Kenai sees mixed tourism results

KENAI -- Despite fears that Alaska would see a drop in visitors following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, this year’s Kenai Peninsula tourism season was relatively strong.And the tourists who did stay home may have been influenced more by uneasiness over fishing on the Kenai River than concerns about cross-country travel.Area businesses, especially those who rely primarily on the sport fishing industry, attributed a sluggish May and June to a poor early run of king salmon on the Kenai River, not Sept. 11 fears or a shaky economy."When people can’t fish, you can’t sell fishing tackle," said Richard Hatt, owner of The Tackle Box in Soldotna.Hatt said business at his tackle shop didn’t pick up until after July 1, when anglers and other tourists combined to bring the last two months of the season up to respectable levels."July was real good," Hatt said.Hatt speculated that people simply waited until the summer’s peak before making the trip to the peninsula."People are starting to know and starting to learn (July is) the best time of the summer to come. A lot can’t afford to take a chance on May and June," Hatt said.Hatt’s job is to tell people where the hot fishing holes are. It’s the job of the people who staff area visitor centers to tell tourists where to find guys like Hatt. Shanon Hamrick, Soldotna Visitors Center coordinator, said this summer saw slightly fewer visitors than last year, but she agreed with Hatt that the late-season surge helped quite a bit."We have seen it wind down, even though we have seen it going a bit more strongly than we did last September. I’d say after Labor Day is really the down time. And it drops off really quickly," she said.While there may have been fewer visitors, the ones who were here appeared to be spending more, Hamrick said."Our retail shop sales were up 39 percent. I know most of country wasn’t spending money, but our visitors were," she said.Jay Barrett, director of communications for the Kenai Visitors and Convention Bureau, said the number of visitors to the Kenai center was down slightly from last year."Visitors to the center were down overall 4 percent from last year," Barrett said. However, he also said a late season surge helped keep the center’s staff busy."There seemed to be a lot of people who didn’t have (hotel) reservations. I was surprised at the amount of people who were making last-minute accommodation plans," Barrett said.Barrett said he didn’t think the season was anywhere near as dismal as preseason predictions may have indicated."Just from my observation, it looked like every RV park in town was full, and some of them looked like they were overflowing," he said.People waiting to come to the area until the last minute may have hurt some businesses who rely on a steady stream of summer traffic to stay afloat.Dru Garson, marketing coordinator for the Kenai Peninsula Tourism Marketing Council Inc., said this season appeared to be just OK for most business owners.Garson said the results of a survey the marketing council distributed to area businesses last month showed business owners overall felt the tourist season could have gone better, but it also could have been worse."Some people are saying it was good," he said. "Some are saying otherwise."

Mine, railroad workers hurt by end of coal shipments

Alaska Railroad Corp. will haul its last load of coal this month from Healy to the Port of Seward, marking an end to an 18-year relationship that provided millions in revenues for the railroad and many jobs for miners.The state-owned railroad’s revenues will be slashed by some $4 million annually now that Usibelli Coal Mine Inc. has lost its contract with South Korea-based Hyundai Merchant Marine Co. Ltd.The railroad had forecasted coal-hauling revenues to rise from $3.8 million this year to $4.2 million in 2006, or about 5 percent of its freight earnings overall. The loss in revenues from coal will mean less maintenance on the railroad’s line from Anchorage to Seward, said Patrick Flynn, the railroad’s spokesman. No jobs will be lost at the railroad, but there won’t be the amount of work as before."There will be less trains to be driven so we would be calling engineers less to drive those trains," Flynn said. "We’re not happy about it," he said.Nor are the coal miners in Healy, where the mining company has laid off a third of its 120-person work force since spring. The last of the layoffs came in August, said Steve Denton, Usibelli Coal Mine general manager."All the going-away parties have been sad," said Denton. "We can’t hold on to jobs that are not supportable."The dozen jobs at Seward’s coal terminal, owned by Hyundai and the state, are in limbo, said Shelli Knopik, terminal office manager.Knopik said Hyundai officials from South Korea are slated to come to Seward this month to talk with workers."It’s real nerve-wracking," Knopik said. "We have no idea what the outcome will be."The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority in 1995 invested $6.9 million to help lower the costs of the Seward terminal. Hyundai still owes $5.6 million on the loan, said Jim McMillan, AIDEA deputy director for credit."We don’t know what’s going on there," McMillan said. "We have not heard from them as to what may or may not happen."McMillan said Hyundai is current with payments on the loan, which is due in 2005, McMillan said.AIDEA, which owns 49 percent of the facility, will get its money back, McMillan said."We are protected," he said.Hyundai officials did not return telephone calls from the Journal.Usibelli announced in late March that it couldn’t renew Hyundai’s South Korean coal export contract, which represents nearly half of its 1.5 million ton annual production. The company has shipped some 12 million tons of coal to South Korea since 1984 and has been the only mine in the United States exporting coal to the country.Usibelli in January was underbid by two coal suppliers in Indonesia, which has grown from being virtually a nonplayer in the world export coal market 20 years ago to the third largest today. China and Australia are the only two countries that export more coal than Indonesia to markets in the Pacific Rim, Denton said."Coal is prevalent throughout the world as an energy source, so it’s difficult to ship it very far and compete," Denton said."We can’t match their price," Denton said of the Asian coal exporters. "It’s a fundamental economic gap that we can’t cross at this moment."Usibelli still has a steady market within the state for power generation in communities and military installations. Shipping revenues from those operations should earn the railroad $5.75 million this year, according to railroad projections.The only potential Outside market now for Alaska coal is the Lower 48’s West Coast, said Denton. But it’s a long shot and is not being seriously considered.It is, however, worth entertaining as a possibility, Denton said."It would be half as far from Alaska to the West Coast as it would be from Indonesia," Denton said.The United States is a major importer of coal, but to ship it from Alaska to domestic markets would require a U.S.-flagged vessel under federal commerce rules. There are no such ships in existence."Without a (large) vessel, it would destroy all of our advantage," Denton said.

Hospital raises rates by 6 percent

KENAI -- Central Peninsula General Hospital’s charges will increase by an average 6 percent, effective this month."Our reasons for the increase were to keep pace with inflation, the rising costs of medical technology, rising insurance premiums and to maintain our ability to offer the highest quality care," said Diana Zirul, president of the CPGH Inc. board, the nonprofit organization that manages the Kenai Peninsula Borough-owned hospital.The decision was made at the August board meeting, but did meet some questioning from the board before approval."That’s bigger than cost of living (adjustments)," said board member Bill Stogsdill. "It may be justifiable for health care, but I’d like numbers rather than an arbitrary statement saying, ’to meet our expenses.’ "Edward Burke, hired in July as the hospital’s chief financial officer, said the increase could have been worse, were it not for a review of billing software used by the hospital. The review identified errors in the billing system.The board voted unanimously to approve the increase.Burke has been working with a team of employees to review hospital financial documents and to make recommendations to ensure that cost adjustments were made accurately and appropriately."No one likes to hear about rising costs," he said. "But the fact is, the cost of doing business in health care has gone up due to federal mandates to protect patients’ privacy and due to significant cost increases in just about all insurance premiums following Sept. 11. The hospital’s health insurance premium, for example, has increased by 11 percent and we’ve seen our worker’s compensation rates quadruple."Burke is reviewing the hospital’s budget with all department directors and working with the board’s finance committee to implement the necessary changes to keep the hospital’s financial performance healthy, said Loretta Flanders, the board’s finance committee chairwoman.Zirul said the hospital continues to remain competitive despite the increase."The board is never happy to raise rates," she said. "But we are pleased that we have still been able to keep our hospital charges among the lowest in the state."

Report says genetically modified fish could pose danger

FAIRBANKS -- Genetically modified fish from farms could eventually present "considerable" environmental risks, according to a federal science panel.The National Research Council devoted several pages to fish in a report on biotechnology it released last month. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration requested the report in response to controversy over genetically modified foods.The research council ranked fish second highest, behind insects, in a listing of animal types that would raise concern if given new genes.Farmed fish that escape can disperse rapidly and widely. Once in the wild, the fish could compete against or disrupt natural fish populations, the report said."The committee’s review of ecologic principles and empirical data suggests a considerable risk of ecologic hazards" if genetically modified fish enter natural ecosystems, the report concluded.State law bars fish farms in Alaska waters, but dozens of farms raise Atlantic salmon in British Columbia, mostly around Vancouver Island. The B.C. government recently lifted a moratorium on new salmon farms.No genetically modified fish are being farmed at this point, according to the Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance, which opposes the use of such fish.But the National Research Council report said the industry could turn toward the new stocks later."Considerable research effort has been devoted to development of genetically enhanced fish and shellfish stocks, as they pose considerable benefits to producers," the report said.The review offered with no specific predictions about what might happen if genetically modified fish escaped, as they likely would."It is difficult to assess the likely ecologic or genetic outcome should transgenic Atlantic salmon escape captivity and invade wild populations," the report said.Studies have shown that, in the salmon family, larger fish have an advantage in spawning. But other studies indicate large genetically modified fish are less likely to produce healthy young.The two discoveries together present a danger, the panel said. If a modified gene improves spawning success but hurts juvenile viability, "the result is a gradual spiraling down of population size until eventually both wild-type and transgenic genotypes become locally extinct," the report said.All this is still theory, the panel notes. The information available to date "does not yet provide a body of data useful" for modeling what might happen.Atlantic salmon, which account for 80 percent of B.C. farmed salmon production, are a different species from the Pacific varieties and aren’t likely to interbreed. But they have been caught in Southeast Alaska and as far west as the Bering Sea. Spawning has been documented in some Vancouver Island streams.

BP reactivates Prudhoe wells following checks

ANCHORAGE -- BP has begun putting dozens of Prudhoe Bay oil wells back into production after testing to see whether they presented a danger to workers.The company had shut down 137 wells after an explosion and fire on Aug. 16 that seriously injured oil field worker Don Shugak.Steve Marshall, president of BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc., said Sept. 9 that tests so far on the wells have not revealed significant problems. Each was under abnormally high pressure but operated under special waivers.The well that exploded was under excessive pressure. BP investigators believe a casing 17 feet underground ruptured and caused a natural gas explosion inside a wellhead building.Shugak, who had gone to the newly restarted well to bleed off pressure, was hit by the blast and suffered burns and multiple broken bones. He remains in a Seattle hospital.The 137 wells together produce about 45,000 barrels of oil a day. Prudhoe, the largest North American oil field, has about 1,600 wells in all and produces most of the North Slope’s total daily output of more than 1 million barrels.BP plans to dismantle the ruptured well to gain more clues about why it failed.-- The Associated Press

Chignik co-op generates paychecks for fishermen who didn't fish

ANCHORAGE -- More than 50 commercial salmon fishermen made $20,000 each this summer in a remote Western Alaska salmon fishery without ever getting their nets wet.The state’s first fishing cooperative wrapped up its first season, paying more than 50 fishermen who never fished.Traditionally, commercial fishing permit holders have competed for fish. But the cooperative was formed as a way for commercial salmon fishermen to pool their resources to survive in a market glutted with farmed salmon.The co-op hired 19 of its 77 members to catch the salmon, with the remaining purse seine boats bowing out to save expenses. Members shared costs and profits. At season’s end, each has netted at least $20,000, including those who stayed home. The 19 working boats also each received up to $40,000 extra for their trouble.The new fishing style is controversial, especially among 23 independent fishermen who complained that the state reserved most of the fish for the co-op. Some independents have sued to break up the co-op and plan to challenge it this fall at meetings of the state Board of Fisheries.But organizers say the co-op’s maiden voyage was a success, resulting in better profits for fishermen in an industry reeling in recent years from low dock prices.Jamie Ross, a fisherman and co-op officer, said the only downer was a weak sockeye run."We’re all disappointed with Mother Nature’s performance, but we’re pretty happy with the co-op’s performance," he said.Alaska, whose wild sockeye once dominated world markets, is now a niche player behind the huge output of foreign salmon farms. Chignik, like many other salmon fisheries around the Alaska coast, is plagued by too many boats trying to survive on fish now worth much less.Last winter, the Fish Board took the unprecedented step of reserving part of the Chignik run for fishermen in a co-op. With their fish safe from competitors, the co-op fishermen could park some of their boats and harvest their fish with less expense and no worry of someone else grabbing them. They would split costs and profits evenly among themselves.The $20,000 each permit holder will receive is a modest sum compared with past hauls at Chignik, historically one of Alaska’s most lucrative salmon fisheries. As recently as 1999, Chignik fishermen netted more than $200,000 each, but that was a year in which a historic 3.1 million fish were caught.By cooperating, fishermen fared better this season than if they had raced for fish as in the past, Ross said. On average, each competing boat would have had profits of less than $10,000.One key co-op benefit was that seiners could work slower and take more care in delivering fresher salmon, for which processors paid a few extra pennies per pound.Co-op member Roger Rowland said it felt odd after 17 seasons at Chignik not to spend his summer chasing sockeye."We miss fishing," he said. "My children miss fishing. They ask me, ’Are we ever going back to Chignik?’ And I say: ’I don’t know. Things change.’"Rowland, who lives and runs a machine shop in Unalaska, plans to use his $20,000 to pay down debt of about $130,000 on his permit and 42-foot boat, the Commitment.He has heard the critics who say it isn’t right for a fisherman not to catch fish and still make money. But he notes that Chignik fishermen either earned a permit through longevity when the state first issued them in the 1970s, or bought a permit."We’re not being paid not to fish," Rowland said. "We are choosing to fish in a more economic manner."

Russians catch up in oil, Internet

Management guru Tom Peters recommends taking what he calls Serious Sabbaticals -- six-week vacations. He thinks the renewal allows for creativity and that creativity can be a generator of wealth. Since it’s hard to argue with his success, I headed off for St. Petersburg, Russia for six weeks this summer.I have in-laws of the best kind who live there. It’s also the most northern city with a population of over 1 million (4.75 million). At the same latitude as Anchorage, it’s directly opposite us, 12 time zones away. So here’s what I observed, learned and created:High-speed Internet has arrived in RussiaThe Russian writer Nikolai Gogol once observed, "What Russian doesn’t like to go fast?" It’s true. Two years ago it was hard to find dial-up Internet connections in Russia. This time I found Internet cafes with 2 million bit per second connections costing only $2 an hour. Even better, I could plug in and work on my own laptop.Digital cameras rockI took a wealth of digital photos on the trip. I could share them with my folks back in Soldotna almost real time because they have a cable modem. The combination of digital photography and high-speed Internet makes for a vivid, shared travel experience.Poor communication can cost you an empireTo understand Russia’s roots, I highly recommend Robert Massie’s Pulitzer-Prize winning book, "Peter the Great." While reading, I came across a gem of a management story.In the 18th century, King Charles XII of Sweden dominated northern and central Europe. Not content with his conquests, he decided to invade Russia. However, Tsar Peter the Great decisively defeated Charles at the Battle of Poltava in 1709 and so shifted the strategic balance of power in Europe.The key reason for Charles’ defeat? Charles was wounded before the battle and had to turn over command to his two generals, Rehnskjold and Lewenhaupt. They were rivals with clashing personalities.When King Charles and Field Marshall Rehnskjold decided on the plan of battle for the following day, Rehnskjold incredibly decided not to tell Gen. Lewenhaupt what the plan was. His reason was that he didn’t like the condescending way in which Lewenhaupt took orders. The Swedish army of 19,000 then faced off against 42,000 Russians. When the battle was over, 10,000 Swedes were dead, wounded or captured, compared to 4,635 of the Russians.Swedish domination of Europe collapsed and Peter the Great and Russia took the world stage. The lesson is your staff doesn’t have to like each other, but it can hurt if they don’t.Life is still toughAt 31.57 rubles to the dollar, the average monthly wage in May 2002 was $134 a month in St. Petersburg. Pensioners receive $60 a month. Food, clothing and electronic equipment prices were remarkably similar to Anchorage. That means that many pensioners survive on bread, water and whatever they can grow in their gardens.However, there are ever-increasing numbers of "New Russians." These are people with the connections to make business work for them. They drive sport utility vehicles and Mercedes-Benz sedans. They also build elaborate country homes and take summer vacations in Greece and Spain.Russia’s brightest and best appear underemployedI had numerous conversations with Russians in their 20s, 30s and 40s. They were business people, doctors, lawyers, analysts and staff members for both Russian and Western organizations. Some had studied in the United States, while others hoped to study in the United States, Germany, or Japan.The single common denominator was their desire for better. Hardly anyone seemed satisfied. Many were frustrated at being overqualified and underemployed. All were determined to keep moving after opportunity. They seemed even more ambitious than many Americans. That is, all in all, a good thing for Russia’s future.Watch the Russian oil and gas industryAlaskans are always interested in energy issues, so I digested Borut Grgic’s commentary entitled "The Rise of the Russian Oil Giant" in the Wall Street Journal Europe, August 19, 2002. His thesis focused on Russia gradually winning the battle for global energy supremacy. It has the geographic position, resources and infrastructure to be Europe’s prime supplier of energy and the interest is mutual.Grgic pointed out that the cost of oil production in Russia is decreasing and may soon be as low as that of Saudi Arabia. Russian oil production capacity is also increasing, while it is stagnating in the Middle East. Russia also has one fourth of the world’s natural gas reserves. A Siberian gas pipeline is being built to northwest China. Serious overtures are being made to Iran and India. The United States is also seeking to reduce dependency on Saudi oil and Russian oil is part of that picture.The bottom line remains that the Russian oil and gas industry is now strategically significant.Sabbaticals workSo what did I do that was creative? Well, there is now one more Web site in the world. With help from in Anchorage, I created my own business Web site while 4,067 miles away: It took a sabbatical to finish, but it’s now live.And what of the work left behind? There is a Russian saying for every situation. In this case, it is: "Work is not a wolf. It won’t run away into the woods." Sure enough, the work left behind was still there, but I now have fresh perspectives and new insights. As hotelier Wolf Hengst says, "On holiday, you reconnect with yourself."Tim Pearson is a business coach who helps people design careers and build companies. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected]

Gourmet magazine author prefers Alaska wild salmon to farmed

KODIAK -- Advertising for Alaska wild salmon can’t get any better than this.The September issue of Gourmet magazine features an article called "The Wild and the Farmed." To say that writer Barry Estabrook pulls no punches is putting it lightly. And he’s saying it within the pages of one of the world’s most widely read, fine eating publications.The article begins with the writer aboard a skiff in the Naknek River, gillnetting for sockeye salmon with fisherman Doug Adams.Upon his return to the Lower 48, Estabrook said he immediately bought a piece of farmed Atlantic salmon. "The flesh was mushy and bland, bearing as much resemblance to the wild salmon I’d eaten in Naknek as a hard January tomato does to a homegrown (tomato) warm from an August garden," he wrote.The magazine reporter then goes to a fish farm in Maine. Estabrook reveals how synthetic additives are routinely added to fish feeds to add color to a farmed salmon’s normally whitish-gray meat; how crowded conditions provide the ideal environment for disease, forcing the use of antibiotics and other drugs; how it takes two to five pounds of ground-up wild fish to produce one pound of farmed fish; and how dung and dead fish are dumped directly into public waterways."If the consumer knew the true cost of $3.99 (a pound) salmon and what’s in it that she can’t see or taste, there is no way she would buy it," Estabrook writes.Thanks, Gourmet, for helping to get the word out.Flush this fishThe Alaska Fisherman’s Journal reports that students wearing "Flush with Pride" T-shirts in Arcata, Calif., are busy with a project of growing trout and steelhead in sewer water. It’s perfectly legal, and the venture holds great promise for fish hatcheries to supplement failing wild runs in the region.The Arcata Wastewater Aquaculture project is run by the students and biologists from the city’s wastewater utilization program, and so far the results are reportedly positive. Young steelhead raised in wastewater filtered through the treatment center’s marshes grew larger, had fewer abnormalities and were more likely to survive than those raised in Arcata’s drinking water, which picks up higher copper levels from passing through pipes.The sewage-raised trout emerge clean of undesirables, such as cholera and fecal bacteria, the newspaper reported.Hmmm, how will they be listed on point of origin labels?Oily fish boosts memoryThe health benefits of oily fish like salmon keep accumulating in research studies., a fish wholesaling Web site which tracks industry news, reports on a Loyola University study showing that the essential fats found in fish and nuts may help reduce memory loss and strokes. The work was performed at the university’s medical center on rats, measuring brain function. The researchers found that rats given the supplement experienced a drop in blood pressure and an increase in brain function.Crab watchCanadian Newfoundland’s snow crab fishery was set to close on Aug. 31, with a catch of 57,000 metric tons, or more than 125 million pounds. Fishermen received $1.78 per pound Canadian for their crab and an eager market is reportedly awaiting the product.Alaska’s snow crab fishery begins in mid-January and the catch quota is expected to be announced no later than Sept. 6. The snow crab harvest for 2002 was just over 30 million pounds.Dutch Harbor does it betterFor the 13th year in a row, Dutch Harbor topped U.S. ports for fish landings. Nearly 835 million pounds of fish crossed the docks in the Aleutian port in 2001, an increase of 135 million pounds from 2001.According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, Reedville, Va., was ranked No. 2 with 488 million pounds, followed by three Louisiana ports. Kodiak dropped out of the top five to sixth place with 285 million pounds, a dip of 400,000 pounds from the previous year.In terms of value, New Bedford, Mass., can thank rebounding scallop stocks for pushing it to the top at nearly $151 million. Dutch Harbor was second at nearly $130 million, an increase of $4.5 million from 2000.Kodiak came in third for seafood value at $74 million, a loss of more than $20 million from the year before.Kodiak-based free-lance writer Laine Welch can be reached via e-mail at [email protected]

Tlingit helps with bond sale

JUNEAU -- Natives are developing new trade routes to keep money within the tribes.Juneau investment adviser Brad Fluetsch was part of the first-ever all-Native bond purchase last month."This is truly a groundbreaking event in Indian country," said Derrick Watchman, board member of the Native American Bank. "Millions of trades like this occur on a daily basis, but what sets this one apart from all the others is the money stayed in Indian country."The transaction itself was ordinary enough. As investment adviser, Fluetsch assisted his client, Native American Bank, in purchasing a Fannie Mae two-year bond from the Native American Financial Services Co. brokerage firm."What we bought was unremarkable. The fact, though, that it was all Native participants, that it was executed through a Native brokerage firm, that’s the first time that’s ever happened," Fluetsch said.Fluetsch said he knows it is the first time because there are only two other Native American money managers in the country, and neither of them had completed a deal solely within the Native community. Fluetsch, a Tlingit, has owned and run Raven Asset Management in Juneau for three years.Banks and brokerages have trouble finding experienced Native Americans to hire, Fluetsch said.There are only two Native American brokerage firms and about a dozen tribally owned and run banks, Fluetsch said. Native American Bank, headquartered in Denver, Colo., was founded by 12 tribes, including Alaska Native corporations.Murray Lee, president of Native American Financial Services Co. in Window Rock, Ariz., is a member of the Navajo Nation."This was a long time coming, but now a precedent has been set," Lee said. "Essentially, what we have done is we have leveled the financial playing field and have paved the way for future deals like this in Indian country."For Fluetsch, it was the first step toward a larger goal of keeping money circulating among the Native communities. If the federal Indian Health Services $2.9 billion budget were invested by Native money managers rather than other financial management companies, the $4.5 million management fee and additional transaction fees would go to Natives, he said."If Native American financial institutions get a piece of that business, that comes back into Indian country, and if they’re like me that means Native Americans are going to get jobs, they’re going to get opportunities in the financial services industry," Fluetsch said. "These are good jobs, they’re high-paying, they’re green jobs. Frankly, they’re a lot of fun."Tribes and Native corporations have gained a lot of wealth in the last decade from casinos, timber and mining, among other endeavors, Fluetsch said."All of them putting money into Indian country and then where does that money go?" Fluetsch said. "As we gain experience we can grow this industry and serve our people and serve anybody else."

Effort to expand Red Dog Mine port may be challenged

Economic studies and an environmental review for a project to enlarge the Red Dog Mine port in Northwest Alaska are on schedule to be completed Jan. 1.Meanwhile, two environmental groups, the Northern Alaska Environmental Center in Fairbanks and the Ecology & Law Institute in Santa Fe, N.M., have written the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is managing the project, that they may challenge the project in court.This has prompted industries and communities that will use the port, particularly Teck Cominco Alaska Inc., operator of the Red Dog Mine, to restate their support for the project, estimated to cost $145 million to $178 million, according to John Wood, manager for the project at the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority.AIDEA, the state development agency, owns the port, which is now used to ship lead and zinc concentrates from the Red Dog Mine."We continue to have strong interest in the project due to its potential to decrease shipping costs, increase shipping capacity and minimize environmental impact," said Charlotte MacCay, environmental advisor to Teck Cominco.The company has spent $8 million in support of environmental and technical studies related to the port expansion, she said.The mine is located in the DeLong Mountains 60 miles from the coast. Ore concentrates are trucked from the mine along a road to the coast. The mine operates all year but the port is open for shipping only during summer, when the Chukchi Sea is clear of ice. Concentrates are stored through the year in large buildings at the port.Wood said that economic feasibility studies and the draft environmental impact statement for the port extension are both being done by the Corps, and that they are on schedule for release in January.The Corps has circulated drafts of a 130-page analysis on environmental effects and asked for comments, which prompted the two environmental groups to send the Corps a letter stating their intent to file a lawsuit, Wood said.While there are concerns over effects on Beluga whales, which are in waters near the port during summer, AIDEA does not believe there are any endangered species which will be affected, Wood said.What is proposed at the port is construction of a 1,400-foot trestle into deeper water, along with a ship loading unit at the end of the trestle. Dredging would also be done to create a channel, so that ore ships can move closer to shore.This would allow ore concentrates to be loaded directly into the ship, rather than being shuttled with a lightering barge from the present port to a ship anchored offshore, Wood said.He said substantial savings will result from no longer having to load and unload the concentrates several times.McCay said the extension would minimize environmental impacts of the port by eliminating the double-handling of concentrates.Just as important, the port will be able to transfer ore to ships earlier in the spring and later in the fall, which effectively widens the summer shipping season for the mining company, Wood said.At the existing port, ice forms near the coast first in the fall and blocks movement by the loading barges, while there is still open water further out. Likewise, in the spring, the ice offshore opens earlier, allowing passage by ships, but remains frozen along the shore until later.Another benefit of the extended port is that fuel for power generation can be unloaded directly from a ship to bulk storage tanks onshore. This would allow fuel to be brought to the port in large quantities with a tanker vessel rather than smaller fuel barges.Shipping by tanker and unloading directly to shore could lower the cost of fuel for Cominco by as much as 25 cents a gallon, a substantial savings. The company buys about 20 million gallons of diesel annually for power generation at the Red Dog Mine, Wood said.This will also makes it possible for villages in Northwest Alaska to buy bulk fuel oil and store it in tanks at the port. From there, it can be shipped by air to the communities throughout the year, Wood said.Fuel is now shipped by barge to Kotzebue, which is the regional distribution point, and then shipped in smaller barges to villages inland on the Kobuk and Noatak rivers.The Red Dog Mine is on land owned by NANA Regional Corp., the Alaska Native regional corporation for Northwest Alaska. NANA developed the mine with Cominco in the late 1980s.AIDEA built the 60-mile access road and the port. Cominco pays the state authority a toll for their use.The mine is an important employer in the northwest region, with over half of the 485 employees at the mine being shareholders of NANA. About half of the northwest region’s non-government economic activity is due to the mine, said Wood.After the Corps circulated its draft environmental review, the agency received letters from the two environmental groups complaining that the agency had not consulted other agencies or communities affected by the project.John Killoran, Alaska spokesman for the Corps, said other agencies had received copies of the draft environmental review, but said the formal consultation with agencies and the public does not take place until after the draft environmental impact statement is formally released, which will be in January.

Study: ANWR revenues could close gap

A new study says revenues to the State of Alaska from oil production in the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge could be $830 million per year at $22 per barrel oil prices.That is approximately the size of the current state fiscal gap, the difference between current revenues and annual expenditures.Oil production activity in the refuge would create 14,000 new private jobs in the state’s economy from direct and indirect effects of industry activity, and another 6,000 to 7,000 jobs from revenues to state and local governments, according to the analysis by McDowell Group, a Juneau-based economic consulting firm.The study cost $30,000 and was sponsored by Supporting Alaska Free Enterprise, an organization formed last March to counter efforts by environmental groups to slow development in Alaska, according to Curtis Thayer, spokesman for the group.Donations to SAFE to finance the study came mostly from the Alaska business community, Thayer said.Jim Calvin, managing partner of the McDowell Group, presented the conclusions of the report in Anchorage on Sept. 5 to a luncheon meeting sponsored by the Alaska Support Industry Alliance, a petroleum contractor trade association.Also at the luncheon, Roger Herrera, a lobbyist in Washington, D.C., for Arctic Power, a group formed by Alaska business and labor groups to promote ANWR exploration, said there’s still a good chance that permission to explore the refuge could be included in the federal energy bill now in a House-Senate conference committee.An assumption that ANWR exploration is dead is premature, Herrera said. In fact, he said it helps advocates of ANWR because it allows lobbying of congressmen and senators on the committee and their staffs to continue without the "background noise" of heavy opposition from environmental groups.Jerry Hood, secretary-treasurer the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 959 in Alaska and an architect of a lobbying effort for ANWR exploration by labor unions, said he had personally spoken to President George W. Bush and Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham in recent weeks. Both expressed continued support for ANWR, he said.The White House will become aggressive in promoting the issue late in the game, Hood told the Alliance luncheon.Calvin said the McDowell Group analysis shows production from ANWR would create $1.2 billion per year in new private sector earnings in the state and an additional $500 million per year in earnings from government jobs, for a total of $1.7 billion in new annual payroll.The analysis used recent U.S. Geological Survey estimates of recoverable oil reserves and production potential in ANWR. At $22 per barrel market prices, the assumption is that 550,000 barrels per day of new production would result from the refuge’s coastal plain, Calvin said.The estimates are sensitive to oil price changes, he said. The McDowell Group used $22 per barrel as a "base" case, but also looked at revenues and jobs created if long-term prices were $20, $24 and $28.At $24 per barrel, production would increase to from 550,000 barrels per day to 750,000 barrels daily and annual state revenues from $830 million to $1.2 billion per year, the study said.The assumption is that if oil prices were higher over a longer term, smaller oil deposits would become economic to develop and more oil production would result, Calvin said.

Company gets license to look for Nenana natural gas

FAIRBANKS -- The state has issued a seven-year exploration license to Colorado-based Andex Resources to look for natural gas in the Nenana basin. While not a permit, the license gives the company sole rights to any natural gas within the nearly 500,000-acre basin about 50 miles south of Fairbanks.The area could hold up to billions of cubic feet of gas and could ultimately supply Fairbanks, Nenana and other nearby communities with natural gas."We don’t want to raise people’s expectations," said Jim Dodson, Andex vice president. "But at the end of the day, what tells the story is the end of a drill bit."The license gives Andex access to state land. The company is also working with Doyon Ltd. and Toghotthele Corp., both Alaska Native corporations formed by the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.Doyon Ltd. owns the subsurface rights and Toghotthele surface rights to 38,000 acres that Andex plans to explore for gas, said Jim Mery, Doyon’s vice president of land and natural resources. The Doyon and Toghotthele land in the basin is "strategically placed," Mery said. "We’ve worked hard to get people interested in the basin."Andex plans to conduct some seismic work this winter, said Jim Hansen, with the state Division of Oil and Gas.Dodson said the company will take an in-depth look at existing seismic data compiled by companies looking for oil in the area. The company will reconfigure the data to glean what information they can that will be relevant to natural gas, he said."Then we’ll have a much better idea what to do," Dodson said.The license calls for a one-time fee of $1 for each of the 482,942 acres licensed, Dodson said. Andex must commit to $2.52 million in work on the land. On completion of that work, the licensed acreage can be converted to oil and gas leases, he said.

Stevens: Bypass mail will survive lawsuits

Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, is confident new mail-hauling rules will withstand legal challenges from two airlines.Evergreen International Inc. and Alaska Central Express Inc. have each filed lawsuits in U.S. District Court in Anchorage, alleging the new rules signed into law Aug. 2 by President Bush unfairly limit competition and are unconstitutional."I don’t have any fear that they’re not constitutional," said Alaska’s senior senator, a Harvard law school graduate and former U.S. Attorney.Stevens and Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, crafted the law designed to close loopholes in Alaska’ costly rural mail distribution system."We’ve done the best we can," Stevens told the Journal. "We gave this very careful consideration and we think it is fair."Stevens in 1970 secured bypass mail, a system unique to Alaska where shipments of at least 1,000 pounds are stamped air mail but never touched by postal workers and delivered at cheaper parcel post rates.The federally subsidized mail has spurred development in the Bush over the last 30 years and provided passenger flights to communities that otherwise would have had no link to Alaska’s major cities, Stevens said."It’s succeeded beyond our dreams," Stevens said.But bypass mail has had its downside, spawning many cargo-only carriers who were given identical subsidies as those who provided passenger service.Many small Bush communities are served by several mail planes daily but offer no passenger service, against the grain of Stevens’ original intent."It blossomed," Stevens said.Each year, Stevens said, the Postal Service loses about $100 million. The new rules should lower the loss to $70 million annually, he said.Evergreen International and Alaska Central Express officials say the new law favors existing carriers and effectively closes the door on competition for bypass mail.Stevens said the new rules are in place to keep the program from extinction. He points out that the U.S. Postal Service could award rural mail contracts to a single carrier if it were not for bypass mail."We have to reduce the loss," Stevens said of the bypass mail costs, which account for about 10 percent of the Postal Service’s red ink nationwide.Under the new law, no new carriers will be allowed on mainline routes between the state’s larger cities and Bush hubs unless they provide a certain level of passenger service. The law exempts existing large carriers who have been in the mainline bypass mail market since January 2001.Only Alaska Airlines carries passengers on mainline routes; Air Cargo Express, Lynden Air Cargo, and Northern Air Cargo only haul mail and freight.To enter the mainline bypass mail market now, an airline must provide up to 75 percent of the number of seats provided by Alaska Airlines and establish service for at least six months without a subsidy.The new legislation also will give nearly all bypass mail going to small villages to carriers providing passenger service. About 30 smaller air carriers have competed for bypass mail in the past. But those who don’t offer passenger service will be phased out of the program over the next three years.

Kake profits from salmon, sawdust

JUNEAU -- Combining two waste products commonly produces more waste, but a Southeast Alaska Native village corporation is mixing salmon and wood waste to produce business profits and a national award.Kake Foods Inc., a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Kake Tribal Corp., is using all the salmon gurry, unmarketable chum carcasses and other seafood processing waste it can collect, along with a virtually unlimited supply of sawdust and other logging leftovers to produce "Alaska Thunder Dirt," a high quality compost.The company expects to put roughly 7,200 cubic yards, or 170,000 sacks of its product in Alaska and Lower 48 nurseries and gardening shops for next spring’s planting season either under the "Alaska Thunder Dirt" brand or under the labels of "big box" stores, according to Duff Mitchell, Kake Foods president and chief executive."We’re talking to some people like Fred Meyer or others who are looking for private label product," Mitchell said in a Sept. 9 interview.Business success involving salmon has been rare in recent years, but Kake Foods’ composting project is helping the Kupreanof Island village of 800 in a range of ways. The village’s six-vessel seine fleet could grow to ten boats by next season. Mitchell wasn’t sure how much the company’s 150-person peak season work force will expand. "In a day and age when everybody’s throwing their arms up in the air and dropping boats, Kake added boats this year," said Gordon Jackson, chairman of the Kake Tribal Corp., with no little pride. "We figured we’re going to try and survive in this environment and we’re not going to do it with business as usual like other canners and processors."More important to any Alaskan village’s long-term future, Kake Foods’ success is giving the community’s youth an alternative to leaving home to look for work after finishing school. "A lot of villages have a brain drain, or a skill drain. We’re trying to reverse that," Mitchell said. "We’re investing in our community which, in turn, is allowing people to have jobs and careers in our small community as opposed to getting educated and going to live in Juneau or Seattle."Its efforts have led to Kake Foods’ nomination for a "showcase business" award it will receive at the National Summit on Emerging Tribal Economies Sept. 16 in Phoenix, Ariz. The Department of Interior-sponsored event recognizes Native businesses that create jobs. Beside the praise, the award gives Kake Foods the opportunity to make a presentation to investors and other potential business partners among the 2,600 summit participants."In our industry the bankers look at you like the kiss of death if you walk in and ask for money for fish processing," Mitchell said. "It’ll be good for us in a sense that maybe we’ll get some outside banking interest." Kake Foods is already connected to some of the country’s largest retailers. The company’s "Potlach" brand smoked and jerked salmon products are featured in K-Mart and Wal-Mart stores, among others, and sales have doubled in the past year. Mitchell expected to process up to 8 million pounds of salmon this year, including 2 million from the village-operated Gunnak Creek chum hatchery.Plans for the Kake fleet’s expansion is taking place in a year that has seen hundreds of Alaska fishing boats from Bristol Bay to Metlakatla spend the season on the beach. A major reason for Kake Foods’ success is that the composting project has solved the problem of what to do with unmarketable chum carcasses after high-value roe has been removed. "Nobody’s got a legitimate reason to get busted any more. With something like this your chum-chucking could be a thing of the past," Mitchell said. "We’ve invited all of our competition to bring their gurry to Kake. So far none of them have taken us up on it." Mitchell is also proud of Kake’s low-tech solution to the chum-chucking problem. "Remember the old story about they used to take a fish and put a couple of corn kernels in there and bury it in the ground? This ain’t rocket science," he said.Using a recipe developed with expert help from an Oregon developer, the company mixes salmon byproducts with the wood chips, slash and other leftovers from 20 years of logging on Kupreanof Island. The concoction is laid out in eight-foot high, 15-foot wide trapezoidal-shaped rows on a four-acre site near Point MacArtney. A windrow-turner, a huge machine resembling a farm combine, is used to regularly mix the compost-to-be as microbes do their organic work. The "active aeration" process takes 75 days. The only other effort needed in the production process is to make sure the moldering piles stay wet enough, even in the Southeast rain forest. The conversion process can raise the temperature of the mixture as high as 140 degrees and if it dries out the process stops. The rest is letting nature take its course. "What you start out with is wood chips and fish guts and fish pieces and you end up with black soil," Mitchell said. Beside fish and chips, an important ingredient for the project is "land not near people, because it puts out some odor." The company was forced to fence its mixing site because the fishy fragrance attracts bears, which produced some laughs for villagers."Bears couldn’t figure out how in the world to eat sawdust," said Jackson. "Poor guys, they can understand roughage, but this would really get them upset if they ate it."Kake Foods is also capitalizing on continuing consumer demand for "natural" products. "We are strictly all natural," Mitchell said. "It’s strictly fish, ash and wood waste products." To prevent the canine version of its local bear problems for its customers, Kake Foods found it must add a mixture of clay, ash and other inert materials to the fish and chips."Composting is not that difficult, but you have to have some odor control. We went out and did a lot of research," Mitchell said. "While it’s in the maturing process you need to mix some additives so that when you open up your bag of compost your dog doesn’t roll in it." As with edible salmon products, quality is an issue in the compost game. Kake Foods invested in the windrow-turner and chose the active aeration to produce a higher quality product. "Passive aeration," mixing the ingredients and leaving them to cook, produces a lower quality, and lower-priced, product suitable for "industrial" uses such as highway berms.Quality, in compost, means uniform blending of ingredients and consistent levels of nitrogen and other active chemical components. A low quality product can be sold as a "soil amendment," but "compost" brings a higher price, especially in the 25- and 50-pound-bag home gardener market that is Kake Foods’ prime target. "Like anything else you have to sell, it has to be consistent," Mitchell said.Bob Tkacz is a free-lance reporter living in Juneau. He can be reached via e-mail at ([email protected]).

Anchorage holds talks on trade with Russia

ANCHORAGE -- Anchorage will hold a three-day meeting of Russian and American officials later this month to talk about trade between West Coast states and the Russian Far East.More than 300 American and Russian business and government leaders are expected to attend the conference at the Sheraton Anchorage Hotel, scheduled for Sept. 17 through Sept. 19.A major component of the conference will be a symposium on oil and gas development in the Russian Far East. Tom Hall, Exxon Neftegas director general, will make a presentation on the Sakhalin oil projects. Top officials from Chevron Neftegas, BP Sakhalin, Rosneft and Sibneft also will participate.The governors of five Russian Far East states will be among those attending."In keeping with Alaska’s leadership role in strengthening relations with the Russian Far East, we’re proud to host this important conference," Gov. Tony Knowles said.

Taking care of seniors turns into big business

Alaskans age 60 and older generate $1.2 billion in government medical benefits and income, and caring for seniors is becoming one of the state’s largest industries, according to a state report.According to the Alaska Commission on Aging, Alaskans over 60 will triple by 2025 and make up a larger portion of the state’s population. Census data from 2000 listed roughly 53,000 Alaskans in that age group, a figure that should climb to 165,000 in 2025. The U.S. population of people age 60 and older is similarly predicted to increase.The swelling population of older Alaskans will require three times the current amount of medical care, housing and transportation, according to state statisitics.A new facilityProvidence Horizon House opened a new 22-bed dementia care unit in August called Ed’s Place, attached to Horizon House, its existing assisted-living facility. Ed’s Place was named for Ed Komp, whose family moved him to Alaska from Wisconsin to care for him here, said Sue Samet, Horizon House director.Komp moved to Horizon House, but his condition eventually required specialized care, and he moved Outside since such services were not offered in Alaska at that time. He now lives in Wisconsin.The experience led Samet to develop ideas for the unit, working with registered nurse Carlie Holmberg, who handles Horizon House resident services."Ed’s become a real symbol to us," Samet said.Horizon House and Ed’s Place are run by Providence Health System in Alaska. The $2.5 million cost to build the dementia care unit was paid for by Providence and an $872,000 grant from Alaska Housing Finance Corp., she said.Residents pay $175 per day at Ed’s Place, Samet said. For low-income residents, Medicaid pays $148 of that figure for services, but residents pay the rest for room and board, she said.Four people moved in Aug. 12, two weeks before a grand opening. Ed’s Place is gearing up slowly due to staff training and should be full by December, Samet said.Providence officials spent six years developing Ed’s Place, including nearly two years crafting designs with Anchorage architect Kumin Associates Inc., she said."What we wanted was an environment where they felt comfortable and safe," Samet said.The designers endeavored to create an environment to comfort people with Alzheimer’s disease who often feel lost or confused, said Ralph Clampitt, project architect.Ed’s Place has two wings, each with 10 bedrooms. One unit on each wing is a double bedroom, for couples, or friends. Each bedroom is located off the family room. Long hallways are not incorporated in the new building since they can be imposing to some people with Alzheimer’s disease, Clampitt said.Kumin Associates is using its experience designing Ed’s Place to pursue another project for older Alaskans, Clampitt said.Employees are relieved to have security doors requiring a code at Ed’s Place, preventing residents from wandering away and getting lost in the city, she said.Meantime, many residents of the nearby Horizon House assisted-living facility are parents of adult Alaska residents, who are increasingly choosing to retire in the state rather than Outside and want nearby care for their aging family members, Samet said.Numbers are also expected to increase for people with Alzheimer’s disease. The disease afflicts one in 10 people older than 65 and half of people older than 85, according to the Alzheimer’s Disease Resource Agency of Alaska.Four million Americans have the disease now, but that figure is expected to climb to 22 million by 2025, agency officials said.Other types of facilities in the state serve aging Alaskans who are not suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.The state Division of Senior Services now licenses 138 assisted-living homes in Alaska, like Horizon House, with 1,485 beds, according to Dwight Becker, division program coordinator.Most Horizon House residents are in their 80s, and some are in there 90s. There is one resident who is 100 years old, Samet said.They are either affluent or low-income people, who receive Medicaid support for care services but pay their own room and board, she said.The problem nationally and in Alaska will be to provide housing for people with mid-range incomes as the population of older Americans increases, she said. Middle-income Americans may have trouble financing health care needs without Medicaid support or sufficient personal finances.Regulating health care facilitiesState and health care officials will meet this month to update a three-year plan that outlines services provided by the Alaska Commission on Aging, said Linda Tohl, associate coordinator for the commission’s nutrition and transportation program.The commission administers state and federal grants for meals at senior centers and transportation services, Tohl said.A new health care plan is valuable, but Alaska faces challenges to provide housing for older Alaskans, said Laraine Derr, president of the Juneau-based Alaska State Hospital & Nursing Home Association.Alaska now has 15 nursing homes with about 700 beds, according to Linda Fink, the association’s assistant director. That number has not increased in five years despite waiting lists at facilities, Derr said. Nursing homes provide more medical care than assisted-living facilities.The state regulates all health care facility construction by requiring approval for projects of more than $1 million. Such regulation comes because so many state dollars are spent in support of the Alaska Medicaid program.While facilities in Valdez and Juneau are applying to add nursing home beds to fill the growing need, "the state keeps a lid on the number of beds" through the approval process, Derr said."It’s part of the dilemma we face," Derr said.Alaska Regional Hospital in Anchorage operates a unit providing nursing care for older Alaskans for 90-day stays rather than long-term care, Fink said.Independent living as another optionMeeting housing needs for aging Alaskans also is a leading issue this year for Cook Inlet Housing Authority, a nonprofit affiliate of Cook Inlet Region Inc.CIHA is now building a 53-unit independent living apartment complex in Anchorage. Any low-income older Alaskan will be eligible to live at Kenaitze Point, which should be finished in February. Kenaitze Point and CIHA’s 215 other rental properties are available to all Alaskans based on income, said Jeff Judd, operations director.Two projects started this year, Kenaitze Point and Strawberry Village Cottages, represent the first time in nearly 10 years CIHA has built new facilities, said spokeswoman Amy Jennings.CIHA’s waiting list of two to three years dictated a need for more units, Judd said."We have about 200 senior households on the wait list for senior properties," Judd said.Kenaitze Point, a $10.6 million project, was financed primarily with state and federal grants, he said.CIHA also may build additional apartments for older Alaskans next year, Judd said. CIHA owns the Mary Conrad Center, an Anchorage nursing home, and leases it to Providence, he said.

Technology demands new training systems

It’s fall and schools are back in session.Have you ever wondered why schools, particularly post-secondary schools, are largely closed during the summer months?The answer is simple yet revealing of a cultural model with which contemporary universities struggle daily.The school year is based upon an agrarian cycle. In decades past children needed to be free to participate in the planting and harvesting of crops. Thus, the schools opened and closed on a cycle that was in harmony with the economic culture of the times.Seen any college students harvesting crops lately?Universities are tied to systems and traditions established hundreds of years ago. While this may provide legitimacy to the institution, it also interferes with the universities’ ties to the contemporary business and technical community.According to Connecticut-based technology research firm Gartner Research, by the year 2004 the service-based marketplace in North America will reach $539 billion, a huge portion of the economy.Unlike the graduates of university systems in decades past, professionals in the new technology-infused, service-driven marketplace cannot rely on training received in their early 20s to serve them throughout their professional careers.As technology continues to transform the service sector of the economy, businesses require greater access to ongoing education that bends the traditional university model.Here is an overview of the issues that universities are facing in meeting this growing need and the steps many are taking.Learning on demandOne way in which the traditional university model fails the on-going needs of technical professionals is the way in which courses are created and scheduled. Business opportunities seldom wait for the start of the next semester; the training required to capitalize on those opportunities shouldn’t either.Imagine a recently formed strategic partnership between two companies. The companies quickly learn that to work together, employees of both firms need familiarity with the other company’s software, accounting practices and human-resource management strategies. In essence, a custom training curriculum needs to be established to quickly cross-train the two work forces.Try to imagine a university flexible enough to meet this sort of need. Such a university would look very different from those that exist today.To their credit, many universities are beginning to establish courses that don’t necessarily need to start and stop in tune with traditional semesters.Additionally, many have established corporate training programs that sell on-demand training. But such approaches remain marginal and somewhat ghettoize the training provided from "real" university instruction.Modularized curriculaPerhaps the most pressing need facing modern universities is the need to structure instructional content into modular forms that can be easily dissected. Traditional instructional techniques rightly recognize Alexander Pope’s well-known assertion that "a little knowledge is a dangerous thing."Liberal education for traditional students emphasizes how different disciplines and fields intersect and comment upon one another. However, the needs of the business community, especially within the technology sector, require precisely the opposite approach.Corporate, military and government industries require specific training for specific needs.Thus, a degree program on global logistics may hold some interest for FedEx employees. However, a far more responsive approach would be for the university to sell to FedEx a single instructional module on supply-chain management that could be used to train their entire staff.Asynchronous learningInstruction takes two basic forms: synchronous and asynchronous.Synchronous learning occurs in real time, asynchronous doesn’t. For example, a telephone conversation is synchronous dialogue, while an exchange of letters is asynchronous.Asynchronous instruction gained popularity somewhat accidentally via distance education programs. Early efforts in distance education attempted to provide instruction to students from afar.In addition to spanning states, continents and oceans, distance education also spanned time zones. Thus the televised lectures were put on tapes so they could be played at different times for students in different time zones.The unexpected consequence was that local students began signing up for the distance courses. Students, especially nontraditional students, enjoyed the flexibility of asynchronous learning.Instead of leaving work to attend a class, a nontraditional student could participate when they got off work, after the kids had been put to bed or on the weekends.In a study performed at the University of Alaska Anchorage, the distance-education department was surprised to learn that more than 90 percent of those enrolled lived in the Anchorage area and a large portion lived in the UAA dormitories.Clearly, the convenience factor, not the distance factor, is the driving need in that marketplace.For universities to meet the needs of businesses they must provide increasingly asynchronous modes of instruction.Gone are the days when a professional could devote a four-year block at the beginning of his career to training and no more. Instruction needs to be woven into the daily fabric of working and living in the new economy.Trends in education seem to indicate a bifurcation between formal post-secondary instruction and for-profit corporate training centers, consultancies and vocational schools.The challenge facing universities is to embrace the innovation, flexibility and market awareness of the latter while maintaining the legitimacy and standards of traditional post-secondary education.Dave Stephens is chief information officer at Impact LLC, an Anchorage-based Web-site development company. He may be reached via e-mail at [email protected]

Supreme Court will hear Alaska Native Wireless challenge

FAIRBANKS -- The U.S. Supreme Court will hear the case of a group of Alaska Native corporations seeking to protect their disputed licenses to operate wireless phone businesses in major U.S. markets.The court will take up the case Oct. 8, according to the court’s fall schedule.Alaska Native Wireless, whose investors include Doyon Ltd., Arctic Slope Regional Corp. and Sealaska Corp., argues that it should have the right to keep the wireless licenses purchased from the Federal Communications Commission.The group bid $2.8 billion, with partner AT&T providing 90 percent of the total, in the January 2001 auction. Using set-asides and bidding preferences for minority-owned businesses, the group secured licenses in several cities, including New York City, Los Angeles and Denver.In that sale, the FCC put up for grabs a number of licenses to operate wireless communications on frequencies that had been held by NextWave Telecom Inc. and another smaller company. Those companies failed to pay for the frequencies and went bankrupt.NextWave challenged the FCC’s decision to revoke the licenses, arguing that the government can’t take such assets without going through bankruptcy court.Arctic Slope, which is the managing partner of Alaska Native Wireless, and the FCC contend that the government can and should. It makes no sense, they argue, to let a company buy rights to a publicly held frequency, fail to pay and then use bankruptcy laws to hang onto the license.NextWave, though, argues that one section of the bankruptcy code specifically prohibits the federal government from revoking licenses of those who don’t pay.Alaska Native corporations committed to about $260 million of the original $2.8 billion bid submitted by Alaska Native Wireless. Doyon, the Fairbanks-based regional corporation, put in about $25 million.The January 2001 auctions drew about $16 billion in bids. Now, though, some winning bidders want out of the deal because the wireless industry has soured so badly. The largest winner in the auction, Verizon, filed a lawsuit in April to invalidate the results for itself and other companies.The company is also pushing legislation in Congress that would allow it and other winners, such as Alaska Native Wireless, to opt out of the auction terms. Jeffrey Nelson, Verizon’s spokesman for wireless public policy issues, said the now-18-month delay in issuing the licenses has destroyed the legitimacy of the auction."What has changed is the value of money, certainly in the telecom sector, certainly in the wireless sector," Nelson said. Several more years of delay are still possible, he said. "This is just a huge, huge overhang for the entire industry -- $16 billion -- that people have to consider," he said. "How can you make good business choices?"Verizon also wants the remainder of its bid deposit back from the FCC and is suing to get it. The commission returned about 85 percent of the deposits in late March this year.Alaska Native Wireless has not joined Verizon’s suits. It deposited $555 million to back up its $2.8 billion bid. It got about $472 million back in March.

Providence becomes state's largest employer

Providence Health System in Alaska is now the state’s largest private employer, surpassing Carrs-Safeway, which had held the top spot for a decade. The health care provider’s work force has soared over the last 10 years from 1,824 employees to 3,369, according to a recent report by the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development. Carrs-Safeway employs 3,252 Alaskans. The 1999 merger of the grocery chains cut 650 jobs and closed several stores within two years, according to the state. Neal Fried, a state labor economist, predicted Providence’s move to No. 1 three years ago because of the Carrs-Safeway deal. "Providence has been growing for years," he said. "They reign prominent. It’s a 24-hour business so it lends itself to a big work force." "In most parts of the state, the hospital is first or second as the largest private employer," said Fried. Besides Providence in Anchorage, hospitals dominate private sector jobs in Bethel, Soldotna, Palmer and Wasilla, he said. More health care jobs in Alaska mirrors national trends, Fried said. Health care employment in Alaska has increased 72 percent since 1990, climbing from 10,500 jobs to 18,100 last year, Fried said. Behind Providence and Carrs-Safeway are Fred Meyer with 2,262 employees; Wal-Mart/Sam’s Club at 2,178; and Alaska Airlines with 1,833 employees in the state. Public sector employers in Alaska eclipse private businesses in employment. They are, in order, the military, other federal workers, the state government, the University of Alaska and the Anchorage School District.

Aleutians East Borough latest group to try fish branding campaign

KODIAK -- Seafood-branding projects are taking off in many parts of Alaska. As with fine wines from certain regions of France, producers are hoping to distinguish the qualities that set their fish apart from all others and have customers ask for them by name.The latest effort comes from the Aleutians East Borough. The project is a bit different from others that are also targeting high-end markets in the Lower 48.In the borough’s pilot project, the customer is defining the exact specifications they want before the fish is even caught. "Then we can deliver exactly what they want," said Marc Jones, director of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, which is coordinating the program with the borough. The foundation is well known for helping to launch many successful fishery enhancement programs throughout Alaska, most notably the shoreside pollock surimi industry.The Aleutians East project includes four partners: the borough, the foundation, Trident Seafoods Corp. and Orca Bay Foods Inc.The program will begin in September using 100,000 pounds of sockeye salmon from False Pass, which is Alaska’s last red run for the season.The fisheries development foundation is acting as the fish buyer for the sockeye salmon, and is paying 95 cents a pound to participating harvesters, all of whom must operate according to strict handling techniques.The price is "not based so much on the market value, but as an idea of how much to start the process, to encourage the fishermen to become involved, and to just kind of throw a peg into the sand to see where we start from," Jones said.Trident is reportedly getting $1.60 per finished pound, and is taking the roe in trade for part of the custom processing and other costs. As an added bonus, Orca Bay Seafoods will also buy coho salmon taken as bycatch along with the reds.All of the fish will be marketed under the name Wild Aleutia Seas, derived from a combination of Aleutians and Peninsula. "We created a marketing committee of local fishermen from throughout the region to work on a name and other details. AFDF’s role is to walk us through the direct marketing of our fish," said Karen Montoya, borough spokesperson.In another unique twist, the group has snagged a glitzy East Coast marketing design firm to create a logo, Web site and brochure for just $5,000. "Right up front we told them that we have no money, but they fell in love with the project and thought it was a great cause, and decided to go for it," Montoya said.Funding for the Aleutia Seas project came primarily from the fisheries development foundation and a $50,000 state grant to the borough.Jones is convinced there is tremendous potential to use regional differentiation to expand the market for Alaska seafood, particularly in the United States."It’s the biggest market in the world. Americans eat fish about once a week. But Americans are complex and sophisticated consumers, and they require product differentiation. We’re going to have to do that to compete," he said.Montoya agrees. "We have to start looking at the industry in a whole different way," she said. "That means building up niche markets, and working directly with customers to give them what they want."In the end, it all comes down to people taking control of their region’s destiny. In the case of Aleutians East, it includes the communities of Sand Point, King Cove, Nelson Lagoon, False Pass and Akutan."I can’t say enough about the folks out in Aleutians East," Jones said. They stepped forward -- both the citizens and the borough government -- and said we have to do things a different way. And they put their money where their mouth is."King crab watchThe catch quota of 9.27 million pounds of red king crab at Bristol Bay is about 30 percent higher than last year’s 7.1 million pounds. The stage appears to be set for a strong market. Analyst Bill Atkinson reports that inventories of king crab in Japan are "totally depleted." The Japanese were very aggressive in purchases of king crab last year, and there was strong demand for larger-sized crab.Atkinson said Japanese buyers purchased much of last year’s crab at prices that resulted in a wholesale cost of more than $11.56 per pound. Landings of live king crab in Japan have been affected by the rigid documentation procedures enacted last spring, and many of the Russian vessels are delivering their crab to Korea, rather than hassle with entry documentation in Japan. This is adding to the overall tight supply picture in Japan, Atkinson said. Alaska crabbers last year received $4.80 per pound for Bay red kings.Plankton plummetsSatellite images are showing a troubling decline in flora-plankton levels in the North Pacific, according to a report from a joint research project by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Study of ocean conditions has been ongoing since 1978 by the agencies.Based on information received this summer, flora-plankton levels in the North Pacific were about 30 percent lower than 20 years ago. Levels in the North Atlantic were also down by about 14 percent.The reduced plankton levels are reportedly due to an increase in surface temperatures, resulting in a reduced circulation of nutrition-rich cooler waters from the depths.Plankton is an essential part of the food chain for marine life, and it is also important in the absorption of carbon dioxide in the photosynthesis process.The scientists believe that the effect of lower plankton levels on the world environment could be considerable. Conversely, plankton levels in the northern Indian Ocean and the equatorial region of the Atlantic have increased by about 50 percent over the past 20 years.It is not known whether the shift in the abundance of plankton in the various regions represents a short- or long-term change.Kodiak-based free-lance writer Laine Welch can be reached via e-mail at [email protected]


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