Warbelow's builds new terminal at Fairbanks airport

Art Warbelow’s business strategy is simple: Grow like a weed or wilt like one."You got to keep growing," said the owner of Warbelow’s Air Ventures Inc. of Fairbanks. "If you don’t, you shrink."It’s that philosophy that has Warbelow undertaking the largest expansion in the company’s history, a new $1.5 million, 21,000-square-foot passenger terminal and maintenance facility at the Fairbanks International Airport.The facility also will offer a new restaurant and gift shop, both of which will be run by the Warbelow’s Air Ventures, which claims to be the largest passenger-carrying commuter airline out of Fairbanks.Construction of the new terminal and hangar started in April and should be completed by the end of the year, Warbelow said. Ron Price and Associates of Fairbanks designed the new facility and is guiding its construction, Warbelow said."We really needed to add to our passenger services," said Warbelow, whose current facility at Fairbanks International is cramped, has little parking and barely enough room for airplane maintenance.Warbelow’s new facility is the first such venture off the airport’s’ new $2 million taxiway extension. The airline also has leased a large tract adjacent to the new facility to provide a business buffer and for future growth.Jim Fiorenzi, assistant manager at Fairbanks International, said the $2 million taxiway extension was aimed at businesses like Warbelow’s."Art has grown to be our largest commuter air carrier," Fiorenzi said. "What goes along with growth is more activity and more people and airplanes to deal with."Art’s relocation should not only meet his current needs, but future needs, too." Warbelow’s father, pioneer aviator Marvin Warbelow, founded the airline in 1956. Art Warbelow and his two brothers, Ron and Charlie, took over the family business in 1971, after Marvin’s death. Renamed 40-Mile Air Inc. and based in Tok, the new airline mostly featured charters with a few scheduled flights to the local surrounding area. 40-Mile Air expanded to Fairbanks in 1981, adding scheduled flights to Alaska’s Interior, according to company history.In 1989, Art Warbelow said, the brothers each wanted to take the airline in different directions and 40-Mile Air was divided among them. Art Warbelow retained operations out of Fairbanks and Warbelow’s Air Ventures was reborn. Charlie Warbelow kept 40-Mile Air and Ron Warbelow started his own business, Casseron Turbo Helicopters.In 1999, Charlie Warbelow was killed when the helicopter he was flying crashed at the Eastern Oregon Regional Airport.During the last dozen years, Warbelow’s Air Ventures has flourished, Art Warbelow said. The airline has grown from five airplanes carrying about 100 passengers monthly to 16 airplanes and 3,000 passengers a month.Warbelow’s Air ventures serves 28 communities by scheduled commuter, charter and contract air service.The airline provides contract medical evacuation services to several Interior villages.The company employs about 75 people and is expecting to add a few more once the new facility at Fairbanks International is completed, Warbelow said.In the past few years, the airline has expanded its bases in Galena and Unalakleet to keep up with growth. Warbelow’s Air Ventures last year also began offering flight instruction.

Big-ticket projects on tap for 2002 construction season

It’s going to be a hectic year for road, bridge and airport builders around the state. Surface transportation construction will be up sharply in 2002.This is due partly to work starting on big-ticket projects and partly to more federal money being available, thanks to Alaska’s influential congressional delegation in Congress.The state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities is estimating that $230 million worth of transportation projects -- highway and airport work -- are underway in the agency’s central region, which includes Southcentral and Southwest Alaska, according to Tom Moses, the regional construction engineer.Actual expenditures will likely be a little less, but it’s still a big jump over $145 million spent on central region projects last year, Moses said.The state’s projected project spending in the northern region, which includes Interior, northern and western Alaska, is $130 million this year, up from $90 million last year, according to Jim Weed, the northern region engineering chief.Comparable statewide figures for spending this year aren’t easily available, but the amount of federal money available for transportation, which pays for most of the projects, has been steadily increasing.Airport improvement projects slated for Anchorage, villagesBy Tim BradnerJournal ReporterA substantial amount of airport work is planned this summer. At Ted Stevens International Airport near Anchorage, improvements to several taxiways are planned along with new passenger terminal construction.Airport improvement projects are under way in Eek, Kwethluk and Chefornak, and a major airport and local road project will get under way this fall at Iliamna.A $7 million improvement to the east-west runway at Nome’s airport is planned to start in mid-summer. Beginning June 1 the runway will be closed, and only the north-south runway will be available for use.Improvements to the Noorvik airport in northwest Alaska, a $7 million project, should be completed this year, as well as a $4 million airport improvement at Huslia in the western Interior.Work will begin this fall on a $4 million airport improvement at Stevens Village on the Yukon River. In the current federal fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, Alaska will receive about $420 million in federal transportation funds, up from about $327 million the previous year, according to Jeff Ottesen, statewide planning chief.In addition to these funds, which are distributed by formula to the different states, Ottesen said Alaska additionally receives $30 million to $80 million per year in special appropriations for specific projects, due to efforts by the state’s delegation in Washington, D.C.Since the state of Alaska must contribute another 10 percent in state matching funds, more than $500 million will be spent in total this year in construction of transportation infrastructure.On the Parks Highway near Wasilla, work on highway widening, bridges and overpasses will continue, including completion of a $16 million interchange. A similar interchange was built in this area of the Parks last year, for approximately $15 million.Another project improves the Palmer-Wasilla highway, as well as construction of a connecting road from the Glenn Highway to the Knik-Goose Bay road.Later this summer, construction will start on a long-planned interchange at the junction of the Parks and Glenn Highways, near Palmer, at an estimated cost of $30 million to $50 million. The project will have a design-build contract, and proposals from builders are now being reviewed by the state, Moses said. The contract will be awarded in late June to the successful bidder, and work will be under way by fall, he said.Farther north on the Parks, the highway will be realigned and repaved from Mile 57 to Mile 67. A new bridge will cross the Little Susitna River.A big project on the Glenn Highway from Mile 100 to 109 will rebuild the road and build a new bridge at Caribou Creek. This is also a $30 million to $50 million project.A number of projects are under way in Anchorage. In South Anchorage, work will continue on widening the Old Seward Highway from Dowling to Dimond Boulevard, and Arctic Boulevard from Raspberry Road to Dimond Boulevard, and repaving of Northern Lights and Benson boulevards in Midtown Anchorage.Dowling Road will be improved from New Seward Highway to Lake Otis Boulevard and Lake Otis will be repaved from Abbott Road to O’Malley Road.On the Seward Highway, improvements are planned from Seward to Mile 8, including new bridges. Five other portions along 42 miles of the Seward Highway are being rebuilt this summer near the turnoff to the Sterling Highway.A major project on the Seward Highway nearer Anchorage is reconstruction of the highway across the Bird Flats, an area between Bird Creek and Girdwood where the highway now runs for a long stretch in an active avalanche zone.In the northern region, a new interchange is planned on the Richardson Highway and Badger Road intersection, near Fairbanks, according to Jim Weed, a regional project engineer.The Dalton Highway to the North Slope will be surfaced from Mile 111 to Mile 144, and Mile 335 to Mile 362. The Elliot Highway, which connects the Dalton Highway to Fairbanks, will be resurfaced from Mile 28 to Mile 72.

$85 million Concourse C construction ranks as Anchorage's biggest project this year and next

The new concourse at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport will see major construction this summer as part of a $230 million, six-year airport renovation. The project is the largest construction job in Anchorage and is one of the state’s top projects.The new concourse is expected to be ready by summer 2004."The goal this summer is to get the building enclosed so they can work through the winter," said Dave Eberle, central regional director for the state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.Work started in 1999 when regional airlines were relocated and the old Concourse C they had been using was demolished. Roads have been upgraded during the last two years. Construction this year and in 2003 focus on rebuilding Concourse C. Renovations to the existing terminal could start in 2004 and continue through 2005.The project is expected to be a major source of construction industry job growth in Alaska for 2002 and 2003, according to the Department of Labor’s Economic Trends report for May. Work on the national missile defense project in Fairbanks is another. The $85 million Concourse C work is the single largest project in Anchorage in 2002 and 2003, according to the report.Once completed, the Anchorage domestic terminal will total 804,000 square feet with 23 gates and 20 regional airline parking positions. The new terminal area and Concourse C add 447,000 square feet to the existing facility. The project also expands baggage claim and ticket lobby areas and doubles the curbside area for dropping off and picking up passengers.Airport revenue bonds issued in 1998 and 1999 and a federal grant in 1998 delivered $230 million in funding. Of that, $137.8 million is dedicated to replace Concourse C; $33.7 million is for terminal renovations; $31.9 million goes to road and parking improvements; $25 million is for improvements to areas used by aircraft; and $1.6 million covers financing costs.Kiewit Construction Co. is the general contractor on the two phases of Concourse C work. Phase one, the foundation and structural steel work, is nearly complete. Phase two, to complete the building, started in May, Eberle said.The contract is scheduled to be completed in December 2003, although that could continue into early 2004 because of changes in permits, he said.Railroad depot ready by fallBy Nancy PoundsJournal Assistant EditorConstruction on the Alaska Railroad Corp.’s new passenger depot at the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport could be complete this fall and start serving passengers next summer.Work this summer aims to finish the $28 million depot structure at the Anchorage airport, said railroad spokesman Patrick Flynn.The airport rail station project is funded by the Federal Railroad Administration, according to the railroad’s annual report.Located adjacent to the parking garage, the depot has an elevated track from the 17,300-square-foot depot descending to join a route parallel to International Airport Road.Builders will install two bridges this month as part of work on the route, Flynn said. One bridge spans Aircraft Drive, and another bridge carries outbound track from the terminal, he said.The bridges were built at the Port of Anchorage. The Aircraft Drive bridge was scheduled to be installed June 6, while the other bridge is due to be put in place June 12, Flynn said.Also this summer, railroad officials hope to have the pedestrian tunnel to the airport terminal in place.Work also is under way to improve the track spur from Minnesota Drive to the airport depot. That project also uses federal railroad funds.Construction on the depot is mostly complete, and protective plastic coverings should be removed by mid-June, Flynn said. Those changes were made after a structural review. Builders have reinforced steel columns and other parts to meet review terms, said John Faunce, construction manager with Parsons Brinckerhoff Construction. There was no need to replace trusses and other supports, he said.In summer 2004 remodeling is expected to begin on the ticket lobby, Concourse B and the exterior facade to match the new concourse, Eberle said. That work will take one to two years, he said."Right now we’re looking at what the scope of that work will be," Eberle said.Concourse C work now employs about 100 contractor employees, said Donn Ketner, the state’s terminal redevelopment project director. Employment should peak later this season at 200 workers, he said."From here on out, it’s going to be a pretty fast pace," Ketner said.Kiewit was awarded the phase two contract last September. The contract includes $8.8 million for a tarmac apron addition and $76.7 million for the concourse building.This summer Kiewit aims to enclose the main part of Concourse C between the existing terminal and new mechanical rooms, he said. That work includes electrical and mechanical installation plus concrete deck work, roofing, exterior framing, and installing and starting new boilers for winter construction heat.The new concourse adds two new baggage carousels. Outbound baggage areas will meet a new federal requirements for explosives screening by late 2002, he said.Moving walkways will be installed in the new concourse.One feature of the new concourse is a two-story central entrance area where airport visitors converge from the terminal to the parking garage and train depot. It will have skylights, two glass elevators, escalators and stone floors, Ketner said."It’s going to be a beautiful building," he said.On May 29, Kiewit poured the first concrete floor for Concourse C phase two. Similar work will continue every other day, project officials said.Kiewit also is handling earthwork and fuel-line installation as part of airport apron work adding 350,000 square feet. Apron construction continues through 2005, he said.The renovated terminal will have a new retail area, a central security station and a glass-enclosed observation deck. Five jet positions were relocated for the project and another four were added for total of nine, Ketner said.Designs include expansion of ticket lobbies and baggage claim possibly by 2015 and a plan for adding more gates.

Six gravel trains a day needed for Anchorage construction

Alaska Railroad Corp. is doing its part to move Palmer to Anchorage one gravel car at a time.The railroad is on track for a robust gravel-hauling year, as the annual spring rush of hopper cars are moved over the line between Palmer and Anchorage to replenish winter stockpiles.Major construction projects in and around Anchorage this summer have the railroad running as many as six, 80-car gravel trains daily from Palmer, at rock pits owned by Central Paving Products, Anchorage Sand & Gravel, and Quality Asphalt and Paving.The annual spring rush is similar to the fall when increased gravel train traffic lasts from late August though mid-October, so that rock can be stockpiled for the winter.Normally, the railroad runs only three trains daily in the summer months.Despite several measures in recent years to hush train noise, more gravel trains mean more gripes from folks who live near the tracks, said Patrick Flynn, Alaska Railroad’s public affairs officer.The railroad has spent millions of dollars over the years to hush train noise, including replacing 35-foot rail sections with 80-foot sections that lessens the ’clickity clack’ sound by half.The railroad also has installed miles of track near residential areas called "continuously welded rail,’’ where the gaps in the steel rails have been filled with metal, creating a steady, less annoying sound. And foliage has been planted along the line to create a buffer in some residential areas.Gravel trains are heavy, causing vibrations along the line, a sensation likened to a mini-earthquake. More trains mean more blasts from train whistles at at-grade crossings, something railroads are required to do by law. "We have to do it," said Flynn of the increased gravel trains. "There is a demand. Busy gravel operations mean a busy Alaska economy."Flynn said trains keep big gravel trucks off the Glenn Highway, reducing traffic and causing less wear and tear on the state’s roads, where much of the gravel ultimately ends up in asphalt. He said the gravel trains keep hundreds of large trucks off Alaska highways daily.Behind fuel, gravel is the most moved commodity for the Alaska Railroad. The railroad hauled some 3.54 million tons of gravel last year, just short of the record-breaking year of 1999 when 3.6 million tons of rock was moved.In 2000, a slowed economy cut gravel shipments significantly, Flynn said.Mike Harned, sales manager of Anchorage Sand & Gravel, said there is a huge need for rock this summer."It looks like it will be a good gravel year," Harned said. "There are a lot of good projects like the new high school, airport work, C Street work and a lot of new subdivisions."

Fish farming generates pollution, antibiotic-resistant bacteria

KODIAK -- Many call it a "blue revolution" and claim that fish farming provides jobs and boosts the economies of rural regions. But coastal fish farms around the world, which are major competitors to Alaska’s wild fish industry, are coming under more scrutiny because of their adverse impacts on the environment, other sea life and humans.More environmental groups, food safety experts and so-called economic justice organizations are launching educational campaigns so consumers know just what they’re buying into when they purchase farmed seafoods like salmon and shrimp.Phil Lansing, a resource economist with the Institute of Agriculture and Trade Policy, compares coastal aquaculture to livestock feed lot confinement operations and believes it raises similar policy and social questions."Consider a huge confinement facility with thousands of hogs," Lansing said. "Now put it on a dock. It would be very inexpensive to deal with the sewage because it could just be pushed off the dock. And if you gave lots of antibiotics to the animals, as well as in their feed, that would land in the water too. That’s what happens with floating net pens, because there is no treatment of the sewage or effluent."You get a dead zone from the sewage underneath the pen. High concentrations of nitrogen float downstream, and antibiotic-resistant bacteria build up in shellfish in the vicinity. And while it’s not well-documented because of a lack of monitoring, you get fish diseases and deadly salmon parasites like sea lice from fish in net pens. Also, rough weather results in mass escapes of hundreds of thousands of Atlantic salmon, and that will continue as long as there are net pens."As with other environmental groups, the institute is not against fish farming that is conducted on land in contained facilities, but they object very strenuously to the open pen operations. More studies are revealing that one of the most serious problems is that they are producing significant amounts of antibiotic resistant bacteria.Farmed fish are routinely fed antibiotics to control disease, or in what’s called sub-therapeutic amounts as an aid to growth. When humans eat farmed fish laced with antibiotics, they can develop resistance to the drugs when they are prescribed by doctors. Many worry this is becoming a major world health issue.Lansing also points out that farmed fish operations put tremendous pressure on wild stocks, which are captured and ground up for fish meal. It takes three to five pounds of wild fish to produce one pound of farmed salmon.Fish farmers, on the other hand, argue that they are aware of and dealing with the environmental and health issues raised by the institute and other organizations.A poll released last month by the British Columbia Salmon Farmers Association, for example, found that 71 percent of those surveyed throughout the region believe fish farming is an environmentally sound industry. About 80 farms operate in British Columbia today. Open pen fish farms are also expanding in Maine and Washington.The institute and others want fish farmers to start paying for monitoring, as well as the environmental costs of their businesses. Activists find, however, that they are limited as to what they can do, because environmental standards are almost nonexistent, little baseline monitoring data has been established and there are almost no enforcement measures for fish farms that are largely in remote areas.The groups want government agencies to strengthen and enforce existing laws and regulations related to fish farming, including water quality protection, food safety issues related to colorants and dyes, and other issues.They are also trying to convince policy makers and industrial aquaculture companies to adopt a moratorium on further expansion until adequate environmental and social protection laws and regulations are in place.We are what we eatA report by the Santiago-based Terram Foundation claims that salmon farmers in Chile are using cancer-causing green malachite for treatment of parasite and fungal infections. Green malachite is a triphenylmethane dye used in Chile’s leather shoe industry and is banned for use in fish farms.The WorldCatch News Network reports that the foundation also accuses the country’s fish farm industry of using 75 times more antibiotics than Norway does to treat diseased fish. It also estimates that the organic waste from Chile’s fish farming industry is equal to the wastewater from five million people.The foundation is scheduled this month to present the first of three reports that provide measured data on impacts to the environment caused by fish farms.Kodiak-based free-lance writer Laine Welch can be reached via e-mail at ([email protected]).

Cook Inlet leads state in pollutant releases

KENAI -- More than 1.67 million pounds of toxic pollutants were released into the air, land and water in and around Cook Inlet in 2000, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s latest Toxics Release Inventory made public last month.Cook Inlet leads the state in manufacturing-related toxic discharges, the EPA said.According to the EPA data, Agrium’s Nikiski fertilizer plant led all Alaska manufacturing facilities with on- and off-site releases totaling 1.46 million pounds of toxic chemicals. Tesoro’s Nikiski refinery was responsible for releasing 87,000 pounds of toxic emissions, while the Kenai pipeline facility reported nearly 126,000 pounds."Once again, we find industry dumping massive amounts of toxics into the air and water of Cook Inlet," said Bob Shavelson, head of the Homer-based Cook Inlet Keeper, an environmental watchdog group.The reports don’t tell the whole story but only account for a small fraction of the actual toxic discharges into the Cook Inlet region, Shavelson said."They don’t include the billions of gallons of toxic pollution discharged each year into Cook Inlet by oil and gas activities, polluted run-off and sewage treatment plants," he said.Denise Newbould, environmental health and safety superintendent for Agrium, agrees the whole story is not being told."The law that drives the reporting is the Community Right-to-Know Act. In my opinion they don’t tell you enough," she said. "They don’t tell you about relative toxicity."The vast bulk of waste emitted from the Agrium complex is ammonia, which is not harmful in low quantities, and ammonia does not accumulate in the environment as other pollutants can, Newbould said."If you are not exposed to a large quantity all at once, there is no danger. It doesn’t cause cancer, it doesn’t attack organs and it doesn’t harm fetuses or anything."Newbould said Agrium, and its predecessor Unocal, have reduced emissions over the past decade or more by over 95 percent. Scrubbers remove ammonia before discharge and that ammonia is recovered. Flares burn what cannot be economically recovered, and the by-products of that burning are water and nitrogen gas, the major component of air, she said.The EPA data shows an overall increase in the production of wastes at the Agrium complex but not a relative increase in toxic emissions. Newbould said the efforts at cleaning up emissions are paying off. She also said, however, that a flaw in the reporting requirements may also be skewing the data."We have to report if we send spent catalysts to a recycler (where metals are recovered)," she said. "That’s not an environmental harm issue, but we have to report the total quantity." Newbould said spent catalysts could account for several percent of the total emissions.Other EPA data showed the nearly 534 million pounds of toxic releases coming from mines and power plants made Alaska fourth overall among all states for releases from nonmanufacturing industries.Some 23,000 factories, refineries, mines, power plants and chemical manufacturers across the nation self-report their emissions to the EPA. On- and off-site releases for all reporting industries totaled 7.1 billion pounds in 2000. Those industries reported creating 37.89 billion pounds of production-related wastes in all, most of it treated or disposed of other than by release. That figure was almost 8.4 billion pounds greater than in 1998.Agrium was honored by Gov. Tony Knowles at the Export Alaska 2000 banquet in Anchorage May 23.Agrium Kenai Nitrogen Operations was named winner of the governor’s Exporter of the Year Award.The Agrium complex includes two ammonia plants and two urea plants with a combined annual production capacity of almost 2 million tons, Knowles said. Since 1999, the fertilizer export market has grown from $113 million to almost $190 million.Shavelson said it was ironic that Agrium, a Canadian company, would be so honored, while dumping toxics into Alaska’s environment.Newbould said the complex is "consistently significantly below the toxic release limits imposed by EPA and that what does get released is actually a nutrient.""Bob Shavelson can say we are ’dumping toxics,’ but I say that’s misleading," she said. "I don’t see the irony. There’s nothing contradictory in it. The governor was not giving the award to Agrium’s international corporation, but to this facility, which is converting a raw material into something of higher value. What’s wrong with that?"

Federal funding gets another look

This is the last year of the current six-year federal transportation program, and next year Congress will take up a reauthorization of the program for another six years.Whether the next six-year plan is as generous to Alaska as the current plan, which brings $350 million to $400 million a year in funding for surface transportation projects to the state, remains to be seen, according to Jeff Ottesen, chief of statewide planning for the state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.Lobbying of Congress by different states and interest groups has already started, he said. Groups like the national Associated General Contractors and the Association of State Highway Commissioners are making their views known, along with states and municipalities interested in more money for mass transit."We’re generally in a good position because of the seniority of our congressional delegation and Congressman Don Young’s position as chairman of the transportation committee in the U.S. House," Ottesen said.Still, the fact that Alaska gets several times more in federal transportation money than it contributes in federal gasoline tax revenue makes the state a target for others.Many states receive less federal funds than they contribute in gasoline taxes, he said.Over the years the guidelines on use of federal surface transportation funds have been made more flexible. For example, 10 years ago federal funds could only be used on highway projects that were built to certain federal specifications. That meant federal funds could not be spent on narrower or unpaved rural roads.Since then the program has been changed so that federal funds can be used for a wide variety of surface transportation needs, including rough rural roads, trails and even recreational amenities like scenic turnouts and bike paths.That is all subject to change, however, when Congress does the periodic reauthorization.Besides the money Alaska receives through the formula in the federal transportation program, Rep. Young and Sen. Ted Stevens, both Alaska Republicans, are able to secure additional funds for special projects. Alaska also receives money for airports, ports and harbors through other programs.

Port engineer departs over design

The Port of Anchorage’s top engineer lost his job last month over differences in the direction expansion plans should take.It’s unclear whether Richard Burg was fired or had resigned, but he is no longer employed by the municipality."The port was my life," said Burg, who had almost a dozen years with the city-owned port. "It’s devastating not to be working there anymore."Burg said he could not support a new port expansion plan being pushed by port director and Alaska’s former Gov. Bill Sheffield."I found myself on the wrong side of the sheet pile," Burg said in reference to the newest port design, which would use scalloped-shaped steel plates to create the facility. "I could not support the vision of the administration. Their vision is not my vision, so I decided to step aside and get out the way and let it go in the direction it’s going to go."Sheffield refused to talk about Burg leaving the port, citing personnel issues."Rich is a nice guy and a bright engineer," Sheffield said.For the past few years, Burg had been working with engineers at Tryck Nyman Hayes Inc. drawing up plans for a new deep-draft dock expansion at the Port of Anchorage.The city already had spent $1.5 million for that plan. But in March, Peratrovich, Nottingham & Drage Inc. submitted an alternate plan at the request of Sheffield. It envisions expanding the port north and 400 feet seaward of the existing dock, incorporating some 9 million tons of fill to create a nearly mile-long dock. Some 85 acres would be created and added to the port’s existing 100-acre footprint.The new design, according to its engineers, is bigger, better and cheaper. At $146 million, the new facility is about $80 million less than what it would cost for the other port expansion plan, said Sheffield."It’s a very attractive alternative for us," Sheffield said. "It’s bigger and it’s millions cheaper, and money is getting harder to come by now."Sheffield has said Alaska Republicans Sen. Ted Stevens and Rep. Don Young have been supportive toward funding the newest port expansion project designed by Peratrovich, Nottingham & Drage.In time, Sheffield said, an engineer will be hired to replace Burg. Meantime, the port will contract out work to R&M Consultants Inc., which already has been hired to perform a review of the newest port expansion plan.Anchorage Mayor George Wuerch appointed Sheffield to the post in the spring of 2001. He officially took over as port director last June.Sheffield has since been aggressive in pushing for an expansion to the port, which serves more than 80 percent of Alaska with an annual economic impact of $725 million from various commodities moved across its docks.

Jet fuel tax sparks opposition

A proposed 2-cent-per-gallon fuel transfer tax in the Fairbanks North Star Borough has ignited a spate of controversy and legal opinions.Williams Alaska Petroleum Inc., the Alaska Air Carriers Association and the Alaska Railroad Corp. say state or federal law or both prohibits the tax.Advocates say the measure would drastically reduce property taxes in the borough.The Alaska Air Carriers Association says it will sue the Fairbanks North Star Borough if the referendum is approved by voters at a June 25 special election.Merrick Peirce, spokesman for A Bright Future for Fairbanks, the group pushing the proposed tax, said the fuel transfer tax would bring in $24 million -- enough to reduce property taxes by 40 percent throughout the borough."We’re not trying to increase taxes," Peirce said. "We want to diversify the tax base and grow our economy."Peirce said property taxes in and around Fairbanks have doubled during the last 15 years. The borough’s population has slid by 2,000 residents in the last few years and property tax delinquencies are up, he said.Property tax relief would stimulate Fairbanks’ economy and would be good for everyone, he claimed.Most of the money from the proposed tax likely would come from jet fuel Williams Alaska sells to Anchorage from its North Pole refinery, Peirce said.Jeff Cook, vice president of external affairs for Williams Alaska, said state and federal law prohibits the proposed tax.Williams Alaska pays the third-largest amount of property tax in the borough, about $3 million annually. Although it would save about $1 million a year in property taxes if the fuel transfer tax is approved by voters, Williams would suffer severe financial losses from its jet fuel sales, Cook said."If we would have to pay it, it would be devastating to us competitively," Cook said.Cook said his company produces 1.4 million gallons of jet fuel daily for Anchorage. Another 210,000 gallons is produced for Fairbanks each day, he said.Williams provides about half of the jet fuel for the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport and Tesoro Alaska Petroleum Inc. provides another 40 percent via its Nikiski pipeline. The other 10 percent of the fuel normally comes from producers outside Alaska and is shipped to Alaska’s largest city in tankers and barges.Cook said if his company were hit with the tax, it would lose its customers to Tesoro or Outside producers."That’s almost laughable," said Peirce. "Williams has the most profitable refinery in North America. There is no way in hell they will lose those jet fuel sales. They will pass on the 2-cent tax on to customers whenever they can."Petroleum makes up most of the freight revenue for the Alaska Railroad, projected at $36 million for 2002, up $270,000 from a year ago.If Cook is right, the railroad would suffer huge losses, said Patrick Flynn, Alaska railroad spokesman.State law prohibits the Alaska Railroad from taking sides on the issue, Flynn said."Statutorily, we can’t get involved," Flynn said, "but we have concerns. Williams is our biggest customer. What’s bad for them is bad for us."The railroad set daily, weekly and annual records shipping fuel from Williams Alaska Petroleum’s North Pole refinery last year.Flynn said the railroad believes the tax is not allowed under federal law.The proposed tax, Flynn said, would "discriminate against rail transport and exempt pipeline fuel."David Leone, a special assistant for Mayor Rhonda Boyles, said neither the borough nor the Fairbanks City Council have taken a position on the proposed tax."There are a lot of concerns," Leone said. "Alaska statues are not real clear on what is and what isn’t taxable."The borough has hired Av Gross, a former state attorney general, to give a legal opinion on the borough’s power to tax fuel transfers. The borough has paid Gross $20,000 to study the tax.Gross, reached at his office in Juneau, said he would provide the borough with his opinion in early June.Gross would not offer a preview of his findings to the Journal, only to say that "there are a lot of legal issues about this tax."State law prohibits taxation of fuel used for heating and power generation or fuel used in airplanes that operate flights to foreign countries.Cook said most of the jet fuel Williams produces is used for foreign flights.The Alaska Air Carriers Association, which has some 75 members, said in its May newsletter that it would sue the borough if an attempt is made to tax aviation fuel transfers.Timothy Miller, attorney for the association, could not be reached at his Lake Oswego, Ore., office.The Journal is a non-voting associate member of the association.Pierce said his group set a record in Fairbanks on the referendum and expects a high voter turnout."We got 2,000 signatures in 10 days," Peirce said. "I think it will do very well."

Feds turn down Frontier's loan request

Frontier Flying Service Inc. has been denied a $7.2 million federal loan, money the Fairbanks-based airline said would have helped it recover from the effects of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.The Fairbanks-based airline’s proposal, among other things, "did not provide a reasonable assurance that Frontier would be able to repay the loan," the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Air Transportation Stabilization Board said June 3 in a statement."It’s upsetting," said Bob Hajdukovich, director of operations for Frontier Flying Service. "We spent a lot of time, effort and money on the application."The 52-year-old company was one of only six carriers in the nation to apply for the government’s $10 billion loan bailout offered to airlines to help with losses attributed to the East Coast jetliner attacks.In its loan application to the federal government, Frontier Flying Service said its cargo and passenger operations saw a dramatic drop in activity following the terrorist attacks.The airline originally sought $10 million in federal loan assistance.Hajdukovich said the decreased operations coupled with increased insurance costs prompted the company to apply for the loan. Hajdukovich said the company would have used the money to purchase a fleet of five Beech 1900-series aircraft it has been leasing for the past three years.Insurance premiums have increased since the terrorist attacks, Hajdukovich said, adding that if the company were to purchase the fleet of airplanes instead of leasing them, the airline would be able to negotiate better rates.Securing the $10 million loan also would have allowed the company to refurbish another nine other aircraft the company owns and provide needed working capital, Hajdukovich said.Hajdukovich has said the company, established in 1950, is not seeking bankruptcy protection nor are any of the airline’s 185 employees facing layoffs because of the events of Sept. 11.The Air Transportation Safety and System Stabilization Act passed by Congress in November offered $5 billion in direct aid to airlines to cover losses incurred after Sept. 11, plus $10 billion in loan guarantees.Some 266 of the nation’s airlines, including about 30 airlines who do business in Alaska, have been given $3.8 billion in direct grants.Frontier Flying Service has received $133,589 in direct aid under the grant program.Only America West has received a loan guarantee under the program. The Tempe, Ariz.-based airline, the nation’s eighth largest, had a $380 million loan guaranteed in December by federal regulators.As part of America West’s loan guarantee, the company had to offer a third of its common stock to the government, making it one of the airline’s largest shareholders.While most of the nation’s airlines asked for -- and received -- grant money, they have balked at applying for federal loans, fearing a government stake in their companies.Airlines still have until June 28 to apply.Vanguard Airlines, based in Kansas City, Mo., was denied its $15 million bailout loan last month after federal regulators determined the small regional carrier’s proposal did not demonstrate it had a high likelihood of repaying the note.Besides Vanguard, America West and Frontier Flying Service, three other regional carriers applied for government loans, according to federal officials. They are Spirit Airlines, based in Florida; National Airlines, based in Las Vegas; and Evergreen International Airlines, an Oregon-based carrier that was established in Anchorage in 1961 at Merrill Field by former cropduster and Air Force pilot Delford Smith.In Alaska, Evergreen has a helicopter division, an aviation services and cargo company, and an avionics retail and service business, Avionics Specialists of Alaska Inc.About 350 people are employed in Alaska by Evergreen.Calvin Harmon, an Evergreen spokesman in Oregon, would not say how much the airline was asking for in its loan application.Evergreen received more than $7.1 million in a direct grant following the terrorist attacks."We’ve applied and are awaiting a decision," Harmon said of the company’s loan request. "We’re hopeful."Betsy Holahan, a spokeswoman for the Department of Treasury, which administers the loan program, said details of airlines’ loan applications are not made public for proprietary reasons.Frontier’s Hajdukovich and Evergreen’s Harmon said their companies’ loan applications did not offer stock to the government since both are privately held companies.

Doyon subsidiary gets nod for missile defense camp

ANCHORAGE -- Doyon Universal Services has signed a multimillion-dollar agreement to build a 364-person camp in Delta Junction to house National Missile Defense construction workers.The company signed the agreement with Fluor Alaska on May 15 and subcontractors began preparing the ground the same day, said Mark Huber, Doyon Universal president.Doyon Universal is a subsidiary of Fairbanks-based Doyon Ltd., an Alaska Native regional corporation.Doyon Universal will provide maintenance, security, housekeeping and catering services for the 57,000-square-foot work camp."When the camp is done, there will be a full 25 positions," Huber said. The camp will be off the Richardson Highway a mile south of the Fort Greely main gate.The work is part of National Missile Defense project estimated to bring up to $325 million into the state. Fort Greely will be a test site for missile interceptors designed to shoot down incoming ballistic missiles.The Fort Greely project will employ hundreds of workers during the construction phase, which begins this month. The first missile test at the site is scheduled for this fall, missile defense officials have said.Fluor Alaska spokeswoman Cheryl Smith declined to comment on contracts the company has with subcontractors. The contract with Doyon Universal is about $13 million, said Orie Williams, Doyon president.Doyon Universal has two subcontractors, Arctic Structures and Dihthaad Global Services, for the camp’s construction.Anchorage-based Arctic Structures will provide 92 modular units that will make up the camp, said general manager Ron Courreges. The units will provide 130 double rooms, 104 single rooms, a kitchen and recreational area, he said."It’s a little better than a pipeline camp," Courreges said.The units are being manufactured by about 70 employees at Arctic Structures’ Palmer plant and will be trucked to Delta Junction, with the first to arrive shortly.The camp will be built in sections, with the first completed by June 25, Courreges said."We expect to be out of there by the end of July," he said.The camp will be on 20 acres belonging to Dihthaad Global Services, owned by the Native village of Tanacross, said Jerry Isaac, Dihthaad president. Doyon Universal will lease the land for two years.Twelve people working in 24-hour shifts finished preparation work, clearing the land and laying a gravel pad foundation, in nine days, said Adam Martin, Dihthaad general manager.Dihthaad will next install a septic system pending approval from the state, he said.Dihthaad has a $4 million contract with Doyon Universal to provide site preparation, housekeeping, transportation, water and sewer operations, camp maintenance and utilities operations, Martin said."When we’re done, we get the site without the camps," he said.Dihthaad Global Services was formed last year to provide jobs for tribal members of Tanacross, Martin said.

NPR-A lease sale nets $63.8 million in bids

Eager to follow up on earlier forays into the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, a half-dozen oil and gas companies and investors rushed to snap up 60 tracts offered in a lease sale June 3 by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, offering $63.8 million in apparent high bids.BLM offered 292 tracts in the sale with a total of 3.03 million acres."This is the second sale we’ve held in the northeast portion of the NPR-A and the first sale under the president’s energy plan," said outgoing BLM state director Fran Cherry, who read the sale bids and announced preliminary results June 3 in Anchorage. BLM held the first lease sale in the northeast quarter of the NPR-A in 1999 and attracted high bids totaling $104 million.Four companies and two investors offered a total of 69 bids for 60 tracts covering 579,269 acres in areas designated by federal geologists as having both high and low potential for oil and gas deposits.TotalFinaElf E&P USA Inc., bidding alone, offered the top apparent high bid of the sale, nearly $10.189 million for an 11,476-acre parcel south and west of the previously leased area. In all, TotalFinaElf was apparent high bidder for 19 tracts, with offers totaling $52.9 million.Phillips and Anadarko, bidding together in partnerships with two different percentage splits, were the most active bidders in the sale. The companies racked up apparent high bids on 34 tracts totaling $9.6 million.Phillips Petroleum Co., Anadarko Petroleum Corp. and BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc. drilled exploration wells in 2001 and 2002 on prospects picked up in the 1999 sale. Last spring, Phillips announced significant "Alpine-like" finds of oil and gas deposits on five sites it explored during the winter of 2001.In a recently-released report, the U.S. Geological Survey substantially increased its estimate of both technically and economically recoverable oil and gas reserves in NPR-A.The federal government will split the proceeds of the lease sale with the state of Alaska on a 50/50 basis.

Seafood labeling on Senate fast track

FAIRBANKS -- Rules requiring seafood to be labeled by country of origin would go into effect faster than previously agreed under legislation approved by the U.S. Senate last month.Sen. Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska, amended an international trade bill to require the new labels within 180 days of the legislation becoming law. The Senate passed the trade bill May 23.Last month, the Senate passed a farm policy bill requiring country-of-origin labeling within two years. The trade bill language would speed up that requirement.The labels would be required for retail sales. The requirement would apply to all perishable agriculture products and seafood.Alaska salmon fishermen hope the requirement improves their ability to market their catch in the face of expanding exports from foreign fish farms.The Senate bills must still be reconciled with House versions.The Senate trade bill also would allow fishermen to qualify for aid whenever cheap fish imports force prices down more than 20 percent in comparison to a five-year average. Fishermen could get up to half their lost revenue reimbursed, with a cap of $10,000 per fisherman.The bill also authorizes money for retraining fishermen.Workers in other industries have benefited from such provisions, Murkowski said."However, an independent fisherman does not go to the dock and receive a pink slip," he said. "Instead, he hears the latest prices for salmon on the radio, and that’s how he learns that his family’s livelihood is threatened."

Business Profile: Hawaiian Vacations Inc.

Name of the company: Hawaiian Vacations Inc.Established: 1982Location: 1010 W. Northern Lights Blvd., Anchorage, AK 99503Telephone: 907-261-2700Web site: www.hawaiianvacations.comE-mail: [email protected] focus of services: Hawaiian Vacations Inc. charters direct flights to Honolulu from Anchorage and handles other travel arrangements. The company owns Kihei Bay Vista, 20 condominiums in Maui.History of the company: John Hardwick started Hawaiian Vacations in October 1982, initially marketing condo accommodations from properties owned by Alaskans. In the mid-1980s the company began providing flight services.Since then Hawaiian Vacations has added more charter flights per week. Initially, the firm had one weekly charter flight. During peak season in winter Hawaiian Vacations tallies four to five weekly flights between Alaska and Hawaii.In 2000, the company aimed to expand its market. One brand, Alaskan Vacations, markets the company’s services to northbound travelers from Hawaii. Fire and Ice Vacations handles similar travel services for visitors from Europe and Australia looking to visit both Alaska and Hawaii. Hawaiian Vacations has hired a contract employee in Japan to market its Alaska-Hawaii travel services.Since April 2001 the company has been developing an e-commerce Web site where customers and travel agents can check prices, book tickets and receive instant confirmation. Hawaiian Vacations is working with Hawaii-based software developer Viata for the custom site, which should be launched in mid-summer.Hawaiian Vacations employs an average of 50 year-round workers, all in Alaska. Last year, about 40,000 customers flew via Hawaiian Vacations.Top accomplishments of the company: David Karp, vice president and chief operating officer, cited Hawaiian Vacations’ increasing frequency of weekly charter flights since beginning service. In early 2003 the company operating Hawaiian Vacations’ charter flights plans to operate newer aircraft between Alaska and Hawaii, he said. The new Web site also marks a significant achievement, said Phil Okeson, vice president and chief financial officer. A goal for the company includes running a charter flight between Alaska and Japan, Karp said.Major players: Karp, chief operating officer, and Okeson, chief financial officer, Hawaiian Vacations.Karp and Okeson joined the company three years ago, leading operations for the owners, Hardwick and his wife Ral West. Karp, raised in Nome, worked for the Kenai Peninsula Tourism Marketing Council, then at the Alaska Tourism Marketing Council. Okeson, who grew up in Palmer, worked as an accountant at KPMG LLP in Anchorage and earned a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Michigan. He worked in Seattle for six years before returning to Alaska to raise his family.-- Nancy Pounds

Work begins on library expansion

Work has started on a $23 million project to expand the University of Alaska Anchorage Consortium Library.The addition will add 109,000 square feet to the library, which now measures 85,750 square feet, said Russ Shoeman, UAA director of facilities, planning, design and construction.The project is scheduled to be completed in January 2004, he said.Funding was appropriated by the Legislature, he said.Once finished, the library addition will transform the campus, said Steve Rollins, dean of the Consortium Library."It really represents the future of the campus," he said. "I think it’s going to allow the library and the university to mature as a major metropolitan university."The library, which serves UAA and Alaska Pacific University, will expand its offerings. Individual study space will triple, and group study rooms will increase from one to six at the larger library, Rollins said.Examples of other changes include adding a student listening facility as part of the music program and a temperature-controlled vault to improve preservation of historic Alaska films and videotapes, he said.Elements of the project include a three-story parking garage and enclosed walkway to the College of Arts and Sciences, he said. Workers are now completing the parking garage.Cornerstone General Contractors of Anchorage started building the addition in early May, said project manager Michael Quirk.Site work has been completed and foundations are now being built, he said. Erecting the structural steel framework and precast concrete panels is scheduled to start in July, Quirk said.Work in 2002 will include the building’s shell and core, with dry wall, acoustical paneling, architectural woodwork and carpeting slated for next year, he said. The three-story addition plus mechanical penthouse should be completed in July 2003, Quirk said. Then renovations begin on the existing library, he added.

Education changes to meet needs

What skills do Alaska’s knowledge workers need today?A recent survey and conference highlight some surprising and unsurprising results.Three years ago Steve Smith, the University of Alaska’s chief information officer, and I hosted a series of meetings with leading information technology employers in the state, seeking to document the war for talent. The groups’ conclusion was that Alaska had a shortage of higher end IT talent and certified technicians to maintain computer systems.Just as important were what are termed the "soft skills" of communication ability, business savvy and ready-to-work skills that employers look for before they would dare put a new employee near a client.The simple three-page estimate of Alaska supply and demand for different job functions and competencies led to the Alaska Science and Technology Foundation instigating an IT Fellows program run by the Alaska High-Tech Business Council. The cost of training and certification of 40 fellows has been shared by ASTF and employers. It involved young people and mid-career people going to work and school as part of a defined plan to upgrade technical certifications and soft skills.Ruth DeCamp of the Anchorage & Mat-Su Workforce Investment Board then took the skill grid and created a wider partnership including the Alaska High-Tech Business Council’s IT Careers Consortium and Matanuska-Susitna College to win a federal $2.3 million training grant to turn out more technicians and upgrade the skills of professionals already in technology careers.So educators, trainers and employers have become better connected. A report resulted that outlines how the various UAA colleges can better coordinate computer and Internet-related courses so students receive a better-integrated and more relevant education. Some of UAF’s excellent computer science graduates now stay in the state to work with start-up technology firms.Charter College now has a four-year degree program. AVTEC, UA regional campuses and private training companies like CompuCom and NBS expanded their offerings.So where are we today?One result of all those efforts is that the acute shortage of computer technicians with Microsoft MCSE, Novell and similar certifications has abated significantly.For the higher-skilled IT occupations, demand still outpaces supply and in some cases has shifted. According to surveys and the recent "Our Workforce, Our Future" IT Symposium, there are still not enough skilled programmers who know computer languages.There appears to be more need for skilled network system designers and administrators as well as those familiar with maintaining network security. Skilled Web-site developers with a good handle on Internet applications and some marketing know-how increasingly can write their ticket as can proficient software programmers and developers.In the world of soft skills, the need for project management competency has become an employer buzzword. That means having good business sense, the ability to manage budgets and people, and understanding the business from the client’s point of view.One consistent employer message is that while colleges may believe in degrees, employers value technical certifications just as highly. But certifications alone do not guarantee getting and holding a job.The high end of information technology is now converging with advanced business or manufacturing systems. All those fields depend on real time data acquisition, ways to monitor quality systems, and benchmarking both production and economic information. Both types of information are needed to assure quality and cost efficiency, as well as the ability to respond to changing market conditions.I suspect that if the information technology industry keeps an eye on how to integrate the data piece with best business and manufacturing practices, educators will not be beaching their graduates’ careers on isolated skill islands.Rural Alaska remains a special challenge. Computer systems in local health clinics, telecommunication sites and schools are too often maintained and upgraded by expensively flown-in technicians. With stepped up training, more local residents can hold those jobs. Hopefully, the now-threatened Regulatory Commission of Alaska will survive to put in place this year a program using existing federal funds for a training effort to increase IT capabilities in off-road Alaska.Leading employers and educators will be meeting soon to revisit our past work and collectively construct a road map of future skill needs.Do I believe that our existing training and education institutions can pause to rest? No, further responsiveness by educators to the changing world of work is necessary, but we have made progress.Have we made enough progress? Probably not. In terms of growing the larger tech sector that Alaska needs, we now can see where we have to go, but we are still not there.Jamie Kenworthy is executive director of the Alaska Science and Technology Foundation. He can be reached at ([email protected]).

Revamped bypass mail plan speeding through Congress

FAIRBANKS-- Legislation affecting Alaska’s bypass mail service to rural villages moved May 22 in both the House and the Senate.The Senate Government Affairs Committee unanimously approved a bill by Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, to set new criteria for companies that want to fly bypass mail in the state. Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, secured similar language on a supplemental spending bill in the House.The actions set the stage for quick passage of the bypass mail changes by attaching them to the supplemental bill, which carries an extra $30 billion primarily for the military and domestic security efforts in the current fiscal year.Jerry Rock, president of Evergreen Helicopters of Alaska, said it appeared that Alaska’s delegation had won the battle over the issue. Evergreen had been hoping to get into the bypass mail business, but may not be able to under the legislation."They’re putting us in a position where there’s no way we can stop it," Rock said. "If it went through the normal procedures we could."Stevens and Young want to limit the types of air carriers to which the U.S. Postal Service could give bypass mail. They say doing so would save money and encourage passenger service to rural villages.Under the bypass program, shippers can send 1,000 pounds or more of material, including groceries, to rural Alaska at parcel post rates. It’s dubbed "bypass" because packages do not go through post offices. Instead, they are taken directly to eligible air carriers on a rotating basis.The Postal Service pays airlines to carry bypass mail using a formula based on industry costs. But the program is costing the Postal Service too much and some companies are just flying bypass mail and not offering passenger service, Stevens and Young assert.Their legislation would restrict new carriers on mainline routes between Alaska’s larger cities and Bush hubs. No new carriers on a route would be allowed unless they provide a certain level of passenger service. Existing carriers would not face the passenger requirement.Evergreen contends that’s unfair."If we can’t compete fairly with Alaska Airlines and the other three, then how can we expand our passenger service?" Rock asked.

Business leaders pool funds to plan Anchorage economy

Anchorage government and business leaders hope a report now being compiled will provide ideas to add jobs and diversify the city’s economy.This summer authors of the economic development plan are conducting research and interviews for a final report due in September.A 36-member committee of Anchorage business leaders hired Chabin Concepts of Chico, Calif., to conduct research in the city and compose an economic-development strategy.Using the final report’s recommendations, business and city leaders can endeavor to help existing businesses to grow and attract new businesses, said Rick Morrison, committee chairman. Another goal is to add jobs paying above-average incomes in Anchorage, he said.Committee members aim to build a sustained Anchorage economy rather than one dependent on federal funds or major projects, said Morrison, a 28-year resident who owns EERO Volkswagen and Saturn of Anchorage."If we can create a compelling vision for it, this could be the biggest thing since discovering oil because we could come up with ways to create business," he said.The committee started the effort with help from the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce, the Anchorage Economic Development Corp. and the Municipality of Anchorage.AEDC contracted Chabin Concepts to compile the report under a $225,000 contract, Morrison said. That figure includes $125,000 from the city plus private donations, he said. Overall, the committee has raised about $300,000 in private donations, Morrison said. Besides the cost of the report, the committee expects to spend up to $150,000 for marketing and other costs, he said.In May, Chabin Concepts released the first of seven reports, which will be followed by a final economic development plan. The consulting firm interviewed Alaska business people and studied federal and state statistics. Chabin Concepts’ 26-page findings show that dominant industries like oil and seafood are now declining.Other findings include: Anchorage accounts for almost 40 percent of the Alaska population and nearly 50 percent of state jobs. Manufacturing jobs in Anchorage represent fewer than 2 percent of total jobs; nationally, manufacturing jobs account for about 14 percent of all jobs. In the municipality, one in 15 jobs is with the military. Government is the city’s largest employer, followed by services and retail trade. Enrollments and degrees awarded at the University of Alaska Anchorage are declining. Alaska’s innovative capacity and investment trails other states with a low number of patents, venture capital, and science and engineering graduate students per capita.Upcoming reports will analyze and list Anchorage’s strengths and weaknesses, competing cities, target industries and a marketing strategy.Leslie Parks, a Chabin Concepts partner, said the company conducted 40 interviews with public and private sector organizations involved in economic development. Focus groups discussed issues related to business and industry, environment, international, logistics and transportation, high-technology and work-force education.Chabin Concepts wrote a similar plan for Honolulu, which is now using those ideas, Parks said.Parks is now preparing a report for Portland, Ore., which is looking to diversify its economy, once dependent on natural resources such as timber, akin to Alaska. However, unlike Anchorage, Portland lacks a major university, she said.The final report should be completed in mid-September, said Larry Crawford, AEDC president and chief executive. The idea for the project started more than a year ago, and the committee first met in November, Morrison said.So far one major result has been uniting committee members, he said.Crawford agreed. The report can show how city groups can work together to boost business, he said. For example, if AEDC is trying to attract a certain industry, then the group could work with the Anchorage Convention and Visitors Bureau to book conventions from that industry, Crawford said.Results also can chart a course for economic development groups in Anchorage."Certainly AEDC will take the report and factor it into our future direction," Crawford said.Morrison anticipates the final report should show potential for developing airport and logistics operations.

Tourism bookings strengthen as industry holds its breath

KENAI -- Nine months after terrorist attacks struck a blow to the travel industry, tourism is trying to crawl back from a near demise. The concern for safe travel may turn out to be a boon to Alaska and, in particular, the Kenai Peninsula travel market, despite a snail’s pace start in the booking season.Alaska Travel Industry Association spokesman Mark Morones said some work may help ease a rut that the Alaska tourism industry has slipped into of late."The tourism industry in Alaska has been a growth industry, and that growth is slowing down," he said. "We (are) trying very hard to encourage people within the state to travel and take advantage of all the things there are to see up here."He said ATIA is attempting to shift the focus of its marketing strategy accordingly, with a recent "Find Your Alaska" promotion running on TV and a Web site in the past months."We were offering Alaska resident specials," Morones said. "We’re trying to basically encourage our members to offer discounts to Alaska residents. We had about 34 members who participated in this go-around."Homer expects to fare well from Alaskans visiting the state. Derotha Ferraro, executive director of the Homer Chamber of Commerce, said this is a trend for the city, which is right on course for a successful season."So far, so good," she said. "Homer is a repeat destination. We’re a pretty safe bet. Our No. 1 visitors are Alaskans."Alaskans tend not to make reservations. If the weather is good, they come."Jay Barrett, director of communications for the Kenai Visitors and Convention Bureau, said the late start to the season gave many doubts. But he said he is looking forward to more vacationers arriving as the season goes on."We’re very optimistic," he said. "Although spring might be a little late, the visitors seem to be on time."An ATIA survey conducted in March found a 12 percent drop in travel inquiries and a 13 percent drop in bookings compared with the same time last year. These numbers, however, were improvements over February and December 2001 figures.Tourism businesses have felt this decline, but many business owners say they still have a positive outlook.Princess Tours spokesperson Tom Dow said his company is expecting some improvement in reservations after a slow start in bookings last fall."Most of the people that we talk to feel much better about the way Alaska is going to go than we did back in the fall," Dow said. "The challenge is making up for last fall, where you usually start getting some early business on the books."Tim Worthem is chief executive of Premiere Alaska Tours of Anchorage, a company that operates charter buses from Anchorage to the peninsula. He echoed Dow’s sentiment on playing catch-up on lost reservations."For Alaska, a lot of bookings get planned in the fall," he said. "And that didn’t happen last year. In January, booking picked up, but it’s hard to make up for what you missed."Soldotna Visitor Center Coordinator Shanon Hamrick said progress is in the making."Things were really down at the beginning of the year," she said. "But they’re rebounding."Helen Marrs, Seward Chamber of Commerce executive director, and Kenai Fjords reservation supervisor Sarah Hanson both said the foreign market’s loss is Alaska’s gain."Reservations are up," Hanson said. "Our theory is that all of the people that were going to travel to Europe are going to stay and travel domestic."Marrs agreed, saying cruise ship passengers coming into Seward are equal to last year’s numbers."It seems to be many people are choosing Alaska as a travel destination rather than an overseas trip," Marrs said.Morones said whether tourists will spend money when they arrive is hard to tell. Particularly with so many customers taking advantage of discounted fares, retailers worry that more frugal travelers will be less likely to spend when they come on shore.Those travelers wanting to get here by the road system seem to have more incentive to come now as well, Barrett said."People who are booking RV (recreational vehicle) reservations said their bookings are up over last year," he said. "That’s indicative of the fact that gas prices are lower than last summer, and people are not as eager to fly with security concerns."Joanne Martin, of Diamond M Ranch in Kenai, gave her prognosis of the summer as a whole in the wake of last year’s terrorist attacks."I think it’s going to hurt us a little," she said, "but we’re still optimistic."

Private prison in Whittier joins longs list of dead bills

JUNEAU -- A private prison won’t be going up in Whittier, and Peace Corps volunteers won’t get Alaska Permanent Fund dividends while they’re out of the country.Those proposals are among more than 700 pieces of legislation that died when lawmakers left Juneau.During their two years of work, members of the 22nd Alaska Legislature proposed 924 bills and another 190 generally nonbinding resolutions. They passed 261 bills and 88 resolutions.That’s not unusual, said retired state Rep. Ben Grussendorf, D-Sitka, who once served as speaker of the House."In the time that you have, you have to start doing triage, and get to those that are most important to the largest number of people," Grussendorf said. "Some things are just not going to make it to the gate."And that’s not a bad thing, he said."There’s a lot of pieces of legislation that are introduced that should not become law," Grussendorf said.The Whittier private prison bill was one of the two measures favored by Anchorage oil field services and construction firm Veco that faltered this session. The other was a proposed $760 million tax break to spur construction of a gas pipeline from the North Slope.The prison bill came close to passing. It made it through the House and through most of its Senate committees, but ran into a roadblock in the Senate Rules Committee.Committee Chairman Sen. Randy Phillips, R-Eagle River, said he did not like the bill because the state had not sought bids through a competitive process."I’m not opposed to privatizing prisons, but I do have a real problem with sole source," Phillips said.Proponents of the bill said Whittier had gone through its own competitive bidding process.Sen. John Cowdery, R-Anchorage, tried to revive the prison bill during the special session, but it ended before he could hold a hearing on it.Anchorage Republican Rep. Norm Rokeberg’s bill to set up an insurance pool for nonprofit organizations and small businesses expired in the Senate Health Education and Social Services CommitteeChairwoman Sen. Lyda Green, R-Matanuska-Susitna, said the insurance bill was too complicated to consider with just a week left in the session when it arrived in her committee."That’s a big, big deal," Green said. "That has to be gone over very, very carefully."Green’s committee was also the graveyard for the Peace Corps and Alaska history bills.Nobody’s version of a fiscal plan to bridge Alaska’s anticipated fiscal 2003 budget gap of $963 million passed the Legislature.The House passed bills to raise about $570 million next year through an income tax, use of permanent fund earnings and raising the excise tax on alcohol. The only piece that survived the Senate was the smallest one -- the alcohol tax increase, which is expected to add about $20 million to state coffers.On the Senate side, Finance Co-chairman Sen. Dave Donley, R-Anchorage, largely failed in pushing through legislation he said would reduce spending or help constrain the growth of government.Several of his proposals would have saved money by trimming programs that benefit rural Alaska, and House Community and Regional Affairs Co-chairman Sen. Carl Morgan Jr., R-Aniak, refused to hear them.Donley’s proposed constitutional amendment to limit state spending also never made it to the House floor. In fact, lawmakers declined to put any constitutional amendments on this fall’s election ballot.Alaskans also will continue to set their clocks forward in spring and back in the fall. A proposal to eliminate daylight savings time died in the House Rules Committee.

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