DOT to study Southcentral regional planning committee

Dowl Engineers has been selected by the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities to study the idea of forming a planning body that would help secure funding and prioritize transportation projects in Southcentral Alaska and along the Railbelt.The Anchorage-based engineering company was chosen over two consulting firms from Alaska and one from Portland, Ore., said Diana Rigg, DOT&PF project manager in Anchorage.Dowl Engineers will be paid up to $250,000 for the study, which should be completed by the end of the year, Rigg said.For the past several months, lawmakers, state officials, chambers of commerce and transportation officials have discussed the concept of a regional planning committee or a port authority to advance major transportation projects in Southcentral Alaska.Road, rail, marine and airport projects are often planned independently and don’t take into account what effect they may have on other projects, said Sen. John Cowdery, R-Anchorage, chairman of the Senate transportation committee. The projects also compete for funding.A concerted planning effort would likely increase the chances for funding large regional projects, like the Knik Arm crossing or expansion of the Port of Anchorage, according to Cowdery and others pushing the idea of a regional planning approach.Cowdery has called two meetings since November to look at the transportation needs of Upper Cook Inlet and the Railbelt and to discuss the concept of a regional planning group.Bill Sheffield, Alaska’s former governor and director of the Port of Anchorage, strongly supports the idea of a regional planning approach."We don’t seem to do a lot of planning -- we do on individual projects -- but not collectively," Sheffield said at a Senate transportation committee meeting Jan. 3. "It’s a lot easier for Congress to appropriate money if they have a road map."Cowdery says up to 35 percent of all project funding goes into reports and studies, many of which overlap. Using a regional planning approach, he said, an environmental impact study for the Knik Arm bridge could be expanded to include the proposed expansion at the Port of Anchorage.Tom Middendorf, senior planner with Dowl Engineers, said one component of his company’s recently acquired contract with the state will be to review some 30 transportation studies in existence in the region for transportation and infrastructure projects.That work would be done with the help of a yet-to-be-formed ad hoc committee consisting of agencies and transportation groups in and around the Kenai Peninsula, Anchorage and the Matanuska-Susitna area.The company also will hire a Portland, Ore.-based subcontractor, Kittelson & Associates, to look at regional planning groups in the Lower 48, Middendorf said.The entire scope of work for the regional planning study has yet to be determined. Also not determined is who will make up the planning group or whether it will have the authority to bond or tax, or if it will be simply advisory.Cowdery said whatever the planning group turns out to be, it will have some clout."When they put their stamp of approval on something, it will hold some weight,’’ Cowdery said.Still unclear is what defines the "region."Whittier officials have asked to be included in the planning group. Some have said Fairbanks should be included in the regional planning approach with Southcentral because of its close ties with Anchorage by way of rail and air.Rigg, with the state DOT&PF, said the original intent of the planning group was to link Anchorage and the Matanuska-Susitna area since they have close economic ties."The impetus for this was Anchorage and Mat-Su, but we invite anybody to participate and we’ll make sure everyone is in the loop that wants to be,’’ Rigg said.

Ketchikan OKs hydroelectric plant sale

KETCHIKAN -- The Ketchikan City Council has voted to pursue a $73 million deal to allow communities that operate the Four Dam Pool to purchase state-owned hydroelectric facilities.Karl Amylon, city manager for Ketchikan, told the Ketchikan Daily News that other municipality-owned utilities and electric cooperatives in the Four Dam Pool have also approved the purchase.The Four Dam Pool consists of the Swan Lake project, serving Ketchikan; the Tyee Lake project, serving Petersburg and Wrangell; the Terror Lake project, serving Kodiak; and the Solomon Gulch project, serving Valdez and Glennallen.It derives its name from the fact that customers pool operating costs at the four projects.The sale would allow the Panhandle communities to move forward with a Southeast Intertie, which would establish a power grid linking the Southeast communities. The first phase of the intertie would connect Swan Lake with Lake Tyee at a cost of $79 million.Preliminary work is already under way for the intertie, including mapping and flagging as well as updating information on wildlife and rare plants in the area.Other links could connect Petersburg and Kake, Juneau and Hoonah, Sitka and Kake, and Sitka, Angoon and Hoonah.Gov. Tony Knowles signed legislation last year approving the sale as a way to endow a fund to pay for Power Cost Equalization subsidies to Bush communities.Sale of the Four Dam Pool would be financed by the Alaska Industrial Development Export Authority.

Yakutat bills cruise lines $382,833 for head tax in 2001

JUNEAU -- The City and Borough of Yakutat has sent a bill to seven cruise lines for a $1.50-per-passenger tax approved by the community’s Assembly last January.The town wants the cruise companies to pay $382,833 for plying the waters of nearby Disenchantment Bay in 2001."With a little luck these invoices will not generate any lawyering," wrote Yakutat billing manager Cathy Wassillie last month to attorneys for Holland America and Carnival Cruise Lines.The industry is fighting the tax."It creates a terrible precedent," said John Hansen of the North West CruiseShip Association, which represents nine cruise lines operating in Alaska.The tax is unprecedented because the ships do not dock in Yakutat. However, the vessels enter scenic Disenchantment Bay in borough waters to show passengers the Hubbard Glacier, an alternative to Glacier Bay on some cruise trips.Yakutat residents who hunt seals worry the ships are hurting seal populations in the bay, a prime pupping ground for the animals. Civic leaders also say ill passengers traveling through borough waters have taken a toll on city medical services.Yakutat, about 225 miles northwest of Juneau, will put up a fight if the industry ignores the invoices, said City Manager Don Braun."The Assembly indicated that it was willing to go to court over the matter," Braun said.The industry would rather negotiate an alternative to the tax, said Hansen, who worries the levy will leave the industry vulnerable to similar taxes by cities along cruise routes to destinations worldwide."We’d like to ... explore some other alternatives with the city -- find some ways in which we can cover the cost that the city incurs on behalf of the industry," he said.Hansen said he called Braun to request a meeting after the cruise lines received the invoices, which were mailed Dec. 18. Yakutat agreed to a meeting in late January or early February, said Braun, who noted the city is open to negotiation because a court battle would be costly.Yakutat sent invoices for an estimated $50,085 to Carnival Cruise Lines; $41,871 to Holland America; $187,862 to Royal Caribbean; $111,675 to Celebrity Cruises; $38,160 to Princess Cruises; $10,500 to Radisson Seven Seas Cruises and $8,772 to World Explorer Cruises.The town estimated the amounts due by assuming the vessels sailed at capacity. However, Braun revised the total of $448,925 to $382,833 on Jan. 3 after getting more definite information on passenger numbers. The town also plans to send an invoice to the Clipper Odyssey, he said.

BP will eliminate 120 jobs from its Anchorage office

ANCHORAGE -- BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc. is cutting about 120 of its employees, or 20 percent of the work force at its headquarters here.Employees were told at a town hall meeting Jan. 7 of the company’s decision to change "the size and shape of the organization," BP spokesman Ronnie Chappell said. Most workers will know whether they’ll be let go by the middle of February, and the cuts will be made within about three months.The company has had disappointing luck with recent exploration and has turned toward drilling for more oil in and around existing fields. In November, BP decided to move the department in charge of exploring for new Alaska fields to Houston, affecting about 35 jobs.Now, with the completion of development work on the offshore Northstar field and the end of a $100 million three-company study of a possible natural gas pipeline, about five dozen workers won’t be needed on those projects.At the same time BP announced the job cuts, the company said another offshore oil deposit, called Liberty, was being put on the shelf."Liberty as a Northstar look-alike project is not competitive at this time," Chappell said. Liberty, west of the Endicott field and about six miles offshore, is estimated to hold 120 million barrels of oil, compared with 160 million barrels at Northstar, which began producing at the end of October.Gov. Tony Knowles said he was disappointed that BP was pulling inward as far as exploration."While I concur with BP’s confidence in existing fields, I disagree with their approach on frontier development," Knowles, a Democrat, said in a statement. "I remain bullish about Alaska’s oil and gas development."And from Washington, Republican Sen. Frank Murkowski, who is running to replace Knowles, said he too was disappointed, but he thought that BP’s decision to scale back exploration "may be related to long waits and paperwork associated with the permitting process."Beyond the job cuts of its own employees, BP plans to eliminate about 75 of roughly 100 Anchorage contract positions as a result of the focus on what BP calls core areas in and around its existing fields.Companies that provide managed services, such as accounting, payroll and the like, will be moved out of the BP headquarters to give them a better opportunity to compete for work elsewhere, Chappell said. That will mean "some of the administrative overhead associated with those services can be borne by companies other that BP," he said."This is about making our Alaska business sustainable and competitive long term," he said, "so we can continue to attract the investment required to develop our huge resource base on the North Slope."Even with the decline at Prudhoe Bay, BP has the equivalent of roughly 7 billion barrels of oil reserves on the North Slope, about a third of that natural gas.The cutbacks are essentially limited to Anchorage. Chappell says BP will actually increase its operating and maintenance work force on the North Slope. BP cut back its operating budget on the North Slope by about $100 million last summer, resulting in layoffs at several of its contractors there.BP expects to keep its North Slope production at the current level of 330,000 barrels daily, Chappell said, and exploration spending on existing fields this year will be about the same as last year. Capital spending on the Alaska operations will total $700 million this year, he said, though that includes a sizable chunk for new tankers.Alaska’s oil companies have seen several rounds of layoffs in Anchorage as oil flow from the North Slope as declined. BP’s most recent cutback was in January 1999, Chappell said.

Alaskans, make this the year for a vacation close to home

Many of you have read about how tourism in Alaska could face huge declines in business this year as a result of the tragic events of Sept. 11. Tourism is the second largest private sector employer in the state; therefore, its challenges in the months ahead could effect many of us, not just those whom you would consider directly impacted. From the waitress in the hotel, to the dishwasher in the kitchen, to the clerk in a downtown shop, many jobs are at stake. In addition, our convention and visitors bureaus all across Alaska partially derive their budgets from hotel bed taxes, which support marketing their communities as a visitor destination. Many of us feel a bit unsettled and unsure about traveling this year. For those of us lucky enough to live in such a uniquely beautiful and culturally diverse state as we Alaskans do, think about a vacation close to home this year. From the scenic beauty of the forests of Southeast to the top of the world at Barrow; from eco-adventures to unforgettable cultural experiences in villages like Kiana on the Kobuk River, there are so many wonderful opportunities for exploration and fun. Consider attending a festival in one of our communities. These celebrations can be found in every corner of Alaska, every season of the year. Visit Alaska artists in their local environment. Look into a trip to Hooper Bay to see artists making the baskets that are known around the world. People travel great distances to Alaska for hunting and fishing trips, which are known from Germany to Australia. Treat yourself to a world class adventure, and share it with some friends. So many possibilities are so near. Travel by a different mode of transportation this year and see Alaska, as you never have before. Ride the Alaska Marine Highway System throughout Southeast and stop along the way to walk, hike, take a scenic flight, kayak or visit a Native Cultural Center to learn about Alaska’s first people. A trip through Southcentral on the Alaska Railroad could lead to wonderful family adventures like white water rafting, camping and fishing. Interior Alaska is fantastic any time of the year, from hot summer days at Harding Lake, to world-renowned aurora watching on clear winter evenings. Picture yourself relaxing at a hot springs resort, with the aurora overhead giving you a spectacular display of its awesome beauty. Travel to the Pribilof Islands for bird watching or to the Brooks Range for world-class hiking and camping. Spend time in our state and national parks, among the best in the world, and view Alaska’s wildlife in its natural habitat. Whether you desire adventure, culture, splendor, crowds or solitude, Alaska has it all. Encourage your friends and family to make Alaska part of their vacation plans, and learn for yourself about all the adventures waiting for you. They don’t call it the Great Land for nothing, and with a bit of searching, you will find the perfect vacation whether you are young or young at heart. Have fun, Alaskans -- in Alaska this year. Deborah Sedwick is the commissioner of the Alaska Department of Community & Economic Development.

Denali Alaskan joins network of credit unions

Denali Alaskan Federal Credit Union has joined a cooperative that allows shared services at credit unions in 32 states and three countries.Keith Fernandez, marketing director of the Anchorage-based credit union, said members who are traveling or relocating are now able to access their credit union accounts at any of the more than 700 shared branches nationwide and in Japan, Korea and Guam.Canada will be added in the near future, Fernandez said.Services include deposits and withdrawals, loan payments, advances and copies of statements, Fernandez said."In the past, if you were on vacation and needed to cash a check you needed lots of luck,’’ Fernandez said. With the credit union service, known as the Financial Services Center Cooperative, it’s like having hundreds of Denali Alaskan branches across the country, he said.A complete list of services and cooperating credit unions is available at Denali Alaskan branches in Anchorage, Juneau and Fairbanks.Denali Alaskan Federal Credit Union is the third-largest credit union in the state, with about 35,000 members and more than $230 million in assets.

Turner takes the reins of Alaskan Publications

Mark Turner, formerly the editor and publisher of the Homer News, has been appointed general manager of Alaskan Publications. In his new position, he will oversee publication of the Journal, the Alaska Star, the Alaska Oil & Gas Reporter, the Alaskan Equipment Trader, the Alaska Military Weekly and two base newspapers.The Homer News and Alaskan Publications are owned by Morris Communications Corp. of Augusta, Ga. Its other Alaska holdings include a group of Anchorage radio stations, the Juneau Empire, the Peninsula Clarion, Alaska Magazine and the Milepost.Turner joined the Homer News as editor in 1991. He was chosen editor and publisher in 1993. During his tenure, the Homer News was selected as Best Weekly Paper by the Alaska Press Club three times. Morris Communications Corp. bought the Homer News in February 2000.Turner, 49, was born in Mississippi and grew up mostly in Nashville, Tenn. Planning to study engineering, he attended Georgia Tech in Atlanta for three years. His interests changed, however, and he transferred to a small liberal arts college, Hanover College, in Hanover, Ind. He graduated in 1975 with a bachelor’s degree in biology.He spent two years working as a chemist at Gulf South Research Institute in New Orleans before moving to Starkville, Miss., to build and start a family-owned hog-raising operation with his father, a veterinarian, and his mother, a biologist.In 1979, he moved to Tucson, Ariz., where he took a part-time job working for the Arizona Daily Star, a Pulitzer chain newspaper, covering junior college baseball and girls high school volleyball. He also entered a master’s degree journalism program at the University of Arizona, but later chose to accept a full-time reporter position at the Star instead. Between 1981 and 1989, his various beats included school districts, consumer affairs, police and emergency, and state and federal courts, along with feature writing.He left the Star in 1989 and began free-lance writing, settling into scientific subjects for various publications. He also taught part time as adjunct faculty in the University of Arizona’s journalism department.He moved to Homer in December 1990 and joined the Homer News the following March.Turner replaces Craig Johnson, who resigned in December.

Judge calls for another hearing in Tongass roadless case

ANCHORAGE -- A federal judge leaning toward arguments made by environmental group lawyers offered Jan. 3 to issue an injunction against logging in roadless areas of the Tongass National Forest in Southeast Alaska.However, after hearing more from lawyers representing the U.S. Forest Service and the timber industry, U.S. District Judge James Singleton said he would not issue a "narrowly tailored" injunction, but instead would hold an evidentiary hearing in February.Singleton made the decision after both sides said they remained opposed over a central issue in the case: whether 19 Tongass timber sales in remote areas should be logged. Environmentalists want the tracts in roadless areas of the forest protected as wilderness. Lawyers for the government and the timber industry want logging to proceed, citing damage to the Southeast Alaska economy."I think we need a hearing," said attorney Jim Clark, who represents the Alaska Forest Association, Concerned Alaskans for Resources and the Environment and the communities of Metlakatla and Coffman Cove.The environmental groups want Singleton to reinstate a logging injunction he issued last year, this time with concessions to avoid disruption to Pacific Log and Lumber’s operations in Ketchikan.Singleton issued a temporary injunction last March that resulted in shutting down logging in the Tongass for nearly two months. He found that the Forest Service violated federal law when updating its management plan in 1997 by failing to sufficiently consider some roadless areas as eligible for wilderness designation by Congress.Bruce Landon, a Department of Justice lawyer representing the Forest Service, argued that the agency is still revising the plan. The agency has said it does not need to manage roadless areas as wilderness while it is revising the plan."There is no basis for shutting down the Tongass," he said.But Singleton said the Forest Service failed to do what was required years ago and now it was up to the court to decide how to keep the status quo until "the agency rectifies the deficiency.""The court must infer if the agency had done what is was supposed to do ... it would have designated certain areas for further wilderness," he said.If logging proceeded in areas that later were designated as wilderness, the damage would be permanent, Singleton said.The Forest Service, meanwhile, is working on a supplemental environmental impact statement that should be completed by October.The timber sales, many under contract for years, involve five companies. Two of them, Viking and Silver Bay Logging, account for 834 jobs and 56 percent of what remains of the timber industry in Southeast, Clark said.He said if an injunction forced the two sawmills to shut down, it would cause the rest of the timber industry in Southeast to collapse.Tom Waldo, an attorney for Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund’s Juneau office, disputed that claim."There is no evidence in the record to support that," he told Singleton.Waldo said plaintiffs would strongly object to exempting the existing timber sales from any injunction issued by Singleton."It would virtually deny us any relief," he said.

Anchorage partners buy City Hall for $13 million

ANCHORAGE -- An Anchorage real estate developer has closed a deal to buy the eight-story City Hall building at 632 W. Sixth Ave. from Weyerhaeuser Co.Architect Mark Pfeffer and partners Jeff Koonce and Jerry Neeser paid $13 million for the building, formerly known as the Hill Building.Pfeffer and the city have signed a lease agreement that allows the city to continue occupying the building for the next 25 years.It’s a good deal for the city, said Wuerch administration spokesman Dennis Fradley. An independent real estate consultant estimated the city could save $13 million to $17 million in rent during the life of the new lease.The building, which underwent a $13 million renovation in the early 1990s, has housed Anchorage municipal government since 1975. It was built in 1964.

NAC switches to new freight handlers in Nome, Kotzebue

Northern Air Cargo Inc. last month switched freight handlers in Nome and Kotzebue after a 12-year contract with Baker Aviation.Alaska Transport Services is handling cargo for Anchorage-based NAC in Nome, while Village Aviation has taken over the freight contract in Kotzebue."It was a business decision we had to make," said Todd Wallace, NAC’s vice president of sales and marketing.Marge Baker, owner of Kotzebue-based Baker Aviation, said her company had been handling freight in the two communities since 1988."It was a mutual decision,’’ Baker said of ending the freight contract last month. "We wanted to make a change, and they wanted to make a change ... I hope everyone is happy now."Baker said three employees in Kotzebue and two in Nome have been furloughed.Village Aviation and Alaska Transport Services each will handle about 400,000 pounds of freight and mail monthly for Northern Air Cargo, Wallace said.Village Aviation already was under contract for freight handling in Bethel.Russ Ferguson, Village Aviation station manager in Kotzebue, said his company also will handle about 1 million pounds of fish annually for the airline. Northern Air Cargo ships about the same amount of fish each year from Bethel to Anchorage, he said.With a fleet of Boeing 727 and Douglas DC-6 aircraft, Northern Air Cargo serves some 19 destinations within Alaska from its hubs in Anchorage and Fairbanks.

Sitka company gets $7 million order for New York ferries

SITKA -- A Sitka shipbuilder has received a $7 million contract to build more ferries for New York, an unanticipated consequence of the Sept. 11 attacks.Allen Marine Inc. has been hired to build three 149-passenger catamarans and two 97-passenger Sea Otter class ferries for NY Waterway, a private transit company.The ferries are to be delivered by June to replace some of the 11 chartered vessels pressed into service immediately after the attacks, said NY Waterway spokesman Pat Smith."In May they have to go back. We are rushing with Allen Marine to get some boats in a hurry," Smith said.Allen Marine President David Allen said the company will work overtime to complete the order.Allen Marine just completed a $4 million contract for four NY Waterway ferries. One ferry is in service and three are en route, company officials said."Our boat-builders will be working day and night to provide quality ferries worthy of New York," Allen said in a statement.Immediately after the attacks, ferries at a terminal blocks away from the World Trade Center helped evacuate more than 160,000 people from Manhattan, Smith said.The attacks also destroyed a vital subway terminal located under the twin towers, which made ferries essential to transporting people to and from New Jersey, he said.The company used charter vessels, excursion vessels and whale watching ships from as far away as Maine to fill the demand, he said.NY Waterway’s 25 ferries carry nearly 60,000 passengers a day, he said. The company has ordered 14 Allen Marine ferries during its existence, Smith said.Each catamaran costs $1.7 million and the Sea Otter ferries cost $1 million each, Smith said.

Budget to be big battle of legislative session

Alaska legislators are returning to Juneau for the start of the 2002 legislative session, which begins Jan. 14. It looks to be a bruising session, dominated by a fight over money between the Republican-led Legislature and Gov. Tony Knowles, a Democrat. Knowles is pushing for spending $189 million more in the state operating budget than in the current year for various state programs. Of this amount, $100 million is needed to replace lost federal funds and to maintain existing levels of state services in the face of inflation, the governor said. Lawmakers are looking at a projected budget deficit this year of $900 million and $1.2 billion for the next state fiscal year, the budget for which legislators must prepare this spring. It is Knowles’ last year as governor, the required end of his two terms and eight years in office. Mindful of his legacy as governor, Knowles will fight hard for his proposals. Republican leaders in the state House and Senate, less concerned about the governor’s legacy, will take a dim view of the $189 million price tag for what Knowles wants this year.

Poker Flat set to launch 13 rockets this winter

Thirteen rockets are scheduled for launch from the Poker Flat Research Range this winter, according to a release from the University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute. The largest land-based rocket range in the world, located 30 miles northeast of Fairbanks, is owned by UA and operated by the institute under contract to NASA.Four rockets are scheduled to be launched in January in rapid succession to measure wind in the upper atmosphere. Three of the rockets will release harmless chemicals to create glowing trails that will be measured by instruments in the fourth rocket. The trails are expected to be visible from the ground in Fairbanks, North Pole, locations north of the Brooks range and as far east as the Canadian border.Six additional rockets involving experiments to study the aurora will launch during specific weather and auroral conditions.A student rocket involving collaboration between UAF students and university students in Japan is scheduled to launch in March. The project’s primary goal is the hands-on opportunities for the students in designing, building and launching of sounding rocket payloads.Poker Flat also is being considered for launch of two guided rockets in April that will be used as part of a federal experiment designed to study rocket dispersion patterns.

Shipper to begin weekly barge service to Cordova

Alaska Marine Lines will begin weekly barge service between Cordova and Seattle in April.The announcement in late December from the Seattle-based shipper, a subsidiary of Lynden Inc., has brought praise from Cordovans and area fish processors who say freight rates to and from the roadless Prince William Sound community should drop sharply.Alex McKallor, president of Alaska Marine Lines in Seattle, said his company made the decision to come to Cordova largely based on the support from area residents and seafood processors."We spent a lot of time talking to them and felt in the long run this will be good for Cordova," McKallor said.Alaska Marine Lines will build a new $1 million dock for its barges and will invest another $3.5 million for 100, 53-foot long refrigerated containers to transport its share of the more than 30 million pounds of salmon, halibut and black cod processed from the Prince William Sound area, McKallor said.Permitting and construction issues may delay dock construction somewhat, but the first scheduled sailing from Seattle is April 2, McKallor said.For more than two decades, Alaska Marine Lines has provided service to Juneau, Ketchikan, Wrangell, Sitka, Petersburg, Haines, Skagway, Kake, Yakutat, Prince of Wales Island and the Yukon Territory in Canada.Cordova, McKallor said, was a natural fit."We’re new to Cordova, but we’re not new to the market,’’ McKallor said. "Cordova is the kind of market we are very familiar with."Alaska Marine Lines’ primary customers are mostly grocery stores in Southeast, but the company has worked extensively with fishing, mining and timber industries, McKallor said.Alaska Marine Lines’ sister company Alaska Railbelt Marine took over as the barge contractor last February for the Alaska Railroad Corp. In Whittier, Alaska Marine Lines transfers barge shipments to rail. Those shipments mostly include pipes and other supplies and heavy equipment used in oil field operations and maintenance.Instead of going directly to Whittier, those barges will now make a stop in Cordova, McKallor said.Cordova has one of the longest commercial fishing seasons in Alaska, beginning in May with the Copper River salmon run and continuing into October.The community currently is served by Samson Tug & Barge Co. and Totem Ocean Trailer Express Inc.Bill Deaver, vice president and general manager of TOTE’s Alaska division, said his company runs up to five freighters a week through the fishing season and twice a week the remainder of the year for mail and groceries, Deaver said.Feeder vessels transfer containers from the town’s dock to an oceangoing freighter that then offloads in Whittier. Containers are shipped by rail to Anchorage, then loaded on a southbound ship to Tacoma. The entire trip takes about four days, Deaver said.Bill Gilbert, plant manager of Norquest Seafoods Inc. in Cordova, said his company will use Alaska Marine Lines, which at six days transit time, will be a day or two slower to Seattle than TOTE but about 20 percent cheaper."It’s considerably less expensive,’’ Gilbert said. "When we can save money, we will."His company processed and shipped more than 11 million pounds of fresh and frozen seafood last year. The town’s two other major processors, Ocean Beauty Seafoods Inc. and North Pacific Processors Inc., shipped similar amounts of fish, he said.Gilbert said Samson’s freight rates are cheaper, but the product doesn’t arrive in the Lower 48 for two to six weeks, since the barge company stops in Valdez and Kodiak before heading to Seattle."(Alaska Marine Lines) is just a little more expensive than the slow boat,’’ Gilbert said.It’s not just the town’s fish processors who benefit, Gilbert said, because residents can ship everything from vehicles to heavy equipment on the new barge service. He suspects with the new competition, freight on northbound products from groceries to gasoline will be less expensive.Fishing is the economic base in Cordova and the more shipping options the better, said Margy Johnson, Cordova mayor and business owner."Lowering the cost to the processors has been the No. 1 goal of mine,’’ Johnson said."We’re delighted they’re coming into Cordova," Johnson said of Alaska Marine Lines. "They are first-class operators."

2,000 more jobs forecast for city

The Anchorage economy could grow by 2,000 jobs in 2002 or about 1.4 percent, according to the Anchorage Economic Development Corp.The economic forecast reveals a decrease in new job growth compared with 2001, said AEDC research director Jeff Pokorny."Although the final numbers for the year won’t be in until late January, the Department of Labor expects 2,800 new jobs at a minimum, and that number will most likely be higher once the final revisions are in, making 3,100 jobs a very real possibility," he said.Pokorny presented the report at AEDC’s annual economic forecast luncheon Jan. 9 at the Egan Civic & Convention Center.Several factors could influence the forecast outcome, including a U.S. recession officially that’s forecast to end by the second half of the year, according to AEDC’s report. Anchorage unemployment has stayed low, recording the state’s low of 3.7 percent compared to 5.6 percent statewide in November. The national unemployment rate was 5.7 percent for the same period. Pokorny expects per capita wages in Anchorage to hold steady at $33,800 compared with a national average of $28,546."There had been some hope that with higher oil prices and increased activity in the oil patch that Alaska’s wages might start to increase relative to the rest of the country, but with oil prices expected to stay down for the foreseeable future, oil is not expected to be a driver of wage rates," he said.The services sector is expected to tally the strongest gains, adding about 1,600 new jobs this year, Pokorny said."For several years services has been far and away the strongest sector of the Anchorage economy, and 2002 will be no exception," he said.Such gains may be due to increasing demand for health care services, as well as continued growth in businesses services and temporary employment, he noted.A possible downturn in tourism this summer could hamper the services sector, although spring and fall conventions booked in advance could still be strong, Pokorny said.AEDC predicts employment gains in the construction, government and trade or retail sectors while the mining sector should post decreases. Sectors posting flat to slight job growth include transportation, communication and utilities, manufacturing and the finance, insurance and real estate sectors.Employment in the trade sector should climb by 500 jobs, Pokorny said. Leading the surge will be a new Fred Meyer store in South Anchorage opening in February while several other new stores are under construction, he noted."The lone cautionary note in this sector is restaurants, especially those that derive a large part of their business from the tourism sector because tourism is expected to be down this year," Pokorny said.Last year construction in Anchorage posted strong results, and permits are expected to surpass $550 million, according to the AEDC official.Major projects for this year include construction of several large retailers plus work at Elmendorf Air Force Base and Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport. Housing construction, especially for duplex and multifamily units, should play a strong role in the sector, he said.Anchorage construction should add 200 jobs this year, Pokorny said.Government employment in the city could increase by 100 jobs, he said."One possible source of job gains will be the federal takeover of airport security operations but that will largely be a transfer of existing jobs from the services sector to the government sector," he said.The mining sector, which includes oil and gas, was one area AEDC listed as set to lose jobs compared with 2001. However, Pokorny attributes the decrease to completion of Northstar oil field modules in July.Pokorny released his preliminary report before BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc. announced 120 layoffs in early January.Transportation, communication and utilities industries could post no new jobs or possibly 100 new jobs, AEDC predicted. A soft global economy has slowed growth in the cargo industry, affecting Anchorage, Pokorny said.Likewise, manufacturing in Anchorage could post flat employment results or gain 100 jobs."Alaska Seafood International has the potential to make a big impact in this sector," Pokorny said.Employment in the finance, insurance and real estate industries should be on par with last year, posting no significant job gains, according to AEDC.

Alaska Airlines posts good holiday season, plans additional hiring

SEATTLE -- Though most major airlines continue to struggle after the Sept. 11 attacks, the holidays were successful enough for Alaska Airlines to begin hiring more flight attendants.Airlines have curtailed flights, delayed new aircraft purchases and laid off thousands of workers since the terrorist attacks. But executives at the Seattle-based regional carrier say their business has been equal to or even a bit better than last year, and they are planning for limited growth in 2002.Alaska has started advertising among its existing employees for 90 flight attendants to begin training in February and March. The new attendants will be needed as the airline expands its schedule this summer.If Alaska doesn’t find enough new attendants in-house, it will begin advertising for outside applicants, spokesman Jack Walsh said.Alaska cut back its schedule after Sept. 11, but didn’t lay off any workers. It temporarily restored its schedule to pre-attack levels during the Christmas holidays, but reduced flight frequencies slightly in January, traditionally a slow period for travel, then expects to resume a normal schedule by Feb. 10, Walsh said."We’re planning a measured growth this year," Walsh told The News Tribune of Tacoma.Alaska recently added two daily nonstop flights from Seattle to Washington, D.C., and a daily round trip between Los Angeles and Cancun, Mexico. It soon will start a new route, Los Angeles to Calgary, Alberta. Walsh said several other new routes are planned.Alaska’s traffic in November was down 4.7 percent from a year earlier. But Walsh said traffic around Christmas was as high as it was last yearAlaska sold 80 percent to 85 percent of its seats during the Christmas holiday, the company said. On the Saturday before Christmas, the airline filled 89 percent of its seats.It helped that the Washington Huskies played in the Holiday Bowl Dec. 28, drawing Seattle football fans to San Diego. Extra aircraft added on that route quickly sold out, airline officials said.The company also has been aggressively pricing flights, such as a less-than-$200 roundtrip between Seattle and Tucson, Ariz.To meet demand over the holidays, extra flights also were added into San Jose, Calif., San Francisco, Los Angeles, Phoenix and Tucson, company officials said."Passengers are coming back," Walsh said. "Once they’ve come back and have seen the extra security measures, we expect they’ll be ready to travel again and again."Horizon Air, the commuter airline owned by Alaska’s parent, Alaska Air Group, also is increasing flights in February from Seattle to Pasco, Yakima, Eugene, Ore., and Vancouver and Victoria, British Columbia.

REI ready to launch $2 million upgrade

Construction is set to begin later this month on a $2 million renovation of outdoor gear retailer Recreational Equipment Inc. in Anchorage. Work should be complete by April 1, company officials said.REI had considered relocating its Anchorage store when its long-term lease expired at Northern Lights Center, but the company renewed its lease, said REI general manager Mike Herzog.Hickel Investment Co. operates the shopping center.The retailer plans to remodel other stores this year, and the Anchorage store has expanded its products since moving to its present location, he said. "The Anchorage store is one of the oldest stores in the co-op in terms of the physical age of the building as well as the design and fixturing," Herzog said.Renovations will add 1,000 square feet to the 36,000-square-foot store."Most of the work will be focused on making the store easier to shop and to take advantage of currently underutilized retail space," Herzog said.New features will include a 7-foot boulder for rock climbing, water purification and stove test stations, a footwear test area and a clinic/seminar area for free weekly sessions held at the store. Renovations will also include the customer service desk and online ordering kiosks.Once the project is completed, REI plans to add a unit that allows customers to print U.S. Geological Service maps from a computer terminal and special printer, he said.REI’s internal construction staff will oversee the project, he said. Kumin Associates Inc. of Anchorage designed the remodeled store, and Boslough Construction Inc., also of Anchorage, will build it.Herzog believes the remodel represents REI’s move to increase service to its Alaska members. "The Anchorage store remodel represents REI’s commitment to the unique needs of our Alaskan members."

Internet to carry all the Legislature's work live

JUNEAU -- When the Legislature convenes in 2002, every word uttered on the state record will be broadcast live on the Internet.The second session of the 22nd Legislature will herald a new project by Juneau’s public broadcasting station to stream live audio of all floor sessions and committee hearings on the World Wide Web, said Bill Legere, president and general manager of KTO0-FM and television."It’s going to provide a level of access that’s pretty rare in the country," Legere said.KTOO already broadcasts video of some legislative events on cable television in 30 communities across the state. That coverage, called "Gavel-to-Gavel," generally shows all floor sessions but only some committee hearings. Also, the program sometimes broadcasts the events after they happen.The station this year will offer "Gavel-to-Gavel" video on the Internet along with a new program featuring only audio. The audio project is more sweeping than "Gavel-to-Gavel" because it broadcasts sound from all legislative events."We’ll be able to stream up to seven different events at once," Legere said. "That’s the maximum number of official proceedings that are happening in the Capitol at any one time."With the audio project, Internet users will be able to monitor sound from all committee hearings and floor sessions as they happen, and KTOO will archive the audio so people who miss the live events may listen to the recordings later on the Internet."It will be permanently available for as far forward as we can see," Legere said.Other options to monitor lawmakers "Gavel-to-Gavel": Television program featuring taped and live video of floor sessions and some committee hearings. Available on cable in 30 Alaska communities and on the Internet at ( Audio Project: Live audio of all floor sessions and all committee hearings plus archived recordings of the events. Available on the Internet at ( Legislative Information Offices: The Legislative Affairs Agency provides access to about 80 percent of committee hearings. People can monitor the hearings by going to their local legislative information office and listening by teleconference. The state also furnishes audio recordings of floor sessions and hearings upon request.The leap to the Internet means people can listen to the Legislature live from virtually anywhere in the world, said Legere, noting "anyplace where you have a telephone, you would have access to it."Internet access to state lawmakers is a growing trend in the country, said Gene Rose, public affairs director of the National Conference of State Legislatures.Three years ago only seven states were streaming audio or video of lawmakers on the Internet, said Rose, adding that more than 30 states offer the service today. However, most states broadcast only floor sessions, he said.Alaska "is ahead in terms of extending it to the committees," Rose said. "There’s probably only a handful of other states that are going that far right now."The KTOO venture will replace a pilot project by the Legislative Affairs Agency, which offered audio recordings of some committee hearings on the Internet last year, said Sue Gullufsen, manager of the state Information Teleconference Network.One difference between the two projects is the state Web site offered audio of only teleconferenced committee hearings, or roughly 80 percent of the meetings, Gullufsen said. The state project also did not offer live audio, said Gullufsen, noting the Web site provided only recordings of past hearings."That’s a significant difference," said Gullufsen, who called the KTOO project an "incredible step forward."The KTOO project will not replace other legislative access programs run by the state, said Gullufsen, noting the Legislative Affairs Agency still will provide public access to teleconferenced committee hearings at legislative information offices statewide. The state also will continue to record all legislative events and furnish audio cassettes to the public upon request, she said.KTOO purchased the equipment for the audio project through a $75,000 grant from the city of Juneau, said Legere, noting the station will pay ongoing costs through its "Gavel-to-Gavel" budget of about $557,000 a year."Gavel-to-Gavel" is funded in part by the city and private donors, including Alaska Communications Systems, which donated the bandwidth on the Internet, he said.Legere said Internet users should be able to monitor "Gavel-to-Gavel" and the audio program using a 28.8 dial-up modem, but he recommended a cable modem or DSL broadband connection for best results.Internet users also must have software such as RealPlayer or Microsoft Media Player plus computers with sound cards and speakers, said Legere, noting most new computers come with the necessary hardware.

Good buy-sell accord is essential

Business owners have long relied on buy-sell agreements to protect the financial future of their business and their family. Sometimes called a "business will," a buy-sell agreement is a legal contract among business owners that states what will happen should an owner leave the business because of death, disability or a lifetime sale.The agreement obligates the remaining owners to purchase the business interest of the owner who has left the business, and the departing owner (or heirs) is obligated to sell.However, the effectiveness of a buy-sell agreement depends largely on the specific terms set forth in the agreement. If a buy-sell agreement is not properly prepared, it may cause serious problems for heirs and remaining owners.The two biggest mistakes to avoidA buy-sell agreement can be effective only if it’s properly written. Too often, business owners overlook key areas, leaving survivors in a difficult situation. Let’s take a look at two common mistakes to avoid when drafting your buy-sell agreement: Addressing a one-sale contingency. A poorly conceived buy-sell agreement usually addresses only one event, such as the death of an owner. This is a limited view that may lead to problems later. What would happen if an owner became disabled? What if an owner wants to retire? When would the buyout be executed, and at what price and terms? A proper buy-sell agreement should address three situations: death, disability and lifetime sale by an owner. Setting the value of the business too low. Some owners value their business too low in their buy-sell agreement believing that this will reduce their estate tax liability. If certain criteria are not met, the IRS can reject the business’ value for estate tax purposes.Let’s look at a hypothetical example: A successful business owner makes $150,000 a year. The buy-sell agreement has a stated value of $100,000 for that owner’s share at death. When that owner dies, the heirs receive $100,000 from surviving owners, which is actually less than one year’s salary. Then the IRS values the business at a much higher figure, say $600,000 to $800,000. Not only are the heirs shortchanged, but they may end up owing the IRS more in estate taxes than they received from the sale.A valid buy-sell agreementIn order for a buy-sell agreement to be used to help determine the estate tax value, the IRS has set some guidelines. Internal Revenue Code Section 2703 gives these requirements for a valid buy-sell agreement: It must be a bona fide business arrangement. It must not be a device to transfer property to members of the decedent’s family for less than full and adequate consideration. It is similar to comparable arm’s length transactions.In addition, applicable case law has established several rules that must be followed: The estate must be obligated to sell at death. The agreement must have a fixed and determined sale price or a method for determining the price. An owner cannot sell during his or her lifetime without first offering it to the other owners. The price must be fair and adequate when the agreement is made.Buy-sell agreement benefitsWhen structured and funded properly, a buy-sell agreement can accomplish several goals, including: Creating a market for the stock; Setting a predetermined price or valuation method that the owners agree on to buy and sell their shares; and Providing money to fund the plan.A buy-sell agreement benefits both surviving owners and their heirs. Benefits to heirs include: Freedom from business worries; A guaranteed fair purchase price; and Possibly avoiding probate delays.Benefits to surviving owners include: Relieving concerns about new and possibly unwanted partners; Knowing the purchase price beforehand; and Retaining good relations with creditors and clients through a smooth transition of ownership.Doing it rightWhen it comes to business succession planning, it’s best to sit down with experienced professionals to plot your strategy. You should draft a comprehensive buy-sell agreement with the help of an attorney. It should be flexible enough to allow for future modifications with consent of all involved parties. You’ll also want to discuss funding options with your insurance agent. Insurance can be a cost-effective, tax-advantageous means of funding a buy-sell agreement.Don’t delay. Now’s the time to put together a well-thought-out plan that will help guarantee the smooth transition of your business. It can benefit both your family and your business partners.Lon G. Wilson is co-owner of The Wilson Agency LLC in Anchorage. He can be reached via e-mail at ([email protected]).

Juneau clinic earns its reaccreditation

JUNEAU -- The Juneau clinic of SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium has been reaccredited with a score of 94 out of a possible 100 points."Everyone wants to score in the 90s -- it’s like getting an A," Administrator Brenda Sturm said.SEARHC is a nonprofit Native health consortium of 18 federally recognized tribes. It is funded by the Indian Health Service; collections from Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance carriers; and grants.The clinic has about 6,000 patients who make about 32,000 visits a year, Sturm said. It provides family practice, mental health, dental and health-promotion services.The clinic is accredited by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, a national group made up of representatives of organizations such as the American Medical Association and the American College of Physicians.The SEARHC clinic’s score at its previous accreditation, in 1998, was 93. On both occasions the clinic’s laboratories scored 100. The commission’s Web site says that 82 percent of outpatient clinics score between 90 and 100.Being accredited helps the clinic qualify for Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement and for higher payments by insurance companies, Sturm said. The commission sets standards of care and updates them monthly."They put it out as a gentle reminder, but you better do it," Sturm said.The commission this time made a number of minor recommendations mostly regarding paperwork, she said.It asked the clinic to put a statement on a hiring form that the medical director had verified that a doctor was fit to work. It asked the clinic to change the wording in policy and procedure manuals, and to change its maintenance records, Sturm said. And the commission asked the clinic to assess patients’ pain more frequently and consistently.Accreditation is a learning experience, according to Sturm."What we learn, No. 1, is different approaches on how to meet standards," she said. "Sometimes you work in your own bubble and don’t see the whole picture."The commission’s surveyor who visited the clinic was impressed with its care of patients, Sturm said."It just gave me a good feeling to know we were taking care of folks the way we needed to," she said.SEARHC also runs Mount Edgecumbe Hospital in Sitka and clinics in Haines and Klawock. It is building a new, 25,000-square-foot clinic in Juneau that will double its exam rooms.


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