Europe likes label; Sierra Club doesn't

A new label identifying Alaska salmon products as coming from a sustainable fishery is going over very well in Europe, reports Barbara Belknap, executive director of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.However, the Sierra Club, a major U.S. environmental group, is criticizing the certification of sustainability of Alaska’s salmon from the London-based Marine Stewardship Council, which was formed by another environmental group, the World Wildlife Fund, to promote sustainable fisheries and good management practices.The certification of the Alaska salmon fishery was "questionable," and lacked "transparency and credibility," said Vicky Husband of the Sierra Club in an April 30 letter to the Marine Stewardship Council. Husband said the certification has placed the MSC’s "credibility in doubt."Belknap said the MSC’s certification on products from 13 companies marketing Alaska salmon products attracted a great deal of attention at the European Seafood Exposition in Brussels in early April, the world’s largest seafood trade show.What’s more significant, Belknap said, was that Alaska salmon products with the label are now being purchased and displayed by organic food stores in Europe, even though wild Alaska salmon is not labeled as organic under U.S. federal regulations."European countries like England and Germany are more ’green’ and more environmentally conscious than the U.S.," she said. "For over 10 years farmed salmon has owned this market. Indications are now there is a renewed interest in wild Alaska salmon," Belknap said, partly because of publicity over the MSC certification and the "sustainability" of the Alaska salmon fisheries.Two of five major retail chains in Great Britain -- Sainsburys and Tesco -- have committed to featuring wild Alaska salmon with the MSC label, Belknap said. T.G.I.Fridays Restaurants in the United Kingdom have featured Alaska king salmon for three years and are now doing a promotion around MSC labeled salmon.Major corporations like BP have committed to featuring MSC-certified salmon in employee cafeterias, she said.The United Kingdom is a major market for Alaska salmon. It is the largest market in the world for canned salmon and is the largest European buyer of Alaska salmon."It was only recently that fresh and frozen Alaska salmon was made available to U.K. consumers," Belknap said. Farmed salmon is available fresh year-round, from Scotland, Ireland and Norway, she said.The Sierra Club’s immediate concern is the possibility that British Columbia wild salmon producers may apply for MSC certification, citing MSC’s certification of nearby Southeast Alaska salmon fisheries as sustainable."The Southeast Alaska salmon fisheries regime is not worthy of certification by any reasonable standard," Husband wrote in the April 30 letter to the MSC.Neither the government of British Columbia nor the Canadian federal government manages the British Columbia wild salmon fisheries very well, Husband said. Certifying British Columbia wild salmon fishery using the same criteria used in Alaska would be an act of "consumer fraud," and would be opposed by the Sierra Club.The British Columbia Salmon Marketing Council is concerned about losing European market share to Alaska salmon because of the MSC label, and is in the process of preparing an application for a similar certification, Husband said in the Sierra Club letter.In a letter of reply, MSC Chief Executive Brendan May questioned why the Sierra Club, if it opposed certification of Alaska salmon, did not protest the certification while it was being considered through established appeal procedures, instead of waiting until several months after the certification was completed."The MSC has formal processes for handling such appeals and would have of course taken such an appeal seriously had it been lodged," May said.

Bush lets forest road ban take effect, promises changes in June

WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration will allow a ban on road-building in much of the nation’s federal forest lands to take effect but will propose changes to it in June, Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman said May 4.The ban, a pivotal part of former President Clinton’s environmental legacy, ropes off 58.5 million acres -- about a third of the federal forest land -- from developers, loggers and mining companies. These industries are lobbying to have the measure reversed.The vast majority of roadless federal forests are in the West, including Alaska’s Tongass and Chugach national forests. Clinton’s order would have stopped all new road construction in the Chugach and all road construction in the Tongass, except for developments involving timber sales that were already proposed.Alaska Gov. Tony Knowles filed a lawsuit in January seeking to block the government from implementing the plan, arguing it violated public process provisions in numerous federal laws, including the National Forest Management Act and the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.Veneman did not provide details on the changes that will be offered. But she said they will seek to ensure local input on individual forest decisions. She called the plan a "common sense approach to roadless protection.’’"Through this action we affirm the department’s commitment to the important challenge of protecting roadless values,’’ she said at a news conference.Clinton’s policy, announced Jan. 5, was supposed to take effect in March. The Bush administration delayed implementation until May 12 while it conducted a review.Veneman said the review showed a need to make sure the concerns of states, communities, Indian tribes and individuals are addressed. She said the proposed amendments next month will seek to ensure the protection of forests while recognizing the interests of local authorities and people.Once the amendments are proposed, a public comment period will begin, Veneman said. How soon a plan is finalized will depend on how many comments are received.Clinton’s plan generated 1.6 million public comments.Smaller national forests are scattered across the country from Florida’s Apalachicola National Forest and Virginia’s George Washington National Forest to New Hampshire’s White Mountains.The Clinton administration began creating the rules about three years ago, but did not issue them until two weeks before President Clinton left office.The ban was praised by environmentalists as a way to protect the nation’s most pristine forest lands from developers and preserve critical wildlife habitats. Opponents, including the timber and mining industries, said the rules needlessly place valuable resources off-limits.The state of Idaho and timber company Boise Cascade sued in federal court in Boise seeking to block the rule from taking effect. The Bush administration had until May 1 to file a brief with the court outlining its analysis of the rule.Veneman said the administration planned to tell the court it does not favor an injunction blocking implementation of the ban but will work on amending the plan after it takes effect.In an interim decision, U.S. District Judge Edward J. Lodge rejected a call to immediately block the Clinton policy. But he said there was "strong evidence’’ the rule-making process was hurried, that the Forest Service was not prepared to produce a "coherent proposal or meaningful dialogue and that the end result was predetermined.’’Prior to Veneman’s announcement, Chris West, vice president of the American Forest Resource Council, said he would be disappointed if the Bush administration kept the ban in place while a new rule was created. Such a move could put forests in the West at risk to insects, disease and fire because the roadless areas will be inaccessible, he said."What has us worried is what they are going to be doing in the interim,’’ said West, whose Portland, Ore.-based group represents timber interests.Veneman said as the administration works to come up with amendments, it will seek to ensure protection against wildfires, insects and other issues that could affect communities, homes and property.Marty Hayden, legislative director for Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, said he was worried any changes would return the government to where it was three years ago -- trying to maintain 380,000 miles of roads that have an $8.5 billion maintenance backlog."They have chosen not to suspend it because they are feeling the heat of the public support that was behind the rule in the first place,’’ Hayden said. "But they are still heading down a path for undoing it.’

Pollock outlook improves

There’s guarded optimism that solutions may be on the horizon for legal and environmental problems bedeviling the state’s big groundfish industry.Trevor McCabe, executive director of the At-Sea Processors Association, gave a somewhat upbeat assessment on the industry’s prospects to the Resource Development Council in Anchorage May 3.Late last year things looked bleak for the offshore pollock and cod fisheries of the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska, when it appeared draconian restrictions on fishing would be imposed to protect endangered Steller sea lions, McCabe said.Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, bought some time for the industry with a budget rider that required the National Marine Fisheries Service to postpone for six months the implementation of restrictions based on a Nov. 30 biological opinion on protecting the sea lions.NMFS manages pollock and cod fishing in federal waters beyond the state three-mile limit, out to 200 miles.McCabe said a task force formed by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, also required by the Stevens rider, is now working on recommended management plans for the latter part of the 2001 season and 2002.If adopted by the secretary of commerce, it could again extend the imposition of restrictions proposed by NMFS late last fall. It’s possible, however, that Greenpeace and other environmental groups that brought a lawsuit against the agency under the Endangered Species Act could argue the plan doesn’t do enough to protect the endangered sea lions, McCabe said.Meanwhile, the federal fisheries agency has published a 3,000-page draft environmental impact statement on offshore fisheries management, McCabe said. It is now out for public review and could be complete sometime in 2002, he said.The statement will answer a second lawsuit brought by Greenpeace and the other plaintiffs that an EIS developed by the agency years ago needs to be updated, he indicated.Meanwhile, a massive research effort is now under way to find out why sea lion populations in western Alaska are crashing. As a result of congressional action late last year, $40 million in federal funds are available, and indications are there could be more next year, McCabe said.Scientists are puzzled as to what is causing the decline. The pollock biomass is larger than it has been in years, despite fishing, yet the sea lions are still declining.McCabe said one theory is that the increasing stocks of pollock may be a factor, in that the pollock is crowding out other fish species. If the sea lions need a diverse diet, more pollock could be a problem.Still, by physical appearances they don’t appear to be underfed, McCabe said. Another theory is that there could be large-scale predation by orcas, or killer whales, after juvenile Stellers leave the rookeries.In any event, the overall pollock fishery is healthy, McCabe told the RDC."Around the world, this fishery is considered to be the healthiest and the cleanest," he said."The pollock biomass is now estimated at 20 million metric tons. The exploitation rate -- what we’re allowed to catch -- is 15 percent, a very sustainable level," McCabe said."The bycatch (accidental harvest of other fish) is now less than 1 percent, compared to 30 percent for a world average and 8.5 percent average for all the Alaska fisheries," he said.McCabe credits changes in federal law and improvements in fisheries management by NMFC for reduced levels of bycatch in the industry, particularly the American Fisheries Act, which allowed vessels in the fishery to form cooperatives, sharing quota allocations.This ended the wasteful race for fish under the former fishing seasons, which were open to all but were shorter. The new system has fewer boats fishing for longer periods during the year.It not only reduces bycatch but has also increased productivity, McCabe said. Offshore catcher/processor ships in McCabe’s association have increased the amount of seafood produced by 15 percent for each pound of pollock harvested, he said.

Around the World May 13, 2001

STATEEntrepreneur looks to hog farmingSOLDOTNA -- That other white meat in the grocery store could someday be home grown if a Soldotna entrepreneur’s plan to bring hog farming to Alaska, and possibly the Kenai Peninsula, is successful.Richard Metteer told the Kenai City Council that he is prepared to move ahead with a formal business plan.Metteer was before the council seeking a resolution of support to help him raise $396,500 for a formal feasibility study and business plan.Metteer said the project, once operating at full capacity, would produce 660,000 hogs a year for export and that it could gross $300 million a year.Budget calls for $2 million more for Arctic PowerJUNEAU -- Arctic Power, the nonprofit group lobbying to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration, would receive $2 million under the House Finance Committee version of the state capital budget.The Finance Committee added the money May 5 to the capital budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1.Finance co-chair Eldon Mulder, R-Anchorage, said Sen. Ted Stevens and Rep. Don Young, both R-Alaska, requested the money to help Arctic Power lobby for ANWR drilling as part of President Bush’s energy plan for the country.NATIONJudge upholds Exxon gas royalty verdictMONTGOMERY, Ala. -- A judge upheld the largest jury verdict in state history, $3.4 billion in punitive damages against Exxon Mobil Corp. for deliberately underpaying the state for natural gas royalties."Exxon engaged in egregious, intentional fraud by which it sought to deprive Alabama of hundreds of millions of dollars, probably well over $1 billion,’’ Circuit Judge Tracy McCooey wrote in an order signed May 3.Exxon Mobil plans to appeal to the state Supreme Court, which attorneys estimated could take up to a 1 1/2 years to rule.Along with the record punitive damages of $3.42 billion, the jury awarded the state $87.7 million in compensatory damages, bringing the total judgment to $3.5 billion.Phillips sees longer gasoline crunchBARTLESVILLE, Okla. -- A gasoline supply crunch will likely persist in parts of the country as oil companies struggle to meet demand with limited pipeline and refining capacity, the chairman of Phillips Petroleum Co. told company shareholders."I think we’ll continue to see tight supply-demand situations as we continue to go through this next several weeks,’’ Phillips chief Jim Mulva said at the company’s annual stockholders meeting May 7.The Bartlesville-based company is poised to become the nation’s second largest refiner with its pending acquisition of Greenwich, Conn.-based Tosco Corp.Growing demand for gasoline continues to weigh on refineries, already operating at full capacity making from 16 to 17 grades of gasoline to meet different clean air standards around the country, Mulva said.Limited pipeline capacity is also contributing to supply restrictions, along with refinery shutdowns and operating disruptions.Williams buys Barrett to up natural gas outputNEW YORK -- Seeking to substantially increase its natural gas output, Williams Cos. announced Monday it will buy Barrett Resources for $2.5 billion in cash and stock.The offer topped a $2 billion hostile bid by the U.S. unit of Royal Dutch/Shell Group, which responded by dropping the effort it started in March to acquire Denver-based Barrett.Barrett, a natural gas production and exploration company, decided to put itself up for sale last month after rejecting Shell’s initial offer for the company.Williams, a Tulsa, Okla.-based energy trader and pipeline operator, produces about 15,000 megawatts of electricity but plans to triple its power generation over the next few years.Morris Communications selling dial-up serviceAUGUSTA, Ga. -- Morris Communications Corp. is selling the residential dial-up portion of its Internet access business in three markets to EarthLink, company officials said May 7.The Morris-owned company, Networks, will continue to be a provider for digital subscriber line services, Web hosting and other commercial services.The markets serviced by EarthLink by the end of June are Augusta, Ga., Grand Island, Neb., and Topeka, Kan. Residential customers of Networks in Pittsburg, Kan., and Dodge City, Kan., will not be affected.Morris Communications owns the Journal, the Juneau Empire, the Kenai Peninsula Clarion, the Homer News, Alaska magazine and the Milepost in Alaska, as well as several radio stations.Outside the state, the privately held media company, based in Augusta, has diversified holdings that include newspaper and magazine publishing, outdoor advertising, radio broadcasting, book publishing and distribution, and computer services.Consumer confidence slips in MarchWASHINGTON -- Consumers, bombarded by gloomy economic news, tightened their belts in March, borrowing money at the slowest pace in 17 months.Total consumer credit increased by a seasonally adjusted $6.2 billion in March, or a 4.7 percent annual rate, the Federal Reserve reported May 7. That was a smaller increase than the $9.8 billion rise in credit that many analysts were forecasting.A weak job market, stock market volatility, eroding consumer confidence and higher energy prices are all factors that tend to make people feel less inclined to spend, economists say.Last week, the government reported that the nation’s unemployment rate jumped to 4.5 percent in April from 4.3 percent in March.WORLDBP posts 7 percent rise in quarterly profitsLONDON -- British energy group BP PLC’s profit rose 7 percent while operating earnings climbed 28 percent in the first quarter, helped by higher production and prices for natural gas and stronger profit margins in its refining business.BP, which recently changed its name from BP Amoco PLC, said May 8 it earned $3.30 billion for the first three months of the year versus $3.09 billion a year earlier. It does not report quarterly revenue.Its operating profit rose to $3.44 billion in the quarter from $2.68 billion in the same period of 2000.Chief executive Sir John Browne said the result reflected a "positive environment" together with BP’s improving internal performance, especially in raising its oil and gas output by 13 percent. Gas production volumes alone rose 41 percent, due partly to the inclusion of results for Los Angeles-based Atlantic Richfield Co., which BP acquired in April.-- Compiled from business wire services.

Accounting office closes

Major international accounting firm Deloitte & Touche LLP has decided to close its Anchorage office. Company officials have signed an agreement with KPMG LLP in Anchorage that allows that major accounting firm to hire most of the employees from Deloitte & Touche effective June 1, KPMG officials said.Officials from Deloitte & Touche determined that maintaining an Anchorage office no longer fit its corporate strategy and decided to close the office, reassigning resources elsewhere.Deloitte & Touche, based in Wilton, Conn., and New York City, first worked in Alaska in 1971 when it acquired Ellis & Siddle, which operated a local certified public accounting firm. At that time, Touche Ross & Co. was one of the Big 8 international accounting firms, which subsequent industry mergers have trimmed to five.In Alaska the firm performed tax and audit services for many industries, including financial institutions, Native corporations, utilities, health care organizations and nonprofit organizations.The change is important to rival KPMG. "The significance is KPMG will be the only Big 5 firm to have an office in Alaska," said Kathleen Porterfield, KPMG’s managing partner in Anchorage.The number of new hires at KPMG as a result was not yet determined at press time in early May, Porterfield said."We’ve agreed to hire all the people who want to join us," she said.The move will increase KPMG’s total Anchorage staff by 50 percent, although exact numbers were not yet available, the company said.Last July KPMG listed 65 total professional staff members, according to an Alaska Journal of Commerce survey listing Alaska’s largest accounting firms. Deloitte & Touche listed a professional staff of 60. KPMG began work in Alaska in 1962.KPMG International’s member firms employ more than 108,000 professional including 7,000 partners in 159 countries, company officials said.

Sea farming a 'huge industry' that could benefit Alaska, fish farm designer says

Fish farming is a burgeoning industry around the world that could hold potential for Alaska, according to a Washington-based fishing net supplier and designer. State law prohibits finfish farming but allows shellfish and sea vegetable mariculture, noted Laura Fleming, public relations director at the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. "Globally sea farming is growing fast," said Gary Loverich, who works for Ocean Spar Technologies LLC and Nor’Eastern Trawl Systems Inc. of Bainbridge Island, Wash. "There’s no doubt in my mind it’s going to be a huge industry." Loverich spoke May 2 to members of the World Trade Center Alaska during a luncheon in Anchorage. He was the latest speaker in the organization’s lecture series examining the future of certain industries and how Alaska can respond to global changes in those industries. In the 1960s and 1970s Loverich worked as a commercial fisherman and halibut long-liner in Alaska. He also has served as a research and design engineer for the U.S. Interior Department Bureau of Commercial Fisheries Exploratory Fishing and Gear Research Base. In 1978 he founded NET Systems Inc. with Tom Croker, and they sold the business in 1995. That year they started Ocean Spar Technologies. "What I see is that fish and farming are really a necessary part of the seafood system," he said. "Now we hear mostly about sea farming problems, but it has such potential. The industry can’t be perfect from the start. Sea farming is going to happen. It may not happen in Alaska. It may not happen in Washington, but it is happening around the world because people want seafood." Loverich is installing and designing net equipment for fish farming companies in locales from Hawaii and the Philippines to Ireland. "Just about every coastal country wants to get involved in sea farming," Loverich said. "OST/NET Systems’ share of the market is small but innovative." Discord often results between fishermen and fish farmers, he noted. "There’s always conflict between the fisher and the farmer," Loverich said. For example, in Hawaii fish farming in Pearl Harbor now grow 120 tons annually of moi. The sea farming cages attract wild fish and fishermen outside the cages, he said. "The only thing that distinguishes the domain of the fisher and the farmer is the thin membrane of netting, so fish allocation is a problem," he said. "The distinction between the farmer and the fisher isn’t always very distinct." "I think what really matters is a continuous supply of fish and that we get maximum value," he said. Sea farming isn’t an easy endeavor, Loverich said. Handling repairs to the sea cages, which must be done underwater by a diver, is more difficult than tackling netting repairs aboard a commercial fishing vessel, he said. Also, sea farmers risk loss of fish and gear during storms, he said. The engineer listed several West Coast fish species that Alaskans could cultivate pending a change in legislation. Fish that could be grown on sea farms include Pacific salmon, halibut, black cod and lingcod. Norway has 79 halibut farms, he said. In Washington the National Marine Fisheries Service is raising halibut brood stock, he added. Alaskans could catch halibut in the wild then enclose them in sea cages for harvest when the market price is high, he said. Some countries are close to operating black cod farms although none have harvested yet, he said. "Black cod is going to be a terrific farmed fish." The ideal site for a fish farm has moving water with a maximum current of 1.25 to 1.75 knots. Depth range could be from 60 feet to 125 feet, and tidal variation should be between 3 to 14 feet. His company has done work, although with difficulty, in Nova Scotia’s Bay of Fundy, which has the highest tide range in North America. Second place falls to Cook Inlet near Anchorage.  

Agency looks to private engineers to chart Alaska's depths

Melting glaciers, changing coastline, and aging nautical charts are driving a move by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to outsource nautical charts and underwater surveying, thus boosting the business of local engineering firms. "Tour boat operators and cruise ships are using 50-100 year-old charts that are not suitable for today’s uses," said John Oswald, geodetic manager of LCMF Inc. LCMF is a surveying-engineering firm and a subsidiary of Ukpeagvik Inupiat Corp., Barrow’s village corporation. The drive to re-chart Alaska’s 34,000 miles of shoreline is driven by several factors: increased tour and cruise ships and more frequent use of shipping lanes by container ships. According to NOAA officials there are still areas of Alaska waters that have never been charted. LCMF spent the summer of 2000 charting tidal areas in the Kenai Fjords area, gathering hydrographic information that will eventually be used for new NOAA charts. "These nautical charts were done over 50 years ago by seamen using a leadline taking soundings every several hundred feet, skipping large areas in between," said Steve Chronic, general manager of LCMF. Shipwrecks around the nation’s coastal areas -- including Alaska -- have officials at NOAA scrambling to find funds to remap high-priority tidal and underwater areas nationwide. It is quite possible, Oswald said, that in several cases that are still pending in court NOAA could be found liable for poorly marked charts that led to shipwrecks. Essentially, NOAA has a lot of new water to look at, adds Chronic. Oswald, who pilots watercraft on the firm’s summer projects, uses the example of the Northwestern Glacier just west of Resurrection Bay. "There are areas above water now that were not even visible 50 years ago," he said. LCMF crews found tidal benchmarks surveyed in the 1912 in Camp Cove that are now submerged, and another area called Striation Island in the Northwestern Fjord that was under ice 50 years ago -- proof that Alaska coastlines are changing. "Day tours and tour boats are going in closer and closer to calving glaciers, running in and out of ice. This is their business, on a day to day basis, thus the need for new information," Oswald said. "We are living in a rapidly changing environment." A mandate from Congress called the Hydrology Improvement Act of 1998 is driving NOAA on a remapping project that has the country broken down into specific regions for the digital data. According to Oswald, LCMF is a subcontractor to prime contractor RACAL, now called Thales Geosolutions, Inc., which has a $10 million per year contract for the digital tidal mapping project. LCMF teamed up with RACAL on the project in 1998 and is in the second year of a four-year contract. "This is perhaps the biggest federal contract in the state for a surveying project," Oswald said. But the project has more than environmental challenges: Funding for the NOAA projects has to be renewed on a yearly basis. "This is really tough on the contractor," said Doug Baird, NOAA navigation adviser for Alaska and the regional representative on the project. Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, and Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, the only water-going pilot in Congress, have been instrumental in proving the need for the project’s funding, according to Oswald. NOAA is also actively involved on the project, supplying the NOAA ship Rainier, a 231 foot vessel that operates from late March to early November. According to Baird the award of $12 million from Congress this year will enable NOAA to outsource work to local firms for data in more difficult areas to chart. This year an effort to chart the Semidi Islands and Chignik areas, that have never been charted in recent history, are scheduled for surveys. "There are areas in Alaska that have never been charted," Baird said. "As part of the project NOAA is always looking for input on uncharted waters so that they can be identified and funded in the future." Baird said NOAA is responsible for surveying between 700 and 800 square nautical miles yearly in Alaska. While NOAA has surveyed some of Alaska’s waters, usually those with more traffic, other more critical areas that have been identified will be outsourced. To do those, survey firms like LCMF must solve logistical problems and provide their own transport. To better enable the company to do the surveys, LCMF purchased a 15-year-old 32-foot Bristol Bay fishing boat, removed the fishing gear and modified it. "We put a crane on the stern deck and reinforced the deck with wood," Oswald said. The boat is used to place digital tide gauges in bays and coves at the water line. The gauges send a transmission to a shore camp that retransmits the data to a satellite. The data is then downlinked in Wallops, Va. When satellites are not available, the information is transmitted by a radio/voice modem to a computer. "I think these surveys are essential," said Dan McDonald, marine operations manager at Kenai Fjord Tours and an active sea captain for 15 years. Kenai Fjord Tours has 11 vessels that range in size from 40 to 100 feet, some that carry as many as 150 tourists. "We have seen an increase in passengers which means more traffic, and with recent problems with some ship groundings in Southeast, it is always nice to be able to double check your areas with new more valid information," said McDonald. McDonald said that the shoreline around the Holgate and Northwestern glaciers has changed dramatically in the last few years, due to rapidly retreating glaciers. "Everybody wins when we keep the ships off the rocks," said NOAA’s Baird. "That’s why we have to ensure that we keep the funding coming for the safety of the marine industry."  

Public station eagerly gears up for 'staggering new possibilities'

While Alaska’s commercial stations agonize over the costs of converting to digital transmission, officials at Anchorage public television station KAKM Channel 7 are raising money at a furious pace and can hardly wait for the change."This offers staggering new possibilities for us," said Susan Reed-Satin, president and general manager of Alaska Public Telecommunications Inc., the nonprofit corporation that owns KAKM and public radio station KSKA.Unlike the current analog system, which can transmit only one channel of video, the digital system gives broadcasters many more options. They can use their entire channel to transmit a high-definition wide-screen signal, known as HDTV, or they can transmit several normal-sized channels known as standard definition television, or SDTV.Broadcasters can also use part of their bandwidth to transmit data, such as Web pages and other materials to provide an interactive experience for the viewer.KAKM plans to do all three. During the day, it will broadcast four SDTV channels, and it will switch to HDTV during the evening prime time hours for programs like "Nova" and "Nature."The reason the station can do this is that PBS will be providing it with much of the programming needed to fill four channels at once.During the day, viewers will be able to choose among a channel devoted to children’s programming; another with University of Alaska Anchorage telecourses, which currently are broadcast in the middle of the night; a channel providing education and instruction for local schools; and a business and information channel."The educational opportunities are exciting," said Reed-Satin. "It’s what we’re all about. PBS is really taking the lead on this."It’s quite a contrast to the commercial stations, most of whom don’t know how many channels they will broadcast or what the programming will consist of."We spend all day working to fill just one channel," pointed out Al Bramstedt Jr., general manager at KTUU Channel 2. Since his station is an NBC affiliate, he said there’s a possibility his extra channels might be used to transmit the network’s cable channels, MSNBC and CNBC.Under federal guidelines, public TV stations don’t have to begin broadcasting a digital signal until May 2003 -- a year after the deadline for commercial stations.But in order for KAKM to take advantage of the Anchorage Broadcast Television Consortium’s plan to share facilities -- and thus costs -- at the current KTVA site, it decided to go on the air at the same time as the other stations next May. KAKM estimates the shared site will save each station at least $1 million.KAKM estimates that simply being able to transmit a digital signal received from PBS will cost between $1.2 million and $1.5 million. In addition, the station wants to build a $3 million production center that will allow it and Alaska’s other three public TV stations to produce their own digital shows. And finally, KAKM wants portable equipment to produce programs outside its studio, at a cost of $1.5 million.That’s a total of $6 million. Reed-Satin said that traditionally, the federal government has paid for half of new equipment purchases for public TV stations. Last month, she joined other public television managers from around the country in Washington, D.C., to ask Congress to continue that practice during the conversion to digital.If Congress agrees, then KAKM will need to raise $3 million. On Feb. 4, it began a capital fund-raising campaign which by late April had garnered $2.2 million; it hopes to reach its goal by the end of May.Major donations included $300,000 each from BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc., Cook Inlet Region Inc. and Tay and Lowell Thomas, Reed-Satin said. She added that Phillips Alaska Inc. has pledged $200,000 for the station’s first digital program, which will be about legendary Bush pilot Don Sheldon.Northrim Bank chief executive Marc Langland and Jim Palmer, head of external affairs at BP Alaska, are co-chairmen of the capital campaign. Former Gov. Walter J. Hickel, his wife, Erma Lee, and the Thomases are the honorary co-chairs, Reed-Satin said. She said the Hickels have donated $100,000.Already, the station has the ability to store 2,600 hours of digital video on an array of hard drives housed in a purple cabinet that immediately garnered the name "Barney." The $832,000 disc server was paid for with a federal grant, Reed-Satin said.Also on hand is a $125,000 portable digital camera and an editing suite, paid for by the Thomases, Reed-Satin said. At a demonstration of the system for the public Feb. 24, high-definition pictures shot along the Seward Highway with the new camera drew gasps of amazement from visitors.What about Alaska’s other public TV stations? Reed-Satin said that KTOO Juneau and KUAC Fairbanks will begin fund-raising this year and plan to go on the air by the May 2003 deadline. Each station will need about $1.5 million for the conversion and a similar amount for field equipment, according to a memo prepared by Langland and Palmer.The same document reports that the state’s smallest public station, KYUK Bethel, does not plan to convert to digital, but will seek permission to produce new programming. It will need $1.5 million for field equipment, according to the memo.

May-Issue-1 2001

Promissory notes common, but take care when drafting them

The use of promissory notes is common in Alaska and elsewhere to evidence an obligation to repay money based upon a loan or the sale of assets by a seller to a purchaser. However, there are a number of elemental legal issues to consider when drafting or considering signing or accepting a promissory note. A promissory note is fundamentally a written unconditional promise made by a borrower, the "maker," to pay a sum certain in money with or without interest or other charges, described in the promise to a specific payee or holder, or his or her order, on demand or at a fixed or determinable future time.It is important to identify with particularity the rate of interest that the principal balance of the note bears and the terms of repayment. Installment payments are normally expressed either as a sum certain per month inclusive of the amount of accrued interest with the balance of the monthly payment applicable to principal reduction ("all inclusive payments"), or as a specific periodic principal payment amount plus accrued interest (sometimes called "plus interest payments").From a creditor’s point of view, it is also critical that an installment note contain an acceleration clause whereby upon default the entire principal balance and any accrued but unpaid interest are due and payable in full. Where draft notes are propounded by buyers or obligors, or their legal counsel, one occasionally sees proposed promissory notes providing for installment payments without an acceleration clause.In such circumstances, it is arguably necessary to sue for each installment as and when it becomes due as opposed to being able to accelerate the entire balance under the note upon default.Creditors often request that notes contain late payment fees that are typically 3 to 5 percent of the installment due if it is not paid within 10 to 15 days. If the late payment fee is unreasonably high, the court could conclude that it is an unenforceable penalty. The key inquiry is likely to be whether the late payment fee reasonably compensates the creditor for damages incurred as a result of the late payment.Based on rather ancient English common law, a promissory note secured by real estate is not subject to prepayment unless the note specifically allows for such prepayment. As a result, a prudent borrower might request express language in the note that it can be prepaid in whole or in part at anytime without penalty.By statute in Alaska, prepayment penalties are specifically prohibited in loans secured by one-to-four family dwellings except notes issued pursuant to certain federal lending programs.Although rather rare in Alaska, some commercial notes contain provisions in which the amount of interest is contingent upon the financial performance of the debtor or a specific project, or possibly upon the appreciation in the value of security for the note, such as a building, upon its ultimate sale.Such equity participation, contingent interest, or "equity kicker" provisions are limited by Alaska statute in that a bank, credit union, savings and loan institution, pension fund, insurance company or mortgage company may not require or accept any percent of ownership or profits above its interest rate, unless the principal amount of the loan is $1 million or more and the term of the loan is five years or more.In drafting or considering undertaking a promissory note, it is also of course important to be sure that the interest rate provided therein does not exceed the maximum rates authorized by Alaska law, thus rendering the note usurious.While the area of interest rate regulation is highly complex and involves considerations of state as well as federal law, a contract or loan commitment in Alaska in which the principal amount exceeds $25,000 is generally exempt from Alaska state law interest rate limitations or regulation.Of course, the level of any interest rate in a note is subject to the concepts of unenforceable penalties, overreaching or unconscionability.Promissory notes are exceedingly common instruments that are essential to consumer and commercial lending transactions. The drafting considerations set forth above are relevant to anyone reviewing, analyzing or considering executing or holding a promissory note.Fred Odsen is a member of the law firm of Hughes Thorsness Powell Huddleston & Bauman LLC. He can be reached via e-mail at ([email protected]).

Sorry, no second year for these TV attorneys

The lawyer characters on the NBC television show "First Years" will never grow up to be "Second Years" because the program has been canceled. Before "First Years" went off the air, however, the American Lawyers Public Image Association complained that the show contained too much lawyer bashing.NBC did not exactly take this criticism to heart. It aired a promo for "First Years" that noted the ALPIA had found the show, which focused on the lives of five first-year law firm associates, "offensive to lawyers." The promo then said, "That’s a reason to watch."Associate surveyThe January issue of American Lawyer magazine recently did a piece on Silicon Valley associates, their lifestyles and the immense amount of responsibility they are given.One of the featured attorneys was Julie Fresse, a second-year attorney who, according to the article, is "running her own deals, has lots of client contact and deals directly with partners and with opposing counsel, some of whom were quite senior. ..." The article featured a photo of Fresse standing on a dock dressed in shorts and talking on a cell phone.Fast forward three months, and Fresse is in the news again. It seems that she resigned from her law firm the same month the magazine article appeared because a friend of hers made more than $400,000 after he learned privileged information about a corporate merger Fresse’s firm was handling. The friend told investigators that Fresse had let slip the information. He later recanted that statement.Dial "A" for attorneysPersonal injury lawyers in Connecticut are competitive -- even when it comes to listings in the Yellow Pages. A lawsuit filed against Southern New England Telecommunications Corp. alleges that lawyers are being allowed to list themselves in the telephone directory out of alphabetical order.The lawsuit cites the case of personal injury lawyer John Haymond who, instead of being listed back there with the H’s where a potential clients’ fingers may never walk, is listed under the As -- under "Affordable Legal Services."Haymond’s name, however, appears after that of a lawyer who lists himself as "AAAAA" for "Accident Attorneys Always Affordably Available."Have something to share with Out of Court? E-mail it to Chet Olsen at ([email protected]).

Construction, pipeline, API bills move as Legislature winds down

Several bills of interest to the state’s business community were in advanced stages of consideration in the Legislature as the 2001 session entered its final days. The Legislature must adjourn May 8. Two bills that would finance $502 million in new construction are moving. House Bill 191 would allow the state to sell a form of revenue anticipation note on expected future federal transportation funds. Approval would allow $375 million in highway and other transportation projects to be built sooner than they would have been if they had been financed by the yearly payments of federal funds. All of the projects to be built must qualify under the state’s long-range transportation plan, according to Kurt Parkin, deputy commissioner of the state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities. They must also be projects that can be completed within five years of the time construction starts, he told the House Finance Committee April 25. A second bill, House Bill 234, would finance $127 million in construction of schools as well as major repairs on state-owned harbor facilities, with state bonds to be repaid by income anticipated under settlements of litigation with tobacco companies. A similar financing arrangement last year also funded work on schools. Alaska Housing Finance Corp. is coordinating the bond sale through a subsidiary. One appropriation issue the oil and gas industry is watching is funding in the Department of Natural Resources budget for the state Joint Pipeline Office to deal with a sharply increased workload caused by industry groups planning natural gas pipeline projects. Bill Britt, the state pipeline coordinator, says his agency needs about $8 million next year to work on applications for state permits for a gas pipeline, which are expected at the end of this year. Much of this will be paid for by the applicants under a reimbursable-services agreement, Britt told the Alaska Support Industry Alliance April 27, but there will have to be some state general fund appropriations also. These would cover state expenses where it is not appropriate to charge the industry, he said. The state Senate has passed a bill requiring the state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities to pay interest on money owed to contractors following settlements of contract disputes. Senate Bill 152, sponsored by Sen. John Cowdery, R-Anchorage, requires that when a contract dispute is settled in favor of a contractor, interest must be paid for the time the payment was in dispute. "A few years ago the department made an administrative decision that they were no longer going to pay interest on money owed to contractors," Cowdery said. "Not only is this unfair, but it is poor public policy. A private firm would have to pay interest on money it owed, and the state should have to do so also." The bill moved on to the House. Another bill sponsored by Cowdery, and also important to contractors, is Senate Bill 83, which limits the authority of the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities to do "force account" construction, meaning a project is done by state employees rather than by a contractor. The department has always had authority to use its own employees for small road projects if the expense of soliciting bids and mobilizing a private contractor is excessive compared with the size of the project, Cowdery said. But in recent years DOTPF has undertaken larger projects using the force account procedure, and most recently a multimillion dollar road project in St. Mary’s, a Western Alaska village, was done by force account, Cowdery said. That project mobilized contractors, who asked for a limit to be placed on DOTPF’s authority, he said. SB83 originally put a $250,000 limit on the practice, but that was raised to $500,000 in the Senate Finance Committee. Legislation that grants the Kenai Peninsula Borough authority to contract with the state Department of Corrections for housing prisoners in a private medium-security prison near Kenai has passed the House and is at an advanced stage in the Senate. Rep. Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, is the sponsor of House Bill 149. The Kenai Borough would build and own the prison on land owned by the Kenai Native Association adjacent to a state-run correctional facility at Wildwood, a former military facility near Kenai. The borough would contract with a joint venture of Cornell Corrections and the Kenai Native Association to operate the facility. The House passed a bill authorizing $16 million in new state bonds to complete financing needed for a new $41.7 million Alaska Psychiatric Institute in Anchorage. About $19.2 million for the project was appropriated previously, and the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority will contribute $2 million as well as land to build the facility. The current API building in Anchorage is 39 years old. Another bill of interest, a measure requiring insurance companies to pay health insurance claims within 30 days or pay interest, has passed the House and is at an advanced stage in the Senate. The sponsor of House Bill 113 is Rep. Joe Green, R-Anchorage.  

Generation X workers demand more from their jobs, managers

Many good employees are quitting traditional organizations because the older work force does not know how to manage them properly. I recently worked with the U.S. Army, which is experiencing a severe retention problem. Highly skilled Generation X junior officers and enlisted soldiers are leaving in droves. The lure of higher paying civilian jobs is only part of the problem.According to a survey I conducted, many of these young Gen. X officers were not leaving for financial reasons but for management reasons. They don’t believe their older and more senior-ranking officers understand their needs nor manage them properly. This issue is not unique with the military but is reflected in most traditional organizations in America today.In general, Gen. X employees are those between the age of 19-34.Unlike their parents and grandparents, Gen. X employees do not plan on staying with one job or company throughout their career -- nor will they sacrifice their family for their job. They grew up seeing their parents laid off. Many of them have grown up as latch-key children and in divorced family situations. Therefore time for their family is very important to them.Many times Gen. X workers are characterized negatively by the older generation. Clearly, their work ethics are different, but along with their age they bring unique strengths and abilities.First, they have a voracious appetite for technology and learning. This is good unless your organization is not willing or able to share information.Gen. X employees tend to be less motivated by promises of overtime pay and more motivated by personal satisfaction with their jobs. They want to grow in their jobs and learn new skills. They will change jobs often as they seek jobs that offers them both better benefits and more opportunity for professional growth as well as personal fulfillment.Gen. X employees want, and expect, their employers to hear what they have to say. They want to understand the "big picture" for the company and how this influences their employment and growth. They are creative thinkers, independent, results-oriented and bring with them a healthy dose of skepticism.Here are a few general areas to keep in mind to improve retention and productivity:* Be approachable. Direct access to decision makers is very important to the younger work force. Take time to speak with an employee’s spouse or family when you meet them and let them know you appreciate the employee. Remember, Gen. X employees look for more than just fair pay; they need and want personal acknowledgment and job satisfaction.* Take time to be personal. Thank an employee for doing a good job -- in person, in writing, or both. Listen to what employees have to say, both in a one-on-one situation and in a group meeting. Let the employee know what happened to the idea or suggestion he or she submitted.* Encourage employee growth. Provide feedback on their performance. Be specific; mention a particular situation or activity. Make sure the employee understands company expectations. Involve the employee in the decision-making process whenever possible. Give an employee room to do the job without unnecessary micro-management.* Pay for employees to attend workshops and seminars; offer on-site classes where employees can learn new skills or improve upon old ones. Most jobs contain a certain amount of routine, day-to-day work; offer employees a chance to work on something in which they have a special interest, something that will challenge them.Traditional organizations lose valuable younger employees because of their longevity-based recognition and promotion systems. Recognize an employee who has done an outstanding job by giving an unexpected reward, such as a day off or a free dinner for the employee and his family at a nice restaurant.* Manage people individually and promote outstanding individuals even if it means putting them ahead of older or more senior employees. The employee who deserves a promotion and does not get it will start looking elsewhere for a better opportunity to move upward.Employees need to experience a sense of ownership. Encourage this by providing them information about new products, advertising campaigns, strategies for competing, and so on. Let each employee see how he or she fits into the plan. Help employees see how meeting their goals contributes to meeting the organization’s goals.* Build morale. Have an open work environment; encourage initiative and welcome new ideas. This generation enjoys having fun at work.Gregory P. Smith leads the management consulting firm called Chart Your Course in Conyers, Ga. He can be reached via e-mail at ([email protected]).

Unocal hopes to find gas reserves near Ninilchik, Clam Gulch

KENAI -- The pace of Cook Inlet oil and gas exploration has picked up with new seismic surveys along the coast from Ninilchik nearly to Clam Gulch.Unocal Corp. plans roughly 20 miles of two-dimensional seismic work, with about 12 miles offshore and eight miles on land, said Rick Trupp, permitting coordinator for Fairweather Geophysical, which is conducting the work with joint venture partners Veritas DGC and Kuukpik Corp.The plan is to discharge air guns and explosives, then measure echoes from the resulting seismic waves to map underground structures that could hold oil and natural gas."Unocal believes there is still significant hydrocarbon potential in the Cook Inlet and on the Kenai Peninsula," said Chuck Pierce, vice president of Unocal Alaska. "We are taking the first steps in expanding our exploration program in the Ninilchik area to add new natural gas resources to ensure that gas supplies are available to meet not only current needs but future needs as well."Unocal, Enstar Natural Gas Co. and Homer Electric Association are exploring the feasibility of building a $45 million natural gas pipeline between Kenai and Homer. That could make natural gas from the south peninsula available to users in Kenai, Soldotna and Anchorage and allow natural gas service for south peninsula consumers for the first time.Permits for the seismic work allow crews to string recording cables along the seabed, then tow arrays of air guns from a boat to generate seismic signals.Onshore, seismic workers will plant explosives -- typically 5-pound charges of Pentolite -- in holes about 25 feet deep and 330 feet apart. They will lay cables to record seismic signals and discharge the explosives. Equipment to drill the holes is to be dropped by helicopter, or in areas without vegetation, seismic workers may use a drilling rig mounted on an all-terrain vehicle.Trupp said workers already have drilled holes for the explosives. In early May they were scheduled to begin laying recording cables and detonating the explosives, he said. The offshore work, conducted from the 80-foot landing craft Peregrine Falcon, will run concurrently. A crew of about 21 people is doing the work, he said.Matt Rader, natural resource manager for the state Division of Oil and Gas, said the offshore air guns must be discharged at least 2 meters below the surface to avoid interference with young salmon. The air guns may not be discharged within a mile of the mouths of salmon streams such as the Ninilchik River.Onshore, there are setbacks to protect salmon streams. For example, Rader said, a 5-pound charge may be detonated no closer than 82 feet from a fish-bearing body of water.Seismic workers also must obtain permission before entering private property. Trupp said Fairweather held a meeting at the Ninilchik School to inform private landowners, and most have been willing to allow access for seismic crews.The coastline of the project lies within the Clam Gulch Critical Habitat Area, which includes the intertidal area from Cape Kasilof nearly to the mouth of Happy Valley Creek. Rader said that after May 1, seismic workers must coordinate with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to avoid conflicts with fishing and other activities in the area, such as recreational clam digging. There will be no seismic work allowed in the critical habitat area after May 15.Don McKay, permitting coordinator for the state Department of Fish and Game in Anchorage, said the state’s primary concerns are to avoid conflicts with commercial fishing later in the summer and to avoid conflicts with recreational clammers.Trupp said the offshore work would be three to five miles offshore -- far enough from the beach to avoid conflicts within the critical habitat area.

Alaska Railroad looking for federal grant to improve its tracks

FAIRBANKS -- The Alaska Railroad’s top-ranking officials were in Washington, D.C., April 25, looking for more federal financial help to underwrite improvements to their tracks, which have contributed to 19 accidents in the last 10 years.Patrick Gamble urged a House Transportation subcommittee to pass legislation setting up a new grant program for track work on small railroads. Gamble, who took over as president of the railroad in March, also encouraged Congress to make sure the corporation would be eligible for the grants.The bill was introduced by Rep. Jack Quinn, R-New York. It’s intended to resolve track problems small railroads say they’re having in part because of the larger cars being used by major rail companies. The new cars weigh 286,000 pounds apiece."The Alaska Railroad does not have a 286,000-pound car problem as such," Gamble told the subcommittee. "However, our geographic and climatic situation being what it is, we, too, have compelling track and freight infrastructure needs," he said.The Alaska Railroad has received tens of millions of dollars since 1996 through congressional earmarks added to budget bills by Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.Adding such money is fair, Stevens has said. Other passenger rail lines in the country receive federal funds for track improvements, and the federally owned Amtrak Corp. is heavily subsidized.Also, the federal government failed to maintain the track and facilities before it sold the railroad to Alaska in 1985, he contends. Nevertheless, after the sale, federal agencies declined to help the corporation, Stevens said.Quinn’s bill would expand federal support to small freight railroads, perhaps including Alaska’s."We hope the bill will clearly state that our track and other infrastructure needs will be eligible," Gamble said. "Safety is the underlying big issue."The Federal Railroad Administration said the Alaska Railroad had 50 accidents between January 1991 and January of this year.Nineteen were caused by track problems, six by equipment and nine by human error. Twelve accidents were caused by other problems and four occurred at crossings, the agency said.

ACS reports $4.9 million first quarter loss, but revenue rises

Alaska Communications Systems reported a net loss of $4.9 million for the first quarter compared with a $3.1 million loss for the same period last year.The Anchorage-based telecommunications provider tallied revenue totaling $81.2 million for the quarter, up from $78.2 million for first quarter 2000.Cellular revenue increased to $9.3 million for the first quarter, up from $8.6 million recorded for the same period last year.Revenue from local telephone services decreased to $54.7 million, down from $58.1 million for first quarter last year. ACS attributes the drop to a reduction in access revenue totaling $2.7 million.Internet revenue totaled $3.1 million for first quarter, up from $1.1 million for the same period last year. The company says the increase stems from its acquisition of Internet Alaska Inc. and the introduction of digital subscriber line service.Interexchange revenue, including long distance services, increased to $6 million in first quarter 2001 from $2.6 million for the same period in 2000. The company attributes the growth to its Infinite Minutes plan, which helped boost total long distance customers to 65,372 for the first quarter 2001, up from 33,745 in 2000. Earlier this year ACS canceled its Infinite Minutes program citing the cost of the program and regulatory issues.Total long distance minutes used for first quarter was 65.4 million, up from 33.7 million for the same period in 2000.In local telephone services ACS tallied 332,275 total access lines, up from 327,236 access lines for first quarter last year.Cellular subscribers as of March 31 totaled 76,803 compared to 72,270 subscribers at the same period in 2000.

Kenai visitors center reels in '2001: A Fish Odyssey' art exhibition for summer

The largest fish art show ever in Alaska opened May 1 at the Kenai Visitors & Cultural Center. Dubbed "2001: A Fish Odyssey," the exhibit features the works of more than 100 Alaska artists and 14 artists from outside the state.  All mediums are featured, including fish skin basketry, wood carvings, fiber arts, three dimensional works, sculptures, pottery and much more. "Fish are central to our life in Alaska," said guest curator and art professor Gary Freeburg. "This exhibition examines our close connection with fish on a variety of different levels. I guess you could say that this show, pardon the pun, has guts." The exhibition will run through Labor Day. Live groundfish Fishermen in Oregon are finding an eager market for live groundfish. WorldCatch News reports that anglers are "wading into the lucrative business of selling live fish that are bound for glass tanks in chic California restaurants." Species in demand include lingcod, greenling and yellowtail flounder, which sell for about $4.50 a pound in San Francisco restaurants, compared with 40 cents per pound for dead fish. "It’s a new fishery. You can’t stop it," said Port Orford live-fish buyer Tony Cottor. "And it’s a money maker." About 20 commercial boats now engage in live-fish angling near Port Orford, and several charter boats also land groundfish in the area. The profit potential of the live fish market appeals to commercial anglers searching for ways to make money while waiting for the region’s salmon to recover, and after enduring poor crab and shrimp seasons. "The problem is we don’t know how abundant these species are," said Jim Golden, marine resources program director at the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. "The concern is that we could be overfishing these species without even knowing it." The most recent near-shore stock assessment by the National Marine Fisheries Service was completed in 1997, when the agency listed 47 near-shore species as "status unknown." It is known, however, that eight species of groundfish are considered overfished, and seven of them are rockfish species. Port Manager Alex Linke said he does not see an enduring value in the live-fish fishery and he questions its sustainability. But even if the port wants to stop live fishing, the anglers say it has no jurisdiction in fisheries management. Packaging ends smell ASDA, a supermarket chain in the United Kingdom, has launched new packaging that it claims ends the problems of fishy smells contaminating other items in the fridge. The new product, called Alpamer, is the result of 10 years of work by French scientists. It is a combination of polythene, aluminum, paper and linear low-density polyethylene. It is supplied in sheet form and can be cut to fit the fish exactly. The package is then heat-sealed, leaving the product leak- and odor-free. The packaging will maintain the fish at a constant temperature for up to two hours and is fridge and freezer ready. It is not damaged by extremes of temperature and will not crack or break. According to Intrafish, Alpamer has been used in ASDA stores on a trial basis over the last year. Surveys have indicated that 100 percent of customers were impressed by its odor-retardant properties, and 96 percent believed that it maintained the quality of the fish. The new packaging will now be used on all ASDA fish counters, and the company believes it will increase demand for fish.

Projects, builders win science grants

The Alaska Science & Technology Foundation board of directors has approved $1 million in funding for two projects and the Alaska Manufacturers’ Association. The ASTF grants will be supported also by private funding and in-kind services.ASTF approved a grant of $174,181 to David and Anita Laurence of ediava.com for development of new software. The Laurences will provide $367,847 in cash and other contributions to the project. The software, called Tapestry, was designed to assist employers in retaining valuable staff.ASTF also awarded a $70,396 grant to Unisea Inc. to test the use of a fish oil/diesel blend to fuel electric generators at Unisea’s Dutch Harbor seafood processing facility. The company will contribute another $118,660 worth of matching funds, and the Alaska Energy Authority and the U.S. Department of Energy will donate an additional $15,000.A grant of $800,000 was approved for the Alaska Manufacturers’ Association, which will contribute $1.732 million in matching funds and contributions. The association aims to help increase manufacturing in Alaska and create new jobs. AMA received a grant last year and since then has established the Ketchikan Wood Center; established a lumber grading program that has produced more than 80 million board feet of graded lumber; and started a Copper River salmon quality project to establish fish handling standards.

Plenty of new rooms at Alaska's inns

Unlike past years in Alaska, there will be room at the inn for summer visitors. More than 600 new hotel rooms are due to open this year across the state, boosting competition among operators during what could shape up as a season with moderate increases compared with last year.In Fairbanks 362 new hotel rooms will be open this spring. The new 140-room SpringHill Suites Fairbanks is set to open June 1. The Aspen Hotel, also in the Interior city, with 97 rooms, opened April 16. Princess Tours is finishing its $12 million 125-room addition to the Fairbanks Princess Riverside Lodge in May. The hotel now totals 325 rooms.Elsewhere in the state, Cook Inlet Region Inc. added 103 rooms at the Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge, and developers are building a 154-room hotel near Denali National Park and Preserve."Most of the new rooms this year are in Fairbanks," said Alaska Travel Industry Association President Tina Lindgren. Anchorage saw an increase in lodging supply in recent years, she said. The additional supply will be good news for consumers yet cause competition among hotel businesses, she said.Further, more rooms are coming from new smaller lodges and more bed and breakfast properties, she said.Operators of the Aspen Hotel are optimistic."We expect to do really well in Fairbanks in the summer. For years you couldn’t get a room," said Carol Giliam, Alaska vice president for Aspen Hotels and GuestHouse Inn and Suites.The company, which runs a hotel in Juneau and another in Valdez, also is building a 63-room hotel in Soldotna due to open in April 2002.Likewise, Princess Tours is building a new hotel this summer. The Copper River Princess Wilderness Lodge near Glennallen will open next year.The Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge was scheduled to open its 103-room addition May 1, bringing its total room count to 201, said Dennis Brandon, CIRI’s vice president of tourism. An expansion also doubled the dining area from a seating capacity of 85 to 200 and increased meeting space to accommodate groups of 150, up from 75, in multifunction areas, he said. The project also expanded employee housing to accommodate 96 employees where 24 employees had been housed previously.CIRI had planned an expansion in a couple of years but its popularity led the company to step up the project, Brandon said. "We maxed out capacity this past summer," he said.CIRI also built 36 new rooms at the Seward Windsong Lodge, bringing its total to 108, he said. The project also added a new guest check-in lodge and expanded the Resurrection Roadhouse, he said.More available rooms in Anchorage have allowed the Anchorage Convention and Visitors Bureau to promote summer tourism with increased room inventory, contrary to past years when few rooms were available in summer, said ACVB communications director Joy Maples. "The amount of available rooms has caused us to market differently," she said.Anchorage now has 6,377 hotel and motel rooms plus more than 700 bed-and-breakfast/hostel beds.

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