Bulletin 02/09/14

Thu, 02/06/2014 - 7:47am

Calista subsidiary invests in telecom project

The telecommunications effort to connect Asia to Europe via the Arctic has a new partner.

Calista subsidiary Futaris Inc. has invested in Quintillion Networks, which is the Alaska-arm of the Arctic Fibre project.

Arctic Fibre wants to route submarine fiber optic cable along Alaska’s northern coastline and through the Arctic with spurs to seven Alaska communities — Shemya, Nome, Kotzebue, Point Hope, Barrow, Prudhoe Bay, and Wainwright. Those are dependent on a feasibility analysis and regulatory approval.

“Alaska currently has a broadband deficit and this project will fill that need,” said Futaris President Daniel Boone in a statement. “More importantly, rural Alaskan families and businesses along the western coast will finally have access to affordable and reliable broadband internet access.”

According to the announcement from Futaris and Quintillion, the company works in information technology and communications using satellite, voice over internet proposal, and other technologies. Calista is an Alaska Native regional corporation in southwestern Alaska.

This is the first major investor in the project Quintillion has announced.

Elizabeth Pierce, Quintillion CEO, said it was a goal to add Alaska investors.

“Broadband is fast becoming the key infrastructure element to economic growth, improved health care and education solutions and emergency response and national security capabilities,” Pierce said in a statement. “This fiber optic cable project is not just an excellent opportunity for rural Alaska but for the state and all Alaskans. Significant Alaska investor participation has always been a goal for Quintillion and we are pleased to add the vision and passion of the Futaris team.”

— Molly Dischner

Dischner covers telecommunications for the Journal. Contact her with tips and story ideas at molly.dischner@alaskajournal.com.

FNBA announces dividend

First National Bank Alaska will pay shareholders a $12.50 per share first quarter dividend. The payout will occur March 15, and those who are shareholders as of March 1 are eligible.

The board of directors made the decision at a Jan. 30 meeting. All of the 2013 quarterly dividends had the same value. The board has discretion in setting the dividends.

— Molly Dischner

Dischner covers finance and banking for the Journal. Contact her with tips and story ideas at molly.dischner@alaskajournal.com.

Alaska Airlines reaches deal with IAM

Alaska Airlines announced Feb. 3 that it has reached a tentative five-year agreement with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, the union that represents the airline’s roughly 2,500 clerical, office and customer service employees.

The three-year contract the groups are currently working under became amendable Jan. 1. A ratification vote on the new deal should come in early April, according to an Alaska Airlines release.

“It’s a tribute to the professionalism of the negotiators for the IAM and Alaska (Airlines) that we agreed on a proposed long-term contract that benefits our employees and the company in such a short amount of time. I want to thank them for their great work and also give big thanks to all of our IAM members for the exceptional service they provide our customers every day,” Jeff Butler, Alaska Airlines vice president of customer service and cargo, said in a formal statement.

The provisional contract includes pay raises and job security stipulations, the airline states.

Alaska Air Group Inc., the carrier’s parent company, finalized contracts with Alaska Airlines’ pilots and regional carrier Horizon Air’s flight attendants last year. Additionally, a tentative contract with Alaska flight attendants reached in December will be voted on sometime in February.

“The IAM appreciates the company assigning the appropriate individuals to their bargaining committee, which greatly facilitated these discussions and helped bring about this tentative agreement in short order,” IAM district president Tom Higginbotham said in a release from the airline.

— Elwood Brehmer

Brehmer covers transportation for the Journal. Contact him with tips and story ideas at elwood.brehmer@alaskajournal.com.

UA students applying for more aid

A University of Alaska initiative has been successful, as record numbers of students are applying for financial aid, according to a Jan. 27 university system release.

The number federal Pell Grant awards to UA students has gone from 4,035 grants worth approximately $8.9 million in 2007 to 7,848 grants totaling $25.8 million in 2012 — nearly tripling in six years, the release states.

Pell grants are typically issued to qualifying undergraduate students that apply through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, based on family income, institution cost and status as a full-time student. The maximum award for the 2014-2015 academic year will be $5,730, the Federal Student Aid Office reports.

The “February FAFSA Frenzy” was started in 2007 to raise awareness about the aid options available to students Saichi Oba, UA associate vice president for students said in a formal statement.

“Since 2007, the number of FAFSAs submitted per UA full-time student equivalent has increased by 53 percent. The overall number of FAFSAs submitted increased 69 percent. UA students are increasingly recognizing the value of the FAFSA in financing college,” Oba said.

 More than 90 percent of Pell Grant recipients in Alaska attend four-year schools, the highest rate in the nation, according to the UA system.

In addition to grants, the Federal Student Aid Office has loans available to nearly all students that apply.

The increase in aid comes despites the University of Alaska having some of the lowest resident tuition rates in the country. Full-time Alaskan students can attend their home universities for between $5,200 and $7,200 per year, depending on the school and their academic level.

— Elwood Brehmer

Brehmer covers education for the Journal. Contact him with tips and story ideas at elwood.brehmer@alaskajournal.com.

Steller sea lion lawsuit extended

A federal district court judge agreed to allow extra time in the lawsuit over the National Marine Fisheries Service environmental impact statement about Steller sea lion protections in the Aleutian Islands.

The fisheries service, or NMFS, asked to extend the deadline for the new environmental impact statement, or EIS, to Aug. 15.

The management measures that resulted from the EIS now being revised severely limited fishing for Atka mackerel, pollock and Pacific cod in the Aleutian Islands.

U.S. Alaska District Judge Timothy Burgess issued an order Jan. 29 allowing NMFS to have until April 7 to publish the new EIS, noting that further requests for continuances could result in a later publication date.

The temporary extension is intended to allow time for the federal defendants to make their case for a longer extension, and for anyone to choose to oppose it.

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council previously selected preferred new management measures that would liberalize fishing somewhat as part of the EIS revision process.

NMFS asked for the additional time on the EIS so it could finish its work determining whether or not liberalized fishing would cause “jeopardy and adverse modification” to the sea lions and then involve the council and stakeholders in selecting another set of new management measures if necessary. The agency said it would not use the additional term if it determines that the management measures the council selected will not jeopardize the sea lions,

Plantiffs in the case, including several fishing companies, agreed to the short-term extension to allow time for the court to make a decision on the longer extension.

Opponents had until Jan. 31, to oppose the extension. Environmental groups Oceana Inc. and Greenpeace Inc. jointly opposed the change.

— Molly Dischner

Dischner covers fisheries for the Journal. Contact her with tips and story ideas at molly.dischner@alaskajournal.com.

Kenai Fjords Tours adding tour vessel in 2014

Kenai Fjords Tours is adding a third catamaran this spring to its 12-vessel, Seward-based fleet, a release from its parent company CIRI Alaska Tourism Corp. states

The 83-foot M/V Callisto Voyager is the double-hull vessel purchased by Kenai Fjords Tours, according to company spokeswoman Dee Buchanon. It will be used for tours in Resurrection Bay and Kenai Fjords National Park.

“It’s important to us that our guests have the best possible views of the park’s wildlife and glaciers,” Buchanon said in a release. “These catamarans are designed not only to provide those views but to make the voyage safe, enjoyable and fuel-efficient.”

Designed with a hydrofoil, or underwater wing, underneath the vessel that connects the hulls, the Callisto Voyager is certified for 156 passengers and crew and is about 44 percent more fuel-efficient than the single-hull vessels the marine tour company operates, CIRI Alaska Tourism Chief Operating Officer Gideon Garcia said in a formal statement.

The Callisto Voyager features a complete walk-around outer deck, fog-free windows and low threshold doorways for easier wheelchair access between the deck and cabin, according to CIRI Alaska Tourism.

“Adding a third Voyager-class vessel to the Kenai Fjords Tours fleet is part of an ongoing initiative to keep our fleets current and up-to-date. We us state-of-the-art marine technology to make our tours safe, efficient and memorable for all the right reasons for our guests,” Garcia said in a formal statement.

The boat is being built by All American Marine in Bellingham, Wash., and is named for the Callisto Head rock formation at the outer edge of Resurrection Bay.

— Elwood Brehmer

Brehmer covers tourism for the Journal. Contact him with tips and story ideas at elwood.brehmer@alaskajournal.com.

Fisheries Service extends comment period

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration extended the comment period for a new document about how sound affects marine mammals.

NOAA Fisheries issued draft guidance for how it will assess the effects of anthropogenic sound on marine mammals Dec. 27, originally with a 30-day comment period.

Now, the public has until March 13 to comment.

The guidance will update the thresholds for when man-made sound is believed to have either a temporary or permanent affect on marine mammals.

According to a NOAA release: “This guidance will serve as a tool for us to better quantify the effects of sound exposure on marine mammals and will be used in our assessments and authorizations of activities under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and Endangered Species Act.”

According to NOAA Fisheries, this will be the first time acoustic threshold levels have been presented in a single, comprehensive document.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski asked for the extension, and supported it in a formal statement after the announcement was made.

“I want to thank NOAA for reconsidering the amount of time they were providing the public to comment on this critical issue,” Murkowski wrote. “When you think about Alaska, this guidance will impact our coastal communities, the maritime sector, the transit of goods, the fishing industry, oil and gas — basically anyone who is out on the water,” said Murkowski.  “If you are going to have good process and get meaningful feedback on such a complex issue, you have to allow for time to weigh in.”

Final guidance on the acoustic thresholds is expected to be published this summer, according to NOAA Fisheries.

— Molly Dischner

Dischner covers fisheries for the Journal. Contact her with tips and story ideas at molly.dischner@alaskajournal.com.