The Bureau of Land Management is beginning a four year planning process to set a strategy for over 10 million acres of BLM land across a vast section of southwest Alaska. The Bering Sea Western Interior planning area runs from the coast up the Kuskokwim to Nikolai and follows the Yukon River up to Grayling.
The resource management plan lays out management goals, and rules for how people use the lands. BLM staff will be out in communities to hear about current uses of lands. Jorjena Daly is the Resource Management Plan lead for BLM.
“All the issues, concerns, and opportunities that we hear from the public during the scoping period will help set the sideboards essentially or the topics we will eventually address in our land use planning document,” said Daly.
The first meetings are set for in Lower and Upper Kalskag on Friday. Bethel’s meeting will be November 20th. The process also includes a close look at subsistence resources. BLM specifically issues permits for subsistence moose hunts in unit 21E around Anvik and in 22A around the Eastern Norton Sound. Daly says BLM want to hear from residents experiences.
“[For example] what changes are effecting or might effect in the future the way the public fishes and hunts on those lands. What changes people would like to see around them, and how BLM can manage those resources in the future,” said Daly.
Legislation in ANCSA allows the secretary of the Interior to withdraw and reserve lands, in effect closing areas to mining or mineral leasing. Two major sections of so called D-1 lands cover about 6 million acres. The agency is required to exam those withdrawals during the process.
“And when we do this we determine through public involvement if there is a valid need to retain the withdrawals,” said Daly. “And then what we do is essentially make a recommendation on whether to lift the withdrawals and modify them in some way.”
Scoping goes through January 17th. The next two years will include drafting the plan. It will include and Environmental Impact Statement detailing positive and negative impacts of management alternatives. The final plan should be ready in 2017. The planning website can be accessed here.
Six boats are dragging the Kialik River today in efforts to find Nick Cooke and James Napoka.
Teams from another two boats continue the search on land. Two teams of specially trained search dogs are set to arrive tonight. They will head to the scene and spend Wednesday searching for the men.
Bethel Search and Rescue says an incoming Bering Sea storm will bring a surge of water into the Kuskokwim delta where search and recovery operations are based. 1 to 3 feet of storm surge is expected, with winds up to 60 miles per hour.
Cooke and Napoka were last heard from two weeks ago today.
One of the major barge companies that serves Western Alaska has been purchased by a major transportation company that serves Alaska and the Pacific Northwest.
Back in April Lynden, which is a family of freight transportation companies, agreed to buy Northland Services for an undisclosed sum. The transaction is now complete.
In a prepared statement Lynden’s President and CEO Jon Burdick noted that Northland Service’s barge capabilities to Hawaii and Western Alaska complement Lynden’s current service offerings.
Northland Service’s President and CEO Larry Stauffer notes that Lynden provides an ideal situation to better serve Northland Service’s customers and employees. Northland Services will operate and an independent operating company within the Lynden family of companies and the current Northland management team will stay in place.
Lynden has several subsidiary companies including Alaska Marine Lines, Lynden Transport, Lynden International, Alaska West Express, Lynden Air Cargo and Brown Line.
Last month the deal was approved by an Anchorage superior court judge.
A decision on whether the Anchorage Assembly will accept money from the legislature to build a rec center with indoor tennis courts was put off at Tuesday’s regular assembly meeting. Dozens testified mostly in favor of building the facility.
For several weeks now the assembly has been considering whether to accept about $10 million from the Alaska legislature earmarked for the construction of the Northern Lights Recreation Center which would include indoor tennis courts.
Dozens wearing green tennis ball stickers reading ‘Yes on Tennis’ testified that indoor courts would make the sport more accessible for people of all incomes, including Gary Cox.
“Do something good for the health of the children and the people of this town. Build this rec center. I’ve been a PE teacher here for 26 years now. I think it’s time to not just say we care. And that would be to push the button. It’s time to do something. Vote yes on accepting the money that is there. I think if you don’t do this you’re in danger of damaging the relationship with the state legislature,” he said.
The Anchorage Tennis Association lobbied for the project and Anchorage representative Lindsay Holmes who holds a seat on the finance committee reportedly secured the money for it.
A handful of people, including Phil Isle, testified against the project saying the city should focus on taking care of what they already have.
“I’d like you to spend this money on the other things to upgrade what we have and take care of them,” Isle said. “And if you can’t do that for some rule, then give it back.”
Testimony lasted about two hours.The Assembly put off a decision on the issue until it’s next meeting on Nov. 18.
Today is election day in states like New Jersey and Virginia, where there are big governors’ races. But even though voters aren’t going to the polls in Alaska, it’s not totally quiet here. A group that wants to remove state legislator Lindsey Holmes from office is turning in their recall application Wednesday morning.
Recall sponsors believe that the Anchorage representative is “unfit” for office because she changed her party affiliation from Democrat to Republican before starting her term. They’ve collected 1,101 signatures from people supporting their application, and 808 of those need to come from registered voters in Holmes’ district.
Wigi Tozzi is helping lead the effort, and he says he’s confident that most of their signatures are valid.
“I think that one of the things that Rep. Holmes may have been counting on is the complacency of the voters in her district, and we are not complacent.”
The recall process is long and complicated. Once the application is submitted, the Division of Elections verifies the signatures and judges the argument for the recall. If the application is accepted, sponsors then have to collect another round of signatures, this time from 25 percent of the district’s voters — or 2020 signatures, in this case. Tozzi says they have volunteers ready to knock on doors, and they have plenty of tennis ball bumper stickers to hand out, referencing a controversial appropriation for tennis courts that Holmes supported.
If the sponsors trigger a special election and the recall question is successful, Holmes would have to give up her office. But there wouldn’t be a special election to replace her. Her seat would be treated like any other vacancy, where the governor has a month to decide on an appointment. Because of the recall group’s timing, there’s the possibility that could happen during the legislative session. Tozzi says that he would rather have no representation over Holmes.
“Regardless of what happens in the legislature in terms of whether or not we would create a vacancy in the middle of the session is in some respects besides the point. You can’t — you cannot — abuse the process like that and expect people to just stand by.”
Tozzi adds that the recall effort is not so much about Holmes’ conversion as it is the timing. He says that because Alaska has closed primaries, switching parties before being sworn into office weakens the election system. He thinks Holmes’ move could incentivize similar behavior from candidates who want to avoid competitive primaries and see a way to manipulate the electoral process.
Since switching parties, Holmes has largely voted with the Republican majority. She did split from her caucus to vote against a “Stand Your Ground” law and against a bill that would have required teachers to put more years in before getting tenure. Holmes has defended the switch in previous conversations with APRN. She said she had been more motivated business issues in recent years, and the move was borne from that. Holmes has also said that being part of the majority caucus has allowed her to bring more projects to her district. Holmes did not respond to a request for an interview in time for this story.
There has never been a successful attempt to recall a legislator in Alaska. A group of Ketchikan voters tried to remove former Rep. Kyle Johansen from office in 2011, but the Division of Elections rejected the argument that renouncing his leadership position and caucus membership qualified as incompetence and neglect of duties.
The state is taking on the federal government in court again. The case involves state’s rights and control of rivers.
Officials with the Alaska Federation of Natives gathered today in Anchorage, Juneau and Bethel on a teleconference to denounce the state’s lawsuit.
Newly elected AFN co-chair Tara Sweeney said subsistence defines Alaska Native people and she said, no one has the right to take that away.
“The latest action by the state of Alaska is an assault on the people of Alaska who depend upon hunting, fishing and gathering to feed their families,” Sweeney said.
AFN President Julie Kitka gave a brief history of the complicated case. Kitka said for decades, AFN has attempted to work with state administrations, congress and in court. She said Native leaders expected the first Katie John case to resolve the federal lands and waters management issue.
“Unfortunately the state has continued to fight implementation of that decision,” Kitka said.
Kitka said AFN has been involved in the litigation for more than 18 years and will continue to intervene on the side of the federal government while working toward a Congressional fix.
Rosita Worl is the chairwoman of AFN’s subsistence committee. She said she wanted to be clear about three main things: That AFN will continue the fight to protect subsistence in this case and any others that compromise those rights that although they have tried for two decades to work on a legislative or congressional fix, the state has refused to participate in a viable solution.
“The state of Alaska attempted overreach is a reckless attempt to unravel the precedents set by the lower courts and through administrative procedures,” Worls said. “This should enrage not only the Native community but all Alaskans.”
“Too much time, energy and precious funding has been wasted in the state’s ongoing attacks on subsistence. Enough is enough.”
Kitka and Worl both reiterated that the state could regain subsistence management of federal lands if it came into compliance with ANILCA.
The Obama Administration claims it has fixed some of the problems with the new online federal health insurance marketplace, but so far Alaskans remain mostly shut out.
Senator Lisa Murkowski had a chance to grill the top official in charge of the website at a Senate hearing on Tuesday, and she used it to air some of her frustrations.
Murkowski told Medicare chief Marilyn Tavenner that she’s met with Enroll Alaska Insurance agents who are trying to help Alaskans buy insurance on the exchange.
As of last week, they had signed only 3 people up for coverage.
Now they suspect the website miscalculated their subsidy. Tavenner had few real answers for Murkowski.
- “Not only can people not get on to enroll, but if they do, their subsidy calculations are incorrect.”
- “So we are aware of this issue and they are working on a fix to the system to correct the Alaska issue. It’s specific to Alaska.”
- “In the meantime what should Alaskans do? Should they stay off, as Enroll Alaska and the other navigators have suggested?”
Tavenner said Alaskans should keep trying. Murkowski also criticized Tavenner for taking the site offline from 1 to 5a.m. daily. That’s the middle of the night on the East Coast, but it means the website goes dark at 9pm in Alaska – prime time, says Murkowski, for busy parents who’ve just put kids to bed.
Tavenner said Alaskans can call the help line, or submit paper applications .
Meanwhile, more than half of the Alaskans who buy individual policies from Premera are getting cancellation notices. At the hearing, Murkowski said many have told her they worry they’ll have a gap in coverage if they can’t enroll on the federal exchange in time, and that they might get sick during that gap.
“They want to know, ‘if I fall through the cracks, will I be taken care of,’ and I don’t have an answer for them,” Murkowski said.
Outside the hearing, Murkowski said she believes the key to getting truly affordable health care plans is to work on legislation that will lower the cost of the health care itself.
Despite the extensive problems with healthcare.gov, a few dozen Alaskans have managed to enroll in a health plan on the marketplace. Anchorage resident Lara Imler is one of them.
In 2004, Imler quit her job as an accountant to become a hair stylist. Now she rents space in a small salon in midtown Anchorage. She’s a lot happier cutting hair than she was sitting in front of a computer. But she does miss one big thing about her old job.
“I had health insurance with a pretty big corporate office for about six years and it was wonderful.”
Even without health insurance, Imler spends a lot of time in doctors’ offices. The 37 year old has Hashimoto’s disease, an autoimmune disorder that affects the thyroid. The treatments and blood work she needs are expensive, but not as expensive as monthly health premiums.
“Being self employed, getting my premium at anything reasonable, wasn’t happening. I think my last quote was $1200 a month for myself.”
Imler was determined to find a better deal on the new Affordable Care Act marketplace. She logged onto healthcare.gov a few days after it went live last month. She tried on and off for the first week but kept running into messages that the site was “unavailable.” So she decided to wait a few weeks. On October 24th, she logged back in and slowly started making her way through the process.
“So you get to a point where you finally get to pick what health insurance you want and all the buttons have to be double clicked. If you don’t know that or try that it doesn’t go anywhere. It just sits there.”
Imler has a degree in computer programming. She’s even built a few Websites. She thinks that experience, helped her persevere through the trouble spots on healthcare.gov. About two hours after she started, she landed on a screen that told her she had successfully enrolled. She was pleasantly surprised by the price. Imler qualified for subsidies, and chose a mid-level plan that will cost her $110 a month.
“The website sucks, I’m not going to lie, it’s awful, it’s cumbersome, it’s a lot of work… but the idea that I might be able to afford health insurance, is huge to me.”
Imler is still waiting for enrollment confirmation from her new insurance company. She’s optimistic that will come soon. If it doesn’t, she’s willing to log back in to healthcare.gov to keep trying.
This story is part of a reporting partnership between APRN, NPR and Kaiser Health News.
Monday night, the U.S. Senate voted to move ahead with a bill to protect gay people from workplace discrimination.
Sponsors expected Sen. Lisa Murkowski to be one of a handful of Republicans who would help them get the 60 votes needed to proceed. But Murkowski was absent.
“I had made a commitment to be in Midland, Texas, looking at how Midland and some of the operators in Midland are responding to this amazing, extraordinary boom in oil shale production,” Murkowski said.
A spokesman said she also attended a fundraiser in Texas. She says when she found out the Senate was going to take a rare Monday vote she tried to get back in time but didn’t make it.
The anti-discrimination bill cleared the 60-vote hurdle without her. It is expected to pass the Senate, and Murkowski says she looks forward to voting for it.
Investigators are trying to determine what sparked the fire that destroyed a maintenance building at a North Pole cement plant on Monday morning. No one was injured, but the owners of HC Redi-Mix are feeling the pain of a multimillion-dollar loss caused by the fire – which not only destroyed the building, but also several pieces of heavy equipment inside.
Serious arson seems to be on the rise in Anchorage for 2013.
In August, someone intentionally set several fires in a heavily wooded section of Russian Jack Springs Park. And in October a man was caught on surveillance tape setting the roof of a Mountain View pawn shop ablaze.
These are just two of the 88 cases Investigator Brian Balega is juggling right now. Balega says that number includes those carried over from years’ past and he’s actively investigating 54 of them.
“I’m almost doubled,” Balega said. “Last year I dealt with 25 arsons.”
“This year my arsons since January 1, 2013 is 40.”
Of the 40 arson cases from 2013, just a handful been concluded. That’s not including the many smaller arsons that are routinely handled by the Anchorage Police Department each year.
This year APD has handled 24 arson cases, for a total of 64 total arsons in Anchorage so far. Balega says he’s seeing more serious commercial Arsons.
“This is the most commercial arsons I’ve seen,” Balega said. “I actually got four of them since the first of the year.”
“That’s unusual for me to see that many of them.”
Last year Balega says he had did not have any commercial arson cases and it’s unusual to have more than one a year.
Fire Chief Chris Bushue confirms that more serious arson is occurring in Anchorage this year.
“The numbers are what the numbers are,” Bushue said. “I’ve tried to make sure that we’re not reporting more, and that actually appears to be the case, that there’s actually more out there.”
Brian Balega is the only fire investigator for the Municipality of Anchorage.
He has worked in the positions since 2008.
In the 1980′s there were several investigators, but over the years the other positions were eliminated.
The parent company of Juneau electric utility Alaska Electric Light & Power has agreed to merge with Spokane, Washington-based Avista Corporation.
Alaska Energy and Resources Company will join Avista subsidiary Avista Utilities by July 2014, pending the approval of state and federal regulators, as well as AERC shareholders.
Bill Corbus and his family have owned a piece of Alaska Electric Light & Power almost from the day the company was founded. His grandfather and a great uncle bought into the utility in 1896, when it was only two years old. His father, William Corbus, was the longest serving company president from 1949 until 1987.
Bill started working for AEL&P in 1970 and went on to serve eight years as president and CEO in two separate stints. Even after he retired in 2002, Corbus and his family remained the majority owners of Alaska Energy and Resources, AEL&P’s parent company.
But Corbus says they’ve reached “a turn in the road” and now is the time to sell.
“I’m 76 years old,” Corbus says. “There is no Corbus family member here to continue to be involved with the company at the board of directors level or as part of the employment team.”
Corbus says there would be inheritance tax obligations if the company is not sold before he dies. He also says several AERC shareholders are looking to sell their stock, and the company wants new sources of capital for future projects to provide energy to its nearly 16,000 customers.
He says AERC wanted a buyer that would focus on three things: Providing reliable and competitively priced electric service; being a good corporate citizen in Juneau; and taking care of AEL&P’s employees.
Corbus says the company had other suitors, but in the end, “the management team and the board of directors decided that Avista was in our case by far the best match.”
Current AEL&P President and CEO Tim McLeod says the two companies have a number of similarities.
“Other than they being much bigger than we are, we felt like we are very similar in corporate values and corporate culture,” McLeod says.
Dennis Vermillion, President of Avista Utilities, sees that too. The company was founded in Spokane in 1889 as part of an effort to build a power station on the Spokane River.
“We’re very much like AEL&P in that we started, really, in a very small community over a hundred years ago, with a foundation of hydroelectric energy,” Vermillion says.
Today Avista serves more than 600,000 customers with electricity and natural gas in Washington, Idaho, Oregon and Montana. Vermillion says Avista sees an excellent growth opportunity in AEL&P.
“A big deal for us, it fits nicely from a strategic perspective in what we’re trying to do,” says Vermillion. “And that is grow our utility business and diversify our energy assets.”
And while he admits it won’t happen for several years, he says there also could be opportunities to grow Avista’s natural gas business in Juneau and beyond.
“There’s been a lot of discussion about CNG, compressed natural gas, and LNG, liquefied natural gas,” he says. “And Tim and I and others have talked about that, and it’s something that we look forward to rolling up our sleeves on and exploring what the opportunities might be, not only for the Juneau area, but all of Southeast Alaska.”
Vermillion says the proposed re-opening of the AJ Mine did not play into the company’s decision to pursue the merger. Another Alaska Energy and Resources subsidiary – AJT Mining Properties – is a part owner, along with the City and Borough of Juneau, of the old mine near downtown.
“We’re a utility company. That’s what we do. We think we’re pretty good at it,” says Vermillion. “And we know there’s a very well-run and good utility company in Juneau, and that’s really what the impetus of this transaction is for us.”
In the immediate future, both parties say there should be no noticeable changes at AEL&P. The company’s headquarters will remain in Juneau, and Avista has promised to retain all of its 60 full time employees for at least two years after the transaction closes.
As for Corbus, he plans to stay on until the ownership transition is complete. And at the very end of Monday’s press conference announcing the deal, he said he has plans for his share of the Avista stock.
“It is my intention to sign over 90 percent of my new Avista shares to the Juneau Community Foundation,” Corbus says.
The community foundation helps donors direct charitable funds to nonprofits in Juneau. It named Corbus Philanthropist of the Year in 2012 for his many years of community giving.
Corbus says he’s not sure how much this gift will total until the sale is complete, but guesses it will be somewhere north of $40 million dollars.
To read our original story, click here.
Kawerak recently sent out letters to Alaska’s senators and congressmen urging them to provide aid to the two communities on St. Lawrence Island. As the letter details, residents of Savoonga and Gambell are struggling with the worst subsistence harvest on record.
A recently hired Togiak village police officer is under arrest for the sexual abuse of a minor. Authorities say Daniel Gonzales, 22, admitted that he had sex with a 16-year-old girl in the front seat of his patrol vehicle on Oct. 21.
Alaska State Troopers arrested Togiak village police officer Daniel A. Gonzales Friday, after several days of investigating an accusation that he sexually abused a 16-year-old girl. Troopers said Gonzales admitted to having sex with the minor, but he insisted the act was consensual.
Alaska state law, however, does not allow for consent between a 16-year-old and a person over the age of 20 who holds any position of authority.
Gonzales was transported to Dillingham. Following an arraignment Saturday on the felony charge of second degree sexual abuse of a minor, Gonzales’ bail was set at $10,000.
According to the trooper report, VPO Gonzales had given the victim a ride home during his shift on October 21. Gonzales then began texting her, asking if she would like to go for another ride.
He picked her up later that evening in his patrol car, though it’s unclear if he was still on-duty at the time.
VPO Gonzales drove the victim to a secluded area outside of town where the two allegedly had sex.
The victim apparently told authorities that she was frightened during the encounter, and thought that Gonzales may have said threatening things. Afterwards, she said she received conflicting text messages from Gonzales, some apologizing for his actions and some asking if she would like to meet up again. She told authorities that she deleted all of the messages from her phone after Gonzales told her to.
On Friday, authorities listened in as Gonzales admitted to the sexual encounter during a phone conversation with the victim’s sister. Presented with that evidence later in the day, Gonzales provided a written confession and was taken into custody.
Gonzales, 22, is a graduate of Togiak High School.
The city of Togiak said Monday that Gonzales was hired to his position on October 12, just nine days before the sexual encounter allegedly occurred. According to the city, Gonzales was fired on November 1, the day he was arrested.
Prior to being hired, the city said Gonzales had completed a Village Police Officer training program, which are typically two weeks long and run by the Alaska State Troopers.
Three men from Kwethluk have been arrested and charged with felony sexual abuse.
A grand jury indictment on Thursday led the arrest of 23-year-old John Olick, 56-year-old Nick Epchook Junior, and 31-year-old John Fischer.
There are multiple victims under the age of 13, and it appears that all three men abused one victim over a 8-year period, from 2002 to 2010, according to court documents.
Epchook Junior faces six counts, including five 1st degree charges of sexually abusing a child under the age of 13.
The alleged abuse took place between 2002 and 2007. Court documents indicate that thee was one victim, who was as young as five years old when the abuse began. Bail was set at $100,000.
Fischer faces a total of four counts, including: one 1st degree charge, two 2nd degree charges, and one count of attempted abuse.
According to court documents, the alleged abuse took place in 2002 through 2007 with three different victims. One of the victims was between the ages of 4 and 6. Bail was set at $50,000.
Olick is facing two counts: one 1st degree and one second degree charge related to abusing a child under the age of 13.
The alleged abuse took place in 2010. His bail was set at $25,000.
Olick and Epchook Junior are expected to be arraigned Tuesday morning in Bethel. Fischer’s arraignment is set for Nov. 19.
Misty King, 40, was found dead during a welfare check at her home in Unalaska on Friday.
King was alone in the locked house when she died. Director of Public Safety Jamie Sunderland says there were no signs of foul play.
The medical examiner has already released King’s body to her family. Sunderland says they aren’t planning to perform an autopsy.
Trident Seafoods founder and chairman Chuck Bundrant has appointed his son as the company’s new CEO.
The appointment of Joe Bundrant had been expected, and became effective Monday.
A year ago Trident announced that the younger Bundrant would be leading the company following the retirement this week of President Paul Padgett, who has served in that role since 2008. Padgett will continue to serve as a strategic advisor through the end of pollock A season in 2014.
The elder Bundrant, who founded Trident 40 years ago, expressed confidence in his son’s ability to lead the seafood giant, despite the challenges of falling prices for surimi, block and pollock roe, while costs are increasing.
Joe Bundrant said he was honored and humbled to take the helm.
His new management team will include Vic Scheibert as president of Alaska operations.
When it comes to retirement benefits, the state is looking at a $12 billion shortfall. Just how that’s going to be paid off is expected to be a big issue for the Legislature next session. The Parnell administration is thinking about putting hundreds of millions of dollars into the state’s retirement funds to help close the gap.
So let’s just get this out of the way: Alaska is not Detroit. It is not currently at risk of going bankrupt. It’s not even at risk of breaking its constitutional obligation of paying out retirement benefits. But having billions in unfunded liabilities will put constraints on current and future budgets. If you have to dip into the state’s general fund to cover pensions, that means less money for infrastructure projects, school operations, and the other things government pays for.
Kris Erchinger is part of the Alaska Retirement Management Board, and she says the pension shortfall is already having an impact on the state’s budgeting process.
“The unfunded liability of the retirement system is astronomical, and it does have — and will continue to have — a significant effect on the state of Alaska going forward,” says Erchinger.
The state’s had a gap in its retirement system for over a decade, because the DotCom bust and faulty actuarial projections. But the retirement burden really grew in 2008, when the state lost a fifth of the money it had saved because of the recession.
There are a few ways the state can slow the growth or even shrink the unfunded liability, and it’s already taken some serious measures. It closed the pension system to new state workers a few years ago, and put them on 401(k)-style plans. The state is also making scheduled payments to reduce the shortfall, and it also hopes to see a high rate of return on the investments it already has.
The Alaska Retirement Management — or “ARM” — Board wants to do even more to get the state’s unfunded liability in check. On Friday, Erchinger presented to the Senate Finance Committee, and she made the case that injecting more money into the retirement fund now would be better for the state’s financial health in the long term.
“The point of that isn’t just to get more money in the system,” says Erchinger. “It’s so that that money can earn interest that will pay pension benefits, reducing the need for future contributions from the state down the road.”
The ARM Board would like to see the state put $2 billion into its retirement funds, spread out over four years. On top of this “cash infusion,” the board wants the state to front-load the payments it’s already making to cover the unfunded liability. Because the cost of those payments is expected to rise with time, Erchinger argues it’s better to pay more of that money now, while the state has flush budget reserves.
“So the pain is going to be very real very quickly,” says Erchinger. “But it’s going to result in less pain down the road when the State of Alaska is less likely to be able to pay for the pain because of lower oil revenues.”
Because pension payments are split between the state and municipalities, Erchinger also says that dealing with the unfunded liability sooner rather than later would give cities more financial security and flexibility with their budgets, since this problem is weighing on them, too.
At Friday’s meeting, officials from the Parnell administration said there was an “emerging consensus” for putting some lump sum amount into the retirement system, but that they didn’t have a particular number in mind yet.
As far as the ARM Board’s plan to front-load contributions from the state from here on out? That got a little bit of push back from the state’s Legislative Finance Division, a non-partisan state agency that counsels lawmakers on budget issues. Director David Teal cautioned against overreaction. He says the state is already on a plan to close the unfunded liability without putting extra pressure on the budget for the next decade.
“The road to recovery from large losses can be very long — so long that the system can appear to be broken,” says Teal. “And I think that’s where we are right now, is that people think the system is broken. I would argue that the system is unlikely to stay broken in the long run, because if you pay what you owe, the system will fix itself.”
The governor will reveal just how much of the state’s budget he’s willing to put toward bolstering the retirement system when he releases his budget next month.
Construction on a sub-sea pipeline to bring crude from the west side of Cook Inlet to Nikiski could start as early as next May.
The project that’s been submitted to the Department of Natural Resources for consideration is basically the same as the one Cook Inlet Energy pitched last year; a 29 mile long, 8 inch diameter, U-shaped pipeline, joining production facilities at Kustatan with refining operations in Nikiski.
The work is being done by a subsidiary of Tesoro, a limited liability corporation called the Trans-Foreland Pipeline Company, which is wholly owned by Tesoro. Calls for comment from the company were not returned in time for this story, but last month, Cook Inlet Regional Citizen’s Advisory Council spokesperson Lynda Giguere told the Kenai Chamber of Commerce, a pipeline is the way to go.
“And although we are extremely supportive of Hilcorp’s effort at the Drift River terminal, we believe a pipeline is just safer.”
The Drift River terminal is one of many reasons for installing the pipeline. It’s a tank farm located at the base of Mt. Redoubt. When the volcano erupted in 2009, production was shut down entirely, with thousands of barrels of oil left at the site. An easy-to-see cause for concern for environmentalists. And, because of lost productivity, a concern for the industry as well. That’s cited in the project description Trans-Foreland submitted to DNR.
The company calls it “eliminating the business interruption risk of volcanic activity and ice movements to oil shipments through Drift River terminal.”
What this means for the Drift River terminal is unclear. Hilcorp spokesperson Lori Nelson says the pipeline doesn’t change their plans.
“Right now in the process, it really means nothing. There are really too many commercial and regulatory uncertainties surrounding the Trans Foreland pipeline project right now for us to make any definitive decisions moving forward.”
The design life for the pipeline is thirty years, and it will be continuously computer monitored for leaks or changes in flow or pressure that will move more than 60,000 barrels per day. According to the Right of Way application submitted to the state, the $35 million project comes with 130 construction jobs. Twelve people will be needed to maintain and oversee the pipeline once it’s in service.
Work is already underway clearing paths on the west side. Construction will begin in February. The pipe will be laid across Cook Inlet in May and September, to avoid the fishing season and Beluga whales, and the whole thing is scheduled to be done next October.