Entrepreneurs open Anchorage naturopathic practice

Two Alaskans who have opened a new health care facility have aspirations similar to other entrepreneurs. They relish creating and running their own business, Avante Medical Center LLC, at 915 W. Northern Lights Blvd.Jason Harmon, a naturopathic doctor, and Bethany Buchanan, a family nurse practitioner, opened their business in Anchorage last month and aim to eventually add another medical professional."Jason and I have done this for ourselves," said Buchanan, adding that they also aimed to develop a special facility for patients. Buchanan and Harmon also hope to offer employee benefits like medical insurance, profit sharing and raises within six months, Buchanan said."We both really want the employees to be happy because we know that’s the key to success," she said. "I am thoroughly enjoying being an employer."The company has four full-time employees: a registered nurse, a medical assistant, a receptionist-director and an office manager. The center will hire a contractor for massage therapy, Buchanan said. In another year or two, Avante Medical Center could add another naturopathic doctor or nurse practitioner, she said.Avante provides primary care with traditional and alternative treatments. Services and departments include family practice, women’s health services, massage therapy, allergy treatments, intravenous therapy and a supplement store.Buchanan earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing from the University of Colorado in 1991 and a master’s degree from the University of Alaska Anchorage in 1997 as a family nurse practitioner. She has worked nine years in Alaska, most recently at the Alaska Alternative Medicine Clinic LLC. Much of her work treats women experiencing menopause.Harmon also studied at the University of Colorado and graduated as a naturopathic doctor from Bastyr University in Kenmore, Wash. With family living in Alaska, he returned to the state in 1999 and worked for the Natural Health Center LLC in Anchorage. Harmon handles family practice services specializing in cancer patient treatment.While working at separate companies they referred patients to each other and recognized a shared enthusiasm for their field. They decided to open a business together and in September they began daily efforts to that end. Buchanan and Harmon, who act as medical directors for the center, are equal partners in the venture, she said.A bank loan financed most of the venture but a third came from private investors, Buchanan said."We really were lucky because people believed in us," she said.In January, Buchanan and Harmon found a 5,000-square-foot office in Midtown Anchorage and began designing and renovating it.Buchanan believes demand is growing for alternative medical services. A clinic where she previously worked treated 2,000 to 3,000 patients a year, Buchanan said. The demand for services should continue to increase as consumers become more aware, she said."We get good results and good feedback," Buchanan said.

This Week in Alaska Business History

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 weekAnchorage TimesMay 19, 1982Gulf plans Alaska oil searchBy Jeff BerlinerFor the TimesGulf Oil and Elf Aquitaine, the French national oil company, are reported to be planning major exploration efforts in Alaska.Gulf will still sink $12 billion into its exploration program over the next four years, with the focus on offshore Alaska and California. In addition to Gulf and the French firm, other multinational oil companies could enter the Alaska market, according to the state labor economists."Examples of major oil corporations planning to invest in Alaska exploration abound," said Brit Harvey of the state Department of Labor. "Alaska is a place where they can probably come up with another large find."Gulf has participated in past bidding for oil tracts in Alaska and was a higher bidder in the recent National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska lease sale for 13 of the 17 tracts. Gulf’s bids totaled $28.5 million, a fraction of what it plans to spend on offshore exploration in Alaska and California through 1986.Anchorage TimesMay 20, 19825.3 million more salmon cans recalledAssociated PressWASHINGTON -- Alaska’s salmon industry received another blow today when the Food and Drug Administration said an Alaska firm is recalling nearly 5.3 million cans of salmon because of a possible packing defect that could lead to botulism.The agency said the Red Salmon Co. of Naknek is recalling all 7 3/4-ounce cans of salmon it packed in 1980 and 1981.The firm acted after Baltimore health officials reported finding a can with a small hole in its side on sale in a Baltimore store.This action brings to more than 55 million the number of 7 3/4-ounce cans of salmon recalled by nine Alaska packers.The latest recall is just one of a series of blows that have sent Alaska’s salmon industry reeling. The legislature this month passed a $117 million package of loan guarantees to provide emergency aid to the salmon industry.The recalls began after a Belgian man died of botulism in February after eating tainted canned salmon from Alaska.10 years ago this weekAlaska Journal of CommerceMay 25, 1992State bill to meet federal clean air standards is choked by LegislatureBy Bob TkaczFor the Alaska Journal of CommerceLegislation necessary to bring the state into compliance with the federal Clean Air Act of 1990 before a critical 1993 deadline fell far short of passage in the just completed lawmaking session when industry and lawmakers couldn’t agree or whether state requirements should be more strict than those imposed by the federal government.The delay isn’t yet critical, according to a spokesman for the Producers’ Council, the mining industry group most involved in the debate over House Bill 377, but will give state regulators, and small businesses in particular, far less time to prepare for coming changes.HB 377 is the proposed response to the Clean Air Act of 1990. That federal law substantially reduces permissible emissions into the atmosphere from motor vehicles, industrial facilities and even small businesses or public facilities. Its goal is to prevent lesser pollution problems from accumulating into the dimension now faced in cities such as Anchorage.Alaska Journal of CommerceMay 25, 1992Corps of Engineers says Inlet dredge doesn’t payBy Margaret BaumanAlaska Journal of CommercePreliminary findings of a new federal study indicate dredging shoals in upper Cook Inlet to improve marine navigation may not be economically justified unless cargo shipments increase substantially.The announcement came from the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, during a recent Cook Inlet port studies coordination meeting in Anchorage. The Corps is conducting a year-long reconnaissance study of possible navigation improvements in the upper Inlet, especially near the port of Anchorage.To determine whether the benefits of shoal dredging would justify the original and maintenance costs, a computer simulation of ships navigating Cook Inlet has been constructed.Two Japanese firms have expressed interest in shipping coal from the Wishbone Hill Mine down Cook Inlet."We wanted to determine how much time ships now spend waiting for high water to cross the shoals, and how much that delay costs in dollars," said Orson Smith, a civil engineer managing the corps study.-- Compiled by Ed Bennett.

Kenai nurse program takes step forward

KENAI -- The Kenai Peninsula is one step closer to solving a nursing shortage, and a group of students are a step closer to fulfilling their dreams.Ten students celebrated the completion of their first year of nursing classes May 9 at the Soldotna Senior Citizens Center. They make up the first class of peninsula students to reach the halfway point in a cooperative education program between Weber State University, based in Ogden, Utah, and Kenai Peninsula College.The students have spent the last year taking correspondence courses through Weber State and clinical courses at agencies such as Central Peninsula General Hospital and Heritage Place nursing home.Though the students are only halfway through the two-year program, they now qualify to become licensed practical nurseswho work under the direction of registered nurses. Registered nurses have more training and responsibilities."We’re so excited," said Weber State nursing chairwoman Debra Huber, who flew to Soldotna for the ceremony. "There’s such a nursing shortage. Next year, hopefully, everybody here will graduate as a (registered nurse)."For 19-year-old graduate Stacy Espy, the LPN graduation is just the first step."This is just the beginning for me," said Espy, who noted that the new program in Soldotna will allow her to graduate as a registered nurse at the age of 20. "I’m not sure what I want to do, but I’d like to go all the way and get my master’s."At the graduation ceremony, area instructors and Weber administrators highlighted the individual qualities of each graduate, recalled special moments and passed on words of wisdom to the small class."You are all very important. You are all very special. You’re very talented and have worked very hard," said KPC Director Ginger Steffy. "You will impact the lives of many people over the years, and for that we are grateful."

GCI posts $2.2 million profit in quarter

General Communication Inc. posted net income of $2.2 million for the first quarter, compared with $2.4 million for the same period in 2001.Revenue for the quarter totaled $88.2 million, down from $96.9 million a year ago. The difference was primarily due to revenue from the sale of fiber-optic cable capacity recorded in first quarter 2001.Revenue from broadband, private line and other data services climbed from $10.2 million in first quarter 2001 to $13.3 million for the same period this year.GCI now totals 90,000 local phone service access lines in Alaska, representing 18 percent of the Alaska market, company officials said. For the quarter, local phone service added 11,000 access lines, up from 6,000 added in first quarter 2001.At the end of the first quarter, GCI had 71,400 Internet customers, including more than 30,000 using its cable modem service. The company’s cable television division serves 132,627 basic subscribers among the 192,657 homes its cables reach.

Knowles turns down request for Russian processors

JUNEAU -- A Southeast Native group, concerned some fishermen won’t have buyers for pink salmon this year, wants Gov. Tony Knowles and Alaska Republican Sen. Ted Stevens to find a way to let Russian processors into state waters.The laid-off fishermen would miss out on a fishery that was worth about $27 million in Southeast last year.Knowles turned down such a request in March and on May 8 denied a Seattle company’s application to bring Russian fish-processing ships into state waters near the Alaska Peninsula and in Cook Inlet.Global Seafoods North America, based in Seattle, wanted to use two Russian ships to process up to 4 million pink salmon and 150,000 chum salmon this year for the Russian and Eastern European markets.Federal law allows foreign processors to work in state waters only if the governor determines in-state processors won’t handle all of the harvest.That was the basis for Knowles in March to turn down the company’s request to use nine foreign ships to process pink and chum salmon in Southeast, Prince William Sound and Kodiak.Although a state survey of processors said it appeared "significant processing capacity shortages" exist for pink salmon in the Alaska Peninsula and Cook Inlet, Knowles, in his letter May 8 to Global Seafoods, said he was concerned the Russian ships wouldn’t agree to follow state and U.S. labor laws.Knowles said, "I will not allow a foreign-owned business to operate in Alaska, in direct competition with Alaska businesses, with the unfair advantage of paying far below minimum wage.""We’re just disappointed that (Knowles) chooses to consider six Seattle (processing) corporations more important than thousands of coastal Alaskans and the Alaska commercial fishermen," said Don Kubley, a Juneau consultant to Global Seafoods.He was referring to seiners and gillnetters who can’t find buyers this season, and the economic effect on their crew members, families and support businesses. The state faces a smaller anticipated pink salmon run after several years of big runs that created a large inventory of canned salmon.This year’s estimated available harvest statewide is 87 million pink salmon, down from 126 million last year.The Southeast Alaska Inter-Tribal Fish and Wildlife Commission is concerned that about 70 pink salmon seiners in Southeast were laid off by processors, out of a fleet of about 400 boats. An unknown number of gillnetters also may not have markets, and one processor has capped catches of its fishermen.Bob Loescher, former Sealaska chief executive and a commission member, said the fishermen stand to lose their boats, gear and state limited-entry permits."What I’m saying is these things are real," Loescher said. "This is happening to real people and families. A lifetime investment is going out the window because they were terminated."Luke Demmert, a crew member on his father’s seiner in Klawock, said his father, Arthur James "Mac" Demmert, had been fishing for Wards Cove Packing Co. for at least 20 years but was told he wouldn’t be needed this year."They cut us off after all these years we fished for them, and we don’t have anyone to process our fish now," he said. Selling to the Russian processors "would have been really good," Luke Demmert said.But others say the Russians could undercut Alaska processors, thanks to cheaper labor.The Southeast Alaska Seiners Association conditionally supported Global Seafoods’ applications, said director David Bedford, but only if they operated on a level playing field that didn’t undermine existing processors."We need to make sure anything we do in the short term is good in the long term, too," Bedford said.In any case, Knowles’ spokesman Bob King said the governor has given his final decision to Global Seafoods and it’s "no." And Stevens’ press secretary Melanie Alvord said the Magnuson-Stevens federal fishery act "rightfully defers to the state on this issue."Global Seafoods also is trying to work out a deal to bring four or five Russian processors to waters near Metlakatla that are Indian property not governed by the state, Kubley said. Metlakatla Mayor Victor Wellington Sr. couldn’t be reached for comment.The state doesn’t object to an arrangement between Global Seafoods and Metlakatla, because it’s a tribal and federal matter, King said.Loescher asked Knowles to persuade processors to take on more fishermen. King said the governor has contacted many of the companies and encouraged them to do what they can.Processors were trying to save money by reducing their fleets, King said. With fewer boats to serve, the companies can use fewer tender vessels to pick up catches at sea, and won’t have to front as many fishermen in their expenses to gear up for the fishery."What they’re trying to do is accommodate the high cost of operating in order to preserve something of a profit margin," King said.The long-term answer may be to create more products with pink salmon and find new markets, said Glenn Haight of the state Department of Community and Economic Development.Kake Tribal Corp. said it will buy pink salmon from its hometown fleet of six boats and maybe six other vessels. Some of the fish will be frozen and exported to Europe, the roe will be sold to Japan, and the poorer quality flesh will be turned into gardeners’ compost and sold in the Lower 48."We’re trying to do something different from the industry norm," said Kake Tribal President Sam Jackson.

Agreement aimed at reducing nurse shortage

Health-care industry representatives and University of Alaska leaders have reached an agreement to remedy a statewide nursing shortage.Demand for nurses increases nationwide An estimated 126,000 registered nurse vacancies were listed nationwide in 2000. By 2010 it is estimated that 687,000 nurses will be needed in the United States.The nursing shortage also extends worldwide. Alaska totaled 400 nursing vacancies in January 2001, according to a study by the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association. The state Labor Department projects an additional 220 openings each year for nurses through 2008 due to increasing demand for services and retirements of existing nurses. State labor officials also predict a need each year for 30 licensed practical nurses and 49 nursing assistants.SOURCE: University/Industry Alaskan Nursing Education Task Force report A task force with academic and industry members has outlined a plan to double the number of nursing graduates from 110 each year now to about 220 by 2006.The program calls for expanding the University of Alaska Anchorage School of Nursing and increasing distance delivery courses for rural students.The 20-member task force met three times in the first quarter of 2002, finalizing its findings and strategy in April, and produced a report, said Laraine Derr, president of the Juneau-based Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association.Derr applauded efforts by UA President Mark Hamilton to link the business and academic communities of nursing."The president of the university has been saying industry should drive the university, and the university should give industry what it needs," she said.Alaska, like the rest of the nation and world, faces nursing shortages. The decision to increase nursing graduates is one way to meet demand. University leaders believe serving the health care industry is important, said Karen Perdue, UA associate vice president for health."President Hamilton has put a lot of emphasis on health," said Perdue, former state commissioner of health and social services. "(UAA) Chancellor (Lee) Gorsuch has placed a lot of emphasis on health. It’s clearly one of their priorities."Alaska health care facilities had 400 nursing vacancies last year, she said. That number could climb to about 600 by 2008, according to the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development."We are experiencing a serious work force crisis," Perdue said.According to the report, the nursing shortage results from more career options now available for young people, a drop in nursing school graduates in the past 20 years, few pay increases in recent years, and difficult working conditions that often drive nurses away.In Alaska an aging population requires additional nurses. Also, more residents now bring their elderly parents to Alaska for care, the report said. Rural Alaska has a greater nursing shortage, especially in the southwest and northern regions, the report said. The expansion would boost graduates in rural Alaska who would likely stay and work there, Perdue said."It not only doubles, but doubles in the right places," she said.Rural Alaska has an untapped resource of potential nurses, said Vivian Lee, chief nurse executive for the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corp. in Bethel. Attending school away from home is often inconvenient for them; some Alaskans do study outside their hometown but choose not to return there, she said. Also, patients would thrive under care from familiar community members, Lee said.The Bethel area needs nurses and often imports them, she said. The Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corp. employs more than 100 nurses and fewer than 1 percent are Alaska Natives, Lee noted.In January the University of Alaska Anchorage started a program in Bethel to train licensed practical nurses, she said. LPNs complete an accredited academic or vocational program and work under the supervision of registered nurses. About seven students are learning clinical work at the hospital, studying in the classroom with a teacher and taking distance delivery courses. Graduation is in December.To reach the goal of doubling graduates, efforts need to start next fall, UA’s Perdue said. Plans are to beef up the two- and four-year nursing programs, adding a summer session to the associate’s degree program, adding distance delivery sites at Bethel, Juneau, Kenai, Ketchikan and Sitka, and expanding existing distance delivery courses at Fairbanks and Kodiak.The cost for the current program is $3 million statewide, Perdue said. Initial expansion costs would total about $1.3 million, she said. Currently, university officials are discussing sharing costs with hospital administrators, Perdue said.At the university, plans are under way to recruit faculty and redesign the distance delivery curriculum, she said.Other programs train nurses in Alaska.The Alaska Vocational Technical Center will contribute 20 LPN graduates beginning in 2003, according to the report. Weber State College in Ogden, Utah, is expected to produce 24 registered nurse graduates every other year through 2005 and 24 practical nurses on alternate years. A registered nurse is a professional nurse who has completed an education program and has passed a national licensing exam.The Weber State program traces its history in Alaska back 10 years, and helped push UA to developing its own distance delivery program, said one Alaska health care professional.As a university faculty member in the early 1970s, Kathie Etulain has seen a need for RNs and LPNs in rural Alaska. She called universities from Western states, searching for a program to train nurses in Alaska. The Utah college agreed to work with the University of Alaska Southeast Sitka campus, she recalled.Ten years ago, Weber State dispatched a nursing faculty member to live and work in Sitka. Other communities clamored for the program, which was next offered in Soldotna, then Fairbanks and elsewhere in Alaska.Since then the Weber State program has switched to an Internet format with a clinical instructor and has added an associate’s degree program.Demand still outpaced supply, Etulain said. Faculty and industry leaders told Hamilton there was a need to train more nurses and it would be best if the university had its own program, she said. "They are stepping up to the plate," Etulain said.About 100 nurses have graduated from the Weber State program in Alaska in the past decade, she said. "Also, it provided the impetus the university has needed to develop its own program," she said.

Legislature sends variety of bills to governor for approval

A bill updating a territorial-era law on trusts has been passed by the Legislature and is now before Gov. Tony Knowles.House Bill 157, sponsored by Rep. Lisa Murkowski, R-Anchorage, clarifies who may provide fiduciary services in Alaska and who may form a trust company, and establishes what powers a trust company has and the kinds of activities a trust can engage in, such as intrastate or interstate business activities.Murkowski introduced the bill at the request of the state Division of Banking and Securities."Alaska’s Trust Company Act has not undergone any major revisions since its adoption during territorial days, in 1949. The legislation will be a tool to enhance the process of formation, operation, supervision and regulation of the trust industry," Murkowski said.There have been recent changes to the trust act, she said, but they do not provide guidance as to who or what needs a charter, nor guidance for the formation or organization of a trust entity.State-chartered banks will gain broader powers under new lawA bill changing Alaska’s banking laws to give state-chartered banks powers now held by national banks has passed the Legislature and is now before Gov. Tony Knowles.House Bill 106, introduced in early 2001 at the request of the governor, allows state banks to merge with insurance and securities businesses just as competing national banks can now do under the federal Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act."The bill is patterned after federal law but offers greater protection to depositor and consumer financial records," the governor said in his letter submitting the bill."The state would use the more stringent practice of asking depositors and consumers to choose to allow specific disclosure of their records," Knowles said. "Conversely, federal law and many other states allow disclosure unless the depositor or consumer specifically request confidentiality."The bill also clarifies and updates existing statutes. For example, state-chartered banks will be allowed to publish their financial reports in electronic form or in a local newspaper. Also, the procedure by which state banks obtain authority to install off-premises automated teller machines is streamlined, the governor said.Measure that aids condominium financing now before governorA bill resolving technical problems in certain real estate transactions that will help builders of small, high-end condominium projects secure financing has passed the Legislature and awaits action by Gov. Tony Knowles.House Bill 470, sponsored by Rep. Norm Rokeberg, R-Anchorage, will allow condominium developers to pre-sell units after issuing a preliminary public offering statement, or POS, to prospective buyers.The bill allows the POS to reasonably describe the unit. Under current law the POS cannot be offered without a final legal description, which isn’t available until the unit is built and surveyed.Because state law allows purchasers 15 days to cancel a purchase agreement after receiving the formal POS document, the developer is vulnerable to a buyer canceling a purchase after the unit is built.The option is not as much a problem for developers of medium-priced condominiums because other buyers are in the market, but it is for developers of upper-end condos that are often customized to meet purchasers’ desires."This technical requirement of the law effectively inhibits the pre-sale of smaller projects," Rokeberg said. "What happens is that high-end units, such as a $500,000 condominium, cannot get financing due to this recision provision."The revision in law allows the pre-sale to be made based on a preliminary POS, before the project is built and surveyed.Legislators approve measure to extend land leases for 55 yearsThe state-owned Alaska Railroad Corp. will be able to lease its lands for 55 years instead of the previous limit of 35 years if Gov. Tony Knowles signs House Bill 298 into law."While the present 35-year lease term is adequate for most of the Alaska Railroad Corp.’s tenants, it is an obstacle in leasing lands to large commercial and residential developers who need to secure long-term financing for their investments," said Rep. Lisa Murkowski, R-Anchorage, sponsor of the legislation."Financial lenders are reluctant to invest in large-scale projects requiring substantial equity participation when there is no guarantee the land will be available beyond 35 years."The bill would also make the railroad’s leasing practices more consistent with other state agencies. The University of Alaska and the Department of Natural Resources can lease land up to 55 years, she said.Lawmakers approve changes in shallow-gas leasing programLegislation that increases fees and makes other changes in the state shallow-gas leasing program has passed the Legislature and is now before Gov. Tony Knowles.Increased fees would allow the division to process the lease applications more quickly.The state Division of Oil and Gas has been very successful in attracting interest in exploration for shallow gas, mostly in coal or shale beds, but the division has been hampered in actually getting leases issued, mainly in doing title research, because of shortage of staff.Coastal zone appeals restricted under bill passed by LegislatureA bill sponsored by Rep. Scott Ogan, R-Palmer, removing a citizen appeal process in the state Coastal Zone Management Act has been approved by the Legislature. House Bill 439 is now before Gov. Tony Knowles.Under current law, a citizen appeal forces an additional review of a coastal zone consistency determination by the state Coastal Policy Council. Other avenues exist for review and appeals, but the procedure citizen appeal was often used to force delays in development projects, according to Ogan.Consistency determinations are usually one of the last state permits issued for a project, and it is often late in the season when it is issued. If an appeal is filed, it forces a 45-day delay. Because of Alaska’s short building season, an appeal can effectively cause a year’s delay, Ogan said.

Business Profile: Alaska Marine Transport & Salvage Inc.

Name of the company: Alaska Marine Transport & Salvage Inc.Established: 1974Location: 3960 Alitak Bay Circle, Anchorage, AK 99515Telephone: 907-344-7307Major focus of services: Alaska Marine Transport & Salvage Inc. operates the Polar Bear, a 120-foot landing barge, and the 70-foot, shallow-draft Pegasus. The vessels transport heavy equipment, supplies and other materials throughout Alaska.History of the company: Peter Schwarz started operations in 1974 after buying and refurbishing a military landing barge initially to haul cattle near Kodiak Island. That vessel sank two years later.In 1979 Schwarz built a 100-foot landing craft at the Anchorage dock for a partnership that eventually dissolved. He also built a 52-foot vessel called the Pegasus. In 1989 Schwartz realized the boat was too small so he increased its length and width.Later that year Alaska Marine Transport hauled construction materials between Prince William Sound and Seward for a project. The company next worked for VECO Corp. in the summers of 1989 and 1990 as part of the Exxon Valdez oil-spill cleanup.In 1990 Schwarz began building a new, larger landing barge in Tacoma, Wash. He brought the boat to Alaska in spring 1991.About six years ago, the U.S. Air Force hired the company to sail to the penultimate Aleutians island to recover a World War II era P-38 Lightning airplane. Joining the trip were the plane’s pilot and other war veterans who recalled the Japanese landing at Kiska Island. The P-38, one of a handful left, was restored and displayed at Hill Air Force Base in Utah.Alaska Marine Transport also helped recover a B-24 bomber from the Aleutians at Great Sitkin Island. Other projects have included other Air Force work at Cape Lisburne and conveying seismic crews to Cook Inlet for studies.The company employs up to 11 people. While the Polar Bear was working at King Cove in early May, the Pegasus was docked in Homer.Top accomplishment of the company: Schwarz is proud that the Polar Bear is the fastest boat of its kind on the West Coast, reaching 14 knots.Major player: Peter Schwarz, president, Alaska Marine Transport & Salvage Inc.Schwarz learned marine engineering in his native East Germany. In 1959 he escaped to the West during a bicycle race. In the 1960s he emigrated to Canada and drove a motorcycle to Alaska. He worked as a welder during the trans-Alaska oil pipeline construction and has worked with the pile drivers’ union.-- Nancy Pounds

Chickaloon businesses fear effect of Glenn Highway move

With downtown consisting of a gas station, general store, lodge and a post office, Chickaloon is the quintessential blink-and-you-miss-it community.But state transportation department plans to realign the Glenn Highway will forever hide downtown from tourists, a move that would drive the businesses under, residents said.Plans call for moving the highway a few hundred feet to the north of the existing business center and into a ridge that would be used to gain elevation for a new bridge across the Chickaloon River.Judy Nix, owner of King Mountain Lodge, said a few hundred feet may as well be a few hundred miles, because passers-by will never see hers and others’ businesses if the highway is built behind the nearby ridge."We’ll be deader than a doornail," said Nix, whose lodge consists of a bar, restaurant and some motel rooms. "If they take away our summer traffic, we’ll have no way to pay our bills. My life is invested here."In this community of about 500, 76 miles north of Anchorage, moving the highway is the talk of the town."It doesn’t sound like a big deal," said Sharyl Ferrall, a bartender at the King Mountain Lodge. "But if the highway is moved past these businesses, they’re dead."That would mean locals would have to drive to Sutton, 17 miles to the south, or to Longrifle, 28 miles north, to get gas, groceries or a beer.And the King Mountain hamburger at Nix’s place, famous to locals, would be nothing more than a memory for folks in the community, along the Matanuska River, in the Talkeetna Mountains."Chickaloon at this point is not a planned destination for most people,’’ said Corri Feige, owner of Castle Mountain Bed and Breakfast. "It’s a spur-of-the-moment stop right now."Businesses like Feige’s which are off the main drag still depend on the core downtown shops to augment their clients’ tourism experience, she said. Feige gets most of her clients from the Internet, she said.Feige also heads the town’s community council, which has fought to keep the highway where it is.The town has offered its own plan to widen the highway and slow traffic, from 55 to 45 mph.Willie Van Nostrand said plans to realign the highway north of the existing road is the most "buildable option,’’ and would allow better access to the proposed bridge across the Chickaloon River.Van Nostrand said the current stretch of road going through downtown is hard to maintain and has suffered flood damage in the past.He said the state is well aware of the community’s views on moving the road."They’re not only telling us no, but hell no," Van Nostrand said. "They want the highway smack-dab in front of them. Shooting fish in a barrel, they’re trying to capture that business."Estimates for the realignment a few hundred feet to the north of the existing Glenn Highway and a new bridge are pegged at more than $70 million, Van Nostrand said.The state transportation department is a long way off before making a final decision on where and when the road would be realigned, Van Nostrand said.The Glenn Highway, which has undergone major reconstruction recently, has been nominated as an All-American Road. If selected by the U.S. Secretary of Transportation, the Glenn Highway would be in the company of 15 other roads across the United States, including the Seward Highway.Chickaloon residents believe the designation would bring more tourists to town.Jim Wahre and his wife Ina, recently bought the downtown gas station and general store after it had been closed for nearly two years.Wahre said he doesn’t want the highway to be moved, but he said he has a marketing plan in place in case it does.State law prohibits permanent billboards, so Wahre plans on making a huge sign advertising cheap gas and groceries at his store. The sign would be affixed to his swamp buggy and placed in his yard about a mile from his business. He said he’d move the swamp buggy occasionally to be in compliance with state law."As long as it’s got wheels it’s legal," said Wahre, who said he’s going to make his new business a success one way or the other."That’s the old Alaska way, and that way doesn’t exist much anymore," he said.

Legislature acts on business insurance-related measures

State legislators are poised to give Alaska’s air carriers part of what they wanted to help control spiraling insurance costs, but there are questions about whether it will really do much. Meanwhile, another bill the carriers wanted remain bogged down in the Senate Transportation Committee. The Senate is considering House ammendments to Senate Bill 191, sponsored by Sen. Robin Taylor, R-Wrangell. It would allow air carriers to join together to form a pool for insurance purposes.Another bill dealing with aviation insurance, Anchorage Republican Rep. Andrew Halcro’s House Bill 271, limiting the ability of plaintiffs to pursue punitive damages in addition to actual damages in cases of aviation disasters, remained in the Senate Transportation Committee and failed, however.Arguing for his bill, Halcro said most plaintiff attorneys use the threat of punitive damages to drive up settlements."By establishing where the guardrails are in settlements, the award costs will be lowered," Halcro told the Senate committee May 7.Taylor, a member of the committee, questioned whether limiting actions for punitive damages would lower insurance costs. "We did a major tort reform bill several years ago and we were assured insurance rates would fall. We have yet to see any reductions," Taylor said.Taylor’s approach to the problem, insurance pooling under SB191, is modeled after a similar insurance pool for muncipalities and school districts which has lowered insurance costs.However, insurance companies and some air carriers said $30 million to $50 million would be needed to capitalize the pool for it to be effective in lowering rates, and that for now the source of funds is unknown, they told the House Labor and Commerce Committee.Kip Knudsen, spokesman for the Alaska Air Carriers Association, said the bill would essentially be enabling legislation, allowing a pool to be formed if the funds could be raised.Vicki Malone, a private insurance agent in Bethel and former part-owner of an air taxi company, said the most effective way for air carriers to lower insurance costs is to improve safety."Air taxi operators I know tell me their insurance premiums have been cut in half after they were able to demonstrate good safety records. I don’t think this legislation is the way to do it," Malone told the House Labor and Commerce Committee.Malone said it was inappropriate to compare insurance pooling for air carriers with pooling for municipalities and school districts. "Unlike schools and city governments, air carriers don’t have to exist. In fact, we want unsafe air operators to leave the business," she said.She doubted good operators would join a pool with operators with poor records, which would make the pool idea unworkable.Organizing health insurance pools could reduce small business costsLegislation allowing the state Department of Administration to form insurance pools for small employers and nonprofit organizations operating in the state was awaiting final Senate approval May 14, as the Legislature began a two-day extension.Language from a bill sponsored by Anchorage Republican Rep. Norm Rokeberg, House Bill 315, was attached to a Senate-passed bill dealing with a similar subject, insurance pooling for air carriers. Rokeberg’s proposal would allow larger pools to be formed which could help bring down insurance benefit costs for employers, he said.Rokeberg said health insurance costs are rising again, up 13 percent to 15 percent nationally in the last year.Blue Cross, which has 52 percent of the Alaska health insurance market, has just announced a rate increase of 20 percent, Rokeberg said on the floor of the House."While the skyrocketing costs of the 1990s were mitigated by health insurance organizations, preferred provider networks and other innovations, we are again seeing steep increases in health insurance costs," Rokeberg said."This legislation is an effort to get people together so they can get the health insurance they need at an affordable cost."Estimates show that only 35 percent of Alaska small businesses offer insurance, compared with the national average of 60 percent, Rokeberg said.Bob Lohr, director of the state Division of Insurance, said the recent increases in premiums are due to several factors, including medical costs that are again rising after a period of plateau.Other factors include the increased utilization of medical services by an aging population, and the fact that investments of insurance funds have not done as well in previous years, when good returns in financial markets helped keep premiums down, Lohr said.He said Rokeberg’s proposal was particularly important for the state’s nonprofit organizations, which are seeing increases in premiums of 40 percent to 200 percent.Rokeberg said the state Department of Administration would help form the pool and would then arrange for a private firm, most likely an insurance company, to operate it. The state itself would not be in the insurance business, he said.The pool would include small businesses with two to 50 employees, nonprofits and special service organizations such as sole proprietorships providing child care, foster care or assisted living services."This legislation will not solve all the problems and many may still not be able to afford insurance," Rokeberg said."However, I hope that pooling a large group of individuals can spread the risks over more people, and lower the premiums, so these people will have choices and a stable source of insurance coverage," he said.Change in state game refuge law to help oil and gas explorationA bill resolving a glitch on a proposed oil and gas exploration license in Interior Alaska for Andex Resources of Denver, Colo., was approved by the Legislature.House Bill 527, changing statutes governing the Minto Flats State Game Refuge to allow oil and gas exploration, passed the state House 38-0 on May 7 and was approved by the Senate May 12. It is now before Gov. Tony Knowles.Andex has applied to the state Department of Natural Resources for a license to explore a 500,000-acre area of the Nenana Basin, including the game refuge area.But there are now uncertainties over whether language in the statute governing the Minto Flats refuge would allow an exploration license to be permitted for that area.HB527 puts into the statute the language now existing in two other state game refuges, according to its sponsor, Rep. Hugh Fate, R-Fairbanks. Petroleum exploration is now allowed in the Trading Bay and Susitna state game refuges.

Atlantic salmon found on Copper River Delta tributary

ANCHORAGE -- Federal fish biologists working near the Copper River Delta found for the first time a genetically verified Atlantic salmon swimming in fresh water in that area last year.The fish may have escaped from a commercial salmon farm in British Columbia or Washington state.Forest Service biologists found the Atlantic salmon last May while conducting a study of trout hybrids in the Martin River, which dumps into the Copper River Delta about 30 miles east of Cordova. The delta annually is the scene of Alaska’s first major commercial salmon fishery.The discovery of Atlantic salmon in Alaska waters, most commonly in Southeast, has disturbed Alaska fishermen who fear an alien takeover in Alaska’s salmon spawning rivers. The high-value Copper River red salmon run might be affected by the latest find.Although salmon and trout from foreign fish farms now dominate world markets once owned by Alaska’s wild salmon, the state continues to outlaw fish farming and has decried neighboring British Columbia’s recent decision to expand its farming industry."Clearly, we don’t like it," Sue Aspelund, head of a commercial fishermen’s association in Cordova, said of the Martin River discovery.Gordie Reeves, a fish biologist from the U.S. Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Research Station in Corvallis, Ore., said biologists early last May were doing a study of cutthroat, rainbow and steelhead hybrids in the lower Martin, about half a mile up from the delta, when a member of the team landed an odd-looking catch on a spinner. It was only the second fish they caught that day, on the first day of the study and in the first fishing hole they tried."It was very silvery -- an adult fish," Reeves said. "The thing that struck us was the head shape, which was quite different. It was a bit more blunt or rounded. Also, the spotting pattern was different, like little X’s across the back instead of round spots."The fish came out of a pool that contained adult cutthroat trout. There was only clear, fresh water with no tidal influence at that point on the river, Reeves said.They team decided to release the fish because their state research permit forbid killing any fish. But the biologists did take photos and a tail clipping, on which genetic tests confirmed it was an Atlantic salmon.Reeves said he has little doubt the fish came from an aquaculture operation down south, where salmon are raised commercially in saltwater net pens. Mass escapes sometimes occur when the pens are damaged by storms or predators, although farmers say these "fish spills" have decreased.Because the Martin River fish showed no signs of sexual maturity, biologists were not able to tell whether it was male or female."What it was doing in fresh water, boy, I wouldn’t know," Reeves said.At least two Atlantic salmon have been caught by commercial fishermen in the Sound, one in 1992 in Port Valdez, and another in the saltwater of the Copper River Delta in 1998, Miller said.According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the first Atlantic salmon was recovered in Southeast waters in 1991 and since then almost 600 have been documented, nearly all in Southeast.

Scientists recommend more air testing

FAIRBANKS -- Scientists who advise Congress recommend keeping in place federal air quality standards that have placed Fairbanks on the same bad air list as Los Angeles.A recent preliminary report by the National Academy of Sciences said the Fairbanks North Star Borough should expand carbon monoxide monitoring and try harder to reduce emissions during temperature inversions, the weather phenomena blamed for occasional high readings.The academy recommendations include making the biennial vehicle emissions monitoring program annual, providing more places to plug in cars, increasing public awareness and requiring the use of special fuels.Borough officials had hoped the report would persuade Congress to ease up on carbon monoxide restrictions in Fairbanks. High levels in the past put the borough in jeopardy of being ordered to restrict the number of cars on the road."What we’re kind of looking for is some type of exceptional event clause," said Max Lyon, borough transportation director. He still believes the report will help because it acknowledges that Fairbanks is a special case."Three hundred sixty-four days a year we have good, acceptable air, probably better than any other place on a day-to-day basis," Lyon said.The borough has not exceeded federal carbon monoxide standards in more than two years but is vulnerable because temperature inversions are common. The inversions, coupled with light winds, trap carbon monoxide released by vehicle cold starts.The report recognizes the weather phenomena. But scientists who wrote it still believe that potential health hazards outweigh the difficulty Fairbanks has in keeping carbon monoxide levels down.State officials have tested people in Fairbanks to look for a link between health problems and the colorless, odorless gas and found no links. The testing has been criticized by the Northern Alaska Environmental Center, which says the testing was narrow.

Airlines confront volcano threat

A blurred and battered windshield from a near-doomed 747 jetliner is now on permanent display in Anchorage so people can see what volcanic ash can do to airplanes.On Dec. 15, 1989, ash blown from Redoubt Volcano killed all four engines of KLM flight 867, and for five long minutes the 231 passengers and crew of the powerless jet fell 2 miles in altitude over the Talkeetna Mountains. The engines were miraculously restarted, allowing the airplane to land safely in Anchorage.Damage to the $115 million airplane was $80 million, said David Pieri, from NASA’s jet propulsion laboratory at the California Institute of Technology.Pieri was one of about 100 participants at a workshop May 7-9 sponsored by the the University of Alaska Anchorage Aviation Technology Center and the National Weather Service to learn about the dangers and avoidance of volcanic ash.Airline officials, government representatives and scientists from throughout the United States attended the three-day conference.Pieri, who studied various parts of the damaged KLM aircraft, said the windscreen, blasted by ash at more than 500 mph, can be used now as a "teaching tool" at UAA’s aviation center at Merrill Field. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, at least 15 airplanes, including KLM’s 747, have been damaged along North Pacific air routes since 1980 from flying through volcanic ash clouds. During that same period worldwide, another 80 airplanes have been damaged by volcanic ash, resulting in hundreds of millions of dollars in damage and lost revenue.No airplane crashes have ever been attributed to volcanic ash.But James Simpson, a volcano scientist at the University of California at San Diego, said as air traffic increases over popular air routes, the threat of a catastrophic crash caused by volcanic ash goes up as well."We’ve been lucky so far," Simpson said.Every day thousands of passengers and millions of dollars of cargo transit the North Pacific and Russian Far East air routes where there are more than 100 potentially active volcanoes, according to the USGS.Along the Alaska Peninsula and the Aleutian Islands there are more than 40 historically active volcanoes, according to the USGS. Even greater numbers of active volcanoes are found to the west of Alaska on the Russian Kamchatka Peninsula and in the Kurile Islands.A handful of eruptions occur annually along the 2,400-nautical-mile arc from Alaska to the Kuriles, known as the "Ring of Fire." For about four days each year, in the North Pacific region, volcanic ash is present above an altitude of 30,000 feet, where most large jet aircraft fly, according to the USGS.Pilots who fly through Alaska and the North Pacific air routes, some of the busiest in the world, are more cognizant of the dangers volcanoes pose than most, NASA’s Pieri said."When you can sit on the end of a runway and see four active volcanoes in Cook Inlet, Alaska pilots are more aware of the danger," Pieri said.The near-disaster of the KLM flight a dozen years ago prompted a conference in 1991 in Seattle to educate air carriers about the danger of volcanic ash.Gary Hufford, an Anchorage-based scientist with the National Weather Service, said much has been done and millions of dollars have been spent in Alaska studying and forecasting volcano eruptions and implementing plans to avoid ash.More than half of Alaska’s active volcanoes are now seismically monitored. Satellite imagining of volcanoes and tracking of ash plumes also has improved, Hufford said.According the USGS, monitoring by the Alaska Volcano Observatory has successfully forecasted several Alaska eruptions hours to weeks in advance.But UCSD’s Simpson said forecasting volcanoes is not an exact science."There is really no way to know when any given volcano is going to erupt," Simpson said. "The problem is so complex, there are no easy solutions."Ash clouds are hard to distinguish from ordinary clouds, both visually and on radar, according to USGS. And ash clouds can travel several thousand miles in just a few days, damaging aircraft along the way."Volcanic ash is the only hazard that pilots face that they can’t do much about. Icing, turbulence, whatever -- they can take some mitigative measures. But volcanic ash is something that instantly closes down a plane," Hufford said.Ed Miller of the Air Line Pilots Association International, said that of the 1,500 volcanoes worldwide, 600 are active. An average of 55 to 60 volcanoes erupt annually, and eight to 10 of those eruptions reach jetliner altitudes.Miller, a Virginia-based volcanic ash and aviation safety manager also is a retired United Airlines pilot with more than 34 years in the cockpit. He said volcanic ash can be as dangerous on the ground as it is in the air."When wet, it’s as slippery as water on ice," Miller said.Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport has never been closed because of snow or ice, but the 1992 eruption of the Spurr Volcano shut it down, as well as Merrill Field and Elmendorf Air Force Base.Miller said when volcanic ash is sucked into a jet engine, it becomes clogged after heating up to a hot glasslike consistency, and shuts it down."It can turn a 747 into a glider," Miller said.Scientists Simpson and Hufford said danger from volcanic ash to newer-generation airplanes is even greater. Newer, more-efficient jet engines run much hotter than older models, making them more vulnerable to ash as it heats up quicker, coating the innards of the engine even faster, Hufford said.Newer jets also have fewer engines."If you have four engines and two go out, you still have two. If you have two and two go out ...well," said Simpson. Hufford said airplane makers have only addressed the issue by instructing pilots to avoid volcanic ash at all costs.

Kodiak falls behind other regions in creating a brand for its seafood

KODIAK -- Regional branding is a buzz phrase heard frequently throughout Alaska’s salmon industry these days. The concept can carry big clout in the marketplace, as seen in the popularity of such items as Napa Valley wines, Maine lobsters or Swiss cheese.For Alaska salmon, by far the best known regional brand is Copper River reds; those first fish of the season are heralded all over the world. The trademarked and branded Arctic Keta Chum from Western Alaska has also enjoyed expanding success in high-end markets.Sockeye salmon from Cook Inlet will be the next fish to boast a brand name, thanks to funding from the Kenai Peninsula Borough. The borough put up nearly $300,000 for market development research for Cook Inlet reds; at the same time, other agencies garnered an additional $200,000 in state funds and other sources.Starting this summer, some of the sockeye catch will be sold as "Kenai Wild" and marketed to "white table cloth" customers in the United States and abroad. Three processors and a small fleet of harvesters will participate in the initial program, which will demand strict quality handling guidelines monitored by third-party inspectors.No one expects immediate rewards; it’s estimated that only about 150,000 pounds of branded Kenai Wild salmon might be produced this summer. But participants are optimistic that the program will expand and help boost everyone’s bottom line.The Kenai commitment is what it takes to create a regional branding program, says Chris Mitchell of Seafood Market Developers. He spoke recently at a meeting in Kodiak, where fishermen have been trying to create a branding program for several years. The meeting was co-hosted by the United Salmon Association and the Kodiak Chamber of Commerce."It can’t be driven just by the fishermen. The community must be vested in the project and share a vision of what should happen. The community has to take personal pride in the product. This isn’t going to happen from outside, it has to come from within," Mitchell said.Everyone agreed it sounds great, but the concept brought out some skeptics. "If the money is there, maybe people will show up," said Mike Machulsky, a local hotel owner.Speaking of his many years of involvement in economic development efforts, Machulsky added: "I’ve found that people tend to be unwilling to roll up their sleeves and work in a mutually beneficial way. The processors are no-shows. They do not want to see change."Long-time fisherman Virginia Adams agreed. "We have had very little cooperation from our community and traditional processors. Letting go of the frustrations between us is the only thing that’s going to get us off the dime on this. Just the name Kodiak Island is very exciting to people. We have a tremendous opportunity," Adams said."The solution to the salmon crisis is at the local level," echoed fisherman Lacey Berns. "We have the responsibility of discussing these issues and taking action so this town can survive."No hype at homeAlaskans point in amazement at the sensational marketing hype surrounding Copper River reds and wonders how they can duplicate the success in their regions. Well, the Copper River phenomenon took nearly 20 years of cooperation and coordination among harvesters, processors and the Cordova community, and they never miss an opportunity to celebrate and promote their region’s salmon.As the Copper River area readies for its first commercial salmon opener on May 16, you can be sure banners and posters will be flying from Cordova to Seattle and beyond.How likely is your community to rally behind its local salmon industry?When the season gets underway, do restaurants, hotels and supermarkets herald the arrival of fresh kings or reds or cohos "direct from our local fleets"? Are there posters and billboards and menu tags and specials selling the sizzle of wild salmon and other local seafood, all year round? Do they celebrate the mid-March start of halibut season?Does your local airport or transportation hub proudly display the fact that your community thrives on seafood and has a rich, maritime heritage?Does your community understand that if 150 boats stop fishing, it’s the same as 150 small businesses closing their doors?Sadly, my own community of Kodiak would have to answer no to all of the above. Local restaurants there don’t seem to realize the sales potential in selling the sizzle of Kodiak Island salmon as well as other local seafood. Incredibly, not long ago a local hotel advertised "Fresh fish, flown in daily from Hawaii."According to the Kodiak Convention & Visitors Bureau, the No. 1 complaint by visitors is the unavailability of local seafood.Alaskans tend to regard all of their seafood as a global commodity. Because of its abundance, they think of fish in terms of 40,000-pound van loads, instead of what’s for dinner.How can communities create excitement for their local seafood outside of Alaska if it’s not happening at home?Kodiak-based free-lance writer Laine Welch can be reached via e-mail at ([email protected]).

New ACS cellular network features faster Internet speeds

ACS Wireless Inc. has begun rolling out a new, next-generation cellular telephone network that will provide a host of new features to its customers.According to the company’s director of technology assessment, Ruvin Lermin, the network represents the third generation of cellular technology. Called CDMA 1x, it will replace the company’s existing digital network, called TDMA. The company also operates a first-generation analog system.ACS was awarded three licenses, which cover the entire state, to operate the new technology. To keep the licenses, ACS had to begin operating from at least one cellular site by April 28.Mary Ann Pease, ACS vice president for investor relations, said the company beat that deadline and was operating from a site in East Anchorage by mid-April.Nick Miller, ACS Wireless operations manager, said deployment of the new system in Southcentral Alaska will be complete in about a year, followed by Fairbanks and Juneau in 2004. Pease said existing customers gradually will be phased into the new system.The equipment for the new network will cost about $22 million, according to a press release from Nortel Networks, which is supplying the gear under contract to ACS.Lerman said one of the key features of the new network is that it provides an "always on" data connection of up to 144,000 bits per second. That will allow customers to do everything from check their e-mails to surf the Web from their handsets.In addition, the network will provide the location of 911 calls, have features for the hearing impaired and allow for number portability. That means cellular phone owners will be able to switch to ACS from other companies and keep their current cellular telephone number.Lerman said the new network will provide a platform for even greater data rates in the future. He said ACS is considering installing equipment this year to test a wireless connection to specially equipped laptop computers that goes at speeds of up to 2.46 million bits per second.AT&T Wireless Services Inc. has announced that it, too, plans to upgrade its national network to the next generation of cellular technology, using a different standard called GSM. Company spokeswoman Rochelle Cohen said she could not comment about specific roll-out plans in Alaska.

State mining chief sees downturn as prelude to a boom

Despite the current slump in mining exploration, Alaska has plenty of promise, says Bob Loeffler, the state’s director of land, mining and water management.Loeffler looks at the brighter side of things. He sees mining in a period of "consolidation and retrenchment, hopefully preparing for the next boom," he told the Resource Development Council for Alaska Inc. in Anchorage May 2.The state’s annual measure of industry value shows a dip from recent record highs, but much of that is due to the decline in the prices of gold and base metals. Alaska’s major mines -- Greens Creek near Juneau, Fort Knox near Fairbanks and Red Dog north of Kotzebue -- are producing at record levels, he told the council.Amid a severe worldwide downturn in metals prices, Alaska has held up fairly well, Loeffler said.The state has several strengths that help stabilize its mining industry, he said."We have the geology. We have proven that we can permit major mines. We have a supportive public and state government. We are showing we can ’do it right’ in Alaska," with mines that operate in a responsible way, Loeffler said.There’s been particular progress in permitting mines, although the success stories are with projects on state-owned lands requiring mainly state permits."In the 1970s and 1980s, we were getting a bad reputation in the mining industry because of permitting problems with large projects like Quartz Hill and the AJ Mine," Loeffler told the council.Quartz Hill is a large molybdenum deposit near Ketchikan that U.S. Borax wanted to develop. The reopening of the historic AJ Mine near Juneau was proposed by Echo Bay Mines. Regulatory problems ensnarled both projects.The successful permitting of the Fort Knox gold mine, Illinois Creek, a smaller gold mine in the western Interior, and a new coal mining area at the Usibelli Mine near Healy, have encouraged the industry, Loeffler said.These projects involved mostly state permits, however. The proposed Pogo project, near Delta, is testing the speed of obtaining federal permits, he said.Although Pogo is on state lands, a federal environmental impact statement is needed, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is in charge of the process.One area of concern for the mining industry in general is reclamation bonding, Loeffler said. There are growing concerns because of potential long-term liabilities under the federal Clean Water Act, a law that clearly does not recognize unique problems of the mining industry, Loeffler said.The act is out of kilter when applied to land with a natural high metal content and natural runoff that exceeds clean-water standards.Insurance companies are also more reluctant to write policies on mining reclamation because of a handful of high-profile bankruptcies of mining companies in the Lower 48 states, he said.Still, with gold prices edging up past $300 per ounce, things are looking better for miners in Alaska. There could even be a modest recovery of smaller-scale placer gold mines if prices stay up, Loeffler said.Alaska has about 300 permitted placer mines on state and federal lands, though the number of operating mines was far lower. But the small mines are very sensitive to prices, and higher gold prices may encourage more to operate this season, he said.

Five Star Medallion Program receives $3 million grant

The Federal Aviation Administration on May 2 awarded a $3 million grant to fund a safety training program for air carriers.The Five Star Medallion Program is designed to lower Alaska’s accident rate by half over the next decade, according to Jerry Dennis, the program’s executive director.The grant will go toward funding Dennis’ position and three others over the next three years. Money also will be used to help air carriers train personnel, Dennis said. The Five Star Medallion Program is a volunteer accreditation by Alaska air carriers that includes, among other things, a company safety program, simulator training, risk assessment checklists, increased mechanic and ground service training, and independent safety audits.Dick Harding, vice president of Anchorage-based Peninsula Airways, designed a safety program for PenAir that was used as a model for the Five Star Medallion Program.PenAir has had its program in place three years. The company has shared the program with several other carriers, including some in the Lower 48.Harding said support for the safety program is strong."There are no naysayers," Harding said. "Everyone supports this."Since 1990, 460 people have died in aviation-related crashes in Alaska, including some 120 commercial pilots, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.Commercial pilots have surpassed loggers and fishermen as the most dangerous job in the state. And during a 30-year commercial flying career in Alaska, 11 of 100 pilots will die in an airplane crash at current rates. That’s 100 times the risk of an average worker in the United States, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, included $3 million in this year’s federal transportation appropriations bill to fund the program, in which participating airlines will be given a star by the Federal Aviation Administration for each step of the program it completes. After a carrier has accumulated five stars, it must wait a year to be certified as having Medallion status. The carrier will undergo annual independent audits to retain the status.The Alaska Air Carriers Association administers the program, which in time is intended to be self-supporting through air carrier funding.Air carriers participating are Alaska Airlines, Arctic Transportation Services, Cape Smyth Air Service, Coastal Helicopters, Era Aviation, Flight Alaska, Frontier Flying Service, North Slope Borough Search & Rescue, Pacific Airways, Peninsula Airways, Tanana Air Service, Taquan Air Alaska, Warbelow’s Air Ventures and Wings of Alaska Airlines.

Bristol Bay area residents must face the decline of their economy

KODIAK -- How much can ride on the back of one salmon?That’s a question posed by Terry Hoefferle of the Bristol Bay Native Association when he speaks of restructuring Alaska’s salmon industry. Hoefferle believes that what is now being experienced in Bristol Bay will be replicated in other coastal communities.It’s a difficult process, especially for remote, rural communities that are dependent on a single species, and whose reliance on the fisheries predates the market economy."I’m not here for your sympathy. Hopefully our experience will be instructive to those of you who haven’t hit the wall yet and all indications are that your community is going to hit the wall," Hoefferle said at the recent Salmon Summit in Kodiak."A key to us being able to address the issues confronting us is getting past the denial of how grave the situation really is and settling in for the long haul," he said.As a starter, the value of drift permits for the world’s largest red salmon fishery has crashed from $248,000 in 1989 to $15,000 today. The value of the region’s red salmon to harvesters during the past 20 years averaged $120 million; last year it was worth just $37 million."Processing plants used to front new engines, nets, boat insurance, transportation from villages to canneries and issue preseason advances," Hoefferle said. "Now they don’t. Some have announced they will launch boats this spring, but not haul them out at the end of the season. All of these are indications of new business practices."Whereas 10 years ago Bristol Bay attracted two dozen salmon buyers, today that number is down to eight.Companies like American Seafoods, Fishing Company of Alaska, Unisea and Dragnet have pulled out of the bay, and some of them have gone bankrupt.The projected harvest for Bristol Bay this summer of 10 million fish is expected to make a bad situation even worse. "At 40 cents a pound, which may be optimistic, even if nearly 30 percent of the drift fleet doesn’t fish, the average value to fishermen is just $12,900. That doesn’t even cover costs," Hoefferle said.In the past year, food banks in the Bristol Bay area have increased their meals to the needy by 300 percent, and Dillingham’s domestic violence shelter used up a year’s budget in three months. Airfares are increasing and air carriers are leaving the area. Service providers, like restaurants, laundromats, travel agencies and insurance companies, are closing their doors, and the cost for those services has increased. The price of fuel has risen to $2.59 a gallon for gas and $2.39 for heating fuel."People are leaving the communities. Schools are closing because they no longer have enough children. Bristol Bay last year lost 70 students and laid off five teachers," Hoeferle said. "The (Bristol Bay) Borough has lost roughly $1.5 million from reduced fish revenues and cut staff by 30 percent. Both boroughs in the region have lost their managers. There is only one police officer."Looking towards the future, Hoefferle warns that the migration of limited entry permits out of the hands of local residents is alarming. Limited entry, he said, was intended to accomplish three things: resource conservation, increased income to fishermen and stability to coastal communities."Once 1,378 out of nearly 2,800 gillnet permits were held by Bristol Bay residents. Now that number is fewer than 850. And two crew jobs usually accompany each permit," Hoefferle said. He said it was critical for people to realize that any discussion of restructuring a fishery will be based upon who has permits now. He cautioned: "We must find ways to keep permits in our communities. Otherwise, they will dry up and blow away." Meanwhile, back on the farmThe U.S. market for Atlantic farmed salmon continues to boom. Figures from the National Marine Fisheries Service show Americans purchased nearly 31,000 tons of farmed fish in the first two months of this year, an increase of nearly 40 percent from the same period last year. The February import of 15,784 tons, up 37 percent, was the highest volume ever.Fresh fillets were the largest single line with 15,462 tons imported; frozen fillets account for 3,900 tons. Nearly 16,000 tons of the imports during January and February were from Chile, accounting for almost 52 percent of the total. Canada followed with just over 39 percent of the market share. Other countries accounted for less than 5 per cent.Kodiak-based free-lance writer Laine Welch can be reached via e-mail at ([email protected]).

Engineer gets kudos, criticism

Over the past 30 years in Alaska, major infrastructure projects have been done by one of three methods: the right way, the wrong way, or Dennis Nottingham’s way.The latter has prevailed many times, earning his firm of Peratrovich, Nottingham & Drage Inc. worldwide accolades from the engineering community. The Anchorage-based engineering firm has offices in Juneau, Seattle, Astoria, Ore., and Oakland, Calif., and has been recognized as one of world’s leaders in arctic construction, including bridges, docks and oil platforms.Nottingham is also credited with designing some of the state’s largest and most challenging bridge projects during his decade-long tenure with the state transportation department more than 20 years ago.But Nottingham’s often cavalier approach and clear disdain for bureaucracy, he said, has also put him and his firm under intense scrutiny from state and federal agencies.While even his harshest critics grudgingly admit that Nottingham is a good, innovative engineer, they say he’s an even better self-promoter and salesman.Nottingham’s pitch is bold, often pronouncing that his firm can build things bigger, better, faster and cheaper than his competitors, and certainly the government."We’ve embarrassed so many people so many times by coming up with better projects and saving people money that they just hate us for it,’’ Nottingham said.Point MacKenzie dockThe new Point MacKenzie dock, 2 miles across Knik Arm from Anchorage, is the latest example of the building antipathy between government agencies and Nottingham.It only took five months to build, but concerns over the stability and workmanship of the dock has prompted post-construction reviews and controversy that have been ongoing for nearly two years.

Business Profile: Emerald Alaska Inc.

Name of the company: Emerald Alaska Inc.Established: Jan. 1, 2002Location: 2020 Viking Drive, Anchorage, AK 99501Telephone: 907-258-1558Major focus of services: Emerald Alaska Inc., an environmental services company, provides recycling services for used oil, fuel, wastewater, antifreeze and solvents. The company also provides disposal services for nonhazardous material in Anchorage and hazardous material out of state. Additional services include marine and industrial tank cleaning and emergency response.History of the company: Emerald Alaska traces its roots to an Alaska company, Energy Recovery Services, started in 1994 by Blake Hillis. In 2001, Energy Recovery Services handled a Defense Department contract in the state with Seattle-based Emerald Services’ Alaska division. That company at one time operated as Northwest Enviroservice in Alaska between 1983 and 1995.In January, Energy Recovery Services merged with Emerald Services’ Alaska division to form Emerald Alaska.Emerald Alaska has a rail spur at its Anchorage facility to load bulk shipments of fuels, oils and wastewater on Alaska Railroad tankers.The company employs 23 people at its Anchorage and Fairbanks offices.Current projects: Emerald Alaska continues work on the second year of a five-year Defense Department Defense Logistics Agency contract. The company also handles hazardous waste contracts for the Fairbanks North Star Borough, the state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities and others. Emerald Alaska provides tank cleaning and vacuum truck services for Tesoro Alaska Petroleum Co. and supplies other work for Crowley Marine Services and Sea Coast Towing and Barge Service.Past projects: Last year Emerald Alaska predecessor’s Energy Recovery Services removed 1 million pounds of contaminated soil from Aniak. Defense Department contract work removed 6 million pounds of contaminated soil from Fort Richardson by rail.Top accomplishment of the company: Hillis is pleased with the merger to form the new company. "With the instate facility and the depth of services at the Seattle office, we are a very key player in the whole Northwest for environmental services," he said.Major player: Blake Hillis, president, Emerald Alaska Inc.Hillis moved to Alaska in 1985 and worked for Northwest Enviroservice until 1994, when that company sold its Alaska division. He then started Energy Recovery Services, building the company through the merger earlier this year.-- Nancy Pounds

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