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STATEKnowles picks Coffey for federal fish board ANCHORAGE -- Gov. Tony Knowles nominated a former state Board of Fish chairman to a federal panel overseeing North Pacific fisheries.Knowles announced Oct. 7 that he wants Dan Coffey to fill the seat vacated on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council by Soldotna developer Bob Penney.Coffey, an Anchorage attorney, served two terms on the state Fish Board after being tapped by Knowles in 1996.Penney had earlier submitted his resignation, saying he has pressing business out of state.U.S. Commerce Secretary Donald Evans will make the final appointment.Knowles nominated Coffey to replace him and also submitted the names of former Sitka charter guide Bill Foster and sportfisherman Ben Ellis of Soldotna.The 11-member North Pacific Fishery Management Council manages fisheries in federal waters off Alaska’s shores.NATIONEchoStar, Hughes seek FCC delay in mergerWASHINGTON -- EchoStar Communications Corp. and Hughes Electronics asked federal regulators Oct. 7 to delay a decision on their proposed $26 billion merger, which would create the largest pay-TV service in the country.In a letter to Michael Powell, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, the companies asked for more time to discuss the possibility of major revisions with the Justice Department, which is reviewing the merger for antitrust implications.It says the companies have agreed to submit proposed remedies which will be discussed with the Justice Department Oct. 28. Company spokesmen would not elaborate what types of changes are being contemplated.EchoStar runs Dish Network; Hughes operates DirecTV. Together they serve about 18 million subscribers.WORLDU.N. study: Technology eliminates mining jobsGENEVA -- More than 3 million miners’ jobs have been slashed in the past five years -- a decline of nearly 32 percent worldwide -- despite an increase in mineral production, the United Nations’ labor agency announced in a report released Oct. 7.The decline is largely due to the closing of older, less efficient mines and the opening of newer, less labor-intensive ones which require fewer workers, said the report, prepared for a meeting of industry experts from 45 countries this month in Geneva.Global competition and improved technology are also increasing pressure on older mines in traditional mining centers, such as eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, forcing them to cut costs or close.-- Compiled from business wire services.

'New Natchiq' refocuses strategy to concentrate on Alaska

Natchiq Inc., the oil and gas services subsidiary of Arctic Slope Regional Corp., sees opportunities in Alaska’s maturing North Slope oil fields, and is refocusing its business strategy to concentrate on its home market in Alaska."This is a new Natchiq," said Mike Stophlet, who has been the company’s chief executive since last May.Natchiq’s near-term goal is to expand the range of technical services it offers in Alaska, partly to provide job and career opportunities for the Inupiat people who are shareholders of its parent, ASRC, Stophlet said.Its long-term objective is to gain experience so it can someday operate North Slope production facilities and even oil and gas fields, including fields in which its parent, ASRC, might have an equity interest, said Jack Laasch, Natchiq’s vice president for external relations.Nastchiq wants ASRC’s shareholders to have good-paying careers near home, operating oil and gas fields on lands they own, Stophlet said.Natchiq grew fast in the 1980s and 1990s providing oil field maintenance and pipeline construction services to North Slope oil producers.In the late 1990s the company expanded into the U.S. Gulf of Mexico and Canada through acquisitions. It is also working in Sakhalin, in the Russian Far East, in partnership with Russian companies.Today Natchiq employs about 3,500 people, about a third of them in subsidiaries outside the state, Laasch said.APC Natchiq Inc. provides operations and maintenance services in several oil fields. Houston Natchiq Inc., Natchiq’s pipeline subsidiary, is the principle builder of pipelines in Alaska and provides maintenance services to Alyeska Pipeline Service Co., which operates the trans-Alaska oil pipeline.In the U.S. Gulf, Natchiq owns Omega Natchq Inc., which provides maintenance and operations support for offshore platforms. In Canada, the company owns Tri-Ocean Natchiq Engineering Inc., which provides petroleum-related engineering services in Canada, Alaska and Sakhalin.The company earned $455 million in revenues last year and is the largest contributor of revenues to its parent, ASRC, which had about $1 billion in revenues last year, according to Laasch.Stophlet’s new plan is a change from the past, however."We still see opportunities to diversify outside Alaska, but we want to concentrate on opportunities closer to home, to better understand our Alaska market and grow in it," he said."Our expertise has always been in the Arctic. It’s where we started," Laasch said.Along with a refocusing of goals has come aggressive cost-cutting, Stophlet said. The company has reduced its corporate overhead by 38 percent in the last year, he said.At a time when its oil producer customers in Alaska are increasingly cost-conscious, Natchiq wants to similarly cultivate a culture of thrift, to be seen as delivering good value for its customers and its owner, Stophlet said.Much of Alaska’s oil services industry was established when production was increasing in the North Slope oil fields, Stophlet said. The focus was on construction and development.Now that the oil fields have reached their peak or are declining, there are opportunities for contractors to provide other kinds of services, Stophlet said.To take advantage of this, Natchiq Technical Services Inc. , a subsidiary, has been formed to provide services like geological and geophysical analysis, he said. Engineering services in support of drilling is another area in which Natchiq will expand, he said."We won’t operate the drill rigs but we’ll deliver technical services to drilling," Stophlet said.These services can be profitable, and they involve less capital expenditure compared with Natchiq’s other support work, such as building pipelines, Stophet said.Although Natchiq is refocusing on Alaska, its diversification strategy has served the company well in achieving the new goal because it has acquired new expertise in fields like engineering and the design and fabrication of automated control systems.The market for technical services is growing as the major oil-producing companies reduce their staffs and contract out for services, and as smaller independent companies appear in Alaska, Stophlet said."In the Lower 48 states the independent companies traditionally operate with very lean staffs. They hire contractors to do work done by employees of the larger producing companies," he said.One example is that Natchiq is providing drilling support services to Armstrong Oil and Gas Co., a Denver-based independent that plans to drill three exploration wells on the North Slope this winter, Stophlet said."Our goal is to offer a complete range of services from the producing formation all the way to the pump station," he said.

Employers who mistreat employees can pay a large price

The Alaska Supreme Court has reaffirmed its view that when an employer treats an employee poorly, it will not hesitate to affirm a substantial award of punitive damages against the employer.In the case of Central Bering Sea Fisherman’s Association and Carl Merculief vs. Susan Anderson, decided Sept. 6, the Alaska Supreme Court upheld a jury award of $400,000 against the employer and $200,000 against the president of the association.Susan Anderson worked as an economic development project coordinator for the nonprofit economic development organization of fishermen on St. Paul in the Pribilof Islands. In addition, she performed bookkeeping supervision and accounting duties.Shortly after she began working, staff members began reporting financial irregularities and suspected theft by Anderson’s predecessor. The organization’s day-to-day bookkeeper also reported to her that the association president "had been charging personal expenses to the association’s credit card without submitting the proper reimbursements."The organization’s attorney commissioned an audit to look into the allegations, most of which were ultimately supported by the findings of the audit.In the meanwhile, Anderson was suspended without pay. She also "received a call ... from an industry colleague who had been told that Anderson no longer worked for the association and that she had been fired."The association held a board meeting at which time Anderson was accused of "breaking into association offices; illegally accessing the association’s computers; stalking Merculief; making death threats; and retaliating against the association by accusing Merculief of wrongdoing after she was suspended."Early in the process she had gone to two board members to inform them of the allegations of the misappropriated company funds. At the board meeting, neither of the board members acknowledged that Anderson had raised her concerns prior to her suspension, not after.Anderson sued for constructive retaliatory discharge, promissory estoppel and defamation. The jury awarded her $15,000 for emotional distress and $20,000 for loss of reputation. It also made awards of $20,000 for lost back wages and $217,000 for lost future wages. Finally, the jury awarded punitive damages of $400,000 against the association and $200,000 against Merculief personally. The court found, and the jury was so advised, that the association had agreed to indemnify Merculief for any punitive damage award against him.On appeal, the entire verdict was upheld except the award of lost income. The court held that the record reflected that the parties had anticipated a one-year term of employment and reversed the award of lost compensation to reflect such as a measure of damages. As a result, the award for lost income was reduced to approximately $13,000. The sum was derived from the one-year lost income reduced by the earnings from Anderson’s subsequent job during the same period.However, the court had no trouble affirming the punitive damages award. "After Anderson reported Merculief’s misdealings, Merculief and the association board spread vicious lies about Anderson, accusing her of stalking Merculief and of personally and professionally threatening colleagues." The evidence supports the conclusion that the appellants made these statements deliberately, in order to "get rid of" Anderson, destroy her credibility and hide the extent of ongoing financial misappropriations within the company.The defendants’ strategy proved to be a very costly approach to the issue. The punitive damages equaled nearly 9 percent of the company’s unrestricted assets.Paul S. Wilcox, an attorney and mediator, is chairman of the labor and employment practice at Hughes Thorsness Powell Huddleston & Bauman LLC in Anchorage. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected]

Firm finds success in shadow of arches

Hong Bae is proof that a little guy with a bigger -- and arguably better -- burger can do just fine in the shadow of the golden arches.McDonald’s never intimidated Bae when he opened Burger Jim’s a block north of the hamburger Goliath 11 years ago, said Naomi Bae, Hong’s daughter and restaurant manager.When McDonald’s relocated their 30-year-old building a half-mile down the Old Seward Highway in August, the Bae family looked upon the move as a non-event."Our business has not gone up or down," Naomi Bae said. "It’s the same. No difference."The fact that they both serve hamburgers is the only common thread between the two restaurants, said Naomi Bae, a Korean-American.Burger Jim’s burgers are a little more expensive, but they’re a lot bigger and much tastier, said Bae."Our kids’ meal hamburgers are a quarter pound," Naomi Bae said.Burger Jim’s has three locations, and all are independently owned, Bae said."My customers are my customers," Bae said. "(McDonald’s) customers are my customers. Sometimes they go over there for the price. They come over here for the taste."It’s hard to argue with the hamburger giant’s claim of more than a billion burgers sold.Sherry Nixon, operations manager for McDonald’s corporate-owned restaurants in Alaska, said business has increased substantially in the new location near mega-retailers Kmart, Sam’s Club and Sports Authority."It’s definitely been a very successful move," said Nixon who manages a dozen of the corporate-owned restaurants in the state. Another 20 or so McDonald’s across the state are franchises.The old building north of Dimond Boulevard opened in the early 1970s, was run-down and expensive to maintain, Nixon said.The hamburger icon began building its replacement restaurant in May and reopened there in late August. There was a five-day shutdown during the transition period, Nixon said.Besides the Taco Bell next door, the new McDonald’s other competition consists of a nearby Burger King, and, yes, another McDonald’s.From the new location’s double drive-through, customers can see the golden arches on the side of the Wal-Mart across the street.Nixon said the two locations actually compliment each other, and have different marketing approaches.The McDonald’s within Wal-Mart is designed to "capture" customers who get hungry while shopping.Nixon said the two stores could be the company’s closest situated restaurants in the world, and stand as a testament that Anchorage has become a big city.Larry Baker, president of Restaurants Northwest Inc., which operates 22 Burger King restaurants in Alaska, said the new McDonald’s is helping his nearby franchise, where sales have gone up.In the retail business, it’s called the herding instinct, where businesses move to different shopping "focal points." The more choices, the more business for all involved, Baker said.

Brokers track value of halibut, sablefish individual fishing quotas

KODIAK -- When the individual fishing quota plans for halibut and sablefish were implemented in 1995, Lynn Walton founded Access Unlimited, the first brokerage to buy and sell quota shares. Quota shares are divided each year among holders, each holding different amounts, and based on the total poundage in the annual catch quotas."A second generation of IFQ buyers is now starting to dominate the marketplace, and it’s changing the way these things trade, and their perceived worth," said Walton.Walton said it has been interesting to watch as this new market has evolved. "We’re moving out of the market that’s dominated by initial (quota) allocants who have a lot of asset strength," she said. "Those guys play the game very differently than the new ones who have smaller assets. They are not going to pay the kind of prices some of the big hitters did off the get-go. They just can’t make it work."Olivia Olsen of Petersburg-based Alaskan Quota & Permits agreed. "The newer breed of IFQ fishermen are conservative and closely watch their bottom line," she said. "What I’m hearing from nearly all the fishermen is that they want to continue fishing, they like the lifestyle. But not at any cost -- they do want it to be profitable."The IFQ Business has been brisk this summer, based in part on increasing fish prices. Walton said values are highest for quota shares in the Southeast and Central Gulf regions, and they start dropping as you go west."For halibut, you’re looking at a bottom end of $6.50 up to $8 or so," Walton said. "Some of the bigger properties are almost impossible to find. Sablefish seems to hover in the $6-$7 range, with larger properties at $8-$9. West Yakutat is definitely a preferred property and it is very hard to come by. That’s circling at $10."Walton added, "I don’t think the prices will move a lot."She said IFQ harvesters are paying close attention to reports of farmed halibut and sablefish already making it to market. "There’s a lot of concern about the ability to compete," she said.Shelley Thissen of Thissen and Associates in Kodiak reminds fishermen that they are involved in a stock market situation. "They’re fishermen, but they have to view themselves as having stock in the fishery. It’s a business at the stock market level," she said.Brokers agree that today’s IFQ holders are better informed about the overall business of fishing. "A lot of these guys are fully aware of what the market is doing -- what the dock prices are, what the price is at Safeway, and what’s in cold storage holdings," Walton said.Salmon fishing and the lawIdeas and proposals on how to fix Alaska’s salmon industry are circulating all over the state. Buybacks, co-ops, salmon IFQs, and fish traps all raise many legal and constitutional questions, and it’s important to understand what can and can’t be done under the law.That is the focus of a University of Alaska workshop titled "Options for Restructuring Alaska’s Salmon Industry" scheduled for late October. The gathering will provide some new information to those who are charged with determining changes in the salmon industry. "It will help the industry become more informed about itself," said economics professor Gunnar Knapp at the University of Alaska Anchorage Institute of Social and Economic Research.The purpose of the two-day event is to help people better understand the specific legal issues that underlie all the proposals now being scrutinized by the Legislative Salmon Task Force. "I don’t think that’s been discussed, and yet it’s a critical part of what we can or can’t do with some of the ideas that are floating around," Knapp said. The workshop is free and open to all. It takes place Oct. 28-29 at the UAA Commons in Anchorage.Cod farm progress in NorwayA Norwegian company, Lofilab, has produced between 700,000 and 800,000 cod fry, which could represent 3,000 tons of farmed cod ready for the market in three years. The Fish Information Service reported that this is the first time such large-scale production of cod fry has succeeded. "This is the breakthrough we have waited for and believed in all these years," Arne Kolbeinshavn, Lofilab managing director, told FIS.The fry have already been sold and will end up in cod farms along the Norwegian coast. FIS said there have been challenges for the baby cod producers; last year the company lost half its fry due to cannibalism. This year another problem surfaced. Norway’s extremely warm summer temperatures caused stress to the fry and resulted in more mortality. "The fry still have to be vaccinated, which could lead to added stress for the fish," FIS reported.Kodiak-based free-lance writer Laine Welch can be reached via e-mail at [email protected]

Alaska's highways star at upcoming meeting

Joe Perkins’ Lower 48 contemporaries often grumble about the seemingly unfair amount of money Alaska gets from the federal government for roads and other transportation improvements.Perkins, commissioner of the state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, has helped schedule a conference at the Egan Civic & Convention Center in Anchorage this month to show fellow state commissioners and their entourage the unique and expensive transportation needs of Alaska.And in the process, the more than 1,200 visitors attending the American Association of State Transportation Officials annual conference Oct. 11-15 are expected to spend more than $1 million, according to Glee Anderson, a manager at the Anchorage Convention & Visitors Bureau.Outside and local vendors hawking everything from "software to asphalt" also will be at the Egan Center, Perkins said.The conference should achieve several results by a single action. More like three or more birds with a single stone, he said."It’s going to give them a chance to see our needs and gives us more of a justification to the amount of dollars we get," Perkins said. "It should be a pretty nice economic shot, especially in mid-October."Perkins is chairman of the association’s standing committee on highways, which, among other things, helps establish design standards for the nation’s roads and bridges. He also is a candidate for the association’s vice presidency this year.Perkins said he intends to give folks ferry rides on the state’s Marine Highway System, as well as some excursions on less-than-perfect highways in the state.Perkins, who was appointed by Gov. Tony Knowles 1995, said the state has invested nearly $3 billion during his tenure as DOT&PF commissioner.He intends to show off successful projects like the current $350 million upgrade and expansion at the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport and the 2.5-mile Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel which opened Whittier to road traffic in 2000."It’s a chance to show off our professionalism," Perkins said. "I’d put our department’s professionalism against any department in the Lower 48."The Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century, more commonly known as TEA-21, expires at the end of the year.Don Young, R-Alaska, is chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and is the principal architect in crafting the nation’s transportation program over the next several years.Perkins said Alaska gets $6 for every dollar it contributes from gasoline taxes, about three times the next closest state, Wyoming, receives.That ratio is glaringly conspicuous with Young’s colleagues in Congress and with Perkins’ commissioner contemporaries, with some saying Alaska is getting an unfair cut of the transportation money.But Young and Perkins argue that Alaska’s transportation needs are greater than other states, since it has historically lagged behind on project funding, with about $8 billion needed to bring the state’s roads and transportation facilities to an acceptable level.Alaska stands to win big in the legislation rewrite, with its sole congressman promising major upgrades to the state’s entire transportation infrastructure, including airports, marine highways, railroad, harbors, roads, bike paths and bridges.Funding for transportation infrastructure in Alaska is not pork barrel, as some of his colleagues might think, Perkins said. Alaska must continue upgrading its entire transportation infrastructure, including airports, marine highways, harbors and roads to compete economically with other states -- and countries, he said."Some think everything is frozen up here and we don’t need roads," Perkins said. "The more people that know about us and our problems the easier it is on our Congressional delegation."Young and U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta have been invited to the conference and are scheduled to speak Oct. 14.Anderson, of the Anchorage Convention and Visitors Bureau, said her group has worked since 1998 with Perkins and several businesses to land the annual state transportation commissioner conference.

ABA, AK Bar offer online, free CLE opportunities

The ABA offers dozens of online CLE courses, at a general rate of $59 for 1.5 hours. Practice areas with the most CLE courses available include Business Law, Labor and Employment, Litigation and Real Property. Other categories include Criminal Law, Dispute Resolution, Estate Planning and Probate, Health Law, International Law, Professional Responsibility, and many others.For the best bargain, log on to the ABA’s web site at www.abanet.org to experience the new additions to the Young Lawyers Division Online CLE library. The YLD Online CLE library now proudly boasts 8 FREE CLE programs, including 4 video and 4 audio programs. You do not have to be a member of the YLD in order to participate in the programs; they are open to all ABA members. Have your ABA member number handy to log on along with your password (your last name) to watch or listen to presentations on cutting-edge issues.The YLD online CLE library now includes: Secrets of Success Under Revised Article 9, Masters On Depositions, How to Conduct a Killer Cross-Examination, Ethics 2000 & Your Practice, Digital Evidence and the latest additions from the 2002 Annual Meeting in Washington D.C.: DNA Evidence (video), Legal Issues in a Cooling Economy (audio) and Hot Topics in Labor and Employment (audio).To begin learning more about your free CLE opportunities with the ABA YLD, go to www.abanet.org/yld/clematerials.html. The general ABA CLE link on the ABA web site also offers "complimentary" CLE opportunities.

Alaska feels lockout squeeze

Except for some slightly skimpy store shelves, and a shortage of such things as pizza cheese and burger-joint onion rings, Alaska seems to have weathered the West Coast dockworker lockout well, thanks to a deal brokered by the state’s political leaders and increased truck, barge and air shipments.Nearly every available truck in Alaska and Washington was pushed into service during the weeklong shipping shutdown, which ended Oct. 4 when the Pacific Maritime Association agreed to hire longshoremen to load ships owned by Totem Ocean Trailer Express Inc. and CSX Lines LLC. The Alaska-bound ships at the Port of Tacoma were being loaded under an exemption to the lockout for 29 ports along the West Coast.On Oct. 8, a federal judge ordered an end to the lockout for an 80-day "cooling off" period at the request of President Bush.Meantime, convoys of trucks -- as many as 80 at any given time -- were en route to Alaska from Washington state during the weeklong shutdown, trucking companies said.Normally, only a fraction of that amount of cargo comes over-the-road."We have options," said Blaine Ghan, Anchorage terminal manger for Lynden Transport Inc. "No one is going to starve."Two days before the Alaska agreement was reached between shippers and longshoreman, Ghan said the company was "running as many trucks as we possibly can to keep our customers supplied."The 2,400-mile trip from Seattle to Anchorage takes about 55 hours, said Harry McDonald, president of Carlile Transportation Services Inc., one of Alaska’s largest trucking companies. Carlile had as many as 35 trucks on the road "as soon as we saw trouble start," McDonald said.The Anchorage-based company generally has only a handful of trucks coming up from Seattle at any given time, McDonald said.By various estimates, a third or more of produce shipped to Anchorage comes over the Alaska Highway by truck, a mode of transportation that in the last 10 years has taken a big bite out of waterborne produce shipments.Nearly all produce shipments to Fairbanks and to the North Slope come over-the-road directly from the Pacific Northwest, according to produce wholesalers.The Alaska Highway keeps Alaska linked to Outside. Trucking is faster than waterborne shipments, but it comes at a premium."It’s not like Hawaii," McDonald said. "If it’s available in the U.S. or Canada, it can get here, it’s just a matter of cost."Seattle-based Lynden’s subsidiary, Alaska Railbelt Marine, also stepped up shipments during the shutdown, making more room on its barges for groceries and other products, according to Alaska Railroad Corp., a joint-venture partner with the shipping company.Rail cars are loaded onto rail-equipped barges. Goods that come to Alaska by barge and are then transferred to rail usually only include bulky, time-insensitive supplies such as pipes and heavy equipment used in oil field operations and maintenance.Ed Spaunhurst, president of Northland Services Inc., said barge shipments were doubled from Seattle to Anchorage during the shutdown, "mimicking" normal waterborne shipments, albeit slower. Large Alaska-bound cargo ships normally make the journey to Alaska in three days, whereas barges take eight to 10 days, Spaunhurst said.Some 2,500 cargo containers arrive in Anchorage weekly, the majority of which are handled by CSX and TOTE. The Port of Anchorage serves more than 80 percent of the state, according to port officials. A day before longshoreman went back to work, Spaunhurst said the combination of truck, barge and air shipments -- while they didn’t match the large cargo ships’ capacity -- still kept Alaska supplied."The impact hasn’t been too much on the state," Spaunhurst said.Joe Van Treeck, president and chief executive officer of Matanuska Maid Dairy, said things could have been worse had Alaska not been exempted from the shipping shutdown."This actually should refill the pipeline and postpone any future problems by a week or two," Van Treek said.The Alaska-owned dairy uses raw milk from Canada and the United States to supplement its local product. The raw, or bulk milk, normally comes by ship.Van Treek said the dairy producer was able to keep pace with demand during the weeklong lockout, but just barely. The company had to ship some of its raw milk and some packaging materials over-the-road.Van Treek said his company, like most others, will eat the cost of the additional shipping charges. But companies’ bottom lines will be affected."There will be a huge economic upcharge on this," Van Treek said.Larry Baker, president of Restaurants Northwest Inc., agreed. Baker’s company operates 22 Burger King restaurants in Alaska and normally gets its supplies from waterborne shipments.But the dockworker lockout had his company shipping 44,000 pounds of french fries from the Lower 48 by truck, at a cost of $2,500 more than if it came by ship.Burger King restaurants in Alaska did run out of onion rings for a time and got to dangerously low levels of hamburger, Baker said.Some beef and other packaging products were shipped up by airplane at a tremendous cost to the company, Baker said.Burger King’s biggest competitor, McDonald’s, uses trucks to get most of its product to Alaska, said Sherry Nixon, operations manager for McDonald’s corporate-owned restaurants in Alaska.Steve Rice, owner of Round Table Pizza in Anchorage, said he had to ship cheese and dough by truck, which will eat into his profits by 6 percent.Rice said he’ll absorb the additional costs and not pass it on the his customers. But he’s not happy with the dockworker lockout, which has nearly paralyzed parts of the country, at a tremendous cost."They can’t be allowed to embargo their own country," Rice said.While waterborne cargo has been reinstated for Alaska, dockworkers and shipping companies at 29 other West Coast ports continue to fight over pay and job-cutting technologies.

Railroad projects await environmental approval

EAGLE RIVER -- A project to realign the railline between Eagle River and Knik River will begin next summer as long as the Federal Transit Administration approves the environmental assessment.Alaska Railroad officials, in a public meeting Sept. 30 in Eagle River, discussed plans to realign 30 curves on their railline and answered questions about the timeframe and scope of a project that has been in the works for almost four years.The project made a crucial step forward last month when the environmental assessment was released for public review. Those involved in the project say, barring any unforseen holdups, the work is on track to begin next summer and expected to be finished in 2005 or 2006, said Mark Peterburs, project manager for the Alaska Railroad.The Eagle River to Knik River realignment is part of a bigger project that involves straightening 70 curves from Anchorage to Wasilla. Construction on those has already begun. Peterburs said that most sections have come in near the projected budget.The line between Eagle River and Knik River is expected to cost about $12.5 million and will be funded 80 percent by the Federal Transit Administration and 20 percent by the Alaska Railroad. The entire project is expected to cost about $78 million.Peterburs said that the project would be further along had funding sources not changed. The project was originally slated for completion in 2003."When we got the funding from the FTA, regulations were changed and more steps had to be taken for the project to get under way," said Peterburs.The environmental assessment was one of the requirements when using FTA money.The project will move forward as planned if, after the Oct. 21 deadline for public comment, the FTA approves the environmental assessment. If the administration does have concerns, a more in-depth environmental impact statement will need to be completed, which could set the project back months, even years, said Barabara Hotchkin, permits and National Environmental Policy Act specialist for the Alaska Railroad.Hotchkin said that the public comments now being accepted will help to determine the results of the FTA’s investigation.Hotchkin said that, though the the Alaska Railroad does not expect any major problems, the public is always unpredictable. The project will directly affect only two private land owners, but everyone in the area will be indirectly affected, she said. The U.S. Army and the U.S. Navy, the Municipality of Anchorage, Chugach Alaska Inc. and Eklutna Inc. have already entered into land exchange agreements with the railroad.

Longtime restaurant owner leaves legacy of compassion

The founder of Roscoe’s Skyline Restaurant leaves a legacy of compassion in Anchorage’s business community following his death in September.Roscoe Wyche Jr. was known for offering fatherly advice to employees or inviting needy people off the street for soup at the restaurant.Wyche died Sept. 21 in Anchorage. He was 67."My dad was like everybody’s dad," said his son Roscoe Wyche III. "Everybody called him Daddy Roscoe."Future plans are unclear for the Midtown Anchorage eatery specializing in Southern cooking and barbecue, arguably the best in the state. Current restaurant owners don’t plan to renew their lease at the Mall at Sears when it expires Dec. 31, according to the younger Wyche."I’m going to keep all options open," he said.Wyche cited high overhead costs at the current mall location for the decision.The city lost one well-known black businessman who appealed to many Alaskans.Just over 1 percent of 64,100 Alaska businesses are black-owned, according to U.S. Commerce Department statistics."White, black, any kind of race, they all liked him," said restaurant manager Curtis Curry, a longtime family friend. Curry moved to Alaska from Thomasville, Ga., nearly three years ago to help run Roscoe’s Skyline Restaurant.Roscoe Wyche Jr. served 26 years in the military and moved to his last assignment, Elmendorf Air Force Base, in 1977. After retiring from the military, Wyche worked for the state as a correctional officer at Spring Creek Correctional Facility in Seward.After he retired from the state corrections department, Wyche operated a beauty supply store while wife, Annie Carol Wyche, ran a salon. The Wyches received a business excellence award in 1986 from the Alaska Black Caucus.In 1988 he started Roscoe’s Skyline Restaurant with his son."It was one of my father’s dreams to own a restaurant," Wyche said.Roscoe’s Skyline Restaurant opened in the mall in 1998 after an arson fire destroyed the original Government Hill location a year earlier. Although the business was uninsured, community support and the family’s determination helped restart the restaurant, Wyche recalled."It’s our first love," Annie Carol Wyche said. "We love that restaurant."The mall location seats 120 people, twice the capacity of the first restaurant. Compared to the Government Hill location, the current site brings in more sales but requires higher rent, Wyche said. Today, Roscoe’s Skyline Restaurant has 25 part-time employees.The younger Wyche was chosen as a featured chef for Lawry’s Seasoned Salt advertising campaigns in 1996 and 1997, drawing national attention to the Anchorage restaurant.Wyche now dishes up his brand of cooking on the North Slope’s Alpine field. He has served as lunch cook for Arctic Catering Inc. for two years, cooking for 250 people.The family business has supported community events from debutante balls to events for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.Such community involvement matched Roscoe Wyche Jr.’s enthusiasm for people."Dad brought a lot of personality to Roscoe’s," Wyche said, remembering how his father greeted customers with a smile.The biggest lesson father taught son was: "Treat everybody with respect. Treat them as you want to be treated."The elder Wyche shopped for restaurant supplies and often filled in if an employee missed work, said Annie Carol Wyche, who bakes Roscoe’s sweet potato pie and German chocolate cake. She recalled her husband’s witty, outgoing personality. "He always had a smile to greet customers. They loved him."Her husband savored the restaurant’s specialties. Almost daily he ate his favorite meal at a preferred seat: a piece of catfish, a pork rib, a candied sweet potato and French fries with a dollop of mayonnaise. He added a T-bone steak on his birthday in August.

Lynden founder sent first overland freight

The Washington businessman who pioneered trucking freight via the Alaska Highway died Sept. 29 in Lynden, Wash.Henry "Hank" Jansen was 84.In the 1950s, Jansen conceived an idea to build his trucking business with an Alaska route. That vision has flourished. Today, Seattle-based Lynden Inc. employs 1,400 people with air, marine and trucking operations operating worldwide.In Alaska, Lynden provides twice-weekly shipping service between Southeast and Seattle. Other services include freight, customs brokerage, barge, rail and air cargo services."Probably the most significant impact that Hank Jansen had on Alaska was the decision to provide overland transportation to Alaska on the Alaska Highway," said Dave Haugen, Lynden Inc. vice president. "Lynden became the first company to pioneer this service when the road was unpaved for most of its length and service stations were nonexistent."The company’s expansion in Alaska is due to the foresight of Jansen’s vision, Haugen said."They were one of the pioneers running over the Alcan," said Harry McDonald, president of Carlile Transportation Systems Inc. of Anchorage.McDonald, who once worked for Lynden, praised Jansen’s work and its results in Alaska. "He certainly had a major impact on Alaska in the last 50 years."According to company history, Jansen began his career in 1940 as a truck driver in Lynden, Wash. He worked for Lynden Transfer, a company started in 1906 with a pair matching sorrel horses hauling a freight wagon to Bellingham, Wash.He and partner Walter B. Craig purchased Lynden Transfer in the late 1940s and eventually added two other small carriers to form one company.After World War II, soldiers and civilians began building the Alaska Highway, a new overland link to the Alaska Territory. By the early 1950s, other roads were completed to connect Alaska, British Columbia and Washington.The milestone led Jansen and Craig to consider operating a new route to Alaska.In 1954, Lynden started its truck service to Alaska, hauling fresh meat and produce on the gravel Alaska Highway. That first trip carried 36,000 pounds of fresh beef bound for Fairbanks.Alaskans were elated to receive the rare fresh beef, according to Dennis Mitchell, vice president for Lynden International in Anchorage.Jansen’s business plan was pivotal to Alaska’s future, "allowing our economy to expand and grow," Mitchell said.

NANA Development works to meet 2005 profit goal

NANA Development Corp. has been able to keep a steady position in its oil and gas support business while also diversifying the customer base for groups that serve the petroleum industry, according to Helvi Sandvik, president of NANA Development Corp. the business subsidiary of NANA Regional Corp. of Kotzebue.NANA’s various businesses are doing well, she said. Although the corporation was in the red by millions last year, it is still on track to meet a goal of $10 million in profits by 2005, Sandvik said.In the mid-1990s work for the petroleum industry provided about 80 percent of NANA’s income. Last year the percentage was down to 45 percent, Sandvik said.The amount of work NANA does for the industry is about the same, but the corporation’s overall business has grown, she said."We have always been heavily into support work for petroleum and mining because these businesses provide jobs for our shareholders," Sandvik said."In some cases, our board has been willing to accept lower profit margins so we can be in businesses which employ people with the skills our people have," Sandvik said.NANA has about 5,300 shareholders between 18 and 65, most who live in Kotzebue and small villages in Northwest Alaska.About 600 shareholders are employed through its businesses and at the the Red Dog Mine on land owned by NANA, Sandvik said. Some 400 shareholders work in the corporation’s business subsidiaries. The balance of employee-shareholders work at the mine as employees of Teck Cominco Alaska Inc., which operates zinc-and-lead mine."We’re proud to be able to employ the largest percentage of our shareholders of any Native regional corporation," Sandvik said.NANA Management Services Inc., which provides catering, housekeeping and facility-management services, she said. The corporation started that business mainly to employ shareholders, Sandvik said.NANA has provided those services, as well as security, to North Slope oil producers since 1975. In recent years, NANA Management has diversified and now provides service to institutional customers like the state’s pioneers’ homes and school districts, Sandvik said.NANA Management has just been awarded a contract to provide support at the Mount Edgecumbe High School, a boarding school in Sitka operated by the state, she said.NANA/Colt Engineering LLC is another petroleum-related joint venture, between NANA and Colt Engineering Co. of Calgary, Alberta, that is being diversified, Sandvik said.NANA/Colt has primarily performed engineering services for North Slope producers, but a new subsidiary, NANA Pacific LLC, has been formed as a minority enterprise to seek government contracts, she said.NANA Pacific has just landed a contract with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to help build new barracks for the U.S. Army at Fort Richardson in Anchorage and Fort Wainwright, in Fairbanks, Sandvik said.Oil and gas support work will remain a core business for NANA, however. "We expect to be able to hang on to the contracts we have. Our goal is to remain strong and retain a good reputation in these businesses, and then grow when natural gas reserves are eventually developed," Sandvik said.Most of NANA’s businesses are doing well, but at the Red Dog Mine, where NANA is the landowner, low prices for zinc are creating losses for Teck Cominco, Sandvik said.John Rense, NANA’s chief operating officer, said zinc markets are fetching dismal prices because of glut in the market and the economic recession.Red Dog also is at a disadvantage because of the strong U.S. dollar, Rense said. Many competing zinc mines are in countries which have currencies valued low against the dollar."They are affected less by lower prices than we are," Rense said.Sandvik said last year was a tough one for NANA, but this year will be better. After steady profits of about $5 million per year in 1998, 1999 and 2000, NANA suffered an $8.6 million loss in 2001.NANA’s gross revenues are about $150 million per year, Sandvik said.The books closed Sept. 30 on Fiscal year 2002 and while the results aren’t yet known, Sandvik thinks the corporation will at least break even.During 2001, there was a combination of losses in the stock market, a poor year for the Red Dog Mine which pays royalties to NANA, and high administrative costs while NANA put a new information system in place.While the stock and zinc markets are still depressed, the new information system is now running and producing efficiencies, Sandvik said.

This Week in Alaska Business History

10 year ago this weekAlaska Journal of CommerceOct. 19, 1992Mining projects can help the economyBy Tim BradnerBusiness leaders gathered in Juneau for the state Chamber of Commerce convention got a look at what might help drive the state’s economy in a post-oil era. They got a crash course in mining economics and environmental politics.Briefing on big mining projects dominated the agenda at the 1992 convention. But there was something for everyone, including updates on three other major industries -- fisheries, tourism and petroleum -- and presentations on international trade.Mining was the big topic of discussion. Nearly 300 convention goers heard project managers for operating mines and several big projects now in the development phase reveal details of employment, payroll and local expenditures.The bottom line: Mining won’t replace oil as the main driving force in the state’s economy, but it will make a big contribution and will be very important to local communities near operating mines.Some highlights:Mining now employs well over 2,000 Alaskans. The number are a little hazy, because at least 1,000 small miners operate as self-employed. But wages are good for employees of bigger companies, averaging $50,000 or more in at least two major operating mines and on a par with petroleum workers.Alaska Journal of CommerceOct. 19, 1992MarkAir seeks new loan for the winterBy Margaret BaumanAttorneys for MarkAir were headed back to U.S. Bankruptcy Court Oct. 20 for continued hearings on a proposed reorganization plan for MarkAir and MarkAir Express, and cash collateral agreements.Also on the agenda before federal bankruptcy Judge Herbert Ross is a proposal for MarkAir to borrow $7 million from Transamerica Business Credit Corp. of Atlanta.The financing would be a debtor-in-possession loan, which MarkAir would utilize primarily for working capital requirements."This loan more than meets our needs for the winter season," said Neil Bergt, chief executive officer of MarkAir.Mike Bergt, president of MarkAir and son of the chief executive officer, meanwhile announced the airline’s intentions to expand into the Portland market, with one flight daily, on Nov. 15.-- Compiled by Ed Bennett

Firms study Healy power plant restart

The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority has contracted with one of the nation’s largest owners of coal-fired power plants in hopes of getting the 50-megawatt Healy Clean Coal Project back into operation.AIDEA has contracted with Capital Energy Inc. and AEP Pro Serve Inc., a subsidiary of American Electric Power Co., to do an evaluation of operating systems in the $297 million plant at Healy, which has been shut down since 1999.Officials from Capital Energy and a technical team from AEP Pro Serve Inc. were in Healy Oct. 4 to do an inspection of the plant, according to Jim McMillan, acting executive director of the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority.AIDEA, the state’s development corporation, owns the Healy plant.McMillan said this is the first step toward getting the coal-fired power plant back into operation.Capital Energy is a power plant consulting firm based in Miami, Fla. American Electric Power Co., headquartered in Columbus, Ohio, is a major power company that operates large coal-fired plants in 11 states. The company had $60 billion in annual sales last year.AIDEA’s contract with Capital Energy is not to exceed $300,000, according to Lynn Kenney, spokesperson for the authority.The $297 million plant was built to test new coal-burning and environmental control systems and was completed in 1997.It has been shut down since December 1999 when a dispute developed between AIDEA, which owns the plant, and Golden Valley Electric Association of Fairbanks, which had agreed to operate and buy power.The contract with Capital Energy was signed Oct. 1. It will take about nine weeks to do the assessment, said Kenney.AIDEA also is looking for a company to take over as operator of the plant, a function Golden Valley performed before.The authority has applied for a $23 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to fund a partial retrofit of equipment in the plant, and to conduct a three-year operating test, Kenney said.GVEA, however, said that it has an agreement with AIDEA to give it the first right of refusal in a contract to operate the plant, according to Steve Haagenson, chief executive of Golden Valley.This commitment is in a settlement to a lawsuit GVEA brought against the state authority after an operating test of the plant in late 1999, when the utility was operator, Haagenson said.On Aug. 27 AIDEA was notified by the federal agency that its grant had won a first round of approval as part of new DOE program to finance research into clean coal technologies, she said.The authority is competing against 36 other applications for coal technology funds in the DOE program, according to Kenney.The U.S. Department of Energy contributed $117 million to the cost of the plant to test new technologies developed by TRW and Babcock and Wilcox Inc.A new coal combustion unit developed by TRW and an emissions cleaning system developed by Babcock and Wilcox resulted in lower emissions of air pollutants, particularly sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide, during tests for the DOE in 1998, according to Art Copoulos, AIDEA’s project engineer for the Healy plant.In late 1999, AIDEA and Golden Valley conducted a 90-day operating test of the plant, but disputed the results. GVEA asserted the plant failed to meet its requirements for safe and cost-efficient operation.The utility sued the authority to get out of a contract signed to buy power and operate the plant.A settlement of the suit provided that GVEA and AIDEA would work together on a plan to retrofit parts of the plant where problems occurred.Since 1990 the two have continued to disagree on what needs to be done, however.GVEA argues the new coal-burning systems need to be completely replaced, according to Haagenson. "The plant isn’t safe, it isn’t reliable and it isn’t economic," he said.AIDEA feels a "full retrofit" is unneeded and that a less-costly partial retrofit will do job, McMillan said.Copoulos said there were problems in the equipment that move coal to the combustion unit in the plant.However, consultant reports said there were no operating problems with the combustion unit itself or the emissions-control system, he said.Haagenson said the consultant reports found the plant could be operated but they didn’t touch on whether it would be economic, which is a prime consideration for GVEA’s Interior Alaska customers, he said."We remain commited to working with AIDEA on a resolution of this issue that will benefit our customers," Haagenson said.

Seward rejects sale of utility to Homer Electric

KENAI -- An $18 million offer made by Homer Electric Association in February seeking to purchase the Seward Electrical Utility was rejected Sept. 23 by the Seward City Council.On behalf of the city, City Manager Scott Janke wrote HEA General Manager Norm Story expressing his regret that it had taken so long to reach a decision.The utility is a major source of city operating revenue, Janke said.HEA spokesperson, Joe Gallagher, said the council had voted 5-1 against the offer."From HEA’s perspective, we’ve had a good, open discussion with Seward about this and it was a very important issue for the city of Seward," he said. "They’ve owned the utility for a long time. We appreciate the council’s work looking at an offer we thought was fair, but which apparently didn’t meet the needs of Seward at this time."Gallagher said HEA has had the purchase of Seward Electric Utility on its front burner for some time. HEA may make another offer in the future, he said."This vote by no means closes the door on the issue," he said.This was not the first time HEA has made an offer for the utility. A public vote requiring a 60-percent majority was held in November 2000. Seward voters favored the sale 510-443 but fell 61 votes short.In July, Janke had said any sale would need to make up for the nearly $1 million the utility means to the city’s annual $7 million general fund.

Low prices cause fishermen to sit out pink salmon run

PETERSBURG -- About 44 million pink salmon were harvested in Southeast Alaska this season, putting the catch in the midrange for the 10-year average, but prices were low.About 280 boats, or about 100 less than average, made deliveries during the season."I did anticipate that the effort would be less, but I didn’t think that we’d drop 100 boats," said Scott Kelley, Alaska Department of Fish and Game regional management coordinator.Several processors reduced the size of their fleet this year leaving some permit holders without a market.Prices for pink salmon ranged from 5 cents to 13 cents a pound.Early in the season it looked like there would be greater value in the roe than in the meat but apparently it turned out the other way around.Norquest Seafoods found the same market conditions. Company President Terry Gardiner said the demand for salmon roe, also called ikura, unexpectedly dropped."The ikura market did not go where the industry was thinking it was going. Instead of going up, it instead actually slipped. There was just more carry-over ikura in the market than anybody was aware of."The salmon fishery at Hokkaido, Japan, also impacts the demand for Alaska’s salmon roe. This year’s fishery is producing more than expected, potentially hurting the market for product from Alaska.It’s not yet clear if additional pink salmon management changes will be proposed for the 2003 season. The Purse Seine Task Force plans to hold meetings this winter to review the 2002 season.

Business Profile

Name of company: Cordova Auto Rentals Inc.Established: 1998Location: Mile 13 Copper River Highway, Cordova, Alaska 99574; or P.O. Box 1329Telephone: 907-424-5982Fax: 907-424-5961Web site: www.ptialaska.net/~carsE-mail: [email protected] focus of services: Located across from the Alaska Airlines terminal at the Cordova Airport, Cordova Auto Rentals Inc. provides transportation to visitors to the commercial fishing village and surrounding area. The company offers 32 automobiles for rent, including compacts, four-wheel-drive vehicles and 11-passenger vans, all with unlimited mileage. The business also rents unmotorized canoes with full safety gear for use on the area’s rivers and lakes.History of the company: Russ Bradley began renting cars in 1998 when he acquired the vehicle inventory of a resident who had been renting cars out of his home and in the airport parking lot. Bradley opened his business with six vehicles and maintained a mobile office for the first four or five months until his rental office was built. Bradley’s wife, Monica, served as accountant.Bradley said his business is gradually growing as he continues to put all proceeds back into the company. Plans for expansion next year include building a new office at the same location followed by an on-site car repair shop.Bradley employs six full-time workers, but during the off-season, two of his employees work part time.Top accomplishment of the company: The business owner is proud that "our clientele is increasing because we go the extra mile to accommodate customers so they feel warm and fuzzy." Cordova Auto Rentals has enjoyed a 17 percent increase in repeat customers from year to year. Figures so far this year recorded in mid-September report a 27 percent increase in returning customers.Major player: Russ Bradley, president, Cordova Auto Rentals Inc.Bradley, after a tour in the U.S. Navy, arrived in Alaska in 1972 as a mechanical engineer. He worked on contracts with oil and seafood companies throughout the state and in New Zealand and Australia. The deciding factor in his move to Cordova to retire 15 years ago was its kind, generous people. "The whole community goes out of its way for the visitors to be happy."Bradley serves as president of the Cordova Chamber of Commerce. He also is president of the Cordova Animal Protection Shelter, a nonprofit corporation finding homes for orphaned domestic and wild animals.Top issue facing the company: "Of course the top issue facing the company is being prepared ahead of time to meet the needs of customers for transportation," said Bradley. "I just want to continue to share our little paradise with visitors."-- Victoria Zerbe

Health insurer wants to become for-profit

ANCHORAGE -- The biggest private insurer in Alaska wants to become a for-profit company and give all its stock, at least at first, to a pair of foundations here and in Washington state. It’s not clear so far how much those foundations might get or what they would do with it.The Alaska Division of Insurance is planning two hearings on the matter, the first Oct. 29 and the second in November. Public forums in Washington state began last month.Premera Blue Cross is currently a nonprofit corporation that covers about 65,000 Alaskans. It’s also the largest health insurer in Washington, serving 1.2 million residents there.Like many Blue Cross and Blue Shield organizations across the country Premera Blue Cross wants to convert to a publicly traded company that can issue stock.Premera Blue Cross, based in Mountlake Terrace, Wash., announced in June that it would seek permission from both states to convert its status. According to the company, "access to equity capital available to publicly held companies would enhance its flexibility and responsiveness in an increasingly demanding health-care marketplace."Its Oregon subsidiary, LifeWise, already operates as a for-profit company with 160,000 subscribers.To win approval from state regulators, Premera has said it would donate 100 percent of its initial stock to new charitable foundations in Washington and Alaska. Those foundations would have the broad mandate to promote health initiatives.But Premera would soon issue additional stock -- instantly shrinking the foundations’ share of the company -- to raise between $100 million and $150 million to fund growth and improve service, the company said.Just what each of the foundations would get or what they would do with the money isn’t really clear at this point, according to Bob Lohr, head of the Alaska Division of Insurance.Similar foundations have been set up in other states where the Blue Cross organizations have made a similar conversion, Lohr said.In Wisconsin, for instance, "the creation of the foundation led to funding the two medical schools in the state with the proceeds of the trust."Washington insurance regulators have hired four experts in law, banking, actuary and taxes to examine the complex proposal, which runs about a thousand pages. Their conclusions should be complete in November.Like Washington, Alaska’s insurance regulators are hiring experts to determine the total value of the company, what share should be allocated to Alaska, and how the process might work, Lohr said.The role of his division, Lohr said, "is to make sure the company is adequately capitalized and able to continue providing service in Alaska."

Anchorage can weather port dispute for a while

ANCHORAGE -- A labor dispute continued to idle West Coast seaports and hold up shipments of goods to Alaska, but major Anchorage retailers said consumers won’t notice shortages unless the dispute stretches out far longer.A manager for Safeway, operator of Carrs grocery stores, said his company already had gone to contingency plans to truck goods here from the Seattle area.Alaska Gov. Tony Knowles continued to work for an exemption to allow Alaska-bound freight to be loaded."We have received assurances from the union that they would honor the state’s request," said Bob King, a spokesman for Knowles. Knowles also sent a letter to the Pacific Maritime Association asking that longshoremen be allowed to load Alaska-bound cargo ships.The Westward Venture, a cargo ship operated by Totem Ocean Trailer Express, managed to get loaded and leave Tacoma Sept. 29, despite the dockworker slowdown.That should give the city a little more time before product shortages could appear, said John Parrott, TOTE’s Alaska general manager. -- The Associated Press

Around The World

STATEJudge rules for Chignik salmon cooperativeANCHORAGE -- A Juneau judge ruled Sept. 30 in favor of the Alaska Board of Fisheries in a lawsuit challenging the legality of a commercial salmon fishery cooperative at Chignik.Salmon fishermen formed the cooperative this summer to save expenses and share profits by designating some members to fish on behalf of the entire group.Dissident independent fishermen who sued earlier this year, claiming the fish board overstepped its authority, are disappointed and are weighing an appeal."We’re thrilled," said Jamie Ross, a fishermen and co-op organizer. "We’re not just happy for us. We’re happy for all of Alaska."The Chignik co-op was viewed by many people in Alaska’s beleaguered commercial salmon industry as an important experiment to cut costs and help Alaska’s wild salmon compete on price and quality against fierce competition from foreign salmon farms.U.S. House approves bill for Adak land transferANCHORAGE -- The U.S. House has cleared the way for final transfer of the old Adak Naval Base to the Aleut Native Corp.By voice vote Sept. 24, the House approved a bill by Sen. Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska, that swaps the old base for a similar amount of corporation land.The Adak transfer provision includes a land appraisal tax break the Aleut Corp. wanted. It is attached to a Defense Authorization bill now being negotiated by House and Senate conferees.But the defense bill is bogged down, and Resource Committee Chairman James Hansen of Utah says it’s prudent to move Murkowski’s stand-alone Adak bill, which has already cleared the Senate.Agriculture department makes salmon purchaseJUNEAU -- The federal government will buy $1.3 million in Alaska pink salmon for its food assistance programs.The purchase is part of a $16 million deal announced last August by the Department of Agriculture, said department spokeswoman Kathryn Mattingly.The department will buy 75,000 cases of canned salmon for school lunch and other food assistance programs to complete that deal, Mattingly said.Gov. Tony Knowles lauded the program for aiding fishermen struggling with low salmon prices. Alaska fishermen landed 84 million pink salmon this season, down from a record 146 million in 1999, Knowles said.The Department of Agriculture has bought $71 million of Alaska salmon in seven years, Knowles officials said.NATIONManufacturing declines in report for SeptemberNEW YORK -- U.S. manufacturing activity contracted in September after seven straight months of growth, an industry group reported Oct. 1.The Tempe, Ariz.-based Institute for Supply Management said its index of business activity declined to 49.5 in September compared with August. Analysts had been expecting a reading of 51.0.An index above 50 signifies growth in manufacturing, while a figure below that shows contraction."After a strong first quarter, the manufacturing sector has softened significantly," said Norbert Ore, chairman of the institute. "Stagnant and sluggish are apt descriptions for manufacturing at this time."Wal-Mart plans to add up to 165 new storesLITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world’s largest retailer, announced Oct. 1 that it plans to add as many as 165 new stores in 2003 and expand or relocate about 170 U.S. properties, continuing its aggressive expansion.The construction will occur in Wal-Mart’s fiscal 2004, which starts Feb. 1.The additions and renovations are planned for the company’s discount stores, Supercenters, Sam’s Club warehouse stores and its stand-alone grocery stores called Neighborhood Markets.Internationally, Wal-Mart says it will open as many as 130 units in markets where it already has a presence. The expansion will include two restaurant formats, specialty apparel retail stores and supermarkets in Mexico.The company has 3,335 domestic stores, and 1,212 internationally. Wal-Mart has 1.3 million employees in the United States and abroad.Construction spending shows another declineWASHINGTON -- Construction spending dropped by 0.4 percent in August led by cutbacks in private builders’ projects including offices, industrial complexes and hotels.The decline reported by the Commerce Department Oct. 1 followed a tiny 0.1 percent decrease in July.In the construction market, the commercial side continues to be the source of weakness, reflecting reluctance by businesses to make big commitments in capital spending, including new factories and other buildings, given economic uncertainties, including a possible war with Iraq, economists said."Uncertainty tends to be the enemy of investment," said economist Clifford Waldman, president of Waldman Associates. "You would have to be very sure of yourself to build a commercial building these days."Another possible factor for sagging commercial construction: difficulties some companies are having in obtaining terrorism insurance in the wake of last year’s attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, analysts said.WORLDJapanese bank survey finds more optimismTOKYO -- Japanese companies were less pessimistic about the economic outlook in the July-September quarter but remain wary, according to a survey by Japan’s central bank.Though still in the negative range, the Bank of Japan’s quarterly "tankan" survey of corporate sentiment improved for a second-straight quarter, with the confidence of major manufacturers increasing to minus 14 from the minus 18 seen in the April-June quarter.The index offers the percentage of companies calling conditions bad subtracted from those reporting that conditions are good, so a negative number indicates a generally grim sentiment.-- Compiled from business wire services.

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