Agency predicts more oil in petroleum reserve, ANWR

ANCHORAGE -- Undiscovered oil and gas reserves on federal lands on Alaska’s North Slope are much larger than previously estimated, according to a government report released May 16.The U.S. Geological Survey report says that the 23-million-acre National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska contains a mean amount of 9.3 billion barrels of recoverable oil, more than four times the amount predicted in a previous 1980 study.The report says even more recoverable oil, an estimated mean of 10.3 billion barrels, is in the 1.5 million-acre coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.By comparison, the Prudhoe Bay oil fields on the North Slope, the largest in the United States, have an estimated recoverable reserve of 12 billion barrels of oil and 30 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.The USGS says the NPR-A contains a mean of 59.7 trillion cubic feet of gas.The new study benefitted from sensitive seismic technology that can detect reserves that previously would have been nearly invisible, said Kenneth Bird, a USGS research geologist who presented the study at a news conference in Anchorage. A news conference also was held in Washington, D.C.The reassessment was prompted by recent oil discoveries at Phillips Alaska Inc.’s Alpine oil field, a 429-million-barrel field just east of the NPR-A. The Alpine field went into production last November and is performing better than expected.Bird said in doing the reassessment, USGS scientists extended the geologic trend found at Alpine west into the NPR-A."I think these numbers are very realistic given what we now know of the geology of the area," Bird said.The study underscores the importance of opening ANWR’s coastal plain to oil development, said Sen. Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska.The senator said the report proves that ANWR would be a better source for oil than the NPR-A because the area for drilling would be more concentrated and oil could be extracted more cheaply.The study says that if oil prices are below $35 a barrel, the refuge would be the better economic alternative. Prices above $35 a barrel favors the reserve. Alaska North Slope crude has been trading in the $27 a barrel range recently for delivery to West Coast markets."Development in the coastal plain would be far more concentrated, likely improving the economics and certainly lessening the environmental impacts," Murkowski said in a statement.The report, if anything, supports arguments to stay out of ANWR, said Eleanor Huffines, Alaska regional director for The Wilderness Society. If the report is right and substantial reserves can be found in the NPR-A, it makes even less sense to go into the refuge, she said.

Forest Service recommends no new Tongass wilderness

JUNEAU -- No new areas of the Tongass National Forest would be designated as wilderness based on a recommendation in a draft environmental impact statement released by the U.S. Forest Service May 16. But officials say the determination isn’t final."This is very much just a starting point. We haven’t closed the door to the potential of new wilderness recommendations," said Dennis Neill, Forest Service spokesman. "It’s certainly within the range of alternatives to make those kind of recommendations."In a three-volume, court-ordered analysis of possible new Tongass wilderness, the Forest Service recommends no action, in effect using a 1997 forest plan revision that was the result of "a significant collaborative effort," according to the draft. It doesn’t make sense to walk away from the previous work, said Larry Lunde, Forest Service project team leader."We need to let people come up to speed with the new information, work together and see if there’s another balance that works," he said.The idea of protecting undeveloped portions of the Tongass has been the subject of court battles and public hearings in recent years. Wilderness areas are created by an act of Congress and afford permanent protection against road building, logging and other development.The draft supplemental impact statement comes in response to a March 2001 order from U.S. District Judge James Singleton. His ruling said the Forest Service violated federal law by not considering some areas as eligible for wilderness designation in the 1997 Tongass Land Management Plan.In response, the Forest Service began work on a supplemental environmental impact statement last year, evaluating 115 inventoried roadless areas for additional protection.The draft study looks at eight possible recommendations, ranging from 723,000 to 9.5 million new acres of wilderness.Deirdre McDonnell, an attorney for environmental law firm Earthjustice in Juneau, said she was surprised the preferred alternative recommends no new wilderness."From our perspective, we certainly hope that they’re open to changing their minds when they see the public comments," she said. "I do think it’s significant in that it’s one of the first tests of the new administration in terms of protecting wilderness."Because only Congress can designate wilderness, areas selected in the proposal would be managed as "recommended wilderness" until congressional action occurs.Public hearings on the proposal are scheduled throughout Southeast Alaska in the weeks ahead, including a June 18 hearing in Juneau.

Mackenzie gas producers award pipeline contract

CALGARY, Alberta -- Natural gas producers in Canada’s Mackenzie Delta have awarded a contract for preliminary engineering work for a proposed pipeline to bring their rich natural gas deposits to southern markets.The project is a rival to the proposed natural gas line from Alaska’s North Slope.The Canadian contract, announced May 16, went to ColtKBR, a firm with deep roots in northern Canada and connections to Dallas-based Halliburton. The company has been involved with the pipeline proposal for several years.ColtKBR will study and design the routing of the pipe’s main line down the Mackenzie Valley, as well as ancillary facilities such as compressor stations and gathering lines. The company will also look at infrastructure such as roads, helipads, boat docks and camp locations, said Hart Searle of Imperial Oil Ltd.The contract includes helping the producers and aboriginal groups involved in the project through the regulatory process. It will provide cost estimates to help with the decision on whether the project, estimated to cost $2 billion, is economically feasible.The line would be expected to move a billion cubic feet of gas daily, about a fourth the proposed capacity of the line from the North Slope. It could be completed by 2007 at the earliest.Imperial’s partners are Shell Canada Ltd., Exxon Mobil Corp. and Conoco Inc., which is planning to merge with Phillips Petroleum Co. later this year."I think it sends the message that we are moving forward. We are building momentum and we’re striving towards completing the work we need to do to file our regulatory application," said Searle of Imperial Oil.Gas producers in Alaska have concluded that a pipeline route down the Alaska Highway is too expensive and risky to build at this point.ColtKBR is a long-term joint venture between Calgary-based Colt Engineering and Kellogg, Brown and Root, a subsidiary of Dallas-based engineering multinational Halliburton Co.

Your bank should fit your needs

Banks in Anchorage offer the marketplace the most selection and best quality in years. Whether you need the services of the large multi-national Outside headquartered institution or the community bank with local ownership and control, we have it all. But how do you decide which bank meets your particular needs?First of all, review the qualities of the bank. What does it feel like when you enter the bank? Are the employees smiling? Is there someone new to help you each time you enter the bank? Do they show an interest in you?Also, do the employees seem more interested in what is on their desk? What does the facility look like? Is it clean? Does it look like there is pride in the work environment?Ask for the mission statement to determine what is important to the bank. What authority do the employees you deal with have? Can they reverse a fee, approve a loan or are decisions centralized at some higher level?Is the bank making changes, such as updating its Web site, renovations or new products? Answers to these questions can help you determine if the bank is a good employer, fair, efficient, looking for better ways to serve and fun with which to do business.The second issue is, of course, what products do you need and which bank can meet those needs. Every commercial bank is a "deposit-taker" and "loan-maker." If all you need in a bank is a place to park money or borrow money, any bank will do. It’s worth checking fees and rates for the best deal and you may want to consider how loan decisions are made. Some banks have an automated scoring system, others involve a review by someone outside Alaska and others are reviewed locally.If convenience is a factor, review the locations available and methods of product distribution. Large banks can allow you to visit a branch while traveling statewide or nationally and are great for that Alaska student attending a college away from Anchorage.Other convenience features to ask about are the ability to deposit or borrow money through a bank’s Web site. Also, does the bank offer online banking? Can the bank receive your payroll electronically? How does the bank respond to telephone inquiries? Will the bank come to your place of business to pick up deposits, discuss loans or address other needs?Many banks offer a much greater portfolio of financial services than others. Some examples would be financial planning, trusts, investment management, credit card processing and even insurance.Finally, consider the safety of the bank. Often, answers to the first issue will provide clues: Employees smiling could imply the bank is doing well.What are ways to determine the safety of a bank? Chartered commercial banks are highly regulated. Financial statements are delivered quarterly and are available to the public.Rating agencies review banks quarterly and provide a "safety" grade. Do not take one agency’s rating at face value, however. Each rating agency establishes its individual grading scale. As any bank lender would tell you, "Get behind the numbers to determine the true financial condition."The three most widely known rating agencies that review Anchorage banks are Bauer Financial, Veribanc and Weiss. Each weighs risk differently.A recent example showed a local bank with satisfactory ratings from Bauer and Veribanc, but a weak rating from Weiss. Another received the highest rating from Bauer, "good" with Veribanc and barely "above average" from Weiss.As with any outside analyst’s review, don’t use a grade assigned by a rating agency as your reason for a decision. The safety grade assigned to a bank each quarter should prompt you to ask further questions of the bank.The bottom line is: Pick a bank that you like, that feels good to you, that you enjoy going to and that fits your needs.Ron Kukes is president and chief executive of Alaska First Bank & Trust. He can be reached via e-mail at ([email protected]).

Wilderness proposed in Chugach forest

ANCHORAGE -- The U.S. Forest Service is recommending that 1.4 million acres of Alaska’s Chugach National Forest be set aside as wilderness. But environmental groups weren’t pleased that none of the proposed wilderness is in the Copper River Delta near Cordova.The proposal came to light May 16 when the federal agency inadvertently posted a news release on its Internet site that said the Forest Service will ask Congress to protect a quarter of the 5.4-million-acre Chugach from logging, road-building, mining and other activities.The proposed wilderness area is around Prince William Sound. It marks the first wilderness recommendation by the Forest Service in more than a decade, the agency said.The forest currently has no areas congressionally designated as wilderness, which would put most development activities off limits."The public has an overwhelming desire to keep the forest as it is today, wild in character," wrote Denny Bschor, Alaska Regional Forester.Sen. Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska, welcomed the proposal. He said it creates new bear habitat conservation areas on the Kenai Peninsula and protects special areas while observing the spirit and letter of the "no-more" clause inserted into the Alaska Lands Act specifically to protect Alaskans from more administrative land withdrawals.The plan permits the current 1.8 million board feet level of yearly timber harvest to continue, Murkowski noted."Given the danger of wildfire on the Kenai due to the spruce bark beetle infestation, it is important that this plan provides the flexibility to improve forest health while protecting the unique areas of Prince William Sound that Congress had previously set aside for study as potential wilderness," he said.Environmentalists jumped all over the Forest Service’s plan, saying it fails to protect the biologically important Copper River Delta."I’m angry. It seems like the public process has been ignored," said Jim Adams, lawyer for National Wildlife Federation in Anchorage.Adams said thousands of public comments poured into the Forest Service, the majority expressing support for wilderness in the Copper River Delta, on the Kenai Peninsula and along the coast of Prince William Sound.Nicole Whittington-Evans, Wilderness Society assistant regional director in Alaska, was also disappointed with the area the Forest Service is recommending for wilderness designation."A good portion of it will be rock, ice, mud and sand," she said.Whittington-Evans said she supports the Forest Service’s decision to reduce the amount of Chugach on the Kenai that’s open for motorized use to 82 percent.

Russian center organizes visit with Anchorage health care providers

The American Russian Center in Anchorage is coordinating its first educational visit by health care professionals from the Russian Far East as part of a federal program.Ten program participants from Yakutsk and Khabarovsk will tour Anchorage health care facilities and agencies through June 9, said Irina Dubinina, project manager for the University of Alaska Anchorage American Russian Center. They arrived in Anchorage May 18.The American Russian Center has hosted six other Community Connections delegations, training entrepreneurs as well as educational and government officials.The U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs sponsors the Community Connections program, which aims to help develop a free-market economy in Russia. The Community Connections program for health care professionals seeks to promote professional development of Russian public health representatives.The program also works with other countries, formerly republics of the Soviet Union. Community Connections has trained more than 4,500 Russian entrepreneurs and other professionals in 50 U.S. communities in the past several years.Funding for the Alaska visit totals $29,000 for travel, administering the program and other costs, Dubinina said. Program funds come from a State Department grant.The center, which provides business training to Russian business people, has led more than 500 business and other courses to educate more than 18,000 participants since 1993.Dubinina has coordinated the itinerary, which includes visiting Anchorage health care professionals and facilities."I’ve been getting a lot of help from the medical community," she said.Program participants will attend lectures on health care management at the UAA College of Business and Public Policy, Dubinina said. They also will tour the Anchorage Neighborhood Health Center, the UAA School of Nursing and the Alaska Native Medical Center.Delegates will meet with representatives from private insurance companies, Hospice of Anchorage and the state Division of Epidemiology for information on HIV, hepatitis and tuberculosis programs.At Providence Alaska Medical Center, participants will learn about assisted living, cancer and telemedicine programs, Dubinina said.The American Russian Center also has arranged meetings for individual delegates. For example, one Russian HIV specialist will meet with representatives from the Alaskan AIDS Assistance Association.They also are scheduled to visit the Centers for Disease Control’s Arctic Investigation program, which studies infectious diseases and their affects in northern regions.The Russians may lend their expertise to Alaska health care agencies like the CDC program, said Jay Butler, director of the Arctic Investigation program."We have a lot of areas in common," Butler said.Butler and his staff may query the Russians for more information on infectious diseases in arctic areas, he said.The Russians’ visit to Anchorage aims to present advantages and disadvantages of some methods and programs, Dubinina said. The program is not a "panacea for their problems" but could help them understand risks and gains if they follow the Alaskans’ ideas, she said.

CIRI hit by Nevada gambling rules

ANCHORAGE -- Cook Inlet Region Inc. has hit a snag in its intent to reap casino profits from its Ritz-Carlton hotel, which is under construction at Lake Las Vegas.The Nevada Gaming Control Board has delayed a vote on CIRI’s request for a waiver from Nevada rules that could exclude some Native shareholders from receiving casino profits.Under Nevada regulations aimed at weeding Mafia influences out of the state’s gambling industry, anyone who has a criminal record or is incarcerated can be barred from sharing in casino revenue.Some of CIRI’s nearly 7,000 shareholders fall into that category. Thus they could be excluded from receiving profits, in the form of a dividend, from the Ritz-Carlton casino unless Nevada regulators grant a waiver, according to CIRI and Nevada officials.The Anchorage-based company and its partners hope to open the casino early next year.Mark Kroloff, CIRI’s chief operating officer, said the waiver is necessary because all shareholders must be treated equally under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, which created Native corporations in 1971.Although CIRI has invested in another hotel-casino at Lake Las Vegas, the company has not sought state permission to share in the gaming profits. It acts as a landlord at the Hyatt Regency, and another company runs the casino, Kroloff said.At the new Mediterranean-style Ritz-Carlton resort, CIRI would co-own the casino and hotel. The casino would be larger and more lucrative than the Hyatt’s, and that’s why CIRI wants a stake.Kroloff said the snag with Nevada gaming officials largely stems from their lack of familiarity with Native corporations, which are privately held outside the scrutiny of the Securities and Exchange Commission."This corporation doesn’t fit within the traditional framework,’’ Dennis Neilander, chairman of Nevada’s gaming control board, told the Anchorage Daily News. "The way our laws are written is to accommodate the normal corporation.’’Gaming officials and CIRI staff are investigating the relevant laws and searching for possible solutions.One alternative might be for CIRI board members and officers to undergo criminal background checks and be licensed by the Nevada Gaming Commission, Neilander said.CIRI has committed to investing $40 million in the construction and ownership of the hotel, according to the company’s annual report. It also plans to invest $24 million in the casino. CIRI’s partners in the development are Transcontinental Properties and investors Sid and Lee Bass.

Sealaska hopes to regain profitability in 2002

The past two years have not been kind to Juneau-based Sealaska Corp., the Alaska Native regional corporation for Southeastern Alaska. But things are changing.Sealaska expects to regain profitability in 2002 after a $21 million loss in 2001 and a larger, $122 million loss in the previous year.The corporation was hit by successive years of lower earnings from portfolio investments, due to the weak stock market, and particularly by the decline in high-tech industries that hit a plastic injection molding venture in which Sealaska had invested.It was a triple-whammy, too, because continued recession and weak economies in Asia contributed to lower earnings of Sealaska Timber Corp., Sealaska’s timber harvesting and marketing subsidiary that has been a big engine for earnings in past years.Chris E. McNeil Jr., Sealaska president and chief executive, said most of the 2001 and 2000 losses reflected write-offs on unsuccessful ventures and that after reorganizations the Southeast Alaska Native regional corporation will be back on track this year."We expect to be able to meet our targets in our core businesses," said McNeil.One of the corporation’s major businesses is timber harvesting and sales from Sealaska-owned lands in Southeast Alaska. While the volume of harvesting has been cut back only slightly, earnings have been hit in Japan and Korea, where Sealaska Timber Corp., subsidiary of the regional corporation, does most of its sales, McNeil said.Those markets, affected by economic recession and competition, now appear to be set for a rebound. Also, some competitors who had been aggressively selling softwood into Japanese and Korean markets, undercutting exports by Sealaska, have now switched to selling to China, according to Richard Harris, Sealaska’s senior vice president for natural resources. He said the switch should reduce competitive pressures in traditional markets somewhat.Sealaska remains big in timberBy the Journal StaffSealaska Corp. of Juneau was formed in 1972 along with the other Alaska Native corporations, following passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.Today Sealaska owns 290,000 acres of surface lands and 590,000 acres of mineral estate, and is the largest private landowner in Southeast Alaska.The corporation has a diverse number of business activities. Its Sealaska Timber Corp. is the last major timber operation in Alaska. Other major companies in the forest products industry were dependent on the Tongass National Forest for wood supply. Changes in federal policy in management of the national forest have reduced those supplies.Sealaska, however, harvests timber from its own private lands on a sustainable basis. Wood markets cycle, but Sealaska is expected to use its sustained yield to stay in the timber business for many years.During 2001, Sealaska Timber said 53 percent of its employees were shareholders in timber operations. An economic study in 2001 showed Sealaska and its timber contractors to be the largest private employers in Southeast Alaska.The corporation enjoyed 16 straight years of profitable operation until 2000. The corporation has paid dividends and distributions to its shareholders, many who live in Southeast Alaska, for 18 years.In 2001, Sealaska paid $1 million in dividends and distributions to shareholders and $360,000 in special payments to elder shareholders reaching their 65th birthday from an Elders’ Settlement Trust.Since 1981, the corporation has awarded more than $5.5 million in scholarships to shareholders and shareholders’ descendants. About $813,000 in scholarships were awarded in 2001. Sealaska is also now investigating new markets in China, McNeil said. The growth potential there is staggering due to the enormous market size, he said.Meanwhile, Sealaska Timber Corp. will harvest about 100 million board feet of timber from corporation-owned lands this year. The harvest level is about the same as in 2001 but is down from somewhat higher levels in earlier years.The corporation has also done a major reorganization of a plastic injection molding venture. A plant in Vancouver, Wash., jointly owned with Arctic Slope Regional Corp. of Barrow is being closed. Closure of the facility will be complete within two months, McNeil said.A second plant, owned wholly by Sealaska in Guadalajara, Mexico, is being operated under a joint venture by Nypro Inc. of Clinton, Mass. That joint venture has performed well, McNeil said.The plastics plant being closed served many customers in high-tech industries, making products that ranged from molded computer cases to components for printers, telephones and cameras.But the decline of high-tech industries nationwide in 2000 and 2001 was felt by Sealaska. The Washington plant served many small customers in the Pacific Northwest as well as a few large customers like Boeingand International Business Machines. It was particularly affected by the decline of the region’s technology industries, McNeil said.The plant in Guadalajara serves a more diverse group of international customers, mainly large multinational corporations, and fared better than the domestic plant, McNeil said.The apparent success of the Nypro joint venture demonstrates a path to success for future business investments, McNeil said. Sealaska’s new strategic plan has an emphasis on investing in businesses with experienced partners, like Nypro, rather than the outright purchase of operating businesses.Another venture Sealaska is getting out of, this one closer to home, is a small operation mining very high quality calcium carbonate limestone on Prince of Wales Island in southeast Alaska. Sealaska’s SeaCal subsidiary sold the product to Pacific Northwest customers who used it in manufacture of construction products like gypsum.Sealaska will sell the mine this year, possibly to a buyer better connected to the market structure, McNeil said. "The calcium carbonate we have is the quality and purity that could be used to make high-end coated paper," he said.One business relationship that is making good progress is a venture Sealaska has with the San Pasqual Band of Mission Indians, which owns and operates Valley View Casino near Escondido, Calif.Sealaska provided $14.7 million in start-up capital in the form of a loan and has a continuing profit-sharing agreement with the San Pasqual tribe. The casino opened in April 2001."There is now a year of operating performance with this casino, and they are seeing steady growth. They are located in a very good market area," McNeil said.Another business initiative that has hit stormy weather was a foray into the world of wireless communications in a joint venture with two other regional corporations, Arctic Slope Regional Corp. and Doyon Ltd., along with AT&T, the telecommunications giant.Sealaska has $40 million invested in Alaska Native Wireless, the joint venture. The group bid on potentially lucrative wireless licenses in major U.S. cities being auctioned by the Federal Communications Commission after the previous successful bidder, NextWave, filed for bankruptcy protection and was unable to complete payment to the federal government.The deal got bogged down in litigation when the former owner sued the government. Attempts at settlement also failed, and the issue is now before the U.S. Supreme Court.While it is in limbo, the wireless initiative is still on a track that will eventually see a resolution. Meanwhile, the FCC agreed to refund much of the money bid by the joint venture. The partners were receiving no interest payments while their funds were on deposit, despite the delays in the deal."Sealaska’s investment in Alaska Native Wireless is structured with AT&T Wireless Service in a way that we continue to earn an excellent return, regardless of the outcome at the Supreme Court," McNeil said.Meanwhile, as part of the agreement on refunding part of the deposit, Alaska Native Wireless was awarded licenses bid on in smaller Western state communities, including in Alaska.Sealaska also has a new initiative under way to form minority-owned companies to compete for federal contracts using competitive advantages unique to Alaska Native corporations, McNeil said. One company being organized in this manner is a sand and gravel sales entity. Sealaska has been in sand and gravel sales before, he said.

Legislature adjourns after five extra days

JUNEAU -- Weary legislators finally closed out a five-day special session May 22 after failing to find compromise on a bill extending the Regulatory Commission of Alaska.The House adjourned the second special session of the 22nd Legislature just after 5 p.m., with the Senate following within an hour. That followed two consecutive days in which private negotiations continued until past midnight, with no resolution.It was an anticlimactic conclusion, with most of the major work of the session, including the biggest school construction package in two decades, completed over the weekend.Legislators will be back in a month, though, to deal with the issue they left hanging.Several representatives made it clear that they’d like to reach out and touch Sen. Robin Taylor, a Wrangell Republican, who almost single-handedly dragged the session out at least an additional day.By blocking the RCA bill, Taylor has added fuel to the "phone wars" waged periodically at the Capitol between Alaska Communications Systems and General Communication Inc."Nobody wants to talk to him," House Majority Leader Jeannette James, a North Pole Republican, told reporters."One or two people are making us all look bad," said House Finance Co-Chairman Eldon Mulder, an Anchorage Republican.Taylor, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has agreed to only a three-month extension of the RCA’s life, which would "sunset" the agency on Sept. 30, 2003. As it stands, a one-year "wind down" of the agency would begin in six weeks, with the possibility that staffers would start looking for work and diminish the ability of the RCA to respond to complaints.Taylor has received campaign financing through ACS executives and lobbyists, while other legislators and Democratic Gov. Tony Knowles have been supported by GCI.The House, with just one dissent, approved a four-year extension for RCA, only to see Taylor try to bottle the legislation up in his committee and cast aspersions on the business practices of GCI.GCI, thanks to rulings by the commission, has broken into local phone markets previously monopolized by ACS, including Juneau, Anchorage and Fairbanks. ACS contends that it’s not being fairly compensated for use of its existing infrastructure. GCI officials say they’re worried that with RCA in a wind down, there will be no one "to call balls and strikes" on how interconnections are proceeding.Knowles has called a special session for June 24 to take up the RCA issue.

Statewide jobless rate declines in April

JUNEAU -- Alaska’s unemployment rate dropped to 6.7 percent in April as seasonal industries started gearing up for the summer, the state Labor Department reported May 17.While the jobless rate dipped from March’s 7.2 percent, it was still higher than April a year ago, when 6.4 percent of Alaska’s work force was looking for a job.Southeast Alaska showed a significant reduction, with that region’s rate falling to 7.6 percent from 9.1 percent in March. The rate a year ago was 7.0 percent. Juneau’s jobless rate in April was 4.9 percent, while Ketchikan’s rate stood at 9.6 percent, well above the 7.8 percent figure in April 2001.All regions but southwestern Alaska showed a decrease in the jobless rate for April compared with March. The April rate in Anchorage was 4.6 percent, while Fairbanks unemployment stood at 5.9 percent. The Gulf Coast region, which includes Kodiak and the Kenai Peninsula Borough, had a 9.9 percent jobless rate.Southwestern Alaska’s rate was 11.6 percent, with the Wade-Hampton census area there showing a rate of 20.3 percent, highest in the state. Lowest unemployment was in the Aleutians East Borough, part of the same region. The rate there was 3.5 percent.Statewide, the number of unemployed Alaskans dropped by 1,800 in April to 21,515.That figure was nearly 1,400 higher than April 2001, when 20,129 Alaskans were out of work.But the number of jobs has risen significantly over the last year, to 301,321 from 294,723 a year ago. That’s an increase of 2.2 percent.

Fishermen watch helplessly as killer whales eat longline catches

KODIAK -- Killer whales are stealing so many fish, at least one long-line fishery appears to be on its last legs.May 1 marked the start of the once-lucrative turbot fishery. Turbot is similar to halibut, and this year’s harvest should produce roughly 16 million pounds from Bering Sea and Aleutian Island waters.But in recent years, killer whales have been taking so many turbot from long-line hooks, the fishery is no longer profitable and boats have dropped out, down from 24 two years ago to just three boats today. "I was shocked," said fishery consultant Janet Smoker, a former federal fishery manager who now tracks catches for long-line vessels.Smoker said she’s reviewed data to see if there’s a pattern to killer whale strikes, so she could advise the boats about places to fish and places to avoid. "I was flummoxed. The whales seemed to be everywhere. On one day some boats had almost 70 percent of their catch taken. So they’ve really caught on to this," Smoker said. The whales also wreak havoc with sablefish catches.Long-time fisherman Bill Harrington has lost many of his catches to killer whales. He shared some of his anger, awe and observations about being out on the water with the whales."The night shift is the big ones with the huge, tall fins, the males. The day shift is the females with all their kids, teaching them how to do it from early on," Harrington said. "It’s hard to tell how many there are because they seem to be everywhere."All you can do, if you see them in time, is drop your gear and steam away 20 miles, then come back and have a couple of guys on top of the wheelhouse looking for fins. Then you start hauling back your gear and seven out of 10 times, the whales are there. Sometimes after you’ve hauled a set, they come up to the roller and three of them, side by side, stick their heads up, and they have that stupid little grin. They look at you just like a dog (and seem to be saying), ’Got any more?’"They’ve learned that you can’t see them on the port stern quarter with a shelter deck, so they come up on that side and go under the boat and eat your fish. Now, instead of being opportunists, they’re actual thieves. They sneak up on you and rob you. When you’re out there and you’ve spent all this money and time baiting up and setting out, and it’s all taken away from you, it’s really frustrating."I think they’re tuned into the hydraulics. It’s like a dinner bell."I hate them. Still, it’s fascinating to see them. They take your breath away. But I’d rather not see any more. It’s hopeless. They’re way smarter than we are."Monitoring the monitorsVessel monitoring systems are coming under scrutiny by fishery managers. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council is forming a committee to help evaluate VMS, an electronics system that is tracked by satellite and gives the location and speed of a vessel.Starting June 10, boats using pots, long-line and trawl gear are required by federal law to have the tracking system aboard. The VMS is intended to protect Steller sea lions by making sure that boats are fishing at defined distances from rookeries or haul-out areas.The VMS committee might come up with other options besides the one system that has been certified by the federal government. "We’ve been made aware of other systems that offer the same kind of monitoring, but also have two way communication and other features besides simply tracking the location of a vessel. We want to evaluate those alternatives," said council director Chris Oliver.The VMS committee will meet over the summer and report to the fishery council in October.Catfish fightIn the face of competing imports, the state of Louisiana and industry promoters are launching a National Catfish Awareness campaign. According to WorldCatch News Network, surveys revealed that 18 percent of Louisiana’s restaurants are selling too much foreign catfish, primarily from Vietnam.The campaign is beginning with free handouts of a large, red, white and blue decals for restaurants that states, "We proudly serve 100 percent all-American catfish." The state Department of Agriculture and Forestry will send a simple contract to restaurant owners who wish to participate in the campaign that states only American catfish will be served. The contract also gives the department permission to verify if the restaurant is serving American catfish.On a related note, the Fish Information Service reports that the U.S. Department of Agriculture will give the national catfish farming industry a boost by purchasing up to $6 million of breaded catfish products for school lunches and other federal nutrition programs. "Catfish producers have faced difficult economic times in recent years and this purchase will provide some assistance for producers," said Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman.In a USDA statement, Undersecretary Bill Hawks said that school children will be the primary beneficiaries of the catfish meals, but adds, "The Mississippi catfish industry, its thousands of workers and their families will also benefit from a more stabilized market from the federal purchase."Mississippi fish farmers have been hurt by millions of pounds of catfish coming into the U.S. in recent years.Kodiak-based free-lance writer Laine Welch can be reached via e-mail at ([email protected]).

Goldbelt Inc. keeping wary eye on tourism

Like its big sister, Sealaska Corp., Goldbelt Inc., Juneau’s urban Native village corporation, has seen some tough times. But it expects to do better this year.Goldbelt lost $3.4 million in 2000 and $4.4 million in 2001. This year is looking better but no projections are being made because of the unpredictability of the 2002 tourism season, according to David Goade, Goldbelt executive vice president.Goldbelt has invested heavily in tourism, but suffered in the sector last year. For years Goldbelt was also in logging, but has now completed harvesting of its lands, investing the earnings mainly in tourism, which despite its uncertainties is seen as a growth industry, Goade said.Goldbelt owns 32,000 acres of land in Southeast. Much of the land was owned for its timber value, which has now been realized, but the corporation has other large land holdings near Juneau which are prime for residential development.The capital city suffers from available land for growth. A long-term plan for development of Goldbelt land on west Douglas Island, near the city, offers Juneau room to grow, Goade said.Meanwhile, Goldbelt is a major player in the Southeast Alaska tourism business. A number of tourism-related companies operating in Southeast Alaska, including the Mount Roberts Tram, the 105-room Goldbelt Hotel, one of the capital city’s premier hotels, and a sightseeing vessel equipped for day cruises, are Goldbelt owned and operated, Goade said.While the 2002 tourist season is looking better than it did late last fall after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, key segments of the industry, such as independent travelers, are still very unpredictable, Goade said.The tram is now Juneau’s most visible landmark. From late spring through early fall, it carries tourists from downtown Juneau to the 1,800 foot level on Mount Roberts, one of the peaks towering over the capital city.Goldbelt was a partner in construction of the tram and is now its full owner. Ridership has steadily increased, exceeding 200,000 last year, Goade said.Goldbelt expects to do better than that this year with an expected heavy influx of cruise tour passengers to Juneau this summer.Cruise operators have added capacity and heavily marketed Alaska to fill the big cruise ships, and Goade thinks that riding the tram for $21 for sightseeing or hiking on the mountain is a bargain for a shore excursion.The corporation has also built a restaurant, a high-end gift shop and a theatre at the upper terminal of the tram. It has worked with the U.S. Forest Service to improve hiking trails and facilities for sightseeing on the upper mountain, an effort which included protecting areas of delicate vegetation, Goade said.Still, ridership on the tram is heavily dependent on the weather, which is unpredictable in Southeast, he said.The tram pulls its business from the big cruise ships, but the Goldbelt Hotel and day-cruise vessel operation are more dependent on independent travelers, which are still a question mark for the summer season, Goade said.Independent tourists tend to spend more money in Alaska than package tourists, and the smaller cruise lines, hotels and shore-excursion companies are more dependent on independent travelers.Business was down somewhat last year for tour-related firms, including Goldbelt’s, that cater to independents, mainly because of softness in the U.S. economy.Some of the smaller day-cruise operators in Southeast Alaska didn’t make it and have gone out of business, but Goldbelt was been able to sustain its cruise business through the tougher times.The company operates a 78-foot catamaran sightseeing vessel that offers tours of Glacier Bay and Tracy Passage, departing from downtown Juneau.As for the hotel, Goldbelt Hotel in downtown Juneau is holding its own, doing as well as any of the other major hotels in the capital, Goade said. Advance reservations are somewhat down for the upcoming summer season, but the tourist season is so unpredictable that this is not considered a reliable indicator, he said.Independent travelers are heavily influenced by swings in the economy and the economy is doing better this spring, which may influence more people to decide to take a vacation to Alaska, Goade said.Another strategic initiative by Goldbelt is a plan to develop lands it owns on the south side of Berner’s Bay as a residential community for the planned Kensington gold mine, which is across the bay on the north side.The 1,300-acre land tract would be developed in phases, but if the Kensington Mine goes ahead, the first part would be a residential community where workers at the mine could live and commute to their jobs by a ferry.The corporation has also been working with Coeur Alaska Inc., developer of the mine, to build a small vessel dock at Cascade Point, a few miles from the end of the existing Glacier Highway.The dock would serve vessels traveling to the mine, and could eventually be a terminal for state ferry vessels operating from Juneau to Haines and Skagway on northern Lynn Canal, Goade said.Operating from Cascade Point would cut hours off the ferry transit times from Auke Bay, the present terminal, to Haines and Skagway, Goade said.Ferry passenger and vessel traffic to Haines and Skagway are heavy during summer because those communities are tourist destinations as well as connecting points for highways to Yukon Territory and Interior Alaska.

Bond deal clears way for adjournment

State lawmakers approved $453.5 million in bonds and other capital project authorizations May 19 as they worked to adjourn a special session called after the regular 2002 legislative session ended May 16.A package of proposed general obligation bonds for schools, the Anchorage Museum and the University of Alaska totaling $236.8 million was approved May 19.Separately, legislators approved $226.7 million in transportation projects at the end of the regular session, May 16. Transportation funding included a mixture of general obligation bonds and reimbursement by the state for municipal bonds issued for ports and other local projects.The regular session was extended for two days from the required ending May 14, after 120 days, as the state Constitution allows.General obligation bonds must be approved by voters in the November 2002 state general election. Legislators made the municipal debt reimbursement contingent on voter approval of the general obligation bonds.Lawmakers are under the gun to build new schools and rehabilitate several old schools in rural Alaska under a state court decision that found bias in favor of urban schools in appropriations over several years.If voters approve, eight new schools would be built, and design and engineering would be done for five more new schools, mostly in rural Alaska. These are the top 14 projects on the state Department of Education priority list for school construction, and would be financed by $170 million in state general obligation bonds.Another $61.7 million in university projects and $5 million in improvements at the Anchorage Museum of History & Art would be paid for with general obligation bonds.Separate from the bond package, a number of urban schools would be built under the debt reimbursement scheme, where municipalities would issue bonds for school construction with 70 percent of the debt paid by the state.This is contingent on passage of the general obligation bonds under the legislation passed, but it did not include a total dollar amount.On other issues, the Legislature failed to take action on a plan to cover the state’s long-term fiscal gap when it concluded its regular session.A state personal income tax was passed by the state House, along with a proposed change in the way the Alaska Permanent Fund manages income that would make some fund earnings available to the state treasury.The state Senate did not approve either of these initiatives, nor another proposal passed by the House to use some permanent fund income to help fund municipal services.The only new revenue measure passed was an increase in state alcohol taxes, which would generate about $19 million per year.The expected fiscal gap, the difference between recurring state income, mostly from oil and gas, and state expenditures, will total almost $1 billion this year. The state will withdraw money from the Constitutional Budget Reserve, a state cash account, to cover the deficit.Lawmakers also failed to take up subsistence this year. When the Legislature calls itself into special session it can take up any issue, but subsistence was not included in the list of unfinished business included on the special session agenda.Knowles may yet call a special session on subsistence, his spokesman, Bob King said. Knowles may wait to see if there is any change in the position of key senators who oppose a constitutional amendment on subsistence before including it on the agenda of a special session he may call, King said.When the governor calls a special session, he or she sets the agenda instead of the Legislature.

Legislators pass bill allowing doctors to negotiate with insurers

Physicians would be allowed to form groups to negotiate with insurance companies under terms of a controversial bill approved by state lawmakers during a two-day extension to the regular 2002 session.The measure faced opposition, however, from other health provider groups, retirees and the Knowles administration. The bill is now on the governor’s desk for approval, or veto.Senate Bill 37, sponsored by Sen. Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks, would provide a way around federal anti-trust laws for doctors dealing with large insurance companies.Anti-trust laws are intended to prevent individuals, in this case physicians, from meeting to set monetary or other terms of business, but Kelly argued that the U.S. Supreme Court recognized that the public interest is not served by applying the laws strictly to doctors.They are at a disadvantage when dealing as individual practitioners with large insurance companies, Kelly said. The high court gave states the authority to provide limited protection from anti-trust laws for physicians, but the terms must be set out in state law, which SB37 accomplishes.Under the bill, groups of physicians would have to seek approval from the state attorney general to negotiate with insurers, and the state would oversee the negotiations.A position paper prepared last January by staff of the Federal Trade Commission for Rep. Lisa Murkowski, R-Anchorage, chairwoman of the Labor and Commerce Committee, warned that giving physicians exemption from anti-trust to negotiate monetary terms with insurers would lead to higher health care costs.However, Bob Lohr, director of the Division of Insurance, told the House Finance Committee that is is extremely difficult to eliminate cost considerations from discussions of things like critical necessity and quality of medical care."The Federal Trade Commission has said that it has never seen a negotiation over noncost issues that didn’t really have costs at the heart," Lohr said.Ed Sinton, a state attorney, said he doubted SB37 would pass muster with the Federal Trade Commission as meeting the terms of the exceptions from anti-trust laws for health care set out by the U.S. Supreme Court.The court required that the negotiations be done under state supervision and contemplated a form of regulatory proceeding where hearings would be held and witnesses called, Sinton told the Finance Committee.Senate Bill 37 allows only limited state oversight, he said. Once an agreement in a negotiation is reached, the state is required to approve it under the bill.The bill was opposed by insurance companies, nurse practitioners and the American Association of Retired Persons.Nurse practioners want to be excluded from the bill, but they argued that if physicians were allowed anti-trust exemption to negotiate, independent health practitioners like nurse practitioners and physical therapists could be affected and disadvantaged by the outcome of the talks.The AARP complained that the bill has no mechanism for consumer input.Lawmakers approve property tax exemptions for redevelopmentA bill extending the period for which muncipalities can grant exemptions from property tax for developers planning to rebuild derelict and rundown buildings was approved by state lawmakers during a two-day extension to the 2002 session.House Bill 389, sponsored by Rep. Vic Kohring, R-Wasilla, was approved by the Senate after earlier passing the state House. It is now before Gov. Tony Knowles.The legislation extends existing authority to grant such exemptions, which otherwise would have expired this July. One project the new law will help, if the governor approves it, is a plan to redevelop the derelict MacKay Building in downtown Anchorage.The project is stalled by financing problems, and an extension of authority for the Municipality of Anchorage to grant the developer an exemption from property tax will help secure financing needed to complete the project, Kohring said.Insurance pooling legislation dies as Legislature adjourns sessionA bill dealing with rising insurance costs for small businesses and nonprofit groups, as well as air carriers, failed to become law on the Legislature’s final day.Senate Bill 191, which would have allowed the state to form health insurance pools for small employers with two to 50 employees and nonprofit corporations, died when the Legislature adjourned without voting, in a technical procedure, to concur in a minor amendment.The bill was on the final calendar for approval after passing the House and Senate, but was left as unfinished business when the Legislature was required to adjourn after a two-day extension. The proposal is now dead.SB191 also included a provision that would have allowed air carriers to form insurance pools.The bill was important for small businesses, which have seen sharply rising health insurance costs, and for air carriers, which have been severely affected by higher insurance costs.

Canada wages campaign against gas pipeline tax credit

WASHINGTON -- Canadian officials are mounting a campaign of public criticism to stop a final bill from including subsidies for a natural gas pipeline from Alaska to the Lower 48.Canada’s ambassador to the United States, Michael Kergin, criticized a proposed pipeline loan guarantee and a gas tax credit in an opinion piece May 15 in the Wall Street Journal. The loan guarantee and the tax credit were approved by the U.S. Senate last month."Canada urges Congress to refrain from distorting the North American energy market," Kergin wrote. Canadian embassy spokesman Rodney Moore said the loan guarantee and tax credit could "have a negative effect on Canadian exploration and development."Meanwhile, a study paid for by Canada’s Northwest Territories government and released May 13 concluded that the Senate’s tax credit could cost U.S. taxpayers $16.4 billion to $43.8 billion over 15 years.Sen. Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska, has repeatedly stated that the tax credit, which he convinced the Senate to include in the energy bill, is not a subsidy. That’s because gas producers would be required to pay back any tax credits when prices are higher, he argues.However, the Northwest Territories’ report, written by the Houston, Texas-based Purvin and Gertz Inc., said the money is not likely to be repaid. The tax credit kicks in when prices are below $3.25 per million British thermal units at a central distribution hub in Alberta, Canada.Starting three years after the pipeline’s completion, the companies would have to begin paying back the tax credits whenever the price climbed above about $4.90 MMBtu.That threshold is so high, the payback requirement "is totally and completely irrelevant," said Roland George, the report’s author.George, of Calgary, Alberta, is Purvin and Gertz’s partner for North American natural gas. A price of $4.90 per MMBtu "has never been reached on a sustained basis," George said.The average price of natural gas at the Henry Hub in Louisiana in the 1990s was $2.15 per MMBtu, George said. The price at the Alberta Energy Co. hub was 60 to 70 cents below that, he said. As a result, it’s perfectly fair to describe the tax credit as a subsidy, George said."It’s basically one big channeling of funds away from the American taxpayers in the Lower 48," he said. "If I were in Alaska, I would be cheering."Murkowski spokesman Chuck Kleeschulte told the Washington bureau of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner that his office had not seen the report and could not comment on its conclusions.Murkowski was expected to hear more of Canadian concerns when he traveled to Rhode Island for an annual meeting between members of the U.S. Congress and Canada’s Parliament.Murkowski also met recently with Herb Dhaliwal, Canada’s minister for natural resources. The minister "emphasized that we were route-neutral and didn’t want the market distorted," said Moore, the embassy spokesman.The tax credit and loan guarantee are only in the Senate version of the energy bill. Both the House and the Senate bills prohibit a northern route across the Beaufort Sea and down the Mackenzie River valley.The two versions are to be merged in a House-Senate conference committee, though Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, and a member of that committee, says the bill may just die.The Northwest Territories wants the northern route used so that the line can also carry natural gas from the Mackenzie River Delta fields.

Permanent Fund picks new partner for D.C.-area mall

The Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. has reached a joint venture and management agreement with a new partner for a Washington, D.C.-area mall, one of the corporation’s major real estate assets.Tysons Corner Center, a 2 million-square-foot shopping center in McLean, Va., features major tenants Bloomingdale’s, L.L. Bean, Lord & Taylor, Nordstrom and J.C. Penney Co. Inc.The corporation reached a joint venture agreement with Wilmorite Properties Inc., which will own part of the Tysons Corner Center and manage the property. The Rochester, N.Y.-based company owns and manages 13 regional malls and two open-air shopping centers totaling more than 17 million square feet.The Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. retains its 56.5 percent ownership of Tysons Corner, said spokesman Jim Kelly. The corporation has invested more than $150 million in the shopping center since 1984, he said. In return, the property has "made a lot of money for us," Kelly said.Last year Tysons Corner had $700 million in sales from an estimated 22 million shoppers, according to Wilmorite Properties.Fund managers currently aim for a 6 percent annual return on investments. Tysons Corner has produced 9 percent, Kelly said."With our partner, we think we might be able to reach up to 10 percent," he said.The corporation had owned the mall with L&B Realty of Dallas, although that company planned for some time to unload its investment in Tysons Corner, Kelly said. The Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. chose not to increase its ownership in the mall and searched for a suitable partner, he said. Fund officials chose Wilmorite Properties because it didn’t have interests that could compete with Tysons Corner, Kelly noted.Wilmorite Properties expects to close on the joint venture agreement by June 30, said Mark Foerster, company executive vice president."We’re very excited to be in partnership with the permanent fund," he said.Tysons Corner, regarded as one of the top 10 malls nationwide, has been a good investment for the Alaska corporation, he said.The corporation’s real estate holdings, valued at $2.7 billion, accounted for 11 percent of the $25 billion fund, according to the most recent reports.The corporation’s real estate portfolio consisted of 58 investments last year. Three of the properties are in Alaska: part ownership of the Frontier Building in Anchorage and the Plaza Port West Shopping Center in Ketchikan, and full ownership of the Goldbelt Building in Juneau.

Economic downturn fans renewed interest in franchises

There is no experience to match walking the floor at a franchising trade show. The corridors reek of entrepreneurialism on the make. Franchisers pitch their wares with the fervor of evangelists. Prospects listen in rapt attention, visions of wealth shimmering before their eyes. It’s good old American capitalism in its purest, most-basic form: prepackaged enterprise to go, the same way we like our meals.I recently prowled the floor at the eleventh annual International Franchise Expo in New Orleans. More than 250 franchise companies were on the floor touting their concepts.I saw lots of food franchises, particularly pizza, ice cream and coffee; a plethora of personal services offerings from tanning salons to weight loss programs; home services galore including cleaning, glass repair, leak detection and drain cleaning; small business catered to with every flavor of Internet and Web service imaginable.Then there was the unusual: kiosks peddling low-cost replacement inkjet cartridges, in-home dog training, turn-key preschool academies, not to mention a concept that allows the customer to outfit a stuffed bear from hundreds of wardrobe choices and with a personally recorded sound chip.Seminars were packed with those eager to absorb the successes, failures and experiences of those who had previously trod the franchising pathway. There was lots of franchising "how to" available: How to select, buy, sell, negotiate and finance.According to Don Debolt, president of the International Franchising Association, economic downturns traditionally result in renewed interest in franchising. The growing unemployment rate, particularly among middle-management ranks, and driven by an increasing wave of corporate lay-offs, inevitably attracts the corporate dispossessed and the wannabe entrepreneurs. In addition those seeking the solace of self-employment within the confines of a proven game plan and a defined business space also attend.The reality of franchisingIn spite of its somewhat checkered history, franchising has revealed itself to be a proven concept with a resilience that has survived the test of time.The association estimates that there are now 1,500 franchise companies operating in the United States doing business through 316,000 retail units. Recent industry surveys provide a clearer profile and understanding of how the typical franchise operates today.The majority of franchises, 75 percent, reported an initial investment level below $250,000, not including real estate. Seventy percent charge an initial franchise fee of $30,000 or less. About one-third offer financing. Eighty-two percent set royalties as a percentage of sales, normally in the range of 3 to 6 percent.Most franchises, 72 percent, charge an advertising or promotion fee, traditionally a percentage of gross sales and commonly set at 3 percent. Two-thirds of reporting franchises have been in business 12 years or more, with retail food franchises enduring the longest; they have an average of 30 or more years under their belt.Yet it’s the psychology of industry and the changing temperament of American business that augur well for franchising’s continued viability and success. As America embraces and accepts the small office-home office environment, franchising provides an ideal point of entry for the budding small business entrepreneur.The appeal of a franchise includes a projectable income stream from a proven business concept, accompanied by an operating history and support structure that relieve the stress of the unknown and uncharted. The franchisee provides what he or she does best: some capital, heavy commitment to the business, a passion for reward and success and lots of hard work.On the negative side, franchising can approximate a minefield for those who don’t do their homework. At worst, outright failure can lie in the wings, or as is more often the case, the franchisee wakes up one day to the realization that it’s the same salary grind with no one else to write the paycheck. Disillusionment raises its head to ask, "Is this how it’s supposed to be? Is this as good as it gets?"Smart franchise prospects do their homework, then tie their selections and their futures to a partnership based on best available knowledge and proper due diligence.Alf Nucifora is an Atlanta-based marketing consultant. Contact him via e-mail at ([email protected]).

Airlines add new summer nonstop flights from Anchorage

The Anchorage summer visitor season lifts off this month with five airlines adding a total of 42 new nonstop flights per week through September.At Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, Air Canada, American Airlines, Continental Airlines and Northwest Airlines each are adding one daily nonstop seasonal flight, while United Airlines is adding two daily nonstop flights.Increased numbers of seasonal flights support the tourism industry and the added convenience of those flights can attract more visitors, said Bruce Bustamante, Anchorage Convention and Visitors Bureau president and chief executive."The increase in air service is critical in meeting high demand during the summer season," he said.Anchorage already has year-round nonstop flights to Minneapolis, Salt Lake City and Seattle, but summer generates increased demands on those routes and adds others, including Atlanta, Dallas-Fort Worth, Detroit and Los Angeles, he said."This is convenient for travelers originating from those cities, and it provides more inventory for connecting passengers since most are hubs," Bustamante said. "More flights equates to more options and greater opportunity and convenience for travelers to visit Anchorage."Linda Close, Anchorage airport marketing manager, said the additional flights provide direct revenue to the airport and spur the Anchorage economy.Additional summer nonstop flights between Anchorage and Lower 48 states affect passenger traffic, according to a July 2001 report by the University Alaska Anchorage’s Institute for Social and Economic Research. ISER’s Scott Goldsmith prepared the report for the airport, which funded it.Due mainly to visitors, the number of departing passengers at the airport has increased at an annual rate of 2.7 percent since 1990, the report said."In recent years there have been twice as many departing passengers during summer months compared to winter," the report said. "This seasonal pattern is becoming more accentuated over time as the visitor share of passenger traffic continues to grow."Last year an estimated 5.05 million passengers passed through the airport, up from 5.02 million in 2000, the study showed.Visitors at the airport, either Alaskans from other towns or out-of-state travelers, affect the state and city economy, Goldsmith wrote."We estimate that spending in Anchorage by visitors who arrive by air annually accounts for 6,051 jobs in the community and $115 million in payroll. Many, if not most, of the nonresident visitors continue on to other locations within the state and impact those economies as well."In May and early June airlines expand their daily service to Alaska, including additional new seasonal nonstop flights.This year, Air Canada picked up service from Anchorage to Vancouver, British Columbia, from now bankrupt Canada 3000, Close said. The air carrier expands Canada 3000’s previous three times a week service to seven flights weekly, she said.The service, which began May 13, runs through Sept. 15 and responds to a strong cruise market, company officials said. Many Alaska cruises use Vancouver as a home port.American Airlines is adding a new daily nonstop flight between Anchorage and Chicago this summer, Close said. When the company acquired Trans World Airlines it also picked up daily Anchorage flights to Dallas, Chicago and St. Louis, she said.Continental Airlines began a daily nonstop flight between Anchorage and Portland, Ore., on May 2. The company also operates daily nonstop flights through September to Houston and Newark, N.J. The flight between Anchorage and Newark begins June 13.Beginning June 7, Northwest Airlines will also boost its summer flights to Alaska. This year the company is adding a second daily nonstop flight between Anchorage and Detroit, Close said. Northwest boosts its twice-daily, year-round nonstop flights to Minneapolis to five daily flights through September.Northwest also operates a daily nonstop summer flight between Fairbanks and Minneapolis.Another factor affecting summer tourism passenger air arrivals should be Alaska Airlines’ new service to Boston and Denver from Seattle, as well as its flights to Washington, D.C., Close said.In April, Alaska Airlines began service to Boston with one daily flight from Seattle. The company will serve Denver with three daily flights from Seattle plus two from Portland, Ore., and one from Boise, Idaho. The airline recently increased its service to Washington, D.C., with a second daily nonstop flight from Seattle to Washington Dulles International Airport. Alaska Airlines already runs one nonstop flight to Dulles and another to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.

Senate approves minimum wage law

JUNEAU -- The state Senate voted May 16 to increase the minimum wage in Alaska to $7.15 an hour.The action was a reversal of a vote taken the previous day.Senators had voted down the measure 13-7 on May 15, with several opponents saying they did not like a provision that would automatically adjust the wage upward with increases in the Anchorage consumer price index. The Senate reconsidered the bill May 16 and approved it 19-1, with only Sen. Loren Leman, R-Anchorage, voting no.The current minimum wage is $5.65 an hour. The increase in House Bill 56 would take effect in January.The action means an identical citizens’ initiative to raise the wage will not appear on this fall’s general election ballot.Senators did not debate the issue and offered no explanation for their change of heart.There is speculation that Republicans would like to keep the minimum wage issue off the ballot because the measure could draw working-class voters to the polls, who are more likely to vote for Democrats. Rep. Pete Kott, R-Eagle River, has said that was not his motivation for sponsoring the bill.Kott had proposed a smaller increase in 2001 but changed his bill this year to match the ballot initiative.He has said it is better for the Legislature to address the measure than leave it to voters.That way, if legislators decide to change the inflation provision, they can do so next year, Kott said. If the change were made through a ballot initiative, they’d have to wait two years.The Senate and the House have also approved a bill that would let remote seafood processors deduct room and board from their workers’ pay even if that drops their take-home pay below minimum wage.

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