Technical College to bring secondary students Partnerships to Pathways, a state-funded program that ensures collaboration and training for these students to further education in postsecondary classes or get started in work or apprenticeships immediately after high school.

These partnerships with the district expand to various workforce entities and labor unions to get students involved in work early.

Air Force releases EIS for Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex

Alaska-based armed forces need more places to train, and options for expanding uses of the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex have been released for public comment with the draft environmental impact statement.

JPARC consists of all the land, air and water used for Department of Defense training, be it Army, Air Force, Navy or Marine Corps. It covers approximately 65,000 square miles of available airspace, 2,490 square miles of land within 1.5 million acres of maneuver land, and 42,000 square nautical miles of surface, subsurface and overlying airspace in the Gulf of Alaska.

University construction under way

The University of Alaska’s three main locations are getting their work crews ready as the spring season allows building to begin. A few big buildings are in store around the state but most of this year’s work remains in standard maintenance.

Safety, seafood industry driving airport improvements

Small towns from the tip of the Alaska Peninsula to the far-flung Aleutian Islands are some of the trickiest areas to get to and by aircraft is often the only means to do so. Improving access, safety and economic benefits are driving renovations moving forward in several such places this year.

ISER: Private spending unchanged in 2012

With the snow gone, dormant building projects are getting back under way. There are several good-sized projects, but according to the Institute of Social and Economic Research, there aren’t any new large-scale efforts starting this year.

Much of the construction work this summer involves completing projects started in prior seasons.

For this reason, ISER’s 2012 construction forecast states that private commercial spending will be around $120 million, the same as last year. Spending on residential building will also remain the same at $400 million.

Safety issues more than just statistics for trucking industry

When truckers don’t live up to safety measures, everyone loses. Just ask Renata Smith. Her cousin’s family was in a car accident in Georgia late last year. An 18-wheeler was going too fast and trying to pass another vehicle when it hit the family’s car head-on. While her cousin made it to the hospital, her husband and two-year-old daughter were not so lucky.

Smith works as a planner for the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities. She describes her job working “toward trying to make the world safer dealing with commercial vehicles.”

Capital budget helps Fairbanks make headway on LNG

The two largest energy companies in Fairbanks are moving forward in their efforts to expand the borough’s liquefied natural gas customer base.

Golden Valley Electric Association and Flint Hills Resources have been working on a joint venture for LNG and the design phase for storage plants in North Pole and the North Slope are now under way with some state help from the capital budget passed April 15.

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