Movers & Shakers 5/20/12

Sen. Lisa Murkowski announced her first session summer interns in her Washington, D.C., office. For the first session running June 4 to June 29 Murkowski selected Arianna Cocallas, Connor Toohey, Michelle Fernandez and Elizabeth Wheatall of Anchorage; Zachary Veheimer and Elizabeth Whisenhant of Fairbanks; Eva Colberg from Palmer; Bethany Hladick from Unalaska; Ashley Naneng of Bethel and Claressa Ullmayer from Juneau. Two Alaskan college students will serve as this summer’s intern coordinators. Mari Freitag of Ketchikan and Parker Haymans of Anchorage, both former high school interns, will supervise and counsel summer interns in partnership with members of Murkowski’s staff. Freitag is a senior at the University of Alaska Fairbanks pursing a degree in biochemistry with a minor in political science and justice. Haymans, a double major in political science and Spanish, is a senior at the University of Idaho.   The American Network of Community Options and Resources, a national providers association, has named Yuka Ungwiluk of Gambell as the Alaska state winner in its Direct Support Professional of the Year recognition. Direct support professionals provide services to seniors and people with developmental, intellectual and cognitive disabilities so they can live more independent, community involved lives. Ungwiluk has been caring for seniors and adults with disabilities for more than 10 years. She speaks the local dialect and works within the community to advocate for seniors’ needs through local IRA, city offices and agencies who serve the elderly population. Her relationship with National Health Services Corps and village clinics has fueled numerous programs for the elderly, including a lunch program and funding for activities.   The Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council board elected its seven-member executive committee during a recent meeting in Valdez. Dorothy Moore, who represents the city of Valdez on the board, was re-elected president. Pat Duffy, representing the Alaska State Chamber of Commerce, will continue as vice president and Thane Miller of the Prince William Sound Aquaculture Corp. will continue as secretary. Marilynn Heddell of Whittier was elected treasurer. The members at large are Amanda Bauer of Valdez; Diane Selanoff of Port Graham Corp.; and Steve Lewis of Seldovia. The council also seated three new board members at the Valdez meeting. James Kacsh will represent the city of Cordova, replacing Rochelle van den Broek. Amanda Bauer will represent the city of Valdez, replacing Stan Stephens. David Totemoff Sr. will represent Chugach Alaska Corp., replacing Sheri Buretta.   The Women in Transportation Seminar International formed an Alaska chapter in May and elected its charter board of directors. They are: Laurie Cummings (HDR Inc.), president; Van Le (CRW Engineering Group LLC), vice-president; Teresa Brewer (Municipality of Anchorage, AMATS), treasurer; and Julie Jessen (HDR Inc.), secretary. Other key sponsors of the Alaska chapter include: Gary Katsion (Kittelson & Associates), Jeff Miller (UAA, Computer Systems Engineering), Bart Rudolph (Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, Central Region), and Wende Wilber (CRW Engineering Group LLC).   Sen. Mark Begich has announced his summer interns. At the Washington, D.C., office are: Tessa Baldwin from Kotzebue, who graduated from Mt. Edgecumbe High School in Sitka. She is the founder of Hope4Alaska, a suicide prevention and awareness campaign. Kevin Groh is from Sitka and graduated from the Webb Schools in California. He is currently attending Brown University and majoring in political science and economics. Julia Caulfield is from Fairbanks and graduated from West Valley High School. She is currently attending Western Washington University and majoring in political science. Octavia Butler is from Anchorage, graduated from East High School and is currently attending Howard University where she majors in political science. Rebecca Dailey is from Anchorage and graduated from South High School. She is currently attending Boston College and majoring in political science. Interns at the Anchorage office are: Kyle Zencey from Anchorage and a graduate of West High School, Zencey is a student at the University of Virginia majoring in government and psychology. Katrina Hall is a graduate of Eagle River High School. Hall is a student at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School, concentrating in environmental studies and economics. Inerns at the Fairbanks office are: Chelsea Holt is a junior majoring in political science at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. She is a graduate of Delta Junction High School. At the Juneau office is Heather Parker, is a graduate of Grinnell College with a degree BA in Spanish. She has worked as legislative information assistant for the Alaska Legislative Affairs Agency and as a job counselor and citizenship instructor for the Southeast Regional Resource Center.   The University of Alaska Fairbanks announced recipients of the 2012 Emil Usibelli Distinguished Teaching, Research and Public Service Awards. Debendra Das, professor of engineering and mines in the College of Engineering and Mines, received the teaching award; Sergei Avdonin, professor of mathematics and statistics in the College of Natural Science and Mathematics, received the research award; and Kenji Yoshikawa, research professor at the Institute of Northern Engineering, received the service award. Das joined UAF in 1984 as an assistant professor of mechanical engineering. Das holds a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from Brown University and a doctorate in mechanical engineering from University of Rhode Island. Avdonin’s current research focuses on mathematical studies for glaciology and he has developed new methods that offer a major step toward predictive glacier models, which are important in the study of glacier-climate interactions, ice-core dating and assessment of natural hazards. Avdonin began his career in the late 1970s at the department of mathematical sciences at St. Petersburg State University in Russia, spent time as professor and chair of the department of mathematics at St. Petersburg University of Economics and Engineering, and as a senior research fellow at The Flinders University of South Australia. Since arriving at UAF in 1999, Yoshikawa has launched a research outreach effort on the study of permafrost for students and teachers in rural Alaska, Canada, Russia and other countries. Yoshikawa has created a comprehensive network of close to 200 communities and schools to monitor the state of permafrost across the circumpolar North. Yoshikawa received both his master’s and doctorate degree in environmental science from Hokkaido University.   Ashok K. Roy was selected to serve as vice president of finance and administration and chief financial officer for the University of Alaska System. Roy has more than 40 years of experience in banking, finance and administration in both the private and public sector, including higher education. Much of that career has been at the senior level of management. Roy will start at UA on June 1. Since August 2007, Roy has served as assistant vice president for financial services and chief financial officer at Kennesaw State University, in Kennesaw, Ga., where he also serves as associate professor of Asian studies. Prior to that position he worked as director of finance and administration for Indiana University in Bloomington. Roy was educated in India and the United States, and holds six university degrees and five professional certifications from the U.S., England and India. Roy earned a doctoral degree at Sardar Patel University in India; a Master of Arts at Utkal University in India; and two undergraduate degrees, also in India. In the United States, he earned a Master of Science and Master of Education from Indiana University and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, respectively.   Coffman Engineers General Manager Harold L. Hollis is retiring after 30 years of service with the company. Hollis was a senior vice president and served on the board of directors and as general manager of Coffman’s Anchorage office for 23 years. He was instrumental in guiding the growth and success of Coffman’s business in Alaska and expanding its services to the Pacific by opening offices in Honolulu and Guam. Hollis intends to remain in Alaska.   M. Probasco was appointed to the Board of Game. After spending four years in the U.S. Air Force and six years in agricultural education and production in Minnesota, Probasco came to Alaska in 1966. He worked in various capacities with the University of Alaska’s Cooperative Extension Service, eventually becoming a professor and associate director. Probasco also worked for the State of Alaska Division of Agriculture, and was named a professor of extension emeritus at the University of Alaska. Probasco, of Palmer, retired from his work as an insurance agent in 1995, though he spent most of his career involved with various aspects of agricultural development in Alaska. He holds a doctorate in education from the University of Minnesota where he also earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in agriculture education.   The CFAB Scholarship Fund, Inc. announced the winners of its 2012 scholarships. The successful applicants for $2,500 scholarships are: Zackary Aspelund, Naknek; Cody Clark, Soldotna; Kari Gilman, Cordova; Shane Hautanen, Anchorage; Eric Hill, Naknek; Amanda Israelson, Yakutat; Angela Johnson, Nelson Lagoon; Katelyn Jane Reeves, Wrangell; and Dylan Spargo, Wasilla.   Crowley Maritime Corporation recently awarded Thomas B. Crowley Sr. Memorial Scholarships to University of Alaska Fairbanks students Caroline Hoover, Jennifer Martelle, Kelsie Maslen and Ralph Sinnok. They each received a portion of a $10,000 scholarship fund that Crowley donated to UAF in December. Hoover, a native of Kasigluk, is working towards her bachelor’s degree in elementary education and is a member of three UAF student organizations, including the Native Alaskan Business Leaders, of which she is currently vice president of fundraising. Martelle, a native of Barrow, is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in business administration and has made the Chancellor’s list each semester of her college career. She recently graduated summa cum laude from the business administration Associate’s degree program. Maslen, a native of Kotzebue, is enrolled in UAF’s School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, where she is part of a marine and environmental research team, and is dedicated to finding methods of preserving a healthy and sustainable marine environment through her studies. Sinnok, a native of Shishmaref, is a civil engineering undergraduate student who has worked at the NOAA Fairbanks Satellite Operations and recently interned at the NOAAA Satellite Operations Control Center in Suitland, Md., for nine weeks.

'Brand USA' targets 100M visitors by 2021

A national travel and tourism strategy promoting “Brand USA” and a goal of increasing the number of annual international visitors to 100 million by 2021 was unveiled at a Washington, D.C. news conference May 10. The strategy contains a mix of marketing and management tactics with particular potential for the state’s visitor industry according to the Alaskan on the advisory board that helped write the plan. “Most of what they outline is policies & general goals. The next step is what specifically steps are going to be taken. I think our group can have a lot of input on specific steps within these goals in bringing this plan to reality,” said Kirk Hoeffel, appointed to the U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board shortly after President Barak Obama created the larger task force that built the strategy. Hoeffel is the owner of Alaska Wild Lands Adventures, which offers “soft adventure” packages including day trips and luxury nights from three Kenai Peninsula lodges. Elements of the strategy holding particular potential for Alaska are its focus on foreign travelers, who spend an average of $4,200 per trip according to federal data, and on visits to national parks and other federally owned facilities, Hoeffel noted. In 2011 the U.S. greeted 62 million international visitors who “generated travel and tourism exports of $153 billion, according to the strategy report. Travel exports include receipts collected by US air carriers plus purchases of goods and services by international visitors here. U.S. and international traveler spending totaled $807 billion in 2011, with business travel accounting for 22 percent of the total. “This is our largest U.S. services export,” said Secretary of Commerce John Bryson at the rollout news conference. Hitting the 100 million-visitor target would increase international spending to an estimated $250 billion, he said. “We want the world to know there has never been a better time to visit the United States and that America is truly open for business,” Bryson said. “These visitors stay in hotels. They rent cars. They fill up at local gas stations,” added Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. The report also notes that the source countries for visitors here are changing dramatically with the greatest increases coming from those not currently included in the visa waiver program. From 2006 to 2011 the number of visitors from non-waiver countries grew by 34 percent and is forecast to rise by 53 percent from 2011 to 2016. Visa-free visits increased 26 percent from 2006 to 2011 and are projected to rise only 17 percent by 2016. Visits by Chinese nationals are expected to increase the most, by more than 198 percent in the next five years with Brazil and Argentina projected as the next highest at over 70 and 46 percent, respectively. “One of the things that international visitors value is things that they don’t have in their home country. In many cases it’s simple as fresh air, open spaces and wildlife viewing opportunities. We have, of course, an abundant supply in Alaska,” Hoeffel said. The Alaska Department of Commerce report on international visitors for 2011 says Chinese comprised just two percent of the 154,100 foreign nationals, excluding Canadians, who came to the state. Australians led the total with 23 percent. Europeans accounted for 42 percent with half of that figure from the United Kingdom. Asians, specifically including Japanese, Indians, Chinese, Malaysians, Koreans and Thais, comprised just 12 percent of last year’s total. The national strategy includes expansion of the visa waiver program, negotiation of more “open sky” agreements to remove government limits on the number of international flights and more user-friendly security screening at airports. “We’re going to work to streamline the entry process into the country,” Bryson said. Public/private partnerships will be developed to add tourism promotional elements to State Department and other official overseas events and to create travel planning tools and information access in multiple languages. To expand domestic and international tourism in length and beyond the iconic locations circuit trip routes will be developed. For example, Salazar said, travelers to the Las Vegas casinos will have information on methods and means to take in the Grand Canyon and Mojave Desert attractions during their stay. “Brand USA,” which is both a label and an organization, will coordinate work by federal departments and agencies. The Travel Promotion Act of 2009 established the nonprofit Corporation for Travel Promotion. Now operating as Brand USA, the corporation recently established the DiscoverAmerica.com website. This month it began promotional efforts in Canada, the United Kingdom, and Japan with a second marketing wave targeting South Korea and Brazil later this year. It will also take over operation of the existing Office of Travel and Tourism Industries with “additional focus, additional leadership, additional energy,” said Ken Hyatt, a U.S. Department of Commerce official at the news conference. Developments in each of these areas will be guided by the advisory board, which has split into multiple subcommittees. At his request, Hoeffel was placed on the infrastructure and sustainability committees, where he expects to address the difficulties created by Alaska’s isolation. In this context “sustainability” means, “helping destinations be part of the solution as consumers and travelers want to find ways to continue their travel habits and do it in a greener lifestyle,” he explained. “We want to showcase practices that are cutting edge and worthy of actually reducing our footprint on the environment so people can continue to travel and not feel guilty about it. If we’re not part of the solution we’ll be implicated as part of the problem and we have to recognize that people do change their habits,” Hoeffel said. The state’s tourism marketing program is already working with Brand USA on new promotions and with federal land managers, according to Roberta Graham, special assistant to Commerce Commissioner Susan Bell. “While this strategy is new and very exciting, Alaska has been working with our federal partners, most notably the National Park Service, for years to market Alaska’s federal assets, Graham said May 11.

Comeau leaves lasting legacy at ASD

For those who know her, and those whose lives have been touched by her, all would likely agree that there’s just something about Carol. Carol Comeau, that is, the longstanding and — come June 30 — the retiring superintendent of the Anchorage School District. Comeau leaves her post as one of the most popular, if not the most popular, superintendent of ASD ever. And why? “She has a great capacity to care about others,” said Jerry Covey, the Alaska commissioner of Education from 1991 to 1995. Covey also credits Comeau with doing away with a once entrenched and combative divide between rural and urban districts in the state in terms of school funding and policy. “It is hard to find any weaknesses in Carol and her strengths are many,” said Sharon Richards, former Anchorage School Board member and president. The school board appointed Comeau as ASD’s superintendent in December 2000. In a job where nationwide the average tenure of superintendent of an urban district such as Anchorage’s is about three years, Comeau has lasted 12. Her public approval rating is at about 75 percent. When it comes to pay raises, in times of budget cutbacks, she’s turned them down. “I have a great passion for public education and kids,” Comeau said of what has driven her all these years. “I love what I do; it’s a hobby as well as a job.” As superintendent, she headed up a district included in the top 100 districts in the country, with approximately 50,000 students and a budget of $562.1 million. Her success has been measured in the district’s improving dropout rate and rising graduation numbers, said Heidi Embley, spokeswoman for the district. Jim Browder of Florida, takes over after Comeau retires June 30, said Embley. Comeau, now 70, recently experienced a rare moment – nothing to do while waiting to catch a flight home from Washington, D.C., where she had gone for a conference. “I don’t get to do this very often,” she said of the two hours of downtime she had, “I feel like I am playing hooky!” In talking to Comeau, it’s easy to be transported in time back to one’s school days and feel as if one is with a favorite teacher, or the nice mom in the neighborhood who always seemed to care about you. Comeau hails from Iowa, and a solid middle class home, she said. It’s there where she developed the “core values” of working hard and giving back to the community. Her dad died when Comeau was 7 years old, leaving her mother to raise Comeau and a younger brother. Her mother was a deeply devoted mom, who was active in their schools and the community by being an avid member of the League of Women Voters, Comeau said. Comeau came to Alaska in the early 1960s with her husband, Dennis Comeau. Married for 46 years, they met in college. The couple’s three children are grown and now live outside Alaska. Comeau credits her mother instilling a firm belief to “always tell the truth.” Those who know Comeau agree that her strong sense of integrity has served her and the district well. “Her biggest strength is her complete openness with the public and the press. This has gone a long way in accounting for the public’s trust in her,” Richards said. In college, at the University of Oregon, Comeau studied journalism for a year before switching to education. She describes herself as politically neutral and to always “ look at both sides of an issue before making a decision.” What some might find surprising about Comeau is that she stayed home with her children for the first 11 years of their lives. “I never regretted that,” she said, telling herself she had, “all the time in the world to have a career.” And what a career she had. She began with the Anchorage School District in 1974 as a noon-duty attendant and teacher aide. She taught school for 11 years, and served as an assistant superintendent before becoming superintendent. Serving all of these roles helped Comeau in her leadership of the school district, she said. “I think it’s because I knew the community so well,” she said. Female superintendents are still the minority in the U.S. Of the nation’s approximate 13,000 school districts, about 25 percent are led by women, according to Noelle Ellerson, assistant director, policy analysis and advocacy with the American Association of School Administrators. District spokeswoman Embley and others like to note that Comeau has always taken the heat anytime anything bad happened in the district. When good happened, she stood out of the limelight and let others take credit where credit was due. Embley also pointed out that Comeau answers every one of her emails and makes herself available for all media requests. Comeau also does something few might consider attempting – she hand signs and includes a personal note on all district five-year recognition letters and on all retirement letters, Embley said. Come graduation time in May, she also shakes the hand of each of the approximate 3,300 graduates. Comeau calls it “one of my favorite times of the year.” After retiring, Comeau said she and her husband will move to Washington State to be closer to her children and grandchildren. For years, she has planned visits, “around school board meetings,” she now feels a strong need to “reconnect with family.” Her husband is already retired, she said. Comeau said at some point she may find some volunteer work, but for now, she plans to take it uncharacteristically slow. “It will be a new adventure for us, really,” she said.

University construction under way

The University of Alaska’s three main locations are getting their work crews ready as the spring season allows building to begin. A few big buildings are in store around the state but most of this year’s work remains in standard maintenance. One of those bigger projects belongs to Anchorage’s campus. Clearing out is under way for the new 5,000-seat sports arena. Site clearing for the $109 million, 190,000 square foot project has begun, as the university has gotten the final funding. The design is by McCool Carlson Green of Anchorage with Cornerstone General Contractors doing the building, which is expected to be completed in 2014. “You’ll see a building coming out of the ground in the fall,” said Chris Turletes, associate vice chancellor for facilities and campus services. The new arena will replace the currently used Wells Fargo Sports Complex, which Turletes said is “woefully undersized.” The complex seats around 1,000 and is used for a variety of games like basketball, volleyball and intramural sports. Turletes said it will continue to be used for student recreation and activities like hockey practice. The University of Alaska Anchorage has a few other big projects going on like a $5 million renovation at the wellness center at Prince William Sound Community College, which should be completed next summer. Work should also start soon for classroom additions at the Matanuska-Susitna campus to build more space for nursing and paramedic programs. Design work is being done for the new Mat-Su Valley Center for Arts and Learning theater and the new engineering building, but construction will not begin this year. A significant project under way is a $15.3 million career and technical center at Kenai Peninsula College. Another $17.8 million is going into new student housing, which Turletes said is a first for the campus. Like the other UA sites, several millions of dollars will go into infrastructure projects like roofing and deep maintenance, including plumbing, boilers and air handling equipment. Turletes is optimistic about project funding, saying this is the third year the governor has provided allowance for fund renewal. Other buildings and designs have been completed over the last several years, such as last year’s opening of a $45 million, 65,000 square foot health sciences building that opened last year art a cost of around $45 million. “We’ve been vey lucky with new construction,” Turletes said. The University of Alaska Fairbanks will be working on more maintenance issues than new buildings. Still, these projects are pretty large undertakings. UAF design and construction director Gary Johnston said among the biggest are a utilidor installation as part of a project to expand steam capacity to West Ridge, as well as a sewer line replacement from Lola Tilly Commons to Wood Center. Most of the building work is going into renovations. Johnston gave several examples, like the Community and Technical College getting a new roof plus fourth floor revitalizations that will aid in its health care programs. Other buildings renovations will be at Arctic Health Research Laboratory electrical revitalizations, lobby and office upgrades at the Student Recreation Center and new retaining walls at Cutler Apartments and the Patty Center. As far as new buildings, work is continuing on a new life sciences building that broke ground last year. It’s expected to be completed in 2013. Big work is also happening at the Atkinson Power Plant, as multi-year modifications will renew the deaerator, feeder heater and valves. Renewals will also raise the electrical distribution voltage. Things are also happening in three locations of the University of Alaska Southeast. Director of Facilities Keith Gerken said most of the projects are smaller renewal things like roofing, paving, boilers and system modernization. “They aren’t glamorous but keep the building stock working as efficiently as we want them to be,” he said. Still, there are a few larger projects in the works. The second phase of the work on a pedestrian greenway at the Auke Lake campus in Juneau is going on. Gerken said this is a $4 million project phased over four years. Design is being done on a new $8 million student housing project that is expected to break ground next spring. It will add 60 beds to the Juneau campus. Remodeling is going on to add space at the Sitka campus. This will provide new areas for vocational education, lecture areas and construction technology space. This is part of continuous work to help turn the former PBY aircraft hangar into a modern learning facility. The Ketchikan campus is getting a new principle parking lot plus a boat davit to be used as a lifeboat training facility, something Gerken said is a $750,000 device. The Institute of Social Economic Research states in its 2012 construction forecast that education spending is up 15 percent fro last year due to a large state education general obligation bond package that passed in 2010.

Modest bids in Cook Inlet sale; none for Alaska Peninsula leases

There was only modest bidding May 16 in a Cook Inlet oil and gas areawide lease sale, and an offering of leases on the Alaska Peninsula in southwest Alaska at the same time brought no bids in the sale. State oil and gas director Bill Barron said the total of apparent high bids was $6.86 million with 44 tracts sold to three independent companies and one individual submitting bids. All 44 tracts offered in the Cook Inlet sale received bids, which covered 200,320 acres. Most of the bids were near the $25 per acre minimum bid price but Cook Inlet Energy offered several bids substantially higher than the minimum, the highest at $82 per acre. Barron said the sale results reflected a continued interest by the industry in the Inlet. “It has been very busy in the last couple of years, with new companies like Apache, Hillcorp, Cook Inlet Energy and Buccaneer exploring,” Barron said at the lease sale. Cook Inlet Energy, subsidiary of Tennessee-based Miller Energy, is the apparent winner on most leases sold with high bids on 18 tracts acquired followed by Texas-basd Hillcorp, which submitted high bids on 17 tracts. Apache Corp. submitted high bids on eight leases.  Tracts receiving high bids were mostly near existing producing areas on the east and west side of Cook Inlet. William Crawford submitted the lone by an individual for one tract in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough north of Anchorage. There were seven leases that brought more than one bid. On six of them Cook Inlet Energy beat out Apache Corp. On the seventh contested lease Hilcorp beat out a bid by Buccaneer Energy, another independent exploring in the Inlet. Buccaneer submitted only one bid for a lease. All three independent companies submitting bids are current leaseholders in the region. Hilcorp acquired producing assets Chevron Corp., mainly offshore oil and gas producing platforms. Cook Inlet Energy is producing oil and gas from the small field on the west side of the Inlet. Apache is not a current producer but is now the largest owner of leases in the Cook Inlet region and is engaged in a major multi-year exploration program. Barron said all high bids are apparent at this point and that final results will be published on the Division of Oil and Gas website Thursday. The lack of bids in the Alaska Peninsula region was no surprise. The acreage is offered every year as part of the annual Cook Inlet areawide sale, and there have been no bids for Alaska Peninsula leases in recent years.

Pentagon restricts F-22 flights, safety a concern

WASHINGTON (AP) — Facing a mysterious safety problem with the Air Force's most-prized stealth fighter, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Tuesday ordered new flight restrictions on the F-22 and summoned help from Navy and NASA experts. Panetta endorsed Air Force efforts to figure out why some F-22 pilots have experienced dizziness and other symptoms of an oxygen shortage while flying, but his personal intervention signaled a new urgency. A secretary of defense does not normally get involved in a service-specific safety issue unless it is of great concern. The Air Force grounded its F-22s for four months last year because of the oxygen-deficit problem, and now some pilots are refusing to fly them. An Air Force advisory panel headed by a retired Air Force general studied the problem for seven months and reported in March that it could not pinpoint the root cause. It endorsed a plan keeping the aircraft flying, however, with pilots using special sensors, filters and other safety precautions. Panetta was briefed on the problem last Friday, just days after a CBS "60 Minutes" report featured two F-22 pilots who said that during some flights they and other pilots have experienced oxygen deprivation, disorientation and other problems. They cited safety concerns as well as the potential for long-term personal health issues. Asked why Panetta was acting now, Navy Capt. John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, said the defense chief has been aware of the F-22 problem "for quite some time." In light of the recent deployment of several F-22s to the Persian Gulf and because of pilots' expressions of alarm, Panetta chose to "dive a little more deeply into the issue." In a letter to Air Force Secretary Michael Donley, Panetta ordered that F-22 flights remain "within proximity of potential landing locations" so that pilots can land quickly in the event they experience an oxygen-deficit problem. Kirby said the specifics of those flight restrictions are to be set by individual F-22 pilots and commanders. Panetta also told Donley to accelerate the installation of an automatic backup oxygen system in each F-22. The first of those is to be ready for use by December, Kirby said. And the Pentagon chief ordered the Air Force to call on the expertise of the Navy and NASA in pursuit of a solution. Panetta's actions have no immediate effect on U.S. combat operations, since the F-22 is not in Afghanistan. But Panetta said the plane would give up long-distance air patrol missions in Alaska until the planes have an automatic backup oxygen system installed or until Panetta agrees the F-22 can resume those flights. Other aircraft will perform those missions in the meantime. Panetta's chief spokesman, George Little, told reporters that Panetta supports the Air Force's efforts to get to the bottom of the problem. "However, the safety of our pilots remains his first and foremost concern," Little said. Little did not rule out Panetta taking additional measures. Asked whether Panetta considered grounding the fleet again, Little said Tuesday's less drastic moves are "the prudent course of action at this time," adding that Panetta will keep a close eye on the situation, "and all options remain on the table going forward." In a conference call with reporters, Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., and Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., said they were briefed by the Air Force and told that the number of pilots who came forward with complaints has risen from two to nine. Warner called Panetta's action a "step in the right direction" but said questions still remain. "This is a confidence issue that has to be addressed fully and transparently by the Air Force," Warner said. The F-22 Raptor, which has never flown in combat, recently deployed to the United Arab Emirates for what the Pentagon called routine partnering with a Middle East ally. Little, the spokesman, told reporters that Panetta's order to impose new flight restrictions would not affect flight operations during the UAE deployment. The plane, conceived during the Cold War as a leap-ahead technology that could penetrate the most advanced air defenses, is seen by some as an overly expensive luxury not critical to fighting current conflicts. The fleet of 187 F-22s — the last of which was fielded just two weeks ago — cost an average of $190 million each. Panetta's predecessor as Pentagon chief, Robert Gates, persuaded Congress to cap production of the F-22 earlier than originally planned. He saw it as primarily of use against a "near-peer" military competitor like China, noting that the plane did not fly a single combat mission during a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan. With its stealth design, the F-22 is built to evade radar and has advanced engines that allow it to fly at faster-than-sound speeds without using afterburners. It manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, describes the plane as "the only fighter capable of simultaneously conducting air-to-air and air-to-ground combat missions with near impunity." The fleet of 170 F-22s is stationed at six U.S. bases: Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska: Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii; Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va.; Nellis Air Force Base, Nev.; Holloman Air Force Base, N.M.; and Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. F-22 pilots are trained at Tyndall. Flight testing is at Edwards Air force Base, Calif., and operational testing and tactics development is performed at Nellis.

No injuries reported after 4.6-quake in Alaska

Seismologists say an earthquake that struck in southern Alaska near Anchorage was widely felt in the city and other communities. The Alaska Earthquake Information Center says the 4.6-magnitude quake occurred at 7:02 a.m. Wednesday. It struck eight miles south of Anchorage. The center says there are no immediate reports of significant damage, but some Anchorage residents say items toppled or fell off shelves. Besides those in Anchorage, residents in a 120-mile swath of southcentral Alaska, from Palmer to Kenai, reported feeling the earthquake to the U.S. Geological Survey.  

ND becomes nation's second-leading oil producer

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota has passed Alaska to become the second-leading oil-producing state in the nation, trailing only Texas. Assistant State Mineral Resources Director Bruce Hicks says North Dakota oil drillers pumped 17.8 million barrels in March, with a daily average of 575,490 barrels. Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission statistician Steve McMains says that state pumped 17.5 million barrels in March, with a daily average of 567,480 barrels. McMains says Alaska's oil production has slipped about 15 million barrels a year since 2008. North Dakota was the ninth-largest oil-producing state just six years ago, but the state's oil production has nearly quadrupled since March 2007. North Dakota passed California in January as the third-largest oil-producing state in the nation.

Redistricting board redraws southeast Alaska

JUNEAU (AP) — The Alaska Redistricting Board on Monday made what its executive director called significant changes to southeast Alaska's political boundaries in an effort to win court approval for the plan. Taylor Bickford said the board adopted new districts that pair state Reps. Cathy Munoz, R-Juneau, and Bill Thomas, R-Haines, together. Reps. Peggy Wilson, R-Wrangell, and Kyle Johansen, R-Ketchikan, who had previously been paired, would no longer be. Sens. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, and Albert Kookesh, D-Angoon, would remain paired. The board is seeking to comply with a state Supreme Court order that it redraw southeast Alaska based on state constitutional requirements. The court in its decision last week said it found no justification under the federal Voting Rights Act for deviating from those requirements in the region. The reformulated plan is due to the court for further consideration by noon Tuesday. Any objections to the new districts are due by Friday. Whatever plan ultimately passes judicial muster also will need approval by the U.S. Department of Justice. The candidate filing deadline is June 1. Candidates who've filed for office so far have done so according to the first map the board drew. The court rejected the board's request to use that plan for this year's elections, but outside southeast Alaska, state Division of Elections Director Gail Fenumiai said she knew of only two candidates who would have to file again in different districts if the rest of the plan that the board is working on stands. They are Sen. Joe Thomas and Rep. Bob Miller, both of Fairbanks. While the Elections Division had said it needed to have a valid plan in place by Monday to meet state and federal obligations for the elections, Fenumiai said not having one yet will simply push back the date by which the division hoped to submit precinct boundaries to Justice for pre-clearance, a process that can take up to 60 days. Fenumiai said the division will seek expedited review once the court makes its final decision. Precinct boundaries must be established by July 19 to comply with the law, she said.

Parnell making smallest budget vetoes of term

Gov. Sean Parnell signed state budgets totaling $12.1 billion on Monday after making $66.6 million in vetoes, the smallest cuts of his term and a figure he attributed to lawmakers sticking to a spending limit he'd set. In a speech to the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce, Parnell thanked lawmakers for their work. His conciliatory tone came after a contentious special session that saw his plan to lower oil taxes pummeled before he ultimately pulled it from the session's agenda. He said budgets are defined by sound investments in infrastructure, education, public safety and energy. At the urging of Parnell, House and Senate leaders worked to keep capital spending around the same level as the current fiscal year and wound up just over that amount, at $2.9 billion. That figure includes some spending for this fiscal year. Capital items for next year alone total $2.8 billion, Parnell's budget director Karen Rehfeld said. That's the same as this year. Parnell also signed an $8.9 billion operating budget. With fund transfers and savings, the package totals $12.1 billion. Parnell in 2010 cut more than $300 million in proposed spending, and in 2011 more than $400 million — a record — from what he considered to be bloated budgets. The bulk of the vetoed funding this time — $50 million — came from a one-time lump sum payment to the Judicial Retirement System that Parnell said he didn't deem prudent in light of financial and economic considerations. He said the budgets honored annual payments to public employees, teachers and the judicial retirement systems. The Republican governor also cut additional funding of about $2.2 million for pre-kindergarten grants and a pilot program expansion, and $10.3 million for a substance abuse treatment program. Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage, said he wasn't happy with those cuts. "The governor should be cutting waste, but he cut opportunity instead," Gara said. The spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year, beginning July 1, includes an increase of about $3.9 million, or 38 percent, in funding for early learning programs, according to the administration. In budget documents, the administration said the $4 million approved by lawmakers for pre-kindergarten grants represented a 47 percent increase over the current year. Parnell reduced that figure to $2.8 million and scrapped the $973,000 proposed to expand a pre-K pilot project. He also reduced proposed spending for the parents as teachers program, though he said funding for that initiative still more than tripled from the current spending year, to $1 million. Gara disagreed with Parnell's decision and said that based on his reading of a fiscal note, it wasn't immediately clear to him whether Parnell had actually vetoed more than he thought in connection with the program. But Rehfeld said the program will have $1 million. Parnell said there's a need to look more holistically at how the state addresses early childhood learning issues. A reduction in additional substance abuse funding came because the Legislature didn't have a plan for how to use the money, he said. Parnell asked the department of health and social services how the state could help the most vulnerable residents, such as pregnant women and families at risk, and what was reasonable to follow through on that approach. He said the response was $9 million over three years, which was included in the budget. He also approved an additional $1.3 million in the corrections department budget for treatment. The state currently spends more than $50 million a year on substance abuse programs for about 7,100 people, he said. Other vetoes include $1 million to the Alaska Moose Federation for moose rescue and relocation. Parnell said decisions on relocating adult animals belong to the state Department of Fish and Game and Alaska Board of Game, though he said he supported an increase in the orphaned calf rescue aspect of the federation's work. Along with the budget, Parnell also signed a roughly $453.5 million bond package that voters will be asked to decide in November. The proposal includes 36 projects statewide, including $50 million for the Port of Anchorage expansion project.

Redistricting board will meet Monday on SE plan

The Alaska Redistricting Board will meet Monday in Anchorage to work on new House and Senate districts in Southeast Alaska. The Alaska Supreme Court, just hours after hearing arguments in the case Thursday, ordered the board to rework House Districts 31-34 and Senate Districts P and Q. It said the reformulated plan should not be altered based on the federal voting rights act. The high court found no justification under the act for deviating from state constitutional requirements in southeast Alaska. The reformulated plan is due to the court for further consideration by noon Tuesday. The redistricting board also has tentatively set Tuesday and Wednesday meetings in Anchorage.  

Next up for Dimon: Facing the shareholders

NEW YORK (AP) — JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon came clean to stock analysts and accepted blame in a TV interview for a $2 billion trading mistake. Next he faces the shareholders, who have taken a big hit from the bank's blunder. Dimon travels to Tampa, Fla., on Tuesday for the JPMorgan annual meeting, where he will almost certainly address the colossal error. Since the 2008 financial crisis, shareholder meetings have been colorful affairs, a mix of defensive CEOs and placard-wielding protesters. The timing of the JPMorgan meeting adds a layer of intrigue. JPMorgan stock was down almost 2 percent on Monday, a much bigger decline than the broader market. It had already lost almost 10 percent of its value on Friday, the day after Dimon disclosed the trading mistake. On Monday, the executive responsible for trading strategy at JPMorgan Chase, one of the highest-ranking women in Wall Street, became the first casualty of the bank's stunning loss. The bank said that Ina Drew, 55, the chief investment officer for the bank and a 30-year veteran of the company, would retire and be replaced by Matt Zames, an executive in JPMorgan's investment bank. Dimon said Drew's "vast contributions to our company should not be overshadowed by these events." He stressed that the company remains "very strong." "We maintain our fortress balance sheet and capital strength to withstand setbacks like this, and we will learn from our mistakes and remain diligently focused on our clients, who count on us every day," Dimon said. JPMorgan, the largest bank in the United States, is seeking to minimize the damage from the trading mistake, which Dimon has conceded will complicate the efforts of banks to fight certain regulatory changes. Drew, one of the highest-paid officials at JPMorgan Chase, had offered to resign several times since Dimon disclosed the trading loss on Thursday, a person familiar with the matter told The Associated Press on Sunday. At least two other executives at the bank will be held accountable for the mistake, the person said. Drew oversaw the division of the bank responsible for the loss. She was paid $15.5 million last year and almost $16 million in 2010, making her one of the highest-paid officials at JPMorgan, according to a regulatory filing. Drew declined comment through a bank spokeswoman on Sunday. The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday that she and two other executives were expected to resign soon. The Journal also reported that Bruno Iksil, the JPMorgan trader identified as the "London whale" because of the giant bets he placed, was also likely to leave, but the paper reported that it was not clear when that would happen. The surprise loss has been a black eye for the bank and for Dimon, who is known in the industry both as a master of risk management and as an outspoken opponent of some proposed regulation since the crisis. Dimon said in a TV interview aired Sunday that he was "dead wrong" when he dismissed concerns about the bank's trading last month. "We made a terrible, egregious mistake," Dimon said in an interview that was taped Friday and aired on NBC's "Meet the Press." "There's almost no excuse for it." Dimon said he did not know the extent of the problem when he said in April that the concerns were a "tempest in a teapot." The loss came in the past six weeks. Dimon has said it came from trading in so-called credit derivatives and was designed to hedge against financial risk, not to make a profit for the bank. A piece of financial regulation known as the Volcker rule would prevent banks from certain kinds of trading for their own profit. Dimon has said the trading involved in the $2 billion loss would not have fallen under the rule. Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., told ABC's "This Week" that he hopes the final version of the Volcker rule will prevent the type of trading that led to the massive loss at JPMorgan. Dimon conceded to NBC that the bank "hurt ourselves and our credibility" and expects to "pay the price for that." Asked what the price should be, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said that banks will lose their fight to weaken the rule. "This was not a risk-reducing activity that they engaged in. This increased their risk," Levin told NBC. "So we've got to be very, very careful that the regulators here are not undermined by this huge effort to weaken the rule by putting in a huge loophole" that includes the trading involved in the JPMorgan loss, he said. Dimon said the bank is open to inquiries from regulators. He has also promised, in an email to the bank's employees and in a conference call with stock analysts, to get to the bottom of what happened and learn from the mistake. Dimon told NBC that he supported giving the government the authority to dismantle a failing big bank and wipe out shareholder equity. But he stressed that JPMorgan, the largest bank in the United States, is "very strong." Addressing public anger toward Wall Street, Dimon said he wants a more equitable society and does not mind paying higher taxes. But he said attacking all of business is "very counterproductive.


The final F-22 Raptor stealth fighter jets built for the U.S. Air Force rolled off the Lockheed Martin assembly line in December and was delivered to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson on May 5. Lt. Col. Paul Moga flew the jet non-stop from Marietta, Ga., and said the jet handled superbly during the eight-hour flight, which included two midair refuels. The star-crossed jet is a modern engineering marvel capable of exceeding Mach 2 speeds and evading enemy radar, but production delays and cost overruns defined its early history. The 190 jets produced for the Air Force ended up costing about $412 million each. More recently, the oxygen-generation system problems reportedly causing dizziness for pilots that grounded the planes for four months last year are still unresolved.\ The F-22 didn’t see action in Iraq or Afghanistan, but it has recently been deployed to the Middle East. Reports are the F-22s have been deployed to a base in the United Arab Emirates, although the Air Force won’t officially confirm that. “People pay attention to where this airplane goes and what it does because, regardless of the furor in the press and public about the suitability or safety of the airplane, they’re very worried about its capability,” said Air Force Gen. Mike Hostage, Commander of Combat Command in Hampton, Va., on April 30. “That, to me, means we’re on the right path with this capability.”

Big snow brings big woes after breakup in Anchorage

The record snowfall in Alaska’s largest city is quickly melting, leaving scores of residents to deal with winter’s lingering mean streak. Restoration companies are getting inundated with calls from Anchorage residents reporting problems with roofs and drenched foundations. So are insurance companies, which break the news to homeowners that problems like crawl spaces and basements with ground water seepage generally are not covered. Those in the damage response business say they’re hearing this constant refrain from clients: “This never happens to my home!” Well, it has this year. “It’s pretty amazing,” said Doug Lipinski, general manager of Taylored Restoration, which has twice the fix-it business it did at this time last year. “I’ve never seen this level of workload.” Lauren Horn is among the casualties of a season that brought more than 11 feet of snow — double the average for the city of more than 296,000. First, a spidery crack appeared in a wall of Horn’s home. Then the next day he noticed a larger crevice just above a door, followed the next day by the door refusing to budge. The door frame was warping from the weight of some four feet of snow on the roof. That was around mid-March, when Anchorage was well on its way to surpassing the record of 132.6 inches set in the winter of 1954-55. Horn, 47, has lived in Alaska most of his life and in his current home for seven years, but he’s never seen this monstrous a snow load. He figured that ignoring it would subject him to a roof collapse, costing thousands to fix. The $630 invoice to clear the roof was a deal compared to that. “My biggest fear was that the whole structure would collapse,” said Horn, who has since straightened out the door himself. Here’s how he sums up the season: “It was very nearly the final snow for this house.” Even by Alaska standards, Anchorage was pounded. City snow removal crews worked day and night to clear roadways and haul more than 2.5 million cubic yards of snow to the city’s six snow disposal sites, which came close to capacity. One city official said that volume would almost fill the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans. That didn’t even include the loads disposed of by state crews. At the height of the overload, residential streets across the city were rimmed by walls of snow. Some roofs collapsed, mostly on older commercial buildings with flat roofs. The collapse of a church’s large auditorium roof near a busy intersection caught Horn’s attention just before his own home started to show its own signs of stress. “If you put too much weight on anything, it’s going to break. If you are fortunate, it gives you warning that it’s going to break,” he said. “And this one warned me that it was going to break.” Restoration and insurance companies are seeing a rise of problems in Anchorage caused by roof ice dams, blockages of ice that can cause snowmelt to leak into ceilings, walls and insulation. Country Financial has received about 150 claims for such problems as ice dams from the record-snow season, according to spokesman Christopher Brooks. The insurance and financial services company received 27 such claims locally last year and 22 in 2010. “The 150 number isn’t huge, but it’s a definite increase,” Brooks said in an email. Home improvement stores are seeing a big run on sump pumps by people tackling water seepage problems for themselves. Also selling quickly are hoses to attach to the pumps. “With record snow comes record melt-off,” said Zach Greenough, operations manager of a Home Depot store in Anchorage. Pat Reilly, president of Rain Proof Roofing, said his family-owned company is busy responding to calls about ice dams, as well as holes punched into roofs by bad shoveling jobs. Like many other experts dealing with the snow fallout, Reilly has heard his share of people saying they are dealing with problems they never faced before at homes they’ve had for years and years. “This is an extreme situation,” Reilly said. “And an extreme year for us.”

Oregon wood products sector makes a slow turn upward

WILLAMINA, Ore. (AP) — The international markets didn’t register a ripple, but on April 9 Arnie Swan drove 25 minutes from his home and reported to work at Boise Cascade’s veneer plant. He’s a new hire, not a worker called back from one of the layoffs and shutdowns that have dogged the wood products industry for a generation. His is one of two added positions at the plant And in the past year the company replaced six other workers who retired, rather than let the positions go dark. It may sound modest, but plant Superintendent Mike Henderson calls the hirings a “significant pickup.” The plant’s 50 employees produce thin layers of veneer, which are trucked to Medford and pressed together to make plywood and beams used in housing and other construction. No one is calling it a boom, but a slow rebound from the recession may be unfolding in the decimated wood products industry. That’s why the company replaced the retired workers and approved the new hires. “I wanted to have some experienced hands on board so we’re ready when things turn around,” Henderson said. Industry observers see signs of improvement. While single-family home construction lags, wood products are increasingly used in multi-family projects and multi-story commercial buildings, said Tom Partin, president of the Portland-based American Forest Resource Council, which advocates on behalf of manufacturers. Northwest mills aggressively sought new markets in Europe and Asia, Partin said. Also, raw log shipments from the Northwest to China and Japan have slowed, which makes more timber available to domestic mills. “We’re not seeing anything earth shattering as far as the market is concerned,” he said, “but there’s an optimism there that hasn’t been there for maybe three years.” Bad luck elsewhere benefited Northwest veneer and plywood mills. Tim Cochran, with the wood products journal Random Lengths, said Boise Cascade capitalized when Georgia Pacific closed pine plywood mills in the southeast. In addition, a January fire destroyed a plywood mill in Chile that exported much of its product to the U.S. and Mexico. “It’s all about baby steps,” Cochran said. “The comeback is ever so slow, but we are coming back.” Oregon Employment Department reports appear to support that view. The state counted 18,100 wood products manufacturing jobs in March 2012, down 1,300 from 2011. But department economist Amy Vander Vliet said that sector is projected to add 2,800 jobs by 2020. In 1990, federal restrictions severely reduced logging and mill modernization whittled the workforce, Oregon had more than 47,000 workers in wood products manufacturing. Arnie Swan, the new hire at Willamina, is pleased to be among those employed today. He’s 52, and taught high school biology for a time before spending 16 years as a drug and alcohol counselor at Union Gospel Mission in Salem. He left that job and spent a couple months receiving unemployment checks before snagging the Boise Cascade job. He thought about returning to teaching, but said jobs are scarce except for bi-lingual or special ed. So for now he’s “throwing veneer” on what’s still called the greenchain, where newly milled material is sorted and stacked. “I grew up with ranchers, loggers and millworkers,” Swan said. “I actually like working with my hands; it’s not an anomaly.” Swan said he needed a job that paid at least $15 an hour in order to make his mortgage payments, and he found one. The plant pays an average of $19 an hour, said Henderson, the superintendent. Swan’s wage will increase to about $17 an hour when he passes a probationary period. Boise Cascade’s veneer plant in Willamina won’t be mistaken for a big player in the economic scheme of things, but in many ways reflects the careening fortunes of Oregon’s timber industry. The Hurl brothers founded it as a sawmill and veneer plant nearly 60 years ago, and from Highway 18 it looks like a throwback to the days when nearly every small Oregon town had a mill and nearly anybody could land a job. For decades, that was the case in Willamina, Sheridan, Shipley, Dallas and similar burgs southwest of Portland. Boise Cascade, then an industry stalwart, bought the mill in 1972. In 2004 it sold out to Madison Dearborn Partners LLC, based in Chicago. Dearborn subsequently sold the paper, packaging and newsprint operations, keeping its wood products plants under the name Boise Cascade LLC. In 2005 the new entity shed Boise’s nationwide timber holdings. Forest Capital Partners LLC, with headquarters in Portland and Boston, paid $1.65 billion for about 2 million acres in the southeast, Great Lakes and Northwest. As an ironic result of the deals, Forest Capital now sells logs to Boise Cascade’s veneer plant in Willamina. About half the logs feeding the plant come from timberland Boise itself formerly owned. Henderson’s worked at the plant 37 years in what used to be a familiar Oregon story. Newly married, he took a break from college to support his family. He started out driving a forklift and pulling veneer on the greenchain, and never left. The automated process still fascinates him. Logs run through a de-barker and then are cut to eight-and-a-half foot lengths. A machine grabs the log at either end and spins it against lathe blades, which require sharpening every two hours. The process reduces a thick log to a dowel-shaped rod in seconds, peeling sheets of veneer one-eighth inch thick and up to 54 inches wide. Henderson compares it to unspooling a paper towel roll.

Students' garbage bin passes grizzly test at Yellowstone

LIVINGSTON, Mont. (AP) — The Gardiner Bruins beat the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center’s bears in a one-hour contest on a recent Friday in West Yellowstone. It was not a sporting event. Teacher Mike Wagner’s Gardiner High School shop class built a commercial-sized, 500-pound, bear-resistant trash bin to be used by businesses in Gardiner. But before it was loaded up with garbage, one question remained: Was the bin really bear-resistant? The class traveled to West Yellowstone to find out. The Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center is a nonprofit facility that takes bears that can no longer survive in the wild and displays them in a setting designed to educate visitors about bears. As a sideline, the center provides testing for companies or individuals hoping to market a product as bear-resistant. GWDC Director John Heine said the center averages about one bear test a week. The testing provides stimulation for the bears as well as giving visitors an opportunity to watch bear behavior, he said. The Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee — whose members represent region-wide state and federal agencies — working with the private nonprofit Living With Wildlife Foundation has even created standards that a product must meet before earning the “bear-resistant” label. The IGBC website says the committee is currently updating the standards, but in general, a product has to withstand one hour of bear contact to earn the label. Smelly fish were placed inside the Gardiner students’ bin. As an added attractant, a tempting mixture containing peanut butter, jelly and more fish was smeared on the outside of the bin. “Every bear at the center had a go at it,” Heine said, including a 925-pound Alaskan brown bear named Sam. “He tipped it over several times, pried on the doors, but then he just got bored and left it alone,” Wagner said. The students were “quite excited” to test their creation, Wagner said. They were proud to see their work, especially their welding — welding joints being the weakest spots in a product — hold up against the bears, he said. After an hour’s worth of biting, scratching, licking and tipping the Dumpster-sized bin, the bin had sustained a few scratches and a bent handle. The doors and hinges held. The bears did not breach the container. The students’ bin was, indeed, bear-resistant. The project is a joint effort including the Gardiner School, Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks and Bear Aware Gardiner, a group of Gardiner residents working to keep trash and other attractants inaccessible to bears. Keeping bears out of human garbage helps prevent bear-human conflicts, which can lead to human injury or death and having to destroy the bear, BAG co-founder Bill Berg has said. BAG, which has worked for the past several years providing bear-resistant residential trash bins throughout the Gardiner basin, found that the residential bins weren’t working for commercial customers. The trash cans, the same size as those used by the city of Livingston, weren’t large enough for commercial use. Consequently, some Gardiner businesses were still storing their garbage in the back of open pickup trucks — sometimes overnight — before hauling it to the town’s green box transfer station, about four miles north of town, Berg said. The garbage in the back of pickups presented a temptation to bears. The 500-pound container tested April 27 is not meant to be hauled to the transfer station, but to remain in one place, Berg explained. Bagged trash will be loaded into the bin and then the bags can be transferred to a pickup truck and hauled later to Gardiner’s green box transfer station. The Gardiner students looked at bin blueprints online, collaborating with Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks’ Wildlife Management Technician Jeremiah Smith and Bear Management Specialist Kevin Frey. FWP hauled the bin from Gardiner to West Yellowstone and also helped BAG secure a $10,000 grant from the Living With Wildlife Foundation, based in northwestern Montana. Wagner, who has taught at the Gardiner School for seven years, said they spent about $1,200 from the grant money on steel for the bin. The grant also covered an additional $2,500 for materials, including tools the class did not have but needed for the construction project. The remainder of the grant money will go toward more bins, BAG co-founder Ilona Popper said. Wagner’s shop class is called Manufacturing Construction. He said it’s important for the students to actually manufacture several copies of an item rather than constructing just one. Wagner said the class already has some ideas for making a small change on the bins, and the students are looking forward to building more.

The Bookworm Sez: Seize your Aha! moment

There are days when you wish you were a magician. If you were, all problems would be fixed with a click of your fingers. No more thorny predicaments. No more half-baked ideas. No more unfinished business. One finger-pop and you’d solve everything, quick and painless. But Abracadabra is never that simple – or is it? In the new book “Snap: Seizing Your Aha! Moments” by Katherine Ramsland, you’ll see that you shouldn’t worry about your fingers. It’s your mind that should be snapping. You know how it goes: you spot a problem that stymies you. Frustrated, you head for bed and sleep… until your subconscious gets done chewing on the problem and the solution smacks you awake. Problem solved. But is it really that easy? Ramsland says that it is, but it requires some preparation and the implementation of three basic steps: scanning, sifting, and solving. Overall, it’s not what you think about the problem, but how you think. Scanning seems to involve an immersion in the issue itself, and a certain “bliss” or “flow” with the situation as a whole. You’re interested in the product or end result — maybe even passionate about it — so finding a solution becomes imperative. You feel like you’ve “slipped into the most comfortable clothes… ever owned,” and you simply know everything is right. A certain amount of synchronicity even comes into play; you’re being aligned for where you need to be to achieve a positive end result. The best way to sift is to know as much about the issue as you can, and try to see it from new angles. Your “cognitive map” may get in the way here, so move past habits and old paradigms. Look at the problem from other angles. Keep your mind flexible. Harness your flow. Focus, but don’t despair if your mind wanders. Then, just about the time you’re ready to throw the whole idea in the round file, walk away. Go to the movies or for a quick hike. Take a nap or a drive. Watch TV or the sunset. Distract your conscious mind, give your brain time to “play” with the issue and see what happens… Wishing you could do a little prestidigitation on a problem? “Snap: Seizing Your Aha! Moments” isn’t mgic, but it will help you with a different kind of mind-reading. Using dozens of real-life examples from science, business, medicine, and more, author Katherine Ramsland proves that problem-solving can be effortless in the right circumstances and with a little practice. Her instructions are easy to implement, those anecdotes are an awful lot of fun to read, and I was intrigued by her assertion that learning to mine Aha! moments isn’t just for grown-ups. Parents can teach their children to do this, too. While this is a particularly great book for entrepreneurs, I think it’s also a worthy read for anyone who gets stuck while problem-solving. If that’s you (and you know it is), then “Snap: Seizing Your Aha! Moments” is a book you’ll want to get your fingers on. Terri Schlichenmeyer is the author of The Bookworm Sez, which is published in more than 200 newspapers and 50 magazines throughout the U.S. and Canada. Schlichenmeyer may be reached at [email protected]

As Japan shuts down nuclear power, CO2 emissions rise

TOKYO (AP) — The Fukushima crisis is eroding years of Japanese efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions blamed for global warming, as power plants running on oil and natural gas fill the electricity gap left by now-shuttered nuclear reactors. Before last year’s devastating tsunami triggered meltdowns at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, Japan had planned to meet its carbon emissions reduction targets on the assumption that it would rely on nuclear power, long considered a steady, low-emissions source of energy. But now it’s unclear to what extent nuclear energy will even be part of the electricity mix. Japan will be free of atomic power for the first time since 1966 on May 12, when the last of its 50 usable reactors is switched off for regular inspections. The central government would like to restart them at some point, but it is running into strong opposition from local citizens and governments. With the loss of nuclear energy, the Ministry of Environment projects that Japan will produce about 15 percent more greenhouse gas emissions this fiscal year than it did in 1990, the baseline year for measuring progress in reducing emissions. In fiscal 2010, Japan’s actual emissions were close to 1990 levels. It also raises doubts about whether it will be able to meet a pledge made in Copenhagen in 2009 to slash emissions by 25 percent from 1990 levels by 2020. For years, nuclear power was a pillar in Japan’s energy and climate policies. Until the Fukushima disaster last year, it accounted for about a third of Japan’s power generation, and Tokyo had planned to expand that to half by 2030. Now Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has pledged to reduce reliance on nuclear power, although his government is eager to restart some reactors to meet a looming power crunch during the hot summer months. “The big open question is whether and when the nuclear plants will come back on line, and what that implies for Japan’s long-term emissions trajectory,” said Elliot Diringer, executive vice president at the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, formerly the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, in Arlington, Virginia. “If nuclear will no longer be a part of the energy mix, Japan is going to have a much tougher time reducing emissions,” he said. Japan is a world leader improving energy efficiency, one important method of reining in emissions. But it has done less to expand renewable energy than several other nations, including Germany, which is phasing out nuclear power. Renewable energy accounts for about 9 percent of Japan’s power generation — similar to the U.S. Most of that energy is hydroelectric power from dams; and some experts say solar and wind power are too intermittent to be a reliable source of base-load energy. As an incentive, the government will require utilities to buy power from renewable energy producers for a fixed price called “feed-in tariffs” starting in July. But the higher cost to produce renewable energy will mean higher prices for consumers. The 28-nation International Energy Agency maintains that nuclear power remains an important tool to battle global warming. “If you want to have something at a reasonable cost in terms of low carbon-emissions, then nuclear has to play a role,” said Ulrich Benterbusch, director of the Paris-based group’s Directorate for Global Energy Dialogue. “If you have more renewables in the mix, it’s going to be more expensive.” The government plans to announce a new energy strategy this summer with targets for renewables, nuclear and conventional power generation. In the meantime, Japan is spending billions importing extra oil and gas to meet demand — which is spewing more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Without nuclear power, Japan is projected to produce an additional 180 million-210 million tons of emissions this fiscal year compared to the base year of 1990, when emissions totaled 1.261 billion tons. That wipes out a significant chunk of reductions Japan achieved during 2008-2010 through energy efficiency, credits for helping developing countries devise cleaner technologies and planting trees to absorb carbon dioxide. Officials believe Japan can still barely meet its commitment under the Kyoto Protocol to reduce emissions during the five-year period through 2012 by an average of 6 percent from 1990 levels. Some experts see a model in Germany, which turned decisively against nuclear power after the Fukushima crisis, shutting down eight reactors and planning to close the remaining nine nuclear power plants by 2022. Yet its greenhouse gas emissions decreased 2 percent last year from 2010, and by 26.5 percent compared to 1990. While a mild winter seems to have helped, Germany’s growing renewable energy sector, which now accounts for over 20 percent of power generation, played a key role in that emissions decline, experts say. The German government has been actively promoting green energy for more than a decade, and aims to boost the share of renewables to 35 percent by 2020 — and 80 percent by 2050. “If the government puts in place the right set of policies and incentives, then Germany is an example that you can reduce nuclear and greenhouse gases at the same time,” said Jennifer Morgan, director of climate and energy program at the World Resources Institute in Washington. Germany, however, has a safety net that Japan lacks. If it has shortfalls or blackouts, Germany can buy electricity from neighboring countries through the European power grid. The island nation of Japan has no such fallback. Japanese politics, with its high leadership turnover, internal power battles and gridlock, is another obstacle. Its track record in recent years has been marked with indecision. If Japan can put its collective mind to expand renewable energy, it too can achieve similar levels as Germany.

Firm: Big 3 oil producers not always in control

Alaska’s three oil giants are often seen as masters of the energy universe, not only controlling their own fates but also sometimes bending governments to their wills. ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips and BP are among the mightiest business entities that ever crossed a trading floor, but a legislative review of their global portfolios showed that they also struggle with market evolution and the results of their own decisions. BP, for example, is “a company that is fighting (production) decline” and all three are “in the throes of pretty fundamental change,” according to Tony Reinsch, a senior director for PFC Energy, the legislature’s consultant on oil and gas issues. The company provided technical expertise for this year’s regular and special session’s and continues under a $250,000 contract extension approved during last month’s term. Reinsch provided a capital allocation and global portfolio review for each company at an April 24 hearing of the House Resources Committee. With production of 4.5 million barrel of oil equivalence (mboe) per day, 24.9 billion (mmboe) in reserves and an April 2012 market capitalization of $402 billion, ExxonMobil is larger than the other two combined. BP’s market capitalization was $133 billion, with 2010 production of 3.4 mboe and 17.3 mmboe in reserves. ConocoPhillips is a distant third at 1.6 mboe, 8.3 mmboe and $3.3 billion market capitalization. ExxonMobil Despite ExxonMobil’s size, Reinsch said, it was “in a bit of a box” in 2009 after Qatar imposed a moratorium on new development of its gas resources. “People find it difficult to imagine a company like this could ever be in trouble, be conflicted or in a position where it was unable to move forward, but that was the situation they were in 12 to 18 months ago,” he said. The moratorium was ordered because the sheikdom was “struggling” to make use of its massive revenues, Reinsch noted, but Qatar accounted for more than 20 percent of ExxonMobil’s 2010 production; and while production from existing wells continues, a major growth engine had been shifted to neutral. ExxonMobil also missed the opportunity to develop a new field off the coast of Brazil when the country’s national oil company, PetroBras, was awarded the project. In response the company made two big moves One, which Reinsch said was “absolutely unique” in its history, was the decision to buy XTO Energy, a specialist in production of unconventional oil and gas, and then to allow the company to operate, in effect, as an independent subsidiary. The $41 billion purchase in 2009 and other properties made the United States the leader among the 41 countries where ExxonMobil has production or upstream operations. Reinsch said that ExxonMobil has provided little guidance on its plans for XTO and the market is waiting to see if it will be able to retain its position as the most profitable energy producer after repositioning in unconventional resource production. He also noted that ExxonMobil has the ability to hold off of gas project development in North America because of current low prices. ExxonMobil’s second “big move” was the commencement, in 2011, of a partnership with the Russian company Rosneft to gain access to Arctic resources. “If you’re looking for where Alaska fits with ExxonMobil it would be this,” Reinsch said. BP After the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, BP faced a financial calamity that less than a half a dozen corporations in the world could have survived, but appears to be emerging from the episode as stronger company, according to Reinsch. The Macondo well explosion was followed other costly problems including the fatal refinery fire in Texas in 2005 and the 2006 North Slope spill. “I think there have been enough, or a series of incidents, one after the other that have raised red flags to which BP is now responding,” Reinsch said. BP sold $30 billion in assets but acquired another $28 billion as it “rationalized” its portfolio. “From being outside,” the company’s boardroom, Reinsch would have expected BP’s Alaskan properties to be on the auction block, but he said he had no indication that divestiture of assets here was ever considered. “While the company did not plan on the depth of portfolio rationalization undertaken to date, this is a rare opportunity to high-grade assets holdings with the blessing of shareholders and analysts alike,” Reinsch said. He noted that the structure of the joint operating agreement among the three North Slope majors, “would be a blocking factor to divestiture,” for any of them. Of the 26 countries where it has operations or investments, BP’s largest producer is Russia. It accounted for roughly 29 percent of BP’s 2011 output, up from 26 percent a year earlier, and a significant portion of its headaches. In 2003, BP entered TNK-BP, an apparently exclusive joint venture with a group of Russian billionaires. The oligarchs threatened to sue when BP attempted to partner with Rosneft on the deal that ExxonMobil eventually got. In April, Reinsch said the episode would likely restrict BP’s Arctic ambitions, but earlier this month, a report in British newspaper The Telegraph said Rosneft has invited TNK-BP to participate in its Arctic projects. ConocoPhillips While its fortunes are more closely tied to Alaska, ConocoPhillips is also a company in “substantive transition,” according to Reinsch. ConocoPhillips began a “shrinking to grow” strategy in 2010 with a target of $15 billion in divestitures. To date it has sold about $7 billion, including what had been a 20 percent equity interest in Lukoil. The shift reduced its Russian production from 21 percent of world output in 2009 to three percent in 2011. ConocoPhillips also restructured with the creation of Phillips 66, a downstream, or refining entity, leaving it with a “pure play” exploration and development focus. Despite the reorganization ConocoPhillips has not yet emerged from its identify crisis, according to Reinsch. The company may be too large to compete with smaller and more nimble wildcatters but too large to enjoy the same global efficiencies of other majors. A ConocoPhillips trademark is its reliance on Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development for its production, about 72 percent in 2010. The OECD includes the 34 most industrialized countries in the world. They offer political stability but are also maturing, high-cost basins. While it replaces its Russian assets, ConocoPhillips’ world production is expected to decline through 2015. North America is the company’s largest producer with Texas shale gas and Canadian tar sands leading the way. “Alaska is an area that is, right now, core and material to the company and expected to be so in the future,” Reinsch said.

EDITORIAL: With time right for LNG exports, Alaska is playing catch-up

Amid the rubble of the week that began with the collapse of the legislative special session was a piece of expected yet welcome news. The state approved a project plan amendment May 2 for TransCanada to formally shift its focus to an in-state, liquefied natural gas export project instead of a gasline connecting the North Slope to Alberta. The amendment — anticipated after the March 30 announcement by North Slope producers to pursue an LNG export line to Alaska tidewater — defers the requirement under the Alaska Gasline Inducement Act for TransCanada to file an application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, by this October. In terms of incremental progress toward the decades-old goal of commercializing North Slope gas, this announcement would surely be measured in inches. However, anything that moves this effort forward is a good thing because while Alaska geographically has a head start on its North American competitors to serve Asian markets, it is still playing catch-up in the race to export LNG. With the expanded Panama Canal set to handle massive LNG tankers beginning in 2014 and a glut of natural gas pushing domestic prices to a 10-year low, Lower 48 producers and their counterparts on the Canadian coast are angling to serve the Asian markets. On April 16, FERC issued an approval for Cheniere Energy to convert its import terminal in Cameron Parish, La., for exports. The next day, Sempra Energy Inc. announced a $6 billion LNG export project, also in Cameron Parish, and the third LNG export project planned for Louisiana. Two of the companies who have signed on to develop and market the Sempra facility are Mitsubishi Corp. and Mitsui & Co. Ltd. of Japan, a country Alaska has exported LNG to since 1969. Japan is a vast potential market as it moves toward conversion to natural gas in the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear accident that followed the devastating March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. All but one of the nation’s 50 nuclear reactors are now idled, and imports of LNG surged 18 percent in 2011. That’s according to an April 27 Reuters report on Tokyo Gas Co. Ltd. and Sumitomo Corp. negotiating a 20-year deal with Dominion Resources Inc. to buy from its planned LNG export facility in Cove Point, Md. All in all, there are nine pending LNG export permits in the U.S. and another handful of potential projects in British Columbia that could compete with Alaska for Asian markets. A Brookings Institute study released May 2 recommended approving them all and letting the market sort itself out. One of those Canadian LNG projects is being contemplated by Imperial Oil Ltd. On the same day Alaska approved the TransCanada amendment, Imperial Oil CEO Bruce March said his company is considering LNG exports. The twist is that Imperial is 70 percent owned by ExxonMobil, which is partners with TransCanada under AGIA, and one of the Slope producers who have agreed an LNG export project is the most viable way to commercialize Alaska natural gas. The latest news coming May 8 is that the U.S. Export-Import Bank has approved a $3 billion loan to facilitate an LNG export project in Queensland, Australia, that would serve markets in China and Japan. The Ex-Im Bank action will allow American companies Bechtel International and North Slope producer ConocoPhillips to export equipment and services for the project Down Under. In short, Alaska does not have time to waste. That’s what was most frustrating about the state Senate refusing to even hold hearings on House Bill 9, which would have empowered the Alaska Gasline Development Corp. to pursue an in-state “bullet” line with a target of a 2013 open season and given AGDC a seat at the table for discussions on the LNG export project where it could leverage its work and the 417 miles of right-of-way it possesses. If Alaska’s state senators have an alternative way to get gas to state residents and relieve crippling energy costs, they have yet to present it. They appear content to place the destiny of the state in the hands of others, namely the North Slope producers some legislators so enjoy vilifying. The only thing this Senate appears to celebrate more than doing nothing is doing something shortsighted instead. Some criticism of HB9 was the cost of environmental impact studies required to prepare for an open season in 2013, yet the Senate voted 15-4 to spend as much as $430 million on one-time energy vouchers dispersed to Alaska residents regardless of need. It appears to escape the majority in the Senate that the high price of oil they depend on to justify keeping the status quo when it comes to production taxes is the very thing that is devastating the pocketbooks of so many in our state, or that indiscriminately shoveling $400+ million out the door without a long-term plan is the height of irresponsibility. So rather than do the hard work required to find solutions for the state’s energy needs, the Senate took the easy way out and tried to put a bandaid on a bullet wound that is bleeding Alaskans dry. Now that the North Slope producers and TransCanada have aligned on a vision to pursue LNG exports, the companies have additional benchmarks to reach by the end of September — identifying a project and a timetable. TransCanada is also required under the project plan amendment approved May 2 to submit a more detailed work schedule by early 2013. If the companies meet those benchmarks, natural gas taxes must be on the table for the 2013 legislative session. A stable, predictable fiscal regime is vital to making a large-diameter gasoline possible. Further, the current tax structure couples oil and gas production taxes and the state could stand to lose billions in revenue if gas is commercialized. Energy consultant Pedro van Meurs, who’s been retained by the legislature to advise on tax policy, said in February that the current regime is “the most nonsensical system in the world.” It won’t be a simple task to restructure Alaska’s production tax regime to facilitate a large-scale LNG project, and based on the last two years, the current composition of the Senate leaves little reason for optimism One encouraging event is on the horizon, though. There is an election in November.


Subscribe to RSS - AJC Web