Posted Friday, May 11, 2012 - 7:52 am
Thomas Antonovich is the general manager of Kautaq Construction Services LLC, a new UIC Construction Services subsidiary. Antonovich has more than 30 years of construction industry experience and recently returned to Alaska after spending two years working with a New Mexico-based construction company. During his time there, he was responsible for growing and transitioning the business from an 8(a) small business to a company capable of pursuing full-and-open contracts on the open market. Antonovich will formalize Kautaq’s 8(a) status, which will allow it to compete for set-aside government contracts. Once that status is in place, Antonovich will pursue and developing a strong backlog of 8(a) set-aside projects.
University of Alaska alumna Kathleen Wattum has been named interim public affairs director for the University of Alaska System. Wattum, 49, previously served as web information coordinator for the public affairs office. She has 22 years of experience at the University of Alaska in public relations, communications and marketing. She has also served as adjunct faculty teaching web design. Wattum will replace Kate Ripley, who is taking a one-year leave of absence to join her husband, University of Alaska Fairbanks professor Brian O’Donoghue, for a sabbatical year in Pune, India, at Symbiosis International University, where O’Donoghue will teach journalism and online reporting. O’Donoghue has been named a Fulbright-Nehru Scholar for Teaching and Research at Symbiosis for the upcoming academic year. Wattum holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Alaska and an associate’s degree in commercial art from Colorado Mountain College.
David K. Johnston is Doyon Emerald’s new vice president and engineering manager. Johnston is a registered professional engineer and has more than 28 years of engineering and operations experience in the oil and gas industry. Johnston will lead Doyon Emerald’s engineering team, providing leadership in detail design, resource planning, budgets, and development. Most recently he served as the Eni Petroleum Facilities engineer manager for the Nikaitchuq development project, where he provided leadership and technical oversight for a $2 billion project from concept to engineering closeout. Johnston has also assisted in generating development drilling opportunities, supervised the design and construction of surface equipment for new and expanding gas fields, and developed reservoir depletion, drilling, and utilization plans. Johnston has served in various executive management and senior level positions at Armstrong Oil and Gas, ASRC Energy Services, Schlumberger Oilfield Services, and Coastal Oil and Gas Corp. Doyon Emerald is a full service engineering and consulting services firm headquartered in Anchorage.
Daniel V. Smith was appointed to serve as interim director of the state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities’ Division of Measurement Standards and Commercial Vehicle Enforcement, replacing retiring director Dan Breeden, a 30-year employee who had served in that capacity for the past four years. Smith has been an enforcement officer/inspector at the division for eight years, serving in a variety of capacities including overseeing inspectors statewide, working with the public, device owners and the trucking industry. MSCVE works to ensure accurate trade measurements.
The National Marfan Foundation honored Rita Sholton, former owner and chairman of the board of Alaska’s Northern Air Cargo, with a 2012 Hero with a Heart Award at its Heartworks gala, held April 26 in New York. Sholton, who built Northern Air Cargo into the largest all-cargo airline in Alaska, has been a staunch supporter of the NMF since her granddaughter, Andrea Witte, was diagnosed with Marfan syndrome, a potentially fatal condition, in 1998.
Posted Friday, May 11, 2012 - 7:09 am
The announcement by the Seattle-based Purse Seine Vessel Owners Association that it will become the well-subsidized client for Marine Stewardship Council sustainability certification of the Alaska salmon fishery revived confusion over the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute’s alternate program, but appears to be having little effect on buying plans among major Alaskan salmon buyers in Germany and the United Kingdom.
The matter will be a major point of discussion at the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute board meeting at the Anchorage Hilton May 15.
“None of them said to me, and I asked them specifically, ‘will you stop buying Alaska product if it doesn’t have the MSC logo on it?’ and the answer was, ‘no, we will not stop buying,’” said Ray Riutta, ASMI executive director.
He was referring to the German and UK salmon buyers he visited on a two-week trip before the European Seafood Exposition opened April 24.
Germany is the MSC’s market stronghold but buys only about 2 percent of Alaska’s annual salmon production. Riutta noted that some customers there said they will choose MSC-labeled Alaskan salmon over the same product without the blue and white eco-label when both are available.
Still others, there and in the UK, agreed with his view that the entire debate has become a tail-wagging-the-dog waste of time and money.
“Some said it doesn’t make a bit of difference to us. ‘We’re not using that logo. We’re not using any logo anyhow.’ Our brand stands for something,” Riutta said in a May 3 interview.
In response to the proliferation of eco-labels and the confusion they’ve caused among consumers, major retailers have been moving away from eco-labels in favor of well-publicized corporate social responsibility policies backed by solid documentation proving the origin and sustainable management of the seafoods they offer.
ASMI’s nearly completed third-party certification project was a response to those concerns but also the fear that MSC’s eco-label dominance is giving it control of some seafood markets.
“If it becomes required that you have only MSC certification to go to market then you’re basically giving these guys a monopoly to the marketplace,” Riutta said.
After a year of trade show presentations and one-on-one meetings with buyers, and despite continued media attacks from MSC supporters, ASMI’s third party certification has been gaining market acceptance. How much the latest development harmed that progress remains to be seen.
“I think people were pretty well, maybe not totally happy, but at least understood where we were going until the PSVOA made the announcement that they were going to become the client. That threw a lot of confusion into the market place,” Riutta said.
Approaching its five-year anniversary, the salmon sustainability controversy began when the Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced in 2008 that it would no longer be the client for the MSC certification.
In 1999 the MSC came to ADFG asking it to become one of its first international clients and, in effect, lend the state’s internationally recognized management credibility to the new eco-labeler.
As the MSC emerged as the world’s leading eco-label it has also become a gatekeeper for entry to markets like Germany’s.
“We’re very concerned about loss of brand recognition in the market place, brand substitution,” Riutta said.
As ADFG backed away from what it saw as MSC meddling in its fishery management, ASMI was asked to become the client. After lengthy negotiations and MSC’s refusal to respond to its alternate financing proposal, the ASMI board voted in December 2010 against that move.
At the same time it began developing its own third party certification program based on the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization’s code of conduct for responsible fisheries.
With the goal of providing Alaska seafood producers with the sustainable management documentation their buyers are demanding, ASMI contracted with the Irish auditing firm Global Trust, also an MSC certifier.
To date Global Trust has certified the sustainability of the Alaska salmon, halibut, black cod, pollock and crab fisheries. Pacific cod and other groundfish are still in that process.
Last year the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation took over as the MSC’s client. As the less expensive Global Trust certification gained market acceptance it announced that it would end its relationship with the MSC this October.
That allows the current season’s catch can still be sold with MSC label, but its future in Alaska remains uncertain.
“Clearly the level of industry support for MSC certification has changed substantially since 2010,” AFDF said in its January announcement that it is dropping the MSC.
Last month, after the MSC apparently agreed to cover 75 percent of certification costs up front and the rest as well if eco-label licensing fees are insufficient, the Purse Seine Vessel Owners Association announced that it would become the latest client.
Rob Kehoe, PSVOA executive director, said he wasn’t sure whether his group would have become client without the subsidy. He also said his members chum and pink salmon would lose markets if they didn’t stick with the MSC and credited the group with they higher price his boats are getting for their Alaska salmon.
“We do know certain markets, they won’t by anything if it’s not MSC and buyers are paying a premium for MSC,” Kehoe said. “Germany is a big one.”
Part of the reason ASMI launched the Global Trust certification program is the fear that the “Alaska” brand, distinguishing the state’s relatively small volume of salmon against the huge farmed product output could be lost. Although Kehoe said 95 percent of his fleet’s catch comes from Alaska, that’s not a concern.
“A salmon is a salmon is a salmon. As long as buyers were paying more for MSC, what we were more concerned with is prices as opposed to branding. Price paid to fishermen, that’s our focus,” Kehoe said.
PSVOA was also concerned that, “the processors were unilaterally making their own decisions,” Kehoe said, but only one, with close ties to the group, is backing their move.
Silver Bay Seafoods had agreed to withdraw from MSC clientship but is returning to the fold. Based in Sitka, Silver Bay’s managing partner is Rob Zuanich and general counsel and lobbyist for PSVOA.
Riutta said all the major processors, who are responsible for almost 90 percent of Alaska salmon production per season, are sticking with ASMI’s program.
ADFG dropped MSC in large part from what it viewed as interference with its management. How will the PSVOA respond if its MSC auditor calls for changes in Alaska salmon management?
“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. That’s not our expectation right now,” Kehoe said. “If this had any likelihood of driving a wedge between us and ADF&G we wouldn’t have any part of it.”
The MSC declined to respond to multiple requests for interviews for this report.
Posted Friday, May 11, 2012 - 7:03 am
First quarter income for General Communications Inc. was flat compared to 2011 as gains in broadband internet service were offset by a continued decline in basic video customers.
GCI released results May 2 of $1.4 million in net income for the first quarter of 2012, unchanged from the first quarter of 2011. Total revenue was up 4.3 percent to $171.9 million in the first quarter year-over-year, but net income was reduced by a $1.3 million decrease in Universal Service Fund support.
The USF reductions approved by the Federal Communications Commission last October (intended to facilitate greater rural broadband access by reallocating some $4 billion in USF support) are expected to slash $5 million or more from GCI revenue this year.
Revenue highlights for the first quarter were the managed broadband and consumer data segments for GCI. Spurred by the TERRA-Southwest network that was turned up in late 2011 serving major customers in Southwest Alaska, the managed broadband segment saw revenue leap 36 percent year-over-year, to $19 million.
The GCI internet segment should show strong growth all year as the Anchorage telecom continues to turn up residential service in 65 rural Southwest Alaska communities. Construction is also under way this summer on the TERRA-Northwest project to extend the TERRA-SW network to Nome.
Consumer data revenues also surged, by 22.4 percent year-over-year, to $20.4 million led by customer growth and increased average data use. GCI has added 3,500 cable modem customers since the first quarter of 2011, and saw an increase of a whopping 2,400 from the fourth quarter of 2011 alone.
The other side of the consumer data growth curve, however, is a major decline in basic video customers — potentially signaling a shift in viewing habits as some Alaskans may be tuning out cable service in favor of on-demand internet options like Netflix or Hulu.
GCI has seen a decline of 6,000 basic video subscribers in the last year, including a loss of 800 during the first quarter of 2012. Video revenue was down 4.3 percent, to $29 million, year-over-year.
“I think you can attribute some of the disconnects to folks finding the internet is a good source for their video requirements,” said GCI Chief Financial Officer John Lowber during the company earnings call May 3. “We’ve certainly seen some of that. The good news is that we’ve gone to a pay-to-play situation with the internet and we’re pricing for that service now. If they’re not paying us on the video side, they’re paying us on the internet side. Part of our strategy historically has been to cover all the bases and as the tide shifts from one to the other, to have the infrastructure in place to be able to benefit from it. We’re certainly seeing that on the internet side.”
Lowber said the price points for video service are topped out, and a proposed rate hike from Root Sports led GCI to drop the channel late last year.
“We’ve priced video to a point where it’s a pretty spendy offering and we have to be sensitive to that,” Lowber said. “Pressure on programming costs is passed through to consumers and we have to do some pushback on programming costs because we’re getting about as much as we can from the video base.”
One impact on GCI’s consumer base in 2011 that should recover in 2012 is the return of some 4,000 troops to Fort Wainwright in Fairbanks. During the second quarter last year, GCI attributed 1,000 video and 1,200 cable modem disconnects to the deployment.
Lowber said GCI expects a rebound from the troops’ return.
“We hope the come back and get reconnected,” he said. “We’d expect to see that in our metrics.”
Root, which carries Seattle Mariners baseball game, has been running a local radio campaign urging fans to “tell GCI to bring back Root Sports.”
Lowber, who described himself as a “long-suffering Mariners fan,” said disconnects from dropping Root Sports were at the “noise level.”
“That’s had an impact, but it’s been modest,” he said. “Root would like to attract us back and provide that service, but until they get their pricing to something reasonable, there’s no way we can pass that on to our customer base.”
Wireless revenue was also down 2 percent, and GCI has seen a decline of 2,000 wireless customers over the last year after overtaking Anchorage rival telecom Alaska Communications for second place in market share midway through 2010.
GCI and Alaska Communications both began selling the Apple iPhone 4S on April 20, removing a major advantage in device offerings previously held by AT&T, which is tops in market share in the state with an estimated 250,000 customers.
“It’s too early to say what the iPhone impact is going to be,” Lowber said. ”Anecdotally I know that there’s been a lot of folks that would love to do business with GCI, but they also love the iPhone and they’re torn about the decision to stay with us or go get an iPhone. Now they’ll have the opportunity when their contracts mature to move on to our facilities. That fairly significant disadvantage is behind us.
“We’re going to be aggressive in pricing it. We’re going to be aggressive in terms of bundling and coming up with creative promotions to leverage the business and get some of the metrics moving in the consumer business again. We see it as a net positive to us.”
GCI shares dropped to a 52-week low of $7.07 on May 4 following the earnings results, and closed at $7.61 on May 8.
Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]
Posted Friday, May 11, 2012 - 6:50 am
Take your fingers off the phone's keypad and put them back on the wheel.
Alaska's new bill banning texting while driving goes into effect Friday. Gov. Sean Parnell signed the bill into law Thursday.
Lawmakers in 2008 passed legislation intended to ban texting while driving though it didn't say texting in the law. A magistrate in Kenai last year ruled the Legislature should have been explicit if it meant to prohibit the activity.
The bill passed by lawmakers during this year's regular session states that a person commits the crime of driving while texting if he or she reads or types a text or other nonvoice message or communication on a cell phone, computer or something similar while driving.
Posted Friday, May 11, 2012 - 6:49 am
JUNEAU (AP) — The Alaska Supreme Court on Thursday ordered the state Redistricting Board to rework House and Senate districts in southeast Alaska for a plan to be used for this year's elections.
The reformulated plan is due to the court for further consideration by noon Tuesday — a day after the Division of Elections has said it needs to have a valid plan in place to meet state and federal obligations for the elections. Any objections to the new districts are due by May 18.
The board will be working from the same plan that Superior Court Judge Michael McConahy rejected last month, after finding, in part, that the board didn't redraw southeast Alaska based on state constitutional requirements. That plan also represented the board's second attempt at a workable plan.
The high court rejected the board's request to have this year's elections conducted under the first plan it drew — one that sparked the current legal fight.
Just hours after hearing arguments in the case Thursday, the supreme court ordered the board to rework House Districts 31-34 and Senate Districts P and Q in southeast Alaska. It said the reformulated plan should not be altered based on the federal voting rights act because, the court said, there is no justification under the act for deviating from state constitutional requirements in the region.
Division of Elections Director Gail Fenumiai said election officials are ready to start making the required amendments as soon as the court finalizes the matter. "Based on the order this will most likely happen after May 21," she said in an email.
The plan also still needs to win preclearance from the U.S. Department of Justice. The board's executive director, Taylor Bickford, said the board is confident that will happen, but the process can take up to 60 days.
The candidate filing deadline is June 1. The primary is Aug. 28.
Bickford said the board will likely meet Monday to rework the districts.
Posted Friday, May 11, 2012 - 6:48 am
Alaska’s roads always need work, especially after a long winter.
The Institute of Social and Economic Research forecasts that $585 million will go into highway projects this year. This is a 10 percent increase over last year’s highway spending, which mostly comes from increased grants in the state capital budget.
Federal money will continue as a large contributor for the roads. However, Alaska may see a drop in federal money in future years once Congress replaces the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act-A Legacy for Users, which expired in 2009 but money has continued to be issued on a continuing resolution.
More than $120 billion is appropriated in the state capital budget for various road projects through the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities and now will go to the governor’s office.
Anchorage is getting a few big projects going this year. Most notable is the $40 million widening of Seward Highway to accommodate one of the highest traffic volume areas in the state.
The work between Dowling Road and Tudor Road will take place over the next few years, expanding the road from four lanes to six as well as improving existing interchanges. Four new bridges at Campbell Creek are part of the project.
The additions will add a lane in each direction to accommodate the present traffic flow and expected increases. City officials state the area gets 76,000 vehicles per day on average. This is expected to increase to 92,000 vehicles per day by the year 2035.
There will also be work on a $13.5 million project on West Dowling Road to provide better east and west traffic flow and reduce traffic on Dimond Boulevard and Tudor Road.
This project is to help develop a more connected roadway pattern as identified in Anchorage’s long-range transportation plan, which identifies West Dowling as a top priority project.
Fairbanks is planning several big road projects as well. According to a list from City Engineer and Public Works Director Michael Schmetzer, the biggest is a $9 million reconstruction and extension project at Bentley Mall Road and Helmerick’s Avenue. The project also calls with the inclusion of two roundabouts.
Other major projects include the resurfacing of several areas in Fairbanks and North Pole, including Executive Park Estates, First Lewis Street, 2nd Avenue, Yukon Drive, Vue Crest and Parkland Drive.
A bike path behind Scenic Park will also be resurfaced. The work is estimated to cost between $1.5 million and $3 million and is part of the Fairbanks Metropolitan Area Transportation System’s preventative maintenance.
A $2.5 million street lighting project will involve phase II LED lighting.
Jonathan Grass can be reached at [email protected]
Posted Friday, May 11, 2012 - 6:48 am
A settlement with federal authorities will require the city of Unalaska to spend at least $18 million on its sewage treatment plant.
The U.S. Department of Justice says in an announcement the settlement was for action taken on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency.
A lawsuit last year contended that the city continually violated its pollution permit with discharges in South Unalaska Bay.
The Justice Department says monitoring reports indicated Unalaska's treatment plant had more than 5,500 violations of permit limits between October 2004 and September 2011.
Some were discharges of fecal coliform bacteria more than double what was permitted.
Unalaska and Dutch Harbor are about 800 miles southwest of Anchorage in the Aleutian Islands. The port is the home base for large-scale commercial fishing in the Bering Sea.
Posted Friday, May 11, 2012 - 6:47 am
WASHINGTON (AP) — A big decline in gas and energy costs drove a measure of U.S. wholesale prices lower in April. Outside that drop, prices barely rose.
The Labor Department said Friday that the producer price index dropped 0.2 percent last month from the previous month. It was the first decline since December and the biggest one-month drop since October.
Wholesale gas prices fell 1.7 percent last month. That accounted for half the drop in energy costs, which was the only major category to decline.
The index measures price changes before they reach the consumer,
For the 12 months that ended in April, wholesale prices have risen just 1.9 percent. That's the smallest 12-month change since October 2009. And it's down from a peak year-over-year increase of 7.1 percent last July, when higher gas and food costs pushed up wholesale prices.
Excluding volatile food and energy costs, the so-called core index rose 0.2 percent last month. The core index has increased 2.7 percent during the 12 months that ended in April, down only slightly from March.
Modest wholesale inflation reduces pressure on manufacturers and retailers to raise prices. That helps keep consumer prices stable, which boosts buying power and drives economic growth. Consumer spending makes up 70 percent of economic activity.
Lower inflation also gives the Federal Reserve room to hold interest rates at record-low levels.
Paul Ashworth, chief U.S. economist at Capital Economics, said that until core inflation falls to lower levels, he does not expect the Fed to launch other efforts to boost growth.
The drop in gas prices is a relief to consumers. Retail gas prices spiked earlier this year but have dropped 5 percent since peaking in early April. The national average fell to roughly $3.74 per gallon on Thursday, roughly 20 cents cheaper than a month ago.
Higher gas and food prices early last year limited Americans' ability to buy other goods, which slowed growth. The economy expanded just 1.7 percent in 2011.
For April, energy prices fell 1.4 percent. The price of natural gas intended for home use dropped 3.1 percent and other energy costs also fell.
Food costs rose 0.2 percent. Much of that increase was from a 4.3 percent rise in the wholesale price of beef and veal. Egg prices rose 17.3 percent and fruit prices increased 3.7 percent.
Outside of food and energy, the price of cars rose a modest 0.1 percent after rising a sharp 0.8 percent in March.
A small amount of inflation can be good for the economy. It encourages businesses and consumers to spend and invest money sooner rather than later, before inflation erodes its value
The Fed last month reiterated that it planned to keep its key interest rate at a record low through at least late 2014. That's not likely to change when the Fed next meets on June 19-20.
Through the first three months of this year, the economy grew at an annual rate of 2.2 percent. That's better than last year but slower than the 3 percent annual growth logged in the October-December quarter.
Posted Wednesday, May 09, 2012 - 6:57 am
A Democratic challenger to U.S. Rep. Don Young says he plans to file his candidate paperwork Wednesday with the Alaska state Division of Elections.
Matt Moore, a former legislative candidate with a medical consulting business, is among five people running against the Alaska Republican. Moore lives in Anchorage.
Beside Moore, three other Democrats seek that party's nomination to challenge Young. They are state Rep. Sharon Cissna of Anchorage and little-known Democratic candidates Doug Urquidi of Eagle River and Frank Vondersaar of Homer.
The other challengers are Republican John R. Cox of Anchor Point and Libertarian Jim McDermott of Fairbanks.
Posted Wednesday, May 09, 2012 - 6:56 am
NEW DELHI (AP) — India's Supreme Court has banned the Exxon Valdez from entering India, saying the ship involved in one of the worst U.S. oil spills will not be allowed in for dismantling until it has been decontaminated.
The ship, now known as the "Oriental Nicety," entered Indian waters last week and was headed for the western Indian state of Gujarat, when the Supreme Court gave its order, environmental activist Gopal Krishna said Wednesday.
The ship was bought recently by the Hong Kong-based subsidiary of an Indian shipbreaking firm and was being taken to the coastal town of Alang, the hub of India's shipbreaking industry, for dismantling.
After the court's order, Gujarat maritime authorities and the state's pollution control authorities withdrew the permission they had granted to the company to anchor the ship near the Alang beach.
Krishna, the environmental activist, had filed an application asking the Supreme Court to give directions to the Indian government and the shipping ministry on the purchase of the ship and its entry into Indian waters. The court has issued notices to the government and the ministry asking for information on steps it intends to take regarding the ship.
The Gujarat company contracted to dismantle the ship plans to appeal the court order.
"We will abide with the Supreme Court order. We are studying the order, and will appeal," said Harshadbhai Padia, a partner in the company.
On March 24, 1989, millions of gallons of crude oil spewed into Alaska's ecologically sensitive Prince William Sound when the Exxon Valdez dashed against rocks, coating the shoreline with petroleum sludge and killing nearly 40,000 birds. The spill caused incalculable environmental damage and demolished the area's fishing industry.
Texas-based ExxonMobil Corp., spent $900 million in restitution in a 1991 settlement and is battling more litigation from the spill.
The tanker moved on, with five name changes since the spill and ownership changing repeatedly, apparently to keep the ship in use while distancing it from the disaster.
The ship is 26 years old, not significantly aged for tankers, but it was considerably damaged in its lifetime. It was split open by rocks in the Alaska spill and was damaged in a collision in the South China Sea in 2010.
The Indian court cited the Basel convention, an international treaty that calls for decontamination in a ship's country of export. Mercury, arsenic, asbestos and residual oil can contaminate ship hulls and holds.
India has one of the world's largest industries for breaking down old ships and oil tankers centered around Alang, and workers in the coastal town are expected to process the ship to salvage scraps of metal and parts that retain value.
However, environment activists say that shipbreaking companies do not follow any precautions while breaking and handling end-of-life ships, exposing workers and the environment to toxic materials.
Posted Wednesday, May 09, 2012 - 6:55 am
WASHINGTON (AP) — When a boat springs a leak, it's often the Coast Guard to the rescue. But who rescues the Coast Guard when one its new ships does the same thing?
Capt. Charles Cashin, who commands the Coast Guard's newest national security cutter, the Stratton, said he called in engineers last month when his crew discovered a trio of "pinholes" and a fourth hole "slightly smaller than a golf ball" in the ship's hull.
Cashin said the four holes, discovered in mid-April while the ship was working off the coast of Los Angeles, have been patched for now but the Stratton soon will head to a dry dock for permanent repairs.
"The intent is to get out of the water," Cashin said. "We are literally just waiting for a contract."
The holes and other spots of rust on the hull are unusual, given the ship's age. The Coast Guard took delivery in September and Cashin and his crew put it in operation in October. The ship is based in Alameda, Calif.
The Stratton is third new, 418-foot ships acquired as part of the Coast Guard's efforts to modernize its aging fleet.
Cmdr. Chris O'Neil, a Coast Guard spokesman in Washington, said engineers aren't yet sure what why the ship is already having problems with rust and holes but they have concluded it is not a design problem in ship that cost the Coast Guard about $500 million. Similar problems have not been found in the fleet's two other ships of the same class.
Permanent repairs are likely to take four to six weeks, O'Neil said. He added that the Coast Guard is in contact with the ship's builder, Huntington Ingalls. The ship was constructed by Ingalls Shipbuilding of Pascagoula, Miss.
Beci Brenton, a company spokeswoman, declined to comment, pending further study and testing by the Coast Guard's engineers.
While he waits for repairs, Cashin said the Stratton is seaworthy.
"I am very confident in the safety of the ship and the crew," Cashin said.
Posted Wednesday, May 09, 2012 - 6:54 am
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — A rose by any other name may smell as sweet, but an appeals court says a liquor bottle with a red dripping wax seal by any name other than Maker's Mark would be illegal.
Noting that "all bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon," an opinion released Wednesday by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals says that only the Kentucky-made bourbon can carry the distinctive bottle topper.
The decision comes in an appeal brought by London-based Diageo North America and Casa Cuervo of Mexico, which used a dripping red wax seal on special bottles of its Reserva tequila. U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II in 2010 granted Maker's Mark's request for an injunction stopping other liquor companies from using the seal.
In a 19-page opinion affirming that decision, Judge Boyce F. Martin waxed poetic about the history of Kentucky's most famous distilled spirit. Martin, who noted at oral arguments in December that "Maker's Mark is not cheap," displayed a detailed knowledge of the history and manufacture of bourbon, writing that "corn-based mash and aging in charred new oak barrels impart a distinct mellow flavor and caramel color."
"Distillers compete intensely on flavor, but also through branding and marketing; the history of bourbon, in particular, illustrates why strong branding and differentiation is important in the distilled spirits market," Martin wrote.
He even cited the bourbon brands preferred by 19th century statesmen such as Ulysses S. Grant and Daniel Webster.
The Samuels family, which created Maker's Mark in 1958, trademarked the distinctive seal in 1985. The seal, perfected by Margie Samuels in the family's deep fryer, doesn't serve any practical purpose in keeping the bottle closed.
The trademark held by Maker's Mark describes the seal as a "wax-like coating covering the cap of the bottle and trickling down the neck of the bottle in a freeform irregular pattern." The trademark application doesn't refer to a specific color, but Maker's Mark told the court it has sought to enforce the trademark only as it applied to the red dripping wax seal.
Deerfield, Ill.-based Fortune Brands, which now owns Maker's Mark, has since split its liquor business into a new company called Beam Inc.
Cuervo opted to include a dripping wax seal on bottles in 1997 as part of an effort to create an artisan look. The bottles of Reserva with the new seal entered the U.S. market in 2001 in a limited production of 3,000-to-4,000 bottles. The bottles remained on sale in the U.S. for about three years.
Maker's Mark, bottled in Loretto in central Kentucky, spends about $22 million annually to market its bourbon and sells about 800,000 cases a year. It sued over the seal in 2003, claiming it violated the long-standing trademark. Cuervo dropped the dripping wax seal six years ago.
Martin wrote for the court that "there is more than one way to seal a bottle with wax to make it look appealing."
"We conclude that there is a likelihood of confusion between the products and that Cuervo has infringed," Martin wrote for judges Karen Nelson Moore and Deborah L. Cook.
The court also upheld Heyburn's decision to award Maker's Mark $66,749 in attorney's fees.
Rob Samuels, chief operating officer of Maker's Mark, said the decision is "a resounding affirmation" that the seal is "off limits to competitors."
"We've been confident in our position all along, and today's outcome confirming that our unique trade dress cannot be infringed is great news for fans of Maker's Mark, those who handcraft our bourbon, and those who individually dip each bottle every day," Samuels said.
Messages left for Diageo North America and Casa Cuervo were not immediately returned Wednesday morning.
At oral arguments in December, Maker's Mark attorney Edward T. Colbert told the judges that Cuervo had no need to use the wax seal because it serves no purpose other than eye-catching looks.
Attorneys for Diageo and Cuervo argued that using a wax seal wouldn't cause customers to confuse the company's tequila with the bourbon or believe the two companies were affiliated.
Martin quoted the late Justice Hugo Black who wrote, "I was brought up to believe that Scotch whiskey would need a tax preference to survive in competition with Kentucky bourbon."
Martin added, "While there may be some truth in Justice Black's statement that paints Kentucky bourbon as such an economic force that its competitors need government protection or preference to compete with it, it does not mean a Kentucky bourbon distiller may not also avail itself of our laws to protect its assets."
Posted Tuesday, May 08, 2012 - 7:04 am
The Ocean Beauty Seafoods dock in Petersburg, Alaska show heavy damage on May 7 after the Alaska Marine Highway vessel Matanuska hit the dock while negotiating a turn in Wrangell Narrows prior to docking at the ferry terminal. (AP Photo/Petersburg Pilot, Suzanne Ashe)
One of Alaska's largest state ferries hit a seafood processing plant's dock head-on Monday, causing significant damage, officials said.
The 408-foot Matanuska ferry hit the dock belonging to Ocean Beauty, said Jeremy Woodrow, a spokesman for the Alaska Department of Transportation.
The Petersburg Pilot reported the face of the Ocean Beauty cement dock was heavily damaged, dock pilings were broken and a crane was damaged. Even the second floor of the idled processing plant was damaged, with walls and outer walkways partially demolished. The Matanuska shows possible dents and scrapes to the bow of the ship.
"It wasn't a glancing blow. It pretty much was a head-on hit," Glorianne Wollen, the harbormaster in Petersburg, told The Pilot.
"It's one of those things. I don't know how or why the Matanuska T-boned the dock," plant manager Cheryl Romeo told The Associated Press from Ocean Beauty's headquarters in Seattle.
The Matanuska missed Ocean Beauty's ammonia plant, but she said the company is trying to get a skiff in the water to deal with a hydraulic leak on a crane, which was left hanging over the dock after the collision.
There were no immediate reports of injuries, both Woodrow and Romeo said. There were 60 passengers on board at the time of the accident.
Romeo planned to be in Petersburg on Tuesday. Mike Forbush, the southeast regional manager for Ocean Beauty, also will soon be on-site with insurance adjustors.
"We're assessing the damage, and we're contacting contractors right now," he said. "It's not going to hinder us from operating this summer."
There was no damage estimate, but Forbush said, "it's definitely in the hundreds of thousands of dollars," to fix.
Romeo said the plant is idled with few employees before the processing season. The plant employed 240 people last year.
The Matanuska ferry sustains bow damage after ramming into the Ocean Beauty Seafoods dock while negotiating a turn prior to docking at the Petersburg ferry terminal on a southbound run in Petersburg, Alaska on May 7. (AP Photo/Petersburg Pilot, Suzanne Ashe)
The accident happened as the Matanuska was maneuvering a 180-degree turn in a narrow passage as the crew was trying to dock in Petersburg, Woodrow said. There were unanticipated currents of 3-4 knots.
The Coast Guard inspected the Matanuska, and cleared it to continue its sailing to Wrangell, Ketchikan and Prince Rupert, British Columbia. It was running about two hours behind schedule, but Woodrow said they would try to make up time on the water.
The captain of the vessel, who hasn't been named, continued the voyage, Woodrow said.
An internal investigation of the accident was immediately opened. The marine highway system "is withholding releasing any names while the incident is under investigation," he said.
"We need to interview all the parties involved, review the ship as well, make sure that there's a thorough investigation before there's any fingers pointed, and whether the cause of the problem is human or mechanical," he said.
The accident occurred about 1:30 p.m., 90 minutes before high tide, as the ferry was making its scheduled run from Juneau to Petersburg, 125 miles to the southeast.
According to the Alaska Marine Highway System's web page, the Matanuska has been in service since 1963. Five years later, it was renovated and lengthened.
It can carry 500 passengers, has 108 berths and can hold 88 vehicles.
Posted Tuesday, May 08, 2012 - 7:00 am
JUNEAU (AP) — The Alaska Supreme Court plans to hear arguments Thursday on whether a redistricting plan that sparked a legal fight should be used for this year's elections.
The Alaska Redistricting Board petitioned the court to have the plan, with some changes, used. An attorney for the board has said there's insufficient time for a new plan to clear all necessary hurdles in time for the elections.
The board drafted a new plan but it was rejected by a lower court judge. The board appealed that decision. Taylor Bickford, the board's executive director, says he expects the supreme court to hear arguments on that issue, too, Thursday.
The candidate filing deadline is June 1. The state Division of Elections has said it needs a valid plan in place by Monday.
Posted Tuesday, May 08, 2012 - 6:56 am
WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Republicans derailed a Democratic bill on Tuesday keeping interest rates on federal college loans from doubling July 1 in an election-year battle aimed at the hearts — and votes — of millions of students and their parents.
Republicans said they favor preventing the interest rate increase but blocked the Senate from debating the $6 billion measure because they oppose how Democrats would pay for it: Boosting Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes on high-earning stockholders of some privately owned corporations.
GOP senators want a vote on their own version heading off the interest rate increases and paid for by eliminating a preventive health fund created by President Barack Obama's 2010 health care overhaul. That financing idea has no chance of passing the Democratic-run Senate and has drawn a veto threat from the White House.
Tuesday's vote was 52-45 in favor of starting debate on the Democratic legislation — eight votes shy of the 60 needed. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., was the only one to defect his party's position, a procedural move that will allow him to hold the vote again should the two sides work out a deal later.
The vote was largely symbolic because the Democratic bill had no chance of approval by the GOP-led House.
The measure would extend today's 3.4 percent interest rate on subsidized Stafford loans for another year. Those rates would grow to 6.8 percent without congressional action, thanks to a 2007 law that gradually lowered those rates but expires on July 1.
Both parties know full well that they will need a bipartisan pact on financing the measure. They are both motivated to strike such an agreement because in the months before this November's presidential and congressional elections, neither wants to be blamed for letting college costs grow for students and their families struggling in today's weak economy.
But before they strike a compromise — which both parties believe will happen before July 1 — both were eager to use the debate to score partisan points.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Democrats were forcing that vote as "a way to drive a wedge between Republicans and a constituency that they're looking to court ahead of November's elections. That's what today's vote is all about for them."
McConnell said the Senate "has ceased to be a place where problems are resolved. It's become, instead, a place where Democrats produce campaign material."
Reid said he might be willing to allow a vote on the GOP bill. But he also criticized Republicans for opposing the Democratic plan.
"They're sending a clear message that they'd rather protect wealthy tax dodgers, and that's what they are, than help promising students achieve their dreams of higher education," Reid said.
Both leaders acknowledged that a bipartisan agreement on how to finance the legislation was needed for the effort to advance, but each dared the other to propose such a plan.
"If they want some other way to pay for it, let's take a look at that," Reid said.
McConnell said Democrats should support the GOP proposal "or at the very least offer a bipartisan solution of their own."
The fight over student loans has become a high-profile, symbolic tussle over which party wants to do more for Americans scrounging to get by at a time jobs are hard to find, and each side is happy to force the other to take embarrassing votes.
With both parties focused on this November's presidential and congressional elections, it is no coincidence they each have chosen to pay for their bill with a favorite target that they believe speaks to their core voters: Democrats going after higher revenues from the rich, Republicans trying to punch a hole in Obama's health care overhaul.
Subsidized Stafford loans are for low- and middle-income students. The higher rates, should they occur, would only affect students taking out new loans starting July 1.
Democrats who controlled Congress in 2007 and wrote the student loan law allowed the lower interest rates to rise again this summer because they felt it would have been too expensive to permanently reduce those rates.
The Education Department estimates 7.4 million students will borrow $31.6 billion in such loans in the year beginning July 1, averaging $4,226 for each student.
These loans generally are paid off over a decade or more after graduation. Allowing interest rates to double would cost the typical student about $1,000 over the life of the loan, the administration says.
Posted Monday, May 07, 2012 - 7:39 am
JUNEAU (AP) — Subsidiaries of Royal Dutch Shell PLC are making "improper use of the judicial system" by suing to head off challenges to permits that put them closer to exploratory drilling off Alaska's northern shores, an attorney for a conservation group said May 4.
In a lawsuit dated May 2, Shell Gulf of Mexico Inc. and Shell Offshore Inc. asked a federal judge to rule that the National Marine Fisheries Service properly issued harassment authorizations for whales and seals. A spokesman for Shell Alaska, Curtis Smith, said the permits provide authorization to work near the animals as long as the impact is minimal.
But Michael LeVine, an attorney for the conservation group Oceana, likened Shell's lawsuit to a traffic cop putting a ticket on someone's car while it's still in the driveway.
"They're trying to resolve a dispute that they think might come up some day," LeVine said in an interview. "The court system doesn't allow them to do that."
This isn't the first time Shell has taken such a step. Earlier this year, the company sued the same conservation and environmental groups as it did this time, LeVine said. The earlier lawsuit sought to have federal agency approval of Shell's oil spill response plans upheld. The groups are seeking the case's dismissal.
In the more recent lawsuit, attorneys for Shell said the seasonal nature of Shell's exploration work, scheduled to begin this summer, along with what they call the extensive and time-consuming permitting process, leaves the authorizations vulnerable to legal maneuvers that could restrict Shell's ability to use them.
"Given their public statements and actions and their longstanding pattern and practice of filing challenges to Shell's regulatory authorizations, defendants cannot reasonably contend that they will not challenge" the authorizations from the National Marine Fisheries Service, Shell's attorneys said.
Smith said Shell is "very confident" the processes the agencies followed to approve the permits and plans were solid. While he acknowledged Shell's approach, in suing first, is "not conventional," he said the idea is to have any issues the groups have with the approvals confronted in court sooner rather than later.
He said history shows that opposition groups will use the courts "in an attempt to stall our program at every turn."
"We have no intention of sitting back and waiting for that to happen," Smith said.
Posted Monday, May 07, 2012 - 7:38 am
ANCHORAGE (AP) — Alaska State Troopers say a former state wildlife official has pleaded guilty in a big game hunting case.
Troopers say Corey Rossi pleaded guilty Friday to a consolidated count for falsifying a bear sealing certification and one count of unlawful acts by a big game guide. Rossi's plea was part of a plea deal.
The case, involving a 2008 bear hunt, led to Rossi's resignation in January as head of the state Division of Wildlife Conservation.
According to troopers, the plea agreement calls for the revocation of hunting privileges for one year and a one-year suspension of Rossi's big game license.
The deal also calls for a $5,000 fine and informal probation for three years.
Rossi's attorney, Bill Satterberg, says his client has accepted responsibility from the beginning.
Posted Monday, May 07, 2012 - 7:36 am
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Canadian company trying to build the disputed Keystone XL pipeline in the U.S. submitted a new application for the project Friday after changing the route to avoid environmentally sensitive land in Nebraska.
TransCanada said it applied again to the State Department for permission to build the pipeline to carry oil from tar sands in western Canada to a company hub in Steele City, Neb. From there, the project would link up with other pipelines operated by the company to carry oil to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast.
President Barack Obama blocked the pipeline earlier this year, citing uncertainty over the Nebraska route — a decision that drew fire from Republicans and industry groups.
Calgary-based TransCanada had proposed a new route last month that would veer east around the groundwater-rich Sandhills region before looping back to the original route.
State Department approval is needed because the $7 billion pipeline would cross a U.S. border. The department confirmed Friday the application for the new route had been received.
The pipeline filing came on the same day as a disappointing report on U.S. job growth. The Labor Department said employers pulled back on hiring in April for the second straight month, evidence of an economy still growing only sluggishly, though the overall jobless rate slipped to 8.1 percent as more people gave up looking for work.
Obama is under pressure to support the pipeline from Republicans and business and labor leaders who argue it would create jobs; the State Department estimates it could result in up to 6,000 new jobs.
"The multibillion-dollar Keystone XL pipeline project will reduce the United States' dependence on foreign oil and support job growth by putting thousands of Americans to work," said Russ Girling, TransCanada's president and chief executive officer. "Keystone XL will transport U.S. crude oil from the very large Bakken supply basin in Montana and North Dakota, along with Canadian oil, to U.S. refineries."
The pipeline's opponents, including many Democrats and environmental groups, say it would transport "dirty oil" from tar sands in Alberta, Canada, that would require huge amounts of energy to extract. They also worry about a possible spill. The pipeline would travel through Montana, South Dakota, Kansas and Oklahoma, in addition to Nebraska.
In blocking the pipeline in January, Obama said there was not enough time for a fair review before a looming deadline forced on him by congressional Republicans. The action did not kill the project but put off a tough choice on the once-obscure pipeline, which has become a flashpoint in the bitter partisan political fight over jobs and the environment and a focus of the presidential campaign between Obama his likely Republican opponent, Mitt Romney. Romney has called on Obama to approve the pipeline.
Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman signed a bill last month that allows the state to proceed with its review of the proposed pipeline through his state, regardless of what happens at the federal level.
State Department spokesman Mark Toner said U.S. officials would conduct a thorough review of the new application, with a final decision not expected until early next year — well after the presidential election.
Officials will use previous studies to the extent possible, Toner said, but will need to complete a new environmental assessment, especially since the route has changed since TransCanada first applied for the pipeline in 2008.
The State Department review is likely to include hiring an outside consultant, a point of contention in the original review conducted by the agency. Democratic lawmakers complained that the firm that conducted the review, Cardno Entrix, had a conflict of interest because of previous work with TransCanada.
The department's acting inspector general found no conflict of interest or improper political influence but said the State Department could have done a better job of evaluating some concerns about the project and should improve its oversight of contractors.
Jane Kleeb, executive director of Bold Nebraska, a group that opposes the pipeline, said the new route still goes through an aquifer that serves eight states and should not be approved.
"The fundamental facts remain: Americans are being asked to put clean water at risk for an extreme form of energy that will add nothing to our energy security," Kleeb said.
But Girling, the TransCanada CEO, said the company's proposal builds on more than three years of environmental review already conducted for Keystone XL, "the most comprehensive process ever for a cross-border pipeline."
The earlier work should allow the new proposal to be processed "expeditiously," Girling said, with a federal decision made after a final route through Nebraska is approved by state officials.
TransCanada expects to begin construction of the pipeline next year.
Canadian Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver said the new route increases the likelihood the project will be approved.
"I've been cautiously optimistic, I'm a little less cautious now," Oliver said.
After Obama rejected the pipeline in January, TransCanada said it will build a portion of the line from Oklahoma to Texas. That 485-mile line from Cushing, Okla., to Port Arthur, Texas, does not require State Department approval because it does not cross a U.S. border. Another portion of the pipeline, connecting Steele City to Cushing, is already in place.
Obama has vowed to expedite the Oklahoma-to-Texas segment, noting that sending additional oil to refineries on Texas' Gulf Coast would remove a critical bottleneck in the country's oil transportation system.
Posted Monday, May 07, 2012 - 7:35 am
NEW YORK (AP) — The price of oil dropped Monday to its lowest level of the year after elections in Europe created uncertainty over the region's plan for recovery.
In afternoon trading, benchmark U.S. crude lost $1.10 to $97.39 per barrel in New York. It fell as low as $95.34 per barrel earlier in the day, 10 cents below the previous low set on Feb. 2.
Oil prices declined after voters in France and Greece rejected incumbent leaders who supported austerity measures to fix the region's struggling economy. French voters elected a new president, socialist Francois Hollande, who promised to boost spending. Greek voters ousted numerous pro-austerity candidates and left their parliament without a controlling party.
Analysts warned that the election results could derail the eurozone's plan for recovery. That could further disrupt an economy that consumes 18 percent of the world's oil.
"This is not just a European problem," independent analyst and trader Stephen Schork said. An economic slowdown in Europe could drag down other major economies, including the U.S. and China, that rely on European consumers to buy their manufactured goods.
"There's just much more uncertainty in Europe right now," Schork said. "And that's scaring off some capital" from commodities markets.
Brent crude, which helps set the price of oil imported into the U.S., lost 48 cents to $112.70 per barrel in London.
In the U.S., retail gasoline fell 2.5 cents over the weekend to a national average of $3.777 per gallon on Monday, according to AAA, Wright Express and Oil Price Information Service. A gallon of regular has dropped by nearly 16 cents since peaking in early April at $3.936. It's 20 cents cheaper than the same time last year.
In other futures trading, natural gas rose 4.8 cents, or 2 percent, to $2.327 per 1,000 cubic feet. The futures price has jumped by nearly 20 percent since hitting a 10-year low on April 19. Natural gas prices are climbing as temperatures rise in the West, increasing the use of air conditioners and boosting electricity demand.
Heating oil futures gave up 2.88 cents to $2.98 per gallon and gasoline futures lost 1.02 cents to $2.9656 per gallon.
Posted Thursday, May 03, 2012 - 12:47 pm
KODIAK (AP) — In six oceans, the U.S. Navy is considered the master. In the seventh, the Arctic Ocean, it will rely on others.
As global warming opens the Arctic Ocean to commercial and industrial traffic, the U.S. Navy is pushing to catch up with Russia, Canada and even Denmark in its Arctic ability. If a crisis were to happen now, the Navy lacks the ability to act in the Arctic without the help of one of those countries or the Coast Guard.
Last year, the Navy asked the War Gaming Department of the U.S. Naval War College to find out what the Navy needs for sustained operations in the Arctic.
In the resulting 2011 Fleet Arctic Operations Game, the Navy learned how big its Arctic shortcomings are. As a force, the Navy lacks everything from bases and Arctic-capable ships to reliable communications and cold-weather clothing.
While the Hollywood image of a war game involves commanders pushing ships around a table in response to threats from another country, an operations game looks at smaller threats. A group of 88 people, including industry experts, government officials and senior level naval officers, participated in the game last September.
“We looked at search and rescue, oil spill response, maritime domain and maritime safety and security issues,” said Walter Berbrick, assistant research professor in the War Gaming Department at the Center for Naval Warfare Studies. “They were all fictional scenarios.”
The game’s conclusions: the Navy is not adequately prepared to conduct long-term maritime Arctic operations; Arctic weather conditions increase the risk of failure; and most critically, to operate in the Arctic, the Navy will need to lean on the U.S. Coast Guard, countries like Russia or Canada, or tribal and industrial partners.
To sustain operations in the Arctic, the Navy needs ice-capable equipment, accurate and timely environmental data, personnel trained to operate in extreme weather, and better communications systems. Much of the environmental data will come from other Arctic nations.
“We have limited capability to sustain long-term operations in the Arctic due to inadequate icebreaking capability,” Berbrick said. “The Navy finds itself entering a new realm as it relates to having to rely on other nations.”
In the past 30 years, the Coast Guard has been on point leading maritime Arctic operations, but as the Department of Defense develops more of an interest in what is going on in the Arctic, the Coast Guard will work closely with the Navy to share information.
“It’s very likely that whatever operation goes on up there would be a joint operation,” said Coast Guard Capt. Craig Lloyd, chief of response for the 17th Coast Guard District. “All of the Department of Defense and U.S. Northern Command is interested in what is happening in the Arctic.”
Navy submarines have visited the Arctic on an irregular basis for the past half-century, sailing under the Arctic ice to test equipment and conduct classified missions. Last spring, the Navy’s submarine fleet brought its newest submarines, the Virginia-class USS New Hampshire and the Seawolf-class USS Connecticut, to an organized exercise beneath an ice station. The next such exercise has been scheduled for 2013.
Surface ships are rarer in the Arctic. The Navy participates in the joint Northern Edge exercise in the Gulf of Alaska during odd-numbered years. In 2009, it brought the aircraft carrier John C. Stennis north. Last year, the cruiser USS Lake Erie and destroyer USS Decatur came north.
Trips to the true Arctic — defined as north of the Aleutian Islands — are still more infrequent, due to a lack of icebreakers. The Navy turned over its last icebreaker to the US Coast Guard in 1966.
In an Arctic emergency, the Coast Guard has some resources in place and might take a lead role over the Navy. The Coast Guard routinely sends a Coast Guard C-130 from Kodiak to the Arctic to patrol, and it has relationships with people who live and work in the Arctic. During the summer the Coast Guard conducts operations in the Arctic to prepare for law enforcement, oil spills, and search and rescue.
This summer, the Coast Guard will deploy cutters to the Arctic Ocean for regular patrols.
Navy officials understand the need to conduct exercises in the Arctic so they can get ready for the real thing, but they don’t have a strategy.
“We are the only Arctic nation without an Arctic strategy,” said U.S. Navy Cmdr. Blake McBride, Arctic Affairs officer for Task Force Climate Change. “The Coast Guard and Department of Defense are working on a strategy to help answer the issue, and advocate for capabilities.”
Aside from signing National Security Presidential Directive 66, which requires the U.S. to have a presence in the Arctic, the Arctic hasn’t been a priority for the U.S. government, largely because there isn’t an immediate military threat.
“It’s becoming a higher priority, but we don’t make our own priorities,” McBride said. “We don’t foresee a military threat in the Arctic, but it doesn’t mean we will not need to be able to operate there.”
The Navy’s future plans to conduct operations in the Arctic largely depend on the budget.
The Navy has an “Arctic Roadmap” that discusses the Navy’s future plans for the Arctic through 2014.
Navy officials have done the work called for in phase one and two of the roadmap, which largely consisted of developing research, assessing fleet readiness, completing capabilities-based assessments like the Fleet Arctic Operations Game, and formalizing cooperative agreements.
The biggest hurdle comes in the next phase, which calls for funding equipment and Arctic training. Navy officials say they are drafting a budget request to address those items.