Around the World January 7, 2002

STATEHomer company wins contract to build centerHOMER -- A Homer construction company has won the federal contract to build a headquarters and visitor center for the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge in Homer.Jay-Brant Construction got the job with an $11.7 million construction bid, said Sheri Della Silva, a contracting officer with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.The $16 million total budget includes construction money and about $3 million to design and build interpretive displays in the 38,000-square-foot facility.The visitor center will be located on a bluff above Beluga Slough in Homer. The 60-acre site was purchased in the early 1990s for $1.1 million.The facility will include space for the state and federal Kachemak Bay Research Reserve.Construction is to begin in May and should take two years to complete, Della Silva said.The Alaska Maritime Refuge, created in 1980, protects 3,000 islands, including most of the Aleutian Islands and the Pribilof Islands in the Bering Sea.State changes smoking policy for ferry travelersJUNEAU -- Smokers traveling the Alaska Marine Highway will find fewer places to light up under a newly clarified policy.After complaints, Alaska Marine Highway System General Manager George Capacci updated the ferry system’s smoking policy in December. Under the new policy, smoking is not allowed inside state ferries, except for one designated area in a bar on board the Columbia, where there is adequate ventilation. The goal is to make a consistent policy, Capacci said.Smoking will be allowed in designated areas on weather decks and designated open areas behind the solarium. Otherwise, smoking is off limits for passengers and crew in lounges, observation areas, passageways, dining areas, the car deck and inside the solarium, according to the policy.Charities show area economy still strongFAIRBANKS -- At almost year-end, charitable giving in Fairbanks seems to have transcended a lagging economy and the Sept. 11 terror attacks.It’s an indicator that the recession hasn’t hit Fairbanks as hard as it has cities in the Lower 48, according to a state labor economist, but next year could be another story."It depends on how soon consumer confidence is restored," said Brigitta Windisch-Cole, an economist with the state Department of Labor.Sept. 11 coincided with the normal seasonal decline in tourism, one of the main industries in Fairbanks, so the Sept. 11 economic impact on the tourism industry was arguably minimal. In fact, Fairbanks experienced growth, Windisch-Cole said. Employment has grown an average of 2 percent a month.But if people are afraid to fly next summer, as many believe may be the case, fewer tourism dollars could flow into Fairbanks. And that could translate into less charitable giving in the fall and winter of next year.This year, main Fairbanks charity organizations such as the Fairbanks Community Food Bank and the United Way, which are dependent on gifts from residents, report that things are fine.Some charities were concerned a few months ago when an initial lag in local giving occurred as tens of thousands of Fairbanks dollars went to the East Coast following the terror attacks.Haines residents form business organizationHAINES -- A group of Haines business people unhappy with the Haines Chamber of Commerce are forming a new business advocacy group.The group wants to fight taxes and government regulation more aggressively, said retailer Doug Olerud."We want to take a strong stand for business," he said. "There are lots of people in the chamber now who aren’t pro-business. They think new taxes, like the tour tax, are just fine. I don’t share that view."The tour tax and a proposal to ban motorized commercial tours from a section of the Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve are two of the group’s main issues. As of Dec. 20, the group had held one meeting."We’re ready to form an alternative group to get rid of the tour tax," said tour operator and break-off group member Duck Hess. "Right now the future does not look good. That’s what’s down the line, another battle for Haines."NationChicagoans denounce expansion of O’HareBENSENVILLE, Ill. -- A Chicago suburb near O’Hare International Airport is raising taxes to finance its efforts to fight a proposed runway expansion.Bensenville officials said they expect the 5 percent amusement tax, affecting such things as golf courses and ice arenas, to bring in an extra $200,000 annually.Some of that money will be used for a Fourth of July celebration, and the rest will go into a legal fund used to fight the airport expansion, deputy village manager James Johnson said. The tax was approved Dec. 27.Community groups and leaders in Chicago’s western suburbs around O’Hare have fiercely opposed proposals to add runways or expand the number of flights, complaining of noise and air pollution and reduced property values.Gov. George Ryan and Chicago Mayor Richard Daley agreed earlier in December on a $6.6 billion deal to expand O’Hare that involves reconfiguring several runways, adding a new runway and providing western access to the huge airfield. Plan supporters say the new runway would require the destruction of about 500 homes.Newmont to acquire Australian mining firmDENVER -- Gold giant Newmont Mining Corp. said Dec. 30 its planned takeover of Australia’s Normandy Mining Ltd. and Toronto-based Franco-Nevada Mining is going according to schedule.Newmont chief executive Wayne W. Murdy said the takeover should be completed by mid-February as planned.The takeover would create the world’s largest gold-mining company, with 22 mines on five continents, interests in eight other gold operations and 12,500 employees.On Dec. 26, the Federal Trade Commission cleared Newmont’s plan to buy Normandy and Franco-Nevada, Normandy’s largest shareholder. Denver-based Newmont is competing with South Africa’s AngloGold Ltd. to acquire Normandy.Newmont’s offer for Normandy, Australia’s largest gold producer, topped an unsolicited September bid by rival AngloGold, currently the world’s biggest gold producer.WorldBush approves trade relations with ChinaWASHINGTON -- The ailing U.S. business sector hailed President Bush’s decision to grant normal trade status to China, saying it will take the gamble out of dealing with the communist nation and emerging economic powerhouse.The new trade status was to take effect Jan. 1.The United States has struggled over China’s trade status for almost a quarter-century, with factions of both political parties arguing that the Beijing needed to improve its human rights record before normal trade was considered. But supporters argued that China would be better influenced by an influx of American business brought on by normal trade relations.That, and the acknowledgment that China could soon have a production ability that rivals the United States, brought the issue to the fore.Congress in 2000 granted the permanent status to the Chinese contingent upon its entry into the World Trade Organization. China’s application was accepted formally at the WTO’s annual meeting in November in the United Arab Emirates.Some economists said the decision reflects a need to repair the country’s relationship with China, after the incident earlier this year when the crew of a crashed U.S. spy plane was held for a short time in China.Since 1980, China has enjoyed temporary normal trade relations with the United States under annual presidential waivers of the law.-- Compiled from business wire services.

Norwegian Cruise Lines to double Haines visits

HAINES -- Two of Norwegian Cruise Lines biggest ships will anchor Haines’ 2002 cruise ship schedule, doubling large-ship visits next season.The first of 22 dockings of the 2,000-passenger Norwegian Sky marks the beginning of the visitor season May 1. The ship will visit weekly every Wednesday through Sept. 25.A sister ship, the 1,754-passenger Norwegian Wind, will make the first of 20 stops May 2.The ships are the only large liners planning to stop in Haines next summer.The addition of a second big ship will have a big impact, said Haines tourism director Michelle Glass.Cruise ship passenger numbers tanked last year from 187,388 in 2000 to 40,150 in 2001 when Royal Caribbean International dropped Haines from its itinerary.The remainder of Haines’ summer cruise ship schedule is filled with ships with less than 200 passengers. Alaska Sightseeing-CruiseWest "Spirit" ships account for most of that traffic.Glass said seven planned visits of the 114-passenger Spirit of Oceanus should prove whether Haines could serve as an auxiliary port for Skagway."They’re going to be here all day, and they’re a higher-buck tour than the other smaller ships. They’ll be shuttling passengers back and forth to Skagway to ride the train."

Princess sees profit; bookings bouncing back

LONDON -- British cruise operator Princess Cruises said Dec. 27 that its full-year profit would be at the top end of earlier forecasts, and its proposed merger with Royal Caribbean Cruises would produce annual savings of $100 million.Princess, which offers cruises to Alaska destinations, said it had seen an improvement in bookings in the fourth quarter.The upturn in bookings led the company to increase its forecast of earnings per share for 2001 to at least 40 cents. In October, the company had predicted earnings per share of between 38 cents and 40 cents."Trading conditions have continued to improve from the difficult period in the immediate aftermath of the events of 11 September," chief executive officer Peter Ratcliffe said. "Of course, we are now entering the key January to March booking period, which will have a major influence on the 2002 results."Since the beginning of November, weekly net bookings in North America have consistently exceeded those of the same period 12 months earlier, although cumulative bookings for 2002 still remain behind last year’s levels at this time, Princess officials said.Princess’ board issued a circular to shareholders, urging them to approve the planned merger with Royal Caribbean."The Board of P&O Princess believes that the combination with Royal Caribbean is deliverable and will accelerate creation of significant value for shareholders," Ratcliffe said.Princess’ proposed merger with Royal Caribbean would create a combined business worth $6 billion and overtake Carnival in size. Miami-based Royal Caribbean is the second-largest cruise line operator, while Princess, which has its headquarters in London, is No. 3.Princess is also facing a $4.59 billion takeover bid from Miami-based Carnival, the world’s largest cruise operator.

Fairbanks Sam's Club looks at offering gas

Operators of warehouse retailer Sam’s Club are considering the addition of its first Alaska gas station at its Fairbanks location."We’re looking at the possibility of adding gas at the Fairbanks club," said Melissa Berryhill, spokeswoman for the Bentonville, Ark., retailer.The project is in the early planning stages, she said.Sam’s Club operates 136 gas stations at its more than 495 stores, she said. The company’s gas stations are in 26 states.A possible Alaska Sam’s Club gas station would mark the retailer’s first unit on the West Coast, Berryhill said. The only other Sam’s Club gas stations in the West are in Colorado and Nevada, she said.Typically, the gas stations have six dispensers for a total of 12 pumps. Most of the Sam’s Club gas stations are available to people who have a membership card for the warehouse retailer.Last year warehouse competitor Costco opened gas stations at its two Anchorage stores.In 2000 Fred Meyer and Carrs/Safeway added gas stations to several stores statewide.Fred Meyer built the pumping facilities at the west Fairbanks, East Anchorage and Soldotna stores. A new store at Abbott Road in Anchorage due to open early this year is scheduled to include a gas station.The Eagle River Carrs’ gas station opened in summer 2000.Anchorage Village Inn receives 2001 top sales franchise awardThe Village Inn franchise located at Northern Lights Boulevard in Anchorage has been honored as the company’s highest-volume unit. Franchisees Scott and Mark Anderson received Village Inn’s top sales award at the 2001 Village Inn franchise convention held in Las Vegas in November.Sales at the Anchorage franchise totaled $3.74 million in 2001, the highest volume in the 224 restaurant chain, company officials said.Village Inn operates three restaurants in Anchorage.Second-place Dow Sherwood Corp. of Tampa, Fla. recorded $3.15 million in sales last year.Village Inn is a division of Denver-based VICORP Restaurants Inc. The company currently has franchise development agreements in place for 27 new restaurants in Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida and Kansas.

Highly prized annual railroad painting debuts in January

The Alaska Railroad Corp. is slated to release its annual artist’s print in early January.This year’s print by Anchorage artist Debra Dubac depicts two locomotives pulling freight along Turnagain Arm from Whittier to Anchorage. The foreground of the painting includes a splash of wildflowers including arctic poppies, forget-me-nots, daisies, fireweed and squirrel grass.Since 1979, an official painting has been produced each year except in 1984. Initially, the paintings were reproduced to offset the costs of producing the railroad’s annual report, said Patrick Flynn, the railroad’s public affairs officer.The paintings have featured some of Alaska’s best-known artists and are prized by people from around the world, Flynn said."There are people who collect these religiously," Flynn said. "They are highly anticipated by collectors and employees.’’The railroad will produce 750 prints and 4,500 posters of Dubac’s painting. Lapel pins also are available.Prints cost $50; posters $25; and lapel pins are $5, Flynn said.A committee each year selects an artist from about two dozen entries, Flynn said. Winning artists are paid $4,000 and given two round-trip train tickets, Flynn said."The reason people do it is the high profile, not the money,’’ Flynn said. "The advantage to the artists is that they don’t have to pay for the production costs.’’Dubac, an illustrator for the former Anchorage Times, now owns Dubac Designs, specializing in fine and graphic art.Dubac said the painting for the railroad wasn’t easy."I do a lot of flowers, but this was my first attempt at a train and that was challenging,’’ Dubac said. "I learned the anatomy of a train.’’The painting took several months to complete, including research and the actual painting. The final product had to pass muster with railroad employees and train experts to make sure every detail was exact, Dubac said."It was very time-consuming,’’ Dubac said. "I was pleased it passed their inspection on the first attempt.’’The first official Alaska Railroad painting was done in 1979 by John Van Zyle. Susan Ogle has four winning prints and Richard Rodriquez has three.Other winning artists include Jarrett J. Jester, Deanna Brandon, Don Kolstad, Gary Mealor, Tom Stewart, Shane Lamb, Steve Gordon, Armond Kirschbaum, Dan Miller, Robert Silvers and James Havens.

Goldbelt ready to lease land, back dock for proposed mine

JUNEAU -- If the Kensington gold mine planned for 45 miles north of downtown Juneau becomes a reality, Goldbelt Inc. wants to be involved, officials said."We are very much in favor of the development of the mine and look forward to supporting it," said Gary Droubay, president and chief executive of Juneau’s urban Native corporation.Goldbelt has title to 1,700 acres on both sides of Echo Cove, property that could support a state ferry landing for access to northern Lynn Canal or a marine terminal of sufficient size to support a gold mine near Berners Bay, Droubay said."We would basically give Coeur Alaska Inc. a land lease and let them construct a terminal," he said, referring to the mining company that hopes to work the Kensington lode.Coeur recently announced a new plan to open the mine for gold and other ore. A plan that received its environmental permits by 1998 was shelved because the expense of development and operation was greater than anticipated gold prices allowed, the company has said.To reduce expenditures, Coeur plans not to build an on-site work camp for 250 but to bus and boat workers to the site daily."We have a memorandum of agreement with Coeur that when they proceed with the mine, we would support a marine facility for deployment (of construction materials, miners and supplies) from the end of the existing road to Cascade Point," Droubay said, "and we have a right of way approved for a road."The distance from the end of the existing highway to Cascade Point is about two miles. The road would be gravel if it were to support a deployment facility only, or could be paved if it were to support an Alaska Marine Highway System ferry operation.Coeur has suggested it could get environmental permits to proceed in 12 to 14 months.

Railroad to outline plans at Anchorage open house

The public can review and comment on the capital improvement projects planned by the Alaska Railroad Corp. at an open house Jan. 9 in Anchorage.People will have a chance to get a detailed look at several projects the railroad is planning in 2002 from Seward to Fairbanks, with an emphasis on Anchorage-area projects, said Patrick Flynn, railroad spokesman.Project managers will be on hand to explain projects that include repairing and improving the 525-mile mainline track and to discuss new facilities, equipment and services, Flynn said.Specific projects to be discussed will be the Anchorage rail yard expansion; Ship Creek master plan and pedestrian amenities; South Anchorage double track; Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport rail depot; Anchorage-to-Wasilla track realignment; and a recently published commuter rail study for Southcentral Alaska, Flynn said."The open house is to let people know what we’re up to, and for them to offer some thoughts on what may make a project better from their point of view,’’ Flynn said.Many projects proposed in 2002 are funded all or in part by the Federal Transit Administration or the Federal Railroad Administration, which require the railroad to hold such a venue, Flynn said.The open house is scheduled from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., at the Anchorage Depot, 411 W. First Ave.Those unable to attend the open house can visit (www.AlaskaRailroad.com) for project information. Written comments may be e-mailed to ([email protected]) or mailed to Alaska Railroad Capital Projects, P.O. Box 107500, Anchorage, AK 99510-7500.

State commercial fishing alive, well

"In 50 years, our grandchildren will still be making a living from the sea and feeding an increasingly hungry world."-- National Fisherman, December 2001KODIAK -- People are always proclaiming the demise of the fishing industry. For a state like Alaska, which provides more than half of all U.S. seafood and four times more than any other state, count on the industry having a solid, albeit bumpy, future.Alaska has 55 commercial fisheries of all kinds from Ketchikan to Kotzebue, occurring at different times throughout the year. Skates, snails, roe on kelp, flounders, rockfish, urchins and sea cucumbers plus more familiar species like salmon, cod, pollock and halibut combine to make up Alaska’s largest industry: commercial fishing.The fishing cycle begins each Jan. 1 when longliners and pot boats set out for groundfish species like cod and rockfish in the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea, followed by trawlers targeting pollock on Jan. 20. Simply put, except for the Gulf, where many fisheries continue to be strangled by closures to protect sea lions, Alaska’s groundfish industry is booming.In the Bering Sea, abundant supplies of cod and pollock, the "crown jewels" in world markets, continue to fuel confidence for the next few years. While other countries each year face reduced catch quotas, all eyes are on Alaska’s fisheries, which continue to thrive. This year, nearly 500 million pounds of cod will be harvested from Alaska waters, filling orders in the United States and throughout Europe and Asia.For pollock, Alaska’s largest fishery, stocks are at an all-time high, allowing for a catch quota this year of roughly 3.3 billion pounds. Bering Sea pollock has an estimated value of more than $700 million annually. Looking ahead, less pollock from Russia has opened more doors in Japan for Alaska. Alaska groundfish is also making inroads in Europe, especially Germany, and markets are expected to increase.The outlook for Alaska’s whitefish industry is good, as stocks remain strong overall. None of the groundfish stocks is overfished or approaching an overfished condition, according to assessments by the National Marine Fisheries Service.Commercial fishing caveat

This Week in Alaska Business History January 7, 2002

Editor’s note: "This Week in Alaska Business History" revisits events that shaped our past."Those who cannotremember the past arecondemned to repeat it."-- George Santayana, 1863-195220 years ago this weekAnchorage TimesJanuary 7, 1982Oil firms seek summer drilling in Beaufort SeaBy Dave CarpenterTimes WriterCiting an outstanding safety record in Alaska, petroleum industry representatives made a united pitch to state officials today to allow year-round exploratory drilling in the Beaufort Sea.About a dozen executives from oil and gas companies and drilling firms told top Departments of Natural Resources officials that unrestricted drilling could occur safely and in an environmentally responsible manner. Over 100 people jammed into a conference room in the Federal Courthouse for the hearing.Exploring work in the Alaska portion of the Beaufort now is confined by the state and federal governments to a five-month "window" between Nov. 1 and March 31. There is no such seasonal restriction in the Canadian Beaufort.Katz will make a final decision on removing or amending the limits after two other hearings scheduled for next month.Anchorage TimesJanuary 7, 1982Farmer calls on judge to stop state timber saleA Matanuska Valley farmer has asked a Superior Court judge to stop the state from selling timber on state land scheduled for sale to Alaska farmers.George Lusting, a farmer and logger, wants to stop a timber sale set for 2 p.m. today at the Department of Natural Resource’s Big Lake office. At press time today, Judge Milton Souter had not decided whether to stop the sale.Lusting told Souter the state agreed last year in a settlement over the Point MacKenzie agricultural project that the farmers are entitled to the timber on the agricultural lands.But the state contends that the nothing in last year’s agreement stops it from selling timber before it puts the agricultural land up for sale. Lusting and 31 farmers who had also filed a lawsuit to stop the Point MacKenzie land sale did not sign the agreement."Whoever gets this land should be choosing whether to use the timber for house logs or firewood or whatever," Lusting said. "Some of them probably would need to sell some timber to help raise money for their farms, and if it’s gone, they don’t have that option, and only high-income people are going to be able to get the land."10 years ago this weekAlaska Journal of CommerceJanuary 13, 1992McClatchy, Allen dig into deep pocketsBy Ray TysonAlaska Journal of CommerceTwo years after he purchased the Anchorage Times and declared war on his longtime liberal foe, the Anchorage Daily News, oilman/publisher Bill Allen and his Alaska-bred umbrella company, VECO International, don’t seem any less determined to carry out their mission despite huge operating losses.The larger of the two morning papers, the Daily News, and its California based parent, McClatchy Newspapers, don’t appear any less determined than their cross-town rival.Who’s winning the war?It largely depends on who you talk to and how the person evaluates the numbers for circulation and advertising, the principal ingredients for a financially successful daily newspaper. Both the Times and Daily News accuse each other of playing the numbers game. But two things are certain: Neither paper could have made it as far as it has without the help of its parent company and its willingness to absorb hefty financial losses at one time or another.Alaska Journal of CommerceJanuary 13, 1992Federal highways program is boon for AlaskaBy Tim BradnerAlaska Journal of CommerceState transportation officials say they will accelerate some highway construction projects with the newly reauthorized federal highways program bringing Alaska some $30 million to $40 million per year more than under the previous program.Alaska will get about $180 million in federal highways money in the current federal fiscal year, up from an authorization of about $150 million under the previous formula.Next year, Alaska will be eligible for $200 million, with a total of $1.46 billion being made available over the six-year reauthorization period. The state must provide a 10 percent match to federal money under the program.-- Compiled by Ed Bennett.

Top pieces of advice for businesses to succeed in 2002

Yogi Berra once said, "If you don’t know where you are going, you could wind up someplace else." Business success in 2002 is not going to wait for those who are indecisive about what direction to take. For those businesses who would like some advice, I provide this Top 10 list.1. Conduct a vampire extermination expedition. The beginning of the year is the best time to analyze your organization’s work processes. Determine what is wasteful and what is productive. Eliminate what is causing people not to perform at their best. Exterminate the "vampires" sucking money and resources from the bottom line. You are better off bringing someone in from outside the organization to do this. Outsiders bring an unbiased approach and a different perspective to your business.2. Build a high-retention workplace. High retention begins the first day on the job. Put extra effort into your employee orientation programs and build a bond with new hires. A major factor causing workers to stay beyond 90 days in good part depends on how they were treated the first two days on the job. Managers should meet with new workers during the first week and conduct a new-hire survey about 30 days after they have been on board.3. Don’t work for a jerk. The fact is that good people will quit bad bosses. A survey we conducted showed 35 percent of the respondents had quit their last job because of their immediate supervisor. La Rosa’s Pizza Co. is a national chain of 53 outlets consisting of 3,000 employees. At La Rosa’s, employees get to evaluate their bosses using a bottom-up Customer Satisfaction Index twice a year. After the CSI is completed, the chief executive has the managers discuss and resolve issues affecting employees.4. Create an appreciation program. Reward and recognition programs are fine, but what people really want is appreciation. A survey I conducted for my book, "Here Today, Here Tomorrow," showed results supporting this idea. Participants were asked, "What causes you the greatest dissatisfaction at work?" The top answer was "lack of appreciation." Setting up a program to make people feel appreciated is not difficult. An well-administered program builds camaraderie, values and makes people feel good about themselves and their jobs.5. A good organization is one that creates a motivating work environment. Be careful not to assume what motivates your people. In one organization I worked with, management was absolutely certain employees would select cash as its preferred form of recognition. Turned out, money didn’t matter, but parking did. While executives and certain top employees could park in the lot next to the building, most employees had to park several blocks away. With this information in hand, we built a very effective reward program allowing select employees to use the executive parking lot.6. "I need to take a break to call my baby sitter." Most organizations don’t realize the impact family-friendly benefits have on productivity and retention. First Tennessee National Corp. started taking family issues seriously and made them top priority. They added many family friendly benefits and sent managers through 3-1/2 days of training. Employees stayed twice as long and the bank kept 7 percent more of its customers.7. Put a parachute on your back. Can you imagine parachuting out of an airplane with no training? Many times, the first expense eliminated during a bad economy is training and development. Organizations that invest in training will come out far ahead than those that don’t. In a study of more than 3,100 U.S. workplaces, the National Center on the Educational Quality of the Workforce found that on average, a 10 percent increase in work force education level led to an 8.6 percent gain in total productivity. On the other hand, a 10 percent increase in new equipment expenditures only increased productivity by 3.4 percent.8. Use bottom-up involvement for high performance. Studies show having workers involved at all levels has a major impact on improving productivity, morale and motivation. A good example is Guardian Industries, an 800-person glass plant in Indiana. They decided to start listening to their employees to find out their opinions on how to staff the plants’ 24-hour work shifts. The employees decided instead of working rotating day and evening shifts, they would rather work permanent, 12-hour shifts. The result: Turnover fell by 50 percent.9. Pursue innovation. Many organizations suffer from the "we’ve never done it that way before" syndrome. Rubbermaid is one of the most innovative companies in the world. It generates hundreds of new products a year. Products from the most recent years contribute to 33 percent of their sales. They keep ideas coming in by sending their workers to off-the-wall places, like museums to study the Egyptians to get new product ideas. All people, no matter their position, should be looking for new ideas to improve profits and productivity.10. "Don’t answer the phone it might be a customer." People in the United States have lowered their standards and accept lousy customer service as the norm. Many businesses have designed and blindly placed impenetrable voice mail and automated phone systems in the way of good customer service. The reason is because organizations ignorantly think it is less expensive than paying someone to answer the phone. They are wrong. Nothing beats a real, old-fashioned, friendly human being on the other end of a telephone.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]).

Entrepreneur looks to offer Cook Inlet boat tours

For nearly a decade, Jerry Norman has dreamed of offering boat tours in Cook Inlet. With permits and finances falling into place, he says the idea is getting close to reality."I’m very optimistic I’ll be driving pile by the first of April and we’ll be turning a prop by the end of July or the first of August,’’ said Norman, who along with sons Jon and Erik, own Cook Inlet Excursions Inc.The idea is to build a walkway and floating dock just south of the mouth of Ship Creek, and take folks for a two-hour trip through Knik Arm to Fire Island in a 60-foot, 150-passenger catamaran.The project would cost about $500,000, not including the lease of the catamaran, Norman said.Norman expects more than 50,000 people to take the trip in a peak year. The company would employ about a dozen people, including boat crews, bus drivers and tour guides, Norman said.Many tourists would rather take a scenic boat ride and do some whale watching than walk around downtown or shop, Norman said."It’s going to give them the opportunity to see country they had never been able to see before,’’ Norman said. "A big drawing card will be beluga whales.’’The walkway and floating dock near the Ship Creek public boat ramp, according to Norman, would consist of 35-by-120 foot barge anchored using special pilings that would allow the structure to ride up or down with the tide, so that folks would not have to climb ladders to get onboard a boat.An 850-foot long walkway would connect the dock with a staging area near the public boat ramp.Buses would take tourists from downtown to the site. Portable buildings and restrooms may be added at the staging area, according to the company’s permit application to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.The Corps’ public comment period for the proposed project ended Dec. 24. Norman said that to his knowledge, no negative comments were received by the Corps.Project managers for the Corps were on vacation over the Christmas holiday and could not be reached for comment at press time.Norman initially had proposed linking his dock directly to the public-owned dock at Ship Creek, but that idea drew much criticism, so he amended the plan to keep the two separate.Bill Sheffield, port of Anchorage director and a former governor, has long been a proponent of a day-boat operation in Cook Inlet.Sheffield said summertime tourists often get bored waiting around in Anchorage to take a cruise ship south or a train north."There are as many as 5,000 people a day hanging around in Anchorage wanting to do something,’’ Sheffield said.Matanuska-Susitna Borough officials have unofficially offered to pay for the design of a ferry landing on the Anchorage side of Knik Arm, at Ship Creek Point and have said they may fund the construction of the facility there in the future.Officials from the borough and the Port of Anchorage have been crafting a "memorandum of understanding" outlining each party’s responsibilities over the last several months.The agreement had not been signed by either party.Mat-Su borough officials say having a ferry landing on both sides of Knik Arm will encourage new business at Point MacKenzie.The Mat-Su borough has $11.8 million in federal money to build a ferry system across Knik Arm. The money would go toward design and engineering of the ferry landings, utilities and access roads, and toward construction of a ferry.Marc Van Dongen, port director at Port MacKenzie, said environmental and feasibility studies for a deep-draft dock will be done in 2002. He said a ferry could be negotiating the 2-mile gap in as little as two years.Sheffield sees the proposed ferry landing as a place where tour boat operators could moor and offer sightseeing trips in Cook Inlet."A day boat would draw a great amount of business," Sheffield said.The idea has been tried in the past. More than a decade ago, a converted World War II tug was transformed into a tour ship, offering dinner cruises in Cook Inlet. The venture failed.Norman said that operation failed because it depended on locals."They did not have the tourist base we have today,’’ Norman said. "Things are tremendously different now.’’

Even in subzero Alaska, researchers discover 'urban heat island'

Climate change caused by people is a tough thing to measure in most places, but not in big cities. The clustering of humans, cars, pavement and rooftops makes some cities warmer than surrounding areas. Called "urban heat islands," they exist from Los Angeles to Atlanta to New York. Even Alaska has one.A few researchers in Berkeley, Calif., have devoted themselves to the study of heat islands. They’ve found that Los Angeles is 6 to 8 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the surrounding areas. That may not seem like a lot, but those few degrees add up when you multiply them by the cost of air conditioning in millions of homes and offices.The Heat Island Group, as the researchers call themselves, reports that intense heat absorbed by dark shingles can penetrate buildings, making air conditioners work harder. Members of the research group compared roof surfaces by painting one roof black and another white. The black roof was 70 degrees warmer than the air. The white roof was 18 degrees warmer than the air.Much of the heat in big cities radiates up from road pavement. Researchers tested fresh asphalt for reflectivity and found that it absorbed 95 percent of solar radiation. Aged asphalt, which is gray rather than black, absorbed 90 percent, and experimental white asphalt soaked up just 50 percent. With the three pavements side-by-side, members of the group measured the following temperatures: new pavement was 123 degrees, faded asphalt registered 115, and the white surface 90. The Heat Island Group concluded that if all L.A.’s pavement were more reflective, the city could save $90 million a year in cooling costs.While air conditioners are a novelty in Alaska, we have a heat island right here in Fairbanks. In the 1970s, Carl Benson and Sue Ann Bowling of the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska Fairbanks drove around town during winter with a temperature sensor mounted on a mast above the car. They measured the warmest temperatures, about 20 degrees above the coolest, in the city center near the Chena River, while outlying areas were coldest. The Chena creates a basin that should hold the coldest air, but the Fairbanks city core, with cars and homes and other sources of manmade heat, was one of the warmest areas in town.Jan Curtis, the state climatologist for Wyoming who used to work for the Alaska Climate Research Center, compared Fairbanks to Eielson Air Force Base to see how the Fairbanks heat island evolved during the last 50 years. Using long-term temperature records, he and other researchers found Fairbanks’ heat island has grown with the city’s population, while Eielson’s temperatures also increased but not at the same rate as Fairbanks. During the 49-year period Curtis studied, the population of Fairbanks grew by more than 500 percent while Eielson remained almost constant.Fairbanks, with cold, stable air in winter, is the only place in Alaska where researchers have seen the heat island effect. Anchorage has more than enough people, cars and pavement to warm things up, but the ocean and the Chugach Mountains stir the air and hide any evidence of a heat island.The staff at the Alaska Climate Research Center studied the Fairbanks heat island to distinguish between a general warming trend felt all over and the local effects caused by a clump of people. The heat island in Fairbanks probably saves people a few dollars in heating costs, Curtis said, but this island still offers little refuge from an interior Alaska winter.Ned Rozell is a science writer at the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. This column was issued by the Geophysical Institute last month and first appeared in 1999.

First National Bank Alaska, state OK credit card deal

The State of Alaska signed a six-year contract with First National Bank Alaska to provide credit card services for state agencies. The contract consolidates purchasing capability for goods, services and travel into the One Card Alaska program.Implementation work will begin immediately, with state agencies beginning conversion in March, travel and procurement functions converting before fall, and fleet functions following.Services under the contract are available to all three branches of government and the University of Alaska.First National Bank will eventually provide fleet services under the One Card Alaska program. Gene Darling, manager of the statewide equipment fleet in the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, foresees operational efficiencies as well."The One Card Alaska program will replace our branded fuel cards which limit our purchasing options. It will allow all Alaskan service stations the opportunity to sell fuel for state vehicles," he said.The structure of the credit card industry yields contract terms that benefit both parties. Card services under the contract are anticipated to cost the state nothing, yet First National Bank benefits from the transaction volume.

Alaska, Russian pact to generate business

A recently signed agreement between World Trade Center Alaska and a Russian business organization should help generate future business for members from the two groups.The agreement with the Sakhalin Association of Business People stemmed from the Alaska group’s visit to Sakhalin Island last fall. Under the agreement, the organizations aim to work together to expand business for their members."The intent is to be pretty deep and continuous and multidimensional," said World Trade Center Alaska Executive Director Robin Richardson.The groups aim to establish weekly communication and pinpoint areas where they can work together on specific projects, Richardson said. Also, members of the Sakhalin association are interested in participating in Alaska panels including the upcoming Pacific Rim Construction Oil Mining Expo and conference and a seafood conference in March, she said.PACCOM is set for Feb. 20-21 at Sullivan Arena in Anchorage. World Trade Center Alaska is organizing the first annual Business of Seafood Forum for March 5-6 also in Anchorage.Meetings between group members also would be part of the proposed Alaska visits, she said.Richardson believes the agreement of cooperation will help Alaska and Russian businesses locate joint venture partners. The Sakhalin Association of Business People helps find experienced companies from its members."It makes doing business so much easier," she said. "It’s nice to know you have a group of people working together as team members."Later this year Richardson hopes to secure approval from officials in Hokkaido, Japan, to participate in the agreement. The Alaska organization led a trade mission to Sakhalin and Hokkaido last year.World Trade Center Alaska tallies about 250 members, and the Sakhalin group’s Web site said it totals 700 members representing the oil and gas, seafood, transportation, construction and telecommunications industries.The agreement was signed Oct. 2 after Alaskans returned from the trade mission to Sakhalin.One example of the group’s cooperation came during World Trade Center Alaska’s trade mission to Sakhalin earlier this year. One delegate from Alaska represented a construction equipment rental and sales company, and the Sakhalin association helped identify members interested in doing business with the Alaska delegate, Richardson recalled.

State puts royalty gas up for bid

Alaska is soliciting bids for 400 million cubic feet per day, or roughly 80 percent of its royalty gas, from the estimated 35 trillion cubic feet of gas on the North Slope.The sale is contingent on a pipeline being available to carry gas to market in the continental United States. Three North Slope producers, BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc., ExxonMobil Production Co. and Phillips Alaska Inc., are engaged in feasibility and engineering studies for a large-diameter pipeline from the North Slope.The move also aims to ensure that independent companies now exploring for gas on the North Slope, who are not among the companies now planning the pipeline, will have access to the new gas transportation system once its built.A second goal is to use Alaska’s ability take its royalty gas in-kind as a tool to encourage firms that will own the gas pipeline to build extra capacity or plan for an early expansion of the system. Currently, the three producers and an independent pipeline consortium are studying the proposed project.Under terms of state oil and gas leases, the state can either sell its one-eighth royalty in-value to producers or take the gas in-kind, selling it to others. Over the years, much of the state’s royalty oil from North Slope crude production has been taken in-kind and sold to refiners in Alaska.Proposals for buying royalty gas are due Jan. 31, according to officials at Alaska’s Division of Oil and Gas. The state expects to select the winning bidders Feb. 1.

Seminar to help tour industry, land managers network

State and federal agencies coupled with an ecotourism association are sponsoring a tourism symposium Jan. 29-31 in Juneau. Sponsors are the U.S. Forest Service, the state Division of Community and Business Development and the Alaska Wilderness Recreation Tourism Association."Working Together -- Tourism in Southeast" will feature presentations, panel discussions and small group discussions. The sessions aim to provide a forum for communities, land managers, tour operators and other organizations to share ideas and expertise.Key topics include current and emerging trends, visitor demographics, new ideas and initiatives, viewpoint and solutions.Symposium organizers hope this event will build on relationships and cooperation gained at a similar symposium conducted in March 1999 in Sitka.Registration is $75 and includes two lunches, refreshments and a resource notebook. For more information, visit (www.fs.fed.us/r10/workingtoget her /index.shtml) or call Marti Marshall at 907-586-8872 or Aneta Synan at 907-465-3961.Fifth Princess hotel in Alaska takes shape near Copper RiverConstruction continues this month on Princess Tours’ fifth hotel in Alaska, the Copper River Princess Wilderness Lodge, according to company officials. The 84-room hotel is set to open in May.During January workers will install mechanical and electrical systems, handle painting, floor work and plumbing, and install electrical fixtures.Workers already had already begun landscaping work, as well as sign installation and some utility projects.The structure should be complete in mid-March, Princess Tours officials said. Furniture and electronic equipment is scheduled to arrive in April.The hotel is being built near the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve with views of the Copper and Klutina rivers.

Summit Alaska wants new gravel dock

A new barge docking facility for unloading gravel is being proposed at the Williams Petroleum Terminal near the Port of Anchorage.Summit Alaska Inc. has applied for a permit with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build the facility to off-load gravel shipped across Knik Arm from the company’s pit at Point MacKenzie.Since 1996, the company has unloaded gravel at a dock between the Williams Petroleum Terminal and Ship Creek. A permit was not renewed at that dock because of increased activity by Alaska West Express, Spenard Builders Supply Inc., Northland Marine Services and others.Plans call for moving an existing 300-foot-long conveyor and floating gravel hopper to the proposed location. Pipe piling and mooring dolphins would be installed to support half the length of the conveyor system. The conveyor would transport gravel from barges to be stockpiled at a three-acre site subleased by Williams Alaska Petroleum and owned by the Alaska Railroad Corp.Summit Alaska says it will post an observer to keep a lookout for beluga whales during pile-driving operations. The company says it will stop driving piles if a beluga whale is spotted within 2,000 feet of the operation.About 7,500 cubic yards of fill and concrete rubble will be placed on about a third of an acre of tidelands to create a road dike to the site. Another 800 cubic yards of stone or concrete riprap would be placed along the dike perimeter.The conveyor system would be supported equally by the dolphins, pipe piling and the dike, according to Summit’s permit application.The hopper and a portion of the conveyor will be removed during the winter months to avoid ice damage, according to the company’s permit application.About 2,000 cubic yards of mud and rock from a 100-foot by 300-foot area would be dredged at the end of the conveyor system for barge berthing, according to the company.The company also has requested permission to maintain water depths at the new site by dredging about 2,500 cubic yards of material annually.Summit Alaska wants to begin construction in March and have the project completed by May, according to federal permit application.Public comments on the proposed work will be accepted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers until Jan. 11.

Ice eases; Cook Inlet opens to all ships

Upper Cook Inlet was reopened to single-hulled tanker barges Dec. 27 after being closed for six days because of severe icing conditions.Only two barges were affected by the closure, both of which were carrying aviation fuel and ethanol while being towed from Valdez, according to Stuart Greydanus, operations manager at the Port of Anchorage.The fuel barges, owned by Crowley Marine and Petro Marine, were diverted from Anchorage to Homer until the closure was lifted, according to Petty Officer Keith Alholm, a U.S. Coast Guard spokesman in Kodiak.The Coast Guard closed Cook Inlet Dec. 21 after Carl Anderson, owner of Cook Inlet Tug and Barge, reported he was having difficulty maneuvering a 100-by 400-foot tank barge and his tug through the ice."The (harbor)master reported that after two hours of battling the ice pack he was able to turn about and head south to open water," the Coast Guard said in a press release.The barge was not damaged, and no fuel was spilled, Alholm said."There were no real problems," Anderson said.Anderson said the below-zero temperatures that lasted several weeks in Anchorage caused the severe icing conditions, which occur regularly in Cook Inlet, but this year’s was earlier than normal, Anderson said.Alholm said Cook Inlet was closed for similar conditions two years ago.Special winter rules imposed by the Coast Guard since Nov. 29 remain in effect in Cook Inlet, Alholm said.The rules affect all vessels transiting Cook Inlet and require that all shipboard equipment such as winches and ballast systems be operable in temperatures as cold as 40 below zero.Vessels also must maintain enough draft to keep propellers below the ice, according to Coast Guard rules. Vessel crews also are required to have adequate cold weather gear.

Airport officials petition borough to subsidize German airline flights

FAIRBANKS -- Fairbanks International Airport officials are asking the Fairbanks North Star Borough to pledge $50,000 to $250,000 to help lure Condor German Airlines back to Fairbanks.The airline began service between Fairbanks and Frankfurt, Germany, last year on a trial basis."We made it through the inaugural season. Fairbanks is now on the map," marketing director Dave Carlstrom, who has been negotiating with Condor, told the borough economic development commission Dec. 27.The problem, however, is that not enough Europeans are coming to Fairbanks to support the flight and Condor needs more Alaskans to travel to Europe.To entice the airline, Carlstrom wants the Borough Assembly to underwrite seats on Condor flights in case not enough local residents purchase tickets. He appeared before the economic development commission to ask that it endorse a resolution urging the assembly to act.The cost of round-trip fares from Fairbanks to Frankfurt range from about $600 to about $1,400.Five tourism-related businesses have pledged $50,000 each to guarantee the service and are giving $10,000 up front, with the money going into an escrow account. Carlstrom needs five more participants or the borough to take on a majority share.Such guarantees are standard for towns of Fairbanks’ size in order to attract airlines such as Condor, Carlstrom said. He called the risk-sharing agreement an "internal political necessity.""Local sponsorship assures Condor we don’t take them for granted," Carlstrom said.The commission agreed that it wanted to support Condor, but it did not decide how and how much. It will address the issue again Jan. 10.Assemblywoman Bonnie Williams, who sits on the commission, doesn’t support the borough being one of Condor’s backers."The borough doesn’t belong in risk guarantees," Williams said.Other commission members agreed with Williams. No one on the commission voiced support for the borough being one of Condor’s major backers.The commission discussed other options for supporting Condor, including appropriating money to the Fairbanks Convention and Visitors Bureau to increase its share of sponsorship.FCVB, Fountainhead Development, the Riverboat Discovery, Doyon Tourism and Omni Logistics are the five backers Carlstrom has lined up so far. He said he has approached the Alaska Railroad, the consortium that owns the new SpringHill Suites by Marriott, Prospector Outfitters and the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.Lissa Robertson, special assistant to Borough Mayor Rhonda Boyles, said the mayor wants to support Condor but doesn’t have a proposal in mind. Boyles is out of town on borough and personal business."She would like to see the borough step up," Robertson said.

Employers should know rights of those on military leave

Following the events of Sept. 11, many employers may have employees who have been called to active duty in the military or National Guard. These employees have many rights under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994. Employers need to be aware of these rights to ensure they comply with the law in dealing with employees who have taken leave for military service.USERRA requires employers to provide leave to employees to serve in the uniformed services. Any individual who is absent from work because of service in the uniformed services is entitled to re-employment rights. Employers are generally required to return employees to the same or an equivalent position, with the same benefits, including seniority rights, they would have received had they not taken military leave.For instance, if an employee would have been promoted to a new position during the period in which he or she is on military leave, then, when the employee returns to work, he or she must be re-employed in the new position.The uniformed services include the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard, as well as the Army National Guard and Air National Guard. "Service in the uniformed services" includes duty by reserve members of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps or Coast Guard, and members of the national guards, who are called to active duty.To qualify for re-employment benefits, the cumulative total of the employee’s absences from work for military service must not exceed five years. In addition, employees are required to provide advance notice of their military service to their employers when possible.However, employees are not required to provide notice if military necessity prohibits the giving of such notice or when giving notice would be impossible or unreasonable under all the circumstances. Typically, individuals who are called to active duty should be able to give at least a few days’ notice to their employers.Employees are also required to apply for re-employment benefits within a specific period of time after concluding their military service. If an employee has served between one and 30 days, then the employee must report back to work for the next regularly scheduled work shift, allowing a reasonable amount of time for the employee to arrive at home and rest.If an employee serves between 31 and 180 days, then the employee must report back to work within 14 days following the completion of their military service. If an employee serves more than 180 days, then the employee must report back to work within 90 days after the end of their military service. If employees fail to meet these deadlines, then they may lose their re-employment rights.Once employees return to work, USERRA prohibits employers, even at-will employers, from discharging an individual who served for more than 181 days without just cause for a period of one year. If an individual served between 31 and 180 days, then they cannot be discharged without just cause for a period of six months after returning to work. This provision overrides Alaska’s at-will employment doctrine.Employers are not required to re-employ individuals who serve in the uniformed services if the employer’s circumstances have so changed as to make such re-employment impossible or unreasonable. For instance, if, while an individual is serving in the uniformed services, an employer decides to lay off some of its employees, and the individual would have been one of those laid off, then the employer can still do so. However, employers should exercise great caution before proceeding in such a fashion.Additionally, employers are not required to provide re-employment rights when it would cause an undue hardship to the employer, meaning it would cause significant difficulty or expense. In deciding whether providing reemployment rights would create an undue hardship, the courts will consider the nature and cost of the re-employment; the financial resources of the employer; the size of the business; and the type of business, among other factors.USERRA contains many other provisions and nuances. Any employer who has an employee who serves in one of the national guards or who is a reserve member should revisit any policy regarding military leave to ensure it complies with the requirements of USERRA.Furthermore, before taking any employment action with respect to an individual who is returning from military service, the employer should consult with legal counsel to ensure it is not violating any provision of USERRA.Kimberlee Colbo is a member of Hughes Thorsness Powell Huddleston & Bauman LLC in Anchorage. She can be reached via e-mail at ([email protected]).

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