AIDEA approves refinancing for hangar

The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority’s board has approved the refinancing of $20.54 million in bonds issued in 1992 to build the Federal Express Corp. hangar at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport.With interest rates down, the authority will be able to increase its margin, or earnings, on the financing by $160,000 to $220,000 per year, according to Bob Poe, AIDEA’s executive director.That amount is the difference between the lease payments paid to the authority by Federal Express for use of the jet maintenance hangar and the debt service AIDEA pays on its bonds.Federal Express now pays the authority, which owns the hangar, $2.98 million per year. AIDEA pays about $2.515 million in annual debt service on bonds issued to build the facility, Poe told the authority’s board.The new bonds will be issued in mid-May, according to the schedule now planned. But the board’s approval, which came at its April 11 meeting, gives AIDEA’s management the authority to wait until Nov. 30 if additional time is needed.At the same meeting, the AIDEA board decided to increase the 2002 dividend paid to the State of Alaska by $1.149 million, bringing the total to $20.149 million.State law allows AIDEA to pay an annual dividend of 50 percent of its net earnings to the state treasury. In November, the board approved a $19 million dividend, or 47 percent of the authority’s net earnings for the year.The action April 11 increases the dividend to 50 percent of the net earnings, according to Poe."Given the state’s projected budget deficit, we felt this was a prudent thing to do," he said. "This stays within the statutory guideline and does not impede the authority’s ability to do its mission."

Governor agrees to pipeline incentives

Gov. Tony Knowles has agreed to amendments to a bill granting state tax incentives to spur construction of a North Slope natural gas pipeline. A bill in the state House that would exempt the pipeline from state and local property taxes during construction was earlier being labeled a "giveaway" by state Department of Revenue officials. But its sponsor, Rep. Pete Kott, R-Eagle River, argues the state must send a message to Congress, where an important federal incentive for the gas pipeline is under consideration. Kott is chairman of the House Rules Committee. Another incentive measure, Senate Bill 360, is in the Senate Finance Committee in Juneau. It is sponsored by Sen. John Torgerson, R-Kasilof, chairman of the Senate Resource Committee. In Washington, D.C., the U.S. Senate adopted an amendment to proposed federal energy legislation April 23 that would grant a tax credit for Alaska North Slope gas if gas prices dropped below $3.25 per thousand cubic feet. The energy bill amendment is seen as a critical element in boosting the economic viability of the project. Alaska must now be seen as willing to do its part to help the economically marginal gas project, Kott said. House Bill 519, sponsored by Kott, would offer state help by exempting the pipeline from a 20-mill state oil and gas property tax and local property taxes while construction is under way and for the first two years of operation. Consultants to the state, such as Pedro van Meurs, a Calgary-based specialist in taxation of energy projects, maintain that the property tax is a major "front-end" burden on a large gas project, particularly during its years of construction when no income is being earned. North Slope gas producers working on a gas pipeline have said they need government help for the project, including a streamlined federal regulatory process, a federal tax credit to reduce risk and some form of "certainty" on state taxes. The producers will achieve their first two goals, regulatory streamlining and the tax credit, if the federal energy bill becomes law. HB519 is intended to address certainty of state taxes on the project, Kott said.

Park Service to open new Wrangell-St. Elias center

The National Park Service will open a new visitors center this summer to showcase the largest U.S. park, the 13.2-million-acre Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve.Located at mile 105 on the Richardson Highway near Copper Center, the new $6 million center may draw more visitors to the region. The Copper River Princess Wilderness Lodge is another new tourism destination in the area.While many people visit other national parks in Alaska like Denali and Kenai Fjords, the new visitors center will show them another part of Alaska, said Gary Candelaria, park superintendent."It signifies the arrival of the Copper Basin as a visitor destination," he said. "This is the first major visitor facility developed in the new parks -- those parks created after 1980."The center, due to open by May 27, features a visitor center, an exhibit hall and a 100-seat theater, he said. These buildings, designed in log-style architecture typical of the Copper Basin, are nestled together like a small village, Candelaria said.Park officials intend to operate the theater and center year-round for community events.Displays are still being crafted for the exhibit hall, which will open next summer. The theater will run a large-format, award-winning movie about the Wrangell Mountains."The idea, of course, is that most visitors don’t get inside the park, so we’re trying to give them an idea of what it would be like to be in the backcountry," he said.A National Park Service dedication is scheduled for Aug. 5.The park is home to the nation’s second highest peak, Mount St. Elias, and includes coastline, tundra and rivers."The visitors center is an opportunity for all ranges of use, either a person on a bus tour or a person planning a backcountry trip," Candelaria said.

Lawmakers discuss income tax plans

A drawn-out negotiating session between Republicans and Democrats in the state House of Representatives has resulted in agreement on a limited state personal income tax along with a bill that would make some earnings of the Alaska Permanent Fund available to help fund state services.The negotiating group also agreed on a bill that would change permanent fund income management in a way that would make more money available for appropriation.What could also be part of the package is a bill to make money available for municipalities from permanent fund earnings. This could replace cuts in state revenue sharing to municipalities in recent years. A bill increasing state taxes on alcohol also is part of the agreement.If they were enacted, the new revenue measures would raise more than $500 million per year, covering more than half of a budget deficit estimated at about $800 million this year."I think it has a lot of potential," said House Speaker Brian Porter, R-Anchorage.On April 30, the House Majority approved the plan.Even if the House passes the measures, their reception in the state Senate appears uncertain with a little more than a week remaining in the 2002 session.For several weeks the House has been stalemated over passage of a fiscal plan aimed at covering budget deficits estimated at up to $1 billion a year.Some Republicans, along with House Democrats, favor a personal income tax along with the permanent fund measure. Others favor a sales tax, which Democrats oppose. Neither plan has the necessary 21 votes to pass the House.The latest effort at compromise came April 23 when Gov. Tony Knowles acted as a moderator in an expanded negotiation between six Republican members of the House and six Democrats.Earlier talks to break an impasse involved three on each side.The most recent negotiations resulted in adoption of a proposal put forward by Rep. John Davies, D-Fairbanks, for an income tax modeled to affect taxpayers much like a sales tax.The tax rate is low and is "flatter," and less graduated, so that the distribution of burden is less on higher income groups, Davies said.An income tax has advantages over a sales tax, he said, in that the tax paid can be deducted from federal income taxes; it will tax nonresident workers more than a sales tax; and that it would not "load up" sales tax burden in municipalities that presently have sales taxes.The permanent fund change is in House Bill 304, which has been part of the overall House "fiscal plan" would change the permanent fund’s method of distributing earnings to a percentage of market value of the fund rather than a system based on actual income from sales of stock or interest earnings.The percentage of market-value method is used commonly by large endowments in the United States, and is supported by the permanent fund’s Board of Trustees.In a related development, Rep. Eric Croft, D-Anchorage, released results of a public opinion poll that showed respondents evenly split between an income or sales tax, but shifting more toward an income tax after being given more information, such as that an income tax can be deducted from federal tax.The survey asked whether respondents would favor a 3 percent statewide sales tax or a 2.6 percent personal income tax. Those are the latest proposals before members of the state House.When first presented with the choice, respondents in Croft’s poll were split 45 percent for a sales tax and 45 percent for an income tax. After being given more information, support for the income tax shifted to 55 percent, Croft said.Republican legislators dismissed the poll results, saying they still show 52 percent of respondents opposed to an income tax and 53 percent opposing a sales tax.

Business Profile: Alaska Serigraphics

Name of the company: Alaska SerigraphicsEstablished: 1981Location: 1711 Abbott Road, Anchorage, AK 99507Telephone: 907-561-2000Web site: www.akserigraphics.comMajor focus of services: Alaska Serigraphics provides screen printing, embroidery and design services. The company also produces vinyl signs and banners and sells promotional items and some sports apparel. Alaska Serigraphics sells its brand of T-shirts, caps and mouse pads to retailers as Raven Lunatic Art.History of the company: Alaska Serigraphics General Manager David Powers and sales and production manager Kenneth Sloan purchased the screen-printing company in 1983 after the death of the owner. In 1987 Powers acquired full ownership of Alaska Serigraphics.In 1989 the company started its preprint line and expanded services to offer promotional items in 1990. Embroidery services began in 1995, and Alaska Serigraphics started producing vinyl signs and banners in 1998.The company has grown during its history, adding employees and services. Alaska Serigraphics now employs 30 people, including five artists.In April 2001, Alaska Serigraphics moved from its 9,000-square-foot location to a 15,000-square-foot South Anchorage headquarters featuring a larger showroom.Earlier this year staff artists received three Alaska Ad Federation awards.Top accomplishment of the company: Powers cited Alaska Serigraphics’ United We Stand T-shirt fund-raising campaign, which totaled $10,000 in a month for the American Red Cross last fall. Another effort raised $12,000 to help Cordova district fishermen fight the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. He also is pleased that company staff successfully completed the move to the new office. The expansion was a milestone for the firm.Powers is proud of his employees. "My talent has been finding talented people, challenging them and not micro-managing them. You give a quality person freedom and they won’t abuse it."Major player: David Powers, owner, Alaska SerigraphicsPowers earned a bachelor’s degree in political science, economics and art from San Diego State University and a master’s in printmaking. He moved to Alaska in 1981. The following year he began work at Alaska Serigraphics. He served as lead artist for the company in the 1980s, designing art for the Iditarod Sled Dog Race, the Alaska State Fair and other events.-- Nancy Pounds

Railroad finishes fuel tank car renovations

Major repairs on wheels and suspension systems have been completed on most fuel cars that use the Alaska Railroad -- part of a process that is helping Alaska beat the national average for rail accidents.Alaska Railroad Corp. officials say the overhaul work, performed during the last two years, will greatly reduce the risk of derailment since the fuel tank cars now will ride more smoothly along the rail line.Nearly three-quarters of fuel tank cars in Alaska underwent major repairs last summer on wheel and suspension systems. GATX Corp. spent more than $825,000 to repair its entire fleet of 275 tank cars. The Chicago-based company leases fuel cars to Williams Alaska Petroleum Inc.Williams Alaska leases another 134 fuel-tank cars owned by General Electric Railcar Services Corp.A nine-worker crew from Gunderson Rail Services Inc., a Springfield, Ore.-based contractor, spent most of April replacing wheels, axles and "trucks," the assemblies that hold the wheels.The work was completed April 25, said Mike Schmidt, Gunderson Rail Services manager of shop services."These should be maintenance-free for about 10 years," Schmidt said.Cost of the work was not disclosed. Part of the work consisted of fitting wedges, which act as shock absorbers, into the trucks. The wedges provide a dampening effect over bumps and keep the wheels from bouncing off the track and derailing a train, Alaska Railroad officials said.The Alaska Railroad inspected the fuel tank cars in 2000 and found that many of them needed repair or replacement. Maintenance on the fuel tank cars is regulated and required by the federal government.Depending on the conditions of the track, wheels on fuel cars last from 200,000 to 250,000 miles, according to railroad officials.Fuel shipped from the Williams North Pole refinery to Anchorage averages about 100 rail cars a day. The bulk of the rail cars -- some 80 a day -- carry jet fuel for use at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport.The Alaska Railroad last year set daily, weekly, monthly and annual records moving more than 710 million gallons of fuel along its rail line without incident.In addition to maintenance on the fuel tank cars, the railroad has made major track improvements along its rail line in the past year, including new track and switches and the resurfacing of some 242 miles of track, according to the railroad.In all operations, the railroad reported 1.5 accidents per million train miles in 2001, about the same as in 2000. That compares with a national average of 3.8 accidents per million train miles.The Alaska Railroad has historically averaged more than four accidents per million train miles.During 1999, the Alaska Railroad had two derailments that resulted in major fuel spills at Canyon and at Gold Creek, where 15 cars left the track, five of them spilling more than 120,000 gallons of jet fuel.The railroad blamed the Gold Creek spill on a buildup of ice and snow on a manual track switch.Fuel spills in 1999 cost the railroad nearly $13 million to clean up.The Alaska Railroad was reimbursed for most of the cleanup cost with grants from the federal government, according to the railroad’s recently released annual report.

Knowles OKs spill bill

Gov. Tony Knowles has approved a bill ratifying existing Department of Environmental Conservation regulations defining "best technology" in oil spill cleanup capability.Senate Bill 343, sponsored by the Senate Resources Committee, was passed by the Legislature in response to a Feb. 1 decision by the Alaska Supreme Court that invalidated the department’s previous interpretation of a best technology requirement in Alaska law. Knowles approved the bill April 17.Oil producers and transporters were concerned with the uncertainty the court’s decision cast on oil spill contingency plans in effect with the DEC regarding the level of technology required.The decision also affected permits due to be issued in April for Forest Oil Corp.’s Redoubt Shoal construction project in Cook Inlet.The new law makes it explicit that the Legislature approve the way DEC has interpreted the best technology language.The bill attracted criticism from environmental groups that the state was reducing its commitment to best technology, but DEC Commissioner Michele Brown denied that."SB343 formally adopts the same methods for determining best available technology that have been used for the last five years," Brown said in a prepared statement.

Letter to the Editor

Dear Editor: For most employees, patients, customers, students and the general public, unwanted scents are an inconvenience, but for some, these scents and fragrances may cause dizziness, nausea, migraines, visual and neurological disturbances and other symptoms of illness. They may cause students and employees to miss school or work or go home sick.This environmental illness is called multiple chemical sensitivity. It is oftentimes caused by repeated exposure to airborne chemicals reaching the brain via the nose. As with asthma, the number of people disabled by the sensitivity is increasing. Over time, the problem can become worse, as scents that were once tolerated or even enjoyed begin to cause serious health problems. During the winter months, the problem is worse as cold weather dries out the nasal membranes, allowing scents to more readily make their way to the brain.The sensitivity can be triggered by paints, perfumes, colognes, soaps, hand lotions, aftershaves, scented candles, gasoline and petroleum products, potpourri, air fresheners, fabric softeners, cleaning products and other scented products. And because sensitivity increases over time, the list of items causing this debilitating illness continues to grow every year. Knowing this, it is no wonder the incidence of respiratory, immunological and neurological illnesses are a growing problem.Since the sensitivity is a disabling illness and is covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act, we are responsible to help eliminate this problem in our schools and workplaces and ask your cooperation in making your workplace friendly to those with the sensitivity.P.S. Twenty years ago nobody thought that second-hand smoke was affecting the health and well-being of our children and people we cared about either.Kathleen Houghton, DirectorChronic Fatigue Syndrome-Multiple Chemical Sensitivity AssociationAnchorage

Business runs gamut from haz-mat cleanup to boat salvage

JUNEAU -- Paul Weltzin has carved out such a life of challenge and adventure on the high seas that he considers himself a citizen of the Pacific as well as a resident of Juneau."A lot of people that operate remote depend on people like me," Weltzin said.Weltzin, 31, and his wife, Cheryl, own Sea Level Transport, an Auke Bay business that carries freight to and from beaches in Southeast Alaska and also deals with nearly-impossible salvage jobs, underwater inspections of hulls and permanent facilities, and hazardous-materials cleanup.The Coast Guard’s Marine Safety Office knew of no other local company that takes on that range of assignments.Weltzin said he enjoys taking freight to and from settlements such as Elfin Cove."It’s one of my favorite places to visit because people come down to the dock to meet you, and I get invitations to dinner," Weltzin said."We deal with a lot of challenging issues in terms of access -- like getting excavators to the top of a mountain," Weltzin said. "We spend a lot of time consulting in advance, whether we get hired or not, working out logistics."A year ago, the company cleaned up a 30-year-old logging campsite on 96 acres at the head of Excursion Inlet. Cleanup included removing fuel drums, scrap metal and structures that had to be burned and cleared.Weltzin has several aces in the hole for unusual jobs. One is the shallow draft of his landing craft, Lite Weight, which can operate in only 5 feet of water.The Lite Weight is a former U.S. Navy LCM-8, a landing craft commonly used in the Vietnam War. The hull, built in Wisconsin in 1967, was used for naval training in San Diego. He bought it in Ketchikan in 2000, and uses it to carry log loaders or building materials to places such as Hoonah and Gustavus. Its freight capacity is 130,000 pounds.Another ace in the hole is his skills as a diver."I keep full dive gear on the boat," Weltzin said. "Sometimes I swim the shoreline to get familiar with the scenery underwater, with the obstacles. We don’t like surprises. We do our homework so that once we’re on site there will be no delays."When he’s collaborating with a helicopter service that charges $1,000 an hour, employers appreciate foresight.A recent challenge was the January salvage of a boat on Kruzof Island near Sea Lion Cove. Owned by a Sitka man, the 27-foot aluminum sport fishing boat washed ashore and remained inaccessible for a month."This is about the most violent place you can get in the wintertime in Alaska, and it’s an absolute miracle that the boat came back in such good shape," Weltzin said.Sea Level subcontracted with Lee Hanson of Hanson Maritime in Sitka for the job."We had to wait for 30 days before we could even leave for the site because of bad weather," Hanson said. "I was chewing my fingernails thinking a storm would wash away the boat before we could get there."In preparation for the salvage job, Hanson e-mailed Weltzin photos of the boat’s position on the rocks. When a window in the weather appeared, Weltzin flew to Sitka."We worked all night long to get ready," he said. "We left at 6 a.m. and were back at 4 p.m. We pulled it down through the rocks about two feet at a time. We used the throttle, finesse and 800 horsepower."Rather than limit himself to hauling heavy equipment or materials for weekend cabins, Weltzin enjoys variety. He goes after environmental cleanups of asbestos and lead paint. Last July he inspected Southeast’s ferry terminals for the state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, diving around the terminals and approach bridges. For two summers, he had a contract with AT&T to move equipment and manpower to upgrade its telecommunications network of microwave repeater sites.He enjoys including his family in his work. "The kids eat it up. They love every second on the boat," Weltzin said.To manage even bigger jobs, Weltzin is putting a new crane on the Lite Weight. This will increase his lifting capacity from 4,000 to 10,000 pounds. Because of what he can supply for out-of-the-way construction, he has had clients from as far away as Utah. In addition, the Lite Weight has four engines, meaning that, theoretically, it can keep going even when two are down."Because we are on the water all the time, I feel we are valuable to people," Weltzin added. "We rescue them. We help them with weather updates. We are often there as a first-response vessel."Sea Level’s competition in freight forwarding includes Alsek Freight of Tee Harbor, Atlas Shippers International, Auke Bay Landing Craft & Excavation, Cross Sound Express, Gumption Freight, Span-Alaska Consolidators Inc. and Viking Freight Systems.

Owners trim gas pipeline length

Kenai Kachemak Pipeline LLC has decided to cut in half the length of its proposed natural gas pipeline on the southern Kenai Peninsula because of disappointing results in its hunt for gas on the southern end of the line, the company announced April 25.KKPL, which is jointly owned by Unocal Corp. and Marathon Oil Co., scaled back the original 62-mile-long project to one that will cover about 33 miles and generally follow the Sterling Highway between Kenai and Ninilchik. As originally planned, the pipeline would have run between Kenai and Anchor Point."We are pleased that there have been several drilling successes in the Ninilchik Unit and look forward to expeditiously constructing the pipeline to deliver those supplies into the existing pipeline network," said Unocal’s Chris Keene, chairman of the KKPL management committee. "However, based on exploratory drilling results on the southern Kenai Peninsula, KKPL will not extend the pipeline beyond the Ninilchik Unit."Unocal said that a drilling program on the southern Kenai Peninsula failed to find commercial quantities of natural gas. Unocal recently completed a three-well program that included the NNA No. 1 and Pearl No. 1 wells near Ninilchik and the Griner No. 1 in Anchor Point. The companies have suspended work at all three wells. Unocal has a 100-percent working interest, or nonroyalty ownership, in the three wells."We are obviously disappointed in the results of the three most recent wells. However, results from the Ninilchik exploration unit are very encouraging," said Chuck Pierce, vice president of Unocal Alaska. "Our overall Kenai drilling program has met our initial range of projections. We intend to follow through with a Ninilchik Unit development program and to aggressively pursue other exploration opportunities in the Cook Inlet area."On April 24, Marathon announced successful completion and testing of two additional exploration wells in the 25,000-acre Ninilchik Unit. Marathon is the unit’s operator and owns a 60 percent working interest. Unocal holds the remaining 40 percent. The Ninilchik Unit is about 35 miles south of Kenai.The well tests indicate that the Ninilchik Unit holds more than 90 billion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas, as originally believed when the gas discovery was announced in January, said John Barnes, manager of Marathon’s Alaska business unit.Unocal has two key customers -- a long-term relationship with fertilizer-maker Agrium U.S. Inc. and a new gas sales agreement with ENSTAR Natural Gas Co. The ENSTAR agreement was designed to provide an incentive to explore. Unocal will continue to pursue exploration and development opportunities to supply gas to its customers, the company said."We are quite pleased that new gas has been discovered and that work is proceeding to bring it to the Southcentral Alaska market," said Tony Izzo, ENSTAR president. "One of the primary reasons that we entered into a new gas supply contract with Unocal in December 2000 was to encourage new natural gas exploration such as this in Cook Inlet."We are disappointed, as Unocal is, that their additional exploration on the southern Kenai was not successful," said Izzo. "We were looking forward to working with Unocal to bring gas distribution service to Homer, Anchor Point and the other southern Peninsula communities. Based on these results, we are reviewing all of the supply options for these communities."Unocal has assured us that although this southern Kenai exploration program was not what everyone had hoped, they are still quite positive on the Cook Inlet area. Unocal has announced that it will continue to pursue exploration and development opportunities to supply gas to ENSTAR and its other customers."As revised, the proposed pipeline primarily will be used to transport gas from the newly discovered Ninilchik Unit to the existing pipeline system serving the northern Kenai Peninsula and Anchorage. The pipeline also may be used to deliver gas to utilities that seek to serve communities within reach of the pipeline system. The estimated start-up date for the KKPL pipeline system remains Jan. 1, 2004."KKPL will continue to be an open access pipeline," explained Marathon’s Ben Schoffmann, a member of the KKPL management committee. "We anticipate that the shippers primarily will be producers who are developing gas along the route of the system and perhaps in other parts of the Peninsula who may want to build systems to attach to KKPL. Shippers may also include industrial customers, marketers and utilities."In January, KKPL held an initial open season to determine preliminary interest in the pipeline. Required by law, an open season provides producers with an opportunity to obtain shipping capacity on an oil or gas pipeline.KKPL will hold a second open season in early June to determine the final level of interest in the pipeline, the company said. At that time people interested in reserving long-term capacity on the system will be required to enter into binding agreements so that KKPL can order pipe and enter into other commitments. Pipeline construction is scheduled to begin in September.Based on the agreements made in the second open season, KKPL will seek final approval from the Regulatory Commission of Alaska to construct and operate the proposed facilities and for final approval of a tariff and rates for the system. The final tariff and rates are subject to review and approval by the commission.KKPL said it will hold an meeting for potential shippers in mid-May to discuss the revised pipeline system, available services and anticipated rates.

Supreme Court rules on disabilities law for employers

In recent years, the U.S. Supreme Court has issued a number of decisions making it more difficult for those claiming to have a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act to prove the existence of a disability.In 1999, the Court decided that in determining whether an individual is disabled, one must take into account the effect of any measures the individual can take to mitigate the impairment.For instance, if an individual’s vision can be corrected with eyeglasses, then even if an individual’s uncorrected vision might constitute a disability, once the vision is corrected, the individual would not be considered to have a disability within the meaning of the act. Similarly, if an individual has high blood pressure that can be controlled with medication, then the individual may not have a disability.In 1999, the court also decided that if an individual claims that a disability substantially impairs the ability to perform the major life activity of working, the individual must prove the impairment substantially limits their ability to perform a broad class of jobs, not just a specific job. As such, an individual with uncorrected vision of 20/200 did not have a disability because her uncorrected vision only precluded her from obtaining a job as a commercial global pilot with an airline that required pilots to have uncorrected vision of 20/100 or better. Her vision did not preclude her from obtaining a broad class of jobs.More recently, in January, in a unanimous decision in Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky Inc. vs. Williams, the court further restricted the definition of disability under the act. In the case, Ella Williams was hired by Toyota in 1990 to work on an engine fabrication assembly line with pneumatic tools. Williams soon developed bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome. Williams was placed on light duty for several years. Eventually, Williams was moved into a quality control position, in which she inspected paint jobs for two years. Toyota then decided that its quality control employees also had to be able to perform a "shell body audit," which required Williams to hold her arms and hands up at shoulder height for several hours a day. Williams began experiencing problems with her carpal tunnel syndrome soon thereafter. Williams was eventually terminated for absenteeism. Williams sued under the act, alleging Toyota failed to accommodate her disability, carpal tunnel syndrome.The trial court granted summary judgment to Toyota, concluding Williams had not established she had a disability that substantially limited any major life activities. The Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that decision, concluding Williams was disabled because, as a result of her carpal tunnel syndrome, she was substantially limited in performing a class of manual activities affecting her ability to perform tasks at work.The Supreme Court reversed the Circuit Court of Appeals decision. In reaching its decision, the court commented: "Merely having an impairment does not make one disabled for purposes of the ADA." The court emphasized that an individual has to prove the impairment substantially limits a major life activity.A major life activity is one that is "of central importance to daily life." Because the ability to perform the manual tasks at issue with respect to Williams’ job are not tasks central to the daily life of most people, and because Williams did not show that she was otherwise severely limited in performing activities generally considered of central importance in most people’s daily lives, she did not have a disability.The court’s decision in Toyota continues a trend whereby the federal courts generally have narrowly defined what is a disability under the act. Of particular interest is the fact the court repeated its earlier comments from the 1999 decisions that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission may not have been authorized to issue regulations interpreting the act. While not deciding the issue, the court’s comments clearly signal that it believes the EEOC may have overreached its authority in expansively defining the term "disability" in the regulations it issued interpreting the act.As illustrated by the Toyota decision, employers continue to have success in defending lawsuits filed under the ADA. The Toyota decision suggests that in many cases, just because an employee may have an impairment that precludes the employee from performing a particular job duty, that does not mean the employee has a disability within the meaning of the act, particularly if the impairment does not otherwise restrict the manner in which the employee performs the activities of central importance to most people’s lives, that is, walking, breathing, seeing or hearing. Nonetheless, when an employee alleges he or she has a disability and requests an accommodation, employers should carefully analyze the claimed impairment and its impact on the employee before deciding to deny a requested accommodation.Kimberlee Colbo is a member of Hughes Thorsness Powell Huddleston & Bauman LLC in Anchorage. She can be reached via e-mail at ([email protected]).

Business ethics can spur success

Many people think business ethics is an oxymoron. Certainly the Enron scandal tends to confirm that ethics and people in business don’t go together well, but this notion is largely incorrect. Ethics are an important part of business for a good reason. They are a successful strategy.A recent Wall Street Journal article noted studies in which two people are put together. One of them is given $50 and told to divide it with the second person any way he wants, except that the second person must accept the division for either person to get the money. Economic theory says that the person with the money should keep most of it. In reality, if the person with the money keeps more than about two-thirds of it, the other person will protest and neither gets any money.The interesting thing is that people from market-oriented cultures are much more likely to split the money almost equally than people who are from cultures that engage in little trade. The theory is that trading cultures accustom people to dealing with strangers and trusting that they will follow the rules. This tends to make them behave equally with everyone.The "Star Trek Voyager" TV show once had an interesting episode on this topic. In this episode, the Voyager spacecraft was trapped in a space pocket. Several other ships were pulled into the space at various times.The pocket was small, and there were no energy sources in it, so as the energy in the ships ran out, they died. Some ships had survived for a long time by attacking and stealing the energy from other ships.One of the most successful of these pirates offered Voyager an alliance, but, citing Starfleet rules of behavior, the captain turned them down. Instead, Voyager negotiated an alliance of ships to work on escaping the pocket. The rules of the alliance were simple: Everyone contributed knowledge and equipment and energy equally. Thus, all alliance ships would succeed or all would fail and die together. Of course they succeeded.The captain’s behavior was driven by Starfleet ethics rules, but those rules turned out to force behavior that was the winning strategy. Simply staying alive in the pocket got them nowhere.The only winning strategy was to plan an escape, and that required cooperation. So, ethical behavior was the key to success.This is clearly true for businesses. People talk about contracts, but there is no way to write contracts to cover all possible contingencies. So, businesses must have some level of trust to work with one another. There are entire businesses that operate almost totally on trust.The diamond industry in New York is often cited as an example of no contracts. It is difficult to evaluate raw diamonds quickly, and thus buyers trust that sellers will not cheat them. Anyone who violates this trust quickly loses business. Unethical behavior has consequences.Enron collapsed ultimately because when it became clear how unethical Enron had been. Many customers stopped doing business with Enron because they no longer felt they could trust Enron.So, business ethics and ethics in general are not there just because we would be better people if we followed them. They exist because in the long run, behaving ethically is the most successful strategy.David Arnsdorf is president of the Alaska Manufacturers’ Association in Anchorage. He can be reached via e-mail at ([email protected]).

This Week in Alaska Business History May 5, 2002

Editor’s note: "This Week in Alaska Business History" revisits events that shaped our past. "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."-- George Santayana, 1863-195220 years ago this weekThe Anchorage TimesMay 6, 1982Alaska cannery discrimination lawsuit beginsAssociated PressSEATTLE -- A 1974 civil suit accusing five Alaska salmon canneries of intentionally restricting Filipinos to the worst jobs, living quarters and food is being heard before a federal judge here this week.The suit also contends Filipinos and whites were forbidden to socialize under threat of termination and that Natives were discriminated against in similar fashion.Defendants are the Wards Cove and Red Salmon canneries, operated by Ward Cove Packing Co.; the Bumble Bee cannery operated by Castle & Cooke Inc.; and canneries at Ekuk and Alitak, operated by Columbia Wards Fisheries.U.S. District Judge Justin Quackenbush, visiting from Spokane, Wash., is allowing much of the testimony in the form of written affidavits.In one affidavit, Andy Pascua of Wapato, Wash., said in 1968 that he was forced to sleep with six other men in a 7-by-12-foot room that had too few beds and no other furniture, and that the bunkhouse had no bathroom or showers.Among the plaintiffs in the class-action lawsuit was the late Gene Viernes, a union activist who was slain at the Alaska Cannery Workers Union hall near Pioneer Square last summer.The civil suit contends it was the policy of the canneries to refuse to hire Filipinos for skilled jobs and force them to sleep in cold and crowded rooms known at the canneries as "Filipino bunkhouses."-- Compiled by Ed Bennett.

Factors shape outlook for upcoming season

Alaska tourism operators and other companies that rely on summer visitors have clouded expectations heading into the upcoming season. The travel industry experienced declines in business following the terrorist attacks last fall. Since then demand has rebounded, although some consumers are still reluctant to travel, industry representatives said. Factors characterizing the season may include fewer visitors overall or an increase in budget conscious travelers. "I think it’s going to be a difficult year for some businesses," said Tina Lindgren, president of the Alaska Travel Industry Association. Companies are offering discounts and other pricing changes that could reduce profits compared with prior years, she said. Economic and other concerns influence a nationwide trend of reluctant travelers, Lindgren said. "More people are staying closer to home than ever before," she said. Despite signs of a turnaround, the U.S. travel industry is still struggling, and bookings trail last year, Lindgren said. "It does appear that things are definitely better across the country now than last fall, but not recovered," she said.

Organizers consider possible return to Alaska in upcoming years

Organizers of an event that drew nearly 2,000 people to Alaska for the last two years have not scheduled an event for this year. However, Palotta Team Works may eventually return for future Alaska AIDS Vaccine Rides.The six-day, fund-raising bicycle rides from Fairbanks to Anchorage were held in August 2000 and 2001. Tourism officials said some ride participants extended their visits to include other tours. Riders raise money to participate in the events, which benefit AIDS vaccine research.The Anchorage Convention and Visitors Bureau noted the AIDS ride registered an economic impact of almost $1.3 million for the city. ACVB officials are negotiating with event organizers for the 2004 ride, said ACVB public relations manager Jeanette Anderson Moores.Palotta Team Works is organizing similar events in Europe and from Montreal to Portland, Maine, rather than the Alaska event."Last year’s results were not very good," said Steve Bennett, company president.Three rides in 2001, in Alaska, Montana and Canada, tallied more than $4 million, he said.The Alaska event could be held every third year, Bennett said."Our view is each year we will take another look at it," he said.Although Palotta Team Works hope to plan another Alaska ride, costs are a concern, Bennett said.Costs to host the ride are typically higher in Alaska, and fewer vendors mean less-competitive prices for items like portable toilets, he said.AIDS riders from 2000 and 2001 were impressed by Alaska, he said. "Riders in general came back and said, ’Oh, my gosh, Alaska is so awesome. ’ "Deb Hickok, president and chief executive for the Fairbanks Convention and Visitors Bureau, said she knew initially it would be a two-year event."They just didn’t think they could sustain that level (of participation) year after year," she said.

Railroad opens online booking system

Within two hours of posting its new reservation system on the Internet April 23, the Alaska Railroad Corp. had its first online booking.By the second full day, the system had pulled in $6,000 in revenue, representing about 50 online reservations for the upcoming tour season."It’s been a very positive experience for us," said Steve Silverstein, vice president of the railroad’s markets, sales and services division.The railroad-specific reservation system, known as "Rail Res 2000," is designed to improve telephone reservation service and allow customers to book seats and purchase train tickets via the Internet, according to the railroad.The system, designed by United Kingdom-based Anite Travel Systems, is used by railroads worldwide and for ferry reservations to and from Seattle to Vancouver, British Columbia, Silverstein said.Cost for the computer software and hardware upgrades was $820,000. The Federal Transit Administration covered 80 percent of the cost; the remainder was paid with railroad revenues, according to railroad officials.As of April 25, railroad reservations are up 2 percent from last year, Silverstein said.In the past two years, the state-owned railroad has hauled about 500,000 passengers annually and has had revenues of just more than $13 million each year.Silverstein said the railroad is "cautiously optimistic" that those levels will remain constant this year.Rail officials hope the new system will attract more passengers to the 525-mile rail line by providing instant access to railroad schedules, tour information and package deals, all with the option to purchase online. Internet reservations should improve telephone reservations by allowing agents more time to serve customers, Silverstein said.Internet users may make reservations on the Alaska Railroad’s Web site at: (www.alaskarailroad.com/passenger/index.html).

Juneau anticipates record number of cruise ship visitors

More than 700,000 cruise ship passengers are scheduled to tour, shop and gaze at Juneau this year based on preseason projections from the Juneau Convention and Visitors Bureau.The cruise season kicked off April 30 with the arrival of Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Sky and ends Sept. 25 with the departure of Celebrity Cruises’ Mercury. By summer’s end, 718,633 cruise ship passengers and 315,038 crew members are scheduled to visit on 39 ships, according to bureau totals.Last year’s preseason projection was 683,077 passengers. The final total was 690,648, according to the bureau.For the larger cruise lines, the projections are based on "lower berth capacity," or an average of two people per cabin, according to Don Habeger, port manager for the Juneau office of Cruise Line Agencies of Alaska."There are times that lower berth capacity can be exceeded -- for example, a family of four in a cabin by themselves," he said.New ships to Juneau this year include Holland America’s Amsterdam, Princess Cruises’ Star Princess and Celebrity Cruises’ Summit. Royal Caribbean’s Legend of the Seas and Radisson Seven Seas’ Seven Seas Navigator will return to Juneau after a break.Seabourn Cruise Lines will return to Alaska after a five-year hiatus. The company’s Seabourn Spirit is scheduled to make 10 stops in Juneau this summer. It has a passenger capacity of 208 people.The ship, which spent the winter months in Southeast Asia, was rerouted from Europe to Alaska after Sept. 11, said Bruce Good, public relations director for the luxury cruise line. The Seabourn Spirit has a few openings early in the season for Alaska but is booked for the rest of the summer, he said."As soon as we announced we were doing Alaska, it just took off," he said. "About 50 percent of our people repeat year in and year out. When we go to a destination that we haven’t been to for years, a lot of people want to go."While several larger cruise lines reported an increase in bookings by February after a post-Sept. 11 drop, not everyone has recovered. The Boat Co., which is not included in the Juneau bureau’s totals, has three boats that carry between 12 and 24 passengers through Alaska waters and to Juneau each summer. Mark McIntosh, the company’s vice president, anticipates numbers will be down this year."Not everything is hunky-dory," he said. "Our selling season went much longer; we were selling into April. We usually do a lot prior to December with a spurt after the holidays. I think people are still trying to find their comfort level."Reservations manager Kathy Nissley said the company has 596 passenger reservations this summer, a number she expects will grow to 650. The Boat Co. took 749 passengers through Alaska last summer, she said.Radisson Seven Seas’ 490-passenger Seven Seas Navigator is scheduled to make 19 stops in Juneau this year. Andrew Poulton, the director of strategic marketing, said the company’s peak-season Alaska cruises are sold out."I think people perceive Alaska as being a safer destination than other parts of the world at this time," he said. "They want to stay closer to home and there’s the security of knowing they’re still in the United States."Meanwhile, the Juneau bureau is working with some 200 volunteers who provide information at Centennial Hall, the cruise ship terminal, the Alaska Marine Highway System terminal, the Marine Park kiosk and the Juneau Airport, according to president Lorene Kappler. The bureau moved to Centennial Hall from the Davis Log Cabin last year.One focus for this year’s volunteers will be encouraging cruise passengers to return, Kappler said."We’ve always done that, but we’re going to start putting a little more emphasis on encouraging cruise passengers to spend more time, get to know us better and get to do the things here that they don’t get to do when they’re on a cruise," she said.The bureau also is working to get a good handle on the number of independent travelers, or noncruise visitors, who come to Juneau each year, Kappler said. The number of independent travelers has held steady during much of the past decade, ranging from 110,000 to 150,000 a year, Kappler said.

Around the World May 5, 2002

STATEState provides special assistance to laid-off veneer plant workersKETCHIKAN -- The state is offering special services to help 63 workers who lost their jobs when Gateway Forest Products veneer mill shut down.The assistance by the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development was announced April 25 by Gov. Tony Knowles’ office. State officials say the action comes after the U.S. Bankruptcy Court dismissed the Ketchikan company’s Chapter 11 protection from creditors in April.Gateway has been under that protection since February 2001.The company’s debts exceed $45 million, including more than $15 million owed to the Ketchikan Gateway Borough, according to court documents.The company ceased operations in mid-December and laid off most or all of its veneer manufacturing staff. The company’s efforts to obtain new financing and resume operations failed when potential lenders withdrew tentative offers in March and April.In the mid-April action, Bankruptcy Court Judge Donald MacDonald approved a motion by U.S. trustee Barbara Franklin to dismiss the case.Kenai Chrysler owner purchases Soldotna-based Ford dealershipSOLDOTNA -- Kenai Chrysler owner Bob Favretto closed a big deal April 17, as his purchase of Seekins Ford in Soldotna was finalized. The move means Favretto now owns car dealerships in both Kenai and Soldotna.The deal was finalized after months of negotiations between Seekins and Favretto, and an announcement could only be made once all the legal kinks were ironed out.Favretto noted that personnel changes at the Soldotna store were not in his plans. However, he said the only significant change at Seekins would be that Bob Bambace, an 11-year Alaska resident and former Daimler-Chrysler employee, will be brought in to serve as the Soldotna store’s general manager and operating partner.Stevens won’t push for Native drilling rights in Arctic refugeANCHORAGE -- Sen. Ted Stevens said he won’t push to give oil drilling rights to Native corporations that own land within the borders of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.Stevens, R-Alaska, had promised in April to amend a Senate energy bill to allow drilling on land owned by Alaska Native corporations. His announcement followed Senate moves to block an amendment that would have allowed oil exploration in the coastal plain of the refuge.Stevens said April 23 he changed his mind at the request of Arctic Slope Regional Corp. and Kaktovik Inupiat Corp.The Alaska Native corporation, ASRC, owns the mineral rights to 92,000 acres in the refuge while Kaktovik Inupiat Corp. owns the surface rights.When ASRC acquired the mineral rights in a land swap in 1983 it agreed not to develop any oil in the area unless Congress approved drilling in the surrounding coastal plain.NATIONWilliams Cos. reports 46 percent decrease in first-quarter profitsTULSA, Okla. -- Williams Cos. said April 25 its first quarter profits fell 46 percent from a year ago, reflecting a $232 million charge related to a now bankrupt former subsidiary. The Tulsa-based energy company reported net income of $107.7 million, or 7 cents per share, compared with the prior year’s net income of $199.2 million, or 41 cents per share.Williams Cos. is the parent of Williams Alaska Petroleum Inc., which owns a large refinery in North Pole, a network of gas stations and convenience stores in Alaska, a fuel distribution terminal at the Port of Anchorage, an interest in an air cargo transfer facility at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport and a 3 percent interest in the trans-Alaska oil pipeline.WORLDP&O Princess sails through first quarter with gains in pretax profitLONDON -- P&O Princess Cruises PLC posted a 43 percent rise in first quarter pretax profit April 25 that beat expectations, but said it was comfortable with market forecasts for the full year.The company said the results were achieved despite the impact of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.P&O Princess, the world’s third largest cruise operator, is pursuing a $6 billion merger with Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. and fending off a $5 billion takeover offer from Carnival Corp. All three companies operate ships in Alaska waters.P&O Princess slashed underlying costs by 11 percent over the quarter and is on track to achieve a 7 percent reduction in underlying unit costs for the year. It also said bookings are running ahead of 2001 levels.-- Compiled from business wire services.

State anticipates need for more workers during salmon season

KODIAK -- Despite news of plant closures and other downturns in the salmon industry, plenty of workers are wanted for the upcoming season."In fact, we’re going to need anywhere from 400 to 550 more people than last year, in all parts of the state," said Pennelope Goforth, the state seafood employment coordinator.And these are not just processing jobs, Goforth is quick to point out. "Electricians, machinists, shipwrights, plant supervisors, accountants, computer systems administrator, cooks," she said. "Plants in remote areas actually operate as a small, self-contained city and they need every service that a small city needs."Goforth travels around the state giving presentations about seafood industry jobs to high schools and at training programs.She says she likes to make people "think beyond the slime line" to the many skilled, high-paying jobs the seafood industry offers.The state Department of Labor’s Web site (www.labor.state.ak.us/home.htm) has job listings from 60 employers and a seafood employment specialist is at local job service centers.Goforth encourages people to get their applications in early. With heightened security, employers are performing more background checks and the screening process is longer, she said.Chignik co-opTwo-thirds of Chignik’s seine fleet opted to enter the fishing cooperative that will operate for the first time this summer. Based on new Board of Fish rules, the seiners had till April 15 to join the co-op -- 77 of the 101 permit holders chose to do so. Between 40 to 50 boats are likely to participate in the co-op, which is allocated nearly 70 percent of the 1.2 million projected sockeye harvest. The remaining independent fishermen are on their own.Chignik salmon harvesters have mixed feelings about the new fishing strategy, said regional management biologist George Pappas. "This has always been a gentleman’s fishery with no problems. Now it’s going to be very different, and we could see brother against uncle," he said.Pappas said a lot will depend on how the red run comes in and management by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game."Generally, I think many people are going to be unhappy this summer because they are seeing a traditional way of life change," he said.Benefits from omega-3 fatty acidsThe Journal of the American Medical Association and the New England Journal of Medicine last month published findings that say eating more omega-3 fatty acids dramatically reduces the risk of dying from heart attacks, which kill 250,000 Americans a year. Along with reducing heart attacks, omega-3s are also credited with reducing some cancers, improving vision in babies, easing arthritis and even alleviating depression.An international workshop will convene May 5-6 in Montreal to see if a random study is appropriate to determine if increasing omega-3s in the American diet from eating more fish, as now suggested by the American Heart Association, dietary supplements or fortifying foods with omega-3 oils would benefit the general population.The outcome of the workshop could be a decision to design an actual study and propose it to the National Institutes of Health. The studies might set dietary intake requirements and lead the way for product labels to claim that omega-3 fatty acids may reduce heart disease.In all, it could be a good thing for Alaska. Fish is one of the best sources of omega-3s, especially wild salmon.The workshop is sponsored by the Omega-3 Research Institute of Bethesda, Md., and William S. Harris, Ph.D., of the Mid-America Heart Institute in Kansas City, Mo. Financial support comes from BASF Corp., Ocean Nutrition Canada, The Procter & Gamble Co. and Roche Vitamins Inc. Registration is available on the Internet at (www.goldenplanners.com).Quality controlAlaska harvesters, processors and tender operators are paying less attention to salmon quality now than they were five years ago.According to an Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute survey conducted by Dittman Research and Graystar Pacific, all sectors of the salmon industry made big improvements in quality handling practices from 1991 through 1996. But it stopped there."Alaska has the best salmon in the world and also the best of the worst salmon in the world," said Sandro Lane of Taku Fisheries in Juneau. Lane is chairman of the institute’s board.The survey’s most disheartening revelation was the lack of refrigeration on fishing boats. This year, as in 1996, only 48 percent of harvesters said they chill all their salmon.More troubling were the numbers who don’t chill at all.That number went from 60 percent of gillnetters in 1996 to 53 percent last year. The seiner percentage increased one point to 11 percent. Setnetters reported that 64 percent of them don’t chill at all. The number of trollers who don’t chill almost doubled from 6 percent in 1996 to 11 percent last year.Processors and tender operators weren’t doing much better. The survey shows their use of ice or refrigeration has declined. The number of tenders delivering daily to plants also dropped to 38 percent last year, compared with 55 percent in 1996.The institute has appointed a committee to explore the creation of guidelines -- either mandatory or voluntary -- for handling salmon."Voluntary standards have been in place for over 20 years, and that’s obviously not working well enough," Lane said.Kodiak-based free-lance writer Laine Welch can be reached via e-mail at ([email protected]).

Hotel chains expand in Alaska

About 380 new hotel rooms will open across Alaska this summer in time for a tourism season facing an uncertain outlook. Four hoteliers have planned these additions, and each property will be another link in their existing hotel chains. For one company, however, a fire in early April ruined plans to open a new downtown Anchorage hotel this summer. Aspen Hotels was to open its fifth property in June with 90 rooms. Although many Alaska tourism businesses saw bookings drop last fall following the East Coast terrorist attacks, some companies later experienced a rebound in customer reservations. Nonetheless, some operators are concerned about filling rooms this summer while others expect sufficient business. Aspen Hotels This year would have marked a milestone for Aspen Hotels, adding its fourth and fifth hotels to its chain. However, last month a fire destroyed its four-story hotel initially expected to cost $4.9 million to build in downtown Anchorage. The hotel was to open June 1. In March, Aspen Hotels inaugurated its fourth hotel, a 63-room property in Soldotna. The company already operates hotels in Fairbanks, Juneau and Valdez. Like the Fairbanks and Valdez properties, business for the Soldotna Aspen Hotel will stem from oil and gas industry clients as well as independent travelers, said Carol Fraser, company vice president. In Anchorage, Aspen executives are planning to rebuild the hotel following an investigation and demolition of the damaged structure. "We want to open next year," she said. "It’s not just rebuilding a hotel. It’s rebuilding lives." The new hotel will be similar to the original. Aspen plans to employ 24-hour security staff during construction, she said.

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