Posted Wednesday, February 27, 2019 - 10:47 am
Because we are relentlessly assured that there is no such thing as media bias, it is surely unnecessary to compare the treatment of Sarah Palin and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez by the national press corps.
But if an attempt was made to prove bias by the media against conservatives, and conservative women in particular, a better case study would be tough to find than the coverage of the former Alaska governor and 2008 vice presidential candidate versus the representative-from-the-block.
Palin, like Ocasio-Cortez, hit the national stage out of nowhere with the former tapped by the late Sen. John McCain to attract the conservative base wary of his mavericky tendencies and the latter pulling a stunning upset of 10-term congressman Joe Crowley this past August.
After McCain had treated the half-term senator Barack Obama with kid gloves throughout the campaign, Palin came out swinging and bloodied his nose in a rousing nomination speech that mocked his community organizer background and in later stump speeches drew attention to his history with domestic terrorist Bill Ayers.
The McCain-Palin ticket briefly took the lead in national polling and sent panic through the press that already had their stories written for the election of the first African-American president of the United States.
For that, Palin had to be destroyed.
She was immediately and relentlessly mocked for her appearance, her folksy twang and even for her family that included a young special needs son. Dubbed “Caribou Barbie,” she was so effectively lampooned by Saturday Night Live’s Tina Fey that wide swaths of the American public believe to this day that Palin said, “I can see Russia from my house.”
In particular, she was dunked on for her signature “drill, baby, drill” catchphrase that gained traction as gas prices had topped $4 per gallon across the country in 2008.
Obama, for his part, threw shade at the idea of drilling our way into energy independence throughout his presidency even as the United States was marching in exactly that direction in spite of his best efforts to hamstring the industry with regulatory hurdles and slow-walking development of federal lands.
“You had a lot of slogans and gimmicks and outraged politicians waving three-point-plans for two-dollar gas — when none of it would really do anything to solve the problem,” Obama said at Georgetown University in 2011. “You remember, ‘drill baby drill.’”
In another speech, Obama described the GOP’s “three-point plan for $2 gas: Step one is drill, step two is drill, and step three is keeping drilling.”
He went on to say that “the American people aren’t stupid. They know that’s not a plan.”
According to AAA, the average price for a gallon of gas on Feb. 26 was $2.40.
As of 2018, the United States is the world’s largest energy producer for oil and natural gas.
Just recently, imports from Venezuela and Saudi Arabia that once topped one million barrels per day each hit record lows of just more than a half-million barrels between them.
The ability of the OPEC cartel to set prices on a whim through production cuts is no more thanks to the U.S. shale drillers who have shown the innovation to cut costs and fill up the market share fruitlessly abandoned by the one-time leaders in global oil production from Riyadh and Moscow.
In sum, that sledneck Wasillbilly was right, and virtually the entire Democrat Party from Obama on down and their press stenographers were wildly, incontrovertibly wrong.
Now let’s turn to the coverage of Ocasio-Cortez, whose Willy Wonka-esque Green New Deal has already been championed by multiple Democrat candidates for president and attracted scores of co-sponsors in Congress despite its goals of ending fossil fuel use, air travel and “farting cows.”
The same national press that attacked Palin with gusto is now filled with pieces from the likes of Vox, Salon and New York Magazine lamenting the disparate treatment of female politicians compared to men for silly things such as a consistent butchering of math and the truth.
Even Dictionary.com ran a 1,000-word piece explaining away Ocasio-Cortez’s use of the phrase “run train” that had attracted raised eyebrows from conservative commentators for its off-color meaning.
There is no doubt that Palin was hardly a seasoned politician ready for the big-time when McCain swooped her out of Alaska in a vain attempt to rescue his flagging campaign, but as a former mayor and one of only 50 governors she was still far more qualified to hold office than the Democrat rock star who’s gone from mixologist to Marxologist in the blink of an eye.
Yet while Palin was smeared, Ocasio-Cortez is cheered.
While every Palin malapropism was noted and exploited with glee, no one seems to notice that Ocasio-Cortez constantly uses the word “like” as if it is a comma.
But trust us, the media say, bias is a myth.
Based on the above, this statement has been rated false.
Posted Wednesday, February 27, 2019 - 10:47 am
Alaska’s new slogan is “open for business” but good luck trying to find out any budget details when it comes to the business of fishing.
The Dunleavy administration has a full gag order in place at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and all budget questions, no matter how basic, are referred to press secretary Matt Shuckerow. Likewise, queries to the many deputies and assistants at the ADFG commissioner’s office are deferred to Shuckerow, who did not acknowledge messages for information.
“It isn’t just the media or Alaskans. Legislators are faced with that same gag order,” said Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak.
“I don’t know if the administration is just trying to settle in and thinks that the Legislature is their worst enemy and they want to keep people at bay or what,” she added. “Hopefully, they will realize that we have to work together and the sooner we do it, the better relationship we’re going to have.”
Stutes, who is the majority whip in the House and also chairs both the House Fisheries and Transportation Committees, said that “the governor has made very few appearances and nobody can get an appointment with him.”
She confirmed that anyone who meets with Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy must relinquish cell phones, Apple watches and any recording devices.
The executive committee of the Alaska Municipal League was able to meet briefly with the governor during its annual meeting last week in Juneau, said Pat Branson, a committee member and mayor of the City of Kodiak. The AML includes 165 cities, boroughs and municipalities that represent more than 97 percent of Alaska’s residents.
“We were grateful to meet with the governor because he did not come to any of the AML meetings,” Branson said. “All we heard was that he’s all ears. I told him that we are problem solvers and it is something we do every day. We’re all aware that the state’s fiscal plan has not been in order for many years. How can we maintain our services and work through a plan that meets our community needs?”
Branson said the AML is “shocked and upset” at the drastic cuts in the governor’s proposed budget and the way it came about.
“It was done without any communication with municipalities, school boards, or boroughs and, I believe, without any care or understanding of how things work in Alaska, or the importance of the marine highway system or fisheries to local communities or how it will affect Alaska’s overall economy,” Branson said. “Why would people want to come or stay here? We’ve never seen a budget come forth from an administration like this. It’s just not acceptable.”
AML members plan to hold town hall meetings, Branson said, and return to Juneau with ideas to present to the legislature and the governor.
“We, as elected officials, are just getting a grasp on this budget. I don’t know if Alaskans understand the degree that these cuts affect them individually,” Branson said. “We want to bring in a neutral party to explain the cuts and how it affects our communities. We’re hopeful the governor will listen to some alternative solutions from Alaskans.”
The House Fisheries Committee has several new faces among its members that include Stutes, Speaker of the House Bryce Edgmon of Dillingham, and Reps. Geran Tarr, Chuck Kopp and Lance Pruitt of Anchorage, Sarah Vance of Homer and Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins of Sitka.
“We are going to focus on fish, fish and more fish, and how important and critical it is that we sustain our fisheries in a healthy manner. And part of that equation is making sure that the Department of Fish and Game is fully funded,” Stutes said.
Frances Leach, executive director of United Fishermen of Alaska, said she is excited about the make-up of the committee. UFA is the nation’s largest fisheries trade organization with 35 diverse member groups.
“Stutes as the chair really knows how to run the show and I think it’s going to deliver some great benefits,” Leach said.
She agreed with the committee’s main focus to educate people in the capital about how critically important commercial fisheries are to the economic stability of Alaska.
“UFA is proud of the fact that commercial fishing is the number one private sector employer in the state of Alaska employing over 60,000 men and women and I think that’s often forgotten,” Leach said.
Both UFA and the Fisheries Committee will continue to push for HB 35, an act relating to participation on the Boards of Fisheries and Game that resolves conflicts of interest.
“This bill will ensure that people who are sitting on the boards have an opportunity to participate in the discussion even if they can’t vote,” Stutes said. “That’s why they are there, because of their expertise, and right now they are conflicted out.”
UFA also is focused on shellfish enhancement bills that were reintroduced this year.
“We’re really excited because if it all goes through, in 20 years Alaska mariculture could be a $100 million industry,” Leach said.
UFA also will strongly support the state’s hatcheries and “urge use of good science and facts to guide the future of the program,” Leach said.
UFA is opposed to the governor’s proposal to divert $28 million in fisheries landing and business taxes from local towns to state coffers.
“We’re very concerned and believe it will cause a lot of hardship for coastal communities,” said Leach. “Not just for fishermen, but for the towns that use that money for education and infrastructure. It impacts everybody.”
Dunleavy’s proposed budget for the state’s Commercial Fisheries Division is $69.45 million, a $1.64 million reduction, according to Stutes’ office.
Details are sketchy but it aims to reorganize and consolidate the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission into the Commercial Fisheries Division. Also, the directors of the Habitat and Subsistence divisions would be moved from ADFG to the Office of Management and Budget.
The travel budget for all state departments would be cut by 50 percent, which will be difficult for the Boards of Fisheries and Game to hold meetings in constituent regions.
A proposed 16.3 percent increase to the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute was removed and ASMI will receive zero from the state.
A push for a personal use fishing priority over all other users in Cook Inlet will be among 16 proposals before the Board of Fisheries at its meetings on March 9-12 at the Anchorage Sheraton.
Dubbed “Help Move Alaskans Up the Food Chain,” proposal 171 by the Kenai River Sportfishing Association, would “require the BOF to consider Alaskans’ food needs and use of fisheries by Alaskans when setting fishery allocations. The current allocation method prioritizes the export of Alaska’s fish for consumption by outsiders over the need of Alaskans.”
On March 8 the board’s Hatchery Committee also will hold a special meeting. All meetings are open to the public and available via live audio at www.boardoffisheries.adfg.alaska.gov.
Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected]
Posted Wednesday, February 27, 2019 - 10:47 am
The enforcement officers charged with inspecting and investigating cannabis and alcohol business licenses have lost access to the statewide public safety information network, and that is hampering their ability to do their jobs according to a top official.
On Dec. 1, the Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office, or AMCO, lost access to the Alaska Public Safety Information Network and the Alaska Records Management System, two public records systems that the investigators had relied on for years to check criminal history and records in relation to license investigations.
The loss of the access prevents the investigators from doing their jobs fully under statute and compromises their safety, according to a report from AMCO Executive Director Erika McConnell to the Marijuana Control Board.
“AMCO investigators make scheduled and unscheduled inspections of licensed facilities to respond to complaints or tips about unlicensed activity, bootlegging, over service, under-age drinking, and other activities that threaten public health and safety,” McConnell wrote.
“With no access to these databases, the investigators may go to interview someone who is subject to a warrant or possibly armed and dangerous, without having any warning or information. In the worst-case scenario, AMCO investigators could interview a wanted individual without ever knowing there was a warrant for that person, and the person could go on to commit new crimes.”
AMCO employs a number of investigators to respond to complaints from the public and to conduct licensing inspections and investigations. Prior to 2014, the office only regulated alcohol licenses, ranging from breweries in downtown Anchorage to bars in remote communities; after voters chose to legalize cannabis for recreational use, regulating cannabis was added to the office’s responsibilities.
The office was given 30 days’ notice by the Department of Public Safety. In a letter to McConnell, Alaska State Troopers Acting Director Major Andrew Greenstreet explained that in the past, DPS had determined AMCO to be a criminal justice agency under federal and state statutes.
“However, after further consultation and analysis with the Department’s General Counsel and Records Bureau Chief … DPS has determined that AMCO does not meet the statutory definition of a ‘criminal justice agency,’” Greenstreet wrote.
State statute defines a criminal justice agency as an agency that “devotes a substantial portion of its budget to a criminal justice activity under a law, regulation or ordinance,” which AMCO does not, Greenstreet wrote.
Most of AMCO’s work is regulatory in nature rather than criminal justice-related. He added that if AMCO employees need specific information, they can communicate with specific DPS employees to retrieve it.
Greenstreet did not mention marijuana issues specifically in his letter, but McConnell drew the connection in her report. DPS fears the Federal Bureau of Investigation may revoke the state’s access to criminal justice information due to marijuana regulatory activity because marijuana remains illegal at the federal level, she wrote.
While DPS is still working with AMCO to provide the information, it seems unnecessary based on activity in other states and doesn’t match the authority given to the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board and the Marijuana Control Board in statute.
During the meeting, she told the board that the change has implications broader than marijuana and alcohol business regulation.
“There’s lots of ways in which the removal of these tools from our use is bad for public safety, bad for investigator safety and bad for the safety of other law enforcement officers,” she said. “I’m not so much talking about investigations of our licensees — we’re talking about particularly criminal investigations.”
Enforcement officers sometimes have to investigate remote locations. They don’t have access to law enforcement radio networks to signal warnings or call for help, and they may not have access to public safety information for several days while communicating through DPS, McConnell wrote.
AMCO also used the system to manage its enforcement cases. Without access, the office will have to purchase a new software system or find workarounds.
Marijuana Control Board chairman Mark Springer and Alcoholic Beverage Control Board chairman Bob Klein have sent a letter on the topic to Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development Commissioner Julie Anderson, who deferred action until after Dunleavy’s budget was announced on Feb. 13.
AMCO may lose its investigative unit entirely from within the department as all statewide investigators move to the Alaska Department of Law.
The change comes after Gov. Mike Dunleavy issued an administrative order Feb. 13 to establish a Statewide Investigator Unit within the Department of Law and form a task force to consolidate all state investigators into it.
If they are moved to a statewide department, they may have access to APSIN and ARMS there, McConnell wrote.
Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]
Posted Wednesday, February 27, 2019 - 10:47 am
Alaskans interested in the future of the Pebble mine project should get their reading glasses ready.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is asking for feedback on its approximately 1,400-page draft environmental impact statement, or EIS, released Feb. 20 for the Pebble project. A 90-day public comment period begins March 1.
Opponents of the mine contend the Corps limited its focus to environmental impacts at the mine site and ignored potential downstream effects, particularly to fisheries.
To the contrary, Pebble Limited Partnership CEO Tom Collier said the company didn’t identify any major data gaps or substantive impacts that couldn’t be addressed in the draft document.
“We see no significant environmental challenges that would preclude the project from getting a permit and this shows Alaska stakeholders that there is a clear path forward for this project that could potentially generate significant economic activity, tax revenue and thousands of jobs,” Collier said in a formal statement.
Pebble estimates the project will generate about 2,000 jobs during its four-year construction and about 850 full-time positions over its 20-year life.
“We have stated that the project must coexist with the important salmon fishery in the region and we believe we will not harm the fish and water resources in Bristol Bay. Now we have a science-based, objective assessment of the project that affirms our work,” Collier continued.
The draft EIS examines Pebble’s proposed project submitted to the Army Corps of Engineers in December 2017. The Corps adjudicates Clean Water Act Section 404 wetlands fill permit applications on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency and the size of the Pebble project triggered a full EIS review under the National Environmental Policy Act.
While the plan is scaled back from previous mine concepts, the overall project would still stretch 187 miles from the mine site north of Iliamna Lake to the edge of the Sterling Highway on the southern Kenai Peninsula.
In between would be a natural gas pipeline up to 12 inches wide traversing the Cook Inlet sea floor for 95 miles from the Anchor Point area to a deepwater port at Amakdedori west of Augustine Island.
From there, a two-lane, private road would run 35 miles northwest to a ferry terminal on the south shore of Iliamna Lake. An ice-breaking ferry would then shuttle materials 18 miles across roughly the midpoint of the large Iliamna Lake.
Another 30 miles of industrial road would connect the north ferry terminal near the village of Newhalen with the mine site. The gas pipeline would follow the rest of the transportation corridor to the mine.
According to the EIS, the 8,086-acre Pebble mine site would permanently displace 3,458 acres of wetlands and 73 miles of streams. The site would consist of a large bulk tailings dam and storage facility, a pyritic tailings storage facility, a 270-megawatt power plant, multiple water management ponds and plants and a 608-acre open pit, among other facilities.
It would all support processing of about 1.4 billion tons of mine material during the 20 years of production based on Pebble’s initial plans.
Roughly 100 acres of wetlands would be lost in development of the transportation corridor, according to the EIS.
There would be indirect impacts from fugitive dust and partial dewatering to another approximately 1,900 to 2,100 acres of wetlands depending on which development alternatives are chosen for the final project, according to the document.
Alternative construction options beyond Pebble’s proposal include a more northerly ferry and pipeline route across Iliamna to Pile Bay at the far east end of the lake with a corresponding deepwater port at Diamond Point near Williamsport instead of Amakdedori to the south.
Summer-only ferry operations are also considered and would require additional storage at the mine for metal concentrates, fuel and general goods. Residents around the lake have raised concerns that a year-round ferry could disrupt winter travel across the lake ice.
Another transportation alternative would eliminate the ferry altogether and instead calls for an 82-mile road around the north and east portions of Iliamna to the Diamond Point port.
Pedro Bay Corp., which owns much of the land north and east of Iliamna Lake, issued a statement Feb. 22 saying the Native village corporation continues to oppose Pebble and recently rejected a right-of-way agreement for a transportation corridor across its land.
Additionally, Bristol Bay Native Corp. owns subsurface rights to lands owned by area village corporations and executives have told the Journal the regional corporation may use its subsurface title to try and prevent Pebble from burying a pipeline or developing gravel quarries to build roads across village corporation lands.
Alaska Peninsula Corp. owns lands south of Iliamna Lake and has a surface access agreement with Pebble.
Shane McCoy, the Corps’ manager for the Pebble EIS, said in a conference call with reporters that the EPA suggested a concentrate pipeline along the north road right-of-way.
The pipeline would eliminate copper-gold concentrate trucking, but 18 round trips per day between the mine and port would still be needed to haul molybdenum concentrate, fuel and other goods. The pipeline alternative also considers a second pipeline to send concentrate slurry water back to the mine for reuse.
McCoy said he is not aware of other specific mines that employ lengthy concentrate pipelines but he was told the concept is in use elsewhere.
The only significant change considered at the mine site is constructing a bulk tailings dam with the downstream buttress method, which is generally considered to be more stable and requires more material than the common centerline method Pebble has proposed.
Corps officials note the state Department of Natural Resources is in charge of reviewing Pebble’s dam designs when the company applies for its state permits.
Dry stack tailings storage — which would eliminate the risk of a bulk tailings dam failure — was discounted early in the evaluation because Pebble’s proposed mining operation would be about four times larger than the largest mine using the dry stack tailings method. It involves filtering water out of the bulk tailings until the material is 75 to 85 percent solid and “soil-like,” according to an appendix of the EIS.
“(The dry stack) option would greatly complicate the logistics of the milling operation to include frequent clogging of filters, the need for an emergency storage (tailings storage facility) when the filter plant is down for maintenance, and the large number of personnel and equipment needed to transport and place the filtered tails. The option is not practicable,” the document states.
Time to comment
Critics of the Corps’ process contend the agency is rushing its evaluation of Pebble to fall within the four-year timeframe — starting in May 2017 — before the EPA can revisit its authority to “veto” the project. Those were the main parameters of a 2017 settlement between Pebble and the EPA that resolved a lawsuit the company filed against the agency in 2014.
Former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt declined to finalize rescinding the proposed Pebble “veto” in January 2018; it’s an outstanding issue that must be resolved before the Corps can issue Pebble a Section 404 permit, if it decides to do so.
Jason Metrokin, CEO of Bristol Bay Native Corp., which has led opposition to the project, said in a statement provided to the Journal that the 90-day comment period should be much longer.
“A 270-day comment period on the (draft) EIS is the first — and necessary — step in holding PLP accountable during the permitting process. Bristol Bay cannot become a laboratory to test unproven and unprecedented mining practices,” Metrokin said.
McCoy noted the 90-day comment period is twice the statutorily required 45 days and the Corps released the draft EIS to the public a week before the comment period begins to give interested individuals a head start on reading it.
He said Corps Alaska District officials are discussing the possibility of extending the comment period.
Pebble advocates argue many who are insisting on a longer comment period simply want to delay the EIS process in any way possible.
Metrokin and leaders for Bristol Bay Native Association and Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp. wrote to Army Corps officials Feb. 5 requesting a 270-day draft EIS comment period.
They stressed that Pebble has proposed to increase the amount of material it would mine by 25 percent since first applying for its wetlands permit and “some of the aspects of (Pebble’s) proposal appear to us to be unprecedented in the world of hard rock mining.”
Sen. Dan Sullivan told reporters shortly after the EIS was published that he would likely be making a formal request to the Corps for a longer comment period given the scope and significance of the document.
Sullivan has previously said he would generally like to reform and streamline the NEPA process to prevent unnecessary delays for development projects.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski told the Journal in a Feb. 22 interview that her initial reaction was that the comment period should also be longer than 90 days for similar reasons but she couldn’t specify exactly how long would be appropriate because the EIS had just been released two days prior.
She encouraged Alaskans to take the comment period seriously and said she will meet with Corps officials after having a chance to review the draft EIS herself.
“The expectation of Alaskans and certainly my expectation is that this process that (the Corps of Engineers) is going through has to be rigorous; it has to be thorough; it has to be robust; and anything less than that is just not right and in fairness is just not acceptable,” Murkowski said of the Pebble EIS.
Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]
Posted Wednesday, February 27, 2019 - 10:47 am
Faced with a looming price tag of nearly $2 billion to fix its port, unsavory funding options and competing claims, the Anchorage Assembly is again examining every aspect of rebuilding one of Alaska’s most critical pieces of infrastructure.
The Assembly began its third review of plans to rebuild the municipal-owned port, which the body officially renamed the Port of Alaska in 2017, during a Feb. 20 Assembly Enterprise and Utility Oversight Committee meeting where representatives from several civil engineering firms were invited to present their thoughts on the current port modernization project.
Assemblyman and committee co-chair Christopher Constant characterized the informal meeting as a “crowd-sourcing” session for Assembly members to gather high-level design concepts and other information that could be carried forward.
Notably, Jim Campbell, president of the Anchorage-based firm PND Engineers Inc., said he believes major components of the new construction estimated to cost more than $1.4 billion can be done for just more than $300 million.
PND engineered the docks for the original Port of Anchorage intermodal expansion project in the mid-2000s using its proprietary Open Cell Sheet Pile design.
Construction work on the port expansion project was halted in 2010 and never resumed after extensive damage to installed sheet pile was discovered.
PND was part of a complex web of contractors on that project that were sued by the municipality in early 2013 based on a study that found the Open Cell Sheet Pile design was not suitable for the project given the challenging construction conditions and seismic requirements at the Anchorage port.
The suitability study was conducted by CH2M Hill, which is now named CH2M and is owned by the international firm Jacobs Engineering Group.
PND leaders have long been adamant that their design was sound and it was improper installation that led the sheet pile to fail. There is little dispute amongst those who have followed the port developments that there were problems with construction techniques in the 2008-09 timeframe. However, the suitability study concluded those issues were on top of fundamental design flaws.
PND settled with the city for $750,000 in early 2017. Campbell said at the time that the relatively small sum validates the company’s claims about the sheet pile design.
“We still maintain, to this day, that the original design was not flawed,” Campbell said Feb. 20, later adding that PND’s sheet pile has been used successfully at ports across Alaska, including Kodiak and Dutch Harbor.
He also highlighted the fact that CH2M is managing the current port modernization — with a more traditional pile-supported dock concept — only after drafting the report that deemed the previous design faulty.
Officials in former Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan’s administration said in 2014 that CH2M was best suited to lead the second iteration of port reconstruction given its knowledge of the issues and the company did not know it would get the larger management contract when it was conducting the suitability analysis.
The current port modernization schedule blends complex logistics and needs-based construction to keep regular port users reasonably happy during construction while also replacing some of the oldest infrastructure first.
It calls for first building a new petroleum and cement terminal, or PCT, over the next two years at a cost of $223 million. A new PCT must be done first in order to free up space for when the adjacent cargo docks — used twice weekly each by TOTE Maritime and Matson Inc. — are rebuilt. It is also on the oldest part of the dock structure, according to Port Director Steve Ribuffo.
Some sections of the pile-supported docks have been in place since 1961 and have far exceeded their initial 35-year design life as the saltwater they stand in has gradually taken its toll and badly corroded the steel support pilings.
The PCT work is being partially funded with unspent money from the first project and court settlements, but city officials also recently proposed drastic increases to the port’s fuel and cement import tariffs to cover the cost of borrowing up to $200 million through revenue bonds for the remainder of the work.
The proposed tariff changes were met with initial skepticism from members of the Anchorage Port Commission, an advisory body, because of the broader negative economic consequences they could have, commission members said.
Municipal Manger Bill Falsey said while the tariff rate hikes are among the least appealing options for funding the project, they would act as a user fee increase and are one of the few ways for the city to fund the project without state or federal help.
City officials regularly cite the how critical the port is to Alaska, not just Anchorage, as justification for help in paying for its overhaul. It’s estimated that roughly 90 percent of the goods destined for delivery across mainland Alaska are imported across the port’s docks.
“It is the one need that beats all other needs,” Falsey said Feb. 20. “This is core, basic infrastructure.”
The Legislature and former Gov. Bill Walker approved $20 million for the port last spring; however, with Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s emphasis on reducing spending to close the state’s $1.6 billion budget gap, the prospect of future state appropriations is uncertain.
CH2M’s cost estimate for the modernization project has gone from approximately $500 million in late 2014 to more than $1.9 billion today. The company’s Jeff Bool told Assembly members that risk contingency accounts for nearly $300 million of the overall projection and built-in price escalation — given the current schedule calls for work through 2028 — adds another $202 million.
Building the PCT should help refine the overall cost estimate, Bool said.
“As we bid out the work on the petroleum cement terminal we’ll know what the larger costs are and we can forecast more accurately what these future facilities might cost,” he said.
Additionally, he noted that larger federal tariffs on foreign steel have increased the cost of the fundamental building material by roughly 30 percent over the past two years.
Bool and others have also said the city could reexamine the self-imposed criteria of a 75-year design life and building the PCT and one cargo terminal to withstand a catastrophic earthquake with the ability to be back in service within a week after such an event.
Regular port customers have also requested amenities and equipment that add to the cost.
“We have time to affect change in the cost,” Bool said.
Some observers have suggested TOTE and Matson — which both call on the port every Sunday and Tuesday — could adjust their schedules, thus allowing Anchorage to build just one new, heavy-duty cargo terminal instead of two.
Representatives from those companies did not respond to requests for comment, but Port of Alaska spokesman Jim Jager said the shippers have made it clear to port officials that their schedules can’t be changed.
The logistics of getting fresh produce and other regular, time sensitive cargoes to the Port of Tacoma, combined with labor issues with longshoremen there challenge the feasibility of spreading the trips throughout the week, according to Jager, and Alaska’s relatively small market size reduces the incentive to try.
Essentially, the shippers call the shots in this situation.
PND’s Campbell insisted the city could build two basic, pile-supported docks off of the north backlands — the area CH2M contends is unstable, which PND disputes — for roughly $300 million and cut approximately $1.1 billion out of the cost.
The concept is very similar to what the company did in Kodiak and the same Matson ships call on both ports, Campbell noted.
He said Anchorage should “take what you’ve got there instead of throwing it out. If you actually just figure out how to address the problems from before and build something there it’s a big cost savings.”
The current plan calls for removing much of the roughly 30 acres of fill that created the north backlands area during the expansion project at a cost of $253 million. The port leases much of the area for lay down and temporary storage now and officials want to keep part of it intact for those reasons.
Bool characterized the north end demolition as “very high risk work” and the $253 million estimate includes about $50 million in risk contingency as a result.
“We’ve got over a million yards of fill to remove and dispose of in the Inlet,” Bool said. “There’s a lot of unknowns, it’s risky and it’s a very expensive demolition.”
Scrapping the whole north backlands area could actually be cheaper than trying to stabilize and preserve a portion of it, he said, but that’s another decision for port and city officials to make.
Constant said in an interview after the meeting that the Assembly committee will hold weekly meetings at least through March to get perspective on the current plan from all the port’s stakeholders.
Keeping on the current construction schedule won’t be as important as settling on an appropriate scale project, he said.
“At $2 billion there’s utter shock in every direction and very little appetite for that type of project,” Constant said.
However, port officials say the current maintenance program for badly corroded piles can keep the port open for about another 10 years before operations will have to be curtailed for safety reasons, meaning much schedule slippage would just add another challenge to the work.
The full Assembly must approve any major port changes.
PND’s proposals will be considered, but the company has a high bar to clear given its history at the port, according to Constant.
“They really have to make their point; it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t listen,” he said. “No decision is going to be made based on what PND tells us.”
Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]
Posted Wednesday, February 27, 2019 - 10:47 am
The State of Alaska’s plan to pay off more than $800 million in oil industry tax credits by selling bonds is on its way to a final judgment.
An attorney for former University of Alaska regent Eric Forrer, who sued the state challenging the constitutionality of the bond plan last May, appealed the case to the Alaska Supreme Court Feb. 21.
Superior Court Judge Jude Pate dismissed Forrer’s lawsuit Jan. 2 in a lengthy and long-awaited ruling.
Forrer’s lawyer, longtime Juneau attorney Joe Geldhof, contends Pate not only misconstrued the Alaska Constitution three times in his ruling, but also that Pate, a fairly new trial court judge, misapplied procedural court standards in granting the state’s motion to dismiss.
Geldhof noted during the court proceedings that state attorneys never responded to Forrer’s initial complaint and instead filed a detailed motion to dismiss the case that Pate then treated as a motion for summary judgment.
Pate concluded in his ruling that Forrer failed to state a claim upon which the court could grant relief on the grounds that House Bill 331 “passes constitutional muster.”
Forrer alleges the plan to sell the “tax credit bonds” falls outside the tight sideboards the Alaska Constitution puts on the state’s ability to incur debt.
He also argued in interviews and through court filings that the plan amounts to a de-facto dedication of General Fund money to pay the bond debt because not making the payments would have grave consequences on the state’s credit rating and future finances.
The state Constitution generally limits the Legislature from bonding for debt to general obligation, or GO, bonds for capital projects, veterans’ housing and state emergencies.
In most cases the voters must approve the GO bond proposals before the bonds are sold.
State corporations can also sell revenue bonds, but those are usually linked to a corresponding income stream and only obligate the corporation to make payments, not the State of Alaska as a whole.
The tax credit bond plan would have the Department of Revenue set up the Alaska Tax Credit Certificate Bond Corp. specifically for the purpose of issuing the 10-year bonds.
State attorneys contended the plan is legal because the bonds would be “subject to appropriation” by the Legislature, which the bond buyers would be aware of, and therefore would not legally bind the state to make the annual debt payments.
Department of Law spokeswoman Cori Mills wrote via email that the state stands by Pate’s ruling but has not yet received a notice of appeal in the case; and attorneys handling the case have not decided whether the state will request expedited consideration.
The five-justice Supreme Court could remand the case back to Superior Court if it concludes Pate misapplied the procedural standards or it could acknowledge the alleged missteps but chose to focus on the constitutional arguments.
Geldhof stresses that Forrer is most concerned that a ruling in the state’s favor will give local governments in the state — often with less public oversight than state officials — a green light to borrow irresponsibly, particularly in a time when state funding support is dwindling.
The lawsuit has prevented the state from selling the first tranche of bonds, which was initially planned for last August.
Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy proposed $254 million for tax credit payments with Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority funds in his budget released Feb. 13 as it is unlikely the suit will be resolved before the 2020 state fiscal year begins July 1.
Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]
Posted Wednesday, February 27, 2019 - 10:46 am
It worked almost a quarter-century ago for several Western Canadian natural gas producers who were tired of not having enough access to markets when they joined together to build a $3.1 billion pipeline to reach U.S. buyers.
Maybe it will work again, though this time the producers are looking overseas.
“We as a group are very keen to see LNG off the West Coast,” said Darren Gee, president and CEO of Calgary-based Peyto Exploration and Development, which touts itself as Canada’s fifth-largest gas producer.
Frustrated over low prices for their gas, exasperated over delays in new access to world markets and irritated that oil and gas majors seem in charge, Peyto and nine other companies announced in February that they will work together to see if they can get a second liquefied natural gas export terminal built on Canada’s West Coast.
The group is “a collaboration amongst competing producers” that between them supply 20 percent of Canada’s gas and 40 percent of gas liquids such as propane, butane and ethane, said Greg Kist, former president of the canceled Pacific NorthWest LNG project in Prince Rupert, British Columbia, and who is working as a consultant to the group of 10 producers.
“The producers want to deal with the challenge we have today with weak prices,” Kist said, as reported in Canada’s Financial Post on Feb. 20.
The producers’ options include reviving Pacific NorthWest LNG or finding another project to adopt among the several unsuccessful West Coast LNG ventures. Of the more than a dozen proposals, the only large-scale project to go ahead so far is the Shell-led LNG Canada venture, which started site work in late 2018 in Kitimat, B.C., with a start-up planned by 2024.
The 10 producers see a more profitable future selling their gas into overseas markets.
Facing growing competition from U.S. shale gas producers in their traditional markets of eastern and mid-Atlantic U.S. and Canada, Western Canadian producers are suffering steep discounts relative to U.S. benchmark natural gas prices. Alberta’s AECO hub spot-market prices have been trading more than $1 per thousand cubic feet less than U.S. prices in February — about a one-third discount.
At that discount, the markdown could cost Canadian producers almost $6 billion (Canadian) in lost revenue for a full year, Advantage Oil and Gas CEO Andy Mah told the Financial Post in December. Advantage is one of the companies that have joined forces to try putting together a second large-volume LNG project on the West Coast.
The consortium hopes to have a project operating by 2026, though that would require permitting, assembling investors and customers and financing and then making a final investment decision in the next couple of years.
The companies are predominantly players in the Montney shale in northeastern British Columbia and northwestern Alberta. Canada’s National Energy Board estimates the Montney’s potential reserves at 449 trillion cubic feet of marketable gas and 14.5 billion barrels of natural gas liquids.
The players are looking at “controlling their own destiny” rather than relying on super majors like Shell and Chevron to build export projects, said Cameron Gingrich, director of gas services at Solomon Associates, a global energy consulting firm with offices in Calgary.
“It’s great that it’s finally getting some traction,” Gingrich told the National Post.
“The thing about energy (projects) is they are very large projects that require a lot of capital investment and infrastructure,” said Alan Boras, director of communications and stakeholder relations for Calgary-based Seven Generations Energy, a member of the consortium.
“If you think about an LNG project, you need to have reserves in sizable amounts. You need transportation to a port and you need a liquefaction plant. And you need tankers and you need buyers,” Boras was quoted in the Financial Post on Feb. 20. “All of those pieces are very large and it takes a lot of coordination to bring them together.”
The companies banding together to get their gas to market is similar to an initiative that started in the late 1980s and succeeded in building one of the longest and most expensive gas pipelines ever constructed at that time. The Alliance Pipeline went into service in 2000: 1,875 miles of 36-inch-diameter steel pipe from northeastern British Columbia straight to a connection point and a new gas liquids processing plant about 50 miles southwest of Chicago.
The motivation then, as it is now, was money; the producers wanted better prices for their gas. They were frustrated that inadequate pipeline takeaway capacity forced the companies to compete with one another by dropping their price.
“They believed the price they were getting for their gas at the wellhead was too low,” according to a 2011 report by the federal coordinator’s office for Alaska natural gas pipeline projects. “There wasn’t enough pipeline capacity to move the plentiful and growing production of Western Canada to higher-priced U.S. markets. They were stuck too often with the low prices of the glutted local market.”
In 1992, two industry friends — a producer and a marketer — were talking in a Calgary pub, bemoaning the low prices caused by a lack of pipelines to U.S. markets. The marketer sketched out the pipeline route on a bar napkin. By 1995, there were 22 gas producers and marketers on board to take matters into their own pipeline.
In spring 1998, a syndicate of 42 international banks agreed to lend money for construction.
By the time Alliance started service in 2000, the ownership roster was down five companies, all of them in the pipeline business.
“The gas producers that founded Alliance got out of the pipeline ownership business quickly, most selling their shares before construction started and retreating to their comfort zones,” the history report said.
Alliance is now jointly owned by two Calgary-based pipeline companies: Enbridge and Pembina Pipeline. Its capacity of 1.6 billion cubic feet per day is fully subscribed by shippers.
“That’s been very good for Canada,” Boras said of Alliance.
His company, Seven Generations, is a shipper on the line.
Larry Persily is a former Alaska journalist, state and federal official who has long tracked oil and gas markets and projects worldwide.
Posted Wednesday, February 27, 2019 - 10:46 am
Col. Scott Howard was recently selected to be the assistant adjutant general and commander of the Alaska Air National Guard, effective Feb. 1. In his capacity as assistant adjutant general-Air and commander, Howard is responsible for the development and implementation of strategy, policy, plans, and initiatives for the Alaska Air National Guard, which includes 2,300 Air Guardsmen in the Joint Forces Headquarters Air staff and at two wings — located at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson and Eielson Air Force Base. Howard most recently served as director of staff for the Alaska Air National Guard. Howard enlisted in the Air Force in 1991 as an airborne warning and control systems journeyman. He received his commission in 1998 as a graduate of Officer Training School at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama. He joined the Alaska Air National Guard in May of 2003. Prior to his current appointment, he served as director of staff, Alaska Air National Guard at JBER; commander of the 168th Mission Support Group at Eielson AFB; and commander of the 176th Air Defense Squadron at JBER, in addition to other command and leadership assignments with operations and support functions. Howard’s selection to replace him in the director of staff role is Col. John Oberst, who is currently vice commander at the 168th Wing. Oberst is expected to assume the new role in early April.
The Alaska Association of Secondary School Principals announced that Meghan Redmond has been named as Alaska’s 2019 Assistant Principal of the Year. Redmond has spent the last nine years working off the road system in rural Alaska with Southwest Region School District. She is currently the assistant principal and school counselor at Chief Ivan Blunka School in New Stuyahok. Prior to this position, Redmond started her Alaskan teaching career as the lead teacher at Twin Hills School in Twin Hills for six years and also spent three years teaching elementary grades in Baldwin, Wis. Redmond received her bachelor’s degree in middle childhood and early adolescence education from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire in 2007 and her master’s degree in educational leadership from the University of Alaska-Anchorage in 2016. Redmond has been on the executive board for the Alaska Association of Secondary Principals for two years. As Alaska’s Assistant Principal of the Year, Meghan will be representing Alaska at the national level. The National Assistant Principal of the Year for 2019 will be announced at the NASSP National Principals Conference in Boston in July.
Resource Data, a custom software development, geographic information system and IT consulting firm, has hired Timothy Harrelson as a programmer/analyst at its Anchorage office. Harrelson recently graduated with his bachelor’s degree in computer science from the University of Alaska Anchorage. He previously worked as a programmer/analyst intern at the Alaska Railroad Corp. while attending college.
House of Harley-Davidson, Denali Harley-Davidson and Kenai Peninsula Harley-Davidson earned the prestigious Gold Bar &Shield Circle of Excellence Award for 2018. Presented by Harley-Davidson Motor Company, this award is given to the top four dealerships in each U.S. sales market. All three Southcentral Alaska Harley-Davidson stores earned the award based on motorcycle and related product sales performance, customer service and satisfaction and operational measures.
Rasmuson Foundation announced four new hires. Shawn Rivera joined Rasmuson Foundation in December 2018 as IT operations manager. Rivera has spent the bulk of his career working in IT positions for public and private entities including Municipal Light &Power and the state Department of Natural Resources. Before this position, he served as a program officer with The Alaska Community Foundation. Jess Haley joined the staff in January as executive assistant to the president and board liaison. Haley brings more than a decade of administrative work in higher education including experience in Tacoma, Wash., Chicago and Anchorage. Most recently, she worked at the University of Alaska Foundation learning about the importance of philanthropy in the state. Stephanie Hubers joined the team in November as executive assistant to the vice presidents. Hubers has years of experience in office administration and executive support. She worked most recently at the Alaska Primary Care Association and before that spent four years at Covenant House Alaska. Samona Norombaba came on board in October as administrative assistant. Norombaba also works as program director for the Anchorage International Film Festival, managing volunteers who screen more than 1,000 submissions.
ARECA Insurance Exchange announced the addition of Don Maynor, CSP, to the staff of the state’s expert insurer of non-profit electric utilities. Maynor began in his role as loss control and safety specialist at AIE on Feb. 11. He will conduct loss control visits at various locations for AIE’s insureds and will focus on safety training and other matters for both AIE and Alaska Power Association, the statewide trade association for electric utilities. Before starting at AIE, Maynor was the job training and safety specialist at Golden Valley Electric Association, which provides power to Interior Alaska. Maynor began his career in the Alaska electric utility industry in July 2002, when he started at GVEA in the credit department. He earned a Certified Safety Professional designation in June 2017.
Northrim Bank announced a new branch manager and three promotions. William “Bill” Kurtz was hired as assistant vice president, branch manager. Promotions are Erika Bills to assistant vice president, business banker III, Cindy Cheely to business banker II, and Shauna Thornton to assistant vice president, branch manager in Sitka. Kurtz comes to Northrim Bank after working at Key Bank in Alaska for the past two-and-half years. He has 30 years of banking experience in the retail and investment divisions. Prior to relocating to Alaska, Kurtz managed several offices for SunTrust Bank in Tampa Bay, Fla., for 12 years. Kurtz holds an associate’s degree in finance. He also hold Investment Licenses Series 6 and 63 as well as State of Alaska Annuity and Life Insurance. Bills has been with Northrim Bank for 23 years where she has held a variety of roles in retail banking and has 27 years of experience in the financial industry. She holds American Bankers’ Association diplomas for general banking, commercial banking, consumer banking and small business banking. Cheely has been with Northrim Bank for 10 years and has 21 years of experience in the financial services industry. She has worked in a variety of departments at Northrim including Financial Sales, Lending and Retail Banking. Cheely has her Alaska Life Insurance License and received Northrim’s Customer First Service Award. Thornton has been with Northrim Bank since 2017 and has been more than six years of experience within the financial industry. She holds a master’s of public administration from the University of Alaska Southeast and is completing her Ph.D. in organizational leadership from North Central University.
Posted Tuesday, February 26, 2019 - 3:04 pm
Proposed cuts to the Alaska Medicaid program may fall the hardest on organizations that can least afford it: rural hospitals and health clinics.
Among Alaska’s budget line items, the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services is the gorilla in the room, with an approximately $3.2 billion budget in the current 2019 fiscal year. Within that, Medicaid services consume about $2.3 billion.
Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy’s proposed fiscal year 2020 budget, to begin July 1, would cut about $250 million directly from the Medicaid budget, though how those cuts would be implemented is still unclear. Overall, the 2020 budget would cut about 25 percent from the DHSS budget.
Medicaid provides medical coverage for Alaskans with disabilities, the elderly and low-income residents. Since former Gov. Bill Walker accepted the federal expansion for Medicaid eligibility in 2015, about a quarter of Alaskans receive Medicaid.
During a hearing Feb. 22 of the Senate Finance Committee, DHSS Assistant Commissioner Sana Efird said the biggest reduction in federal funds came from the Medicaid budget. The Medicaid program is administered by the state but funded in part by matching through the federal government.
“The reduction, at this point, it is allocated in the Medicaid services component,” she said. “We are currently working on a plan that will show the specifics of that that reduction will be allocated for.”
Finance Committee co-chairman Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, said Sen. Natasha Von Imhof, R-Anchorage, would lead a subcommittee specifically on the DHSS budget.
Those cuts could take shape as a reduced reimbursement rate or eliminating covered services. Von Imhof specifically noted a proposal to cut adult dental services from Medicaid coverage. Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, noted that the department is counting on renewing the Section 1115 waiver program, which allows states to use federal funds to cover Medicaid programs in ways not otherwise allowed under federal rules for the purpose of a demonstration project.
The state received a Section 1115 waiver in November 2018 to expand substance abuse treatment and would have to renew it in November 2023. Efird said the department leadership is currently working on another waiver application to cover other types of services.
Hoffman said the administration has “the cart before the horse” when counting on obtaining waivers in the future to pay for services with federal funds.
“You cannot balance this budget with federal funds,” he said. “You say may not affect people’s lives, but they may affect people’s lives.”
The Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association asserted that the budget will force hospitals to close. Becky Hultberg, the organization’s president and CEO, said in a press release that the cuts will cost thousands of jobs.
“While Governor Dunleavy may not believe government has a role in health care, his belief is disconnected from the reality that our current health care system relies on government payments for a significant percentage of total services, and our entire system will crumble without them,” she said. “This is a classic example of ideology taking precedent over practicality, and all Alaskans will feel the consequences.”
Shaky Medicaid funding is already stressing rural healthcare infrastructure, and cutting it could push some rural hospitals and clinics over the edge. A report from health care consulting firm Navigant Health, released Feb. 22, noted that six hospitals in Alaska were at “high financial risk” of closing in 2018.
That financial vulnerability comes from a “degradation” of the payer mix, leading to more reliance on the low reimbursement rates from Medicare, Medicaid or uninsured patients, declining inpatient care and inability to employ new technology or innovation programs, according to the report.
Last summer, the state ran out of Medicaid reimbursement funds before the turnover of the fiscal year. For hospitals, that meant essentially holding their financial breaths until the state could appropriate more funding to pay for Medicaid patients; in 2018, that would have been longer than a month.
For the bigger hospitals that have a higher percentage of private payers and more cash on hand available, that’s doable; for the smaller hospitals, which sometimes have less than a month’s cash on hand to pay for emergency expenses and payroll, those delays could spell disaster.
Hospitals like Cordova, Homer, Seward and Wrangell rely on Medicare and Medicaid for about three-quarters of their reimbursements, according to a November 2018 report from ASHNHA.
In Wrangell Medical Center’s case, the situation became dire enough for the hospital to strike a deal with the Southeast Regional Health Consortium to join its network on Nov. 1, 2018, taking some of the financial risk out of its hands.
It’s been a huge relief for the hospital, said hospital manager Robert Rang. For one, SEARHC has invested in the facility, paying for new computer and phone systems. It’s also helped level off the concerns about the hospital’s cash-on-hand problem.
“Suddenly, now we have the ability to cover the lows,” he said. “Before, it was peaks and valleys in our revenue sources. We’d get our long-term care money once a month … With SEARHC, your ups and downs are not quite as noticeable.”
The other benefit to joining SEARHC was its status as a Tribal health organization. Tribal health organizations in Alaska operate a little differently on Medicaid; they draw down more on federal funds for Medicaid as opposed to relying on the state.
Pending changes at the federal level, that may buffer hospitals and clinics within Tribal health networks if the cuts at the state level are only to reimbursement rates as opposed to cutting services entirely.
For hospitals outside those networks, the hammer of those cuts may fall harder. At the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee hearing, Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, asked that the state come up with a way to change program operations rather than just reduce appropriations because the shortfall lands in the laps of community hospital administrators.
“Ultimately, the reason I’m saying that is this is a tax shift in that my community-owned hospitals picking up the cost,” he said.
Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]
Posted Tuesday, February 26, 2019 - 3:00 pm
Editor’s note: The original version of this story omitted two changes that altered some fishing opportunity for seiners near Dolgoi Islans and changing the opening schedules for setnetters in the area. The story has been updated to include these changes.
With a year of poor sockeye runs, unfavorable ocean conditions and allocation fights before them, the Board of Fisheries chose to change part of the season for some nearby commercial fisheries to improve passage of sockeye salmon to Chignik.
After a long debate, the board voted down some proposals to change the allocation in the Chignik management area at its meeting in Anchorage, but later passed two proposals to realign setnetting time and to close seining in June in parts of the Southwestern, Southeastern and Southcentral districts of the South Unimak and Shumagin Island fisheries.
The proposals before the board were submitted before the 2018 season, when a disastrously poor sockeye run kept Chignik fishermen on shore for virtually the entire season, but they still scratched at an allocation itch between the terminal fishermen at Chignik and the commercial fishermen along the Alaska Peninsula.
During the public comment period, speakers oscillated between Chignik residents pleading with the board to restrict fishing to restrict offshore fishing so the fishermen in Chignik can harvest more sockeye and commercial fishermen pleading with the board to leave regulations as they are so the fishermen can make a living.
“Sockeye salmon is the main and only industry in Chignik,” said Alana Anderson, a Chignik City Council member. “The city’s operating budget relies heavily on fish taxes … Chignik is a small fishery.”
At the same time, further restrictions to harvest in other management areas — to the west and east of Chignik, respectively — would cut into the profit margins of the fishermen who have invested in boats and permits to fish in those areas. Multiple fishermen from Sand Point and Area M asked the board to leave regulations at status quo.
The management plans of the Chignik area are complicated and rely on allocation percentages of the salmon passing through. The proposals the board considered were submitted before the 2018 season, but the poor runs last year played into board members’ discussion because of how significantly the Chignik economy depends on a single fishery. Within its allocation criteria, the Board of Fisheries includes a consideration for the importance of a fishery to a local economy.
Board member Al Cain said during a debate over a proposal that would have changed allocation percentages that based on discussion with stakeholders in the area, he didn’t want to change allocation much during the meeting.
“It seems there’s two very valid sides to every coin we’re looking at,” he said. “Both sides of the equation have valid points … it’s hard to make a decision when one side or the other may benefit or one side or the other may have something removed from them. The economy of the local area is very high in my decision.”
The board members spent significant time debating the allocation percentages in the area, with several proposals failing on narrow vote margins. Board members Israel Payton and Fritz Johnson both suggested multiple changes based on one proposal to the Southeastern District Mainland management plan, which focuses on an area southwest of Chignik.
Payton’s version of the proposal focused on changing some of the harvest patterns for seiners in Area M, reducing some of the harvest pressure on eastern-bound sockeye stocks. He noted that changes made to the management plan in 2004 resulted in increased harvest on eastern bound stocks, based on Alaska Department of Fish and Game data, and wanted to shift more of the harvest back to the west.
“If you just add up all the harvest rates … it takes a pretty big chunk out of eastern-bound stocks,” he said. “Given the pressure, I think it is fair to shift the burden to the seiners.”
With board member Al Cain absent from the debate on Payton’s amended proposal, the six remaining board members split 3-3, resulting in the proposal failing. During the debate, board member Robert Ruffner said he wanted to be cautious to make any major changes to fisheries that would result in shifting effort. Moving effort reactively based on one year’s poor run could result in damage to another stock in the future, he said. Plus, the poor sockeye runs in 2018 were most likely due to environmental conditions in the Gulf of Alaska, based on the fact that sockeye runs were poor everywhere from the Copper River to Chignik.
“If we look at harvest and we think that this is going to solve those problems that are out in the Gulf that are apparent in all these stocks, I don’t’ think this is going to do it,” he said. “I’m just not confident enough at this point with what I know to think that we should start changing this allocation plan.”
Board members John Jensen and Orville Huntington agreed with Ruffner and voted against the proposal. Payton replied that while the Gulf of Alaska conditions certainly had an effect, the board was obliged to do what it can.
“What we catch is in our control,” Payton said. “That’s what we do. We control what we can. We can blame all these things, and kick the can, but this board is tasked with controlling harvest.”
Later, the board moved to amend and passed proposals to limit commercial fishing time in sections of the fishery in the South Unimak and Shumagin Islands near Dolgoi Island. Proposal 138, which originally asked to reduce commercial salmon fishing time to 75 percent of the current level; the Board of Fisheries amended it to close the Dolgoi Island area to seiners throughout June.
Ruffner noted that data showed that many of the salmon passing through the area in June are headed for Chignik and that removing the seine fleet could help the Chignik fishermen and the escapement to the river.
“This would take the seine fleet out,” he said. “I know people want more, but if there’s one thing that we could do that according to the genetics data that we have, it does suggest … that this would be the most effective thing that we could do as one action to help.”
On the proposal to shift setnet fishing schedules, the board amended the proposal to align the hours with the other commercial fishermen in the area. The final language allows setnets in the South Unimak and Shumagin Island fisheries to begin June 6 at 6 a.m. and fish for 64 consecutive hours instead of the previous 88, and then will open for 88-hour consecutive periods beginning June 10 until June 28. The board approved both the amended proposals unanimously.
Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]
Posted Monday, February 25, 2019 - 11:02 am
Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy’s plans to pull back the State of Alaska’s financial support to local governments could hamper the ability of cities and boroughs to finance future projects, according to a Fitch Ratings brief issued Feb. 20.
To resolve the state’s roughly $1.6 billion budget deficit without tax increases or changes to the Permanent Fund dividend program the Dunleavy administration is proposing combination of deep budget cuts and ending several revenue sharing programs with local governments.
One of the largest cuts would be to state education funding. Dunleavy’s budget calls for a $269.4 million cut to the state’s formula funding program to school districts as well as repealing a $30 million one-time, forward-funded appropriation boost to districts passed last year for the 2020 fiscal year.
Fitch analysts speculate that the education cut, equal to about one-quarter of current General Fund support to districts, could require local governments to make up the shortfall through increased local taxes or by shifting funding away from other programs or projects.
The administration is also seeking a statutory repeal of the state’s program to reimburse districts for a large portion of their school construction bond debt obligations. Doing so would save the state roughly $100 million per year, according to the Office of Management and Budget.
In 2015 the state put a five-year moratorium on sharing the burden of school construction bonds with local governments; the latest proposal would cut state aid for bonds sold prior to 2015. The moratorium is set to end in July 2020 when the state would resume funding 40-50 percent of school bond debts depending on the size of a given community.
“The loss of school bond reimbursement would prompt immediate increases in debt service property tax rates that support schools’ unlimited tax general obligation (GO) bonds,” Fitch states. “Higher debt service tax rates could make it more difficult to garner public support for tax increases that would be needed to offset losses in operating revenues and could decrease public appetite for school bonds to meet ongoing capital needs.”
A Feb. 21 Legislative Research Division analysis concludes that the Municipality of Anchorage would have to increase property tax rates by 25 percent to generate enough additional local funding to offset the proposed state education reductions.
Many legislators critical of parts or all of Dunleavy’s budget have characterized it as a cost-shift from the state to cities and boroughs
The rating agency also notes the cumulative cuts could further strain the state’s economy, particularly in rural areas where government is often the largest employer.
Additionally, the administration’s plan in Senate Bill 57 to repeal a law allowing cities and boroughs to assess oil and gas property taxes on exploration and production facilities would pull another roughly $420 million per year from local jurisdictions into state coffers to reduce the deficit, according to fiscal notes accompanying the legislation.
The vast majority of that money, about $372 million in 2018, would come from the North Slope Borough. The City of Valdez — with the end of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System and Alyeska Pipeline Service Co.’s marine shipping terminal — the Kenai Peninsula and Fairbanks North Star boroughs would absorb most of the remaining reductions.
While the state conducts oil and gas property tax assessments, local governments are able to apply their mill rates on the state’s assessments to collect their portion of oil and gas property taxes. Companies then use the local tax payments as credits against the state’s 20-mill oil and gas property tax rate.
The oil and gas property tax revenue accounted for 86 percent of the North Slope Borough’s total revenue in 2018, according to Fitch, which currently gives the borough an “AA” credit rating with a stable outlook.
“If passed, the change in tax law would likely prompt a significant downgrade in the rating, absent offsetting policy actions to provide alternative revenues to the borough,” Fitch states, while also noting the North Slope Borough had $162.7 million in general obligation debt at the end of the 2018 fiscal year.
A spokesman for Dunleavy did not respond to questions about the property tax plan in time for this story, but OMB officials have said the North Slope specifically could rely on its $708 million endowment fund and prospective federal grants from oil development in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska to offset the tax revenue loss.
According to Fitch, it’s unlikely the borough would be able to cut expenses enough for other revenue streams to offset the potential loss.
The North Slope Borough and the usually quiet Arctic Slope Regional Corp. put out a joint statement Feb. 21 rejecting the administration’s oil and gas property tax plan.
ASRC President Rex Rock Sr. said the tax stream has supported “everything from public safety in our communities to even reliable power and heat” over more than 40 years.
“These are services, let’s not forget, that are not provided by the state,” Rock added. “Trying to balance the budget on the backs of the Iñupiat people across the Arctic Slope is a wrong-sided attack on our region.”
NSB Mayor Harry Brower Jr. said borough residents have generally supported responsible resource development because of the economic benefits it brings them.
“As written, Senate Bill 57 makes us question that support. Is this what the governor is intending to do with this legislation — pit the Iñupiaq people of the Slope against industry?” Brower questioned.
According to Fitch, the rating agency will follow the progress of SB 57 and affected local government ratings changes could be made if it appears likely to pass.
Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]