Bulletin 02/23/14

Thu, 02/20/2014 - 7:16am

Timeline approved for setnet ban lawsuit

An expedited timeline has been set in the lawsuit regarding the initiative to ban setnets in parts of Alaska.

Alaska Superior Court Judge Catherine Easter approved a timeline for the Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance appeal of the Jan. 6 decision by Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell to reject the initiative.

The alliance, or AFCA, sought to have voters consider banning setnets in the urban, nonsubsistence, areas of the state — such as the Anchorage area, much of the Kenai Peninsula, Valdez and Juneau. That would eliminate Cook Inlet setnetters and not have an immediate affect on anyone else, although fishermen in other communities would lose the right to setnet if Alaska’s Board of Fisheries and Board of Game removed a region’s rural, subsistence, designation in the future.

In refusing to certify the initiative, Treadwell citied a legal opinion from the state Department of Law finding it was a prohibited appropriation of state resources.

AFCA appealed the decision in Alaska Superior Court, and has said that the initiative is conservation-focused rather than allocative.

Under the timeline approved in early February, both sides are expected to file motions for summary judgment on March 7, with opposition briefs due March 21.

If reply briefs are needed, those will be due April 2.

Oral argument has not yet been scheduled. A status conference is planned for Feb. 26, and oral argument will be set at the time.

It’s likely a final decision will come from the Alaska Supreme Court, as either the State or the AFCA can appeal the Superior Court decision to that body. AFCA was targeting the August 2016 primary ballot for the initiative; that could still happen if the decision is overturned, and enough signatures are gathered.

— Molly Dischner

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

Coeur announces increases in proven, probable metal resources

Coeur Mining Inc. announced increases in its estimates of proven and probable mineral resources including a 12.3 percent increase in gold resources and a 15.9 percent increase in silver.

Coeur is the owner and operator of the Kensington gold mine north of Juneau. The increases released Feb. 18 are companywide and not specific to any one mine, although the new estimate for proven and probable reserves at Kensington is now 983,000 ounces. Kensington had a record production of 114,821 ounces of gold in 2013.

The company’s total resources now amount to 255.4 million ounces of silver and 2.2 million ounces of gold. Coeur produced 17 million ounces of silver and 262,217 ounces of gold in 2013.

The gains are mainly the result of new exploration initiated by the company.

“For the past several years our main focus has been to get all four of our mines up and running consistently. The year 2012 was our first year to devote significant capital to exploration and we are starting to see the fruits of these efforts,” said Mitchell J. Krebs, Coeur’s president and CEO. “We have spent $74 million in exploration expenditures over the past two years and will continue to fund exploration activities using a results-based approach.”

— Tim Bradner

Tim Bradner covers mining for the Journal. Contact him with tips and story ideas at tim.bradner@alaskajournal.com.

Alaska Air Group increases dividend, adds routes

Alaska Air Group’s board of directors announced a 25 percent increase to the quarterly dividend the company began issuing to shareholders last August in a Feb. 13 release.

The 25-cent per share dividend will be paid out March 11 to shareholders of record as of Feb. 25, according to the release.

“This increased dividend reflects the board’s confidence in our ability to sustain Alaska (Air Group’s) financial performance,” CEO Brad Tilden said in a formal statement.

Prior to the August 2013 direct payment to shareholders the company had not issued a dividend since 1992.

A couple days prior to the dividend announcement, on Feb. 11, Alaska Airlines issued a statement detailing expanded service from the Pacific Northwest to the South and Midwest beginning this summer.

“Alaska Airlines is thrilled to give our customers nonstop service to New Orleans, Tampa and Detroit from our Seattle hub,” company Vice President Of Marketing Joe Sprague said in a release.

Daily round-trip service between Seattle and New Orleans is set to begin June 12. On June 20, Alaska will start one flight each way per day between Seattle and Tampa, and daily nonstop service to Detroit is expected to start Sept. 4.

— Elwood Brehmer

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

Fisheries landing tax change working through Legislature

The Alaska State Senate unanimously approved a change to the state’s fisheries landing tax.

The bill that passed Feb. 14 would change the due date of the tax until the Alaska Department of Fish and Game provides the average fish price report, on which the tax is based. Previously, the tax was sometimes due before the average price was available.

The House will now consider the bill before it can be signed by Gov. Sean Parnell. It was read for the first time and referred to the House Finance Committee Feb. 17.

The bill was sponsored by Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna.

“As a commercial fisherman and a senator from a coastal district, I understand the confusion and frustration caused by the current statutes,” Micciche said in an official statement. “This measure will allow fishing families to do what they do best — spend time fishing and not wasting time on inefficient and unfair government regulations that provide no value.”

Under the bill, fishermen would also have payment options to make their estimated landing tax payments, rather than the current quarterly schedule.

“SB 71 allows fishermen to pay their landing taxes in accordance with a schedule that coincides with the quarters when the actual fishing occurred. It provides the same landing tax revenue quantity to the state, yet eliminates unfair fees and fines for lateness that was beyond the control of Alaska’s fishermen,” Micciche said.

United Fishermen of Alaska also supported the bill.

“United Fishermen of Alaska is pleased with the passage of SB 71, which creates a fair and equitable seafood landing tax system,” said UFA Executive Director Julianne Curry. “SB 71 simplifies the current timing of seafood tax payments by aligning timing of reporting with the timing that the payment is due.  UFA applauds Senator Micciche’s efforts to simplify the Department of Revenue statutes to the benefit of the state of Alaska.”

— Molly Dischner

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

YRDFA receives bycatch reduction advocacy grant

The Yukon River Drainage Fisheries Association will continue its work to advocate for reduced Bering Sea salmon bycatch with funding from the Alaska Conservation Foundation’s Alaska Native Fund.

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported the grant of $10,000 for 2014 work.

According to ACF’s announcement, the goal is to enhance food security by reducing chinook and chum salmon bycatch in the Bering Sea through advocacy at the North Pacific Fishery Management Council.

The council, or NPFMC, regulates federal fisheries offshore from Alaska, including the pollock fleets that take salmon as bycatch in the Bering Sea. In April, the council is expected to hear a report on the genetics of salmon caught in the Bering Sea. In June, the council will receive a discussion paper on Bering Sea chinook and chum bycatch at its Nome meeting.

YRDFA also recieved funding from ACF’s Alaska Native Fund in 2012 and 2013 for salmon bycatch reduction work.

The organization is a nonprofit focused on Yukon River fisheries issues.

According to the YRDFA’s website, the group helped advocate for the first chinook salmon cap in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands pollock fishery, which was approved in 2009 and took effect in 2011. The group also supported protections for the first pulse of kings swimming up the Yukon River.

— Molly Dischner

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

Canadian mining students to train at Delta facility

Yukon College students will soon be training at Interior’s Delta Mine Training Center.

The University of Alaska announced Feb. 11 that it had reached an agreement with the Canadian college to train 20 First Nation and Yukon Territory resident students for careers in mining using a collaborative curriculum generated by the Mining and Petroleum Training Service and the Yukon College. The agreement is part of UA’s Consolidated Mining Initiative with the goal of growing the state’s pool of qualified mine workers, according to a university release.

“Since 1979 MAPTS has provided quality entry-level underground miner training, safety training and a solid mining curriculum. Through this partnership with Yukon College, we’re expanding into an area that holds great promise,” MAPTS Executive Director Bill Bieber said in a formal statement.

The first round of students is expected to graduate from the underground mine training program March 9. The areas of study include employability skills, safety compliance, underground rock bolting and underground equipment operation, according to the university system. Upon completion of the course students will have at least 30 actual operating hours in a mine setting.

Further, Yukon College will allow MAPTS programs to use their two simulators that will remain in Delta when not in use by the Yukon College program. The partnership is being completely funded by Yukon College, the release states.

If it is successful, MAPTS hopes to conduct a similar program at is Juneau training facility in April for Southeast students.

— Elwood Brehmer

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