AIDEA writes down fish, power plants

The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority’s board has approved a $91.3 million writedown of the value of two struggling development projects and the release of reserve funds for another, more successful project, the Red Dog Mine.At a board meeting Nov. 19, AIDEA’s staff was given authority negotiate an amendment to a contract with Teck Cominco Alaska Inc. to release up to half of a $23 million bond reserve fund to Teck Cominco, operator of the mine.The company would use part of the money for capital improvements to the road and port, which are owned by AIDEA, or at the lead-zinc mine, a major employer in the Kotzebue area.As for the writedowns, AIDEA reduced the value of its $50 million investment in the Alaska Seafood International plant in south Anchorage to $26 million, and the value of $155 million of AIDEA’s funds invested in a new-technology coal power plant at Healy, south of Fairbanks to $66 million.Because of the writedowns, the authority will show a $55 million operating loss on its financial statement this year under new accounting rules adopted in 2001, the authority’s activing executive director, James McMillan said.AIDEA board member and state deputy commissioner of revenue Larry Persily said the authority still showed a $36 million actual profit last year and is financially healthy.Because the new accounting rules require reductions in asset values to be reflecting on the current year balance sheets, the authority is in the red on a technicality, he said.AIDEA’s $36 million net income is typical for its earnings, Persily said.McMillan said the authority and its auditor, KPMG LLP, agreed the value of the two assets should be reduced in the state corporation’s annual financial statement to reflect challenges both projects are facing.McMillan said the reduced value of the Alaska Seafood International plant on AIDEA’s books reflects an appraiser’s estimate of the value of buildings built for ASI if they were used for purposes other than food manufacturing, such as a "big box" retail store or a warehouse.Sunrise Capital Partners LP of New York, the majority owner of the seafood company, is working to line up new customers for the plant.The reduced value of the Healy plant assumes it is restarted and sells power to Golden Valley Electric Assoc. for 4.2 cents per kilowatt hour, McMillan said.That is the price GVEA said it buys power wholesale from Chugach Electric Corp., he said. GVEA said it is willing to pay AIDEA that amount for power from the coal plant, McMillan said.AIDEA and GVEA are locked in a dispute over operation of the plant, which was shut down in late 1999, two years after its completion in 1997.The authority recently contracted with a subsidiary of American Electric Power Co., a major U.S. owner of coal power plants, to assess any operating problems at the Healy plant.An application is also pending for a $36 million U.S. Department of Energy grant that would pay for modifications of new-technology coal-burning and air pollution controls systems in the plant, and for a three-year test operating period.The reserve fund for the Red Dog Mine road and port was established to cover debt service on bonds issued by the authority to finance construction.The mine has been in production for 13 years and the amount held in the reserve fund is considered above what is needed now, according to McMillan.

Workforce motivation important in post-attack economy

Keeping the workforce motivated today is a big issue. Prior to Sept. 11, 2001, people had healthy retirement accounts. No one feared layoffs. People would leave good jobs for a dollar an hour pay raise. We trusted our corporate executives and we thought our families were safe from terrorism.All that changed Sept 11. People today worry if they will have a job after the holidays. Financial savings have evaporated for many. People are working harder and many are working two or more jobs just to stay ahead. In general, we all are more cranky and distrustful.Good companies are not sticking their heads in the sand. Good companies still realize people are their most important asset. Here are some innovative ideas a few organizations are using to keep morale and motivation high. Thank-U-Grams: At Catholic Charities they have a pad of tear-off Thank-U-Grams people can send to employees for helping on projects, showing superior customer service, or for any reason. A copy is sent to the employee’s supervisor, and copied to the employeeas HR files. One-on-one Chat: At Plumsted School District, supervisors sit down with each employee and ask what one benefit they presently do not have that would make their job easier. Trip to Headquarters Company: Denon Electronics offers an all-expense paid trip to their headquarters in Japan, for an employee and their family. They have lunch with executives, tour the factories and get a guided tour of the city by employees. Coworkers select the winner for this coveted award. Staff Speaks Newsletter: The Lutheran Social Services of Mid-America is a large organization, which spans three states. They created a "Staff Speaks" article in their monthly newsletter. They choose an employee from each of their four affiliates, and provide name, length of time employed at their organization, title, and a brief description of job duties.Then they ask them a "fun" question each month, such as "If you could be anyone/do anything else professionally, who/what would it be?" They take their picture, and include it with their info. This allows their staff to get to know others throughout the organization. Spot Program: Abbott Laboratories implemented the "spot" program. Anyone can give a "spot" award. The award comes with a designated gift certificate (usually $25) to a variety of stores. At the end of each quarter, they collect the spot awards and place them in a box for a random drawing. The winner is pulled out, and gets an extra vacation day. Team Assist Boards: Best Buy Company, Inc. use white boards, which are located in multiple areas within a department. Peers or managers recognize the excellence of others by writing a quick message of thanks, then post it on the board. At IDI they have an "Esprit" Committee. It is comprised of five or six employees. They organize fun activities such as the Pet of the Month contest. A pet’s picture is put on the bulletin board and they guess who the owner is. They sponsor the Christmas giving project, in which they adopt a family in need and buy gifts for all family members from donations of employees. They also organize "Jeans" days four times per year. When individuals donate $5 or more to an organization of their choice, they can wear jeans that day.You can find more motivational tips by visiting www.chartcourse.com/articlefun.htm.Gregory P. Smith is the president of a management consulting firm called Chart Your Course International located in Conyers, Georgia. He can be reached at 770-860-9464.

Airport costs soar $50 million

Permitting delays, additional security measures and design problems are jacking up by at least $50 million the renovation costs at the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport.Several state officials, who refused to be identified, told the Journal of Commerce overruns could climb to more than $100 million by the time the airport makeover is completed in 2006.Originally pegged at $230 million, the airport renovation already ranks as the state’s most expensive project under construction. It includes improvements to terminals, roads, ramps and parking lots.Concourse C, the centerpiece of the project, has been plagued with problems from the beginning, including a design dispute where the city refused to issue permits, saying the 457,000-square-foot concourse was vulnerable to earthquakes.The concourse originally was slated for completion this month, but has been pushed back nearly two years.That delay alone has the airport running $30 million over budget, said Dave Eberle, central regional director for the state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.The concourse is slated for completion in spring 2004, Eberle said.Additional security measures required after the East Coast terrorist attacks will bring the total overruns to anywhere from $50 million to $65 million for the project, Eberle said."We never anticipated these problems at the project’s onset," said Eberle. "9-11 really threw us a curve ball."Eberle said there is a good possibility that the airport could be many more millions of dollars over budget since there is still much design work to be done on the existing terminal. Total costs for newly mandated security measures have not been established."I don’t even want to venture what the worst case might be," Eberle said.The state is scrambling to figure out how to pay for the increases. The federal government will be asked to help fund the additional security measures, Eberle said."We will be looking at all additional funding sources," Eberle said.Ken Jarman, the Transportation Security Administration’s security director for Alaska, said there are no estimates available on how much security measures will cost at the Anchorage airport.Jarman said federal goverement would pick up the tab on the installation of the new eqipment and would negotiate with the state any design changes needed at the terminal.State officials were tight-lipped about the colossal budget overrun, or they would not go on record to talk about it.Mort Plumb, director of the state-owned airport, did not return repeated phone calls from the Journal by press time.Deven Mitchell, state debt manager in the Department of Revenue, said the international airport system has several ways a cost overrun could be financed.On a short-term basis, the airport system always runs a cash balance of approximately $100 million. While the money is allocated for projects that are planned, the money could be shifted to meet added terminal costs with the other projects delayed, he said.Other, longer-term options include raising landing fees and other charges to air carriers to cover the overrun, or going to the state Legislature for a special capital appropriation. Neither of those are realistic, he said.The most viable option is to sell additional revenue bonds, although this will require approval by state lawmakers, Mitchell said.The state has two revenue bond issues to finance the airport project, one for $179 million in February, 1999, and a second $25 million issue later that year.Since air carriers pledge to repay airport revenue bonds through landing fees, they would also have to agree to pay the costs of additional bonds, Mitchell said. Alaska Airlines is airport’s largest tenant and has been the prime private supporter of the multimillion dollar renovation.The company, however, had nothing to say about the overruns.Jack Walsh, spokesman for the Seattle-based airline, said, "We are not prepared to comment on it at this time."Many smaller carriers had only reluctantly supported the airport expansion from the beginning. An executive with a local air carrier, who asked not to be identified, was upset with the overruns. "We agreed to substantial increases in our terminal rent and landing fees based on the terminal project they said they would build. If they exceed that, we’re really going to take them to task."We tried to get them to build something smaller and more practical, sized to the number of people actually using the terminal. Instead, they’ve built a cathedral. This has turned into a make-work deal."We needed some improvements to the terminal, but this is what beyond what’s really needed," the carrier spokesman said. "We’ve been sold a bill of goods."

Low bidder announced for Glenn work

The Glenn Highway near Caribou Creek is known as one of the narrowest and most dangerous stretches of road in Alaska.Quality Asphalt Paving Inc. of Anchorage says they can fix it for $35 million.The Anchorage-based firm, owned by the Colas Group of France, was the low bidder on the project and has been offered the work.The contract had not been formally awarded by presstime."This is a good-sized project -- the largest the company has done to date," said Todd Porter, Quality Asphalt Paving’s road estimator in Anchorage.Five companies had submitted bids on the project.Work on the Glenn Highway project from milepost 100 to milepost 109 will begin next spring, with completion slated for 2005, said Murph O’Brien, the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities’ central region assistant director.Work will include 10 miles of road straightening and widening, replacement of the Caribou Creek bridge and reconstruction of the crossing’s approaches."It’s a massive job," O’Brien said, adding that the highway is one of the state’s most important road links.Although the speed limit is only 25 mph, O’Brien said the stretch averages a couple of serious accidents a year, usually involving large trucks.Caribou Creek bridge is located at the base of a steep canyon that drops more than 500 feet on both sides leading to the crossing.It’s a white-knuckle ride even without snow. "They lose control coming down the steep slopes," O’Brien said.Shoulders will be widened to allow passing and retaining walls will be added to control rockslides in the area, O’Brien said.Federal money will pay for 90 percent of the project, with the state contributing the remainder, O’Brien said.

Mat-Su hospital deal gets member support

PALMER -- Valley Hospital, the only such facility in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, will enter a joint venture deal with a Texas company that has promised to build a new $75 million hospital in the Palmer-Wasilla area.By a vote of 1,331-206, members approved the joint venture with Triad Hospitals Inc., the nation’s third-largest for-profit hospital company.Valley Hospital is a nonprofit organization controlled by its membership, and its bylaws called for a two-thirds vote by those members for any such arrangement. Membership is available to anyone in the hospital service area who pays a $5 fee.The new hospital would replace the existing one in Palmer and be nearly twice the size, with 75 beds, compared to the current facility’s 39.Valley Hospital officials spent thousands on a campaign to convince members to approve the venture. The deal still needs approval from the state health department and may need to be reviewed by the state attorney general’s office.Opponents said they were not surprised by the vote."It sounded really good to build a brand-new hospital, and for a lot of people that was a no-brainer to vote for it," said Al Strawn, head of a local credit union and one of the main opponents.Hospital executives had argued the hospital needed a new building to stay competitive but couldn’t afford to build one on its own. Many residents already bypass the hospital to get their care in Anchorage.Opponents agree the hospital must expand, but questioned teaming up with Triad.They questioned the 3-year-old company’s short track record and said they didn’t believe a large for-profit company would share control with the smaller nonprofit Valley Hospital Association.Under the deal, Triad would provide the majority of the financing and get the majority of the profits, but would share control through a governing board made up equally of Triad representatives and local residents. Construction would begin next summer at the earliest and take two years.

Juneau airport considers adding space to terminal

JUNEAU -- The Juneau Airport is considering a $5 million, 14,000-square foot terminal expansion to accommodate new security equipment and allay a loss of office space.Under a new federal law, all airports will be required to screen checked bags for explosives by the end of the year. In Juneau, the airport plans to rearrange the downstairs lobby to add four to six detection machines and the Transportation Security Administration staffers who go with them, airport Manager Allan Heese said Nov. 6.Under a short-term plan, the airport would put the equipment and staff next to the Alaska Airlines ticket counter. An unused ticket counter would be removed and roller tables would be installed, he said.But the new equipment creates something of a domino effect, Heese told the Juneau Assembly’s Finance Committee."By next summer with this configuration in our airport ... it’s going to be a mess," he said.The change would dislocate offices used by Alaska Airlines, terminal maintenance and airport security staff. It also could make it harder for the airport to attract a second major air carrier to Juneau, Heese said.As a long-term solution, the airport is exploring a 14,000-square-foot, two-story expansion that would better accommodate the security equipment and add office space. The addition could cost roughly $5 million, and the airport isn’t sure where the funding is going to come from, Heese said. Federal money appears to be iffy, he said.An expansion would replace lost office space and could accommodate Customs Bureau and Immigration and Naturalization Service staff, he said. The Federal Aviation Administration also wants to remodel, Alaska Airlines has asked for more space, and the airport needs to consider how it might accommodate foreign tourists, Heese said.The expansion wouldn’t fix all problems at the terminal, but would help until a new terminal or major renovation comes through, he said.At the Nov. 6 meeting, Deputy Mayor Ken Koelsch said the city needs to work with Alaska’s congressional delegation in Washington, D.C., and Gov.-elect Frank Murkowski to find funding. Mayor Sally Smith said the city will contact its lobbyist in Washington, D.C., about the project.Heese said the airport is advertising for a planning and design firm to look into what options are available.

Around the World

NATIONCruise-ship line sued for virus in CaribbeanSEATTLE -- A lawsuit has been filed against Seattle-based Holland America Line Inc. on behalf of passengers who contracted a contagious stomach virus during a Caribbean cruise.The suit filed Nov. 15 seeks class-action status.The ship’s 1,900 passengers and crew disembarked from the Amsterdam in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in early November following a 10-day cruise.About 160 passengers aboard the cruise line’s Amsterdam ship became sick from a Norwalk-like virus, which can cause diarrhea and vomiting for 24 to 48 hours.It was the second time in four months that passengers contracted the same illness on one of Holland America’s vessels. The Ryndam, which sailed to Alaska in July, had 395 reported cases before the vessel was temporarily pulled from service to be disinfected.Kmart chief believes customers are comingDETROIT -- Kmart Corp. will show a smaller decline in October sales from a year ago than it has in the past few months, the chief executive of the retailer that is operating under bankruptcy protection said Nov. 18.Kmart’s sales at stores open at least a year, known as same-store sales, will be down less than 5 percent, James B. Adamson said prior to a speech to the Detroit Economic Club.Same-store sales are considered the best gauge in a retailer’s health.The Troy-based retailer posted a decline of 6.9 percent in September same-store sales."We’re continuing to show customers coming back, continuing to show improvement," he said.Adamson said the holiday season is important for Kmart and said the retailer would have at least a chance to be neutral to positive for December sales.WORLDJapan bank buys stock to combat loan lossesTOKYO -- Japan’s central bank said Nov. 18 that it will begin buying shares held by the nation’s commercial banks starting at the end of November using a 2 trillion yen ($16.5 billion) fund to stabilize the financial system.The Bank of Japan shocked markets with its announcement in September that it would buy stocks at market price over the next year or two to give relief to banks struggling to write off their huge bad loans. It has said it would not take more than a 5 percent stake in any company and would own the shares for 10 years.Bank of Japan governor Masaru Hayami has acknowledged that the new steps could damage the central bank’s balance sheet, but warned that unless banks reduce their shareholdings to free up cash they were unlikely to deal quickly with their massive loan problems.-- Business wire services

Inventor pitches breakaway signs

Clifford Dent is nearly broke because of his breakaway bolt system for highway sign and light posts.His ingenious fastening invention -- able to hold up in hurricane-force winds but snap easily when hit by a vehicle -- hasn’t made any money, but it’s saved several lives."It’s been a blessing and a curse," said Dent, a former Kenai resident who has spent the last 15 years developing and marketing his product.A laborer and businessman by trade, Dent came up with his bolt design while installing a highway sign under contract with the state years ago. In 1987 he made the heat-treated steel bolt with a computer-milled, hourglass-like center designed to fail on impact."It was so simple people didn’t think it would work," said Dent, who had no engineering background, just "Alaskan know-how."He received U.S. and Canadian patents on the design in 1990 and got federal approval for the bolt in 1996, after spending "hundreds of thousands" in government crash tests. Dent then sold his Peninsula Fence Co. and left Alaska to pitch his product to state highway departments throughout the United States. The product currently is being used in about 30 states, including Alaska. But not in quantity for him to earn a decent living, he said."I still got to eat to do this thing," Dent said. "This year was better than last. It all boils down to getting states to try it."Trinity Industries Inc. of Dallas, Texas is making the bolts and is helping Dent market them.Oftentimes, he wonders if coming up with his Dent Breakaway Bolt has been worth it."I made a way better living with my fence company," Dent said. "Plus I got to stay home.""I’ve visited 42 states in the past two years," Dent said in a phone conversation from New Mexico. "I’m tired of driving."Dent said he’s seen crashes in his travels where his system would likely have saved lives."The main thing this does is save lives," Dent said of his product.He’s homesick, but selling the bolts from Alaska isn’t practical. He personally has installed his bolts on highway signs, call boxes and light posts along more roads than he can count.Usually, however, they’re for demonstration purposes. And while highway departments rave about the bolts’ performance, at $15 each most states can’t afford them.In a testimonial letter, the Louisiana highway department said Dent’s bolts held up on several signs during a hurricane that had 120 mph winds.Federal law requires that states use posts that break on impact. Most states use "slip bases" that break when a vehicle strikes the support in the direction of traffic.The problem with slip bases, Dent said, is that when it is struck at an angle other than parallel to the roadway, the base fails to release, causing the vehicle to stop abruptly. Also, if the bolts are not torqued properly, the slip base may not release, making the post a solid object.When fitted with Dent’s bolts, slip bases will break when hit from any direction, or what the government calls "omni-directional."The federal government does not require sign posts to be "omni-directional," but recommends states use the technology, Dent said.Several states in testimonials have reported that Dent’s bolts have worked as intended in crashes, without injury to drivers. The bolts have also allowed the states to reuse posts that were hit since they were knocked clear of the crash site.Dent is buoyed by the potential for making money and saving lives.It’s all about education, Dent says, as few people know such technology exists to save lives along the nation’s highways.He’s pinning his hopes on a federal rule rewrite that would require sign posts to use technology like his.Dent said a New York company has produced a fastening system similar to his, but that company’s breakaway cost four times as much and is more complicated to install.The money-making potential is mindboggling if states would be required to use his bolt or a similar one."There are millions of signs out there that need millions and millions of bolts," Dent said.But more than that, the product will save lives, Dent said."The rewards will be great, if I live that long," Dent said.Some 15 folks from Kenai invested in Dent’s company in the mid-1990s.Travis Steinbeck said he believed the idea was a gold mine when he put money in Dent’s invention.Steinbeck said he believes the product is a good one, but he’s having second thoughts about his investment."I haven’t seen a penny," Steinbeck said. "I would have been better off investing in Yahoo!"Steinbeck would not say how much he invested in the breakaway bolts."It was a lot," he said. Mark Hodgins, an investor and former Alaska lawmaker now living in Oregon, said he knew the risk would be great putting money toward the idea."Cliff made a better mousetrap," Hodgins said.But making highways safer is not a priority with states, he said. If it were, "We would have an avalanche of orders. Nevada, alone, needs 20 million bolts.""We have a practical solution, but not to the political problem," Hodgins said."Every dollar they would have to spend on the bolts, that’s a dollar less for education or a school nurse or something. Nobody knows that better than me," a Republican representative for Kenai during the 1998-1999 legislative sessions.Rodney Boyd, a spokesman with Trinity Enterprises, agreed that funding is a problem."The problem is purely economic, but that doesn’t stop us from trying," Boyd said."No other system on the market matches the performance of Cliff’s bolt, or comes close to it in cost," Boyd said.Boyd said several thousand of the bolts have been made so far.

Blimpie Subs shuts down at 2 locations

Tony Conza, founder of Blimpie Subs and Salads International, appears to have been wrong: Blimpie has not been a beautiful thing for one Alaska franchisee.Williams Alaska Petroleum Inc. shut down two of their Anchorage submarine sandwich-making franchises on Nov. 15. Five are expected to remain open.Jeff Cook, vice president of external affairs for Williams Alaska, said the Blimpies located in Williams Express convenience stores on Spenard Road and on DeBarr Road were not bringing in the bacon, fiscally speaking."After having had them for a number of years, we can see that they’re not working from a financial standpoint," Cook said.Cook declined to comment on the exact monetary loss accrued by to the franchises, but he did say that the closings should not mean any layoffs for Williams Express’ 300 employees.The problem, he said, comes from the fact that most customers at a convenience store are in a hurry and don’t take the time for a custom-made lunch."They’re grabbing the pre-made sandwiches," Cook said. "People are more desirous for a quick fix than an individually made sandwich."According to Bruce Kolbinsky, vice president of operations at Blimpie International, that is not a trend nationwide. He said the franchises are doing very well in convenience stores in other parts of the country."It really varies from chain to chain, depending on the management’s philosophies," he said. "Williams reached the conclusion that there’s a better way to use their space and maximize their food service."Despite the differences in ideology, Kolbinsky characterized the relationship between his company and its sole Alaska franchisee as "amicable." He added that both companies are working to maintain that friendly working relationship. He said Williams sought corporate counsel before deciding to close the counters permanently.Kolbinsky said when Mapco, the original franchisee, approached Blimpie about taking the product to Alaska, his company made an error by not seeking alternate investors.He added that Blimpie hopes to reestablish their position in the state with various franchisees who share the corporate philosophy. Alaskans as a whole seemed to like both Blimpie’s sandwiches and its concept, Kolbinsky said."Let’s face it, it’s a sandwich," he said. "If you put good meat on fresh bread, people are going to like it. What’s more important to us is a smiling face and a clean atmosphere in which to enjoy that sandwich."

Mortgage can have tax advantages

For most people, conventional wisdom supports the idea of paying off the home mortgage before retirement. Therefore, a retiree should be debt-free, allowing income from pensions, social security and retirement distributions to support living expenses. From an estate standpoint, the home would be transferred to the children free and clear at death.Could there be reasons for maintaining a mortgage in retirement? Individuals with a large amount in a retirement program such as an IRA or a 401k plan in the form of securities (paper assets) may want to consider the following factors: A portfolio is more balanced when it consists of both paper assets and hard assets; Potential substantial tax burdens are imposed on mandated retirement fund withdrawals at age 70 1/2; There are advantagers to life in a beautiful home that could increase the size of an individual’s legacy; and The income tax benefits of deductible mortgage interest and current low mortgage rates.Instead of paying off the mortgage on an existing house, you may consider trading up to a more valuable home or purchasing a second home. The increased mortgage can be covered by an increase in withdrawals from the retirement plan. A recent article on this subject suggested $2 million as a minimum retirement plan to provide for a mortgage payment without diluting value to meet future retirement needs.The results of this transaction are a shift of capital from paper assets to real estate (adding diversity), retention of a deduction for income tax calculation and an improved lifestyle in retirement. In addition, by making the purchase prior to 70 1/2, the increased withdrawals at an earlier age will cause reduced taxes from mandatory distributions, because there will be less money accumulating in the retirement plan to draw from.Let’s look at a simple scenario of a retiree at age 65 with $2 million in a retirement plan and we’ll assume a 6 percent return on the investments in this plan, still a possible long-term return even with today’s rates and less than desirable stock market profits.We’ll call our retiree "Joe." Joe trades his house valued at $500,000 for a house costing $1 million and borrows $800,000, with the remaining $200,000 consisting of the from equity in his current home. The mortgage rate is 5.5 percent and term is 15 years.Under this example, Joe would draw the earnings each year--approximately $78,000 for mortgage payments and $42,000 for living expenses. The first year, he would reduce taxable income of $120,000 by the interest expense of approximately $43,000. At a 30 percent tax bracket, Joe would save $23,100 excluding all other factors.At 70 1/2, the amount remaining to be drawn from retirement is still $2 million and remaining estate is in the value of the residence.If Joe hadn’t purchased the residence as proposed, his retirement nest egg would have compounded to approximately $2.75 million. Using the same 6 percent formula, Joe will be taxed on $165,000 in distributions versus approximately $107,300 in the 6th year, a savings of $17,000 in taxes that year alone.The argument can be made that Joe would save approximately $105,000 in taxes if he didn’t draw from his plan since there wouldn’t be income from retirement withdrawals. That savings is only for the 5 1/2 years prior to 70 1/2, while the tax savings from carrying the mortgage for the first 5 years would be approximately $58,000 and savings would continue until death or repayment of the mortgage.Of course, this simple scenario about Joe while interesting and, hopefully, results in some thinking about the options, isn’t complete. All factors in a financial decision like purchasing a more expensive home need to be considered before spending the money. Does the real estate fit well in Joe’s portfolio? Are there other tax issues like "other earnings" or other "deductibles"?Also, will Joe be in a different tax bracket during retirement? Does the investment portfolio support the decision? Does Joe want an expensive home to live in? What would be the consequences of pulling retirement funds and paying off the existing mortgage versus maintaining the existing home and mortgage? And would Joe be better off purchasing a second home?Before planning to retire without a home mortgage, consider the scenario of "Joe" and the potential advantages in purchasing a larger home, retaining a mortgage on the existing home or mortgaging a second home. At the very least, no matter your time to retirement, be sure to take advantage of the lowest mortgage rates in many years, either by creating a new mortgage or refinancing an existing mortgage.Ron Kukes is president and chief executive at Alaska First Bank & Trust. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected]

CIRI changes focus, sells 5 Anchorage buildings

As Cook Inlet Region Inc. has changed its vision of property ownership, its real estate has changed hands.The Alaska Native regional corporation sold five of its eight Anchorage properties last month as well as two industrial business parks in the Lower 48.Mark Kroloff, the corporation’s chief operating officer, said the sale of five Alaska office buildings to the Alaska Electrical Pension Fund provided a significant return on their investment. While he declined to comment on the price the properties fetched, he said he was pleased with both the sale and the purchaser."We have a long standing relationship with the tenants (of those buildings)," he said "We feel the new owner will continue to run the properties in a positive and directed way."The in-state properties that were sold are the King Street Industrial Center at King Street and 76th Ave.; Fireweed Place at 121 W. Fireweed Lane; the Signature Building at 745 W. Fourth Ave.; the Spenard Building at 3510 Spenard Road; and the Cordova Building at 2600 Cordova St.The purchases were an investment, said Peter Crosson, the real estate portfolio manager for the Alaska Electrical Pension Fund. He said the properties, which were purchased as a package, should provide a needed boost to the fund’s portfolio."Our goal is to hold real estate in Alaska," he said, "and this was quality property in Alaska. These buildings have good returns."Crosson noted that the fund has no major plans to change the function of the properties in the future. He said that sort of security, coupled with the comfort of having Alaska owners, has helped ease the tenants through the transition from CIRI ownership to that of the pension fund.Mark Korting, the owner of ReMax Real Estate in the Cordova Building, said the change in ownership was an easy one."We were extremely happy with CIRI; but, overall everything went very smoothly and was very professional," Korting said.He said the new management company, Pacific Towers Properties, helped with the transition. He noted that on the day the deal closed, the new managers personally contacted each tenant to give an official notice of the changeFrances Marin-Polak, an assistant property manager with Pacific Towers, said her company has done everything possible to help the tenants during and after the purchase."I think people are starting to feel comfortable with us and find that we’re responsive," she said.Cook Inlet Region’s Kroloff said the sale reflects a new direction for the establishment with regards to real estate and property ownership. For financial reasons, the corporation is turning its focus from owning and leasing buildings to developing industrial and commercial properties."There’s a higher return," he said, "a higher risk but a higher return."Upcoming real estate projects for the corporation include a commercial subdivision in Texas, and the development of an industrial park in Hawaii.

Coeur Alaska says it's confident it can comply with agency's rules

JUNEAU -- A key element of an affordable way to develop the Kensington Mine may not meet environmental laws, according to a federal agency whose permits are needed to open the mine.The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency submitted its concerns in written comments to the U.S. Forest Service, which is preparing an environmental impact statement.But the developer, Coeur Alaska Inc., says the proposal is better for the environment than a previously permitted operating plan. "We feel very confident we can make that demonstration," said Coeur Alaska Vice President Rick Richins.The latest proposal to operate Kensington, a gold mine 45 miles north of downtown Juneau, depends on using an alpine lake to hold the thickened mixture of water and crushed rock, called tailings, that results from extracting gold.Under the plan, Lower Slate Lake would be dammed at one end to hold lake waters that would rise as the tailings were piped into it. Some of the lake water would be allowed to flow downstream into Slate Creek, which enters Berners Bay.In comments submitted last month, the EPA said some aspects of the plan don’t appear to comply with the agency’s rules and policy. The EPA is one of several federal and state agencies that would issue or deny permits for the mine.The EPA said its standards require ore mines to recycle back into the mine all of the tailings, unless the developer can show recycling would unduly interfere with mining."That recycling thing -- it’s a nonstarter," said Bill Riley, mining coordinator the EPA’s Seattle office, in an interview. "I don’t see any way around that."Richins said the concern about a recycling loop is "probably semantics.""There is a certain amount of recycle in our process," he said. "I think the EPA is looking for us to maximize the recycle and still maintain the ability to remove the gold from the process."Coeur didn’t develop the mine after getting permits in 1998 because it wasn’t profitable to do so at then-current gold prices, company officials have said. The new operating plan would cost about $55 million less for construction, Richins said.Besides the change in tailings disposal, the new plan would eliminate onsite mining camps, and instead ferry workers and supplies across Berners Bay to Echo Cove near the north end of Glacier Highway.Coeur has said the mine would create 300 to 400 jobs during its 22 months of construction, and 225 year-round jobs with an annual payroll of $16 million during operation. The mine would last at least 15 years, supporting an additional 180 jobs indirectly, the company has said.The new proposal received many letters of support from Native corporations, business groups and citizens, who cited its economic benefits.But environmentalists say it’s against federal and state laws to use the lake to hold tailings."We’ve believed for several years that the Slate Lake option was illegal under both state and federal laws," said Gershon Cohen of Haines. He is national project director of the Campaign to Safeguard America’s Waters of the Earth Island Institute."The precedent they would be setting for dumping mine tailings in a lake would be tremendous," Cohen said. "We would challenge that."The fundamental question is whether it’s legal to categorize the lake as a treatment works rather than as "waters of the United States." Treatment works don’t have to meet federal or state water quality standards, although water discharged from the lake would have to do so.It’s unlikely Coeur could meet state water quality standards in the lake because the standards don’t allow for depositing substances in fresh water. The standards also severely limit the area in a lake where waste can mix with water.Converting the lake to a tailings impoundment also could be seen as contradicting the state’s policy to protect existing water uses. Slate Lake has a small population of Dolly Varden, mine consultants have said. Coeur intends to move the fish from Lower Slate Lake to Upper Slate Lake during the mine’s life, and return fish to the lower lake when the mine is closed.The EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers agreed in 1992 that it can be legal to use lakes to hold mine tailings, but the developer has to show that it’s the least environmentally damaging way to treat the waste.The EPA in its written comments expressed concern that the Kensington proposal wouldn’t meet that standard.The EPA also said Coeur’s plan to not divert the upstream portion of Slate Creek from entering the tailings lake was contrary to the intent of the Clean Water Act, which is to treat waste, not dilute it, and which tries to keep waste separate from uncontaminated waters.Richins said Coeur decided not to divert the creek upstream from the tailings lake so the water downstream would meet water quality standards. Man-made channels to divert the stream would further disturb the environment, he added.Another fundamental question is whether it is legal under state law to use a lake to hold mine waste."We think it is -- absolutely," said Ed Fogels, a large-mine project manager with the state Department of Natural Resources. "There’s certainly nothing in the laws that says it isn’t."It’s not unusual for mines to dam streams and create ponds to hold tailings, said Steve Borell, executive director of the Alaska Miners Association. Using a lake for that is just a matter of degree, he said.A gold mine at Fort Knox, near Fairbanks, was permitted to dam a creek. The resulting pond is good habitat for grayling and burbot, Borell said.But Pete McGee, a technical engineer with the state Department of Environmental Conservation, said the agency would review whether the lake legally can be used for tailings if Coeur’s plan becomes the preferred alternative in the environmental impact statement. State regulations might need to be changed, he said."The regs aren’t perfectly clear about that (use)," McGee said. "They don’t say you can do it, and they don’t say you can’t."Even if it’s legal to use Lower Slate Lake for tailings, the state will have to be convinced it’s a good thing to do, Fogels said."The whole notion is whether it’s in the state’s best interest to sacrifice this lake for the life of the mine and then put it back after it’s over," he said. "If we get another lake with fish in it afterwards, that could be do-able."The draft environmental impact statement is scheduled to be completed by spring 2003.

Fund will grow in future

KENAI -- Alaska’s Permanent Fund can expect continued growth and prosperity, despite the fact that the fund -- 53 percent of which is invested in stocks -- is coming off its worst quarter in history. That’s the message fund communications director Jim Kelly delivered at the Nov. 12 meeting of the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce.Kelly, in town for the fund’s board of trustees meeting, said the success of the fund lies in the fact that it’s managed for long-term stability, not short-term profit."The good years average out the bad years," Kelly said.He said the fund operates in such a way as to not be swayed by volatile markets. Kelly pointed to several charts that illustrated his point. Although financial markets can swing wildly from year to year, the fund has managed to stay the course by investing for the long term and diversifying its portfolio, he said."The beauty of the fund is that it’s an institution that has discipline," he said.Besides showing how the fund has remained stable through the years, Kelly also said he hopes the Legislature will pass a constitutional amendment that would set aside 5 percent of the fund’s total market value annually to be spent on dividends and state services.Under existing law, only the fund’s earnings can be spent on dividends or state government. However, Kelly said a more reasonable approach would be for the Legislature to pass an amendment that would annually pay out 5 percent of the entire fund balance. That way, money will always be available for payouts -- whether earnings are up or down.That way, "You cannot have a permanent fund that does not make a payment," he said.Kelly said critics of the plan may argue that payment from the fund’s principal could slowly erode the overall value of the fund. However, he argued that fund investments in strong years would likely account for shortfalls in the lean years."You have to take a long-term perspective," he said.A similar proposal was brought before the Alaska Legislature last year but stalled in the Senate. Kelly said he’s hopeful legislators this time around will be more willing to pass the amendment.

Village wants more visitors

Juneau, Ketchikan, Sitka, Petersburg, Haines, Skagway and other Southeast communities for decades have depended on tourism dollars.Now Hoonah is too.The town’s village corporation, Huna Totem, began work this summer rebuilding the old cannery dock, hoping to lure large cruise ships to the Tlingit Indian community of about 900, 40 miles west of Juneau on Chichagof Island.John Kveum, construction manager of Point Sophia Development Co. LLC, said all work at the old cannery site should be done in time for the 2004 tourism season.Corporation officials would not say how much money is invested in the project.Kveum said already the community is seeing a spike in the economy with about 50 residents employed on the project.Alf "Windy" Skaflestad, mayor of Hoonah, said tourists were not always welcomed in the village, which has the largest the largest Tlingit population in Southeast.Attitudes have changed with the downturn in the fishing and timber industries, Skaflestad said."I think it will help build our economy up," the mayor said.Corporation officials say the visitors to the village will be able to learn about the Tlingit culture, tour the historic cannery site, whale watch, fish, kayak and mountain bike along the villages many miles of logging roads.The town also is boasting the only brown bear viewing by bus in Southeast.

Native American National Bank takes aim at reservations

Two Alaska Native regional corporations have helped form a new national bank to extend financial services to Indian reservations and Native American tribal groups in the Lower 48.While it’s possible that the Denver-based Native American National Bank, formed in October, 2001, could have branches in Alaska someday, its immediate purpose is to provide financing for business expansion and economic development on reservations in other states, according to John H. Beirise, president and chief executive of the bank.Beirise was in Anchorage attending the annual convention of the Alaska Federation of Natives. His visit was aimed at building relationships with Native regional and village corporations.Although Native American tribes own banks now, with some doing quite well, these are in places where the banks serve non-Indian communities with growing economies, Beirise said."Our bank is the first aimed specifically at Indian Country, particularly the underdeveloped reservations," he said.Arctic Slope Regional Corp. of Barrow and Sealaska Corp. of Juneau, two influential Alaska Native corporations, are among 11 Native American groups who founded the new bank.Major U.S. banks are also involved with the new bank. Wells Fargo Bank has an equity interest in Native American through a special class of non-voting stock, Beirise said.Charlie Brower, an ASRC official who helped get the new bank up and running, said there were business reasons as well as a spirit of altruism behind his corporation’s interest in helping launch a Native American bank."This is a business relationship that has given us access to tribal leaders in other parts of the country. It has opened a lot of opportunities for joint-ventures and other business deals," for ASRC’s business subsidiaries , Brower said.One tribe with which ASRC is working is engaged in a billion-dollar deal to expand casinos, he said.Beirise said ASRC and Sealaska not only bring financial resources to the venture, but years of experience in business.Native American Bank was capitalized with $11 million -- $1 million from each of the 11 founding groups -- and is one year old now. Its assets are $27 million, and the plan is to have $500 million in assets in five years, Beirise said.The bank intends to specialize in business-related loans to tribes, but one of its first actions was to lay the foundation for a branch network, through which consumer lending can be done, by acquiring Blackfeet National Bank in Browning, Montana, a small bank owned by the Blackfeet Nation. The bank was purchased in October, 2001."BlackfeetNational has done a good job of serving the local community, but had limited capital and is in a reservation that faces economic challenges," Beirise said."We brought more capital to the bank. About $4 million in loans have been made since the bank formed," he said.Existing commercial banks near reservations have not done a good job in serving the needs of Native Americans, Beirise said. "The credit-scoring procedures of large banks often results in bad credit ratings in Indian Country," he said.Even with smaller, locally-owned banks, there are echoes of past prejudice. "Among the people who run these banks, their grandfathers told them never to loan to an Indian," he said.On the Indian side there’s sometimes a distrust of people outside the tribe. "They’ve been taken advantage of many times," Beirise said. A central concept behind Native American Bank is that a financial institution owned by Indians will be more accepted, he said.There’s also a lack of business experience in many reservation areas and many tribes are used to Bureau of Indian Affairs accounting procedures, not conventional business accounting practices."We intend to be expert in the unique aspects of doing business in Indian Country, in understanding tribal sovereign immunity, tribal courts, trust lands," Beirise said.An important advantage Native American brings is the ability to pool resources and spread risk. "We realize that not every investment will be a winner, but by having a large enough pool of capital we can afford to accept some risk and take a flyer on something," he said.Except in areas like Browning, Montana, Native American Bank won’t be a retail bank that seeks to serve small depositors. Instead, the bank will focus on business and large agricultural and community development loans, Beirise said.However, Native American Bank is looking to acquire additional community banks in reservation areas, he said.Besides serving economically-disadvantaged areas, there are many Lower 48 tribes that have substantial resources, Charlie Brower said. Many have substantial oil and gas or other resource income, and some own and operate large casinos. "There are real opportunities out there for this bank," Brower said.An example is a reservation area in South Dakota where an oil pipeline will be built across reservation lands. There is oil and gas potential within the reservation and potential for local industry, such as a refinery, to be developed once crude oil supplies are available.The tribe now depends on the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs for economic development grants, but having commercial finance expertise available through a bank like Native American could be important, Brower said.

Native firms will get refunds of wireless bids

ANCHORAGE -- Three Alaska Native corporations will get back the money they invested in a wireless telecommunications venture with AT&T Wireless.Sealaska Corp., Doyon Ltd. and Arctic Slope Regional Corp. and other smaller investors in Anchorage-based Alaska Native Wireless will receive $233 million, according to an announcement Nov. 13 from AT&T Wireless."We will get our investment back, with some return," said Conrad Bagne, chief operating officer for Arctic Slope and the spokesman for Alaska Native Wireless.The Native corporations partnered with AT&T Wireless two years ago to bid on wireless licenses auctioned by the Federal Communications Commission.Pledging $2.9 billion, most of it put up by AT&T, they were the top bidder and won 44 licenses to sell wireless services in cities including New York, Los Angeles, Portland, Denver, Minneapolis and Tampa. The wireless industry was booming at the time and the investment looked like a golden opportunity to the Native companies. Since then, wireless company stocks have plummeted, the licenses got tied up in lawsuits and the Alaska companies lobbied for a refund.AT&T owns 40 percent of Alaska Native Wireless. The three Native corporations own the remaining 60 percent with investment firms Toronto Dominion Capital of New York and Madison Dearborn Partners of Chicago and a few smaller investors.The bulk of the licences Alaska Native Wireless won had been previously owned by NextWave Telecom Inc., which became bogged down in Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Lawyers for NextWave sued the FCC, arguing that bankruptcy laws forbid the government from seizing and reauctioning the licenses.An appeals court agreed. The FCC asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the ruling. A decision by the high court is pending.If the licenses are eventually awarded to Alaska Native Wireless, Caouette said, AT&T Wireless will fund the balance of the purchase price.But the three Native firms want out of the NextWave debacle."If they give us the opportunity, we would opt out," Bagne said. "The telecom market has changed so significantly since the auction was held."

$100 million electrical intertie slated for 2004

KENAI -- Barring any major shocks, construction on a new 138,000-volt electrical transmission line is expected to begin in 2004.That’s the message Dora Gropp, manager of transmission and special projects for the Chugach Electric Association, delivered at a joint meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Resource Development Council and the Support Industry Alliance Nov. 15.Construction of the line is expected to cost $100 million.The project, known as the "southern intertie," has been in the planning stage since the early 1980s. That’s when electric utilities began to think about adding a second major transmission line between the Kenai Peninsula and Anchorage. The existing line, which roughly parallels the Seward Highway, is prone to shut-down due to avalanche and weather-related concerns.Gropp said the plan still has to receive final right-of-way permission and various permits, but the need for a new line is obvious."Anyone who lives here or who has driven between Kenai and Anchorage has seen that line and what it is exposed to," she said.In the mid-90s, Chugach commissioned a study that identified three possible routes for the new line. Chugach originally favored a route that paralleled Enstar’s natural gas pipeline through the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.Following the submission of draft environmental impact studies to various federal agencies, it was determined the refuge route was not an option.However, a line running beneath Turnagain Arm and along the west side of the Kenai Peninsula was favored by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and that’s the route Chugach plans to follow.A new line will add reliability to the existing power grid. Gropp said each time the line fails, it costs the companies and ultimately, consumers.Since the line which now connects the peninsula with the rest of the grid is prone to failure, a second line would greatly improve efficiency for the six utility companies that operate the grid.Funding for the project will come from the participating utility companies and state sources. The Alaska Legislature already has appropriated a $50 million grant for the project, and Gropp said utilities likely will try to get more from the state."I’m pretty sure the utilities will raise their little hands and say, ’Do you have any more?’" she said.Gropp said the next stage of the project will be to find out which utilities will build and maintain the new line. The six utilities who operate the existing grid -- which supplies 83 percent of the state’s electricity -- include Chugach, Municipal Light and Power, Homer Electric Association, Golden Valley Electric Association, Matanuska Electric Association and Seward Electrical System."The partner utilities need to decide if they want to go ahead," she said. "They need to set a decision date and decide whether to go in or out."For its part, HEA energetically supports the project. Don Stead, HEA’s manager of engineering services, also spoke briefly at the meeting in support of the project."HEA is fully supportive of the southern intertie," Stead said. "We view construction of the project as a very positive step."Construction on the line is expected to take two to three years. According to Gropp, work on the undersea portion of the project likely would rely on specialized Outside contractors, but the remainder of the project -- $50 million worth -- could utilize existing peninsula businesses.When asked by Jack Brown, the borough’s business development manager, if the project could impact the local economy, Gropp was enthusiastic about using local contractors for the work."You betcha," she replied. "You have plenty of contractors who know how to do it and can do it."

Native firms in line for Army maintenance contracts

The U.S. Army has recruited subsidiaries of two Alaska Native corporations to maintain three of the state’s military installations.Field Support Services Inc. of Anchorage and Galena-based Khotol Services Corp. were subcontracted by Shaw Environmental & Infrastructure Inc. of Atlanta, Ga. to maintain Army bases in Anchorage and Fairbanks, and a recruiting center in Seward.Field Support Services is a subsidiary of Barrow-based Arctic Slope Regional Corp. Khotol Services is funded by Anchorage-based Gana-A’Yoo Ltd., a village corporation formed in 1978 by the merger of the Galena, Nulato, Kaltag and Koyukuk village corporations.In a press release, Tim Barfield, Jr., the president of Shaw E&I, indicated that the Native corporations’ records were a key factor in deciding to take them on."Both corporations bring with them a solid foundation of sound business ethics, practices and resources that focus on the Alaska economy and the needs of the Alaskan people," he said.Field Support Services and Khotol Services currently hold conditional awards, which secure their positions until they start work on the grounds next year.George Bernardy, the president of Field Support Services, said providing military bases with civilian maintenance helps with homeland security efforts."The whole idea is to provide the Army with reduced costs on ancillary services while allowing them to focus on their primary intent," he said. "It keeps the troops free for fighting instead of turning wrenches." Hank Speakman, the state chief of Army regional contracting, said having two established Alaska companies sub-contracted assures him that the work will be done well under any circumstances."For a contractor to come from the Lower 48, the primary question we have is ’can he work in sub-arctic conditions?’" Speakman said. "It’s added insurance knowing that Native corporations will be working on this."Speakman added that he’s done several primary contracts with Alaska Native corporations during his two year tenure as chief, and he has always been pleased with the results."The Native corporations we’ve worked with have done an outstanding job," he said. "They deliver on their promises and it shows (because) they’re competing successfully in the Lower 48."Khotol Services Corp. has a record of military support throughout the Lower 48, said Gana-A’Yoo Chief Executive Roger Nagarkar. The group has worked on seven military complexes nationwide to provide everything from grounds work to food service. Nagarkar noted that the subsidiary has always received high marks for its service.Nagarkar said much of the fine print regarding the contracts is still being worked out, but he is confident that the Army will be pleased with its decision."Among the three companies, we have more than adequate capabilities to do an exceptional job on the bases, but we’re still trying to figure out who will do what," he said.Field Support Services’ Bernardy noted that, for the most part, the workers will come from incumbent public works personnel already familiar with the bases. The remainder will be hired from the area surrounding Anchorage and Fairbanks.In 1998, the government started contracting civilian groups to perform services on military land. Shaw and Field Support Services worked together on similar on-base projects in Georgia and Alabama.

Deckhands join skippers in wanting a piece of fish allocation pie

KODIAK -- Deckhands are the latest segment to lay claim to a piece of any quota share pie."As little as they count politically, these are the guys who are standing on deck with a sledge hammer, whacking the ice off the boat, so it doesn’t sink. They literally have the most intimate responsibility for management of the resource," said longtime fisherman Terry Haines of Kodiak.As more Alaska fisheries become limited under so-called "rationalization" plans, all participants want to be included in the resource give-aways. "Everyone wants to get what’s rightfully his, and you can’t blame them. But the process is causing a lot of infighting," he said.Haines is championing an effort to include deckhands in any new fishery allocation plans. He believes they have been left out because "they don’t have the money to have someone represent them at weeklong meetings where all the decisions are made." Haines points to the fact that skippers have been given a 3 percent share of Bering Sea crab under that fishery’s proposed rationalization plan. "That’s due more to the fact that they’ve had someone to represent them, than it being the fair or right thing for everyone," Haines said.He insists if it’s good enough for skippers, it’s good enough for the crew. "A skipper may make a double share and be inside the wheelhouse, but nevertheless, he’s a hired person just like everyone on deck. What is the criteria for drawing the line right at the door that leads to the back deck?" he asked.To advance the cause, Haines said he’s been told his group needs two things -- someone to tell the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council what they think, and some sort of proposal or plan. You can’t just stand there with a tin cup and say ’I want mine,’" he said.Haines is ready to bring his idea to the council next month. Council staff analyst Mark Fina said that at this late date, the Council may not be "particularly receptive" to new proposals for the Bering Sea crab plan. "But no final action has been taken so technically the floor is still open. It’s the Council’s call," Fina said.He also suggested that crewmembers become involved with a committee that is now working up options for Gulf rationalization plans. Terry Haines has launched a Web site for deckhands to add ideas and comments. It is www.4alaskafishers.com.Seafood makes splash in AsiaAlaska seafood is making a big splash at the largest seafood show in Asia. Representatives from the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute are at the 7th annual China Seafood and Fisheries Expo at Tsingdao, a major hub for seafood and aquaculture industries. The Expo, which attracts more than 30 countries and 50,000 visitors, is considered the place for anyone wanting to find a way into the huge Chinese seafood market.This year the ASMI booth anchored the U.S. pavilion, and it’s the first thing visitors saw when they entered the hall. "We’ve got lots of good-looking fish in the case -- all five species of Alaska salmon, a whole cooked king crab in the center, and black cod, which is really popular," said ASMI export program director KC Dochtermann. Promotional handouts, recipe cards, posters, calendars, and other items translated into Chinese are also popular.Dochtermann said live products, like lobsters and giant geoduck clams, and oddities like alligator draw the most interest. He said there is definitely interest in Alaska seafood, especially salmon. "It’s not a traditional protein in the Chinese diet, but it’s starting to see more consumption every day. I always say if we could just get every person in Shanghai alone to eat just one pink salmon a day, our problems would be solved. If only it were that easy," Dochtermann said.Allergy alertWorkers on Bering Sea crab catcher/processor boats are routinely exposed to airborne crab allergens, and these are causing respiratory illnesses. That’s according to a study published last month by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.The OSHA study concluded that aboard processing vessels, up to 30 percent of the crab processing workers reported new respiratory illnesses, like bronchitis and asthma, which the authors believe may be related to crab allergens.Concentrations of allergens were measured in the air on five processing vessels. The vessel with the lowest concentration, and also where the crew reported the fewest symptoms, had cooking and butchering on two separate decks. Researchers believe that the protein tropomyosin that is found in shellfish triggers some allergic, seafood-related reactions. Other studies in land-based crab plants in Canada have shown similar results.Fish bitsSoutheast crabbers were getting upwards of $6.50 a pound for red king crab from a small fishery that will ended earlier this month. ... Kodiak crabbers will compete for a half million pounds of Tanners when the fishery opens in mid-January. Alaska longliners have less than 2 million pounds of halibut remaining in their 59 million pound annual catch limit. For sablefish (black cod), roughly 2.7 million pounds remain out of the 29.3 million-pound quota. Those fisheries ended on Nov. 18. ... New numbers are in for Alaska’s statewide salmon catch. The revised tally is just over 130 million fish, valued at a dismal $140 million.Kodiak-based free-lance writer Laine Welch can be reached via e-mail at [email protected]

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