Tim Bradner

Red Dog mine owner Teck reaches tax deal with borough

A contentious dispute over taxes is close to resolution between Teck Alaska, operator of the Red Dog Mine north of Kotzebue and the North West Arctic Borough.

A new payment-in-lieu-of-tax, or PILT, has been agreed to by Teck and borough administrators, and is expected to be approved by the North West Arctic Borough assembly. It would result in payments to the borough ranging from $18 million to $26 million per year for 10 years.

According to Teck’s annual financial filing, the new PILT will be about 30 percent larger than the last agreement.

Cargo carriers concerned about tax hike

JUNEAU — Most attention focused on the state Legislature is on the big revenue bills: a state income tax, more changes in oil taxes and restructuring how Permanent Fund income is managed.

But there are serious issues bubbling just below the surface, and even legislators aren’t aware of how they could adversely affect the state’s economy.

Take air cargo, for example, which provides the majority of the revenues to Alaska’s international airports in Anchorage and Fairbanks.

Habitat bill draws attention, but won’t get vote this year

JUNEAU — It is already being dubbed, “fish first, nothing else.”

Reps. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, and Andy Josephson, D-Anchorage, have introduced a bill that would set up a new fisheries habitat permitting system, to be administered by the state Department of Fish and Game, for construction projects that affect waterways.

Critics say the legislation would add serious burdens to environmental permit systems that are complicated enough, and set standards that many development projects will be unable to meet.

Northrim: Resilient in recession, state must ‘get our act together’

FAIRBANKS — For a state officially in recession, the traditional economic indicators of Alaska’s economy are showing a remarkable resiliency, Northrim Bank economist Mark Edwards says.

Edwards and other Northrim officials presented the bank’s 2016 economic overview in a presentation in Fairbanks on April 11, with similar events to be held in Juneau on April 12 and Anchorage on April 14.

PacRim owners shelve Chuitna coal mine plans

PacRim Coal’s plan for a 12.5 million-tons per year export coal mine has been put on hold, very likely ending work to develop the mine that has spanned decades.

PacRim, an affiliate of Dallas-based Hunt Oil Co., has withdrawn from a lengthy quest for regulatory approvals for its Chuitna Coal Project, a spokesman said.

The project is in the Beluga coalfields on the west side of Cook Inlet, 50 miles west of Anchorage.

Tempers flaring as House, Senate spar over budget fixes

JUNEAU — Locomotives at each end of the Capitol’s second floor were being fired up this week — figuratively, at least — one at the state House end of the second floor and one at the state Senate end.

A train wreck in the middle seems unavoidable.

House leaders are insisting on a state income tax, a hike in oil taxes and little to any cuts to the state budget. Senate leaders want about $200 million in spending cuts, a Permanent Fund income restructuring and no new taxes on personal income or increased taxes on oil production.

Insurance officials hope federal waiver will cover reinsurance costs

State officials and insurance companies in Alaska say they are encouraged by positive receptions so far from President Donald Trump’s administration on an application for federally-backed health “reinsurance” program for individual health insurance policies sold in the state that have been hit hard with losses.

If the proposal is accepted, federal funds could replace a $55 million, one-year backstop put in place by the state in 2016, in House Bill 367, to prop up the individual health insurance market. The funding expires at the end of this year.

Furie settles Jones Act violation for $10M fine

The U.S. Justice Department announced a settlement and agreement April 4 for a $10 million fine against Houston-based Furie Operating Alaska LLC over the company’s move of a jack-up rig from the U.S. Gulf of Mexico to Cook Inlet in 2011 in violation of the U.S. Jones Act.

The Jones Act requires cargoes shipped between U.S. ports to be done with American-flagged vessels. Escopeta Oil and Gas, Furie’s predecessor company, used a Chinese-operated heavy-lift ship to move the Spartan 151 rig from the gulf to Vancouver, British Columbia, and eventually to Alaska.

Bills moving, but Legislature will miss Easter adjournment

JUNEAU — The Legislature will be at day 75 on March 31, 15 days away from its scheduled adjournment April 16, which is Easter Sunday.

Few in the capitol believe lawmakers will really gavel out the 2017 session on Easter — too much work remains — but no one wants a repeat of the 2016 extended legislative session that drug into July, either.

Military brass stress looming Real ID deadline in briefing

JUNEAU — Alaska’s top military brass were in Juneau March 23 for their annual briefing to the Legislature’s Joint Armed Services Committee.

Air Force Lt. Gen. Kenneth Wilsbach and Army Major Gen. Bryan Owens had some key messages to convey.

One is that Alaska’s $3 billion-plus military industry will be stable for the foreseeable future; a second is that the big construction programs at Interior Alaska defense installations are on track; third is that there are no Army reductions planned, for now, at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.

Budget bills on the move; oil tax hike heard in House Finance

JUNEAU — The major budget bills are moving in the Legislature and the state House may have the most controversial bill of the legislative session, a bill raising oil taxes, ready for floor action the week of March 27.

Last week the Senate passed its Permanent Fund restructuring bill, Senate Bill 26, which makes a major dent in the projected $2.8 billion deficit in fiscal year 2018, the budget year that begins July 1.

Furie gears up for busy 2017, plans deep test for oil in Inlet

Furie Operating Alaska is gearing up for a busy season in Cook Inlet with plans to complete a gas production well drilled last year and drill two more wells including a deep test to assess potential oil resources in Jurassic-age rocks, according to Vice President Bruce Webb.

Furie is based in Houston but Alaska is its operating area. The company now produces about 13 million cubic feet to 14 million cubic feet from two wells on the company’s Julius R gas production platform in north Cook Inlet, KLU-3 and A-2, a production well drilled last year.

Bill addressing contaminated property moves fast in Senate

JUNEAU — A bill easing transfers of contaminated properties is moving fast in the state Senate.

Senate Bill 64, related to environmental covenants, was introduced Feb. 17, moved out of the Senate Community and Regional Affairs committee March 7 and out of Senate Labor and Commerce March 16.

The bill is now in the Senate Rules Committee awaiting placement on the calendar for floor action in the Senate. That’s lightning speed for the Legislature.

Legislators take on Permanent Fund, budget bills

Legislators tackled the heavy-lift items in Juneau this last week. The Senate had Senate Bill 26, its Permanent Fund restructuring bill that also includes a state spending cap, poised for final passage March 15.

The bill is being closely watched because it represents a first step toward a major restructuring of state finances.

Education officials grapple with ill-prepared UA students

A recent report documenting poor preparation for college in Alaska’s high schools has sent shock waves through the state’s education establishment.

While many educators have criticized the report prepared by University of Alaska Anchorage professor Herb Schroeder, others agree that the large number of incoming freshmen at the university required to take remedial classes — about 50 percent — is too high.

Students pay for the remedial classes but don’t receive credit. Many get discouraged and drop out.

Seaton kills hundreds of Republican budget amendments

JUNEAU — House Finance Committee members will be working through the weekend in hopes of finalizing a fiscal year 2018 state operating budget, but a record 320 amendments put forth mostly by Republican minority members has slowed things down.

Legislature working out kinks in workers’ comp reform bill

JUNEAU — Legislators and state labor officials are working are working out the kinks in a bill that would clarify when workers can be classified as independent contractors who are exempt from state laws requiring workers’ compensation insurance.

NANA looks ahead after oil prices drove 2016 losses

NANA Regional Corp. has always one of the high-fliers among Alaska’s Native-owned companies as an early and aggressive investor in oil and gas services beginning in the 1970s, and in recent years in a variety of diversified companies intended to provide shelter from an oil shock.

Pebble revived: Owner plans to file for permits in 2017

Alaskans are used to seeing apocalyptic images about the Pebble mine.

TV ads opposing the large copper-gold prospect near Iliamna cast images of toxic sludge cascading down mountain valleys into Bristol Bay, killing all the salmon.

Is the hype shoe now on the other foot?

It’s jarring, but sponsored-content pitches are now showing up on mainstream Internet sites touting Pebble, posted not by owner Northern Dynasty but by people touting Pebble’s stock.

Unique agreement allows Ahtna group to manage harvests, habitat

A new agreement between an Alaska Native Tribal group and the U.S. Department of the Interior sets up the first framework for joint-management of subsistence game hunting on federal lands and as well as game habitat enhancement on federal and adjacent Native-owned private lands.

Although somewhat similar cooperative agreements exist for subsistence taking of fish on certain rivers as well as waterfowl and walrus, this one is different because it has a Tribal group managing harvests for Tribal members along with habitat management, which is unique.

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