Tim Bradner

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.

UAA among first to join entrepreneurship program

With its terrain, tough climate and remoteness, Alaska has its challenges.

In certain fields, like energy, the state has become a kind of incubator for new technologies as these challenges become opportunities.

For project developers, particularly Alaskans among them, the holy grail is how to take things invented here and market them elsewhere. There are examples of this, but for most success has been elusive.

But if we crack that nut, does this drive more Alaska-born technology? How do we make Alaska firms into industry leaders?

Alaska Tribes and the confusing land trust issue

The only thing clear so far about lands-into-trust is that lawyers will make a lot of money.

Lands-into-trust refers to the U.S. Interior Department’s change in regulation that will allow Alaska Native Tribal groups to apply for lands owned by Tribes to be placed in trust, where the land is held by the federal government in trust for the Tribe.

Almost everything about this, as it applies to Alaska, is unclear, hence the need for the lawyers.

Prudhoe plan approved on day Oil & Gas Division director resigned

Alaska Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Andy Mack approved the 2016 Plan of Development for the Prudhoe Bay oilfield on Sept. 20, but only after amending the original approval signed four days earlier by Division of Oil & Gas Director Corri Feige.

Sept. 20 was also when Feige announced her resignation from the division.

In other departure news, ConocoPhillips Vice President of Commercial Assets Leo Ehrhard, previously the top LNG manager in Alaska for the company, has retired.

Joint venture for marketing could solve one AK LNG issue

ConocoPhillips and Alaska’s state-owned gas corporation, Alaska Gasline Development Corp., say they are negotiating on a joint-venture organization to market North Slope natural gas as LNG.

ConocoPhillips is one of three North Slope producers and gas owners, along with the state through its royalty interest in gas.  

The two are inviting BP and ExxonMobil, two other major slope gas owners, to join the group.

“ConocoPhillips has always supported joint-venture marketing, and we see this as a first step,” company spokeswoman Amy Jennings Burnett said.

New AG has tightrope to walk for lands-into-trust path

New Alaska Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth has been given a tricky assignment by Gov. Bill Walker: forge a compromise on lands-into-trust, a contentious issue that is developing around the legal status of certain Alaska Native lands.

Unless resolved, this has the potential to divide Alaskans, many believe.

BOEM director hears support for OCS drilling in Alaska

U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Director Abby Hopper got an earful in Alaska last week.

Hopper met with Gov. Bill Walker, the state’s congressional delegation and representatives of Arctic communities — all urging that Arctic offshore lease sales be included in the next five-year Outer Continental Shelf leasing schedule.

Hopper’s schedule of meetings included no opponents to offshore drilling.

She would not tip her hand on whether her recommendations to her boss, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, will include lease sales in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas.

Don’t tell Delta farmers that 1980s project was a bust

It’s part of Alaska lore that the state’s Delta Barley Project in the 1980s was a huge flop and that all the farmers went bust. Tell that to farmers in Delta, who are doing quite nicely.

In fact Delta farmers are succeeding, although in ways not originally intended by state planners.

“I don’t see failure when I go to Delta. I see people working and tractors in the field,” says Arthur Keyes, the state’s new Agriculture director.

Bryce Wrigley, a local barley farmer, says people around Delta get pretty steamed when they hear they are all failures.

Employers begin programs to develop industry ‘cross-skills’

Alaska employer and training groups are taking another step in a long-sought goal: identifying “cross-industry” skills that will allow workforce training to focus on entry-level capabilities useful across several related industries such as petroleum, mining and maritime.

It has not turned out to be a simple task, said Dave Rees, a retired BP workforce manager who chairs the Business Education Compact, a forum for employers and the job training community.

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