Saltwater guides restricted from fishing with clients

KENAI — The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has issued an emergency order prohibiting saltwater sportfishing guides and their crews from retaining fish while clients are on board their vessels for the 2007 season.The emergency order is effective from May 1 through Dec. 31 in Cook Inlet and Prince William Sound. The order also requires the number of lines being fished not to exceed the number of paying clients on board a vessel engaged in guided saltwater sportfishing.A similar provision will be in effect for Southeast Alaska waters.Doug Vincent-Lang, a special assistant with Fish and Game who focuses on sport fish issues, said the action was taken not in response to the International Pacific Halibut Commission’s recent action limiting sport anglers to one halibut during part of the season, but in response to actions taken by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council when it established Guideline Harvest Levels for sport- and commercial-caught halibut several years ago.“Although the commission did do something, we had told the council we were going to do this before the IPHC took their action,” Vincent-Lang said.Vincent-Lang said halibut caught by charter captains and deckhands accounts for about 10 percent of the sport harvest.“It will save about half a million pounds of halibut,” Vincent-Lang said.In Area 3A, which includes Southcentral waters from Cook Inlet and Shelikof Strait to just south of the Copper River Delta, the halibut 2005 sport harvest exceeded the Guideline Harvest Level of 3.65 million pounds by 1 percent. Preliminary 2006 estimates indicate nearly 3.95 million pounds were caught, about 9 percent over the Guideline Harvest Level.Fish and Game anticipates the 2007 harvest to exceed the limit as well.The emergency order applies to all species of fish, not just halibut. Vincent-Lang said Fish and Game issued the emergency order based on authority granted to the department by the state Board of Fish to regulate harvests within established guidelines.When Guideline Harvest Levels were first developed, Vincent-Lang said charter operators wanted management tools that wouldn’t impact their business. Prohibiting captains and crews from fishing has the smallest impact on the charter industry because it doesn’t limit what their paying clients can catch.“It places limits on guides but ensures anglers still have the opportunity to fish. It’s the least disruptive of the different tools we’ve heard about,” Vincent-Lang said.

Low-cost Chinese labor could spur Yukon chum fishery

 "If you can ship it out and process it with lower-cost Chinese labor, it may work for the people catching the fish." - Bob Poe, president and CEO of AEDC   Business talks between the Anchorage Economic Development Corp. and a private logistics firm in Beijing could net new markets for wild Alaska chum salmon and more.For starters, says Bob Poe, president and chief executive officer of AEDC, the Li Qiao Free Trade Zone in Beijing offers a great opportunity to have Chinese labor process a large volume of wild Alaskan chum salmon to produce once-frozen fillets for sale in China and many other markets.Poe said the once-frozen chums would command a higher market price than chums that are frozen, then filleted in the Seattle area and refroze.“Right now, a lot of the Yukon River chum are just swimming up the river, and there is no point in catching them because there is no processing capacity,” he said. “If you can ship it out and process it with lower-cost Chinese labor, it may work for the people catching the fish.”Poe spoke on the heels of a newly signed memorandum of understanding between the AEDC and Beijing Liqiao Bonded Logistics Development Corp. The MOU was signed earlier in January in Beijing. Accompanying Poe on the trip were Curt Stoner of Totem Ocean Trailer Express, Dave Karp of Northern Air Cargo, Jac Gadwill of Kwik’pak Fisheries LLC, and Randy and Edna Crawford of Boreal Fisheries. Kwik’pak and Boreal Fisheries process Yukon River kings and chums.“We would like to sell our Yukon chums to China,” said Randy Crawford, whose company has been buying fish from Yukon River harvesters in St. Marys for more than 30 years. “We think there is a market there. Right now most of their salmon is farmed salmon from Norway.“Right now it is a concept,” Crawford said. “We haven’t signed anything, but we want to see our local (St. Marys) economy survive. These people don’t have the option of other employment. And this is wonderful fish. The world should be eating this instead of farmed salmon.”Crawford said there were about 7 million pounds of Yukon chums locals could have harvested and his company could have purchased in 2006, except that they had no market for them, because they were competing again lower-priced hatchery and other Alaskan chums. “If we can save some costs somewhere, we will have jobs in rural Alaska we didn’t have before — fishing, handling, air freight jobs and people who ice and truck the fish to the airport,” he said.Poe said he felt the memorandum of understanding would open new market opportunities for Alaska seafood and logistics services in Beijing and increase business at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport and the Port of Anchorage.The Li Qiao Free Trade Zone, which is owned by the Beijing development firm, is located about 2 1/2 miles from the Beijing Capital International Airport. It is the first privately owned free trade zone in the People’s Republic of China. The free trade zone currently serves as a manufacturing and warehousing area for major U.S. and Chinese corporations, including computer companies Apple and Lenovo. The same free trade zone houses the central information technology center that monitors every port in China for customs officials. A new and much larger Beijing Capital International Airport is under construction nearby.Poe acknowledged the memorandum of understanding is a first step only.“It’s still an MOU,” he said. “Next comes a delegation of Chinese representatives to Anchorage, to see the airport and cargo facilities.”If everything goes well, Poe said he hopes to see a test run of the fish to Beijing’s free trade zone some time this year. “The idea makes a good deal of sense,” he said. “Yes, there are many details to work out.”Poe won’t be the one working out those details, however. He will be leaving the AEDC on April 1 to pursue what he described as several personal projects.Poe said in a written statement in January that he plans to take on consulting projects and intends to complete a book about Alaska’s economic history. Before working at AEDC, Poe served as the executive director of the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority and, simultaneously, the executive director of the Alaska Energy Authority.Margaret Bauman can be reached at [email protected]

3rd civil engineer squadron named best in Air Force

The 3rd Civil Engineer Squadron was given the 2006 Maj. Gen. Robert H. Curtin Large Civil Engineer Unit award, the top Air Force honor.Lt. Col. James Hodges, commander of the squadron, said some of the reasons the squadron earned this award included work to plan and build facilities for the Air Force’s newest aircraft and implement Base Realignment and Closure-joint organizations. The 3rd led the Air Force’s implementation of America’s new system for disaster recovery, provided more than 2,000 on-base housing units, held an unsurpassed environmental and cleanup program, and single-handedly met the Air Force’s annual goal for reducing energy consumption,The squadron did it all while deploying more than 100 members across the globe in support of the Global War on Terror.The squadron also received the highest possible rating by the Air Force Center for Environmental Excellence for the privatized housing program.

Permanent fund earns nearly 10 percent through 2nd quarter

The Alaska Permanent Fund returned 5.6 percent for the second quarter of the fiscal year, according to unaudited figures released Jan. 22. The fund’s total value also crossed the $37 billion mark for the first time in January.The second-quarter earnings brings the return for the fiscal year-to-date to 9.6 percent, the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. said in a statement. The fund grew by $2.1 billion in the quarter, ending Dec. 31 with an unaudited value of $36.4 billion, the corporation said.The stock rally that started mid-year continued through the second fiscal quarter, and the fund’s stock portfolios contributed the most to the total return. Non-domestic stocks were the strongest asset class in the fund, returning 11.4 percent, and domestic stocks returned 6.9 percent, according to the corporation.“Continued economic expansion brought better than expected growth in the European markets. When combined with strong returns from emerging markets, non-domestic stocks almost doubled the return on domestic stocks,” corporation president Mike Burns said.“A number of factors may have created the economic environment that allowed for the domestic side of the rally. The Federal Reserve held firm on short-term rates, and declining oil prices and a mild start to the winter may all have eased inflation fears,” he said.“In this pleasant but unusual environment, all of the fund’s asset classes had positive returns for the quarter, including real estate, returning 4.2 percent for the period. Domestic and non-domestic bonds returned 1.3 percent and 1.2 percent, respectively. Absolute return gained 4.7 percent,” Burns said.The fund has earned $1.9 billion in statutory net income in the first half of fiscal 2007. The permanent fund dividend, issued to all Alaskans, is calculated using an average of statutory net income over five years, and the value from fiscal 2002 that falls out of this year’s calculation is $257 million. As a result, at this time dividends are expected to be higher this fall.The fund’s significant growth in the second fiscal quarter helped it reach a new milestone in January. The total unaudited value of the Permanent Fund grew past $37 billion for the first time Jan. 12, and hit a record high of $37.28 billion on Jan. 24.

Bill would restore payment formula from federal lands

Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, is co-sponsoring the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Reauthorization Act of 2007, legislation that would restore funding for the critical “county payments” law for seven years.Alaska received approximately $9.3 million under the act last year, before it expired in September 2006. Stevens introduced the bill Jan. 25, along with Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and a bipartisan group of West Coast senators. The action would reauthorize the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act of 2000.The act established a six-year payment formula for counties that receive revenue-sharing payments for lands owned by the U.S. Forest Service and federal Bureau of Land Management. The formula established a stable source of revenue that was used for education, roads, and county services in rural areas.

Canadian mine scraps road project in favor of barges

JUNEAU — A hoverbarge on the Taku River?“Nobody really knows what to think about it,” said Jim Becker, who serves as president of both the Juneau Chamber of Commerce and the Southeast Alaska Gillnetters Association.Becker’s sentiment echoed that of many others in Juneau Jan. 30, a day after a Canadian mining company announced that it wants to employ a new type of barge to transport equipment and supplies on the Taku River, instead of using a road for mine access.Known as an “air cushion barge” or “hoverbarge,” the craft would operate year-round to and from the proposed Tulsequah Chief mine in British Columbia, according to a plan released by the company, Redcorp Ventures Ltd.The multi-metal mine is 40 miles southeast of Juneau.The company said in a press release that it no longer wants to build a 100-mile road to access the Tulsequah Chief from Canada. It suggested the hoverbarge idea instead.Alaska’s role in reviewing the plan remained unclear.“I wish I had more of a definitive answer,” said Tom Crafford, the large mine project coordinator at the state Department of Natural Resources.“It really doesn’t involve the installation of any facilities in Alaska. That could serve to limit the permitting hook that we have into the project,” he said.“Certainly one area that is of possibility is with spill contingency plans,” he said. Certain indicators — such as weight — automatically trigger the need for a plan.Regardless of whether it has any permitting authority, the state still will play an advisory role.“They are talking about revising the environmental assessment for the project. I would expect that the state would have a voice in reviewing the proposed modifications. The state’s role in that process is really one where we get to comment, and that is basically all,” Crafford said.Terry Chandler, Redcorp’s president and chief executive officer, said that only limited review for the hoverbarge proposal could be done until the plan was announced publicly.“I know there is a community of interest in Juneau. We are going to make them aware of what we are talking about here,” he said. The company began exploring the possibility of using the vessels in September. It now must meet with Canadian and Alaskan officials to determine what kind of environmental review and permitting will be required.Right now, however, there are more questions than answers.Becker wondered how susceptible to spills the barges might be, particularly considering the river’s notoriously strong winds.“It is pretty rough water. It could be horribly, horribly rough water at times,” Becker said.Kathy Hansen, the statewide chair of United Fishermen of Alaska, a commercial fishermen advocacy group, was curious to learn how the mining company’s barges would be able to maneuver through the dozens of fishermen.“My first thoughts were: How are you going to be operating these air cushion barges? You’ll have up to a hundred boats up there fishing in the Taku (and) Stephens Passage. How are they going to weave in and out of the nets?” she said.Before the river discharges into Stephens Passage, it pools in the large Taku Inlet where Juneau gillnetters set their nets for sockeye salmon.The Taku originates in Canada but cuts through the Coastal Range in Southeast Alaska before discharging into the passage. Several isolated cabins and a lodge dot the river corridor.“I can expect that there will be concerns on behalf of the people who have properties on the Taku Inlet,” Crafford said.On the plus side, the plan could mean more of an economic boom for Juneau because its port would be used as a loading facility.“Before the mining operation, (Redcorp) said there really wasn’t any viable economic benefit to Juneau. But we knew full well that they would come into Juneau to buy supplies. Now, if they are going to have a loading operation, there will be more,” Becker said.The press release said one barge per day was expected to carry a maximum of 450 tons of mineral concentrate.There is also the potential that other mining companies exploring the Taku River watershed could see this technology and want to use it as well.“That has always been the question. If one goes in, how many others will pop up?” Becker said.“This would certainly make it more beneficial to other operations. We don’t know the status of all the rest of them. We’ve got them identified,” Becker said.The barges would not necessarily be a good thing if there is increased traffic affecting fish habitat, he said.Another benefit of employing the barges, however, would be the lack of the need for the road.“Generally speaking that would be regarded by most people as a positive environmental feature that the 160 kilometers of road will not be constructed,” Crafford said.It also saves the company considerable money. Using hoverbarges will save Redcorp $39.4 million in capital costs, it said.Chris Zimmer of the Transboundary Watershed Alliance said he worried that the mine only recently began considering the hoverbarge proposal and was concerned about the novelty of the idea.“It doesn’t appear to have been used on any other river than Taku (in Southeast Alaska),” he said.“I don’t think the company has thought this through. Right now the Canadians are really just winging this, and I don’t think it is fair for Alaska to just have to sit back and watch them,” Zimmer said.Crafford said that “what I need to do is huddle up with the other agencies and have a meeting and kind of pick people’s brains as to what the permitting requirements would be on the state side.”Other departments would likely include the Department of Environmental Conservation and Fish and Game.“It is kind of a novel proposal. It is not something that we have seen before,” he said.

Bill would tap unused oil tax credits to fund retirement shortfall

KENAI — Unused oil profits tax credits could be a source of revenue to help the state of Alaska reduce the unfunded liability to its public employee and teacher retirement systems.A measure sponsored by Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, and Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Fairbanks, would enable the trustees of the Alaska Retirement Management Board to buy what are called “transferable tax credit certificates” from oil and gas producers and resell them to the Alaska Department of Revenue.The ARM Board would buy the unused credits at 92 percent of their face value. The state, through the Department of Revenue, would buy them from the ARM Board at 100 percent face value, thus ensuring the ARM Board an 8 percent profit.That money would then be applied to the state’s unfunded liability to the Public Employee Retirement System and the Teachers Retirement System. A recent estimate put the unfunded liability owed to those programs at more than $8.6 billion and growing.Just how much the ARM Board might derive annually if House Bill 48 becomes law cannot be determined because it would depend on many factors, including how many such credits would be available to purchase.Under the Petroleum Profits Tax law passed last year, transferable tax credits amount to a possible direct refund of up to $25 million per company each year, Seaton said. Companies only become eligible when they generate investment credit, but sustain a loss — such as exploration companies before production begins, Seaton said.Beyond the $25 million, the PPT law allows unused tax credits to be purchased by other companies to offset their own PPT liability up to an annual limit of 20 percent.Allowing the ARM Board to purchase unused credits at 92 percent of their value would also help explorers and small producers by creating a floor in the price of such credits.“The explorers and small producers are concerned about the discount rate that they may be forced to accept for the transfer since the credits can only be applied to the PPT liability and there are few companies large enough (that is, with enough tax liability under the PPT) to utilize the credits,” Seaton said in a recent newsletter. “In the past, 90 percent has been paid for similar credits, although with a limited pool of users, this rate could fall to 70 percent or 80 percent.”The 92 percent floor set by HB 48 would help ensure an equitable return for companies actually making investment in exploration, while reducing the state’s PERS/TRS unfunded liability, Seaton said.The law has a specific caveat, however.The ARM Board would be allowed to sell transferable tax credits to the Department of Revenue only if the revenue commissioner determined that the state’s economic conditions were acceptable for such a purchase.Rep. Kelly said the measure would give the ARM Board one more tool to address the unfunded liability, now pushing $10 billion, facing the public employee retirement program.

Anchorage named among best communities for youth

America’s Promise — The Alliance for Youth said the municipality of Anchorage is a winner of a national competition to identify the 100 Best Communities for Young People. It is the second time in three years Anchorage has been selected.In partnership with Capital One, the 100 Best competition honors communities — ranging from small towns to urban neighborhoods — for their commitment to provide healthy, safe and caring environments for young people. Hundreds of communities in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands took part in the competition.The municipality of Anchorage is one of the 100 Best Communities for Young People, in part, because of before- and after-school programs that provide youth with academic tutoring. Big Brothers Big Sisters and the Anchorage School District worked together to provide the “School-based Mentors Program,” which identifies mentors who spend one hour each week with a child. Community learning centers provide after-school enrichment classes for K-8 students at 13 public school facilities.Boys and Girls Clubs, Campfire, Girl Scouts, Alaska Native Heritage Center and Cook Inlet Tribal Center are a few that provide quality programs that support and provide youth with opportunities to succeed.See a complete list of winners at www.americaspromise.org. 100 Best Communities for Young People was first launched in 2005.The 2007 100 Best Communities for Young People competition opened in September 2006. Anchorage and the other winners applied for the honor and were chosen by a panel of civic, business and nonprofit leaders, including United Way of America President Brian Gallagher, U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue, NBC News Washington Bureau Chief and Moderator of Meet the Press Tim Russert, CEOs for Cities’ President and CEO Carol Coleta, and former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb.Founded by retired Gen. Colin Powell, the America’s Promise Alliance is the nation’s largest private-public partnership committed to ensuring that every child receives the five fundamental resources essential for success.

Photo: Hall of famer

    Shari Hart, director of marketing and development for the Alaskan Aviation Heritage Museum, left, and Bob Merrill Maclean display his book “Cold Flying” about his aviator father Russel Merrill. The museum inducted Merrill into its Aviation Hall of Fame for 2007 at its annual fundraiser Jan. 25 at the Sheraton Hotel in Anchorage.The museum raised $12,000 from a silent and live auction that was attended by 150 people. The funds will be used to remodel two Lake Hood hangars for upcoming new exhibits — Alaska Airlines 75th anniversary and a new military Aleutian campaign exhibit.

Passengers and cargo to experience new ride with Alaska

 The passenger seating area can be seen behind the cargo hold of one of Alaska Airlines’ new 737-400 combination aircraft. PHOTOS Courtesy of Alaska Airlines   It’s the dawn of a new day for air freight in Alaska.Alaska Airlines were to take delivery of two of its first-of-a-kind Boeing 737-400s that carry both cargo and passengers, just as it brought its Web-based cargo reservations system online Feb. 1.“This is really exciting for us here at Alaska Airlines,” said Matt Yerbic, director of cargo for Alaska Airlines. “We have a one-of-a-kind aircraft, and now we can really fly these markets as no one else can.”The planes are scheduled on the Fairbanks, Deadhorse, Barrow routes first, and then the Kotzebue, Nome and Bethel routes, according to Alaska officials.Alaska Airlines has invested $100 million in retrofitting five Boeing 737-400s from passenger planes to combination and freighter aircraft.Alaska committed $30 million alone to retrofit the two aircraft received last week.The unique aircraft are specially retrofitted Boeing 737-400s that carry both passengers and freight, and will go into service immediately to meet market demand, according to Yerbic. These aircraft are the first Boeing 737-400s that have been retrofitted with cargo doors and passenger seating.The 737 combination aircraft carry as much as 20 percent more cargo than the older Boeing 737-200 combis, have a 20 percent better fuel efficiency, overhead bins for passenger carry-ons, and special leather seats with an improved seat pitch.According to Alaska Airlines Cargo officials, the older 200 model aircraft will go out of service as the newer models come online.According to Yerbic, the older 737-200 combi aircraft could only carry three cargo pallets. The new aircraft will carry four 125-inch pallets and 72 passengers.“We are doing something no one has ever done before,” said Bill McKay, a senior vice president at Alaska Airlines. “Alaskans can be very proud of this aircraft, it’s the first like it in the world.”Alaska Airlines were to take delivery of the aircraft Feb. 1 at the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport.The retrofits were done by Pemco World Air Services, which was forced to deliver the aircraft months later than originally announced.“We are pleased with these aircraft,” said Kevin Casey, vice president of commercial business services for Pemco. “We wished we could have delivered a couple of months earlier, but as a result we built a superior product.”According to Casey and McKay, the delays were attributed to making the aircraft “top drawer.”“Alaska (Airlines) is awesome to work with, these folks don’t cut corners and are very thorough in their approach and engineering,” Casey said.Casey indicated that a great deal of the delay was due to new Federal Aviation Administration regulations.“We had to adhere to FAA Change Product Rules,” Casey said. “These rules basically required us to meet all the requirements of a newly manufactured aircraft.”  Two of the new craft, one of which is seen here, were to arrive in Alaska Feb. 1, ready to go straight to work.PHOTOS Courtesy of Alaska Airlines   The changes, required because the aircraft will carry both passengers and cargo, meant installing both smoke and fire detecting equipment, and a halon fire extinguishing system in the cabin and the freight areas.Pemco built the cargo door and flooring, and was joined by Goodrich, which did the fire systems. Ancra International LLC Loading Systems modified the Boeing aircraft, new cargo door opening and loading system.As Alaska Airlines puts the two new aircraft into service, the airline is launching a new cargo reservations system.“Demand has increased at all points in the north and western parts of the state, and we have suffered a little waiting for these aircraft to come online,” Yerbic said. “Now we can supply as much as the demand.”Both Yerbic and McKay said that a schedule change to Deadhorse and Barrow would aid passengers and shippers alike.“There’s no denying there is something coming up there, and we will schedule our flights real soon to provide service to the companies on the North Slope,” Yerbic said.Yerbic also said the airline will make a decision soon on other aircraft.“We have an option to add a fifth combi and a second all-cargo 737-400,” Yerbic told the Journal.Yerbic announced in October 2006 that all freight will now be charged by the pound instead of by the package, and that the company has reorganized its deliveries from 18 zones in North America down to 10.While the first aircraft go into service in the North and Western region, Southeast Alaska should see more service as well.“There is very good news for Southeast,” McKay said. “We will have one northbound and one southbound flight as part of the summer schedule just for getting fish products to market.”McKay credited Pemco and the FAA for their help in getting the planes certified.“This is a great partnership,” McKay said. “We’ve created a rather terrific aircraft for the Alaska market that will serve rural Alaska for years to come.”Pemco’s Casey agreed.“Alaska is a niche market with special industrial needs. The 400 combis are now being sought after by other developing countries in the world.”After Pemco announced the Alaska Airlines freighter and combi retrofits, Icelandic Air ordered a similar aircraft.Rob Stapleton can be reached [email protected]

Government contracts big business for Native corporations

Alaska Native corporations are pulling in their share of federal government contracts, converging as contenders in the U.S. marketplace.Ventures run the gamut, ranging from providing security for military bases across the nation to refurbishing office buildings in Brazil.In 2004, Native corporations made an effort to focus more attention on opportunities in the government sector and it worked. From fiscal year 2000 to 2004, the federal government awarded $4.6 billion in contracts to Alaska Native corporations, according to the Government Accountability Office. The contracts are diverse, often requiring work at an international level. Barrow-based Arctic Slope Regional Corp. secured a $50 million government contract to train security guards in Iraq, and Ahtna Inc., based in Glennallen, took on an $80 million venture to install communication equipment in the former Soviet Union.A healthy amount of government contracts also go to Native corporations on a statewide level. Of the $550 million in Alaska’s federal contracts, $209 million went to small businesses in 2006. Eighty percent of those small business contracts went to Native corporations, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Alaska District.A high percentage of government contracts to Native corporations are awarded through the Small Business Administration 8(a) program. In 1986, legislation passed allowing Native corporations to participate in the 8(a) program. Congress also extended special advantages to Native corporations, such as the ability to win sole-source contracts for any dollar amount. The system is designed to help developing small businesses owned by socially and economically disadvantaged entities. By all accounts, it appears to be working. Of the $4.6 billion awarded to Native corporations in fiscal years 2000 to 2004, $2.9 billion went through the 8(a) program, according to the GAO.Alutiiq LLC, a holding company for Kodiak-based Afognak Native Corp., is prime example of how Native corporations are using the 8(a) program as a tool to succeed. Alutiiq secured and completed a $54 million contract through the 8(a) program to renovate office buildings in Sao Paulo, Brazil. The project, which was a joint venture with Fluor Federal Services, created more opportunities for Alutiiq.“Through that contract we had the opportunity to partner with a larger corporation and learn a lot of skills necessary to vantage a remote construction project internationally; and now, today, construction is one of our largest divisions,” said Sarah Lukin, public relations manager for Afognak Native Corp. and Alutiiq. “In many respects, this project positioned us to become a viable competitor of Fluor and other large government contracting companies in the future.”Alutiiq’s experience in the construction industry led to a $48.5 million project to build barracks and other facilities for the newly assigned 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division at Fort Richardson. The Corps of Engineers Alaska District recognized Alutiiq for its work on the project through the 2006 Celebrate Safety Contractor of the Year Award.“We’ve had a high degree of success with these firms as we have with a lot of other firms up here, and they are a really important part of our business base, and frankly they are doing some fantastic work,” said Chris Tew, chief of the contracting division for the Corps of Engineers’ Alaska District.During the construction project at Fort Richardson Army Post, Alutiiq employed 50 Alaskans, 33 of which were shareholders, thus supporting their mission to benefit Alaska communities. In 2005, Afognak Native Corp. earned profits of $19.3 million, providing shareholders with $10.8 million in dividends, along with scholarships and donations for cultural program support.“The 8(a) program is working exactly as Congress intended. Alaska Native corporations are learning to compete in the federal marketplace and bring the benefits back to Alaska,” Lukin said.The GAO launched an investigation into 8(a) practices because of concerns over high-dollar government contracts awarded to Native corporations. A 2006, a final report by the GAO found no evidence of wrong-doing but did recommend more oversight by the SBA.

LNG plant extension would energize Kenai peninsula

KENAI — If an export license filed by ConocoPhillips and Marathon Oil Corp. for a two-year extension is approved, we’ll both be getting liquefied natural gas from their plant in North Kenai.At a time when many companies are looking to expand their resources in search of more viable means to produce energy, the request for the extension is good news for the peninsula. Not only does it mean the plant has exceeded its ability to produce original estimates, but it also means the 58 employees and the 128 jobs the plant supports on the peninsula will remain in place longer than expected.The current contract expires in March 2009, but the companies are convinced that extending it to 2011 is not a problem.“This extension will mean continued investments in the development of Cook Inlet gas resources and will maintain high-paying jobs in the community,” said Darren Jones, vice president of Alaska commercial assets for ConocoPhillips.According to a study by the Department of Energy, the Cook Inlet Basin is thought to contain about 13 trillion to 17 trillion cubic feet of undiscovered gas. The Alaska Department of Natural Resources figures there are roughly 1.6 trillion cubic feet of known reserves, according to Jones.“We see about 1.7 trillion cubic feet, so our numbers are not far off,” Jones said.At a consumption rate of 150 billion cubic feet a year, that’s about 11.3 years’ worth.The plant exports between 40 billion and 50 billion cubic feet of gas each year to Japan, serving the Tokyo Electric Power Co. and Tokyo Gas Co. The rest of the gas passing through the plant each year is used domestically.Even better, the companies plan to look into even more development. If the extension is granted, ConocoPhillips plans to invest in and drill two to four new wells at its Tyonek Platform in the North Cook Inlet Unit, Jones said. Those wells could last 10 to 15 years.John Barnes, Marathon’s manager of Alaska production operations, said Marathon hopes to be able to continue exploration and development activity similar to what it’s been doing in recent years.Considering the plant originally began operating in 1969, and it’s the only LNG export facility in North America, it’s well exceeded its original purpose.The anticipated decision on the extension request to the Department of Energy may take up to six months, officials are guessing. The last five-year extension took two years to win approval, in part because of concerns over the continued availability of gas for domestic consumers. This time the process likely is to focus on assuring that local demands are met, a concern both companies say is not an issue.“Our extension takes into account the local utility needs,” Jones said.In addition, hundreds of exploration, production and oil field service jobs in Cook Inlet are tied to providing gas to the facility. State and local economies benefit from about $50 million in annual royalties and taxes, officials say.The companies believe Cook Inlet has sufficient gas resources to maintain a strong industrial base on the Kenai Peninsula, and that the extension would provide incentive for further gas development.Given the plant’s success and the fact that there obviously is more to produce and even more resources that haven’t been tapped, we’re optimistic the Department of Energy will see the extension as a positive step in many ways — energy now and down the road, and the benefits to the community, region and state.It really is a win-win situation. To decide otherwise would be detrimental.

Writers workshop set for March

Writers statewide are invited to attend Publication Consultants’ next Bringing Your Book to Market workshop from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Westmark Hotel in Anchorage, March 31.This is the third in a series of entertaining and informative workshops for writers, new and experienced.“Seventy-nine percent of all books published in the U.S. sell fewer than 99 copies, according to Publisher’s Weekly in 2006,” said marketing consultant Rebecca Goodrich. “No matter how good, a book doesn’t sell itself. The author must connect with the reader. What we share in these workshops helps to make that happen. All Publications Consultants titles sell more than 99 copies. Some have sold thousands more.”Publication Consultants is hoping to see some cookbook manuscripts. “There is a lot of good food in Alaska, and cookbooks are usually very good sellers,” said publisher Evan Swensen.A $49 fee includes the workshop, snacks, lunch and two books. There is a special rate of $25 for returning participants. Special workshop fee evaluation rates for manuscripts. Pre-registration is strongly encouraged. Go to www.publicationconsultants.com. for updated announcements of faculty and curriculum, or contact Rebecca Goodrich at (907) 243-0159, [email protected], with any questions.

Idita-Rider auction hits record high

The 2007 Idita-Rider musher auction, a fundraiser for the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, has earned a record $168,494, according to Iditarod officials. That shatters the previous record of $157,535 brought in by bids last year. Iditarod fans bid online every year for a chance to ride in a sled during the ceremonial start of the race in Anchorage, a ride of about 11 miles. Iditarod mushers Martin Buser, Dee Dee Jonrowe, Jeff King, Alie Zirkle and Dallas Seavey drew the top bids of $7,500 apiece.The Idita-Rider auction contributes to the race purse, which now pays through the 30th musher to complete the race. Every musher who completes the race earns a minimum $1,049. The ceremonial start for this year’s race will begin March 3 in Anchorage. The restart site will be announced later.

Stevens bill would guide more dollars to state for emergency communications

Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, and Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Daniel K. Inouye, D-Hawaii, have introduced the Interoperable Emergency Communications Act. The legislation would provide the National Telecommunications and Information Administration with more guidance as it awards $1 billion in interoperable emergency communications grants to police, firemen, and emergency medical personnel, including those in Alaska.The bill would allow up to $100 million of the expedited $1 billion to be used to establish technology reserves that would assist emergency response agencies in pre-positioning communications equipment in states or regional facilities. These reserves can be activated quickly in the event of a major emergency or natural disaster, the senators said. The bill requires a portion of this new $100 million Federal Technology Reserve to be used in Alaska to support federal emergency response. This legislation would not interfere with the Sept. 30 deadline set by Congress for distribution of the $1 billion of interoperable communications grants. The deadline was mandated by the Call Home Act, which became public law Dec. 22.

Princess ordered to pay $750K for death of whale in Glacier Bay

Princess Cruise Lines has been ordered to pay fines totaling $750,000 in the death of a pregnant humpback whale whose bloated body was found floating in Glacier Bay.US District Court Magistrate Judge John D. Roberts ordered Princess to pay a $200,000 fine and pay $550,000 to the National Park Foundation as a form of community service. In addition, Princess was sentenced to serve a term of one-year probation which will expire when the payments are made, said U.S. Attorney Nelson P. Cohen.The case stems from a National Park naturalist’s discovery of a dead, bloated humpback whale floating in Glacier Bay, within park waters, on July 16, 2001.A marine mammal expert who examined the whale carcass found massive blunt trauma injuries to the right side of the whale’s head, including a fractured skull, eye socket and cervical vertebrae, consistent with a vessel collision.Two days earlier the cruise ship Dawn Princess was operating in the area and a naturalist aboard the vessel later reported to a colleague that she thought the vessel may have a struck one of two humpbacks traveling on a course that intersected the ship’s route.It was only several weeks later that Princess officials reported to the National Park Service a close encounter with two whales.

BP tankers back in service following anchor malfunction

Oil company BP PLC has returned a fleet of double-hull tankers to service after two of the ships lost their anchors last month in the Gulf of Alaska, a company spokesman said Jan. 29.The Alaskan Navigator and the Alaskan Frontier each have two new anchors. The other two ships, the Alaskan Legend and the Alaskan Explorer, each got one temporary replacement anchor, said BP spokesman Daren Beaudo.Each ship is scheduled to get two new permanent replacement anchors, Beaudo said.The fleet was held for repairs after the Navigator and Frontier each lost one of their two giant bow-mounted anchors while hauling North Slope crude oil through the gulf.A preliminary investigation found the China-made anchors might not have been properly tempered to strengthen the metal, Beaudo said.The loss of the anchors was a disappointment to BP and tanker operator Alaska Tanker Co. of Beaverton, Ore., because the ships are all relatively new, Beaudo said.A San Diego shipyard built the 941-foot tankers for about $250 million each, with the first of them going into service in the summer of 2004.Alaska Tanker Co., the U.S. Coast Guard and the Washington state Department of Ecology are still investigating the anchor defects, according to a Coast Guard statement.

Horizon Lines, Safeway using RFID in Alaska

Horizon Lines and Odin Technologies has announced that the company is using radio frequency identification technology on its shipments to Alaska.RFID works by emitting a radio wave that is reflected back to a transceiver that reads the information. This information can be used in tracking, identification and time coding the arrival and departures of shipments.“Now we have total visibility because of the readers we’ve installed throughout Alaskan highways,” said Horizon Line’s Rick Kessler, according to RFID Update. “We had good visibility of our cargo when it was in our terminals, on our vessels, and when traveling by rail. We’d lose it when it went on trucks.”The shipping company announced Jan. 22 that it has completed installation of RFID infrastructure at terminals, distribution centers and highway locations for its Alaska trade lane. Horizon also announced that it will continue to add active RFID tags to its cargo boxes.Safeway is also using the system to track shipments to its Alaskan stores on an ongoing basis, following trials with Horizon.

Skagway ore terminal to be back in business

The Skagway Ore Terminal will reopen this summer to begin handling shipments from a copper-gold mine in the Yukon Territory, under an agreement reached between the state and a Canadian mining firm.Ron Miller, executive director of the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, said Jan. 25 that an agreement was reached Jan. 19 with Sherwood Copper Corp. of Vancouver, British Columbia, and its wholly owned subsidiary, Minto Explorations, for use of the terminal, which AIDEA owns.The term of the agreement is seven years, with an option to extend for an additional 10 years if agreed upon between both parties. The estimated annual user fee is approximately $1.75 million, with a security deposit of $350,000 required. AIDEA, the state’s major financing agency to promote economic growth and diversification, retains the right of access to any and all areas of the facility.Chris Anderson, AIDEA’s deputy director of credit and business development, said the lengthy negotiations “were tough, with both sides working hard to reach an agreement that works for Sherwood and AIDEA, plus that allows for additional users of the terminal.”To conclude a successful agreement, both parties were able to remain flexible and find a compromised, acceptable solution, she said.John Wood, an AIDEA engineer who is project manager for the ore terminal, said the state agency now has an aggressive schedule to meet if it is to be ready for Sherwood moving concentrates this summer. “We are ready to get started now that the agreements have been signed,” he said.Gov. Sarah Palin commended the state agency. “AIDEA assets belong to all Alaskans, and I am glad we are getting this facility back in operation producing a return on the state’s investment, jobs for Alaskans and a boost to the Skagway economy,” she said.Margaret Bauman can be reached at [email protected]

Bill would ratchet back regulations on mixing zones

KENAI — Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, has filed a bill that would prohibit the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation from authorizing pollution mixing zones in lakes, streams, rivers or other flowing freshwater where fish spawn.Joining Seaton in sponsoring House Bill 74 is Anchorage Democrat Rep. Les Gara, and Kodiak Republican Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux. The bill has been sent to the House Special Committee on Fisheries and Resources.The bill resurrects a measure promoted by Seaton in the House and Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, in the Senate last year. Those measures died in committee with the end of the 24th Legislature.Early last year, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation adopted new mixing zone regulations that generally continued a ban on zones in salmon spawning areas, but redefined spawning areas by adding a time element — that is, they are spawning areas when spawning is occurring — thus making it possible that those areas could be used as mixing zones when no spawning is happening.A mixing zone is a region of a water body where high concentrations of pollutants may be discharged to dilute in the flow of water. The theory is that once the boundaries of the mixing zones are reached, the concentration of pollutants would have fallen to acceptable levels.Seaton’s bill would, essentially, return regulations to an earlier version, and codify specifically what a mixing zone is, take the time element out of the spawning ground definition, and broaden the ban on mixing zones for several species of resident freshwater fish.The bill would ban the department for authorizing mixing zones in anadromous fish-spawning areas, and in fish-egg nests, called redds, for Arctic char, Arctic grayling, brook trout, burbot, cutthroat trout, Dolly Varden, lake trout, landlocked coho, king and sockeye salmon, northern pike, rainbow trout, sheefish and whitefish.The bill also spells out that the prohibition would not apply to renewal of a municipal or village wastewater facility’s mixing zone authorization during the useful life of the facility. It also would not apply to manmade water areas that later attract fish to spawn.It also would not apply to a suction dredge placer mine or a mechanical placer mine with a permit in effect on the effective date of the bill until the operator applied for a reauthorization of that permit.“With the exception of ’lake,’ the language is taken directly from the regulations that were in effect in the last decade,” Seaton said in his recent newsletter. “HB 74 clarifies that the prohibition on mixing zones in spawning areas does not apply when spawning occurs in the water of an entirely man-made holding pond or channel. It also exempts discharges from municipal wastewater and village safe water facilities from the mixing zone prohibition if spawning occurs in the mixing zone after it is initially permitted.”

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