Construction

NANA Construction builds new MagTec camp for Slope

New facilities are still being built for the North Slope. The latest trend is in camps and camp expansions for contractors and service companies who are now hard-pressed for “bed space” for their workers. Most of the work happening on the Slope is related to maintenance and upkeep of aging oil production infrastructure, but it’s enough to keep the service industry hopping — and working — in crowded conditions. The latest is that NANA Construction LLC has completed a new 58-bed camp for Kenai-based MagTec Alaska, a provider of equipment and equipment service for the Slope. The camp includes kitchen, dining and recreation facilities for up to 150. NANA built the camp in 31 modules at its new Big Lake fabrication facility in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough north of Anchorage. The modules were trucked to the North Slope and assembled at MagTec’s site, according to C.O. Green, NANA Construction vice president and general manager. NANA Construction is a four-year old company that is a subsidiary of NANA Development Corp., which is owned by NANA Regional Corp. of Kotzebue. NANA’a fabrication facility is on a 36-acre tract off Big Lake Road and consists of five buildings, each specialized to a different task including heavy industrial modules and lighter commercial-type modules where the MagTec camp was built. The plant was built in 2008 and 2009, and additions and improvements are still being made, Green said. “Two years ago we saw an opportunity to expand our facilities to enter the camp fabrication business. The market was underserviced. We moved fast, investing in new capabilities, and now our vision has become a reality. This camp (for MagTec) is just the tip of the iceberg for our business,” Green said. The market for heavy industrial-type plant modules is well served by a number of local fabricators, although NANA’s plant is capable of building these, too. Also, there has been a general slowdown in building industrial modules because there is little current development of new oil production facilities on the Slope. Most of the work is focused on maintenance. However, the lighter camp module market was growing, a niche NANA is exploiting, because contractors and service companies want to replace and expand older camps. The only competition for this segment of the market is Builders’ Choice, a housing-unit fabrication company with a plant in south Anchorage that has previously built modular homes, and Alberta-based ATCO. For example, veteran Slope service companies Halliburton and Schumberger are upgrading and consolidating their facilities. Green said he has work under way on new camps including one that will house 82 workers. The company is capable of building up to six large- to medium-scale, full-service camps each year. There is enough business on hand to keep 75 to 100 people working through the end of the year, he said. NANA Construction is also putting bids in on new camps that could allow the workforce to expand to 150 next year. Building the large modules at Big Lake instead of Anchorage saves customers time and money since they don’t require the extra oversize load or “Hours of Darkness” permits needed for transportation between Anchorage and Wasilla, Green said. “The location of NANA Construction’s fabrication shop greatly reduced our costs and played a large factor in the bid selection,” said Roger Wilson, MagTec Alaska’s North Slope Operations Manager. “There were two sets of transportation numbers and the Big Lake departure point changed that number dramatically from the other bidders.” The Big Lake area was chosen for NANA’s facility because of the Valley’s available work force and has added a training facility at the site that will open later this month. The oil sector has been a very important customer for NDC for more than 30 years, said Luke Sampson, chairman of NANA Development Corp.’s board. “We knew to continue serving the industry we needed to invest in new capabilities. We see a long future ahead of us with our expanded facilities,” Sampson said. NANA Development’s president Helvi Sandvik said “NANA Construction is also committed to growing Alaska’s work force, and our new training facility is a great opportunity to educate our shareholders for good-paying, skilled jobs.” NANA Regional Corp. is the Alaska Native regional corporation for Northwest Alaska. The company has been active for years in North Slope service industries including camp support and maintenance, and is the landowner and a major service provider at the Red Dog Mine north of Kotzebue, one of the world’s largest lead and zinc mines.   Tim Bradner can be reached at [email protected]

Realtors have new staging tool for selling vacant homes

What’s a cheap way for a realtor to market an empty house? Show what’s like furnished ...without any actual furnishings. Cheryl Campbell, an associate broker with Prudential Jack White Vista in Wasilla, is one of only a handful of realtors in the state to try a new patent-pending digital media tool called virtual staging. The realtor uses this device to digitally add furniture to online images of empty properties. Jay Bell of Virtually Staging Properties, which is based in Atlanta, Ga., said this is a less expansive way to make properties more appealing to buyers. Bell said that staging an Atlanta home the normal way with actual furniture can normally range anywhere from $2,000 to $4,000. He said doing it virtually brings that price tag down to the $225 to $325 range. He said in larger market, using actual furniture can sometimes cost as much as $10,000. “It’s a lot of the same benefits for a fraction of the cost,” Bell said. Campbell is a big fan of saving that money. Besides the savings, she said it helps with buyers because they can see what these places look like as livable rooms and can better visualize their own furniture in there. “It’s been a great marketing tool. I do think that it attracts more potential buyers to look at the home,” she said. Campbell said it’s also given her listings more online traffic and generated more calls. Online realty in general is quickly becoming the norm. Campbell has been a realtor for 24 years and has watched the technology change the way she does business. Physical photos and flyers used to be enough. She said now the Internet is the first tool a buyer turns to. Buyers look online themselves even before calling a realtor. Campbell said this means a “stellar” online presence is becoming more and more necessary in this business. “With technology, it’s turned 180 degrees since I started,” she said. According to the National Association of Realtors, 92 percent of first-time homebuyers and 86 percent of repeat buyers start their searches online. When only looking for information without buying, most also turn to the Internet for that information before asking realtors, banks or friends. “So it looks like in general, that’s where people go first,” said Brenda Miernyk, area manager of Wells Fargo Home Mortgage. Bell said at least 90 percent of homeowners claim to view homes online before arriving in person, and most of them say it’s the photos that help them decide on the house. He said this is what led to the inspiration for Virtually Staging Properties in the first place. Among the biggest groups who influence real estates trends are between ages 21 and 31, known as the millennial group. Miernyk said this generation is bigger than the baby boomers and so its preferences play a lot into real estate trends. She said traditional realtors have had to change their thinking a bit because this generation is so digital-savvy. Miernyk said that nationally, 70 percent of the millennial group looks online first. Wells Fargo didn’t have statistics specific to Alaska, but Miernyk suspects it could be just a little bit lower here. As far as social media, Miernyk said many realtors here have gotten into Facebook and creating brand pages for their listings. Twitter use is a bit slower locally but is picking up in popularity for listings. Campbell uses Facebook for listings. She’s also started with other websites like LinkedIn but says Facebook has been the biggest one for realtors to get their business out there. Wells Fargo recently held a “CineMeeting” for realtors, which involved video of national experts in the field. A big focus at the Anchorage presentation in June was the importance having an online and social media presence. Campbell also said pictures must be perfect online. This is something else that led her to explore more digital tools for her business. “The first thing they’re looking for is location and price range, but the pictures have to stand out and beat the competition and that’s what virtual staging does,” she said.   Jonathan Grass can be reached at [email protected]

Eklutna Inc. breaks ground in Eagle River

Eklutna Inc. is hoping to move into its new headquarters in Eagle River in the next two years. “We’re getting it prepped,” CEO Curtis McQueen said of the 10-acre parcel located across the Old Glenn Highway from Fred Meyer. “We’re excited.” Currently, contractor Davis Constructors & Engineers, Inc. are clearing gravel at the “Eklutna Plaza” site. The project started June 1 and should be completed by mid-August, McQueen said. The high-quality gravel being cleared will also be used for the building pad. “Davis said, ‘We think all this material is perfect,’” McQueen said. “It’s a win-win. During a presentation made to the Eagle River Community Council in September, a mock-up of the property showed room for three commercial buildings with a two-tiered parking lot. McQueen said Eklutna, Inc. — Anchorage’s largest private landowner — wanted to clear the location before reaching out to potential tenants. Having the site cleared makes it easier for potential clients to visualize where their business would be located, he said. Eklutna is hoping to move into the new location and have other businesses operating out of the plaza within 24 months, McQueen said. The Native corporation’s new office, which would face the highway, is a way to remind passers-by of Eklutna, Inc.’s presence, McQueen said. “We want people passing through Eagle River to know they are passing through Eklutna land,” he said.   Contact Mike Nesper at 694-2727.  

Residential construction recovering after 2009 downturn

Home-building is recovering, albeit slightly, after a downward turn following the 2008 economic crisis. Residential construction was booming at a rate of about 3,000 single-family homes per year prior to 2005, according to the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development, but the number of new state residents declined by 60 percent by 2009. That decline reversed after reaching the low point in 2009, and as residential construction picks up, it’s naturally concentrated in Alaska’s two major housing markets: Anchorage and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough. “Things have certainly slowed down but we’ve stabilized,” said Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development Economist Caroline Schultz. Mat-Su experienced a population growth of more than 59,000 since 2000, according to 2010 U.S. Census data. This led to more homes being built, and the average home price went up to match. The Labor Department reports that by 2005, 46 percent of new homes were built in Mat-Su even though it held only 11.2 percent of the state’s population. Schultz said this was mostly due to more residents living in Mat-Su who work in Anchorage, a continuing trend that looks to have staying power. Mat-Su also had more than twice the average loan amounts for new construction than the state average, according to the Alaska Housing Finance Corp. Although the Mat-Su Borough’s new construction still leads the state, new home numbers remain below the peak years. The borough reports that there were 631 new homes in 2011 compared to 937 homes in 2007. Mat-Su Public Affairs Director Patty Sullivan said that although the number of new homes slowed, it was still growing at a time when many places in the Lower 48 were wracked by foreclosures and collapsing prices. Unlike Mat-Su, the majority of new residential construction in Anchorage is in the multi-family sector. The Labor Department reports that less than half of residential construction in Anchorage was for single-family units as opposed to more than 80 percent in the Mat-Su Borough between 2000 and 2010. Schultz said Anchorage’s decline could partially tie in to the Mat-Su Valley’s boom because more people may be living there. Mat-Su also has more land availability. Vicki Portwood, executive officer for the Anchorage Home Builders Association and the Alaska State Home Building Association, said Anchorage had been pretty flat in terms of permits but things are trending upward this year. Portwood said one reason new homes declined after the economic downturn was because even though Alaska wasn’t hit as hard as other places, the worry was still there and customers would look but not buy. Portwood said things still look good for the rest of the year. She said people are starting to invest more in homes because the economy looks stable enough to spend money and that Alaska is a very credit-worthy state. “We feel folks have decided to not sit on their money,” she said. Anchorage permit applications for housing are slowly rising. Permit applications took a sharp dive in 2006 with 525 single-family homes, 72 duplexes and 59 multi-family units. The previous year had 673, 188 and 89 applications, respectively, for single-family, duplex and multi-family units. After the economic downturn, applications increased slightly in 2010, and new multi-family units in Anchorage helped build the average sales price for new construction of all building types by 27 percent in the second half of 2011. As home-building dropped after 2005, construction employment went down by 2,500 jobs. The Labor Department states this was the biggest decline in construction employment since the recession in the mid-1980s. “Overall, building activity has been declining over the past few years and sales prices statewide have been nominally stable but declining once adjusted for inflation,” Schultz said. “Building activity has likely already bottomed out, however, and I imagine it will slowly pick up as long as Alaska’s economy keeps doing well.” Portwood said the market looks good while builders and subcontractors report that they’re busy. “We’re really psyched about this year,” she said. Last year ended with 233 new home permits and 925 remodeling permits. This was a smaller number of both permits than in 2010. “We were very concerned in 2012 if we would see same numbers and we’re happy to say they’re up,” Portwood said. Mat-Su had 667 single-family units and 35 multiple-family units. The Alaska Housing Finance Corp. reports that loan volume on new construction statewide fell $15 million, or 11 percent, in the second half of 2011. Building permits can be difficult to quantify in several parts of the state where such permits aren’t required. Portwood said new phone hookups were once used to gauge such areas but that has become unreliable as more homes opt for strictly cell phones.

Fueled by homes, construction spending rose 0.9% in May

WASHINGTON (AP) — A surge in homebuilding pushed U.S. construction spending up by the largest amount in five months, the latest indication that the housing sector is slowly recovering. Construction spending rose 0.9 percent in May from April, the Commerce Department reported Monday. It was the second straight monthly increase and the biggest percentage gain since December. The May increase pushed spending to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $830 billion. That is 11.3 percent above a 12-year low hit in February 2011. Still, the level of spending is roughly half of what economists consider to be healthy. The construction industry is flashing signs of improvement while others parts of the economy have slumped. Spending on both residential and nonresidential projects rose in May. That shows private builders are starting to have more faith in the housing market and commercial real estate. But spending on public projects fell to the lowest level since November 2006. That largely reflects tighter government budgets at the state and local level and fading federal stimulus dollars. Steven Wood, chief economist at Insight Economics, said the overall picture for construction was brighter. But he noted that the industry has a long way back to full health. “Construction spending appears to be slowly climbing, emphasis on slowly, out of a very deep hole,” he said. Residential construction rose 3 percent to an annual rate of $261.3 billion. Spending on nonresidential projects rose 0.4 percent in May to an annual rate of $299.1 billion, the third straight monthly gain. In May, spending on shopping centers, hotels and office buildings all saw gains. Government construction projects fell 0.4 percent to an annual rate of $269.6 billion. Spending at the state and local level fell 1 percent to $242.6 billion at an annual rate. Federal construction rose 5.6 percent to a rate of $27 billion. Recent data suggest the housing market is gradually improving after struggling for the past five years. Homebuilders started work on more single-family homes in May and requested the most permits to build homes and apartments in three and a half years. Completed sales of new and previously occupied homes were up in May from the same month last year. The number of people who signed contracts to buy homes rose in May to match the fastest pace in two years. Home prices are rising in most markets. And mortgage rates have tumbled to the lowest levels on record, which has encouraged more buying. One reason prices are rising is the supply of homes for sale remains extremely low. There were 145,000 new homes for sale in May. That’s just 1,000 higher than in April, when the supply was the lowest on records dating back to 1963. With the supply is thin and sales rising, builders can charge more. It also means there’s room for more competition. Economists say that may explain why builders are laying plans for more homes and apartments over the next 12 months. Still, the market is long way from returning to full health. A sluggish job market could deter some would-be buyers from making a purchase this year. The U.S. economy created only 69,000 jobs in May, the fewest in a year. The unemployment rate rose to 8.2 percent last month from 8.1 percent in April. While spending on homebuilding has risen, spending on government building projects has fallen. Governments at all levels have been struggling to deal with huge budget gaps caused by the recession. The economy grew at a tepid annual rate of 1.9 percent in the January-March quarter. Residential construction added to growth. But many economists expect growth slowed in the April-June quarter.

AEA honing $4.5B cost estimate for Susitna-Watana dam

The Alaska Energy Authority is standing by the $4.5 billion estimated price tag for the Susitna-Watana hydroelectric project, but also contracting for a review of the Level 4 engineering estimate and creating a permanent “board of consultants” of five experts to monitor the megaproject through conclusion. Current timelines project federal licensing by 2017, construction over the next five years and by 2023 annual generation averaging 2.5 million Megawatt hours, or nearly 50 percent of Railbelt electrical demand, according to the AEA. Meanwhile, opposition to the project is forming. The Coalition For Susitna Dam Alternatives — which opposes any construction and claims membership of more than 1,000 persons growing by 50 per day, according to spokesman Richard Leo —also has plans to collect support through the summer but has other immediate plans. Wayne Dyok, project manager for the AEA, also said it is on schedule to meet the July 16 deadline under its licensing plan for submission of its so-called study plan with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The study plan will include all the environmental, engineering and other studies needed to back the FERC permit application. “I think right now we have lots of work to do to make sure we get the study plans in as good shape as we can by July 16,” Dyok said on June 5. He noted that the list of projects, with fieldwork in 2013 and 2014, was approaching 2,000 pages. The current cost figure was released in April by MHW Global, a contract consultant to AEA on the project. A Level 4 estimate includes a -30/+50 percent margin of error. The estimate “is a good number to use for the elevation 2,000 (feet above sea level) configuration,” Dyok said. He was hired to his job last November, but was a contract consultant on a 1978 proposal that included two dams. The current project is a single, 700-foot tall dam on the Susitna River, 165 miles north of Anchorage. It would also create a 39-mile long reservoir up to two miles wide in some areas. The earlier project did file a FERC application. It was withdrawn in 1986, in large part because the low cost of oil and natural gas from reserves now nearing depletion. Its cost estimate was $5.4 billion (in 1985 dollars). The current proposal’s estimate is based on modeling from the earlier project, according to Emily Ford, AEA spokeswoman. The seemingly low cost against its 27-year old predecessor is also based on the use of “roller compacted concrete.” Developed in British Columbia in the 1970s, use of the technique would vastly decreases the amount of fill needed, but it has never been used in a project of this size in Alaska. “We have found no fatal flaw in the basic concept of building the Full Watana Dam or High Devil Canyon dam using RCC,” according to a 2009 review of the earlier project completed by R&M Consultants Inc. A rockfill dam at the new project would require 60 million cubic yards of material. “With the development in this RCC methodology, we’re looking at a little over five million cubic yards,” Dyok said. Concern with the use of RCC in Alaskan weather conditions was raised at that time and is still lingering in some quarters. Ford noted RCC dams that have been built in Russia, China, Mongolia and at 7,000 feet above sea level near Stillwater, Utah. “Temperature swings at that elevation are much higher than in the Susitna-Watana Hydroelectric Project area,” Ford wrote in an email. The Upper Stillwater Dam is 815 feet tall and 2,673 feet wide. Completion of RCC on that project took two years and came in October 1987 after two seven-month winter closedowns, according to the website of Malcolm Dunstan & Associates, a consulting engineer. The Asian dams are at longitudes south of the Watana site and were completed relatively recently. The 456-foot high Bureya Dam is located about 210 miles northwest of Khabarovsk, Russia, and the same longitude as the northern end of Vancouver Island. It was begun in 1976, but not completed until 2009 and is still being commissioned for generation last year. The 11 MW Taishir, Mongolia, hydroproject, about 1,100 miles northwest of Beijing, at the longitude of Willapa, Wash., is almost 7,700 feet above sea level and began generating electricity in 2008. “We are going to be issuing an RFP to have another entity with construction experience in Alaska and also with RCC-type hydro dams to come in here and do an independent verification of our consultant’s costs,” Dyok said. The RFP is one of two he expects to issue in July. The other, still being designed, will establish a five-member board of consultants, each with a specific expertise, for the life of the project. The anti-dam coalition gained 400 members through its booth at the March sportsman’s show in Anchorage and that some 90 percent of those who stopped at the booth left it opposing the project. “Pretty much everybody who actually understands what’s going on with this dam are opposed to it,” Leo said June 20. The group will have booths at the Alaska State Fair in Palmer and the Salmon Stock Music Festival, in Nikiski, Richard Leo said. Membership requires a signed statement, on its website, through Facebook or on paper, opposing the project, he explained. How it will bring the influence to bear on the project remains to be seen. “There are no plans to bring any signatures to the legislature next session. The whole focus on outreach is education,” Leo said. The coalition says the dam is unnecessary because state-subsidized production of natural gas from Cook Inlet, and increasing alternative energy production, could supply the needed power with far less environmental impact. “Financing by the state to find and develop its Cook Inlet gas resource could be as little as 50 percent of the required investment in the hydropower dam ... An affordable, stable, long-term source of energy for the Railbelt will only occur with state subsidy. This is just reality,” the group said in formal comments on project scoping filed with FERC in May.

CIRI Fire Island wind farm nearing completion

After more than a decade of planning, the Cook Inlet Region Inc. wind project for Fire Island is close to powering up. Fire Island Wind LLC, a CIRI subsidiary, has all but finished constructing foundations for 11 wind turbines for a commercial-scale wind farm. This will be the first of its kind in Southcentral. The next major step will be installing the towers, which are waiting to be barged from Anchorage to Fire Island. CIRI, one of 12 Alaska Native regional corporations, will start barging tower and turbine components from the Port of Anchorage to Fire Island in the first week of July. The barge will travel at high tide and then offload at low tide. Ethan Schutt, CIRI’s senior vice president of land and energy development, gave a project update during a “Make it Monday” forum hosted by the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce on June 25. “You will start to see some towers going up,” he said. Roads, turbine pads and electrical infrastructure are nearly complete. Shore-side and submarine transmission lines will be complete by the end of the month. Construction is also under way for connecting roadways as well as an underwater transmission line from Fire Island to the Railbelt electric grid. Once completed, CIRI should begin producing commercial power before the end of the year. More than two-thirds of the contractors working on the project are Alaskan companies. These turbines will produce a combined output of up to 17.6 megawatts of electricity. Chugach Electric Association, or CEA, has agreed to purchase up to the full amount produced here for the next 25 years starting Jan. 1, 2013. The utility will pay a flat net price of $97 per megawatt-hour. CIRI is expected to supply the utility with 48,500 megawatt-hours annually, or enough to power 6,000 homes. The farm is expected to be completed between August and September. Schutt said once the entire system is up, it will be transferred to CEA’s control. CEA will own and operate the line after it’s completed and commissioned. This means the transmission lines can be used to power a number of other entities besides the wind project. The transmission line connecting the wind farm to the Railbelt electric grid cost about $27 million. A $25 million state grant paid for most of this. The total wind farm cost is about $65 million, with about $18 million from federal cash grants in lieu of tax credits under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Tax Act of 2009. CIRI Corporate Communications Director Jim Jager said CIRI’s involvement is what allows the federal grant because it is only available to private tax-paying entities. Because it’s based on a tax credit, tax-exempt entities like public or co-op owned utilities cannot get it. This includes CEA. Jager said the entire federal grant is being used to offset project costs to reduce customer rates rather than going to benefit CIRI. This wind farm is expected to supply about 4 percent of CEA’s load and offset 500 million cubic feet of natural gas consumption. Schutt said that CEA rates will rise but the wind farm only accounts for a tiny percentage of that because of the small amount the wind power will contribute to the overall energy grid. “Whatever change you see is not going to be largely caused by this project,” Schutt said. He said the rate increases customers can expect will mostly come from a new Southcentral power plant, debt servicing and fuel contract replacements. The idea for the wind farm began in the mid to late-1990s when CEA decided to diversify its energy supply. Ninety percent of Southcentral’s power comes from natural gas reserves. CEA did a comprehensive review of the region for potential sites for wind power generation. Fire Island, which CIRI owns, was at the top of that list. Various regulatory and other issues slowed down progress over the years from securing agreements with utilities to permitting. One recent example was the Federal Aviation Administration’s problem with the wind turbine’s potential interference with the area’s Very High Frequency Omni-Directional Range, or VOR, used for plane navigation. The problem was solved when a new VOR was installed at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport last year. The Fire Island VOR was decommissioned this year. Jager said aviation regulations can be among the hardest for wind generators.

Alaska village relocation hits snag when ship grounds

A quickly eroding Native village in western Alaska has hit a snag in its plans to relocate after a U.S. Army Reserve landing craft carrying tons of construction equipment and supplies for the effort ran aground hundreds of miles away. But residents of tiny Newtok are pushing ahead with their long-sought dream of moving to higher ground in a place called Mertarvik that's nine miles across a vast, raging river. Tribal administrator Stanley Tom said he's disappointed the June 8 grounding near Alaska's Kodiak Island halted the help of "good workers" provided by the military the last three summers. Tom said that won't keep locals from proceeding, not when the restless Ninglick River is swallowing as much as 70 feet of bank a year just south of the village. "We'd like to just keep on going," Tom said. "We can't wait for any one agency." The Army's 174-foot Monterrey was beached on Puffin Island after it hit a charted rock, spilling thousands of gallons of diesel fuel. The mishap cancelled the military's plans this summer to construct buildings at Mertarvik to be used for storage or emergency shelters, but officials say the effort will resume next summer. The Marines-led effort is in its fourth year of a five-year mission to help build infrastructure at Mertarvik as part of the military's "Innovative Readiness Training" program, which provides pre-deployment training for all branches through assisting civilian partners in various forms. The idea is that even during peacetime, troops are ready for the intricate juggling and logistical challenges involved in times of war, said Master Sgt. Mike Schenck, IRT chief for Reserve Marine logistics. He has worked summers on the Mertarvik project since 2009. "You get no better training than you do in western Alaska — the austere conditions," he said. "This is kind of like being in the on-deck circle, practicing with a heavy bat. Then when you go to combat, it seems like a light bat." The help for Mertarvik was requested by the tribal council of Newtok, a Yupik Eskimo community of 350. The Army's role this year was to transport the equipment and supplies, but that was cut short by the grounding. In previous years at Mertarvik, as many as 100 Marines at a time have provided onsite muscle for such jobs as laying the foundation of an emergency evacuation center that's under construction and building a 1,500-foot road between the center and a barge landing. Even though this summer is a bust, Schenck said all the work Marines planned to do there will be accomplished next summer — the final year of the partnership with Newtok — and so will other jobs. The buildings planned for this year will be made and access to a rock quarry will be improved. Schenck plans to make a quick visit to Mertarvik to ensure that planning for next year is based on current conditions. "I look forward to successfully completing this project," Schenck said. "I'm personally committed to it and I'm going to do everything I can to ensure that this mishap this year has no long term effect upon the relocation of this village." Driven by the urgency of relentless erosion, Newtok residents plan to begin the vertical construction this summer of the planned evacuation center, which will later house tribal offices, a clinic and a community hall. Local workers who spent months learning construction skills also plan to put the finishing touches on three homes built last year, for a total of six completed houses. Tom, the tribal administrator, said 22 of the 63 homes in Newtok have been deemed moveable. The rest of the homes at Mertarvik will have to be built, as funding allows. The state also is in the early stages of planning a harbor for boats used in subsistence fishing. Since the work began at Mertarvik in 2009, Newtok has made gradual but steady progress in its seemingly impossible goal of relocating from one remote spot to another, particularly with only short-term federal and state funding — and no long-term funding strategy in place. There are no roads to ease the process, either. Materials, equipment and crews have to be barged to the new site or carried by boat, and outside work crews are sometimes delivered by helicopter. Other imperiled Alaska villages are planning relocations but only Newtok, 480 miles west of Anchorage, has begun the actual physical labor. Tom said the first occupants at Mertarvik could move there as early as August, returning to Newtok during the fall freeze-up and spring breakup — at least until services and facilities become available. The more people begin pioneering the relocation the more they can show government agencies they're serious and ultimately prompt the need for services such as a school, airport and post office. In the meantime, the Ninglick River continues to corrode the banks, moving ever closer to homes at Newtok. Sinking permafrost continues to subject the area to flooding from intensifying storms blamed on climate change. The smaller Newtok River is now shallow and stagnant. The sinking land has knocked homes out of alignment and created obstacle courses of the boardwalks running over the wetland setting. Mertarvik, on Nelson Island to the south, is set on volcanically formed bedrock higher up, according to Sally Russell Cox, a state planner and facilitator of a group of federal and state agencies, as well as tribal organizations, involved in the relocation. Newtok completed a federal land trade in 2004 for the new site, whose name means "getting water from the stream" in Yupik. Enough work has been done there that it can be seen from Newtok on a clear day. No wonder people are excited about someday moving to their new beginnings. "It's not hard to envision it at all, a full community being there," Cox said.

Workforce cut at Ketchikan Shipyard

KETCHIKAN (AP) — Alaska Ship and Drydock has had 23 fewer people working in the Ketchikan Shipyard since May 1 and the company says the main reason is a seasonal slowdown in routine vessel repair and maintenance work. “It’s unfortunate, but it’s fairly typical for the work slowdown in the summer,” said ASD President Adam Beck. “As you can imagine, all of the ferries are working, most of the commercial vessels are working, and that’s not when they want to get their maintenance done.” The workforce dropped from 128 to 105 as of Wednesday. Not all were layoffs. The Ketchikan Daily News reports some workers voluntarily took time off and are working with other companies. “They’re not necessarily laid off, but ... where they can find other work, they’ve done that,” said Doug Ward, director of shipyard development. “And I’m not suggesting that they’re doing it out of the kindness of their heart, but they understand that this is a slow time, and that it’s difficult to keep everybody going.” In past years, new construction and emergency repairs have made up for the usual summer slowdown at the shipyard, Ward said. There’s also been a decline in government vessel work. “This year, there just hasn’t been many government contracts with performance periods in the spring, that we normally have in the spring, early summer,” Ward said. Also absent are large new-vessel projects. The company has begun building a 136-foot, longliner-freezer fishing boat but the project cannot absorb a lot of labor. “We’re looking at another new build on a fish boat that could start up, and when the ship assembly hall opens here in July and August ... it will really allow us to build for the future on a new-build program,” Ward said. A solid new-build program would risks and cycles of the ship repair business, he said. “That’s the value of new build, because new build goes on seven days a week, every day, all year long,” Ward said. The company is a subsidiary of Portland, Ore.-based Vigor Industrial, which operates several shipyards in the Pacific Northwest. Vigor has recently redirected work to Ketchikan that likely would have gone elsewhere.

Gov. Parnell signs bills expanding AIDEA finance ability

Gov. Sean Parnell signed two pieces of legislation June 12 to promote economic development in economically depressed areas and to facilitate financing for small to medium-sized energy projects in the state. Both measures expand the ability of the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, or AIDEA, to help finance projects. AIDEA is the state’s development finance corporation. One bill Parnell signed was Senate Bill 25, the Alaska Sustainable Strategy for Energy Transmission and Supply Act. Sponsored by state Sen. Lesil McGuire and state Rep. Lance Pruitt, both Anchorage Republicans, the bill establishes a new fund within AIDEA for financing energy projects. Under the bill AIDEA will be able to make direct loans to borrowers for energy projects or participate in loans through banks or credit unions. The authority will also be able to insure project obligations by offering a loan or bond guarantee. Examples of possible projects include improving energy efficiency in commercial buildings and renewable energy development, Parnell said. At the bill signing ceremony with the governor, McGuire gave credit to several of her legislative colleagues in helping with the bill, particularly Rep. Lance Pruitt, who led the effort on the bill in the House of Representatives. The measure is a complex and it took two years to draft and get through the House and Senate. “It is seeded now with $125 million. I would liked to have seen more money placed in the fund, but this is a start,” she said. Pruitt said the key advantage of the bill is having a mechanism to finance medium-to-small size energy projects in Alaska, so that the loan repayments are made here and the money stays in the state to circulate and finance other projects. During the past two state budget cycles, the state has funded more than $1.5 billion for energy infrastructure and investments, Parnell said. “It will bring the state closer to achieving its goal of 50 percent electricity generated by renewable energy by 2025,” Parnell said. Another bill, Senate Bill 66, introduced by the governor, creates a new markets tax credit assistance guarantee and loan program with AIDEA. Working under a federal tax credit program, SB 66 allows the state authority to issue guarantees and finance projects in low-income areas or otherwise serving low-income populations. Hugh Short, chairman of AIDEA’s board and president of Alaska Growth Capital, an Anchorage-based development bank, said there have been several successful projects that have been financed through the use of new markets tax credits including the a seafood plant at Platinum, in southwest Alaska, and the Kotzebue Elder Care Facility and the Yukon-Koyukuk Elder Assisted Living Facility in Galena, Short said. General Communications Inc., or GCI, has taken advantage of the program to help fund the company’s expansion of broadband service to western Alaska communities, Short said. The benefits aren’t only for rural Alaska. Businesses in lower-income urban areas, like Mountain View in Anchorage, have been able to take advantage of the tax credits. “This legislation represents a real hand up, not a hand out,” Parnell said. “Entrepreneurs who want to get businesses up and running in low-income communities should be very excited about this new way to generate capital. By incentivizing development in these regions, our ability to offer an economic boost to areas of the state that need it most is increased significantly.”

Hearings scheduled for coastal zone initiative

JUNEAU (AP) — Ten hearings are scheduled on a ballot initiative that would re-establish a coastal management program in Alaska. The initiative is the first to fall under a state law, passed in 2010, that requires at least eight hearings up to 30 days before the election in which an initiative is to be decided. The law requires pro and con positions be given at the hearings. Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell, in a news release, says state officials are working to make sure that testimony can be taking by phone during some of the hearings. Hearings begin July 2 in Soldotna and end July 26 in Juneau. Other communities hosting hearings are Barrow, Anchorage, Wasilla, Kotzebue, Fairbanks, Kodiak, Bethel and Ketchikan. The initiative will appear on the Aug. 28 primary ballot.

Alaska unemployment hits 6.9 percent

JUNEAU (AP) — Alaska's unemployment rate last month dropped to 6.9 percent, its lowest level since December 2008. The state labor department says the preliminary, seasonally adjusted rate is slightly lower than March, when unemployment stood at 7 percent. Unemployment in April 2011 stood at 7.5 percent. Alaska's rate hasn't been below 7 percent since December 2008, when it stood at 6.8 percent. The labor department says that while unemployment rates have declined both nationally and in Alaska in recent months, the U.S. rate, unlike that in Alaska, remains higher than before the recession. The department says Alaska also quickly recovered from what it calls mild jobs losses in 2009, and that preliminary estimates call for modest job growth in the state this year. The U.S. unemployment rate for April was 8.1 percent.

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.

$40M Seward Hwy. project tops summer work

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]

Hearings planned on proposed road in Alaska refuge

The Pacific brant is a small sea goose that likes to forage a mile or more offshore, far from bluffs, where eagles launch attacks from the air. Brant are also herbivores, and to get enough calories, must eat during nearly 80 percent of its waking hours. So it’s no surprise that Pacific brant migrating from breeding grounds to Baja Mexico choose to lard up at Izembek Lagoon, 10 miles of shallow, sheltered ocean near the tip of the Alaska Peninsula, the long finger of land at the start of the Aleutian Islands. The lagoon offers protection from predators and a giant buffet — one of the world’s largest beds of nutritious eelgrass. Virtually the entire 150,000 population of Pacific brant stops at Izembek. So do 70 percent of migrating Steller’s eiders, an endangered species that eats tiny invertebrates — clams, shrimp, and copepods — clinging to eelgrass leaves. So it’s also no surprise that environmentalists are fighting a proposal by an Aleut village to build a road through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge for land access to an all-weather airport. “It’s really kind of this gathering place for these enormous numbers of birds,” says Beth Peluso of Audubon Alaska. “It’s such a rich area and it’s fairly unique. It’s the size of the eelgrass beds that are drawing a lot of these birds, so you just can’t switch it for some habitat somewhere else because it’s not equivalent.” The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service begins hearings this week on a draft environmental review of road proposals for King Cove, home to one of the largest salmon canneries in Alaska. Access to the community of 948 is by sea or air — if a plane can make it onto the 3,500-foot gravel runway. Surrounded by mountains, and often besieged by strong wind, scheduled flights are delayed or canceled 50 percent of the time, according to the Aleutians East Borough. In medical emergencies, patients’ lives depend on getting to nearby Cold Bay and its all-weather airport. In the last 14 months, there were 21 emergency flights for villagers, said Agdaagux Tribe spokeswoman Della Trumble. That means a white-knuckle ride on a fishing boat, or if harbors are iced in, a call to the U.S. Coast Guard on Kodiak Island 425 miles away for an emergency helicopter flight. A better solution, according to villagers, state officials and Alaska’s congressional delegation, is a road. Five access options under review include two configurations of a single-lane gravel road from King Cove to Cold Bay that crosses nine miles of refuge. King Cove residents acknowledge the wildlife — they’ve depended on subsistence resources for decades — but in the debate between birds and human health, believe people should be getting more consideration, said city manager Gary Hennigh. Fish and Wildlife Service officials, Hennigh said, have become indignant on the occasions when he summarizes his perspective with a question: “Just how many tundra swans equal one dead Aleut?” “That is basically the theme that is going to keep coming back around, that this is for the human environment of the people in King Cove,” he said. Pacific brant were the rallying cry against the road five years ago, Hennigh said. Studies have indicated the effect of the road will be negligible and minimal, he said, so the focus has shifted to other species. “All the hype and crap that we went through about the black brant, the Steller’s eider, the tundra swan, the caribou, the bear, we are now confident that the final environmental impact statement will say these are not going to be that big of an impact,” he said. Federal officials thought they had a road alternative in place 14 years ago. Congress in 1998 appropriated $37.5 million to improve King Cove access. The centerpiece was a $9 million hovercraft, but the Aleutians East Borough announced in November it was grounding the big boat. It cost more than $1 million annually and didn’t come close to operating six days per week as promised, Hennigh said, mostly because of dangerous waves. Congress in 2009 reopened the door for a road. It authorized the secretary of the Interior Department to exchange lands within Izembek refuge a single-lane gravel road if the secretary concluded it was in the public interest. The only commercial use would be taxis, Hennigh said, and 15 to 20 vehicles per day are likely to use it. The village and the state of Alaska are willing to pay a steep price in land. The federal government would give up about 200 acres of Izembek refuge for the road corridor and 1,600 acres on Sitkinak Island south of Kodiak. In return, the federal government would receive more than 56,000 acres — 43,093 from the state north of the refuge and 13,300 acres from King Cove’s village Native corporation. Ultimately, the Interior secretary will decide if a land exchange and road is in the public interest based on Fish and Wildlife Service environmental review. The agency’s first hearing is Thursday in Anchorage. Environmentalists don’t like the precedent set by allowing a road in a refuge. They question whether traffic limits will be enforced. Despite the whopping difference in acreage of the exchange, Peluso said, not all habitat is equal. “It doesn’t mean it has the same qualities,” Peluso said. “The reason why Izembek is important is that it has this specific habitat, and you can’t just draw another line somewhere else. It doesn’t have the same thing.” Trumble said King Cove was not consulted over creation of the refuge. Her sympathies are with patients who have to endure a boat ride across heaving sea water and a walk or a trip by stretcher up an icy dock on top of their medical condition. “It’s very dangerous,” she said. “It’s very uncomfortable for the patient, adding on to the problems that they’re going through, without having to go through that extra stress of being offloaded in Cold Bay, or a bad boat ride to Cold Bay.”  

Hearings planned on proposed road in Alaska refuge

ANCHORAGE (AP) — The Pacific brant is a small sea goose that likes to forage a mile or more offshore, far from bluffs, where eagles launch attacks from the air. Brant are also herbivores, and to get enough calories, must eat during nearly 80 percent of its waking hours. So it's no surprise that Pacific brant migrating from breeding grounds to Baja Mexico choose to lard up at Izembek Lagoon, 10 miles of shallow, sheltered ocean near the tip of the Alaska Peninsula, the long finger of land at the start of the Aleutian Islands. The lagoon offers protection from predators and a giant buffet — one of the world's largest beds of nutritious eelgrass. Virtually the entire 150,000 population of Pacific brant stops at Izembek. So do 70 percent of migrating Steller's eiders, an endangered species that eats tiny invertebrates — clams, shrimp, and copepods — clinging to eelgrass leaves. So it's also no surprise that environmentalists are fighting a proposal by an Aleut village to build a road through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge for land access to an all-weather airport. "It's really kind of this gathering place for these enormous numbers of birds," says Beth Peluso of Audubon Alaska. "It's such a rich area and it's fairly unique. It's the size of the eelgrass beds that are drawing a lot of these birds, so you just can't switch it for some habitat somewhere else because it's not equivalent." The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service begins hearings this week on a draft environmental review of road proposals for King Cove, home to one of the largest salmon canneries in Alaska. Access to the community of 948 is by sea or air — if a plane can make it onto the 3,500-foot gravel runway. Surrounded by mountains, and often besieged by strong wind, scheduled flights are delayed or canceled 50 percent of the time, according to the Aleutians East Borough. In medical emergencies, patients' lives depend on getting to nearby Cold Bay and its all-weather airport. In the last 14 months, there were 21 emergency flights for villagers, said Agdaagux Tribe spokeswoman Della Trumble. That means a white-knuckle ride on a fishing boat, or if harbors are iced in, a call to the U.S. Coast Guard on Kodiak Island 425 miles away for an emergency helicopter flight. A better solution, according to villagers, state officials and Alaska's congressional delegation, is a road. Five access options under review include two configurations of a single-lane gravel road from King Cove to Cold Bay that crosses nine miles of refuge. King Cove residents acknowledge the wildlife — they've depended on subsistence resources for decades — but in the debate between birds and human health, believe people should be getting more consideration, said city manager Gary Hennigh. Fish and Wildlife Service officials, Hennigh said, have become indignant on the occasions when he summarizes his perspective with a question: "Just how many tundra swans equal one dead Aleut?" "That is basically the theme that is going to keep coming back around, that this is for the human environment of the people in King Cove," he said. Pacific brant were the rallying cry against the road five years ago, Hennigh said. Studies have indicated the effect of the road will be negligible and minimal, he said, so the focus has shifted to other species. "All the hype and crap that we went through about the black brant, the Steller's eider, the tundra swan, the caribou, the bear, we are now confident that the final environmental impact statement will say these are not going to be that big of an impact," he said. Federal officials thought they had a road alternative in place 14 years ago. Congress in 1998 appropriated $37.5 million to improve King Cove access. The centerpiece was a $9 million hovercraft, but the Aleutians East Borough announced in November it was grounding the big boat. It cost more than $1 million annually and didn't come close to operating six days per week as promised, Hennigh said, mostly because of dangerous waves. Congress in 2009 reopened the door for a road. It authorized the secretary of the Interior Department to exchange lands within Izembek refuge a single-lane gravel road if the secretary concluded it was in the public interest. The only commercial use would be taxis, Hennigh said, and 15 to 20 vehicles per day are likely to use it. The village and the state of Alaska are willing to pay a steep price in land. The federal government would give up about 200 acres of Izembek refuge for the road corridor and 1,600 acres on Sitkinak Island south of Kodiak. In return, the federal government would receive more than 56,000 acres — 43,093 from the state north of the refuge and 13,300 acres from King Cove's village Native corporation. Ultimately, the Interior secretary will decide if a land exchange and road is in the public interest based on Fish and Wildlife Service environmental review. The agency's first hearing is Thursday in Anchorage. Environmentalists don't like the precedent set by allowing a road in a refuge. They question whether traffic limits will be enforced. Despite the whopping difference in acreage of the exchange, Peluso said, not all habitat is equal. "It doesn't mean it has the same qualities," Peluso said. "The reason why Izembek is important is that it has this specific habitat, and you can't just draw another line somewhere else. It doesn't have the same thing." Trumble said King Cove was not consulted over creation of the refuge. Her sympathies are with patients who have to endure a boat ride across heaving sea water and a walk or a trip by stretcher up an icy dock on top of their medical condition. "It's very dangerous," she said. "It's very uncomfortable for the patient, adding on to the problems that they're going through, without having to go through that extra stress of being offloaded in Cold Bay, or a bad boat ride to Cold Bay."  

Homer Electric to conduct hydro studies this summer

Homer Electric Association will begin field work this summer to fully determine if a hydroelectric project on the east side of the Kenai Peninsula will be feasible. A recent renewable energy grant from the Alaska Energy Authority will spur HEA to award work to crews charged with conducting a battery of tests at Grant Lake near Moose Pass. Crews will look to determine if the body of water would be suitable for producing electricity. According to the project’s website, the idea, if approved, is to install a dam or other structure at the lake’s outlet to control outflow from the lake, and possibly to create storage capacity. The proposed project would have an intake in Grant Lake, near the point at which it flows into Grant Creek. Water would be conveyed from the intake through a pipeline leading to a powerhouse. The powerhouse would be located near the bank of Grant Creek and would discharge into Grant Creek. The Grant Lake watershed, including Grant Creek, is about 44 square miles and the lake has a surface area of about 1,790 acres. Grant Creek, which discharges into Upper Trail Lake, has an average annual flow of 193 cubic feet per second. According to HEA spokesman Joe Gallagher, Kenai Hydro LLC — an HEA subsidiary — began evaluating four hydroelectric sites including Grant Lake, Falls Creek, Crescent Lake and Ptarmigan Lake. Since then, Kenai Hydro has abandoned consideration of all but Grant Lake due to economic feasibility concerns. The project is estimated to cost $35 million. “As studies are completed and more information is obtained, the proposed scope of the project’s features are adjusted from what was initially proposed in 2008,” Gallagher wrote in an email. “A major difference is that current plans call for either a 2-foot-high dam, or no dam, as compared to an initial plan for a 10-foot-tall dam.” The project is still in its study phase, but HEA expects the project would generate about 20,500 megawatt hours annually, which is about 4.2 percent of HEA’s annual demand based on 2010 statistics. HEA would own the project, but reserve the option to sell power to interested utilities. Bradley Lake, a state-owned, HEA-operated hydro project located at the head of Kachemak Bay, generates 300,000 megawatt hours annually. Power from Bradley, a larger lake than Grant Lake, is shared among Railbelt utilities with HEA receiving about 44,000 megawatt hours annually. That figure represents about 9.4 percent of HEA’s power needs. The AEA grant of $1.2 million was received in 2011, as part of the Alaska Energy Authority’s Round IV Renewable Energy Grant Program, and will be used to augment and supplement 2009 and 2010 fieldwork. Crews will study the project’s effects on aquatic, water, cultural, visual and recreational resources. The aquatic study plan will look at salmon spawning distribution abundance, resident and rearing fish distribution and abundance, aquatic habitat mapping and analyzing critical factors as well as in-stream flow studies and others. Gallagher said there are not salmon in Grant Lake as a large waterfall acts as an anadromous barrier, but there are salmon in Grant Creek. Effects on those salmon will be studied. HEA also will examine water quality and temperature, hydrology, botanical and vegetation mapping, survey sensitive and invasive plants, and assess timber resources. Wildlife effects also will be studied including raptor nesting, breeding land and shore birds and surveys of terrestrial mammals. The project also will include cultural use and archaeological field studies. HEA hopes to file a final Federal Energy Regulatory Commission permit in 2014 after field work and other studies are completed. Utility officials are currently spending time making presentations on the issue to area groups such as the Kenai and Soldotna chambers of commerce, Rotary clubs, the Industry Outlook Forum, the Kenai River Special Management Area Board of Directors, Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association, Kenai River Sportfishing Association, Cook Inletkeeper and legislators. Meetings will continue this spring with plans to talk to the Kenai Watershed Forum. Gallagher said the response from those organizations on moving forward with the project’s study phase so far has been “very positive.” “We still have a lot of study work to do before we have a completion date set,” Gallagher wrote in an email. “It is important to note that a decision to move forward with the project has not been made. The results of the study and the licensing process will determine whether or not it is in the best interests of HEA’s members to move forward with the project.”

Legislature awards money for UA engineering buildings

The University of Alaska has been on a mission to increase its engineering students for several years now. That mission got a big push in the final hours of the legislative session, when the House passed the Senate’s capital budget that include more than $100 million for new engineering buildings at two campuses. To be complete, the governor must still sign off on the budget, but both campuses see this as a big step forward in the Engineering Expansion Initiative the university’s Board of Regents adopted in 2007. The Legislature awarded UA $58.6 million for construction on a new engineering building at the University of Alaska Anchorage. The University of Alaska Fairbanks got $46.3 million for its construction. Both of these amounts are roughly half of what each needs to complete the projects. University officials say the plan will most likely involve requesting the rest at next year’s session. Although the engineering buildings were not in the capital request from the Board of Regents, the projects were pushed through in the Senate Finance and received strong support from engineering firms and students. Much of this stems from the current facilities’ inadequacies. The projects include a mix of new construction and renovation of existing space. UAA’s building will be located across from the new Health Sciences Building. Mike Driscoll, UAA provost and executive vice chancellor, said the numbers have gone up dramatically over the last five to six years, and more space is needed. He said the current space is less than half of what’s needed to accommodate the college’s growing engineering program. The new building also will improve modernization of the space and enhance the labs to allow better hands-on studies. “The new facility give us somewhere like 60,000 usable square feet,” he said. The building itself will be a living experiment to showcase things like instrumentation, measuring, heating and cooling systems, and seismic activity potential to the engineering students. Driscoll said the hope is that construction can begin in next spring’s season after additional planning. It would still be a couple of years until the building is usable. The new UAF building will supplement the existing engineering facility, Duckering Building, adding 54,000 square feet, said Doug Goering, dean of the College of Engineering and Mines at UAF. He said Duckering currently has 80,000 square feet. There is the possibility for more space in the new one because one floor will be for future expansion. Goering said the additional space is close to what was determined to be needed, as programs and research expenditures have essentially doubled since 2005. He said the new building will have an open floor plan and some internal glass to increase visibility of how engineers work, which is something Duckering lacks the ability to do. The department also wants plans to build more study space, connectivity, and space for student teams to work and do special projects. Some of these projects include work on rocket and satellite design, civil engineering in bridge building competitions and work with the Society of Automotive Engineers. Goering said they are partway through the design now and construction could start in about a year. UAA’s plans include a code-required parking structure. UAF’s plan does not include such parking, which Goering said contributes to its lower cost. The construction is part of the University of Alaska’s initiative to increase undergraduates in engineering to fill an occupational gap. The university reports that most engineering jobs in the state are filled by non-residents. The Alaska Department of Labor projects an average of 50 new engineering jobs annually through 2018 and another 70 openings from annual turnover and retirement. The university has been focused on expanding its engineering program for some time, particularly its undergraduate engineers. The Board of Regents has called the Engineering Expansion Initiative its No. 1 new construction priority for academic programs. Engineering enrollment has increased by 53 percent between 2007 and 2010 in engineering undergraduates, the university reports. There were 72 baccalaureate degrees awarded in this field when the initiative came through in 2007, compared to 148 in 2010. Driscoll said UAA has more than 1,000 students enrolled in undergraduate and graduate classes. Goering said the university is on track to double its 2006 engineer students by 2014. The Legislature previously awarded $4 million to each campus for planning and design. Private gifts of more than $26 million for the engineering program initiative have come in from nearly 770 individuals and corporations since fiscal year 2007. UAF also able to garner $400,000 in general funds. “We’re very grateful for the engineering companies for all support they’ve given and recognizing the quality of graduates and wanting to see more of them,” Driscoll said.

King Cove access road is one step closer to fruition

A long-awaited road project at the far end of the Alaska Peninsula is one step closer to fruition. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has issued a draft Environmental Impact Statement for proposed single-lane road construction connecting King Cove and Cold Bay. King Cove residents have pushed for this project since a resolution for the road was first passed in 1976, according to City Manager Gary Hennigh. The city has gone through several alternatives in the past for getting better transportation access, especially for emergencies. The proposed gravel road would be approximately 19.4 miles to 21.6 miles long and cross the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge. The road would cost about $24 million, while other alternatives in the draft EIS are more expensive. The EIS also analyzes swapping around 56,000 acres of land between the state and King Cove Corp. in exchange for about 206 acres from the federal government, which would be required under some of the alternatives. The exchanges are authorized under the Omnibus Public Lands Act of 2009. In a statement, Della Trumble, spokeswoman for King Cove Corp. and Agdaagux Tribe, said this type of land exchange is unprecedented. Now that the draft EIS is out, the next step is the public comment period lasting trough mid-May with meetings in five communities surrounding the refuge plus Anchorage. An analysis will follow. “Our plan is to have a final EIS released in the fall,” said USFWS spokesman Bruce Woods. This EIS will lead to a Record of Decision and the Secretary of the Interior’s public interest finding. “We’ve presented five alternatives in the draft EIS. We have not selected a preferred alternative,” he said. A selection will be made after the current comment period. The alternatives include two separate road alignments, hovercraft operations, ferry use between Lenard Harbor and the Cold Bay dock, or no action. The hovercraft and ferry alternatives wouldn’t require land exchanges but are considerably more expensive. According to the draft EIS, the lifecycle cost of the southern or central land exchanges for a road would be $23 million and $26 million, respectively. Hovercraft operations would cost $44 million and Lenard Harbor ferry operations and Cold Bay dock improvements would cost $70 million. No action would still hold a $26 million price tag for its lifecycle. The King Cove and Cold Bay communities have sought a connecting road for some time, primarily for airport access for health emergencies. In 1998, Congress provided the borough with $37.5 million in the King Cove Health and Safety Act. This was to provide airport upgrades, a health clinic and conservation of a marine road transportation system. A hovercraft was purchased and a road was developed. This still didn’t prove to be effective for the residents. “But the community has not found the hovercraft to be a complete solution to the problems, which is why they’ve come back again and asked for the road,” Woods said. King Cove officials and tribal leaders are united in their support of this step forward in a project they’ve been pursuing for years. Assistant City Manager Bonnie Folz said the road is definitely needed and sent a press release outlining their support of something they feel is necessary and overdue. Trumble states this has been a decades-long battle, during which the community has lost too many lives in the struggle to access the airport during emergencies. She also said the testimony during the EIS process shed light on how the Izembek wilderness was created “without any consultation from the people of King Cove.” “These injustices need to be corrected,” said Trumble. “We should be taken seriously by the federal government, and particularly the Secretary of the Interior, who has a trust responsibility to us. We have sacrificed too much already, and it is time to make it right.” King Cove officials state that without the transfer, transportation is limited to small plane travel that is not suitable or safe in emergencies. The other option is through U.S. Coast Guard rescue. The base in Kodiak is 430 miles away. A hovercraft transportation option was attempted but shut down last year due to costs. The release states that severe weather delayed a Coast Guard medevac on at least one occasion and 11 people have died during unsuccessful trips over the last four decades. Hennigh said these deaths were the results of weather-related plane crashes, including short flights between King Cove and Cold Bay. He said the road would eliminate this risk. Flight delays during emergencies are also an issue. “The road (to the Cold Bay airport) is and has always been the only safe, reliable transportation option for the life, safety and health of our residents,” states Aleutians East Borough Mayor Stanley Mack. “It is the only workable long-term solution.” The city isn’t alone in these thoughts. Alaska’s delegation all issued statements upon the draft’s release to praise the progress. “I voted for this land exchange in 2009, and it’s good to see that we’re making progress on a decades-long struggle,” U.S. Sen. Mark Begich said in his release. “As I’ve told Secretary Salazar, it’s time to finish this, build the road, and let the community get on with their lives. The King Cove Corp. is giving up 20 percent of its land for a simple gravel road. That shows how much of a priority emergency access to the airport in Cold Bay is.” U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski states the decision to pave the way for an Interior Department ruling is a “welcome one.” “When you consider the number of life-threatening accidents that have occurred due to the challenges of flying into King Cove during foul weather, I believe there is no greater good we could do than to provide safe road access to the all-weather airport at nearby Cold Bay,” she said in her release. “Conserving our natural spaces is important, but we have to balance that with the safety needs of local residents.” Murkowski encourages Alaskans to weigh in on the public comment period. Congressman Don Young also released a statement, saying, “The residents of King Cove have been waiting for over 20 years to build this road and today’s news is a step in the right direction. The next step in this process is for Alaskans to comment and I am confident that Alaskans will make their voices heard. Having worked with King Cove on this project for years, anything that prevents this road from being built and being built soon, is unacceptable to me.”

Spring break program gives construction students an edge

There is no beach trip for 19-year-old DeAnna Amox this spring break. She has something else on her mind: beating the boys at the carpentry game. Amox, a senior at Bartlett High School, is one of 20 students from the Anchorage School District spending their entire break learning the trades as part of a cooperative effort called the Spring Construction Institute. These students — all in the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development’s Senior Job Club — work with trained personnel in both classrooms and hands-on practice to develop skills in carpentry, electrical wiring, weatherization and more. “I like it. It’s fun,” Amox said. “Probably a lot of kids my age think it’s crazy but I’m used to going to school every day anyway so why not do this and get something out of it?” The students there intend to get some valuable training and perhaps a job boost out of it. Shaydi Dejesus, career guide with Labor Department’s Youth Job Center, said the students get an advantage in developing advanced skills and at no cost to them. She said these skills only add to the training they get at school programs like King Career Center and allows them to become more well-rounded trades workers and pursue employment in these high-growth fields. “These are the next generation of workforce leaders,” she said. While there, students can earn general training certification. This is one of five certification opportunities for Senior Job Club members. The students are all juniors or seniors in the Anchorage School District. The spring break course is careful not to duplicate training they’ve already received. The course is voluntary but it’s no cakewalk. It’s structured to be like a job site and those teens are giving up a lot on their spring break, as are the instructors. Classes run 8 a.m. to around 5 p.m. with only 30 minutes for lunch, just like on the job. These days ran from March 9 though March 17 with only a Sunday off. They must pass tests through both practical work and on paper, as well as going through classes and safety procedures. James Elam, who teaches plumbing and electricity at King Career Center, said there is a great deal of math involved in the trades. They must demonstrate applied knowledge of the fractions, geometry, algebra, angles and decibels needed on a job site. “There’s a lot more to it than just pounding nails,” he said. It’s Alaska Works Partnership personnel that do the training. A school district representative is on hand plus a Labor Department representative to help with the job readiness aspect. This is where Dejesus comes in. The Youth Job Center helps them develop resumes and career plans, particularly with a hiring event in April for the Senior Job Club members. There will be 75 employers there. “They generally have nearly a 100 percent hire rate,” Dejesus said. Dejesus said there are 125 Anchorage students in the Senior Job Club. Those students comprise the pool of candidates for the spring break institute and the job fair. “Once they leave, we have good grasp of their personalities and how to get them into those positions,” she said. Elam said the students here are very motivated because they know what they want to do. He said they might not choose college but want to enter trades to be productive members of society. He said becoming a skilled tradesman requires a high level of knowledge in and of itself and many will also do apprenticeships. The best way many of them learn is through that hands-on practice. “These are good kids,” Elam said. “Even if they don’t have the best grades, with a tool in their hands, they will outshine the valedictorian every day of the week. For the most part, these guys are very motivated so their skill level improves very quickly.” The Spring Construction Institute is a collaborative effort by the Labor Department’s Youth Job Center, Construction Education Foundation and Alaska Works Partnership. It’s also coordinated in part by Anchorage School District. The funding starts at the state department and works its way to subcontract the Alaska Works Partnership to provide the free training. That zero price tag is more than welcomed by high school students. Amox is still deciding on what direction she’ll pursue for her future but said she knows that if she can get into carpentry if she wants to since she’s “taking the right classes.” Liridon Papraniku, 18, knows that he wants to pursue electrical work and wanted to use spring break to broaden his tradesman skill set through carpentry. The Dimond High School senior has been interested in electrical work most of his life and wants to give himself a leg-up in getting a job. “My main focus is electrical work but I’m trying to get as much knowledge in carpentry as possible,” he said. He said he’s learned a lot from the class and that the instructors there take time to make sure everyone gets it right. Papraniku intends to try to get into the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers or perhaps go to the Alaska Vocational and Technical Education Center. Papraniku and Amox both take carpentry classes at King Career Center. For Amox, the competitive challenge of the program makes it all that much more worthwhile. She’s one of only two females in the class and loves showing the guys that she can do the work as well as they can. She said carpentry is a male-dominated profession and many tend to assume that females doing this work need help but she likes to show that she can actually do it better. The department also holds mini-institutions during the year for other certifications like forklift safety, builders levels and lasers and North Slop training. Amox has been to the North Slope lesson and is thinking about doing others. Dejesus said the program started in 2006 as the Summer Construction Institute and was moved to spring break in 2008.

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