Board of Fisheries to take closer look at Nushagak king salmon plan

The Board of Fisheries passed a proposal to take a chunk out of the king salmon management plan on the Nushagak River, with plans to form a work group to keep discussing user group conflict on the river. At its meeting in Dillingham dealing with proposals related to the Bristol Bay finfish fisheries on Dec. 2, the board members approved a proposal that amends the management plan for the king salmon run on the Nushagak and Mulchatna rivers. Several clauses in the plan link closures in the commercial sockeye salmon fishery in the Nushagak District, salmon fishing closures on the Nushagak River and limited subsistence fishing periods if the projected spawning escapement is less than 55,000 kings, the lower end of the river’s escapement goal. The updated proposal repeals a number of numeric escapement-based trigger points that close fisheries based on the king salmon passage in the river. The original proposal, submitted by Brian Kraft, would have limited commercial fishing openings in the Nushagak District to no more than 12 hours of fishing per day when the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Division of Sport Fish issues emergency orders restricting the sport fishery, among other restrictions. In his rationale, he wrote that the burden to conserve king salmon is currently on sportfishermen. “The impact on the number of chinook making it in river is immediately diminished when commercial openers happen,” he wrote. “This is not intended by the (commercial fisherman), but it happens. We need help in preserving the Nushagak chinook run. When the chinook run falls below acceptable escapement numbers, the sport fishery is restricted or potentially closed, yet (commercial fishing) openings remain aggressive. “The commercial fishery in the Nushagak district, although targeting sockeye, certainly has a by-catch or interception of chinook bound for the Nushagak.” The Nushagak River, which flows into Bristol Bay just south of Dillingham, hosts a vibrant king salmon sportfishery. Nearby, the commercial sockeye salmon fishery brings in on average 6.4 million sockeye each summer. This year, a banner year for Bristol Bay, the fishermen in the Nushagak District landed about 24.1 million salmon, according to ADFG. Adding to the complexity of managing the return is a noted inaccuracy in the sonar counter in the Nushagak River, which ADFG acknowledges. In public comments, Michael Link of the Bristol Bay Science and Research Institute noted that recent mark-recapture and acoustic tagging studies found that the sonar was undercounting king salmon by variable degrees. “In 2017, low early-season sonar-based king salmon passage estimates triggered restrictions on harvest opportunities; subsequent examination of all information suggested the estimates were probably about 50 percent lower than actual,” Link wrote in his comments. “Although the restrictions helped increase king salmon escapement, skepticism grew among users about misplaced certainty in the assessment information.” ADFG staff opposed the original proposal because it would tie the department’s hands, said Tim Sands, the area management biologist for the Nushagak District. The board amended the proposal to remove sections based on sonar passage numbers, which the ADFG staff then supported, said Forrest Bowers, the director of the Division of Commercial Fisheries. “There’s some work going on to refine the sonar project,” Bowers said. “We have some concerns about the accuracy of the count there, whether we’re accurately assessing the size of the Nushagak run. This plan has some prescriptive triggers that may not be warranted based on the accuracy of our assessment tool.” Board member Israel Payton noted that the proposal reduces complexity and gives the Division of Sport Fish more flexibility to protect king salmon stocks based on abundance. He also noted that members of the public had requested the Nushagak River’s king salmon management plan be revisited, especially as ADFG has not planned to reassess the escapement goal. “The plan has some arbitrary in-river trigger points that aren’t really biological; in my mind, they’re kind of an allocative trigger point,” he said. “It gets rid of those trigger points but still allows the department to manage for the sustainable escapement goal … once again, this doesn’t tie the hands of any commercial fish manager, and in my mind, allow a little more flexibility for the sport fishing manager, or all the manages.” Board member Robert Ruffner noted that the amendment to the original proposal arose from a board member and stakeholder meeting but that there would be further work on the issue. “Our anticipation is that over the next 18 months or so, we’re going to work on this, and there is the possibility of bringing something up out of cycle to further flesh this out a little bit,” he said. “That’s part of what we’re trying to work through here.” A charge statement submitted on Dec. 2 would create a temporary committee to review fisheries recommendations to the board “on a comprehensive solution.” In the meeting between board members and stakeholders, attendees recognized uncertainty in sonar data and restrictions in the sportfishery without restrictions in the commercial fishery as continuing issues. ADFG will work with a stakeholder-led study team to review data on the Nushagak River king salmon enumeration and work on updating the goal by March 2020, according ot the charge statement. The work group, which will consist of no more than nine members of the public and three members of the board appointed by board chairman Reed Morisky, will meet before the Board of Fisheries’ October 2019 worksession and help create any proposals to address the issue before the March 2020 statewide meeting. The board passed the proposal 5-0, with members Fritz Johnson and John Jensen — both commercial fishermen — abstaining for conflict of interest. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

AGDC’s continued responses to FERC cover Cook Inlet crossing, health impacts

In filings with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission last month, Alaska Gasline Development Corp. provided further details of its plan to tunnel and/or trench the buried pipeline from the west side of Cook Inlet. The plan is to tunnel far enough out in the water so that the pipe-laying barge could take over and set the concrete-coated pipeline on the seafloor to reach the other side, where trenching and/or tunneling would resume to bring the pipe ashore at Nikiski. AGDC said it prefers open-cut trenching for pipeline installation in the transition zones on both sides of Cook Inlet but could change the plan to tunneling as it learns more during the project’s detailed engineering stage. In its data request to AGDC, federal regulators noted that the project did not conduct geotechnical soil borings in the full transition zone on either side of Cook Inlet, limiting the data available to decide between tunneling and open-cut trenching. The pipeline would be buried with a minimum soil cover of three feet in the shoreline approach up to a water depth of 12 feet below mean lower low water (the average height of the lowest tide). In deeper water, where the pipeline is on the seafloor with no soil cover, AGDC said the 3.5 inches of concrete coating would protect the steel pipe from any damage from fishing gear, anchors or boulders. “The pipeline is safe without burial,” AGDC said. Separate from the FERC-led EIS, approval of the pipeline construction plan across Cook Inlet will be up to the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration and its regulations. Health impact assessment is wide ranging AGDC on Nov. 19 provided federal regulators with the project’s health impact assessment, which looks at how construction and operations could affect the health of Alaskans — including subsistence lifestyle and food nutrition. The filing is 170 pages long. “The presence of outside workers could exacerbate social problems or stress and impact mental health … particularly in smaller communities,” the assessment said. “Households impacted would be expected to adapt with some difficulty but could maintain pre-impact level of health with support from community, regionally based and existing federal support of Native health, public health programs. … Potential construction impacts to subsistence during the construction phase are expected to be temporary in duration,” the assessment said. “Potential concern related to subsistence resources during construction is the possibility that workers might compete with subsistence users resulting in either diminished harvests or greater subsistence effort. The project will prohibit workers from hunting or fishing while on the job or when company transportation has been used to bring them to a remote site.” The assessment’s subsistence section also raised the issue of invasive species. “The introduction of invasive species (both fish and/or aquatic plants) could impact fish habitat and/or productivity and impact fish availability to subsistence users. … The introduction of invasive species could become a long-term impact if their spread is uncontrolled, thus potentially signaling a long term reduced fish availability for subsistence users and users downstream of the impacted areas.” In another section, the assessment said Railbelt and highway communities “would be expected to be impacted by the increase in traffic during construction, which could cause mental stress and anxiety regarding the real or perceived issues of safety and environmental health associated with the increased rail and truck traffic.” Though it added, “Employment opportunities could alleviate family stress by improving family income, and the local economy during construction.” And the assessment noted that local fire departments and emergency medical service squads could see higher call volume during construction, while also facing the potential loss of staff and volunteers moving to Alaska LNG project construction jobs. Payments to municipalities under the project’s proposed impact aid grant program could help cover any added costs, AGDC told federal regulators. However, the project has yet to negotiate an impact aid program with the state and affected municipalities. Other responses AGDC’s November filings with FERC covered multiple other issues, including: • AGDC defended its plan to use gravel fill for work areas in wetlands during construction. In answer to questions from FERC, the state team said timber mats, wood chips or protective mats made of composite material would be too costly and impractical to deploy during construction. Wood or composite mats would cost two to four times as much as gravel fill, AGDC said. • “Typically, gravel fill would be placed as a protective cover over thaw-sensitive areas along the right-of-way during construction and would not be removed during restoration because it would be difficult to avoid disrupting the thermal regime of adjacent, undisturbed areas,” AGDC reported to FERC. • The project’s gravel sourcing and reclamation plan covers development of new sources of sand, gravel and fill for construction, along with plans to store or dispose of unsuitable materials that would be removed from the site such as unusable topsoil, overburden or frost-susceptible material. • A revised table lists locations of potential deep and shallow landslides, slope creep, rock falls, rock avalanches, debris flows and snow avalanches based on the project’s recently updated onshore geohazard assessment methodology and results summary. • “If warming continues for the next 30 years, it could change local permafrost and groundwater conditions sufficiently to result in mechanically weaker soils,” AGDC told FERC. “In these areas, significant precipitation events as well as earthquakes might have substantial impact on soil stability and, thus, pipeline integrity.” The state team was responding to FERC’s Oct. 2 comment that “AGDC’s proposed mitigation for soil liquefaction … and does not take into account areas that could become prone to liquefaction due to climate change and permafrost degradation.” The project responded that it would monitor and “apply mitigation techniques to minimize potential impacts from permafrost degradation along the pipeline.” • “It is unlikely permafrost would be thermally affected” by blasting for pipeline trenching, AGDC said. “Blasted trench areas are easily controlled to limit the disturbed materials to within the frozen trench walls and accordingly would not result in a shift in soil makeup and the permafrost profile.” • Thaw-sensitive soils cover a total of about 500 miles of the main pipeline route from Prudhoe Bay to Nikiski and the line from Point Thomson to Prudhoe. • Traffic on a 5-mile stretch of the Parks Highway outside the Denali National Park and Preserve would be limited to one lane September through May during pipeline construction, with brief closures (“hours, not days”) of both lanes. “Construction within this window would coincide with the off-season for tourism.” The project would try to limit the complete shutdowns to evening hours. • AGDC presented its plans to monitor commercial, domestic and public-supply water wells within 150 feet of the project — most of those wells are near the LNG plant site. The state team said it would test public water wells before and after construction to determine if the work affected the wells. Private wells would be tested at the landowners’ request. • Pile driving would occur 12 hours a day, 7 days a week at the LNG plant construction site, while pile driving at the compressor station and heater station construction sites along the pipeline route would occur 24 hours per day. Dredging for the marine offloading terminal at the Nikiski site would occur 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. ^ Larry Persily is a former Alaska journalist, state and federal official who has long tracked oil and gas markets and projects worldwide.

Dunleavy: no ‘preferred choice’ to lead ADFG

Newly-inaugurated Gov. Mike Dunleavy has tapped Doug Vincent-Lang to temporarily head the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and a spokesman said he intends to let the nomination process by the boards of Fisheries and Game lead the way to select a commissioner rather than announcing his own choice. Dunleavy announced the appointment just after his inauguration Dec. 3 in Kotzebue. Vincent-Lang, a veteran of the department, will serve as commissioner on an interim basis, replacing Sam Cotten. Vincent-Lang, who holds degrees in biology and biological oceanography, has previously served as a research biologist, as the director for the Division of Wildlife Conservation and as a special assistant and assistant director of the Division of Sport Fish. In a press release announcing the appointment, Dunleavy noted that “it is important that someone is in the position to manage the Department while the Joint Boards of Fish and Game go through their process of nominating potential commissioners.” “The Governor respects that process and looks forward to the recommendations from the Joint Meeting of the Board of Fish and the Board of Game,” the release notes. In response to a follow-up question, spokesman Jeff Turner said Dunleavy “does not have a preferred choice for commissioner of fish and game. The board determines the best person to fill the job.” That’s a departure from Dunleavy’s two predecessors, who named their pick to lead ADFG before a joint meeting of the boards. The boards, which are independent of the department, appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Legislature, will advertise for the position and will meet in January to take up the appointment, Turner said. Dunleavy is following a fairly normal process for appointment so far, according to Glenn Haight, the executive director of the Board of Fisheries. The joint boards will accept applications for the position before interviewing candidates at the special board meeting in January. The application period is open through Dec. 14 and requires that applicants submit a letter of interest with statements of and personnel management philosophy as well as a resume and references. Depending on the number of applicants, the joint boards may meet with all the members or may designate a subcommittee of a few members, Haight said. In the past, the number of candidates has varied, from more than 20 to just five or six, he said. The position is notoriously contentious and different from the process for other commissioners, who are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Legislature. ADFG and Education Department commissioner candidates are selected by their respective boards before they can be appointed by the governor to be approved by the Legislature. Dunleavy has already announced he intends to retain current Education Commissioner Dr. Michael Johnson. Former Gov. Sean Parnell nominated Cora Campbell to lead the department in 2010, and her name was ultimately forwarded to him after interviewing with the joint boards. The same was the case for former Gov. Bill Walker’s choice of Sam Cotten, who was likewise interviewed by the joint boards and deemed a qualified choice. Only one other candidate applied for the position in both cases after the governors made their preferences known. Defined by statute, the commissioner should be “a qualified executive with knowledge of the requirements for protection, management, conservation, and restoration of the fish and game resources of the state. The commissioner is the principal executive officer of the department, whose mission is to protect, maintain, and improve the fish and game resources of the state, and manage their use and development in the best interest of the economy and the well-being of the people of the state, consistent with the sustained yield principle.” Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Alaskans make ‘Roadless Rule’ revision recommendations

Alaskans had their say and it’s in the feds hands now. The Alaska Roadless Rule Citizen Advisory Committee has submitted 14 pages of recommendations to the U.S. Forest Service as the federal agency works to draft an Alaska-specific Roadless Rule for the roughly 17 million-acre Tongass National Forest that dominates the Southeast landscape. The aim of the committee’s work and for the tailored rule is to establish “a land classification system designed to conserve Roadless Area characteristics in the Tongass National Forest while accommodating timber harvesting and road construction/reconstruction activities that are determined by the state to be necessary for forest management, economic development opportunities, such as recreation, tourism, energy, and mining, among others, and the exercise of valid existing rights or other non-discretionary legal authorities,” the committee’s report states. It was borne out of a petition sent in January from former Gov. Bill Walker’s administration to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue requesting a full exemption from the sweeping Clinton-era Roadless Rule that timber interests in the state blame for crippling their industry. That request spawned an agreement between former DNR Commissioner Andy Mack and Interim Forest Service Chief Victoria Christensen signed in early August that laid the foundation for the agencies to reopen the Roadless Rule on the likely prospect of reopening more Tongass land to development of some kind. The 13-member committee selected by Walker — plus a Forest Service technical expert — drafted four new rule options along with a long list of specific exemptions for the Forest Service to consider in its likely rewrite of the 2016 Tongass Management Plan. The four proposed Roadless Rule options include maintaining all existing inventoried roadless areas, or IRAs, except for those with roads that pre-date the rule; removing previously roaded areas as well as areas identified in the management plan for timber production and others where a modified landscape has been deemed acceptable; removing areas in timber production and modified landscape IRAs identified by conservation groups as critical salmon habitat conservation areas in addition to the other exemptions; and, most broadly, removing all IRAs that are not currently designated with a non-development land-use priority, according to the report. The additional list of Roadless Rule exemptions for Forest Service officials to consider includes road projects to improve public safety; those for federal mineral leases that pre-date the 2001 implementation of the rule and operating mines; access to hydropower or other renewable energy and utility transmission projects; and roads for accessing fishery research, management and enhancement projects among others. The 2016 Tongass plan emphasizes a shift to young-growth timber harvest in the forest, which Alaska timber industry representatives say they are not opposed to, but they contend it attempts to make the change too quickly before an adequate supply of second-growth stands will be mature enough for viable harvests. Other development interests, such as utilities and mineral explorers, argue the Roadless Rule has ostensibly shut them out of new projects in the Tongass as well. Advisory committee members were generally positive regarding the committee process, which included a series of three, multi-day public meetings held in Ketchikan, Juneau and Sitka in October and November. Robert Venables, executive director of the Southeast Conference, a nonprofit regional development organization and an advisory committee member, said he thought everyone on the committee — from conservation-focused individuals to timber and mining representatives — participated with open minds with the goal of finding pragmatic solutions. “For communities that are constrained economically and have transportation challenges (and) high energy costs being able to have access to the resources is really a consideration that needs to be made,” Venables said in an interview. The Southeast Conference has previously advocated for an Alaska exemption to the Roadless Rule, but that was when it was an all-or-nothing choice, he noted. The organization is withholding an opinion now as the new rule is drafted. Fighting solely for keeping the Roadless Rule in place as-is or a full repeal — options the Forest Service will also consider — isn’t very productive, Venables contends. Sitka Conservation Society Executive Director Andrew Thoms, another committee participant, said he thought the process was productive as well and suggested a similar approach could be used in other longstanding resource management debates. Specifically to logging, Thoms stressed that market forces have played a significant role in the downturn of the industry in Southeast since its heyday of the 1980s and early 1990s. “The areas where there is economical timber are now very limited because of that logging that took place in the past. We have much fewer options now than were available in the past for logging as an economic driver and we’re going to have to work together and really figure out how to do logging in the best way if logging businesses are going to survive in Southeast Alaska because there are such few, limited options because of what was logged in the past,” he said. “Roadless is one factor amongst many that are putting constraints upon the timber sector in Southeast Alaska.” While the Roadless Rule did not explicitly ban timber harvest in many IRAs, it now requires helicopter logging and other less invasive but more expensive methods that often don’t pencil out. Other committee members declined to comment further, opting to let the report speak for itself. Alaska Forest Association Executive Director Owen Graham followed the committee process though he was not on the committee. He said he will continue to advocate for a full repeal of the rule because it’s unclear how much more timber would be available for easier harvest under the proposed options. Those specifics are the types of details that could come later in the process of amending the Tongass Management Plan. Forest Service officials have said they expect to have the amended plan complete near the end of 2019 or early 2020. Graham said he could support committee “Option D,” which would open the most acreage to development, if an acceptable amount of timber opportunity is provided. Venables said there was “healthy conversation about watersheds and fisheries” and protecting the tourism sector that has grown in the region as the timber industry has shrunk. He emphasized that Southeast’s timber industry is not likely to return to what it once was, but at least sustaining its current niche of specialty products and export timber should be a priority. “We didn’t finish a project. We started, I think, one of the most meaningful conversations that we can have with a group of individuals that could see a balanced solution and have well-reasoned conversations between developers and conservationists and folks that are just trying to make sustainable communities in the region,” Venables added. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

Alaska treasury benefits from premium price on Brent

Just about the most expensive crude in North America comes from Alaska’s North Slope. Not that it’s anything all that special, unlike Copper River salmon which fetches a premium price for its high oil content, flavor and color. The geography and markets are just working in our oil-price favor. The past few months, Alaska oil has been running as much as $10 per barrel greater than the U.S. benchmark price in a reversal of decades past when Alaska crude sold below the benchmark. As of Nov. 29, West Texas Intermediate, or WTI, crude was pegged at $51.45 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. On that same day, Alaska North crude sold for $60.46, according to the Alaska Department of Revenue, which compiles the numbers on a one- or two-day lag because ANS oil isn’t traded on a public commodities exchange. If it holds for a full fiscal year, a $10 spread for Alaska oil could be worth a few hundred million dollars to the state general fund, according to Department of Revenue tables. But no rejoicing over any surprise windfall — the price differential and its extra dollars already are counted in the department’s revenue forecast. It’s a lesson in supply-and-demand-and-price economics. While shale oil producers are pumping record amounts of crude from the Permian Basin in West Texas and New Mexico, the Bakken in North Dakota and elsewhere, those abundant supplies are driving down U.S. prices. But there isn’t the pipeline capacity across the Rockies to move that oversupply to the West Coast. Alaska crude deliveries, at around 500,000 barrels a day, are covering less than one-third of the demand at West Coast refineries. In 2017, the West Coast imported almost 1.3 million barrels per day of foreign crude, led by Saudi Arabia at 283,000 barrels a day, Canada at 228,000, Ecuador at 190,000 and Colombia at 134,000. Even Russia is there, averaging 41,000 barrels a day in 2017. Without a cost-efficient way to move more of that plentiful — and lower cost — U.S. or even Canadian oil to the West Coast, refineries have little option but to pay higher global prices for the crude they need. Alaska profits by tagging along close to Brent, named for North Sea fields and used to price more than half of the world’s internationally traded oil supply. For decades, North Slope oil sold on the West Coast for around $2 less than WTI. From 1988 — when North Slope production peaked at 2 million barrels per day — to 2012, the annual average for Alaska crude was 50 cents to $4 per barrel less than WTI. ANS production was more than West Coast refineries could handle, and a federal ban on oil exports left no option but to force a lot of Alaska crude to travel to more distant U.S. markets — aboard tankers through the Panama Canal or by pipeline across Panama, to refineries on the Gulf Coast, and for some barrels all the way up the Hudson River to a small refinery in Albany, New York. Supertankers carrying Alaska crude, too large for the Panama Canal, even sailed around South America to a refinery in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Too much supply and not enough demand on Alaska’s side of the continent meant lower prices. The switch from a small price discount to a substantial price premium started for Alaska in 2012, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration numbers. From 2012 and 2015, average U.S. crude output jumped about 1 million barrels per day each year for four years running. As all that shale oil flooded the market, the U.S. benchmark price fell away from global prices. This fall, it’s been around $10 per barrel in Alaska’s favor. All that oil also has diminished Alaska’s role in U.S. production numbers. At its peak, Alaska provided about 25 percent of the country’s oil output. We’re now down to less than 5 percent. The Energy Information Administration estimated the country’s total production at a record 11.7 million barrels per day the third week of November. The number was 5 million barrels per day in 2008. At 11.7 million, the U.S. is outproducing Saudi Arabia. It’s all about shale. The EIA expects shale oil production to average almost 8 million barrels per day in December. The agency said Nov. 13 that the Permian Basin alone would produce 3.7 million barrels per day in December. It’s Alaska’s good fiscal fortune that no one has put together an economically viable way to move much of that shale oil to the West Coast, which could wreck the supply-and-demand sweet spot for North Slope crude. Some Bakken oil moves by rail to refineries in Anacortes, Wash., but not enough to knock down Alaska prices. And despite years of struggles to build more pipeline capacity from Alberta’s oil sands to the coast — any coast — for export, little new pipe is in the ground, keeping much of the 4 million barrels per day of Western Canadian production stuck in the mid-continent — and selling at painfully deep discounts. While Alaska enjoys a premium for its oil, Western Canadian Select sold for about $15 a barrel on Nov. 29. Yes, $15. Canadian heavy oil has always been cheaper, but nowhere near that much. Without new pipeline capacity to move more of their oil to the coast for exports or to U.S. refineries, Alberta producers have to take what they can get. They are suffering so much under the deep discount that Alberta Premier Rachel Notley on Dec. 2 ordered companies to cut their production by 8.7 percent (325,000 barrels per day) in hopes of pushing up prices. A few days earlier, the premier announced that her government will buy or lease rail tank cars to move more oil until pipelines can be built. But moving crude by rail at 700 barrels per tank car is expensive, and not always well received by residents watching the long trains roll through their community. Larry Persily is a former Alaska journalist, state and federal official who has long tracked oil and gas markets and projects worldwide.

Movers and Shakers for Dec. 9

Ahtna Inc. announced several new hires within its subsidiaries. Ahtna Global LLC hired Rachel Thompson as proposal manager. Thompson’s professional background includes more than 17 years of experience in marketing, business development, proposal writing, technical editing, and project coordination. More than 10 of those years have been spent in Alaska supporting the environmental, engineering, and energy industries. She holds a bachelor’s degree in language studies from the University of California Santa Cruz and is a member of the Association of Proposal Management Professionals. Michael Records, MS, EIT, joined Ahtna Environmental Inc. as an environmental engineer. With both master’s and bachelor’s degrees in Civil Engineering from the University of Colorado, Records has seven years of professional experience, primarily in Alaska. His duties include support of environmental and construction work including site investigations, remediation, compliance, and demolition. Denise Yancey joins Ahtna Environmental Inc. as the proposal coordinator for the business development department. She holds a bachelor’s degree in technology from the University of Alaska Anchorage and an associate degree in electronics systems technology from the Community College of the U.S. Air Force. Yancey has been professionally published many times, has more than 20 years of experience in the field, and has lived in Alaska for 33 years. She is a member of the Society of Marketing Professional Services. Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska promoted Frances Andrews to Tribal Court administrator. Frances joined the Tribal Court in July 2017 to serve as the lead clerk of the court. Prior to joining Tlingit and Haida’s Tribal Court, she served as the registered agent clerk for Hoffman and Blasco and also held various positions at SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium. Frances is in her final year of school and will be receiving her bachelor’s degree in business administration with an emphasis in management from the University of Alaska Southeast. In her new role, Frances will be responsible for the day-to-day operations of the Tribal Court, including case flow management; supervision of Tribal Court personnel; developing and implementing policies and procedures, statutes and other governing documents pertaining to the Tribal Court; maintaining the Tribe’s law library containing decisions rendered from the Tribal Court; developing the Tribal Court’s annual budget; and completing required reporting on all grants administered by the Tribal Court. Great Alaskan Holidays, Alaska’s largest RV rental, sales, and service business headquartered in Anchorage, has hired Kevin Linkenhoker as a full-time member of its vehicle maintenance technician team. Linkenhoker has more than six years of relative technical experience, and is a graduate of South Anchorage High School.

OPINION: A governor for all Alaskans

When the ground started shaking at 8:29 a.m. on Nov. 30, it did so beneath the feet of Republican and Democrat Alaskans alike. Nobody on utility crews from Anchorage to the Valley thought about the political party of their fellow citizens they were restoring power to, nor did the firefighters, first responders or the Department of Transportation employees who immediately set to work rerouting traffic and preparing to rebuild our major road arteries within just days of a 7.0 magnitude quake and amid nearly 2,000 aftershocks. Alaskans who offered up their homes or businesses for shelter or donations did not do so based on how you or they voted. After a contentious race for governor won by Republican Mike Dunleavy and a recount settled by one vote in one House district that will determine control of that half of the Legislature, the Nov. 30 quake and its aftermath was a powerful reminder that in the end we are all Alaskans. From the Department of Bad Timing, Nov. 30 was also the day that some 800 state employees ranging from commissioners to road engineers were to have tendered their resignations and reapplied for their jobs or faced termination. We still don’t know how many employees were fired or retained, but we do know that last Friday was a day for all hands on deck and not for politics. No matter how Dunleavy’s transition tries to slice it, the unprecedented move to ask for the resignations of every at-will employee in the state was a clumsy, ham-handed decision that did nothing to get the administration off on the right foot with the people he intends to lead. There was plenty of time for Dunleavy’s commissioners to take office, read the lay of the land and determine who was on board with the direction he intends to take and who was not. There was no need to make a big show of who’s the boss. Dunleavy’s picks for commissioners so far have ranged from conventional to not, from longtime stakeholders such as former Associated General Contractors of Alaska Executive Director John MacKinnon being tapped to lead the Department of Transportation to an experienced government hand like Bruce Tangeman at Revenue and a fresh set of eyes from Outside with Donna Arduin to lead the Office of Management and Budget. However, the rollout of the resignation demand was disastrously fronted by Dunleavy’s Chief of Staff and former Republican Party Chairman Tuckerman Babcock, whose fiery press releases have been a fixture of Alaska politics for years. While not explicitly worded as such, the demand for employees to affirmatively state their desire to keep their jobs in a Dunleavy administration was quickly dubbed some kind of “loyalty pledge” in the vein of those that Babcock has attempted to enforce over the years with Republicans from former Rep. Paul Seaton to Sen. Lisa Murkowski. Some employees took their disdain for the request public, leading to further escalation in Babcock’s rhetoric that did nothing to diffuse the situation or smooth the transition. By holding his swearing-in ceremony in rural Alaska and celebrating in his wife’s hometown of Noorvik, it is clear that Dunleavy wants to be a governor of all Alaskans, with a particular passion for devoting attention to the oft-forgotten Bush where poverty and crime are rampant. But by picking someone like Babcock as chief of staff and having him claim a mandate that is not nearly as strong as he’s asserted, the message has been muddled from being the governor of Alaska to being the governor of Republicans and created unnecessary uncertainty and distrust among the workforce that was not needed before, and certainly not after, the Nov. 30 earthquake. There’s a time and place for partisanship, and for vigorous debates over policy philosophies such as the size and expense of government. This is not to suggest Dunleavy should not appoint people who align with his vision, or not expect that those who work in his administration should help advance his goals to the best of their ability. This was, though, an unforced error that got him off to a rocky start before he even took office and one that he should endeavor not to repeat. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

Tariff pause doesn’t change talks with China on AK LNG

Alaska Gasline Development Corp. officials believe the recent announcement of a 90-day pause on new tariffs between the U.S. and China is a positive development, but it has not changed their broader approach to reaching firm agreements with their Chinese counterparts. AGDC spokesman Jesse Carlstrom said the leaders of the state agency have continued to monitor what they refer to as the “trade friction” between the companies, which they view as short-term while Alaska LNG is a generational project. They have remained consistent in their view of the U.S.-China trade dispute while working to finalize deals to underpin the Alaska LNG Project with three of China’s largest companies. President Donald Trump said in a Dec. 1 statement from the White House that he and China President Xi Jinping agreed to a 90-day pause on new or steeper tariffs on goods traded between the countries. That means a previously discussed tariff increase from 10 percent to 25 percent on roughly $200 billion of Chinese imports will not happen Jan. 1. China has instituted a 10 percent tariff on U.S. LNG imports in response to initial tariffs imposed by the Trump administration on Chinese goods. China originally contemplated a 25 percent tariff on U.S. LNG imports. State-owned Chinese oil and gas giant Sinopec is a potential anchor customer for the project after it signed a nonbinding joint development agreement with AGDC to purchase up to 75 percent of Alaska LNG’s expected 20 million tons per year of production capacity in November 2017. That agreement, or JDA, also detailed the prospect of the Bank of China and China Investment Corp. correspondingly financing up to 75 percent of project development costs with a mix of debt and equity. “All parties, AGDC and the JDA parties, have proceeded through 2018 on the work to advance the project,” Carlstrom said. AGDC President Keith Meyer has said there are no signs from the Chinese negotiating team that the tariffs have slowed progress on the Alaska LNG deals. Meyer stresses that the project would be a major step towards balancing trade between the countries and thus should be part of resolving the economic tensions. The Chinese consortium and AGDC signed a supplemental agreement Sept. 29 to collectively reaffirm their desire to reach a firm deal by the end of this year. The JDA has a Dec. 31 deadline for final agreements; however, former Gov. Bill Walker said in a late November interview with the Journal that he thought the deadline might need to be adjusted in light of a new state administration taking over. Former Gov. Sean Parnell, who initiated the current Alaska LNG Project iteration at the time led by the major North Slope producers, is advising new Gov. Mike Dunleavy on the state-led effort. Carlstrom said AGDC and the JDA parties continue to advance negotiations on all fronts. “We’re still on track and still aiming for that Dec. 31 target,” he said. “We’re also advancing agreements across the entire Asia-Pacific region.” AGDC officials have touted receiving 15 letters of interest from potential LNG customers in Asia over the past two years, but most of them — including even the names of the interested parties — have been kept confidential. Carlstrom noted that if the JDA deadline passes without firm LNG sale and financing deals in place the negotiations can continue if all the parties agree. ^ Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

Railroad back on track three days after quake

The first Alaska Railroad trains were back traveling between Anchorage and Fairbanks late Dec. 3 following the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that damaged the tracks running between Alaska’s largest cities Nov. 30. Alaska Railroad Corp. spokesman Tim Sullivan said afternoon Dec. 3 that service on the railroad’s northern route was expected to resume later that day “due to the hard work of a hell of a lot of people.” A day-and-a-half after the quake it was unclear when the tracks would be reopened as the quake had rendered at least three areas “impassable,” Sullivan told the Anchorage Daily News at the time, as inspections were ongoing. Dec. 3 he said at least a half-dozen areas of damage were identified including the three that required immediate repairs to reopen the route. “Those three are now passable,” Sullivan said. “They will be slow orders. There will be folks going over them beforehand to make sure that they’re in good shape; folks will be going over them after the trains to make sure they’re still in good shape — that we don’t see any difference in them after the trains go through and that will be the case for quite some time.” In addition to areas where the gravel bed subsided, there were other areas where the tracks shifted but can still be used with caution at slower than normal speeds, he added. As is the case with many construction projects in Alaska, there is a lot the railroad can’t do to repair its tracks in the winter so some of the work will have to wait until spring, according to Sullivan. The tracks south of Anchorage to Whittier and Seward did not sustain as much damage. The railroad issued a subsequent release Dec. 4 stating that it was set to resume regularly scheduled passenger and freight service along the entirety of its routes. “We could not be more pleased with the work our crews have done to get the Alaska Railroad back up and running in just over 72 hours,” Vice President of Marketing Dale Wade said in a formal statement. “This incredible effort from railroaders speaks to the grit and perseverence of Alaska and its people. We are happy to be able to return to serving our passengers and freight customers so quickly.” Summer is the busy season for passenger service, but the Alaska Railroad has increased its winter ridership in recent years by offering offseason fare discounts along with holiday, aurora-viewing and other themed trains. In all, the railroad has passenger service on 482 miles of track from Fairbanks to Whittier and Seward. The railroad has also been a primary supplier of fuel to the Interior since Flint Hills Resources closed its North Pole refinery in the spring of 2014. The earthquake also caused a pipe to burst in the railroad’s Anchorage Operations Center, which will require significant work to repair, but the railroad’s other facilities in Anchorage sustained only minor damage. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

Dunleavy sworn in as recovery continues from Friday quake

NOORVIK — As Noorvik elders sang “Arigaa” in the high school gymnasium, Mike Dunleavy was sworn in 40 miles across the frosted tundra in Kotzebue to become the 12th governor of Alaska. More than 100 villagers, elders seated in the front row, watched live-stream video of the ceremony and roared with cheers when Dunleavy’s wife, Rose, who lived in Noorvik, appeared on the screen. Watch the video here. Third-graders sang “My Country 'Tis of Thee” in Inupiaq. Speakers talked about keeping Southcentral Alaska, still reeling from a massive earthquake, in their prayers. A persistent fog thwarted Dunleavy’s plans to hold the inauguration in this Inupiat village of 669 people, and former Gov. Bill Walker stayed in Anchorage to grapple with the aftermath of the 7.0 quake. Dunleavy told the crowd that the people of Kotzebue whipped together a swearing-in ceremony just 90 minutes after the decision was made to divert to that hub city. The Alaska Constitution calls for the governor-elect to be sworn in before noon, and a Dunleavy spokeswoman said he was traveling with a judge and would take the oath on the airplane if necessary. “This is how we do it in rural Alaska," Dunleavy told the audience of mostly Alaska Natives, vowing that he would make public safety, particularly in the Bush, a top priority. “I’ll never forget you," said Dunleavy, who worked as a teacher and school superintendent for several years above the Arctic Circle. Plans change amid earthquake recovery (via Becky Bohrer, Associated Press) Dunleavy initially planned to make a 65-mile trek by snowmachine from the Western Alaska hub city of Kotzebue to Noorvik for the swearing-in. Noorvik is a tiny Inupiat Eskimo village above the Arctic Circle where his wife, Rose, is from. But transition spokeswoman Sarah Erkmann Ward said those plans would have required an overnight stay in Kotzebue. Given the ongoing earthquake response, Dunleavy decided to abbreviate his trip, she said. He plans to fly to Noorvik on a private charter from Anchorage on Monday, she said. Rural Noorvik mainly is accessible by plane and boat, on the Kobuk River. Locals commonly get around using snowmachines and ATVs. Dunleavy said he has been in close contact with Gov. Bill Walker about the emergency response. And Walker said Friday he did not expect the recovery to be affected by the transition in administrations. Walker said his administration advised Dunleavy's team of what it was doing and that some members of Dunleavy's team were involved in what Walker's administration was doing. A magnitude 7.0 earthquake rocked Anchorage and other parts of Southcentral Alaska on Friday, shaking buildings, buckling roads and spawning nerve-wracking aftershocks. Walker said Sunday he and Lt. Gov. Valerie Davidson would not attend the swearing-in and instead would stay in Anchorage to help with reopening state buildings. Walker’s term expires at noon Monday. He said he wished Dunleavy well. It is unusual, but not unprecedented, for an Alaska governor to be sworn in outside the capital city of Juneau, though Dunleavy's ceremony will be the first to take place above the Arctic Circle. Former Govs. Sarah Palin and Sean Parnell had their events in Fairbanks, one of Alaska's largest cities. The swearing-in typically kicks off a celebratory season for new governors. Dunleavy previously announced events around Alaska during December. Dunleavy has just six weeks before the start of the next legislative session, when Alaskans will be watching to see how he plans to act on key campaign pledges. He rankled some when shortly after his election, his transition chief sent letters to about 800 at-will state employees asking them to offer their resignations and indicate whether they wanted to continue working under Dunleavy. "The Chief Executive is the one responsible for ensuring that the right people are in place to best fulfill the promises made and restore trust between the people and their government," Dunleavy said in a statement. During the campaign, Dunleavy said he wanted to limit government growth and reduce spending, though was criticized for failing to offer many specifics. Details are expected in his budget plan. Debate also is expected over whether, or how far to, unravel a major criminal justice overhaul amid an ongoing public outcry over crime. One of the big issues in the campaign was the future of the annual check Alaskans receive from the state's oil-wealth fund, the Alaska Permanent Fund. Dunleavy said he supported a full payout of the check and paying Alaskans the amount they missed out on when annual checks were capped. Preliminary budget estimates suggest those pieces alone could cost $4.3 billion, though Dunleavy said he saw it as a way to help restore trust with Alaskans. The check has been capped since 2016 amid a budget deficit. Legislators earlier this year began using fund earnings to help fill much of the deficit. Earnings are used to pay the yearly check, setting up a political fight. Sen. John Coghill, a North Pole Republican, said resolving debate over the dividend is critical, and some methodology for a dividend will need to be advanced. He said he does not favor repaying money from the past three years and doesn't think a full dividend under the current formula is a "slam dunk," either. "I think it'll be a painful, deliberate and highly volatile discussion," he said. Anchorage Sen. Mia Costello, the incoming Senate majority leader, said legislators have heard from Alaskans that protecting and growing the dividend is important. She said she's dedicated to that. “What form that takes has yet to be decided,” Costello said, noting the discussion needs to go beyond the legal formula that has not been followed since 2016. She said she will look for long-term sustainability of a “healthy” dividend.

Preliminary revenue forecast out, but per barrel price headed lower

Amid a transition of power at the highest levels of state government and ongoing earthquake rebuilding and recovery in Southcentral, Department of Revenue officials released an early version of the state’s annual Fall Revenue Forecast on Dec. 3 with a major “subject to change” disclaimer. The Preliminary Fall 2018 Revenue Forecast projects the State of Alaska will collect more than $6.2 billion of unrestricted revenue available for appropriation in the current 2019 fiscal year, which would lead to the state’s first balanced budget since 2012, outgoing Gov. Bill Walker said in a speech to the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce Nov. 26. Slightly more than $3 billion of that would be petroleum-derived tax and royalty revenue, while another nearly $500 million would come from non-petroleum sources; the remaining $2.7 billion would be drawn from the Earnings Reserve Account of the Permanent Fund based on a 5.25 percent of market value, or POMV, calculation. However, the big caveat in those numbers is an assumption that Alaska North Slope crude oil will hold an average price of $76 per barrel for the remaining roughly seven months of fiscal 2019. That figure was arrived at late October, according to a Revenue Department release, when daily Alaska oil prices were hovering between $75 and $79 per barrel. The department is delaying slightly the release of the 2018 Revenue Sources Book to allow the oil price forecast to be reviewed and possibly revised. The final book will still be published ahead of the mandated Dec. 15 deadline of Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s first proposed budget, according to a department release. As of Nov. 29, Alaska crude sold for $60.46 cents per barrel, according to the state Tax Division. The forecast anticipates an average Alaska oil price of $75 per barrel for fiscal year 2020, which starts July 1 and prices slowly climbing to average $84 per barrel by 2027. “Once again, Alaska is experiencing unexpected oil price volatility. As has been our practice for the past 15 years, through the month of October, the department worked with staff from Revenue, Natural Resources, Labor, the University of Alaska, (the office of Management and Budget), and Legislative Finance, as well as private economics firms and financial analysts to develop an oil price forecast,” Revenue Commissioner Sheldon Fisher said in a formal statement. “During November, however, the oil markets have experienced the largest monthly price decline, in percentage terms, in a decade.” Fisher continued to say that oil markets currently appear to be oversupplied as U.S. oil sanctions on Iran that took effect last month did not slow the supply of oil from the major producing country as expected. That resulted in increased Saudi production — intended to only offset production losses from Iran — oversupplying global oil markets in the short term and leading to the dip in prices, according to Fisher and other analysts. President Donald Trump has said he wants Saudi Arabia to continue ramped-up production to keep oil prices low, which generally benefits U.S. consumers. The route the Saudis will take is unclear. Alaska economist Ed King, who previously worked as an economic advisor in Walker’s administration and now manages private firm King Economics, suggested incoming Revenue Commissioner Bruce Tangeman and his team should look at reverting back to prior predictions when adjusting the state’s official oil price forecast for the final 2018 Revenue Sources Book that will be published later this month. “It’s probably good to assume that the $60-$65 range is a better number to budget on and if we beat that number, then great, and if we don’t then we’ll have to adjust accordingly,” King said. The Spring 2018 Revenue Forecast, which is an annual update during the legislative session to the fall Revenue Sources Book, anticipated $63 per barrel oil for fiscal 2019 with oil prices expected “to stabilize in the low $60s in real terms,” Fisher wrote to Walker in a letter accompanying the spring forecast. At the time, administration officials said $63 per barrel oil would leave the state with roughly a $700 million budget deficit for the 2019. King participated in Revenue’s October oil price forecasting session and also noted how much the oil market landscape has changed since then. “That’s one of the challenges with the annual forecast rather than a continuously updated one. That number is probably outdated and probably needs to be revised before the Legislature’s budget is based on it,” he added. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]


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