State turns to towns, tribes for low-sulfur diesel advice

Alaska petroleum distributors and companies refining diesel in Alaska have been unable to come to a consensus on phasing in new federal ultra-low sulfur diesel requirements used for highway vehicles.The state Department of Environmental Conservation, which must propose a phase-in plan to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency next spring, asked for ideas from the industry earlier this year.DEC will develop a proposal by early next year, but was hoping to get unified support for a proposal from firms in the fuel business.The agency is now seeking advice from rural communities and tribal groups as to how to implement the new fuel requirements in rural Alaska.Last spring DEC formed a task force of distributors, refiners and trucking firms and met twice. The group was ultimately unable to agree on a phase-in plan, according to Clint Farr, a DEC official working on the program.The new ultra-low sulfur diesel requirement comes into effect in 2006, but because of its unique geographical circumstances, Alaska has been given an extension to 2010 if the state can develop a phase-in plan that is acceptable to the EPA, Farr said.DEC Commissioner Michele Brown must submit a plan for an Alaska phase-in to EPA, and the agency staff will have a proposal prepared for Brown by February, Farr said.The impact of the new requirements in rural areas is the most troubling aspect of the new requirements because a typical rural community now gets one shipment of diesel fuel per year, which is used for all purposes -- heating, electrical generation and fuel for vehicles.Since the ultra-clean fuel will have to be transported and stored separately, it is a major problem in distribution.One option for rural communities, Farr said, is to switch all diesel to ultra-low sulfur, so separate tanks and shipping are not required. But the new fuel will be more expensive, which will raise costs for generation of electricity with diesel.Another possibility is that Alaska might request an exemption or some other kind of modification to help rural communities, which the EPA might view favorably because of the unique conditions.However, as soon as new vehicles with 2007-year engines are brought into a community, they will need the new fuel.The new federal rules requiring ultra-clean diesel with a maximum sulfur content of 15 parts per million went into effect last February. There is now a national 500 parts-per-million limit on sulfur in diesel, from which Alaska is exempt.There can be no exemption for Alaska from the new requirements, however, because vehicle engines are being built to use only ultra-low sulfur diesel. When vehicles manufactured in 2007 are brought to Alaska, the new fuel will have to be available.The 15 ppm, ultra-clean diesel standard was developed after the EPA became convinced that particulates from diesel emissions were a major cause of lung damage. With strict controls on gasoline engine emissions now in effect in the United States, the major source of health-damaging air pollution in large cities is diesel emissions from large trucks and buses.The proposals were developed by the Clinton administration, but after a brief review the regulations were put into force by President Bush.The ultra-clean diesel will be used in heavy trucks, buses and other larger diesel vehicles, including recreational vehicles, operating on highways.By 2007 new emissions control equipment will be required in newly made diesel engines for highway vehicles, and the new fuel will be needed for those engines.Although the current EPA rule does not cover smaller vehicles with diesel engines, such as light trucks and pickups, a separate EPA rule will require the same emissions control equipment on their engines as well. They will have to use the new fuel, too.Construction and other off-road diesel vehicles are not covered under the rule, but the EPA is now engaged in a rule-making process that eventually will include these vehicles.Stationary diesel equipment, such as engines used in electrical generation, are not covered by the rule because their emissions are controlled by other forms of regulation, mainly through permits, DEC officials have said.The Alaska Trucking Association has estimated that the new fuel could be 20 to 25 cents per gallon more costly if it has to be imported to Alaska. Since fuel accounts for 18 percent to 20 percent of the total operating costs of typical trucking firms, the added cost of fuel will be a big hit that will ultimately be passed on in higher freight rates.

Directors run away from Grisham film

We haven’t heard much lately from John Grisham, but the directors of his next movie have.According to New York magazine, two directors have quit the making of "The Runaway Jury" based on the Grisham novel. The current director reportedly received a six-page letter from Grisham in which the lawyer-turned-author said the screenplay has "cheap thrills," "cheap gimmicks," "bad dialogue" and shows "contempt for the audience." The letter also asked "why is everyone in this script utterly stupid" and "has anybody read the book?"Are law firms going public?That’s what one Israeli lawyer wants to do with his firm. Avraham Alter has petitioned the Tel Aviv Bar Association for the right to be the first law firm to trade on the Tel Aviv stock market. Alter proposes selling 25 percent of his firm to the public at a value of $5 million.The Bar Association said no to the law firm IPO. It cited the need to keep aspects of the attorney-client relationship confidential as one of several reasons why it is inappropriate for a law firm to be publicly owned. Alter plans to take his case to the Israeli Bar Association. He is hoping to be able to take advantage of a lower tax rate that applies to publicly traded companies.Posting disciplinary actionYou can find all kinds of information on the Internet -- including lawyers’ disciplinary action. The State Bar of California was sued by an attorney angry because his disciplinary history was posted on the Bar’s Web site. The court ruled that posting such information was basically no different than making it available to callers who phoned the State Bar for the same information.The court shot down the lawyer’s argument that such information should not be made available to the entire world. The court opinion stated that "we doubt that Internet users in India, much less Indiana, will be scouring the State Bar’s Web site for information about ... California lawyers."Historical noteSome judges are great at writing funny and entertaining opinions, but maybe they are not supposed to be so humorous. The "Ancient Precedents" in the canons of judicial ethics adopted in 1924 by the American Bar Association states that "Judges ought to be more learned than witty; more reverend than plausible; and more advised than confident. Above all things, integrity is their portion and proper virtue. ..."Hearsay"No laws. No lawyers."-- Kevin Spacey’s character Prot in the movie K-PAX explaining life on his planet.FootnoteThe publisher of a German fashion magazine called "O" has filed a lawsuit against the publisher of Oprah Winfrey’s magazine "O." The plaintiff claims trademark rights in the letter.Have something to share with Out of Court? E-mail it to Chet Olsen at ([email protected]).

Settlement could help Alaska Native Wireless

The Federal Communications Commission and several U.S. wireless companies have agreed to a settlement that liberates spectrum licenses from litigation and allows Alaska Native Wireless LLC and others to improve cell phone service in major markets.The $16 billion deal would require approval from Congress, the Justice Department, a New York bankruptcy judge and no further legal challenges.Alaska Native Wireless was a successful bidder on wireless licenses including major markets in Los Angeles and New York during a January spectrum auction conducted by the FCC. However, a U.S. appeals court decision in mid-June disputed results that included spectrum licenses previously owned by a company, NextWave Telecom Inc., that later went bankrupt.The move tied up the licenses rather than releasing them for service.Arctic Slope Regional Corp. of Barrow, Doyon Ltd. of Fairbanks and Juneau-based Sealaska Corp. formed Alaska Native Wireless to bid on wireless licenses auctioned by the FCC. The spectrum auction, which began Dec. 12, was completed Jan. 26.According to The Associated Press, the settlement, announced Nov. 16, follows weeks of negotiations for the parties to agree on how to resolve the court dispute."The settlement means ANW will be able to get the licenses it bid for and has partially paid for," said Conrad Bagne, head of ASRC Wireless, the managing partner for Alaska Native Wireless. "Congress must approve the settlement by calendar year end."Bagne did not say when or in what markets Alaska Native Wireless would first build infrastructure to provide service.Alaska Native Wireless with its partner AT&T Wireless was the high bidder on almost $2.9 billion in wireless licenses covering 43 markets with a population of 71 million. Markets include Los Angeles, New York City, Denver, Tampa, Cleveland, Jacksonville, Fla., Minneapolis, New Haven, Conn., and Portland, Ore.However, NextWave sued the FCC for seizing the licenses, which were re-auctioned in January, according to The Associated Press reports. NextWave had won the airwaves in a 1996 government auction, but paid just $500 million of its $4.7 billion bid before seeking protection from creditors, largely the FCC, in a New York bankruptcy court.A U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ordered the FCC to return the licenses, contending the agency could not seize the property of NextWave, which was reorganizing under bankruptcy protection.Under the settlement, carriers from the second spectrum auction would be expected to pay the amounts of their winning bids to the FCC, a total of $15.8 billion.The FCC would transfer about $9.6 billion of the carriers’ money to NextWave. After paying taxes and other fees back to the government, investors in the company would net more than $5 billion."At bottom, it is a deal that serves the public interest, for it will get licenses out from under litigation and into the market, where the public will benefit," FCC Chairman Michael Powell said in a statement.NextWave still plans to build its network in other licensed markets including Detroit and Madison, Wis., and hopes to launch commercial service in the first half of 2002.

Twins follow in father's business footsteps

Fairbanks - Most Fairbanksans thought Gene Immel was crazy to build a new car and truck dealership downtown during the last part of World War II. Despite the escalating building costs, Immel pushed on with construction with the belief that car sales would boom after the war was over. "After the war, construction prices went through the roof because everyone was building," said his son John Immel, who now serves as president of the family-owned Fairbanks business named Gene’s Chrysler. Well ahead of the competition in November 1945, Immel opened his Studebaker dealership at Second Avenue and Wickersham Street, selling and servicing new vehicles in hot demand in postwar days. Since then, the family business has outgrown two locations and evolved into a multimillion dollar operation that employs more than 70 people in Fairbanks. Sales revenues have grown steadily in recent years, topping out at a projected $36.2 million for 2001. "We just try to do more things right today than yesterday," John Immel said. The long tenure of the family business has definitely helped in that growth, he added, particularly with some of the guiding principles established by patriarch Gene Immel. "Anything that he did that was successful, we do today. It’s the same." For starters, Gene Immel decided to carry a sizable inventory of parts for the vehicles he sold. By eliminating a long wait for replacement parts, sales increased, his son said. "Back then, it took about 12 weeks to get parts in, because they came up on a steamship. It was a real slow process," John Immel said. "He knew that if he stocked the parts, he could sell the vehicles." Gene Immel also maintained a visible presence at his dealership, a tradition carried on by his twin sons John and Jim Immel, who now run Gene’s Chrysler. Jim Immel serves as secretary/treasurer for the business. "Customers always knew that Gene was around somewhere. So when we go on vacation, we don’t leave at same time. One of us is always here," John Immel said. "We also try to meet every customer who buys a car, to thank them. We think that’s important." In the early days, Gene Immel carried a number of different lines in addition to Studebaker. At various times, he carried the Volkswagen and Mercedes car lines on the downtown corner lot, in addition to selling Arrowcraft boats with Mercury outboard engines.

New Kachemak Bay cable quadruples energy possibilities

HOMER -- About 700 residents of Seldovia, Halibut Cove, Port Graham and Nanwalek have a fresh link with Homer Electric Association now that the utility has laid a new cable under Kachemak Bay.Spooled out from a barge for 3.5 miles, the 102-ton cable was plowed five feet into the seabed using pressurized water from a hydro-plow. The actual crossing from McKeon Flats took about 10 hours, ending at the Homer Spit Nov. 8.The $2.5 million project replaces a cable laid in 1975 that is now reaching the end of its useful life, HEA officials said.With a fierce wind whipping across the Spit and temperatures dipping into the teens, HEA general manager Norm Story, project engineer Don Stead and Seldovia City Manager Ken Weaver gathered at 10 a.m. Thursday to celebrate as the cable neared shore. But difficulty getting past an offshore ledge delayed hauling the cable the last 100 yards or so onto the beach until about 4 p.m.To Sam Matthews, the historic undertaking revived memories of when the now-retired HEA engineer coordinated laying the first cable 26 years ago.As he snapped pictures with a tiny, disposable camera, the 66-year-old Homer and Yuma, Ariz., resident said that first crossing took only about four hours to lay the cable. But that time it was simply dropped on the sea floor, not buried for greater protection, as the new hydro-plow technique accomplished.It was also a lot cheaper. At about $20 a foot in 1975, plus other expenses to make the connections and bury the ends, Matthews said the original project cost about $425,000."This is a lot more advanced equipment," Matthews said. Even though the 1975 crossing took less than half the time, "I spent another week with hard-hat divers to bury the cable" at each end, Matthews said.The maximum depth of the bay is about 360 feet, he said.In recognition of his 32 years of service to HEA and his interest in the project, Matthews went across the bay with the crew to watch the new operation.In addition to increasing the power capacity by a factor of four, the new cable package carries 12 fiber-optic lines to allow for anticipated needs for future broadband telecommunications and Internet-related uses.The fiber-optic lines added only about $77,000 to the total cost, Stead said, much less than laying a separate cable later.The new cable has a capacity of more than 12 megawatts of electric power, compared with about 3 megawatts for the old line."This cable could supply a city the size of Homer," Stead said.After being spliced into connecting boxes on the Spit and energized, the cable will be tested. The old cable will then be disconnected and simply left underwater. No power interruptions are anticipated, Stead said, and the new cable is expected to last 25 to 30 years.Running off a turntable capable of handling 300 tons of cable, the Seattle firm of Pirelli Jacobson installed the 102 tons of cable from a specially outfitted barge.A $2 million federal appropriation to pay for most of the project was included by Alaska Republican Sen. Ted Stevens in the fiscal 2002 Energy and Water Appropriation Bill. The bill has passed through U.S. House and Senate committees and is expected to be approved by the full Congress and President Bush, HEA officials said.An additional $1.5 million in state funds is also being sought to offset remaining costs. As part of the project, HEA plans to replace the 1940s-era electricity generating station at Seldovia. Replacing that 2.1-megawatt diesel-power station with a 2.5-megawatt plant would account for about $1 million of the additional funds, Stead estimated.It would take about four months to replace the generators, he said.

Forest Service wants to help towns thrive

There’s new management in the Tongass and Chugach national forests in Alaska, and a priority of the U.S. Forest Service will be working with and helping bolster local communities, which have been hit hard by cuts in timber harvesting.That was the message Steve Brink, acting regional forester for the Alaska region, delivered to the Resource Development Council in Anchorage Nov. 15.The new regional forester, Denny Bschor, will take over in January, after which Brink will become deputy regional forester, he said. The new team, appointed by the Bush administration, will work to restore trust with local communities and the timber industry after eight years of Clinton administration policies, Brink said."One of our priorities will be healthy communities. We have 33 communities in Southeast that are approaching collapse," he said, after a sharp drop in high-paying timber jobs over the last five to 10 years.Timber harvesting in Southeast is heavily dependent on Forest Service policies in the Tongass, which covers 90 percent of forested lands in the region.Brink said an "economic stimulus" proposal has already been submitted to the Alaska congressional delegation, proposing $65 million in new projects to revitalize activity in both the Tongass and Chugach national forests. The Chugach stretches from the Kenai Peninsula to Prince William Sound.Among projects in the package is work on fish passage projects on streams, log transfer facilities, money for thinning 80,000 acres of second-growth timber to enhance growth, and a barge loading dock at Ward Cove, near Ketchikan.In the Chugach National Forest, Brink hopes to get money for clearing beetle-damaged timber, a top priority of the Kenai Borough because of the fire danger. Some of this wood will have economic value, Brink told the RDC.Alaska Republican Sen. Ted Stevens told the Forest Service he hopes to get at least $50 million more funding through additions to spending bills this winter, Brink said.Another priority for the Forest Service is securing a change in federal policy so that money from federal gasoline taxes can be spent on road maintenance and improvement on roads in national forests.These are essentially public highways and important to communities in places like Prince of Wales Island in Southeast, Brink said. The National Park Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs and other federal agencies now receive shares of federal gas tax funds, but the Forest Service does not.If this policy change is made, it will bring an additional $40 million per year to the Forest Service’s roads budget, reducing pressure on the state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities to maintain these roads, Brink said.

Airport advised to stay out of Kincaid Park

Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport should expand, but only within its current boundaries; and the idea of a runway dissecting Kincaid Park will never fly with the public.That was the general consensus of some 80 people who considered six proposals presented by airport officials and their consultants at a meeting Nov. 14.In small work groups, invited state lawmakers, Anchorage Assembly members, business owners, ski club representatives and others were asked a series of questions by airport officials, who are crafting a master plan for Anchorage International to guide its development though the next two decades.By 2020, airport officials are projecting a near tripling in cargo operations at the state-owned airport and more than double the amount of passenger flights.The questions now facing Anchorage are how to get ready for the forecasted boom and at what cost, either environmentally or economically.Proposals from the $1.5 million federally funded master plan ranged from doing nothing to closing the airport and moving it across Knik Arm to Point MacKenzie. In between those alternatives were proposals that included building a new north-south runway adjacent to the existing runway; expanding the airport and developing a new facility at Fire Island or Point MacKenzie; or fully developing Anchorage International beyond its existing boundaries to Kincaid Park, where a new east-west runway would be built, displacing popular bike, hiking and ski trails.The latter proved extremely unpopular with many in attendance who said it would never pass muster with Anchorage residents, who would have to vote for such a measure.One in 10 Anchorage residents are employed by an airport-related business, according to airport officials.Anchorage is one of the busiest cargo airports in the United States, averaging nearly 520 cargo flights weekly.Some 2.7 million tons of cargo passed through Anchorage last year. Projections, based on data from aircraft manufacturers, put the number of tons at 7.5 million by 2020, said Jeffrey Mishler, associate vice president of HNTB, an Alexandria, Va.-based aviation consulting firm hired by the state.Passenger numbers are expected to more than double from 2.2 million annually to 4.5 million in that period, Mishler said.Based on projected growth, there will be a need for a four-fold increase in cargo facilities, as well as a 25 percent increase in other aviation-related facilities, according to the state studies.Expanding the airport only within its existing boundaries would not meet the needs of the forecasted growth by 2020, Mishler said.Several people, including Rep. Andrew Halcro, R-Anchorage, felt the projected growth was overly optimistic. Some airline industry officials also have disputed aircraft makers’ claims of healthy industry increases for the next 20 years.Each proposal reviewed Nov. 14 looked at, among other things, noise, economic impacts and development costs, which ranged from $1.2 billion to more than $6 billion.Airport Director Mort Plumb and Mishler say that whatever alternative is chosen, it is simply a plan, not a "commitment."Other alternatives could be looked at, including using the Wasilla, Palmer or Kenai airports to complement Anchorage airport operations, Plumb said.Plumb is expected to announce the airport’s final recommendation Nov. 26 at an Anchorage Chamber of Commerce luncheon. A public meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Nov. 29 at the WestCoast International Inn.Public comments will be accepted through Jan. 17.

ACS wins 5-year state telecommunications contract

State officials have chosen Alaska Communications Systems Group Inc. to provide state government telecommunications services in a five-year, $92.5 million contract.The Department of Administration issued a notice of intent to award the contract to Anchorage-based ACS Nov. 15.The announcement started the clock on a 10-day period in which protests could be filed.The earliest a contract with Anchorage-based ACS could be signed would be Nov. 26, said Administration Department Commissioner Jim Duncan. "We hope to be able to sign a contract as soon as possible," he said.However, sealing the deal could depend on comments filed during the 10-day period, he said.ACS could take over the state telecommunications services as soon as possible after signing the contract or perhaps Jan. 1, Duncan said.State officials said the $18.5 million annual contract will upgrade telecommunications technology including video conferencing improvements."It really does allow the state of Alaska to access state-of-the-art technology much more quickly than we might have otherwise," Duncan said.The new contract aims to streamline state telecommunications services. The state issued a request for proposals in August 2000, and bids were due that December.After issuing the RFP, state and union officials negotiated an agreement signed in late August 2000 to ensure the stability of jobs for state workers affected by the new contract. The 26 employees affected will be able to choose whether to stay in state employment or accept a job offer from ACS, Duncan said.Department of Administration and ACS representatives have met with the state employees, he said. They have 30 days after the contract is signed to choose to accept an ACS job or continue working for the state, Duncan said.The original request estimated 42 state employees would be laid off as a result of the new contract. Also, initial figures listed the contract value at $26 million annually. Duncan said the change results from a decision that the state would continue to provide some services.As a result of a vendor taking on the telecommunications services, Duncan said the state expects to save $12.9 million in operating costs over the next five years.Tom Jensen, director of public affairs for ACS, said Nov. 15, "It would be very inappropriate to talk at this time" during the comment period.Last December representatives from major Alaska telecommunications players AT&T Alascom, Alaska Communications Systems and General Communication Inc. told the Journal they submitted bids.GCI public affairs manager David Morris said company employees were reviewing the contract award documents following the announcement of intent to award the contract to ACS."GCI is disappointed in losing the bid," he said. "We felt we made a very aggressive bid for the service."However, GCI probably won’t see much of an impact without the contract, he said. "The margins were so thin, and it will not have much impact as far as operating costs go," he said.GCI does not plan to lay off any employees in relation to the state contract.Officials from AT&T Alascom were considering their next move."We are disappointed," said Meg Sudduth, the company’s external affairs manager. "We are certainly going to review our options and consider participating in the comment session."ACS plans to provide $29 million in capital investments as part of the contract.Key elements in the contract include improved broadband services to state offices in urban and rural Alaska and reduction of the state’s long-distance calling costs by allowing calls between state offices to be local calls. With final approval of the contract, ACS would provide improved cellular and satellite phone service.The company also would maintain the state’s existing microwave and satellite earth stations, which are used for statewide emergency communications. The state has 231 such stations that also broadcast rural television and public radio, Duncan said.Video conferencing was another major component of the contract, Duncan said.As part of the contract, capital investment dedicated to video conferencing would be installed at 14 sites initially and several others later. The contract proposed to spend $1.4 million in five years on video conferencing services."I would hope that video conference sites would be up and operating by midlegislative session," Duncan said.The largest portion of capital investment, nearly $17.6 million over five years, is scheduled to be dedicated to wired telephony services. In the first year the contract vendor would spend $16.6 million to replace existing phones with new ones capable of handling voice, data and video services. Other improvements would include installing new data cabinets, routers, cabling and switches. The contract also calls for a centralized voice mail system.Other capital investments would provide equipment and labor to expand a paging system to 10 additional sites.

Fairbanks goes with what it's got, promotes cold testing

Come to Fairbanks -- it’s cold.That’s pretty much the marketing pitch Fairbanks International Airport officials use to lure aviation companies to Alaska’s second-largest city for cold weather testing.The truth-in-advertising tactic is effective.Boeing, Airbus, Bombardier, Cessna, Eurocopter, General Electric, Gulfstream, Honeywell, Sikorsky and many other aircraft companies have tested in Fairbanks over the years."We’re trying to do what we can with what we’ve got and that’s ordinarily reliable cold weather,’’ said Dave Carlstrom, director of airport marketing for the Fairbanks Economic Development Corp."It’s our way of making lemons into lemonade popsicles,’’ Carlstrom said.Cold weather testing in Fairbanks dates back to World War II. In 1974, the British and French-made supersonic airliner Concorde underwent cold weather trials.But it wasn’t until the early 1980s after several companies had tested airplanes in Fairbanks following the Concorde that the city began going after business."We finally put two and two together and realized our cold weather was a commodity,’’ Carlstrom said.About every two years, Carlstrom travels to the Paris Air Show, pitching Fairbanks to aircraft manufacturers as a great place for cold weather testing. "I make cold calls, soliciting booth-to-booth,’’ Carlstrom said, adding that the famous French air show is not the ideal place to do business."They are there to sell, not to be sold,’’ Carlstrom said.Fairbanks has cold weather flight testing competition from Sweden, Canada and Russia. But none of those places can offer the amenities and warm hospitality of Fairbanks, Carlstrom said."It’s not hard to find a cold place with an airport,’’ Carlstrom said. "We are the coldest, northernmost outpost in the world that can offer decent hotels and restaurants.’’With an 11,800-foot runway, the Fairbanks airport can host any airplane and the airport is nearly delay-free, Carlstrom said.There’s also plenty of open airspace up north in which to do the testing, he said.Cold weather testing runs from November though March, with December, January and February the peak’ season, Carlstrom said.If an aircraft company needs anything to do its testing, the businesses and residents of Fairbanks are ready to help."We make life easy and convenient for them. We let them know we appreciate their business,’’ Carlstrom said.Jim Turner, a Boeing engineer in Seattle, said Fairbanks’ businesses and residents bend over backwards for his company."People are outstanding there and we get first-class support. There is more cooperation there than about any other place we’ve been,’’ Turner said. Boeing cold weather tested its 777 in Fairbanks a couple of years ago and had about 30 people in town for a few weeks. The company also tests its airplanes in California, Arizona and Florida.Cold weather testing actually adds little to airport revenue, as landing and fuel flow fees are negligible, Carlstrom said.The big impact is to local businesses, he said."What it helps out is our visitor industry,’’ Carlstrom said.Carlstrom estimates that 3,000 hotel rooms are rented each winter for flight crews and aircraft engineers.Cathy Schultz, general manager of Sophie Station Hotel, said cold weather testing does add to her company’s bottom line."It’s one of the stabilizing factors to our revenue,’’ Schultz said. "The colder it gets, the more bookings we get.’’ Key to cold weather testing in Fairbanks is Alaska Aerofuel Inc., which offers everything from refueling and airplane maintenance to rental car and hotel bookings."Anything these guys need, we’ll get it,’’ said Tom Murray, president of Alaska Aerofuel, "even warm clothing.’’Alaska Aerofuel also has a hangar at Fairbanks International Airport and has a special freezer for cold soaking aircraft batteries.When you’re selling cold, the more bitter, the better. But last year’s unseasonably warm temperatures in Fairbanks hindered testing for flight test teams from Italy’s Agusta Helicopters and Germany’s Eurocopter Deutschland GmbH.The Europeans needed temperatures in the minus 40 degree range for ideal testing certification for their respective helicopters, but temperatures spiked to a balmy 40 above in mid-January."It was an embarrassing, bummer year,’’ Murray said. "Just a fluke.’’The average winter temperature is 2 degrees, but the mercury routinely dips to 40 below for a few weeks every year, Murray said.In 1999, the Italians first came to Fairbanks hauling their Agusta Helicopters with a chartered Airbus Beluga. They returned to Italy for Christmas, missing the coldest weather of December. They returned last year, but were met with temperatures some 80 degrees higher than needed for testing.Eurocopter, which spent $500,000 to get two helicopters to Fairbanks for testing last year, may come back this year. But new flight rules in place since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 may not allow foreign carriers and pilots to haul cargo to the United States, Murray said.Eurocopter is looking for a better interpretation of the new rules, Murray said.Murray and Carlstrom say they believe the outlook for cold weather is good for this year.But Randy Acord said the days of truly cold weather in Fairbanks have been gone for at least 30 years."We haven’t had cold weather since 1970,’’ said Acord, who first came to Alaska in 1943 as a test pilot for the U.S. Army Air Corps., and later worked as a commercial pilot for Wein Air Alaska.He flew more than 70 variations of more than 20 fighters from 1943 to 1946 for the military, routinely in temperatures of minus 40 or lower, he said.As a pilot for Wein, he flew 25 days straight in temperatures 50 below or colder, Acord said.The coldest weather he flew in was 71 below in Bettles in 1947, he said.

State expands Point Thomson leases

The state Division of Oil and Gas has approved an expansion of the Point Thomson oil and gas lease unit on the North Slope. The expansion is part of an agreement for the petroleum companies owning the leases to do more exploration and possibly proceed with development of a major gas and gas condensate field.Point Thomson is about 60 miles east of Prudhoe Bay. In 1977 Exxon discovered the gas field, which is now estimated to contain more than 8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 200 million barrels of liquid condensates.ExxonMobil Production Co.’s other major partners are BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc. and Chevron USA Inc. A unit is a group of oil and gas leases that overlie a common petroleum reservoir or prospect. Companies form units to pool their ownership interests and make exploration and development more efficient.Several leases near the unit were due to expire, and the expansion of the unit to include these leases will extend the leases. In approving the extension, the state secured the commitment from the companies to do more drilling.If the companies fail to live up to the commitment, the leases expire and the state takes the acreage back, according to the agreement. The state also increased the royalty in some of the more valuable leases from 16.66 percent of production to 20 percent.Exxon has drilled 14 exploration wells in the area, but lack of a pipeline to move gas off the North Slope stymied development. The reservoir is also under very high pressure, which makes the drilling of production wells and development of surface infrastructure complex and costly.Under the agreement with the state, the companies agreed to drill another exploration well in 2004, begin development drilling by 2006 and complete seven development wells by 2008, according to Mark Meyers, director of the Division of Oil and Gas.A pipeline would be built to connect Point Thomson with the existing Badami field and pipeline 20 miles west.

Around the World November 25, 2001

STATEACS rate hike wins tentative approvalANCHORAGE -- Many local phone customers will pay 24 percent more for basic telephone service and other optional features Nov. 24 under a rate increase tentatively approved by state regulators.Local residential customers signed up with Alaska Communications Systems, the city’s biggest local phone company, will pay the new rates, said Agnes Pitts, spokeswoman for the Regulatory Commission of Alaska. Basic residential rates will jump from $9.70 to $12.05 a month.Rates on optional features such as call waiting will also increase 24 percent for both residential and business phones.ACS asked for the increases last month, arguing that it is losing money. The company also sought a rate increase for business phone service, but regulators have not decided whether to approve it.An ACS competitor in Anchorage, AT&T Alascom, also asked for a local rate increase. But General Communication Inc., which has about a third of the market, plans no rate hike.BP moves exploration management for AlaskaANCHORAGE -- BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc. will no longer manage its more speculative Alaska oil exploration from Anchorage, moving the responsibility for those drilling decisions to Houston.The move affects 30 to 35 BP workers in Alaska, but the company says it will try to find jobs for them in Alaska or elsewhere in BP."I think it’s fair to say we are changing the way we are managing exploration in Alaska," said BP spokesman Ronnie Chappell. "The personnel who develop frontier exploration strategy for Alaska will be in Houston." Frontier exploration is drilling that’s not in or near existing fields.Chappell said BP expects to increase net production from Alaska by 10 percent next year, with much of that coming from the new Northstar field. But the company is drilling just one well on the North Slope this winter, although it is participating in several others being drilled by partner companies.Fish board keeps crab season in JanuaryANCHORAGE -- A proposal to change the opening date of the Bering Sea snow crab fishery from January to April failed Nov. 14, with the Alaska Board of Fisheries voting 0-6 against it.Proponents of the change, among them fishermen from Homer and Unalaska, said the fishery should be moved to April, arguing that weather conditions are less severe, and the opilio have a higher meat content.Others, including the Alaska Crab Coalition, and the Bristol Bay Economic Development Association in Dillingham, urged no change."Pressures to fish in dangerous weather conditions intensify when stocks are low and fishing periods are cut short," said Arni Thomson, executive director of the Seattle-based coalition. But Thomson said changing the opening date could pose an economic risk to the industry.Thomson said major concentrations of market size opilio are currently being found north and west of the Pribilof Islands, an area which in some years is covered by pack ice in mid-March and April, preventing access to fishing grounds.October unemployment near record lowANCHORAGE -- Alaska’s unemployment rate posted a month-to-month increase in October, but was near record lows for the month.Unemployment rose to 5.6 percent last month from 5.2 percent in September. But the October jobless rate is among the lowest for the month in the past two decades, according to a report from the Alaska Department of Labor.Nationwide, unemployment rose 0.3 percent last month to 5 percent. Both the national and state numbers are the first labor market data available since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. State labor economist Dan Robinson said the numbers indicate Alaska’s labor market is holding steady.However, a larger-than-normal increase in claims for unemployment benefits may indicate higher unemployment rates in coming months. Claims for jobless benefits rose 50 percent from September to October to 9,619. That represents a 30 percent increase from the same period last year.Anchorage unemployment was at 3.9 percent; Fairbanks was at 5 percent; Juneau was at 4.9 percent and the Kenai Peninsula jobless rate was at 8.9 percent.NATIONNordstrom beats reduced expectationsSEATTLE -- Shares in Nordstrom Inc. rose nearly 10 percent in after-hours trading after the clothing store chain said Nov. 15 it beat its severely reduced earnings expectations for the third quarter despite a weak retail environment.Still, Nordstrom reported a slight decline in sales compared to the same period last year.For the quarter ended Oct. 31, Nordstrom reported earnings of $10.5 million, or 8 cents per share, compared to a loss of $3.3 million, or 3 cents per share a year earlier.The 2000 losses included one-time charges of $44 million, or 21 cents per share.The company also said it would cut 2,500 jobs because of the weak economy made worse by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.Big pecan crop cuts grower pricesALBANY, Ga. -- A large Southern pecan crop has meant lower prices for growers, but don’t expect any bargains at the grocery store.Experts say the lower prices are unlikely to be passed on to consumers who blend them into holiday sweets for Thanksgiving and Christmas.Agriculture officials predict a U.S. crop of 355 million pounds, nearly 150 million pounds more than last year, when many growers were hurt by drought."Overall the quality looks better," said Larry Willson, vice president of Sunnyland Farms Inc., which has 1,300 acres of pecans near Albany in southwestern Georgia. "But we have a few too many in the pipeline."Richard DeMenna, a pecan specialist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Market News Service in Thomasville, said growers were receiving 75 cents to 85 cents per pound for Desirables, a popular variety, compared to $1.35 to $1.50 per pound last year.WORLDJapanese bank revises view of economyTOKYO -- Japan, fighting an economic slowdown for more than 10 years, got more bad news Nov. 19.Japan’s central bank downgraded its assessment of the economy in a monthly report, citing deep worries about falling exports, income and consumer spending. "Adjustments in economic activity are becoming more severe," the Bank of Japan said. The downgrade marked the sixth time in as many months the bank has cut its view. The Bank of Japan said slipping production has helped push employment and income down, hurting private consumption.-- Compiled from business wire services.

New England's Adopt a Boat brings commercial fishing home to kids

Commercial fishing is often referred to as the invisible industry, because for the most part, it’s conducted far from shore and out of sight. That fosters a lack of awareness and understanding of the importance of the industry, especially by those who don’t reside in coastal communities.To counteract that, educators and fishermen in New England have launched a joint program called Adopt a Boat, which directly links commercial fishing with classrooms.It takes students from kindergarten through high school and pairs them with harvesters to give the kids a more accurate picture of the fishing life. The students get to see fishermen at work by taking day trips on their boats and observing the technical aspects of fishing, boat safety, navigation and conservation techniques.The Adopt-a-Boat program, which is funded by the Northeast Consortium, was created and organized by New England fisherman and some big guns, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sea Grant College Program, Gulf of Maine Aquarium, North Atlantic Marine Alliance and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute.According to the project’s mission statement, the goal is "to use commercial fishing boats as a vehicle for teaching the complexities of marine resource utilization, marine ecology and life as a fisherman to K-12 students. In addition, we will facilitate the presentation of a balanced picture of commercial fishing, helping to build an enlightened citizenry regarding marine resource utilization and its importance to coastal communities."So far, eight vessel captains have joined with 11 schools in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont for the first year of the program. Adopt a Boat includes a variety of vessel types fishing the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank. Each boat is linked with a partnering classroom in the same geographic region as the vessel’s home port. In the second year, the program will expand to include roughly 100 classrooms across New England.Vessels are compensated for any boat time required to fulfill their classroom partnerships, and the captain and crew are paid for meetings, class visits and other shore activities associated with the project.Schools are also compensated for direct costs associated with their Adopt-a-Boat participation and are outfitted with the technologies required to meet the requirements of their partnership, such as digital cameras and Internet access. Partnerships range from daily involvement to occasional or short-term, focused interactions, the details of which are worked out among the teachers, skippers and project staff.One fisherman said he is participating in the program to counter the image that most fishermen spend their free time hanging out in bars or using drugs, as portrayed in the movie, "The Perfect Storm.""There are good family men who take their kids to soccer practice, go to church, have mortgages, are real people," Vincent Balzano told Working Waterfront.Cam McLellan, owner of the 72-foot dragger Adventurer, took four students from environmental studies classes at a New Hampshire school for an overnight trip in September, which ended with a visit to the nation’s first display auction in Portland, Maine. A week later, he visited two classes at the school and answered questions from 60 students.McLellan told the Fish Info Service that he will introduce math students to the challenges of net building and history students to the rich history of commercial fishing in subsequent visits. For more information, see (www.adoptaboat.org).Samples boost salesWhen you believe you have a superior product, one of the most effective marketing tactics is to send samples of your product to buyers. The Norwegian Seafood Export Council is doing just that. According to seafood.com, the NSEC is sending packages of frozen farmed salmon products to about 1,000 food service and distribution companies across the United States. The response rate so far has reportedly been favorable, with 70 responses from the first 200 samples sent out.Kodiak-based free-lance writer Laine Welch can be reached via e-mail at ([email protected]).

Bush, Putin still disagree on U.S. missile defense

CRAWFORD, Texas -- President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin failed to strike a deal Nov. 15 on the issue that has divided them the most, U.S. plans for a national missile defense, even as they hailed a new era of warm U.S-Russian cooperation."We have a difference of opinion," Bush said at the end of three days of casual summitry in Washington and on Bush’s central Texas ranch.Bush said that he and Putin had pledged to reduce nuclear weapons, discussed cooperation in the war on terrorism and in stopping the spread of weapons, and considered "ways our economies can grow together."Bush had hoped to win an agreement from Putin to abandon or modify the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which prohibits national missile defenses. Still, there had been little expectation that the meetings in Washington and on Bush’s ranch would produce such a breakthrough."We shall continue our discussions," Putin said.Russia has opposed any effort to dismantle the 1972 treaty, which it views as a centerpiece for world strategic stability.Bush has characterized the pact as a relic of the Cold War and has said the United States will walk away from it, if necessary. The Pentagon hopes to begin construction on a command and testing center for the system next spring in Alaska.Putin said he and Bush share a common goal to achieve security in the world and to protect against future threats. "What we differ in is the ways and means we perceive that are suitable for reaching the same objective," Putin said.While acknowledging the failure to agree on missile defense, Bush said, "Our disagreements will not divide us as nations."The missile defense subject came up in response to a question from a student."You probably don’t agree with your mother on every issue. You still love her, though, don’t you?" Bush asked."Well, even though we don’t agree on every issue, I still respect him and like him as a person," Bush said of Putin.While Bush didn’t get the deal on the ABM treaty he had sought, Putin also left without the agreement he wanted in writing on arms reductions, despite Bush’s pledge to slash the U.S. arsenal to 1,700 to 2,200 from the current level of about 7,000.

State considers selling royalty gas before pipeline's built

Buyers of state royalty gas from Alaska’s North Slope will face a host of uncertainties. But selling the gas now before a gas pipeline is built could eliminate even more unknowns for would-be bidders, an Alaska official testified Nov. 13.Bonnie Robson, deputy director of the Alaska Division of Oil and Gas, told members of the Alaska Oil and Gas Development Advisory Board that the state is leaning toward requiring royalty gas buyers to agree to a base price for possible seven- to 25-year terms and to pay a bonus of $1 per thousand cubic feet per day, as well as an additional consideration as a one-time premium to sway the state in competitive bidding.Robson said Alaska officials view royalty-in-kind gas sales as a win for all parties. Buyers would gain the ability to bid for pipeline capacity during an open season that Alaska gas producers could hold as early as March or April. Alaska would develop a new revenue source, while encouraging new gas exploration.Even the three existing North Slope producers -- ExxonMobil Production Co., BP and Phillips Alaska Inc. -- would gain from such a sale. That’s because pipeline capacity which would have been used for state royalty gas would instead be freed up for the producers to monetize their own gas reserves at a faster rate in the early years of the project, Robson said.

Business Profile: Downtown Legal Copies LLC

Name of the company: Downtown Legal Copies LLCEstablished: 1995Location: 320 E. Fireweed Lane, AnchorageTelephone: 907-277-8770Web site: www.downtownlegal.comMajor focus of services: Downtown Legal Copies LLC provides document imaging services which include scanning, graphic design, copying, microfilm and microfiche copying and audio/video duplication. Services help attorneys prepare for trial. For example, the company can scan a box full of documents which will be saved to a database, and attorneys can search the database by key words.History of the company: Alaskan Doug Lowry founded the business in August 1995 with his father-in-law Jim Smith. Lowry previously had worked for ARCO Alaska Inc.’s records management department until the department was cut. The two men began operations with two black and white copiers.Next the partnership was organized into a limited liability company. Eventually, Lowry bought out the other partners, and he owns the business with his wife.Lowry also operates iCopy, which produces wide- format color documents, booklets, newsletters, business cards, fliers and outdoor graphics. The business is geared toward architects, engineers, advertising agencies and design firms.Downtown Legal Copies operates two locations in Anchorage and one in Juneau. Downtown Legal Copies and iCopy employ 26 people including graphic designers, scanning technicians, paralegals and legal assistants.The businesses handle work for state government as well as fulfill contracts with Alaska Regional Hospital and Providence Alaska Medical Center to copy medical records.Top accomplishment of the company: "One of our accomplishments has been to be able to survive in a competitive market, keeping key employees," Lowry said. The business has grown in total number of employees and has recorded sales growth each year, he said.One major project for the firm was producing documents for the BP-Atlantic Richfield acquisition. In four months Downtown Legal Copies and 110 employees at the time worked round the clock to produce more than 4 million pages of records, Lowry recalled.Major player: Doug Lowry, managing partner, Downtown Legal Copies.Lowry has logged 25 years in the printing business, first helping out at his father’s print shops in Texas and serving as an apprentice printer. Lowry was recruited by Ridgeway’s printing services firm where he served as copy area manager. He was next recruited by ARCO Alaska before starting his own company.-- Nancy Pounds

Investment losses trim profits at Bristol Bay

Bristol Bay Native Corp. may see its net profit take a hit this year because of the lagging stock market, but the good news is that the Alaska Native regional corporation’s operating companies are doing well. BBNC, the regional corporation for the Bristol Bay area of Southwest Alaska, has about $84 million invested.Like most portfolios, the corporations saw major declines in the value of its investments this summer.Things have come back a bit since, and there are still several months left in the corporation’s financial year, but the outlook overall is for a slim profit, according to Tom Hawkins, BBNC’s chief operating officer.However, a strategy of increasing its allocation of assets into operating companies through acquisitions appears to be paying off. All of BBNC’s operating subsidiaries are showing increasing revenues and profits, Hawkins said.In its 2001 financial year, which ended March 31, BBNC earned $3.26 million with its operating companies, a substantial gain from the $798,000 in operating net earnings the previous year. The outlook for the current year is for profits of operating companies to climb further, according to corporation officials.The regional corporation now has more than a third of its assets in operating companies, Hawkins said, and the goal is to increase the percentage to 50 percent, with the other 50 percent of assets in the investment portfolio.One cloud on BBNC’s horizon has been dissipated. A $2.3 million investment in Alaska Marketplace, a failed venture into retail grocery stores, has been written off. This was largely responsible for a dip in BBNC’s net profit last year.Associated Grocers believes Safeway Stores violated some covenants of its agreement to sell former Safeway stores in Alaska to Alaska Marketplace. An arbitration process on a claim against Safeway is now under way.Meanwhile, BBNC’s newest acquisition is Vista Technologies Inc., a Huntsville, Ala. firm that provides highly technical engineering and environmental services to federal agencies, including nuclear safety and molecular biology.The 12-year-old firm adds 250 employees and about $21 million in annual revenues to BBNC’s family of companies. Vista Technologies was merged into SpecPro, another BBNC company that provides environmental services.Bristol Environmental Services, another BBNC operating company, is having a good year, Hawkins said, and may reach $28 million in revenues in the current financial year. The company has just completed a $12 million environmental cleanup job on the Aleutian island of Amchitka, site of underground nuclear tests in the 1960s.Bristol is continuing to work on jobs at Adak, the closed naval air station, and has jobs with the Alaska Air National Guard. Significantly, the company has successfully expanded its services into construction management and engineering with a contract to support Bureau of Indian Affairs community infrastructure programs, Hawkins said.The company has also just signed an agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to do cleanup around fuel tanks on Native American land in the Lower 48, he said. This contract calls for activity of up to $15 million over five years, but the work is determined on a year-to-year basis.CCI, another environmental services company, offers spill response services, installation of spill-prevention liners and tank cleanout service. About half of CCI’s work is on the North Slope with the remaining work in other parts of the state. The company has recently been working on a U.S. Coast Guard project. CCI reported a $1.14 million profit in the 2001 financial year and expects about $7 million per year in revenues in the current year.Kakivik, another subsidiary, is an oil field services company specializing in corrosion control and inspection. Kakivik continues to work on North Slope contracts, mostly with Phillips Alaska, Inc. in the Kuparuk River and Alpine fields.While highly trained professionals are the core of Kakivik’s staff, the company also hires entry-level helpers. This has opened opportunities for BBNS shareholders to work and be trained in a specialized, highly paid field, Hawkins said. Two other BBNC companies, both small, are BBKP, an architectural services joint venture, and BBCS, an accounting and administrative services firm that assists Native village corporations in the Bristol Bay area with administration.In the Seattle area, BBNC operates a fuel services company called PetroCard, which operates automated vehicle fueling stations.The company sells about 80 million gallons a year, mostly to small and medium-size truck fleet operators, earning about $130 million in revenues. PetroCard brought a $2.4 million profit to BBNC in the 2001 financial year.A challenge now faced by PetroCard is a general economic slowdown in the Pacific Northwest economy, but the company is weathering this better than competitors, Hawkins noted.The synergy between most of these subsidiaries is that they are in various related technical, environmental and construction management fields. Most are 8-A minority companies, which confers benefits in bidding for federal contracts.PetroCard is not a minority company because there is no particular advantage in its business of fuel sales.The diversification into several related fields is healthy, Hawkins said. In earlier years BBNC had one big operating subsidiary, the Hilton hotel in Anchorage, which was vulnerable to uncontrollable shifts in tourism and general business travel cycles. BBNC sold the hotel to Hilton chain for a profit and reinvested in other companies.

Alaska, Canada mining firms feel the pinch of low prices

WHITEHORSE, Yukon -- Low prices for minerals have led to a big drop in mine production and exploration spending in both Alaska and the Yukon this year, according to geologists.David Szumigala, senior minerals geologist for Alaska, told the Whitehorse Star that the state is seeing a major reduction in exploration activity and the value of ore produced.The total value generated by Alaska’s mining industry is expected to plunge by roughly 22 per cent, from $1.28 billion last year to about $1 billion this year, he said.Exploration spending is expected to total $20 million or so, down from $35 million last year, Szumigala estimated.Placer miners in the state produced 45,000 ounces of gold last year, he said."If we hit 40,000 this year, we will be lucky."Overall output is up, but increases in tonnage have been smothered by fading metal prices.Cominco’s Red Dog lead-zinc mine near Kotzebue, for instance, has increased production by about 25 per cent, but the overall value of that mine’s production value has fallen, he said."All metals are down," he said. "The base metals -- zinc, lead, gold -- the ones affecting the bottom line."The Yukon Territory is having the same experience.Hard rock geologist Mike Burke of the Yukon Geology Program said exploration expenditures for this year will be in the area of $7.2 million (Canadian), down from $8.8 million last year.The figures show a huge decline since 1996, when exploration in the Yukon hit a record $54 million (Canadian), followed by $35 million in 1997 and $15 million in 1998.The Brewery Creek gold mine was the only producing hard rock mine in 2001. Operations were suspended there after production of 10,811 ounces in the first six months, Burke said.The number of placer mines in the Yukon dropped to 124, from 140 last year and 171 in 1999, placer geologist William LeBarge said."With the current trend, we are predicting around 69,000 (gold) ounces produced," LeBarge said. "It is likely to be the lowest production since 1979."The total value of gold from placer operations is expected to total $22 million (Canadian) for 2001, down from $25.3 million last year.The largest downturn in activity, he said, was south of Dawson City in the Indian River drainage, the biggest producing region for placer gold in the territory.Last year, placer operations in the Indian River area produced 37,704 ounces, but that figure is expected to drop by nearly 10,000 ounces, he said.Miners in the Klondike River drainage increased production this year from 13,168 ounces to roughly 16,394 ounces. There was also increased production in the lower Stewart River and the Kluane area.Overall, however, LaBerge predicts a 10 percent drop in the amount of placer gold mined this year. He attributes much of the downturn to lower gold prices and higher fuel prices.

Pact clears pipeline liability barrier, spurs proposal

The Alaska Highway natural gas pipeline project took a step forward Nov. 16 with the signing of a memorandum of understanding between six major American energy firms and three Canadian firms.The companies are proceeding immediately with development of a proposal for transporting Alaska natural gas to markets. They expect to present a proposal to the Alaska North Slope producers by the end of this year. Once agreement is reached with the producers, the group’s goal is to deliver Alaska gas to Canada and the Lower 48 by 2008.Alaska Gov. Tony Knowles hailed the agreement as "great news." In a press release, Knowles said the agreement eliminates a major impediment to the project, the so-called accrued liability potentially owed to the original partners of the Northwest Pipeline project, which was given rights to build a gas line along the Alaska Highway 20 years ago."Now that that’s been resolved, it’s time the producers come to the table with pipeline companies, the state of Alaska and other players to get this project under way," Knowles said."All the ... signatories were involved in developing the Alaska Highway project at one point," said Dennis McConaghy, co-chief executive of Foothills Pipe Lines Ltd. of Calgary. "Through agreement, the companies are demonstrating their intent to renew their commitment to the commercialization of vital natural gas infrastructure from the Alaska North Slope to Canada and the Lower 48."The six U.S. companies include subsidiaries of Williams, Duke Energy, Sempra Energy International, Enron, PG&E Corp. and El Paso Corp. The three Canadian companies, TransCanada PipeLines, Westcoast Energy and Foothills, have remained active partners in the Alaska Natural Gas Transportation System from its inception.

Cars come to Fairbanks for cold

Every winter, several automobile manufacturers send teams of engineers and test cars to Fairbanks in search of frigid temperatures and frozen roads.Without fail, they find them.Over the last 20 years or so, Fairbanks has arguably become the premier cold weather proving ground in the world. Most German manufacturers -- Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, BMW, Audi and Volkswagen -- test their vehicles in Fairbanks, as do some Japanese and domestic makers like Mazda and Ford.Fairbanks residents also get treated to some cool cars that never reach production.Cold weather testing is a clandestine operation, as automobiles are often camouflaged with contour-concealing panels to guard against the peering eyes of competitors and the automotive media."One of the things (automakers) really value is secrecy,’’ said Randy Bonjour, president of A&B Auto Inc., a Mercedes-Benz, Mazda and Suzuki dealership.Bonjour said Mercedes-Benz has been testing its cars in Fairbanks since at least the mid-1980s when he opened his dealership. In the summer, Mercedes-Benz tests its cars in the searing heat of Nevada’s Death Valley, the lowest elevation in the United States and one of the country’s hottest regions.But they come to Fairbanks for bone-chilling cold."The Germans are exposed to cold weather in Europe, but they don’t like the media,’’ Bonjour said. "The European paparazzi won’t follow them to Fairbanks. They value that.’’Mercedes engineers travel in small groups and stay in town for a few days to a couple of weeks, Bonjour said.He is rarely notified when a carmaker is coming to Fairbanks, but when they do, Bonjour’s dealership is open to them."They have a set of keys to the shop and they come in and download all their data,’’ Bonjour said.Cars are often outfitted with special testing equipment that monitors everything from tires to doorjamb tolerances.Not only does it get cold -- sometimes as low as minus 50 -- but Fairbanks has a wide variety of roads to negotiate, and engineers can drive far as Prudhoe Bay or Canada."I don’t know if they drive the roads fast, but let’s assume they do,’’ Bonjour said.Cars generally are shipped by air freighters from Europe to Fairbanks and sometimes to Anchorage.Rick Morrison, owner of EERO Volkswagen & Saturn of Anchorage, said he too is rarely notified when a automaker is coming to town.Morrison, who also owns dealerships for Porsche, Audi and Isuzu in Anchorage, said publicity is something auto manufactures are not looking for when testing cars.The reason, he said, is that if someone sees one of the prototype cars, they may hold off on buying a current model."They’re afraid it may hurt sales,’’ Morrison said. "People may wait for something that may never get produced.’’Morrison said that once a pre-production car was hidden on a back lot, but the secret didn’t last long."Somebody sneaked a photo and it ended up in one of the car magazines,’’ he said.Rick Thayer, EERO service manager, said he looks forward to meeting with all the automotive engineers, many of whom have become his friends over the years."It’s a real interesting part of the job,’’ said Thayer, who often gives feedback to the automakers. "We do have a lot of information on cold weather issues,’’ Thayer said.The harsh roads and teeth-numbing temperatures in Alaska tax engines, brakes and electronic, cooling and heating systems, said Lance Gilbertson, service manager for Fairbanks Nissan, Volkswagen, Daewoo and RV Center.Gilbertson said he’s seen engineers tear cars completely apart trying to track down a cold weather problem.The engineers rarely ask for help when it comes to working on a car; what they do ask for are maps and directions."We have a wide array of roads they find suitable,’’ Gilbertson said.Gilbertson said he’s never been allowed to drive a pre-production car, but manufacturers often give him things like T-shirts and key-fobs for helping out.While most tests prove successful in Alaska, sometimes there are some glitches.Bonjour said Mazda once purchased several competitors’ cars to compare them to its models. A team of engineers drove the vehicles to Prudhoe Bay where temperatures were minus 65. The cars had to be left running overnight, for fear they’d never restart. One of the competitor’s cars overheated, caught fire and burned."So much for that test,’’ Bonjour said.Another time, one of Bonjour’s employees was raising a Mercedes on a car hoist, but didn’t center the car well. The lift split the sidewall of a prototype tire that cost thousands of dollars to make and could not be replaced.

State closes air opacity cases, assesses half million in fines

JUNEAU -- The state will collect nearly half a million dollars from cruise lines for violations of the air opacity standard in Southeast in 2000 and 2001.As the state-led Alaska Cruise Ship Initiative headed into what was billed as its final meeting Nov. 15, government officials announced they have concluded all enforcement actions on air opacity violations from last year and most from this year.Environmental Conservation Commissioner Michele Brown also praised cruise companies for responding to public pressure for cleaner emissions and wastewater discharges, noting a variety of steps that have been taken in upgrading equipment, researching new technologies and changing procedures.Brown said in a news release, "DEC worked with the Department of Law to ensure a firm and consistent enforcement policy that had clear consequences for violating standards but also recognized the leadership shown and investments made by the cruise lines, especially Princess and Crystal, to improve performance. The cruise lines have made considerable progress toward much cleaner air."There hasn’t been any question of violating federal health standards through smokestack emissions. Testing in downtown Juneau in 2000 and 2001 showed ambient air quality well below the maximum allowable levels for sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and fine particulates.Opacity, rather, is mostly an aesthetic standard. Federal and state law generally prohibit smokestack emissions that obscure more than 20 percent of the visible background, with exceptions made for maneuvering, docking and starting up engines.This year, the state’s contractor took 238 opacity readings from early May through late August, with 229 of those in Juneau, eight in Skagway and one in Haines. The state considered levying penalties for 19 violations, down from 30 apparent violations in 2000.The largest fines are: Holland America, $165,000 for six violations in 2000, of which $55,000 was suspended, and $27,500 for one violation this year, also suspended. The suspended penalties are contingent upon no violations by the Veendam in 2002. State officials noted that the company’s addition of an engineer improved compliance. Princess Cruises, $55,000 for two violations in 2000, and a suspended $55,000 penalty for two violations this year, contingent upon no violations by the Regal Princess next year. Princess improved compliance significantly once its shore-side power project was completed, voluntarily and at the company’s expense. Crystal Cruises, $55,000 for two violations in 2000, and $55,000 for two in 2001, of which $27,000 is suspended contingent upon a violation-free season in 2002. State officials praised Crystal for switching to lighter, more expensive fuels without prompting from the government.Other companies penalized were Celebrity Cruises, World Explorer, Carnival Cruise Line and Norwegian Cruise Line.The total settlements are $577,500, of which $402,500 is in cash."It is my hope that the suspended fines will encourage these cruise lines to keep improving the environmental compliance of their ships," said Attorney General Bruce Botelho.Five apparent opacity violations from this year still are being discussed by state officials and cruise lines, according to DEC.The Cruise Ship Initiative, launched by DEC in late 1999, brought together federal and state regulators, industry executives and citizen watchdogs in a voluntary program to measure and assess waste streams. Wastewater testing done last year, showing high levels of fecal coliform bacteria, led to passage this June of a groundbreaking state law regulating the industry.

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