Senate-approved bypass mail bill could save Postal Service $30 million a year

FAIRBANKS -- The U.S. Senate has approved changes to Alaska’s bypass mail system.The Senate June 6 added the bypass mail language to a supplemental spending bill for the federal government’s current fiscal year. Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, offered the amendment, which was adopted by unanimous consent.Stevens said overhauling the bypass mail system should save the Postal Service $30 million a year.The Senate action comes after more than a year of work on the proposal, which was supported by some air carriers in Alaska but opposed by others.The House version of the supplemental bill, which passed last month, contains intent language supporting revisions to the bypass mail system. Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, secured that language.The House and Senate versions must be merged in a conference committee."I don’t expect any problems from the House or anybody on this bill," Stevens told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.Under the current bypass program, shippers can send 1,000 pounds or more of material, including groceries, to rural Alaska at parcel post rates. It’s dubbed "bypass" because the packages bypass post offices and go directly to eligible air carriers on a rotating basis.The Postal Service pays the air carriers to carry the bypass mail, using a formula based on industry costs.Those costs will continue to rise if nothing is done and more companies get into the bypass mail business, according to Stevens. As the mail gets split among more carriers, the amount each carrier spends to deliver each shipment inevitably rises, he said. Under the cost-based formula, those rising expenses must be reimbursed by the Postal Service.Eliminating the cost-reimbursement system isn’t an attractive option, Stevens said June 7. If that were done, the Postal Service would contract out the mail delivery to the lowest bidder. Then air carriers would have to cut back their rural passenger service dramatically, something he doesn’t want to see happen.So he and Young have pushed a two-pronged approach to cap costs while potecting passenger service.First, their legislation would restrict new carriers on mainline routes between Alaska’s larger cities and the Bush hubs. No new carriers on a route would be allowed unless they provided at least as many passenger seats as the current largest passenger carrier serving the hub community.Existing carriers would not face the minimum passenger requirement. Those carriers include Northern Air Cargo, Air Cargo Express, Alaska Airlines and Lynden Air Cargo.At least one company hoping to get into the bypass mail business, Evergreen Aviation, has said requiring new mainline carriers to carry a certain number of passengers while exempting existing carriers is unfair.Stevens, however, said the restriction is necessary to prevent the cost escalation.Provisions of the bill also will encourage consolidation of the mail into fewer, larger planes, he said.The legislation’s second prong would affect Bush routes between the hubs and the smaller outlying villages. Carriers that transport more passengers and non-mail freight would be given most of the bypass mail. Also, carriers using small planes would have to upgrade to twin-engine aircraft under certain conditions to remain eligible.The legislation delays the new rules for 15 months.

Gov. Knowles asks unions to keep loading ships bound for Alaska

ANCHORAGE -- With less than a month before a West Coast longshoremen’s contract expires, shipping companies operating in Alaska are girding for a possible strike or work slowdowns. Gov. Tony Knowles, meanwhile, has asked the longshoremen’s union to continue loading Alaska-bound ships if a strike occurs.Neither the International Longshore and Warehouse Union nor the Pacific Maritime Association, both based in San Francisco, will comment on the contract talks because of a self-imposed news blackout. Talks began last month. The three-year contract ends July 1.Union spokesman Steve Stallone said that there’s been only one strike in 54 years and that the two sides usually work out a contract. The maritime association’s chief executive, Joseph Miniace, said he’s optimistic that the union shares the goals of modernizing workplace practices and technology. The maritime association represents shipping lines, stevedore companies and terminal operators.Trucks and jets haul some goods to Alaska. But the threat of a dock workers’ strike looms large in the state because the bulk of Alaska’s groceries, clothing, furniture, cars and building materials arrives by container ship from the Port of Tacoma.Frank Peake is Alaska vice president of CSX Lines, one of the two major shippers that bring everything from milk to toilet paper to minivans to Alaska."I don’t think that they’ve really tackled any of the tough issues yet," Peake said.Peake said he’s monitoring the labor talks. In the meantime, he’s repositioned another ship to handle any spike in inventory to Alaska this month. With the possibility of a strike, department stores and car dealers often increase the amount of goods shipped."For this state in particular, it’s critical because we only have seven to eight days worth of inventory in many cases. It wouldn’t take long for us to be out of milk and bread and what have you," said Peake.The other major shipping company that serves Alaska, Totem Ocean Trailer Express Inc., or TOTE, is also making contingency arrangements, said Bob McGee, president. McGee declined to offer specifics, saying it wouldn’t help the contract talks.McGee noted that the longshoremen’s union hasn’t had a work stoppage since 1972. When strikes have loomed in the past, the union has agreed to exempt Alaska because shipping, to a large extent, is the state’s economic lifeblood, he said.Knowles wrote to the union April 15 asking longshoremen to continue loading ships bound for Alaska even if they strike or stage a work slowdown. Knowles said that he recognizes the union’s right to withhold labor in the absence of a contract but that to exempt Alaska from any work stoppage would be "a bold statement of partnership with my state."The union hasn’t responded yet but plans to reply, Stallone said.Union longshoremen on the West Coast handle 60 percent of commodity freight to Alaska, Knowles said. But Alaska is just a small portion of the overall domestic and international cargo moving through West Coast ports such as Long Beach, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and Tacoma.It’s the union’s prerogative whether or not to grant Alaska a waiver."It’s not a slam dunk," Peake said.

Major salmon farmers in Europe gearing up to produce farmed cod

Cod will be the next major aquaculture species exported to world markets from Norway, and the big commercial breakthrough will happen this year.That’s according to a new report on the growth of cod farming from the Norwegian fisheries newspaper Intrafish, which says that 280 cod-farming licenses have already been issued in Norway. Production of cod will grow from 3 million juveniles this year to 64 million in 2005, based on projections.Seafood.com reports that growth in Norway and the United Kingdom is being spearheaded by investments by major salmon farming companies, including Fjord Seafood, Pan Fish, Nutreco, Grieg Seafood, Marine Farms, Salmar and Stolt Sea Farm. All of these have begun investments or will do so shortly through their own companies or subsidiaries.Aquascot, the largest producer of organic salmon in the United Kingdom, is expected to produce more than 2 million cod juveniles annually, leading to production of 5,000 to 6,000 tons. The complete 21-page report is for sale for $285 from Intrafish.com.Foundation helps Coast GuardMany people are unaware of an organization called the Coast Guard Foundation, a nationwide, nonprofit group that is dedicated to improving the quality of life for those in the U.S. Coast Guard.The foundation began in the late 1960s and originally focused on providing programs and facilities at the Coast Guard Academy in Connecticut. Its mission was expanded in the mid-1980s to encompass the entire Coast Guard."Our broader mission and main thrust is to reach out to Coast Guard men and women all over the country, particularly those serving in remote locations such as in Alaska," said Barbara Richards, foundation president, at the group’s headquarters in Stonington, Conn.In Kodiak, for example, the foundation helped renovate the bowling alley and other recreational facilities on the Coast Guard base. In Sitka, the funds built a bus shelter. The foundation’s biggest project this year, and in fact one of the biggest anywhere in the country, is to build a community-activity center for Coast Guard families stationed in Valdez.The foundation also provides scholarships for enlisted men and women and their dependents, as well as grants for continuing education. "These people are not highly paid, and they struggle to make ends meet," Richards said.Some might argue that men and women in the military don’t need a special funding source, because the government provides housing, medical insurance and many other benefits. Richards said that’s a comment that’s often heard, and she has a ready response."Most people are aware that the Coast Guard is a very small organization in relation to its mission nationwide, now more than ever, with so much emphasis on port security and the Coast Guard’s role in the whole homeland security issue," she said. "Its budget has traditionally been under funded, and operational priorities always take precedent."While we have seen some positive trends in federal support, those dollars won’t go to the kinds of things the foundation does, small things that can make a difference in the quality of life but will always be at bottom of list in terms of priorities."The foundation also organizes and recognizes Coast Guard heroes and units at awards dinners around the country and uses those opportunities to help spread the word about the many things the Coast Guard is doing.Most notably for Alaskans, on Oct. 3 an awards banquet and fund-raiser is scheduled at the Hotel Captain Cook in Anchorage. Richards said all the money raised will go toward the community center project in Valdez.For more information, call 860-535-0786, or check out the foundation’s Web site at (www.cgfdn.org).Hold the fishFirst it was farmed fish. Now, NASA scientists have developed a method for growing chunks of fish flesh in a lab -- without a fish. The Alaska Fisherman’s Journal cited a CNN report that said the process would allow "the production of copious amounts of protein for consumption without the messy and involved business of killing fish or livestock."The magazine said the fish-flesh began with muscle from goldfish. It was placed in a vat of fetal bovine serum liquid, taken from the blood of unborn calves. Within a week, the goldfish flesh had grown by 16 percent. The experiment is part of a project aimed at feeding people during extended space travel.Salmon roe prices expected to declineThe first sujiko, or roe, from the Copper River fishery was offered in Japan at $14.55 per pound for No.1 product and at "the traditional price spread of $1.45 per pound less for No. 2 product," according to market analyst Bill Atkinson. Last year the starting price for No. 2 roe was $17.05 per pound but dropped to between $14.91 to $15.27 per pound by early June. With the weak market conditions for salmon roe in Japan, prices are expected to decline as the season progresses, Atkinson said. Wanted: seafood fanaticsThe Old Bay Spice company is looking for America’s biggest seafood and Old Bay fans. Old Bay is a Southern tradition, famous for the flavor it gives to crabs, shrimp and, especially, crawfish. Enthusiasts can enter the contest by describing in 100 words or less why they are the biggest seafood fanatics, and provide their favorite or most unusual uses for Old Bay.Ten winners will be selected on the basis of creativity, persuasiveness and originality of Old Bay use. The winners will then compete in the first Peel & Eat Shrimp Classic on Labor Day in Baltimore, Md. The person who eats the most shrimp will win a $10,000 grand prize. Look for Old Bay displays in grocery stores or call 800-632-5847. The deadline to enter is July 31.Kodiak-based free-lance writer Laine Welch can be reached via e-mail at ([email protected]).

Knowles signs measure reversing drilling ruling

JUNEAU -- Gov. Tony Knowles signed into law June 7 a bill that would undo a unanimous Alaska Supreme Court decision on permitting requirements for oil drilling wastes in Cook Inlet.The new law also would exempt firing ranges from state waste disposal permitting requirements.The measure was a response to two separate lawsuits filed by environmental groups. It was sponsored by Sen. Gene Therriault, R-North Pole.The action on permitting for drilling wastes was in response to a Supreme Court decision handed down May 3. Knowles said that decision could jeopardize oil and gas permits as well as other resource development activities.The court ruled unanimously that state regulators erred when they decided to allow the discharge of drilling mud and rock cuttings from Forest Oil’s Osprey Platform in Cook Inlet under a general discharge permit issued by the federal government.The high court ruled that the Alaska Coastal Zone Management Act required a project-specific review.The lawsuit challenging the state’s action on the Osprey platform was filed by the environmental group Cook Inlet Keeper.In addition to undoing the court decision, the new law would undercut a lawsuit filed by Cook Inlet Keeper, Alaska Community Action on Toxics, the Military Toxics Project and the Chickaloon Village Traditional Council.The federal lawsuit sought to have the military stop using the 2,500-acre Eagle River Flats firing range at Fort Richardson and clean up unexploded munitions on the range.Therriault’s bill was introduced late in the session at the request of the military to exempt all active firing ranges from state requirements for a waste disposal permit.Environmentalists have argued that white phosphorous and other chemicals from ordnance fired at Eagle River flats can cause serious health problems in wildlife and people.In addition to seeking a state solid waste permit for the Eagle River flats firing range, the groups’ lawsuit seeks to have the firing range brought into compliance with the federal Clean Water Act.The law takes effect immediately.

Committee approves Adak land transfer

ANCHORAGE -- The transfer of land on Adak Island to the Aleut Corp. took another step toward completion June 5.The U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved a bill to transfer 47,000 acres to the corporation.The corporation wants to develop the island community, once home to a large Navy base. The former base contains hundreds of homes, as well as schools, warehouses, a power plant, an airfield and one of the Pacific’s best deep-water ports.The corporation hopes to turn the island into a fish processing and refueling center.The bill is sponsored by Sen. Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska. It calls for the corporation to relinquish an equal number of acres of land it selected from the federal government.The measure still must be approved by the full Senate.

Fairbanks hotel shows plans for 8-story tower

FAIRBANKS -- Representatives of Westmark Hotel and Convention Center will demolish the oldest section of the hotel and build an eight-story tower in its place, the hotel chain has announced.Preliminary site work on the $34 million project is scheduled to begin this month, with an opening set for the spring of 2004. Architect Merle Jantz unveiled the plan for city officials June 5.Much of the two-story northern portion of the hotel that will be demolished was constructed in the 1950s as the Traveler’s Inn. The project calls for 108 rooms to be replaced with 265 new ones, giving the hotel 400 rooms.Company President Dave Cocks said part of the motive behind the addition is to try to draw off-season conference-type events from Anchorage and Juneau."We’ll be going after some of the larger state organizations and conventions, which Fairbanks desperately needs," he said. "We have a lot of faith in the infrastructure of the city."No new convention space will be added. Jantz said the difficulty with attracting events has had more to do with a lack of top-caliber accommodations."It wasn’t the conference space, it was the number of rooms," he said. "Now we’ll have 400 good quality rooms ... the rooms are larger, the bathrooms are larger and modern."

Business Profile: 3SG Inc.

Name of the company: 3SG Inc.Established: October 2001Location: 3709 Spenard Road, Suite B101, Anchorage, AK 99501Telephone: 907-929-4374Web site: www.3sgi.comE-mail: [email protected] focus of services: 3SG Inc. provides Internet and network security services as a monthly subscription for companies. A hardware device from the company provides protection from Internet hackers, and the company also uses software to thwart computer viruses and filter Internet access based on various specifications. 3SG also can design virtual private networks and develop security policies for companies.History of the company: 3SG owners Justin Burgess and Brian Evans met while working at General Communication Inc. Three years ago Evans considered a business idea to provide information technology services for small- and medium-sized businesses that typically could not afford to employ an IT professional. He and Burgess decided providing security services would be the best avenue for a new business.After drumming up financing from investors, Burgess and Evans opened 3SG on Oct. 1. Burgess spent six months developing a customized management platform and fine-tuning software programs for the company’s service offerings. Although similar companies operate in the Lower 48, the two Alaskans say 3SG is the only such company in the state offering this type of outsourced security services.3SG has clients ranging from a network with three computers to another with 1,200 computers. Burgess and Evans handle much of the work but also employ part-time subcontractors for installations.Top accomplishment of the company: The business partners are pleased that financial performance should break even this summer, ahead of their business plan that listed that milestone after one year. Projects also have been important like starting service for its largest customer and providing a virtual private network between Anchorage, Kenai, Edmonton, Alberta and Houston, Texas. Burgess and Evans also relish operating their own business. "I enjoyed GCI, but this is my own," Evans said.Major players: Justin Burgess and Brian Evans, owners, 3SG Inc.Burgess moved to Alaska in 1995 and has worked for the North Slope Borough, GCI and Ilisagvik College in Barrow. He has 10 years experience in Internet security and holds several industry certifications. Evans was born and raised in Anchorage. He worked for eight years as an account manager at the Odom Corp. and five years at GCI as senior commercial accounts manager.-- Nancy Pounds

Native corporations report impact

Alaska’s Native regional and village corporations contribute widely to the state’s economy and will grow and prosper as Alaska develops, senior managers of three prominent Native regional corporations said June 5.Native-owned corporations have invested in timber, hotels, oilfield services, mining and several other types of businesses, said Jacob Adams, president of Arctic Slope Regional Corp. of Barrow.But in the long run, it is the huge private land base owned by Native corporations, combined with the talents of young Alaskans educated and trained as a result of the corporations and their business activities, that will boost the state’s growth, Adams and the others told the Resource Development Council for Alaska Inc. in Anchorage.The council was holding its annual membership luncheon at the Sheraton Anchorage Hotel.Adams said the values held by Native people, as they move into leadership roles in the state’s business community, are also important."Cooperation, respect and integrity are values that are ingrained in our cultures," he said.Barbara Donatelli, executive vice president of Cook Inlet Region Inc., agreed with this. "Alaska Natives have a concern for the well-being of the whole group, not just the individual. This is good for Alaska," she said.Marie Greene, president of NANA Regional Corp. of Kotzebue, said her corporation has invested in 35 businesses that employ 1,800 Alaskans and 1,200 people in the Lower 48.NANA’s goals are jobs for its shareholders and business opportunities, Greene said, and one of its successes is the partnership with Teck Cominco in developing the Red Dog Mine, which is on NANA-owned lands."Thirty years ago there were very few jobs in our villages. The only jobs were seasonal, except for a handful in the village store or in the school," Greene said. Now 60 percent of the work force at Red Dog are shareholders. NANA’s ultimate goal is for shareholders to manage the mine and its operations.But accomplishing that will require continued investment in education and training, Greene said. The need has spawned the creation of strong regional education and training initiatives.NANA and other institutions in the region, like the nonprofit Manealuk Corp., the Northwest Arctic School District and others, formed the Northwest Arctic Higher Education Consortium to promote education and training.The consortium has now been enlarged to include the Arctic Slope, with the addition of Arctic Slope Regional Corp., the North Slope Borough and Phillips Alaska Inc. as members.Adams told the council that the 44 million acres of private lands owned by Alaska Native corporations will be a key factor in the state’s future development. However, long delays in conveyance of these lands by the government to the corporations have impaired this potential, he said.But now resources on Native lands are being produced. Adams said Native lands are included as part of the largest new oil and gas field to be developed in the last decade, the Alpine field on the North Slope.He is optimistic that the huge coal reserves of the western Arctic, which are owned by Arctic Slope, will begin to be developed within the next decade as part of a plan to supply power for continued development of mining in the Red Dog region.Adams said that shareholders in Native corporations who are taking advantage of scholarships and other assistance to secure higher education and training will provide a critical pool of skilled workers for Alaska’s industries in future years."Young Native people who go outside the state to pursue education typically return when their education is complete," bringing their knowledge and skills back home, Adams said.Adams is concerned, however, about the future of Alaska’s rural economy, its communities and the smaller village corporations, he told the council.Reducing conflicts between the state’s urban politicians and rural people is critical to the future of the state, because rural communities depend on public infrastructure and services."I don’t expect the same level of services in Atkasuk, an Arctic Slope village, as I would in Anchorage, but I would expect some level of understanding" about the needs of rural people, Adams said.Donatelli said that while the largest industrial firms working in Alaska have their headquarters out of state, Alaska’s Native corporations are based in Alaska.They are important sources of investment in Alaska enterprises, she said. Recent economic studies showed that a group of 21 Native corporations, including 12 regional corporations and nine village corporations, employed 10,600 Alaskans with a payroll of $350 million in 2000, Donatelli said.

Juneau businesses see decline in independent travelers

JUNEAU -- A predicted slowdown in travel to Juneau in the wake of Sept. 11 has left the cruise ship industry unscathed, but may be taking a toll on local businesses that depend on independent travelers.No firm numbers are available yet, but anecdotal evidence from a wide variety of Juneau establishments catering to independent travelers shows a slowdown in bookings and an increase in cancellations for the key summer season of mid-May through mid-September.Independent travelers, or generally any visitor to Alaska who isn’t coming on a prearranged package tour, are thought to provide an important boost to local economies, said Caryl McConkie, tourism program manager with the state Department of Community and Economic Development."That’s a concern," McConkie said. "People think of (independent travelers) as people that are coming, staying overnight ... purchasing tours locally, that sort of thing. They’re the tourists many of the communities and businesses want."Unlike cruise ship passengers, who often are in town for only a few hours, independent travelers eat, shop and tour around Juneau and other Southeast towns, taking advantage of local hotels, motels and bed-and-breakfasts and small-scale travel activities like charter fishing.In 1993, purely independent travelers made up 44 percent of the Alaska summer market, said McConkie, who also oversees the Alaska Visitor’s Statistics Program, a statewide research project on the visitor industry, conducted four times since 1985.Last year’s survey found that independent travelers made up only 30 percent of Alaska’s summer tourism totals, or approximately 360,840 of the 1,202,800 people who came to Alaska from May to September 2001.Of that total, anywhere from 100,000 to 160,000 reach Juneau each year, said Lorene Kappler, president of the Juneau Convention and Visitors Bureau, a nonprofit organization that works to increase independent travel to the capital.That number, which is based on summer occupancy rates, has remained relatively flat for the last 10 years, Kappler said. With the 2002 summer season heating up, she’s hearing a mix of predictions about business prospects."It’s hard to have a broad brushstroke because different people operate their businesses differently," Kappler said. "Anecdotally, I’ve heard different stories, from ’I can’t believe how well things are,’ to ’I’m down 40 percent.’ Overall, it isn’t as strong a market as it’s been."That overall decline is taking its toll on local operations, both large and small. Goldbelt Inc., Alaska’s urban Native corporation, lost $4.4 million for fiscal year 2001. The loss partially stemmed from a weak independent travel market, Gary Droubay, president and chief executive, told the Juneau Empire June 4.For smaller operations, the costs of the decline also have been dramatic. Phil Greeney closed the doors on his bed-and-breakfast, the Mt. Juneau Inn, this summer. He and wife, Karen, who began operating the bed-and-breakfast in 1995, saw double-digit increases in client numbers until the economy ran into trouble in 2001, Greeney said."It was flat," Greeney said of the 2001 summer season. "(Business) didn’t pick up anywhere as we were used to it picking up. ... A big part of it was the state of the economy and then when Sept. 11 came that just really finished it."Many businesses cited last fall’s terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., as a likely cause of the drop in reservations by independent travelers. Several also noted a decline in foreign visitors."From what I’ve heard, people that are in Europe don’t want to travel to America at this point in time because of the terrorist activities and the waiting and everything in the airports," said Joshua Zeller, front desk manager for the Breakwater Inn, Restaurant and Lounge.Mike Bethers, who has owned the charter fishing service Silver King Marine since 1995, said he had cancellations of long-standing charters for the first time this summer. All five parties canceled because of Sept. 11-related issues, including fear of flying and their own required military service.Other business owners attributed declining numbers to increased traffic from cruise ships.

New high school ahead of schedule

Construction is more than three-fourths complete on the $45 million Dimond High School replacement, the largest project in the Anchorage School District’s history.Work on the 264,000-square-foot, two-story school should be finished in spring 2003, a few months ahead of schedule, said Ray Amsden, Anchorage School District director of facilities.The cost of the Dimond High eclipses recent projects to build Mirror Lake Middle School and Goldenview Junior High, which each cost in the mid-$30 million range, he said.It also is one of the largest construction projects under way in Anchorage this year.Building began 15 months ago, alongside the current Dimond High, said Vince Stevens, school district project manager. General contractor Alcan General Inc. and its subcontractors were able to work during winter, which contributed to being ahead of schedule, he said."On a project this size it’s quite a credit to the contractor," he said.Alcan project manager Stephen Jelinek believes the building should be finished in January, although the contractor will have a few site details to complete that June. The project is four to five months ahead of schedule, he said. "I think we can stick to it," Jelinek said. "We’ve gotten over the risk areas."He attributes the swift progress to coordination among project participants."We’re blessed to have really good people," Jelinek said.Stevens, from the school district, agreed, noting the efforts from Alcan and Anchorage-based company USKH Architects, Engineers, Surveyors & Planners.AMC Engineers of Anchorage served as electrical and mechanical engineer contractor.Employment at the site peaked three to four months ago at 140 workers, while minimum employment has been 100 people, Stevens said. The project is 79 percent complete, Stevens said.In some sections of the building, walls are painted and lockers and white boards are already installed, while other areas like the main gymnasium and auditorium-cafeteria have additional work remaining.Work this summer will finish most academic areas, including installing carpet and other floor coverings, Stevens said. Construction on public areas such as the gym will continue through February.Currently, Dimond has 2,100 students, requiring 19 relocatable classrooms at the site, Stevens said. Those units will not be needed once the new 1,600-student school is completed, boundaries are redrawn and the new South Anchorage high school is finished, he said. That date is tentatively set for fall 2004.Another Anchorage high school is being built this year. Site work started in May on the new $68 million South Anchorage school, according to school district facilties director Amsden.Once the Dimond replacement school is finished, another construction phase will follow to demolish the old school, renovate the front area to include student and public parking, an entry plaza and tennis courts, Stevens said. That work is being designed now and should go out for bid in 2003.Dimond High’s new design separates academic and public areas, he said. It will allow community members to use the gym or library while school officials can close off classroom wings and prevent vandalism.The design also features a new arrangement called an academic wing, which aims to create a more personal environment, Stevens said. Each wing will house most classrooms and lockers for 400 students plus have an office for an assistant principal and a guidance counselor.Another feature in each wing is a teacher work area, which includes a computer work station and locking cabinet for each teacher plus a kitchenette. A teachers’ lounge is located near the administration area. The school has been wired for high-technology applications including card-reader entry as well as overhead projectors and data connections in classrooms, Stevens said.The main gym, with a 1,600-person capacity, has a three-lane, one-eighth mile running track circling its second level. An adjacent auxiliary gym is suited for smaller activities like wrestling or gymnastics practice rather than large assemblies, Stevens said.An auditorium-cafeteria combines food service and performance capability in a design concept probably used for the first time in Alaska, he said. The area includes a stage and orchestra pit.A commons area includes stairs and an elevator to the second level. The school has two art rooms, a scene shop for performances, one room each for band, choir and orchestra, and individual practice rooms for music students.The school will have a new hockey rink, and soccer and baseball fields."It’s going to be a beautiful site," Stevens said.

Railroad seeks federal aid for Susitna flooding damage

The Alaska Railroad Corp. is seeking $430,000 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to cover track damage and lost passenger revenue when the Susitna River flooded last month.Some 20 rail lengths of track were washed out and damaged May 14 at Mile 239 north of Talkeetna from the flood, canceling scheduled northbound and southbound Denali Star trains for a day, said Patrick Flynn, railroad spokesman.The federal emergency money would cover materials, labor and money lost from the tourist trains, Flynn said.It was the first time in at least a decade the railroad had a significant shutdown from a track washout, Flynn said."It’s been at least a decade that we have seen one of that magnitude," Flynn said.The Alaska Railroad also had other unforeseen costs in May when a locomotive leaked about 1,300 gallons of diesel in the Seward rail yard, Flynn said.The leak was discovered by a railroad crew May 7.Cost of the cleanup was pegged at $75,000, Flynn said.

Warbelow's builds new terminal at Fairbanks airport

Art Warbelow’s business strategy is simple: Grow like a weed or wilt like one."You got to keep growing," said the owner of Warbelow’s Air Ventures Inc. of Fairbanks. "If you don’t, you shrink."It’s that philosophy that has Warbelow undertaking the largest expansion in the company’s history, a new $1.5 million, 21,000-square-foot passenger terminal and maintenance facility at the Fairbanks International Airport.The facility also will offer a new restaurant and gift shop, both of which will be run by the Warbelow’s Air Ventures, which claims to be the largest passenger-carrying commuter airline out of Fairbanks.Construction of the new terminal and hangar started in April and should be completed by the end of the year, Warbelow said. Ron Price and Associates of Fairbanks designed the new facility and is guiding its construction, Warbelow said."We really needed to add to our passenger services," said Warbelow, whose current facility at Fairbanks International is cramped, has little parking and barely enough room for airplane maintenance.Warbelow’s new facility is the first such venture off the airport’s’ new $2 million taxiway extension. The airline also has leased a large tract adjacent to the new facility to provide a business buffer and for future growth.Jim Fiorenzi, assistant manager at Fairbanks International, said the $2 million taxiway extension was aimed at businesses like Warbelow’s."Art has grown to be our largest commuter air carrier," Fiorenzi said. "What goes along with growth is more activity and more people and airplanes to deal with."Art’s relocation should not only meet his current needs, but future needs, too." Warbelow’s father, pioneer aviator Marvin Warbelow, founded the airline in 1956. Art Warbelow and his two brothers, Ron and Charlie, took over the family business in 1971, after Marvin’s death. Renamed 40-Mile Air Inc. and based in Tok, the new airline mostly featured charters with a few scheduled flights to the local surrounding area. 40-Mile Air expanded to Fairbanks in 1981, adding scheduled flights to Alaska’s Interior, according to company history.In 1989, Art Warbelow said, the brothers each wanted to take the airline in different directions and 40-Mile Air was divided among them. Art Warbelow retained operations out of Fairbanks and Warbelow’s Air Ventures was reborn. Charlie Warbelow kept 40-Mile Air and Ron Warbelow started his own business, Casseron Turbo Helicopters.In 1999, Charlie Warbelow was killed when the helicopter he was flying crashed at the Eastern Oregon Regional Airport.During the last dozen years, Warbelow’s Air Ventures has flourished, Art Warbelow said. The airline has grown from five airplanes carrying about 100 passengers monthly to 16 airplanes and 3,000 passengers a month.Warbelow’s Air ventures serves 28 communities by scheduled commuter, charter and contract air service.The airline provides contract medical evacuation services to several Interior villages.The company employs about 75 people and is expecting to add a few more once the new facility at Fairbanks International is completed, Warbelow said.In the past few years, the airline has expanded its bases in Galena and Unalakleet to keep up with growth. Warbelow’s Air Ventures last year also began offering flight instruction.

Big-ticket projects on tap for 2002 construction season

It’s going to be a hectic year for road, bridge and airport builders around the state. Surface transportation construction will be up sharply in 2002.This is due partly to work starting on big-ticket projects and partly to more federal money being available, thanks to Alaska’s influential congressional delegation in Congress.The state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities is estimating that $230 million worth of transportation projects -- highway and airport work -- are underway in the agency’s central region, which includes Southcentral and Southwest Alaska, according to Tom Moses, the regional construction engineer.Actual expenditures will likely be a little less, but it’s still a big jump over $145 million spent on central region projects last year, Moses said.The state’s projected project spending in the northern region, which includes Interior, northern and western Alaska, is $130 million this year, up from $90 million last year, according to Jim Weed, the northern region engineering chief.Comparable statewide figures for spending this year aren’t easily available, but the amount of federal money available for transportation, which pays for most of the projects, has been steadily increasing.Airport improvement projects slated for Anchorage, villagesBy Tim BradnerJournal ReporterA substantial amount of airport work is planned this summer. At Ted Stevens International Airport near Anchorage, improvements to several taxiways are planned along with new passenger terminal construction.Airport improvement projects are under way in Eek, Kwethluk and Chefornak, and a major airport and local road project will get under way this fall at Iliamna.A $7 million improvement to the east-west runway at Nome’s airport is planned to start in mid-summer. Beginning June 1 the runway will be closed, and only the north-south runway will be available for use.Improvements to the Noorvik airport in northwest Alaska, a $7 million project, should be completed this year, as well as a $4 million airport improvement at Huslia in the western Interior.Work will begin this fall on a $4 million airport improvement at Stevens Village on the Yukon River. In the current federal fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, Alaska will receive about $420 million in federal transportation funds, up from about $327 million the previous year, according to Jeff Ottesen, statewide planning chief.In addition to these funds, which are distributed by formula to the different states, Ottesen said Alaska additionally receives $30 million to $80 million per year in special appropriations for specific projects, due to efforts by the state’s delegation in Washington, D.C.Since the state of Alaska must contribute another 10 percent in state matching funds, more than $500 million will be spent in total this year in construction of transportation infrastructure.On the Parks Highway near Wasilla, work on highway widening, bridges and overpasses will continue, including completion of a $16 million interchange. A similar interchange was built in this area of the Parks last year, for approximately $15 million.Another project improves the Palmer-Wasilla highway, as well as construction of a connecting road from the Glenn Highway to the Knik-Goose Bay road.Later this summer, construction will start on a long-planned interchange at the junction of the Parks and Glenn Highways, near Palmer, at an estimated cost of $30 million to $50 million. The project will have a design-build contract, and proposals from builders are now being reviewed by the state, Moses said. The contract will be awarded in late June to the successful bidder, and work will be under way by fall, he said.Farther north on the Parks, the highway will be realigned and repaved from Mile 57 to Mile 67. A new bridge will cross the Little Susitna River.A big project on the Glenn Highway from Mile 100 to 109 will rebuild the road and build a new bridge at Caribou Creek. This is also a $30 million to $50 million project.A number of projects are under way in Anchorage. In South Anchorage, work will continue on widening the Old Seward Highway from Dowling to Dimond Boulevard, and Arctic Boulevard from Raspberry Road to Dimond Boulevard, and repaving of Northern Lights and Benson boulevards in Midtown Anchorage.Dowling Road will be improved from New Seward Highway to Lake Otis Boulevard and Lake Otis will be repaved from Abbott Road to O’Malley Road.On the Seward Highway, improvements are planned from Seward to Mile 8, including new bridges. Five other portions along 42 miles of the Seward Highway are being rebuilt this summer near the turnoff to the Sterling Highway.A major project on the Seward Highway nearer Anchorage is reconstruction of the highway across the Bird Flats, an area between Bird Creek and Girdwood where the highway now runs for a long stretch in an active avalanche zone.In the northern region, a new interchange is planned on the Richardson Highway and Badger Road intersection, near Fairbanks, according to Jim Weed, a regional project engineer.The Dalton Highway to the North Slope will be surfaced from Mile 111 to Mile 144, and Mile 335 to Mile 362. The Elliot Highway, which connects the Dalton Highway to Fairbanks, will be resurfaced from Mile 28 to Mile 72.

$85 million Concourse C construction ranks as Anchorage's biggest project this year and next

The new concourse at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport will see major construction this summer as part of a $230 million, six-year airport renovation. The project is the largest construction job in Anchorage and is one of the state’s top projects.The new concourse is expected to be ready by summer 2004."The goal this summer is to get the building enclosed so they can work through the winter," said Dave Eberle, central regional director for the state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.Work started in 1999 when regional airlines were relocated and the old Concourse C they had been using was demolished. Roads have been upgraded during the last two years. Construction this year and in 2003 focus on rebuilding Concourse C. Renovations to the existing terminal could start in 2004 and continue through 2005.The project is expected to be a major source of construction industry job growth in Alaska for 2002 and 2003, according to the Department of Labor’s Economic Trends report for May. Work on the national missile defense project in Fairbanks is another. The $85 million Concourse C work is the single largest project in Anchorage in 2002 and 2003, according to the report.Once completed, the Anchorage domestic terminal will total 804,000 square feet with 23 gates and 20 regional airline parking positions. The new terminal area and Concourse C add 447,000 square feet to the existing facility. The project also expands baggage claim and ticket lobby areas and doubles the curbside area for dropping off and picking up passengers.Airport revenue bonds issued in 1998 and 1999 and a federal grant in 1998 delivered $230 million in funding. Of that, $137.8 million is dedicated to replace Concourse C; $33.7 million is for terminal renovations; $31.9 million goes to road and parking improvements; $25 million is for improvements to areas used by aircraft; and $1.6 million covers financing costs.Kiewit Construction Co. is the general contractor on the two phases of Concourse C work. Phase one, the foundation and structural steel work, is nearly complete. Phase two, to complete the building, started in May, Eberle said.The contract is scheduled to be completed in December 2003, although that could continue into early 2004 because of changes in permits, he said.Railroad depot ready by fallBy Nancy PoundsJournal Assistant EditorConstruction on the Alaska Railroad Corp.’s new passenger depot at the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport could be complete this fall and start serving passengers next summer.Work this summer aims to finish the $28 million depot structure at the Anchorage airport, said railroad spokesman Patrick Flynn.The airport rail station project is funded by the Federal Railroad Administration, according to the railroad’s annual report.Located adjacent to the parking garage, the depot has an elevated track from the 17,300-square-foot depot descending to join a route parallel to International Airport Road.Builders will install two bridges this month as part of work on the route, Flynn said. One bridge spans Aircraft Drive, and another bridge carries outbound track from the terminal, he said.The bridges were built at the Port of Anchorage. The Aircraft Drive bridge was scheduled to be installed June 6, while the other bridge is due to be put in place June 12, Flynn said.Also this summer, railroad officials hope to have the pedestrian tunnel to the airport terminal in place.Work also is under way to improve the track spur from Minnesota Drive to the airport depot. That project also uses federal railroad funds.Construction on the depot is mostly complete, and protective plastic coverings should be removed by mid-June, Flynn said. Those changes were made after a structural review. Builders have reinforced steel columns and other parts to meet review terms, said John Faunce, construction manager with Parsons Brinckerhoff Construction. There was no need to replace trusses and other supports, he said.In summer 2004 remodeling is expected to begin on the ticket lobby, Concourse B and the exterior facade to match the new concourse, Eberle said. That work will take one to two years, he said."Right now we’re looking at what the scope of that work will be," Eberle said.Concourse C work now employs about 100 contractor employees, said Donn Ketner, the state’s terminal redevelopment project director. Employment should peak later this season at 200 workers, he said."From here on out, it’s going to be a pretty fast pace," Ketner said.Kiewit was awarded the phase two contract last September. The contract includes $8.8 million for a tarmac apron addition and $76.7 million for the concourse building.This summer Kiewit aims to enclose the main part of Concourse C between the existing terminal and new mechanical rooms, he said. That work includes electrical and mechanical installation plus concrete deck work, roofing, exterior framing, and installing and starting new boilers for winter construction heat.The new concourse adds two new baggage carousels. Outbound baggage areas will meet a new federal requirements for explosives screening by late 2002, he said.Moving walkways will be installed in the new concourse.One feature of the new concourse is a two-story central entrance area where airport visitors converge from the terminal to the parking garage and train depot. It will have skylights, two glass elevators, escalators and stone floors, Ketner said."It’s going to be a beautiful building," he said.On May 29, Kiewit poured the first concrete floor for Concourse C phase two. Similar work will continue every other day, project officials said.Kiewit also is handling earthwork and fuel-line installation as part of airport apron work adding 350,000 square feet. Apron construction continues through 2005, he said.The renovated terminal will have a new retail area, a central security station and a glass-enclosed observation deck. Five jet positions were relocated for the project and another four were added for total of nine, Ketner said.Designs include expansion of ticket lobbies and baggage claim possibly by 2015 and a plan for adding more gates.

Six gravel trains a day needed for Anchorage construction

Alaska Railroad Corp. is doing its part to move Palmer to Anchorage one gravel car at a time.The railroad is on track for a robust gravel-hauling year, as the annual spring rush of hopper cars are moved over the line between Palmer and Anchorage to replenish winter stockpiles.Major construction projects in and around Anchorage this summer have the railroad running as many as six, 80-car gravel trains daily from Palmer, at rock pits owned by Central Paving Products, Anchorage Sand & Gravel, and Quality Asphalt and Paving.The annual spring rush is similar to the fall when increased gravel train traffic lasts from late August though mid-October, so that rock can be stockpiled for the winter.Normally, the railroad runs only three trains daily in the summer months.Despite several measures in recent years to hush train noise, more gravel trains mean more gripes from folks who live near the tracks, said Patrick Flynn, Alaska Railroad’s public affairs officer.The railroad has spent millions of dollars over the years to hush train noise, including replacing 35-foot rail sections with 80-foot sections that lessens the ’clickity clack’ sound by half.The railroad also has installed miles of track near residential areas called "continuously welded rail,’’ where the gaps in the steel rails have been filled with metal, creating a steady, less annoying sound. And foliage has been planted along the line to create a buffer in some residential areas.Gravel trains are heavy, causing vibrations along the line, a sensation likened to a mini-earthquake. More trains mean more blasts from train whistles at at-grade crossings, something railroads are required to do by law. "We have to do it," said Flynn of the increased gravel trains. "There is a demand. Busy gravel operations mean a busy Alaska economy."Flynn said trains keep big gravel trucks off the Glenn Highway, reducing traffic and causing less wear and tear on the state’s roads, where much of the gravel ultimately ends up in asphalt. He said the gravel trains keep hundreds of large trucks off Alaska highways daily.Behind fuel, gravel is the most moved commodity for the Alaska Railroad. The railroad hauled some 3.54 million tons of gravel last year, just short of the record-breaking year of 1999 when 3.6 million tons of rock was moved.In 2000, a slowed economy cut gravel shipments significantly, Flynn said.Mike Harned, sales manager of Anchorage Sand & Gravel, said there is a huge need for rock this summer."It looks like it will be a good gravel year," Harned said. "There are a lot of good projects like the new high school, airport work, C Street work and a lot of new subdivisions."

Fish farming generates pollution, antibiotic-resistant bacteria

KODIAK -- Many call it a "blue revolution" and claim that fish farming provides jobs and boosts the economies of rural regions. But coastal fish farms around the world, which are major competitors to Alaska’s wild fish industry, are coming under more scrutiny because of their adverse impacts on the environment, other sea life and humans.More environmental groups, food safety experts and so-called economic justice organizations are launching educational campaigns so consumers know just what they’re buying into when they purchase farmed seafoods like salmon and shrimp.Phil Lansing, a resource economist with the Institute of Agriculture and Trade Policy, compares coastal aquaculture to livestock feed lot confinement operations and believes it raises similar policy and social questions."Consider a huge confinement facility with thousands of hogs," Lansing said. "Now put it on a dock. It would be very inexpensive to deal with the sewage because it could just be pushed off the dock. And if you gave lots of antibiotics to the animals, as well as in their feed, that would land in the water too. That’s what happens with floating net pens, because there is no treatment of the sewage or effluent."You get a dead zone from the sewage underneath the pen. High concentrations of nitrogen float downstream, and antibiotic-resistant bacteria build up in shellfish in the vicinity. And while it’s not well-documented because of a lack of monitoring, you get fish diseases and deadly salmon parasites like sea lice from fish in net pens. Also, rough weather results in mass escapes of hundreds of thousands of Atlantic salmon, and that will continue as long as there are net pens."As with other environmental groups, the institute is not against fish farming that is conducted on land in contained facilities, but they object very strenuously to the open pen operations. More studies are revealing that one of the most serious problems is that they are producing significant amounts of antibiotic resistant bacteria.Farmed fish are routinely fed antibiotics to control disease, or in what’s called sub-therapeutic amounts as an aid to growth. When humans eat farmed fish laced with antibiotics, they can develop resistance to the drugs when they are prescribed by doctors. Many worry this is becoming a major world health issue.Lansing also points out that farmed fish operations put tremendous pressure on wild stocks, which are captured and ground up for fish meal. It takes three to five pounds of wild fish to produce one pound of farmed salmon.Fish farmers, on the other hand, argue that they are aware of and dealing with the environmental and health issues raised by the institute and other organizations.A poll released last month by the British Columbia Salmon Farmers Association, for example, found that 71 percent of those surveyed throughout the region believe fish farming is an environmentally sound industry. About 80 farms operate in British Columbia today. Open pen fish farms are also expanding in Maine and Washington.The institute and others want fish farmers to start paying for monitoring, as well as the environmental costs of their businesses. Activists find, however, that they are limited as to what they can do, because environmental standards are almost nonexistent, little baseline monitoring data has been established and there are almost no enforcement measures for fish farms that are largely in remote areas.The groups want government agencies to strengthen and enforce existing laws and regulations related to fish farming, including water quality protection, food safety issues related to colorants and dyes, and other issues.They are also trying to convince policy makers and industrial aquaculture companies to adopt a moratorium on further expansion until adequate environmental and social protection laws and regulations are in place.We are what we eatA report by the Santiago-based Terram Foundation claims that salmon farmers in Chile are using cancer-causing green malachite for treatment of parasite and fungal infections. Green malachite is a triphenylmethane dye used in Chile’s leather shoe industry and is banned for use in fish farms.The WorldCatch News Network reports that the foundation also accuses the country’s fish farm industry of using 75 times more antibiotics than Norway does to treat diseased fish. It also estimates that the organic waste from Chile’s fish farming industry is equal to the wastewater from five million people.The foundation is scheduled this month to present the first of three reports that provide measured data on impacts to the environment caused by fish farms.Kodiak-based free-lance writer Laine Welch can be reached via e-mail at ([email protected]).

Cook Inlet leads state in pollutant releases

KENAI -- More than 1.67 million pounds of toxic pollutants were released into the air, land and water in and around Cook Inlet in 2000, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s latest Toxics Release Inventory made public last month.Cook Inlet leads the state in manufacturing-related toxic discharges, the EPA said.According to the EPA data, Agrium’s Nikiski fertilizer plant led all Alaska manufacturing facilities with on- and off-site releases totaling 1.46 million pounds of toxic chemicals. Tesoro’s Nikiski refinery was responsible for releasing 87,000 pounds of toxic emissions, while the Kenai pipeline facility reported nearly 126,000 pounds."Once again, we find industry dumping massive amounts of toxics into the air and water of Cook Inlet," said Bob Shavelson, head of the Homer-based Cook Inlet Keeper, an environmental watchdog group.The reports don’t tell the whole story but only account for a small fraction of the actual toxic discharges into the Cook Inlet region, Shavelson said."They don’t include the billions of gallons of toxic pollution discharged each year into Cook Inlet by oil and gas activities, polluted run-off and sewage treatment plants," he said.Denise Newbould, environmental health and safety superintendent for Agrium, agrees the whole story is not being told."The law that drives the reporting is the Community Right-to-Know Act. In my opinion they don’t tell you enough," she said. "They don’t tell you about relative toxicity."The vast bulk of waste emitted from the Agrium complex is ammonia, which is not harmful in low quantities, and ammonia does not accumulate in the environment as other pollutants can, Newbould said."If you are not exposed to a large quantity all at once, there is no danger. It doesn’t cause cancer, it doesn’t attack organs and it doesn’t harm fetuses or anything."Newbould said Agrium, and its predecessor Unocal, have reduced emissions over the past decade or more by over 95 percent. Scrubbers remove ammonia before discharge and that ammonia is recovered. Flares burn what cannot be economically recovered, and the by-products of that burning are water and nitrogen gas, the major component of air, she said.The EPA data shows an overall increase in the production of wastes at the Agrium complex but not a relative increase in toxic emissions. Newbould said the efforts at cleaning up emissions are paying off. She also said, however, that a flaw in the reporting requirements may also be skewing the data."We have to report if we send spent catalysts to a recycler (where metals are recovered)," she said. "That’s not an environmental harm issue, but we have to report the total quantity." Newbould said spent catalysts could account for several percent of the total emissions.Other EPA data showed the nearly 534 million pounds of toxic releases coming from mines and power plants made Alaska fourth overall among all states for releases from nonmanufacturing industries.Some 23,000 factories, refineries, mines, power plants and chemical manufacturers across the nation self-report their emissions to the EPA. On- and off-site releases for all reporting industries totaled 7.1 billion pounds in 2000. Those industries reported creating 37.89 billion pounds of production-related wastes in all, most of it treated or disposed of other than by release. That figure was almost 8.4 billion pounds greater than in 1998.Agrium was honored by Gov. Tony Knowles at the Export Alaska 2000 banquet in Anchorage May 23.Agrium Kenai Nitrogen Operations was named winner of the governor’s Exporter of the Year Award.The Agrium complex includes two ammonia plants and two urea plants with a combined annual production capacity of almost 2 million tons, Knowles said. Since 1999, the fertilizer export market has grown from $113 million to almost $190 million.Shavelson said it was ironic that Agrium, a Canadian company, would be so honored, while dumping toxics into Alaska’s environment.Newbould said the complex is "consistently significantly below the toxic release limits imposed by EPA and that what does get released is actually a nutrient.""Bob Shavelson can say we are ’dumping toxics,’ but I say that’s misleading," she said. "I don’t see the irony. There’s nothing contradictory in it. The governor was not giving the award to Agrium’s international corporation, but to this facility, which is converting a raw material into something of higher value. What’s wrong with that?"

Federal funding gets another look

This is the last year of the current six-year federal transportation program, and next year Congress will take up a reauthorization of the program for another six years.Whether the next six-year plan is as generous to Alaska as the current plan, which brings $350 million to $400 million a year in funding for surface transportation projects to the state, remains to be seen, according to Jeff Ottesen, chief of statewide planning for the state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.Lobbying of Congress by different states and interest groups has already started, he said. Groups like the national Associated General Contractors and the Association of State Highway Commissioners are making their views known, along with states and municipalities interested in more money for mass transit."We’re generally in a good position because of the seniority of our congressional delegation and Congressman Don Young’s position as chairman of the transportation committee in the U.S. House," Ottesen said.Still, the fact that Alaska gets several times more in federal transportation money than it contributes in federal gasoline tax revenue makes the state a target for others.Many states receive less federal funds than they contribute in gasoline taxes, he said.Over the years the guidelines on use of federal surface transportation funds have been made more flexible. For example, 10 years ago federal funds could only be used on highway projects that were built to certain federal specifications. That meant federal funds could not be spent on narrower or unpaved rural roads.Since then the program has been changed so that federal funds can be used for a wide variety of surface transportation needs, including rough rural roads, trails and even recreational amenities like scenic turnouts and bike paths.That is all subject to change, however, when Congress does the periodic reauthorization.Besides the money Alaska receives through the formula in the federal transportation program, Rep. Young and Sen. Ted Stevens, both Alaska Republicans, are able to secure additional funds for special projects. Alaska also receives money for airports, ports and harbors through other programs.

Port engineer departs over design

The Port of Anchorage’s top engineer lost his job last month over differences in the direction expansion plans should take.It’s unclear whether Richard Burg was fired or had resigned, but he is no longer employed by the municipality."The port was my life," said Burg, who had almost a dozen years with the city-owned port. "It’s devastating not to be working there anymore."Burg said he could not support a new port expansion plan being pushed by port director and Alaska’s former Gov. Bill Sheffield."I found myself on the wrong side of the sheet pile," Burg said in reference to the newest port design, which would use scalloped-shaped steel plates to create the facility. "I could not support the vision of the administration. Their vision is not my vision, so I decided to step aside and get out the way and let it go in the direction it’s going to go."Sheffield refused to talk about Burg leaving the port, citing personnel issues."Rich is a nice guy and a bright engineer," Sheffield said.For the past few years, Burg had been working with engineers at Tryck Nyman Hayes Inc. drawing up plans for a new deep-draft dock expansion at the Port of Anchorage.The city already had spent $1.5 million for that plan. But in March, Peratrovich, Nottingham & Drage Inc. submitted an alternate plan at the request of Sheffield. It envisions expanding the port north and 400 feet seaward of the existing dock, incorporating some 9 million tons of fill to create a nearly mile-long dock. Some 85 acres would be created and added to the port’s existing 100-acre footprint.The new design, according to its engineers, is bigger, better and cheaper. At $146 million, the new facility is about $80 million less than what it would cost for the other port expansion plan, said Sheffield."It’s a very attractive alternative for us," Sheffield said. "It’s bigger and it’s millions cheaper, and money is getting harder to come by now."Sheffield has said Alaska Republicans Sen. Ted Stevens and Rep. Don Young have been supportive toward funding the newest port expansion project designed by Peratrovich, Nottingham & Drage.In time, Sheffield said, an engineer will be hired to replace Burg. Meantime, the port will contract out work to R&M Consultants Inc., which already has been hired to perform a review of the newest port expansion plan.Anchorage Mayor George Wuerch appointed Sheffield to the post in the spring of 2001. He officially took over as port director last June.Sheffield has since been aggressive in pushing for an expansion to the port, which serves more than 80 percent of Alaska with an annual economic impact of $725 million from various commodities moved across its docks.

Jet fuel tax sparks opposition

A proposed 2-cent-per-gallon fuel transfer tax in the Fairbanks North Star Borough has ignited a spate of controversy and legal opinions.Williams Alaska Petroleum Inc., the Alaska Air Carriers Association and the Alaska Railroad Corp. say state or federal law or both prohibits the tax.Advocates say the measure would drastically reduce property taxes in the borough.The Alaska Air Carriers Association says it will sue the Fairbanks North Star Borough if the referendum is approved by voters at a June 25 special election.Merrick Peirce, spokesman for A Bright Future for Fairbanks, the group pushing the proposed tax, said the fuel transfer tax would bring in $24 million -- enough to reduce property taxes by 40 percent throughout the borough."We’re not trying to increase taxes," Peirce said. "We want to diversify the tax base and grow our economy."Peirce said property taxes in and around Fairbanks have doubled during the last 15 years. The borough’s population has slid by 2,000 residents in the last few years and property tax delinquencies are up, he said.Property tax relief would stimulate Fairbanks’ economy and would be good for everyone, he claimed.Most of the money from the proposed tax likely would come from jet fuel Williams Alaska sells to Anchorage from its North Pole refinery, Peirce said.Jeff Cook, vice president of external affairs for Williams Alaska, said state and federal law prohibits the proposed tax.Williams Alaska pays the third-largest amount of property tax in the borough, about $3 million annually. Although it would save about $1 million a year in property taxes if the fuel transfer tax is approved by voters, Williams would suffer severe financial losses from its jet fuel sales, Cook said."If we would have to pay it, it would be devastating to us competitively," Cook said.Cook said his company produces 1.4 million gallons of jet fuel daily for Anchorage. Another 210,000 gallons is produced for Fairbanks each day, he said.Williams provides about half of the jet fuel for the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport and Tesoro Alaska Petroleum Inc. provides another 40 percent via its Nikiski pipeline. The other 10 percent of the fuel normally comes from producers outside Alaska and is shipped to Alaska’s largest city in tankers and barges.Cook said if his company were hit with the tax, it would lose its customers to Tesoro or Outside producers."That’s almost laughable," said Peirce. "Williams has the most profitable refinery in North America. There is no way in hell they will lose those jet fuel sales. They will pass on the 2-cent tax on to customers whenever they can."Petroleum makes up most of the freight revenue for the Alaska Railroad, projected at $36 million for 2002, up $270,000 from a year ago.If Cook is right, the railroad would suffer huge losses, said Patrick Flynn, Alaska railroad spokesman.State law prohibits the Alaska Railroad from taking sides on the issue, Flynn said."Statutorily, we can’t get involved," Flynn said, "but we have concerns. Williams is our biggest customer. What’s bad for them is bad for us."The railroad set daily, weekly and annual records shipping fuel from Williams Alaska Petroleum’s North Pole refinery last year.Flynn said the railroad believes the tax is not allowed under federal law.The proposed tax, Flynn said, would "discriminate against rail transport and exempt pipeline fuel."David Leone, a special assistant for Mayor Rhonda Boyles, said neither the borough nor the Fairbanks City Council have taken a position on the proposed tax."There are a lot of concerns," Leone said. "Alaska statues are not real clear on what is and what isn’t taxable."The borough has hired Av Gross, a former state attorney general, to give a legal opinion on the borough’s power to tax fuel transfers. The borough has paid Gross $20,000 to study the tax.Gross, reached at his office in Juneau, said he would provide the borough with his opinion in early June.Gross would not offer a preview of his findings to the Journal, only to say that "there are a lot of legal issues about this tax."State law prohibits taxation of fuel used for heating and power generation or fuel used in airplanes that operate flights to foreign countries.Cook said most of the jet fuel Williams produces is used for foreign flights.The Alaska Air Carriers Association, which has some 75 members, said in its May newsletter that it would sue the borough if an attempt is made to tax aviation fuel transfers.Timothy Miller, attorney for the association, could not be reached at his Lake Oswego, Ore., office.The Journal is a non-voting associate member of the association.Pierce said his group set a record in Fairbanks on the referendum and expects a high voter turnout."We got 2,000 signatures in 10 days," Peirce said. "I think it will do very well."

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