Dispute ends over private mining claims inside Denali

FAIRBANKS -- A dispute over some of the remaining privately owned mining claims within the borders of Denali National Park has ended in federal court.Both sides in the lawsuit that pit the Kantishna Mining Co. against the Department of the Interior have agreed to drop their appeals of U.S. District Court Judge James Singleton’s verdict.The mining company will receive a little under $1 million from the government as compensation for the National Park Service effectively repossessing its claims in the park.The amount is considerably less than the almost $8 million the company sought. However, it is substantially more than the $98,000 the government had offered for the claims before trial.Chuck Gilbert, chief of the lands division for the Park Service in Alaska, said the ruling set a precedent for the prices afforded the remaining claim-holders."It basically set expectations,’’ he said. "It basically facilitated settlements on the other claims.’’The lawsuit revolved around 14 mining claims filed by Kantishna Mining on Caribou Creek, in an area 16 1/2 miles past the end of Denali National Park’s only road.Missouri orthodontist John Hayhurst and Talkeetna pilot Leonard Kragness founded the company in 1981, purchased the claims in 1982 for roughly $185,000 and pulled more than 3,400 ounces of gold out of the creek between 1983 and 1985.But in 1985, a court injunction filed against the government by environmental groups put a halt to all mining in Denali to study the practice’s environmental impact.The park was reopened to mining in 1991, but Kantishna Mining contended that the government was going through the motions and mining was effectively barred.Kantishna Mining’s lawsuit charged the Interior Department with repossessing its claims in 1991 and failing to compensate the owners for it. They placed the value of the claims at $7.93 million, an estimate based largely on the considerable amount of gold they believe remains on the property.The Interior Department argued that the claims are mostly played out.Singleton ruled that the land was worth $700,000 plus interest, which ultimately led to a total award of almost $1 million.With the verdict lying between the two sides’ offers, Singleton had to determine who was the actual victor in the case. At stake was Kantishna’s $2.4 million legal bill.The government was obliged to foot the bill if it was determined that Kantishna Mining in fact won the suit and that the government was not justified in bringing it in the first place.Singleton in June 2001 denied Kantishna mining’s request for the attorney fees. Appeals of the case were filed by both sides. In May, both sides agreed to drop their appeals and declare the case closed.The Park Service has spent more than a decade and $11.2 million buying up the remaining claims in the park in an effort to restrict development within its boundaries.

Public stations get digital studio grant

Four Alaska public television stations will receive a total of $3 million from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s Digital Distribution Fund for the construction of digital transmission facilities and the provision of digital services, according to an announcement from Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, on June 11. KAKM in Anchorage will host the new state of the art digital production studio for Alaska public broadcasters. KYUK in Bethel, KUAC in Fairbanks and KTOO in Juneau will have access to the studio by recording digital video, sending it to a network server and editing it either remotely or on site."The new studio will put Alaska on the cutting edge and will allow our public television stations to broadcast at least four shows simultaneously. At least one of those shows will be an educational channel to serve school children," Stevens said in a press release.Alaska public broadcasters must convert from analog to digital transmissions by May 2003 under current law. Failure to convert could result in the loss of their broadcast license.The Digital Distribution Fund was developed with the input of the community station representatives and public broadcast membership organizations. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting and Public Broadcasting Service’s Digital Strategic Services Group manages the fund.

ACS ordered to repay $1 million in overcharges

ANCHORAGE -- Alaska Communications Systems Inc. overcharged competing phone companies for access to its phone lines and must repay about $1 million, according to a recent order from the Federal Communications Commission.The ruling is the latest shot in the bitter contest between ACS, the state’s largest local phone company, and General Communication Inc. Both are based in Anchorage.According to the FCC ruling, ACS had set "unreasonable and unjust" interstate access rates, resulting in overcharges to GCI and another phone company, AT&T. Much of the ruling had to do with Internet-related calling.GCI and AT&T complained about those rates, leading to the FCC ruling.GCI spokesman David Morris said a refund of about $1 million is due under the ruling, with GCI to receive most of the money.Mary Ann Pease, vice president at ACS, agreed that the amount owed is about $1 million. However, she said, the repayment order would be appealed through lawsuits pending in various courts. She said the issue basically came down to a technical question of how interstate rates should be classified.In any case, Pease said, the refund would not result in higher phone bills for ACS residential and business customers. She said the company had already set aside the money."It’s really not a big deal. It has no impact on customers. It’s money that we’ve already reserved," Pease said. "The real question is what is going to happen to GCI customers? Are they going to get a rebate?"No, they won’t, Morris said. GCI as a company "was eating" the overcharges, so GCI customers weren’t being charged more and thus won’t be receiving a credit once ACS pays back the money, he said.

Outgoing seafood marketing chief questions lack of state support

KODIAK -- One of the industry’s most dedicated and industrious crusaders is saying so long to the world of marketing Alaska’s seafood. Barbara Belknap, executive director of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, gave her letter of resignation last month to the ASMI board."I realized that I want to spend more time with my grandson, and I was only seeing my friends in airports. I feel like it’s time for someone else to bring in new ideas and creativity," she said in a phone interview. She said she also has another grandchild on the way.Belknap is credited with redefining and revitalizing the seafood marketing agency during her tenure. She began her career with ASMI twelve years ago and rose through the ranks to become director five years ago. She has been responsible for domestic and overseas marketing programs for all species of Alaska seafood, a staff of 17 and a budget of $10 million.Belknap doesn’t expect a stressful departure or a tough transition when she leaves the job July 31. She said she feels so good about her staff, it makes it easier to go. In fact, Belknap calls building the current ASMI team her finest accomplishment.As far as the biggest challenges ASMI has faced during her tenure, Belknap said there are two: "Telling the people in the industry what we’re doing for them. That’s been a challenge ever since ASMI started. People outside the organization are often critical and ask what ASMI has done for them lately. That’s frustrating and I haven’t been able to overcome that challenge."And the salmon industry -- that’s been an enormous challenge over the past few years with the value so low. How do we do more with less money?" She referred to the money ASMI gets from a 1 percent tax on all Alaska salmon catches.Asked her thoughts about the state of Alaska not providing a single penny to promote and market its seafood industry, Belknap said, "I don’t get it. The state provides funding to tourism and not to seafood even though the seafood industry affects more people in Alaska and provides more jobs. It’s tough, especially when you see other countries where the government feels it’s an investment in their industry."And why is it such a tough sell to Alaska’s policy makers?"I believe people have very mixed emotions about the seafood industry," Belknap said. "They’re proud of the product, but much of the industry is located out of the state and there is a long history of animosity and dissension. Even though the processors own so much land and have so much infrastructure in Alaska and employ so many people, there are still very mixed emotions. I think it’s cultural."Belknap says the ASMI directorship provides a unique vantage point that offers a very different perspective of Alaska’s seafood industry."I get to see and talk with buyers, fishermen, marketers, the press all over the world. People would die to have the kind of resource we have," she said. "The problem all over the world is that they have no fish. They’ve either polluted the environment or overfished the stocks. We have all this beautiful fish. Our problem is getting our act together on how we harvest and market it."She offered these parting comments to all Alaskans: "Be optimistic. I know how tough things are. We just have to do right by the product; it’s the people who have gone awry. And respect the job ASMI is doing for the seafood industry and state of Alaska."Fish view from afarWith catch projections of less than 10 million fish in Bristol Bay this year, many Japanese see the good landings in the Copper River fishery as confirmation of poor runs in the other Alaskan fisheries. That’s according to market analyst Bill Atkinson who added that, as a result, many doubt that there will be any major declines in prices as the Alaskan sockeye season progresses."This view of the supply and price trend for sockeye salmon is coming from within Japan, rather than from the packers in Alaska," Atkinson said in his weekly newsletter. Bill Atkinson’s News Report is a summary of articles from the Nikkan Suisan Keizai Shinbun, the Hokkai Keizai Shinbun and the Suisan Tsushin covering the Japanese market and other developments regarding select fish species in the North Pacific and North Atlantic.Whole Foods goes wildWhole Foods Market is in the midst of a month-long promotion of wild Alaska salmon in over 130 stores across the nation. Whole Foods, which claims to be the world’s largest natural and organic supermarket group, said the "Fish For Our Future" campaign is part of the company’s mission to teach customers how to make good environmental choices when buying seafood.Alaska salmon is one of the few seafood species to obtain an "eco-label" from the international Marine Stewardship Council, a partner in the salmon promotion. The label assures customers that a species is well-managed and not overfished or caught in any way that harms the world’s oceans.Through the end of July, the height of Alaska’s salmon season, Whole Foods will feature educational brochures and recipes to tell its customers about the benefits of Alaska salmon, and how the council’s logo can help them make better seafood choices.The council is an international nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting responsible fishery management.Seafood reaches top 10Frozen seafood ranked No. 8 on the ACNielsen Top 10 List of the fastest growing food and beverage categories for last year. ACNielson, based in New York City, is the world’s largest market research company. According to the WorldCatch News Network, sales of frozen fish, shellfish and seafood dinners valued at between $1 and $5 billion rose 10 percent in 2001. Of more than 90 food and beverage categories, only nine grew by 10 percent or more last year.The ACN survey revealed that customers continued to be attracted by innovative, new things. Customers also clamored for convenience foods, as shown by a 13 percent growth increase in ready-to-eat meals, meal makers and refrigerated prepackaged salads. Consumers are also more concerned about food-related safety, the survey said.Three of the five fastest growing categories in the global marketplace were beverages, led by a 30 percent growth of prepared alcoholic beverages. The ACNielsen survey was based on retail sales in 47 countries, accounting for more than 70 percent of the world population.Kodiak-based free-lance writer Laine Welch can be reached via e-mail at [email protected]

CDQs cleared to invest in nonfish firms

Community Development Quota fisheries corporations in western Alaska communities will be able to invest in businesses that are not related to the fishing, the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council decided in its recent meeting in Unalaska.The six CDQ corporations, which were formed to harvest a quota of groundfish, halibut, crab and other fish in the federally managed Bering Sea, will be able to invest 20 percent of income from the pollock quota in nonfisheries investments within the region, under the decision.There is no limit on money invested in financial markets, such as stocks or bonds, or for education and training or charitable contributions.Current federal regulations that guide the CDQ quota allocation program do not explicitly limit the groups to investments in fisheries development, but the program has been implemented by the National Marine Fisheries Service as if it were.Some of the groups, such as Norton Sound Economic Development Corp. of Nome, have pushed to have the rule clarified so the groups are not limited to the industries in which they can invest. There may be practical limitations to investments in fisheries and more-profitable opportunities in other businesses that will contribute to the regional economy more effectively, said Steve Rieger, a financial advisory to the Norton Sound organization.Under the council’s guidelines, fisheries investments can be made outside as well as within the region. The CDQ groups have become major owners of offshore fishing companies and vessels in recent years.Norton Sound, for example, owns 50 percent of Glacier Fish Co., a Seattle-based fishing company. Two other CDQ groups own 20 percent of American Seafoods, a major operator of offshore catcher-processor vessels in Alaska waters.

Terrorism becomes another risk

Hard as it is to imagine, we will all need to accept an ongoing level of risk associated with potential terrorist acts. Just as we have come to implicitly accept risk in all other aspects of life, over time we will adjust to terrorism. Society will even find ways to put a price tag on how much risk we are willing to accept.The June 10 issue of Business Week stimulated some thoughts on the long-term implications of what we will collectively decide to pay for our security. An article entitled "America’s Biggest Job" quantified the cost of Sept. 11-induced security measures.For 2002, the cost estimate including workplace security, information backup and higher insurance premiums is $135 billion. Zurich Financial Services Group estimates that security spending will take $50 billion out of corporate profits, or 5 percent to 6 percent of earnings, all at a fragile time in the economy. The White House Council of Economic Advisors estimates that security expenditures could reduce gross domestic product by 0.6 percent within five years.Each industry has its own potential security challenges, remedies and costs: transportation, oil and chemicals, energy, buildings and communications. A major public policy issue to debate and clarify is which security measures should be mandated or recommended by government, vs. leaving each industry to generate its own voluntary solutions.Major unknowns are yet to be resolved. What measures actually work? Which are even remotely cost effective? How will government and industry share information to avoid terrorist acts? Indeed, what will be the final government structure to accept responsibility for coordinating all federal efforts?Probably the greatest unknown of all is how we can psychologically accept the possibility of horrible, but hopefully infrequent large-scale acts of terror. An interesting point of comparison is the risk we accept just by driving an automobile.For most of us the most dangerous thing we do is get in a car. Almost everyone has been in an automobile accident of some kind. We all know people who have been seriously injured in automobiles. Yet we are willing to accept this risk because of the personal freedom and mobility it affords.The automotive insurance industry has evolved precise formulas to calculate risk, and therefore premium cost, in any particular locality. They could probably calculate your exact chances of getting into an accident driving to work tomorrow, but you pull out of the garage anyway.We also accept great degrees of risk in our recreational activities, be it hiking in bear country, skiing, flying small planes, fishing, boating or going on vacation. But somehow we have learned to accept and adjust to the risks as a tradeoff for the pleasure these activities bring.However weird it may seem, collectively as a society we will eventually create some form of calculus to balance all the conflicting aspects of dealing with this new threat. Perhaps as Americans we are especially unprepared for violence on our own soil because we have had comparatively so little of it compared to Asia and Europe.We will undoubtedly go through a difficult period as we examine and compare the complex matrix of ideas, costs, benefits and organizational schemes relating to coming to grips with terror.Costs come in many forms. Government expenditures are at the federal, state and local levels. Gov. Knowles has proposed a $100 million joint federal-state Homeland Security Initiative in Alaska. Outright government expenditures can readily be calculated, but not the hidden costs of additional regulations or mandates, or the voluntary measures accepted by private industry.Other costs come in the form of inconvenience, loss of privacy, social friction and the psychological impacts of constant threat warnings with no rational action available to avoid them.Nevertheless, terrorism appears to be here to stay. Over time we will be able to accept this "Sword of Damocles" hanging over us and just get on with life. Also over time we will be able to discern more predictable patterns and frequencies of terrorist acts.Perhaps the most applicable paradigm for moving on will be flying on commercial aircraft. While air travel is one of the safest forms of transportation, it has infrequent dramatic loss of lives on a large scale. However, it also balances safety, cost, convenience, private initiative and tight government regulation into a generally excellent result. Similarly, let’s not allow statistically improbable terrorist acts to cast a pall over our daily lives.As we continue to address the multiplicity of issues involved with counteracting terrorism, the dialogue may be more productive if we keep track of how all the issues interrelate and then attempt to compare the results to more established types of collective risks.As the chilling shock of terrorism on our own soil becomes uncomfortably familiar, through informed discussion and analysis it will eventually become one of the risks we learn to live with, and hopefully, continue to enjoy life despite its presence. Duane Heyman is executive director of an Alaska public policy organization. He can be reached at [email protected]

Kenai quilt shops plan for influx of summer customers

KENAI -- Fishermen may be staying away from the Kenai Peninsula because of a closure to king salmon fishing, but quilters have been flocking there in droves, eager to snag a bounty of fabric squares and patterns.The "Quilting on the Kenai" show, held June 20-22, typically draws busloads of participants from Anchorage and other Alaska towns and tourists arriving by recreational vehicle or cruise ship."The quilt show is a big kick off to summer," said Brenda Clyde, assistant manager of Robin Place Fabrics in Soldotna, which sponsors the event. She said 2,500 to 3,000 people attend the show, which features 250 to 300 quilts, vendor booths, demonstrations and a wearable-art fashion show.The event brings business for hotels, bed-and-breakfasts, restaurants, car rentals and retail stores, said Ricky Gease, executive director of the Kenai Convention and Visitors Bureau."It fits well within the growing number of events on the Kenai," he said, adding that quilters are the largest artists’ group on the Peninsula, totaling perhaps more than 300.Clyde believes the area has enough demand to support five quilting stores on the Peninsula, including national retailer Jo-Ann Fabrics & Crafts. Industry statistics show that a community with up to 30,000 to 40,000 people can support one quilt store, but demand is sufficient for several stores, she said. The borough cites the population at 49,691."We have a lot more shops than people," she said.During the quilt show, participants also converge on another business, Kenai Fabric Center. "We definitely see big groups of people," said manager Wendy McGahan.Summer visitor season also spurs business at the 35-year-old shop, operated by three sisters and their mother."We always considered summer to be our time off," but the growing tourism industry kept Kenai Fabric Center busy year-round, McGahan said.Robin Place Fabrics has seen the same trend. "We have a lot of tourists come into the shop," Clyde said. "It’s a big draw for tourists."One woman from Wisconsin called the shop for quilt show information since the event will coincide with her Alaska visit via cruise ship. A group from Minnesota asked Robin Place Fabrics to conduct a class during a return trip to the state.Clyde credits owner Pat Reese with the store’s success. Reese’s father ran a jewelry business in Anchorage where Reese learned retail savvy. "She has built a reputation for excellence and quality that just brings people back," Clyde said.A top-seller for visitors is quilt kits, which include fabric and a pattern, she said. Robin Place Fabrics sells Alaska-theme kits from Kenai Peninsula artist Letitia Hutchings.Kits cost $20 to $200. Some visitors buy several, Clyde said.Now, Robin Place Fabrics employees are compiling several hundred kits for summer customers, she said. The store began selling kits about four years ago and has expanded offerings since then. Kit sales account for perhaps one-third of overall business, Clyde estimated.The store, started nine years ago, employs three full-time workers plus four part-time staff.

Forest Service issues plan for Juneau helicopter flights

JUNEAU -- The U.S. Forest Service is holding the number of helicopter landings allowed on the Juneau Icefield steady through 2004 but will allow 5 percent increases in 2005, 2006 and 2007, the agency announced June 14.Juneau District Ranger Pete Griffin said the arrangement will give the community time to find a way to reduce flightseeing noise. He hesitated to call the decision a compromise, describing it instead as a balance."This gives the community two years to come up with substantial noise-mitigation measures. It might be heliports," he said. "There would be a choice made by the community: Do we want to try a heliport solution? And if we don’t, I’ve given the companies the assurance there’s room for growth for them."The decision allows the Forest Service to consider increased helicopter landings before 2005 "if substantial noise-reduction measures are employed," according to a news release. No new landing areas will be authorized with the exception of Death Valley, between the Mendenhall and Norris glaciers. Helicopter landings will be allowed seven days a week, between 8:30 a.m. and 8 p.m.Currently, the Forest Service authorizes 19,039 landings annually on the Juneau Icefield. Last year, four Juneau helicopter companies landed on the icefield 17,783 times; the annual average since 1997 has been 16,600 landings. Since 1997, an average of 84,000 people per year have taken helicopter trips to the icefield.Flightseeing noise has been a controversial issue in Juneau, with operators asking for increases in the number of allowed landings, and other local residents demanding reductions. A professional mediator’s attempt to resolve the dispute failed in 2001."It hasn’t been an easy process," Griffin said. "We started three years ago and a lot of folks have been involved and we tried a lot of different approaches. ... I appreciate people’s patience."Ray Preston, a local attorney who has advocated for less flightseeing noise through the Peace and Quiet Coalition, said the Forest Service’s decision doesn’t address or alleviate the problem."This whole thing is a problem that cries out for short-term measures and long-term measures, and neither the city nor the Forest Service have lifted a finger or talked about any short-term measures," he said. "The heliport thing is something they’re willing to consider, but one of the neighborhoods is now apparently expendable and that’s not the solution. We know that."A city study last year suggested that alternative heliports in Dupont, south of Thane, and Montana Creek substantially could reduce noise and helicopter flights over Juneau homes. The city has decided to pursue a heliport in the Thane area first.Preston said it was premature to comment on whether an appeal was possible without seeing the final environmental impact statement.Local helicopter operators, too, said they need time to review the yet-to-be released document. Tim McDonnell, vice president of tours and marketing for helicopter sightseeing company TEMSCO, said it is hard to predict future growth. Increases depend on how many cruise ship passengers might come to Juneau in the years ahead, he said."Anytime there’s an increase we feel that’s great for business. As more cruise ships come, allowing an increase in landings is definitely a positive thought," he said.The Forest Service received more than 3,000 comments on the issue, and Griffin said input from the Juneau Assembly helped the agency reach a decision. The assembly recommended increases starting in 2004."I thought that might be a little soon," Griffin said. "I wasn’t sure we’d be able to implement any substantial noise-mitigation measures by that date."A final environmental impact statement that will provide details of the decision is being printed and should be mailed to Juneau residents soon, Griffin said. Copies also will be posted on the Internet. A 45-day appeal period opens once legal notice of the decision is published. An appeal would be decided by Alaska Regional Forester Denny Bschor.

Discoveries spark Inlet revival

A surge in new Cook Inlet oil and gas exploration by two veteran operators in the region and smaller companies new to the area is entering its third year.The most significant development is the new Redoubt Shoal oil field, an offshore project near the Inlet’s existing fields now being developed by Forest Oil Corp.Redoubt has an estimated 100 million barrels of recoverable oil, Forest has concluded. Construction of a pipeline from the Cook Inlet’s western shore to Forest’s new Osprey platform is now under way, and the company expects to begin production later this year.Farther south, Phillips Alaska Inc. has encountered oil in its "Cosmopolitan" exploration well drilled to an offshore location from onshore, on the southern Kenai Peninsula.Phillips has made no announcement but Forest, its minority partner, told security analysts that the well found oil, and that the estimated in-place resource, the total amount of oil physically trapped in the reservoir rock, is about 219 million barrels.Whether the discovery is economic and how much of the in-place resource can actually be produced hasn’t been determined.The significance of both developments, however, is that exploration wells were drilled in both locations 40 years ago, in the initial years of exploration in the Inlet.Oil or indications of oil were found in both wells, but the discoveries were considered uneconomic at the time.Now, with modern tools like three-dimensional seismic mapping and new thinking by geologists about how the oil-bearing rocks below Cook Inlet were formed, the industry is going back and looking at prospects once considered unsuccessful."We’ve always felt Cook Inlet was underexplored," said Gary Carlson, Forest Oil’s senior vice president in charge of Alaska. "It’s one of the reasons why we’re going after certain prospects, and why we spent so much on 3-D seismic."Forest turned out to be right about Redoubt Shoal, a prospect long thought to be of dubious value by the major oil companies.The success at Redoubt has not only attracted other independents, small companies like Prodigy, Pelican Hill and Aurora Gas, but has made the major companies rethink their ideas about the Inlet.For example, Unocal, the operator of most of the Inlet’s oil-producing platforms, used new three-dimensional seismic and horizontal-drilling technology to tap undeveloped pockets of oil near its existing fields.Those successes have prompted the company to form a team to reevaluate the Inlet.XTO Energy, which operates two platforms in the Inlet’s Middle Ground Shoal field, also believes there are undeveloped, deeper prospects in the area. The company is planning new exploration.Tim Ryherd, a geologist in the state Division of Oil and Gas, thinks that the Cosmopolitan well drilled by Phillips and Forest could be particularly significant because it shows that oil can be found outside the core area of existing oil fields.Geologists previously believed that the rocks in core area were conducive to the formation of oil fields, while the geology outside the area was more conducive to natural gas.The discovery of large gas fields on the Kenai Peninsula proved part of that theory, but the discovery of oil farther south could prompt geologists to change ideas about the Inlet’s remaining oil potential, Ryherd said.Higher natural gas prices have also prompted Unocal and Marathon Oil Co., operator of onshore gas fields, to explore for new natural gas on the Kenai Peninsula.Working as partners, the companies were successful in wells drilled near Ninilchik, south of Kenai. Reserve estimates haven’t been announced, but a pipeline is now planned to be built south from Kenai to tap the new wells.Unocal was less successful in wells drilled farther south on the Peninsula, however.A new entrant to the region, Escopeta Oil and Gas Corp. of Houston, is enthusiastic about the potential. The company thinks deeper, untested rocks could produce substantial new gas discoveries.Rose Ragsdale of the Alaska Oil and Gas Reporter contributed to this report.

Regulatory commission officials defend agency's record

Officials with the Regulatory Commission of Alaska defended their agency’s performance in Senate hearings June 13.The commission was the subject of a two-day Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Anchorage as legislators consider whether the commission should be reauthorized. The matter will be taken up June 24 in a special legislative session.Commission members said they have made drastic improvements over the state’s previous utility regulatory agency.Nan Thompson, commission chairwoman, said when the commission was formed in 1999, it had a backlog of about 700 cases that had not been heard. That backlog has been reduced significantly, Thompson said."This agency has done a good job in working its way out of the mess that was left for us in 1999," Thompson said.Thompson took aim at criticism from Chugach Electric Association and some lawmakers that the commission takes too long in making decisions.Last year, the agency received 576 tariff cases from regulated utilities and resolved about 85 percent of them within 45 days, Thompson said.The agency receives about 600 consumer complaints each year, mostly leveled against telecommunications companies, and most are resolved within 15 days, Thompson said.The five-member commission handed down 751 orders in utility cases in the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2001, Thompson said. The agency caseload is down to about 400 cases from a high of more than 700 when it was created, she said.Courts have upheld commission decisions in nine of 10 cases that have been appealed or the subject of lawsuits, Thompson said.The Regulatory Commission of Alaska came under scrutiny by the Senate late in this year’s legislative session after the House approved a measure to reauthorize it for four more years.Wrangell Republican Robin Taylor, Senate judiciary chairman, has led the opposition that is calling for a telecommunications study and a review of the commission before it is reauthorized.Taylor said the commission had 58 tariff cases in which the deadline to resolve them was extended. He points to that as "part of the reason there’s so much angst and frustration" within the utility industry.Chugach Electric officials complained June 10 about long delays before the commission and an unwillingness to make final decisions.Unless reauthorized, the commission is scheduled to sunset June 30 and will enter into a one-year phase down period. During that time the commission will pare down the cases on which it can act in the year that it has left, Thompson said.Some lawmakers described the battle over reauthorizing the commission as a "phone war" between the state’s largest telephone company and its nearest competitor.Alaska Communications Systems has been handed some adverse rulings by the commission in the past, including rulings that favored General Communication Inc.ACS holds about 70 percent of the state’s local telephone business and GCI has about a 40 percent share of Anchorage’s residential telephone service. Both companies lobbied the issue heavily before the Legislature.

Pork pollution concerns lead Kenai to create feedlot restrictions

KENAI -- If meat producers are to locate large-scale animal feedlots and processing plants in the Kenai Peninsula Borough, they’ll have to adhere to new land-use restrictions adopted earlier this month by the borough assembly.With no real zoning powers with which to ban such operations outright, as was suggested by some, the assembly took what steps it could to limit their size and require they minimize impacts on residential areas and air and water quality.Concern that feedlots might pollute salmon streams led the assembly to include a provision requiring operators to "prevent all water contamination."Concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, have poor environmental track records in other states. The assembly said it wanted to prevent such occurrences here, but noted the borough has no way to judge safety measures a large animal feeding operation might employ.Instead, it passed an ordinance setting up a task force to review applications and requiring, among other things, an engineering analysis of proposed farming operations before a permit is issued.The ordinance requires a permit application fee of 20 cents per head, a site plan and detailed information about manure handling. It also mandates that applicants have all necessary federal and state permits in hand before applying for a borough permit.The three-person task force appointed by the mayor would include one person from local industry, a member of the borough planning commission and a resident of the unincorporated borough.The new law arose in direct response to a proposal by a Soldotna man who believes the Peninsula could support a large-scale pig farm that would ship its product to Asia.Dick Metteer, president of Alaska Pork Project Inc., said he could operate within the law’s restrictions. However, he also said the law ignores available innovations and new technology that could make such farms clean."We are very fortunate today in Alaska that we have this new technology," he said. "We don’t have to be afraid of it."Metteer said there are methods available for capturing methane from pig manure for use as a fuel and turning the solids into pellets to be sold as dry fertilizer, avoiding such methods as spreading pig waste on fields or letting it sit in giant ponds, methods that have led to serious pollution problems and sometimes horrendous odors surrounding animal feeding operations in the Lower 48."Yes, there have been problems Outside," he said. "We don’t want to do those."He said retooling an existing large-scale meat-raising facility would be a costly affair for giant corporate farms Outside, but building a high-tech operation from the ground up in Alaska would be "a whole different story."Metteer said he believes a large pig farm could make money despite the cost of installing new technologies for avoiding air and water pollution.He envisions a pig farm producing some 60,000 tons of meat a year to be shipped out of Seward or possibly Homer to Dutch Harbor and from there to Japan and the rest of Asia. It could mean hundreds of jobs on the Peninsula, he added.Opposition to a pig farm of such proportions was nearly universal, however, according to members of the assembly who said they’d heard from their constituents.Could the borough just ban large animal feed lots?Borough Attorney Colette Thompson said that might be problematic."The answer is we could try," she said. "We probably would get sued."She said the borough would have to demonstrate that the farm was severely detrimental to the health, safety or welfare of borough residents.Metteer said he was not discouraged by the ordinance and expects to be able to meet any of its provisions. His next step, he said, is to acquire the necessary land on which to start a feeding operation.

Managers must respond to employee behavior problems

Unsatisfactory behavior in the workplace is a painful reality and a key reason for low morale and low productivity. Do you have people in your office failing to pull their weight? Do they cause problems for everyone else?One point is clear: Unsatisfactory behavior does not magically go away and only gets worse when ignored.Certain types of unsatisfactory behavior in the workplace, such as sexual harassment and discrimination, are readily identified. Other forms of unsatisfactory behavior may not be so easily identified.Small, irritating events such as tardiness, not completing assignments and missing deadlines occur repeatedly over time and can lower the performance of all concerned. Keep in mind that what appears to be a small issue to you can be a major issue with your employees.What type of behavior requires intervention?Anything that disrupts the office, impacts on productivity or poses a threat to other employees needs addressing.The degree to which you tolerate a situation before intervention may vary. A manager may not feel it necessary to intervene when a minor exchange of words occurs between employees, unless such an incident becomes a daily occurrence and expands beyond the employees initially involved. When handling unsatisfactory behavior, some basic guidelines apply. Get all the information.Few situations are exactly as they seem or as presented to you by others. Before you try to manage the behavior problem, insure you have investigated both sides of the issue. Evaluate the information.The old adage, "Haste makes waste," has more truth in it than we sometimes realize.Take time to evaluate all the information surrounding the unsatisfactory behavior. Identify the potential causes that may have created the unsatisfactory behavior. Is the problem due to a lack of resources? Or could it be a training problem?Finally, determine if it is an attitude problem or willful neglect. A too-quick decision does more harm than good when it turns out to be the wrong decision. Address the situation.Once you have collected and evaluated the information, you are ready to address the issue with the employee. Let the employee know you would like to meet with them.Let them know the place and time you want to meet.Focus on the problem, not the individual.Avoid your own preconceived attitudes about troublesome employees. Employee X may not be the most congenial of your employees, but you should deal with all unsatisfactory behavior regardless of the personality of the individual. Focus on identifying and resolving the problem.If, after careful and thorough investigation, you determine the individual is the problem, then focus on the individual at that point. Keep the communication open.The ultimate goal is to resolve the issue and set parameters for satisfactory behavior. Begin the meeting in a positive, but firm manner. Allow the employee to express their viewpoint, but also share your perspective.Attempt to facilitate the discussion and help the individual focus on the issue causing conflict. Keep the discussion on target.Mature individuals accept responsibility for their behavior and show initiative for improvement.On the other hand, some individuals tend to blame other people and situations for their lack of performance. Be careful not to lose control of the meeting. Your goal as a supervisor is to keep the employee focused on the issue at hand and avoid extraneous information. A good way to retain control is to say, "Yes, I understand there are other issues we need to look at, but let’s focus on the main reason I called this meeting." Avoid losing your temper and using coercion.Yelling at someone or coercing people may stop the problem temporary, but do not fool yourself into thinking it is a long-term solution. Odds are the problem will resurface.At that point not only will you have the initial problem to deal with but also the angry feelings that have festered below the surface during the interim. Establish expectations and guidelines.Once you have taken time to gather information, talked to all the parties involved and discussed the unsatisfactory behavior, it is now time for the next step. Clearly outline what satisfactory behavior should look like.Explain your expectations and develop an action plan. The employee may not all agree with your decision, but at least they will know where you stand. Make a record of the meeting.The final step is to document the meeting and write down what both you and the employee agreed to do. Schedule a follow-up meeting and bring the meeting to an end.Gregory P. Smith is the president of a management consulting firm called Chart Your Course International in Conyers, Georgia. He can be reached at 770-860-9464.

Industry begins building Kenai salmon brand

KENAI -- Kenai Peninsula leaders and commercial fishing representatives are trying to make a name for their salmon.A $400,000 project to boost the Cook Inlet salmon industry, partly funded by the borough, kicks off this summer with quality control inspectors to make sure the "Kenai Wild" brand lives up to its new name.The program will certify salmon that meet handling and quality standards to develop a niche market for the product at organic supermarkets and restaurants.This year the project will monitor sockeye salmon and aims to produce up to 12,000 pounds of headed and gutted fillets, said Jack Brown, the Kenai Peninsula Borough Community & Economic Development Division’s business development manager.By late June two local inspectors and three others from Seattle-based Surefish Seafood Quality Specialists were to begin inspections at harvest sites, Brown said.They should work the sockeye salmon run through early August, he said. Next year local inspectors will work two to three months, then four to six months in 2004, he said. One day the brand could also include halibut and cod."The commercial fishing salmon industry is on the ropes," he said, citing the effects of cheap farmed salmon on the Alaska industry. "In order for the industry to be viable for the future they have to change the way they operate."The idea for the project began last year when Dale Bagley, borough mayor, attended a seafood forum and dispatched consultants to study the viability of a Cook Inlet brand. The program operates as Cook Inlet Salmon Brand Inc. with a 13-member board, Brown said.The borough has given the project $168,000, Brown said. The Alaska Manufacturers Association gave $112,000 and the state Department of Community and Economic Development another $120,000. Another $95,000 is in the state budget awaiting approval from Gov. Tony Knowles, Brown said.Most of the funds will be spent on teaching fishermen and plant and tender operators about quality control and handling procedures, he said.Earlier this year Brown and Bagley attended the World Trade Center Alaska’s seafood forum and spoke with buyers for organic supermarkets. "They insisted that fish must be bled and iced," he said. According to the buyers, fish products get one chance to make a good impression, Brown recalled.In the past Alaska hasn’t met such standards, which are now demanded, he said.Brown hopes the Kenai Wild brand will create demand and climbing prices, eventually boosting employment.In 1980 the commercial fishing accounted for 14.7 percent of average borough monthly employment. In 2000 that figure had dropped to 3.9 percent.This year the Cook Inlet brand program aims to certify up to 12,000 pounds, he said. But one of the three volunteer processors, Snug Harbor Seafoods Inc. of Kenai, wants to certify 100,000 pounds.Paul Dale, Snug Harbor Seafoods president, believes the program will find swifter success with a higher volume. Still, the priority is quality control, he said.The processors’ certified fish are destined for U.S. fresh markets, and the company has specific buyers lined up, he said. Other processors in the program this year are Salamatof Seafoods Inc. of Kenai and Deep Creek Custom Packing of Soldotna."One of the biggest benefits we’ve seen is cooperation between government, fish processors and commercial fishermen," said Mark Powell, president of both the Cook Inlet brand board and Alaska Salmon Purchasers Inc. "We hope we’re the model for other areas of the state to follow."Yet, Kenai Wild has its own mentor."A lot of people have been inspired by the Copper River program," said Laura Fleming, spokeswoman for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.That effort took at least 15 years of work and required community support and cooperation from harvesters and processors, she said. Bristol Bay, Chignik and Kodiak fishermen also are considering a regional brand name project, she said.ASMI markets its own branding, Alaska Seafood, and is prohibited from promoting a region’s brand, Fleming said.Despite the increase in regional brands, Fleming believes the timing of fishing seasons will restrict competition among them. Marketers also must promote the distinct characteristics of their product, she said. Consumers are becoming sophisticated enough to recognize differences, she said.The borough’s investment makes the Cook Inlet program stand out. "Public dollars were allocated, which is a huge expression of the importance of it to the economy, and it’s a pledge to support the brand," Fleming said.

Company seeks funding to provide utility gas to Southeast

PETERSBURG -- A plan to bring natural gas to more than a dozen Southeast Alaska communities faces several hurdles, including finding about $80 million to fund the project.If the Alaska Intrastate Gas Co. can find the funding, the project would begin by serving Ketchikan with utility gas, not natural gas.Natural gas is methane and utility gas is a mixture of propane and dry air. The utility gas would be shipped in rail tanks on barges from British Columbia. Each community would have a storage facility and underground distribution lines.Ketchikan would require $20 million in infrastructure. Sitka and Juneau would follow with another $50 million to get those systems going.The company said it can provide residents with a less-expensive alternative to fuel oil, electricity or propane for heating homes, water tanks, dryers and stoves.A recent feasibility study paid for by the company suggests it can cut customers’ costs by at least 20 percent once a home or business has the appropriate appliances or is retrofitted."We have a superior product and a cheaper product that will result in economic benefits to all consumers and the industrial folks in particular," the gas company’s senior vice president, Paul Rusanowski, told CoastAlaska radio network.One of the company’s assumptions is that all of the seafood processors in Ketchikan, Sitka and Juneau would convert to gas. But the company does not have any firm commitments.Bob Poe, executive director of the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, said there are several possibilities for funding the project.That includes funding by AIDEA that would help with the initial phase, providing service to Ketchikan, and afterward assess whether the additional phases are realistic.Poe said another option is conduit bonds, which require other investors. A couple of bond companies have eyed the project but Poe said the feasibility study needs additional information.The possibility that AIDEA may offer financial assistance to the gas company is bothersome to officials with the 4-Dam Pool electric utility. The group recently purchased four hydroelectric facilities from the state, including Ketchikan’s Swan Lake plant and the Tyee plant, which supplies power to Wrangell and Petersburg.Acting director Dave Carlson said it doesn’t make sense to lend the 4-Dam Pool money to buy the hydro plants only to also offer financing for a company in direct competition."I understand that part of their plan is to try and hook up the canneries to use this. That would cause a decrease in kilowatt hour sales," Carlson said.But Rusanowski said offering utility gas should improve development opportunities and ultimately increase demand for electrical companies."We’re not going after the major electrical loads. We’re primarily going after the home and hot water loads."

Ferries, Glenn get byways status

JUNEAU -- The federal government has recognized the Alaska Marine Highway and the Glenn Highway as National Scenic Byways, which help the state obtain more money for tourism marketing.The two were among 35 roads around the country to receive the designation June 13 from the U.S. Department of Transportation.Diane Regan, scenic byways coordinator with the state Department of Transportation, said the ferry system is the first water-based route in the nation to achieve the status. To qualify, a road must have significant scenic, natural, recreational, historical, archaeological or cultural qualities.The designation could help promote tourism on the routes, said Gov. Tony Knowles’ spokesman Bob King.The routes will also receive a higher ranking in competition for grants for planning, marketing and building wayside stops and interpretive displays, Regan said. The designation won’t bring any money for normal maintenance.The only other Alaska highway with such a federal designation is the Seward Highway.

Kodiak salmon fishermen reach price agreement

KODIAK -- Kodiak salmon fishermen began fishing June 16, ending a five-day stand down after signing a contract June 14 with a local processor.The fishermen had been staying onshore while the United Salmon Association held price negotiations with processors."This has been a grim week for our fishermen, but the gains in price offset the loss of six fishing days," said Thom Wischer, chairman of the United Salmon Association.The group reached an agreement with True World Foods, formally known as International Seafoods of Alaska. Under the agreement, fishermen agreed to a price of 59 cents a pound for sockeye salmon and 7 cents a pound for pink salmon.

Super Cub creates new industry

Besides oil, Lee Budde believes Alaska only has three highly marketable items: "seafood, scenery and Super Cubs."While fishing and tourism industries have seen their share of economic nosedives in recent years, money and jobs generated solely by the Piper Super Cub airplane in Alaska continue to rise.Countless Alaskans earn their livings by rebuilding, repairing, flying or building parts for the venerable Super Cub, an airplane synonymous with Alaska aviation."You can’t swing a dead cat in Alaska without hitting someone who repairs Super Cubs," said Budde, who along with his wife Jennifer, own Big Lake-based Airframes Inc., a company that repairs, rebuilds and makes new fuselages and various parts for the airplane.Some 7,750 of the no-frills, steel-framed, fabric-skinned, single-engine airplanes were made from 1949 to 1995, when production ceased after the Piper Aircraft Corp. went out of business.By several estimates, Alaska is home to at least a quarter of all Super Cubs produced. The airplane’s simplicity and short take-off and landing capabilities make it a favorite for Bush pilots, who often refer to the practical little plane as the "Alaska jeep."No landing strip is not a problem for the Super Cub, which can easily land on gravel bars and mountainsides.Hunting guide Kirk Ellis of Nabesna says without the Super Cub, he’d be out of work."I’ve tried them all and it’s the only airplane that can do the job," Ellis said.The highly sought after airplane has such a cult following in Alaska that Budde said he knows pilots who prioritize the airplane over other essentials of life. "People will live underneath a blue tarp just so they can own a Super Cub," Budde said, "and some of them do." Budde, along with his wife and 10 employees, produce complete replacement fuselages for the Super Cub, including a new Federal Aviation Administration-approved frame that is 4 inches wider than the original.That extra room is welcomed by more portly pilots, Budde said."It’s the difference between being cramped and comfortable," said Budde who said his shoulders touch both bulkheads in a standard Super Cub.Fuselages range in price from about $11,000 to $14,000 for the wider model.In his four years of business, Budde has produced about 115 frames, which he says are a vast improvement over factory-made models."Ours is a stronger, more sensible design of the structure," Budde said.This year, he expects production to reach 70 fuselages. The increased production is in part thanks to an order of about 30 frames from Cub Crafters Inc., a Yakima, Wash.-based company producing a Super Cub clone known as the Top Cub.Budde said shipping the 17-foot long, 104-pound fuselages to the Lower 48 is cheap because nearly all containers headed south are empty anyway."We’re doing OK out here in the middle of nowhere because of our quality," Budde said. "Ten families, besides our own, are making a living off of this."A superior Super CubNathan Richmond, along with his father Jim, started building the Top Cubs three years ago, and have sold about 50 airplanes to date.Nathan Richmond said the airplanes are far superior to the old Super Cubs due to advances in technology, like better engines and landing gear, and because of the better frames made by Budde, who supplies about half of the fuselages to the company. "Lee (Budde) does a fantastic job building fuselages for us," said Richmond.Six of the hand-built airplanes, which sell for an average of about $150,000, have been sold in Alaska, including two that were delivered in Anchorage in mid-June, Nathan Richmond said.Cub Crafters expects at least 20 percent of its market will be in Alaska, Richmond said.The company also rebuilds old Super Cubs to like-new specifications, which can cost about $80,000.Super Cubs, when introduced by Piper more than 50 years ago, sold for about $3,000.Cub Crafters all-new airplane has sparked objections from the New Piper Aircraft Inc., which emerged after the old Piper company folded, but it no longer produces Super Cubs.Mark Miller, spokesman for New Piper Aircraft officials in Vero Beach, Fla., said his company is asking the Federal Aviation Administration to force Cub Crafters to stop making the Super Cub clones.Miller said New Piper wants Cub Crafters to quit using "Cub" in its name, and to stop making the Top Cub altogether, fearing lawsuits that would link the two companies."It’s like someone building an airplane just like a Boeing 747 and putting ’Top’ Boeing on it," Miller said. "There is a huge safety issue for the public and a liability issue for us that could come to rest on our doorstep."Miller said his company stopped making the Super Cub because it could not get insurance on the airplane."It’s an antique," Miller said. "Don’t get me wrong, we are proud of the Cub and proud of the Cubs we made, just as I’m sure Henry Ford was proud of the Model T."Miller said he believes the FAA will side with his company ultimately, but if not, the issue will go to court.Cub Crafters’ Richmond said so far the FAA has sided with his company and nothing prohibits them from building the new airplane."They wish nobody was building the airplane, but they have no legal grounds," Richmond said.Richmond said the demand for Super Cubs might not ever go away, and his company is banking on it, especially in Alaska."Super Cubs, like Harley-Davidsons, have a cult-like following and they are dearly loved," Richmond said. "Everyone who owns a Super Cub dreams of flying it to Alaska. And all of our customers always want all of the ’Alaska mods.’"’Guru and grandmaster’ of Super Cub modificationsWhen it comes to modifying a Super Cub, F. Atlee Dodge is legendary.Dodge has been working on Super Cubs for most of his 80 years and is considered the "guru" and "grandmaster" of Super Cub modifications. He’s most often referred to as "Mr. Cub" in the Super Cub circles."It’s a good airplane, it really is and I’ve been around them for a long time," said Dodge, owner of F. Atlee Dodge Aircraft Services Inc. in Anchorage.He’s designed or redesigned everything from landing gear to lumber racks for the Super Cub. Some of his most popular items are engine cowlings, exhaust systems, heaters, folding seats, expanded fuel tanks, float fittings, skis and ski rigging parts and an enclosed baggage compartment."I’ve made enough of the stuff for them to gain the reputation," Dodge said.Although he specializes in Super Cubs, Dodge has made parts for nearly anything that flies.Dodge’s products are mostly shipped to Canada and Alaska where the greatest concentrations of Super Cubs are. Shipments go out daily to the Lower 48 and around the world. In any given week, Dodge’s company ships Super Cub parts to far away places like Borneo and South Africa."We ship stuff everywhere," Dodge said.Dodge employees 13 people at his South Anchorage business located off O’Malley Road, where he has been since 1957.Business making parts is so brisk with Super Cubs and other airplanes that Dodge said he is looking to expand elsewhere in Anchorage soon. His designs have been copied by many over the years, but nearly any Super Cub aficionado will tell you F. Atlee Dodge products are superior.Dodge has rarely advertised over the years and has grown his Anchorage business by word-of-mouth. "We’ve never been out of work," he said.Dan Hollingsworth, of Dan’s Aircraft Repair Inc., offers many of Dodge’s parts on his Super Cub rebuilds. The company, based at Merrill Field in Anchorage, claims to be the largest Super Cub rebuilder in the state.Hollingsworth said his 15-year-old company employs 10 people.Hollingsworth said a complete rebuild, depending on the work needed, can cost upwards of $95,000 and take between three and four months, involving hundreds of hours of labor. In the end, he says, the plane is better than it was the day it came from the Piper factory.Hollingsworth also will fetch or repair on-site crashed airplanes from anywhere in the state, as he has done on several occasions.The lure of the Super CubLura and Vern Kingsford of Scenic Mountain Air use Super Cubs on floats for flight instruction in the Bush."The Super Cub is the epitome of the Bush plane in Alaska," said Lura Kingsford, who along with her husband offer float-rating instruction at their Moose Pass headquarters.Not only are they offering float certifications, the couple is doing their part for tourism using the Super Cub.The company has about 80 pilots annually take the course, two-thirds of whom come from the Lower 48.The instruction is popular with everyone from new pilots to airline pilots, Lura Kingsford said. At least one astronaut, Cady Coleman, has taken the three-day course, which touts itself as the "boot camp" of float ratings. Vern Kingsford has been flying in Alaska for about 30 years, chalking up some 14,000 hours of flight time, including more than 4,000 hours on floats.Pilots can earn float ratings nearly anywhere Outside, Lura Kingsford said. But flying in Bush Alaska, in the tiny airplane associated with the state, is a strong marketing tool."People can get float ratings flying over a trailer park in Florida, but what we do is the epitome of Bush flying," Lura Kingsford said. "We fulfill people’s dreams."

DNR approves expansion of True North gold mine

FAIRBANKS -- The Department of Natural Resources has approved the expansion of the True North gold mine north of Fairbanks.The agency also said June 12 that the mine’s existing haul road does not hurt winter tourism.The mine is located in the Cleary Summit area between the Steese and Elliott highways about 30 miles north of Fairbanks, near several facilities that cater to aurora borealis-viewing tourists in the winter.A group of area residents, called Neighborhood Mine Watch, filed an appeal last year of the mine’s construction.The group complained about lights and noise from trucks that carry ore from the mine 24 hours a day. Residents said the trucks disrupt sleep as well as tourism businesses that cater to visitors who want to view the northern lights.Superior Court Judge Charles Pengilly ruled earlier this year that the state had neglected to conduct a proper economic study on the right-of-way permit for the mine’s 10-mile ore haul road.Pengilly remanded the decision back to DNR with orders to conduct the study.On June 12, the results of that study were released, with DNR concluding that the potential economic impact of the lights, noise and dust of ore trucks on the haul road on tourist numbers was not enough to offset the positive economic impact of the mine.The study found that, while tourist numbers declined precipitously over the winter of 2001-02, the majority of the loss was due to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks."Other aurora-viewing locations report a similarly steep loss,’’ the report said.The study concluded that the millions of dollars paid by the mine in taxes and other fees, as well as the jobs created and other indirect economic impacts, outweigh the possible loss of tourists to Cleary Summit-area businesses.It also noted that such losses could be offset by increases in other areas if tourists choose to book accommodations elsewhere in the borough during the life of the mine.The agency also authorized the mine’s expansion of operations to tap additional gold reserves discovered during 2001, digging a total of three new pits to go with the existing two. Two of the new pits would be contiguous to an existing one, in effect forming one larger pit. The expansion would increase the mine’s operations by about 600 acres and extend its life by about a year to 18 months to a total of more than four years.The mine has been in operation since March 2001.

Judge blocks Tongass sales in roadless areas

ANCHORAGE -- A federal judge June 11 halted new timber sales in roadless areas of the Tongass National Forest until the U.S. Forest Service finishes work on a court-ordered environmental impact study.Plaintiffs in the case, including the Sierra Club, asked for the hearing in U.S. District Court in Anchorage to get Judge James Singleton to clarify an order he issued April 26.Singleton decided in April that five pending timber sales, the Upper Carroll, South Lindy, Four Leaf, South Arm and King George, could proceed. The sales contain about 62 million board feet of timber in the Craig, Ketchikan and Wrangell areas.But those were the only exceptions the judge made in an order that otherwise prohibited the Forest Service from permitting timber harvest or road building in roadless areas until 45 days after the study is completed.Plaintiffs in the case, which focused on 19 Tongass timber sales in remote areas, wanted clarification on what the judge’s order meant for timber sales. Singleton found June 11 that his April order did prohibit the Forest Service from allowing for additional timber sales in the roadless areas until the agency completes the study, said Jim Ustasiewski, an attorney for the Forest Service in Juneau.Singleton ordered the study in March 2001. Ustasiewski said the study should be completed by the end of the year. A draft study is undergoing public comment.Deirdre McDonnell, a lawyer who argued the case for the group Earthjustice, said the decision underscored the judge’s wish to have "a fair and full consideration of all the areas.’’A call to the Alaska Forest Association in Ketchikan was not immediately returned.The Forest Service had argued that the agency was still revising the study and did not need to manage roadless areas as wilderness while it was still working on the plan.The judge ruled last year that the Forest Service violated federal law when it failed to consider some areas for wilderness designation in issuing the 1997 Tongass Land Management Plan. He issued a temporary injunction that halted logging in the forest for nearly two months.

Railroad spends $52 million on capital projects this year

More than $52 million in capital improvements are planned by the Alaska Railroad Corp. this year with much of the work this summer.The railroad also added $20 million to its coffers June 10 with an appropriation from the U.S. Department of Transportation, money secured by Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska.That brings to $288 million the railroad has received since 1996 for improvements to the state-owned railroad, said Patrick Flynn, Alaska Railroad’s public affairs officer.In 2001, the railroad had some $73 million earmarked for capital improvements, $20.5 million more than this year.The additional money came mainly from a $13 million federal reimbursement to the railroad for fuel spills it had in 1999 at Canyon and at Gold Creek, where 15 cars left the track, five of them spilling more than 120,000 gallons of jet fuel.Major work slated for this summer by the railroad includes continued improvements on rail, ties, bridges, sidings and switches throughout the 498-mile line and the second phase of upgrading and straightening of mainline between Anchorage and Wasilla.The railroad began construction last spring on the project that will straighten some 70 curves on the Anchorage-to-Wasilla line. Some road crossings along the track also will be improved for increased safety, according to the railroad.When all three phases are completed in 2004 at a cost of $78 million, railroad officials said the travel time between Anchorage and Wasilla will drop from 90 minutes to just under an hour. Trains should be able to maintain speeds of about 50 mph instead of slowing to 20-25 mph. The Alaska Railroad this spring completed its $2.3 million rail-yard underpass at Whittier. The 300-foot-long underpass was installed to provide safe passage to pedestrians while crossing the rail yard, according to the railroad.Improvements totaling $1.6 million to the Whittier barge slip facility is ongoing this year, with completion slated for 2003.Other projects under construction this year with completion slated for 2003 include the $4.5 million Denali National Park rail station; a $2.2 million equipment maintenance facility in Whittier; and $510,000 in improvements to the Talkeetna depot.


Subscribe to Alaska Journal RSS