Movers and Shakers for April 26

Credit Union 1 selected Evan Mulcahy as its new director of Innovation. Mulcahy will be responsible for evaluating familiar operational issues and goals through a unique lens and using that perspective to drive change via innovation, technology and user-centered solution development. Mulcahy was previously hired by Credit Union 1 in 2013 as a staff trainer, and he later served as digital communications specialist, innovation strategist and marketing manager before pursuing other local opportunities. He rejoined the credit union in February 2020. Mulcahy is a University of Alaska Anchorage graduate with a degree in Economics. Northrim Bank announced the promotion of several employees. They are: Amber Zins, executive vice president-chief administrative officer; Cindy Fields, senior vice president-Internal Audit director; Joe Gelione, senior vice president-Commercial Loan Unit manager; Tammy Kosa, senior vice president-regional market manager, Fairbanks; Nicole Pintsch, vice president-controller of financial reporting; Terre Lefebvre, assistant vice president-merchant relationship manager; Kiersten Russell, loan officer II; Elias Wilterding, credit administration officer. Zins has been with Northrim Bank for 12 years, when she was hired as the Internal Audit manager. For the past two years, she has been the Human Resources director. Zins holds a bachelor of business administration in accounting from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and is a certified public accountant. She is currently attending the Pacific Coast Banking School at the University of Washington. She received the Northrim President’s Award in 2009. Fields joined Northrim in 2018 and has 16 years of experience in audit and regulatory compliance. She holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Alaska Anchorage and is a certified public accountant and certified public accountant. Fields is the president of the Institute of Internal Auditors Alaska Chapter. Gelione started at Northrim in 2017 and has more than 30 years of experience in the financial sector, working in banking in Alaska for over 25 years. He holds a bachelor of business administration in finance from Stockton University. Gelione received the Northrim President’s Award in 2018. Kosa has been with Northrim since 2004 and has more than 26 years of banking experience. She holds a bachelor’s degree in international business from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Kosa received the Northrim President’s Award in 2010. Pintsch has been with Northrim since 2007 when it acquired Alaska First Bank. She has been in the financial industry for 15 years. Pintsch holds a bachelor of business administration in accounting from the University of Alaska Anchorage. Lefebvre joined Northrim in 2003 and has more than 21 years of experience in the financial industry. She attended Roger Williams University. Russell started at Northrim in 2014 and has held a number of positions throughout the bank. She will complete her bachelor of business administration in accounting this spring from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. She also holds certificates for business and commercial lending. Wilterding has been with Northrim since 2013 where he worked in the Facilities department before moving to Credit Administration. He holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Alaska Anchorage.

Hendrix bid to acquire Furie revived with AIDEA loan

An Alaskan bid for a struggling Cook Inlet gas producer appears to be back on following revisions to a state-backed loan for the purchase. The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority board of directors on April 15 approved technical changes to a March 4 resolution authorizing a loan up to $7.5 million to Hex LLC, a company formed late last year by longtime Alaska oil and gas industry player John Hendrix. Hendrix, through Hex, submitted the winning $15 million bid in a December bankruptcy auction for Furie Operating Alaska, a small Texas-based natural gas producer that operates the Kitchen Lights Unit and has contracts to supply a handful of Southcentral utilities. Originally from Homer, Hendrix was general manager of Apache Corp.’s operations in Cook Inlet prior to becoming former Gov. Bill Walker’s oil and gas policy adviser in 2016. But February court filings by Hex in Furie’s ongoing Chapter 11 bankruptcy case asserted that the auction was advertised as an asset sale but conducted as an equity sale to keep Furie in control of its Inlet operations and eligible to receive outstanding refundable tax credit payments from the state. In its bankruptcy filing, Furie claimed $105 million in outstanding credits owed by the state. Uncertainties stemming from a royalty claim filed by three minority owners in the state leases that Furie operates are alleging collectively shorted them an estimated $50.7 million also prevented Hex from obtaining financing for the sale, Hex attorney David Bundy wrote at the time. Attorneys for Furie and its primary lenders countered in separate court filings that Hex did not negotiate “in good faith” during the process, an allegation Bundy disputes. With Hex unable to finance the purchase, one of Furie’s primary lenders New York-based Melody Capital Partners LP attempted an acquisition by foreclosure through a firm it formed with GFR Holdings LP of Dallas, Kachemak Exploration LLC. Melody Capital Partners was one of several lenders that collectively loaned approximately $244.5 million to Furie, according to court filings. However, Hendrix told the AIDEA board April 15 that he recently signed an agreement to acquire Furie and his company is now moving towards a June 30 closing date. An omnibus court hearing is scheduled for May 8. Hendrix and others involved in the case have declined to discuss details of the proceedings as they are ongoing, but he said to AIDEA leaders that he hopes to increase in-state employment within Furie. Sources said the global recession that has accompanied the COVID-19 pandemic and caused significant downturns in financial and energy markets largely scuttled the Kachemak Exploration proposal. Hendrix said Furie works with Alaska-based contractors, but the company’s workforce is mostly Lower 48 workers. According to a memorandum outlining the $7.5 million loan, Hex’s purchase would initially provide 15 new resident jobs on the Kenai Peninsula and support another 300 indirect jobs. “We see a great opportunity to — it’s called studying the rocks and getting back to base management,” Hendrix said to the AIDEA board, adding that he hopes to look for more drilling opportunities for oil and gas. Furie officials said in 2017 they planned to work on developing oil prospects in the Kitchen Lights gas field, but those plans were largely scuttled because of the state’s delay in repaying millions of dollars in oil and gas tax credits the company earned for its previous work, according to the company’s filings with the state Division of Oil and Gas. The company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Aug. 9 in federal Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware. According to the company’s bankruptcy petition, Furie owed lenders approximately $440 million when it filed for Chapter 11 protection and was also owed roughly $105 million in refundable tax credits from the State of Alaska. The company installed the Julius R platform in the Kitchen Lights field in 2015, which at the time was the first new production platform the Inlet built since the 1980s. Furie officials estimated the value of the company’s assets at between $10 million and $50 million in their initial bankruptcy filings. The financial challenges were nearly continuous for the company, which had net gas sales of $25.4 million and absorbed a net loss of $58.5 million in 2017, according to the bankruptcy filings. The situation worsened in 2018 when the company sold $42.8 million of natural gas but took a loss of nearly $152 million. Furie lost $21.4 million in the first quarter of 2019, when a freeze-up in a gas production pipeline kept the company from supplying HEA and Enstar with gas for more than a month. Once gas deliveries resumed, Furie was only able to supply Enstar with less-than-contracted amounts for several months as well. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

GUEST COMMENTARY: State-owned oil company is a bad idea

Watching the collapse in oil prices, the gaping hole in state revenues, the cutbacks in oil company spending on new production — and the likelihood that Alaska’s future will suffer under all of the above — some suggest state government should step up to the drilling rig, put on a hard hat and get to work. It’s time that the state become a real owner, they say, just like ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips. Just like BP has been for almost 60 years on the North Slope. The low-price opportunity awaits Alaska, they say. Watching Hilcorp struggle to raise the billions it needs to buy up BP’s Alaska assets while the collateral for the loan — the oil in the ground — isn’t worth nearly as much as it was last year, some say the state should step in front of Hilcorp, borrow and invest to pick up BP Alaska on the supposed cheap. Haven’t we learned anything in 40 years of well-intentioned but ill-conceived state investments based on the unproven theory that if we own it, the profits will come? Does anyone think this time will turn out any different? Supporters of state investment, state ownership and state control like to point to Norway, which is rich beyond Alaska’s wildest dreams. But the Norwegian government poured billions of dollars into covering its equity stake, its share of exploration and development expenses for years before ever starting to earn a serious profit a decade later. Can Alaska afford to gamble today, betting that profits may flow in 2025, 2030 and beyond? Does the state have any money to invest? Oil companies, such as ConocoPhillips and Oil Search, both active in North Slope exploration, use their profits from ongoing operations to fund new developments. They spend today’s cash flow for tomorrow’s investments. If you look at the state checkbook, there’s not enough cash coming in these days to cover next year’s schools much less investments in next year’s drill pipe. And why, if Hilcorp, with hundreds of thousands of barrels a day of actual oil and gas production spread across several fields in several states, and with years of profitable operations, is having trouble signing the deal with hesitant bankers, what makes Alaskans think that the state, with years and years and years of budget holes, with no general tax revenues, with constant political pressure to pay out an unaffordable dividend to its residents, would be able to raise billions of dollars against the same devalued oil in the ground. The state’s credit rating is OK for now, but only because the rating agencies believe we will do the right thing and raise new revenues, protect the Permanent Fund and not overspend. Turning around and borrowing billions on a bet that the state knows more than anyone else which way oil prices are heading, that the state knows the future of oil production, and that the state knows a good deal when it sees one, is sure to cause the rating agencies to wonder whether a piece of drilling pipe fell on our heads. Sure, instead of borrowing all the money to buy up BP Alaska, the state could write a check on the Permanent Fund. But due to investment losses from the crashing stock market, the fund’s earnings reserve already is in danger of falling too low to help pay for schools and other public services next year. This is not the time to overdraw the account. Instead of doubling and tripling down on oil as the sole savior of Alaska’s finances, the state should be looking to diversify our public revenues. Or we could play the slots in Vegas. Makes as much sense as an overly oil-dependent state betting solely on oil, more oil and nothing but oil. No offense to oil. Larry Persily is a longtime Alaska journalist, with breaks for federal, state and municipal service in oil and gas and taxes, including deputy commissioner at the Alaska Department of Revenue 1999-2003.

Bond sale paused for Interior Energy Project

A long-awaited decision on how to increase the availability of natural gas for businesses and residents in the Fairbanks area was put on hold April 21 to allow the current unprecedented economic situation to play out at least a little more. Interior Gas Utility board members started an April 21 work session intending to vote on a resolution authorizing up to $78 million in revenue bonds to fund expansion of the utility’s small Titan LNG plant at Point MacKenzie in Southcentral Alaska. However, IGU General Manager Dan Britton said early in the videoconference meeting that he was rescinding his recommendation to approve the project given the broad financial uncertainties stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. “I continue to believe that utility-owned liquefaction is best,” Britton told the IGU board, “but we cannot ignore the short-term realities of these unprecedented times.” The Titan LNG expansion project would have roughly quadrupled the plant’s gas liquefaction capacity from roughly 1 billion cubic feet, or bcf, to 4 bcf per year. The final investment decision was supposed to be the culmination of more than six years of work on the $330 million Interior Energy Project to get more natural gas to the Fairbanks area that started with the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority’s examination of a North Slope LNG plant. That plan was scrapped following a lengthy economic evaluation that concluded high North Slope construction costs would result in final gas prices to consumers that would be too expensive to entice residents and businesses to convert from wood and fuel oil and heat. IGU board members thanked Britton for not wanting to push ahead on a project that has been years in the making at a time when nearly every aspect of daily life has been disrupted. Britton’s “pause” recommendation came as oil prices worldwide — which the natural gas utility competes with through the price of fuel oil — fell to new lows. The price for Alaska North Slope crude briefly went negative April 20 and ended April 21 at $9.01 per barrel. Public commenters largely concurred with the change of plans, urging the young utility to work on ways to attract new customers that would help grow the demand base for gas when the plant is expanded and improve the economics of the project for everyone. The IGU board did not set a new date to revisit the Titan plant expansion, but some members said they hope a decision can be made soon. Britton thanked IGU staff and contractors for all the work that has already gone into the project as well. “There has been a ton of effort that has gone into this and I don’t want that to go unrecognized,” he said. IGU officials recently completed a 5.25 million-gallon LNG storage tank in Fairbanks that has increased the utility’s annual demand capacity by approximately 40 percent, according to board chair Steve Haagenson. Britton said during a March 4 AIDEA board meeting that while there has been years of study and debate over how many residents will invest the thousands of dollars — in some cases — needed to convert their homes to natural gas, he expects larger businesses, such as retail box stores, to be some of IGU’s first new customers. While residents will mostly focus on whether gas is cheaper than fuel oil or other energy sources, many business owners would sign up for gas to get rid of the inherent environmental liability in large, buried fuel oil storage tanks, he said at the time. Britton said utility leaders continue to examine new options for gas supply but he is not concerned about IGU’s ability to secure a new and larger supply of natural gas. The utility’s existing contract with Hilcorp Energy expires in 2021. In 2018 Siemens Government Technologies pitched what company representatives called a “turnkey” proposal to IGU in which the international industrial company would use modular LNG production facilities and currently undeveloped gas sourced from the Susitna Valley to deliver LNG to Fairbanks via the Alaska Railroad. However, the IGU board ultimately rejected the plan after Siemens representatives could not provide sufficient details regarding their gas supply plan. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

OPINION: The decline is obvious. Anchorage is ready to open.

The peak of new coronavirus cases in Anchorage came on St. Patrick’s Day less than 12 hours after Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz ordered bars, restaurants and “non-essential” businesses such as beauty salons to close. On that day the state reported 9 cases in Anchorage. Every one of those cases could be traced to before the March 16 closure and the mayor’s eventual “hunker down” order that took effect the next week on March 22. Since March 17, the state’s largest metro area with about 300,000 people has never, ever, not once, had more than 9 cases in a day. That happened on March 17, March 20 and March 23. That’s right. Anchorage has not cracked double digits for new cases in a day, even in the week after Berkowitz shut down most businesses and ordered an end to gatherings of more than 10 people at a time when every new case could be traced to before the closures. By any measure, Anchorage has been in decline since March 23. The second-highest number of new cases in a day was March 30 with 8. The average number of new cases per day from March 30 to April 21 in Anchorage is 2.7. The rolling four-day average of new cases has declined from 5.3 on April 2 to 2.3 on April 21. In seven of the 12 days from April 9 to April 21, Anchorage reported either 1 or zero new cases. The number of active cases has increased by an average of less than 1 per day from March 23 to April 20, or from 69 to 92 in 28 days. Yet despite these miniscule numbers and being situated in the capital of the state’s health care system that had nearly 1,000 available beds as of April 21, the mayor is continuing to keep his boot on the Anchorage economy while giving free rein to the criminal element of the homeless population to take over the streets and green spaces. Berkowitz announced a plan to re-open Anchorage on April 20 based on conditions of meeting a 14-day decline standard and availability of testing. Regarding testing, City Manager Bill Falsey said on April 21 that anyone who needs a test in Anchorage can currently get one. At the same time, he was unable to describe in any detail whatsoever what metric the municipality is using to measure what would constitute a 14-day decline. More troubling than the inability to articulate a metric to reopening despite the obvious decline in cases for a month and the widespread availability of tests is the mayor’s 28-day timeline between the start of Phase 1 and Phase 2. April 20 marked five weeks since Berkowitz locked down bars and restaurants and even though new cases in Anchorage were literally zero for four days of the 10 previous days, Falsey could only say it was possible we could enter Phase 1 sometime in May, or potentially seven weeks since the “hunker down” order. It is unconscionable to continue hammering businesses by requiring another four weeks to continue to measure a “decline” that has already hit zero several times and has likely been negative for at least a few of those days based on the number of recovered cases that now outnumber active cases in the state. Destroying businesses both through action and inaction is quite a feat, but the mayor is pulling it off by extending closures without evidence to support them and allowing criminals to trespass, damage and defile private property. Even Phase 1, which anticipates allowing restaurants to open for dine-in service, is unrealistic and unworkable by limiting gatherings to 20 people. No restaurant can open with a 20-person limit that would include the staff. If a business can meet the social distancing and sanitary guidelines it should be able to open regardless of what kind of business it is. If we can allow doctors to literally cut people open, we can allow people to cut hair. The purpose of this lockdown was to slow down the spread and put in place surge capacity for the health care system. Both of those goals have been achieved. The purpose was never to eradicate new cases. That is impossible, and any attempt to move the goalposts in that direction should be rejected. The longer we stay isolated, the longer we postpone the inevitable second series of new cases. The difference is we now have the infrastructure in place to handle the second wave as well as a mountain of data that will help protect vulnerable populations and established practices to prevent transmission. Thousands of people per day are visiting grocery stores, liquor stores, gas stations and fast food drive-thrus, yet we have not seen any evidence of wide community spread in Anchorage. Again, the most cases in a day we had pre-hunker down was 9. The most we’ve had in a day since is 8. That’s proof we can handle social distancing responsibly. Anchorage is ready to open, and it is ready to open now. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

ConocoPhillips announces $200M more in Alaska cuts

ConocoPhillips will cut another $200 million from its Alaska work program this year, company executives said this morning shortly before oil prices fell to the lowest level in 18 years. The formal announcement of the spending cut comes about a week after ConocoPhillips told its North Slope drilling contractor, Doyon Drilling, to demobilize its drilling rigs and crews in an attempt to limit the spread of COVID-19. Doyon Drilling is a subsidiary of the Interior Alaska Native regional corporation Doyon Ltd. In mid-March ConocoPhillips executives announced an initial $200 million capital spending reduction but the company did not elaborate as to where the spending reductions would come from at the time. ConocoPhillips spent approximately $1.5 billion on capital projects in Alaska last year. CEO Ryan Lance said in a conference call that ongoing cuts to oil production worldwide simply have not been enough to offset the demand loss stemming from the economic shutdowns imposed to limit the spread of COVID-19. “We expect prices over the next few months — they will be weak and they will be volatile,” Lance said. On April 12, leaders from the world’s top oil producing nations announced a global agreement to cut 9.7 million barrels from daily production in May, or about 10 percent of oil production worldwide. However, vastly oversupplied oil markets have not responded. The price of Alaska North Slope Crude fell to $16.65 per barrel on Wednesday, according to the Alaska Department of Revenue, the lowest price since January 2002. ConocoPhillips leaders touted a strong and restructured balance sheet after the 2014-16 oil price downturn with a focus on being profitable at oil prices of $40 per barrel. “Current prices are well beyond our planning range and we believe these are prudent levers to exercise in the circumstances,” Lance said. Companywide, ConocoPhillips has reduced spending by $5 billion from prior expectations since early March. The company expects to curtail oil production by about 225,000 barrels per day in the Lower 48 and Canada. Chief Operating Officer Matt Fox said further estimates on oil production were not available in part because of market uncertainty. Spokesman John Roper wrote in an email that no layoffs have been announced. “We continue to monitor the market situation. But at this time, based on our current outlook, we chose to maintain organization capacity so we can resume programs in the future,” Roper wrote. In addition to ConocoPhillips’ overall $400 million capital investment cut, Oil Search Alaska said in March it would reduce development spending on its large Nanushuk oil project by $70 million this year. BP also said in late March that it was suspending its two-rig drilling program at Prudhoe Bay. Fox also said the ConocoPhillips’ exploration drilling program on the North Slope was cut short due to prevent an outbreak of the virus in remote drilling camps. ConocoPhillips Alaska leaders previously said the company planned to drill seven exploration wells in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska this winter. An Alaska spokeswoman did not return questions in time for this story about the company’s ongoing near-term North Slope development projects such as Greater Mooses Tooth-2 and Nuna. Look for updates to this story in an upcoming issue of the Journal. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

Princess and Holland America cancel 2020 Gulf of Alaska sailings

In another blow to Alaska’s struggling economy, Princess Cruises and Holland America Line are canceling Gulf of Alaska sailings for the entire season as the cruise industry grapples with the coronavirus pandemic. The Carnival-owned lines are the state’s biggest cruise ship operators. Both companies announced the cancellations Tuesday along with broader sailing delays fleetwide until July. About half the cruise voyages in Alaska this year have been canceled, including 175 involved in Tuesday’s announcement. Princess also announced that, given the already shortened summer season, the company isn’t opening five wilderness lodges it operates in Fairbanks, Cooper Landing, Denali National Park and Preserve, Denali State Park north of Talkeetna, and Copper Center. Princess will not operate bus or train excursions. Holland America has also canceled this season’s land excursions into Denali National Park and the Yukon. The company operates Westmark hotels in Fairbanks and Anchorage. Industry observers were expecting the biggest cruise season yet this year before the pandemic hit. The announcement “is devastating not just to the hundreds of businesses that rely on cruise passengers for their livelihoods, but the communities that receive a large portion of their revenue from visitor taxes and fees,” Alaska Travel Industry Association President and CEO Sarah Leonard said in a statement. Last year, Alaska’s visitor industry supported more than 52,000 jobs and created more than $4.5 billion in economic activity for Alaska, according to the association. Leonard said Tuesday’s announcement makes state and federal assistance for the state’s tourism businesses “all the more imperative.” More than a million out-of-state tourists come to Alaska on cruise ships every year — more than by any other form of transportation. Passengers on day excursions pour into jewelry stores, gift shops and restaurants around the state. They charter flightseeing trips and glacier cruises. From Seward and Whittier, they’re bused or take the train to Anchorage, where they stay in hotels, eat out and maybe travel farther north to Talkeetna, Denali and Fairbanks. Princess officials say they hope two vessels — Emerald Princess and Ruby Princess — will be able to sail later this summer round-trip to Southeast Alaska from Seattle. Holland America officials said the company hopes two vessels — Koningsdam and Eurodam — will be able to offer round-trip cruises from Seattle and Vancouver for part of the summer. “We will continue to assess these plans over the next several weeks,” Holland American spokesman Erik Elvejord said in an email Wednesday. No cruise ships will call at Whittier and a large part of Seward’s cruise traffic will be gone, industry officials say. There are now more than 601,000 fewer passengers cruising to Alaska this season, according to Cruise Lines International Association Alaska. That includes 126,000 canceled round-trips in Southeast Alaska, 246,000 others already canceled and Tuesday’s cancellations of 228,364 in Whittier and Seward. The state estimates each cruise passenger spends $624 in Alaska on average, according to the association. That’s an estimated $375 million that won’t be spent here this summer. The cancellations will also cause a direct loss of thousands of jobs, company officials said. “We deeply regret that we will not be able to employ the approximately 3,500 teammates who help show our guests the Great Land each summer,” Princess President Jan Swartz said in a YouTube video posted Tuesday. “Our thoughts are also with all of our small business partners throughout Alaska who we have supported every summer for decades,” Swartz said. “We know these decisions will have a large adverse economic impact on the state of Alaska which relies on tourism.” Princess announced cancellations of Alaska cruises of the following ships: Coral Princess; Emerald Princess; Golden Princess; Grand Princess; Pacific Princess’ Royal Princess; Ruby Princess; and Star Princess. Holland America canceled Alaska cruises on the following ships: Maasdam, Volendam, Oosterdam, Noordam and Westerdam. Nationally, the cruise industry shut down about a month ago amid the rising toll of the new coronavirus that causes the infectious disease known as COVID-19. Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention extended a “no-sail order” for 100 days. The virus has sickened hundreds of cruise ship passengers and stranded thousands — including some Alaskans — as well as infecting and isolating crew members. Dozens on cruise ships have died. “Our outlook for a restart of travel continues to slip further into summer,” Princess spokeswoman Negin Kamali said in an email. “This, combined with the reality of our short Alaska operating season, has forced us to make the extremely difficult decision to cancel our 2020 Alaska gulf cruise and cruisetour programs.” Some communities, like Fairbanks, aren’t located on saltwater but still rely on the summer surge of cruise traffic. The cruise lines advertise sternwheeler tours and gold mines as well as flights to the Arctic Circle and Yukon River. The “cross-Gulf” cruises canceled this week generally start in Vancouver and end in Seward or Whittier, but passengers can book land tours to Denali National Park or Fairbanks. “It’s bad news,” said Deb Hickok, president and CEO of nonprofit visitor marketing organization Explore Fairbanks. The organization gets 86% of its budget from reinvested hotel and motel taxes taking a hit because of the virus, Hickok said. The organization laid off employees and cut its $4.2 million budget to $2.9 million — just below the level of the state’s 2009 recession. A 2016 study found land tours make up more than 40% of summer business in Fairbanks, Hickok said. “We know it’s over 150,000 visitors. What the exact portion of that is Holland and Princess I don’t know. But I can tell you the majority for sure.” Talkeetna, the quirky Susitna Valley town with Denali views, thrums with summer visitors as cruise passengers arrive by train and bus. Chris Byrd grew up in Talkeetna and now owns the Swiss Alaska Inn, a 21-room hotel and restaurant that opened in 1976. He’s getting numerous calls a day from cruise passengers canceling room reservations. Byrd voiced a hope shared by many in the tourism industry here: Once Alaskans can start leaving home again, they’ll be the first wave of visitors helping to rebuild the state’s tourist economy. But even that isn’t certain, Byrd said. “With the way the economy is going, oilfields shutting down, you don’t know what to expect,” he said. “Typically when tourism season isn’t great you’re hoping the oil fields are running and vice versa. Both of them being down at the same time is really not helpful for the state for sure.”  

Movers and Shakers for April 19

Lily Stevens Becker has joined the McKinley Capital Management LLC board of directors. Becker is a partner at Orrick, a global law firm specializing in technology, energy and infrastructure, and finance. She works in Orrick’s San Francisco and Seattle offices. Becker represents companies and individuals in civil and criminal matters, relating to accounting and internal controls issues, fraud, bribery, and the securities laws. She has conducted investigations around the world for multinational corporations as well as targeted investigations for small organizations. She advises clients on anti-corruption compliance programs at all stages, including developing policies and procedures and conducting assessments of well-established programs. Prior to joining Orrick, Becker was a clerk for the honorable Loren A. Smith on the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. She holds a juris doctorate from the University of California Berkeley School of Law, as well as a master of arts degree in Chinese history and a bachelor’s in history with honors from Stanford University. Dori Stevens, MBA, BSN, will be the next chief administrative officer at PeaceHealth Ketchikan Medical Center, effective April 13. Stevens has more than 30 years of experience in healthcare leadership, most recently as the chief executive officer at Sutter Delta Medical Center in Antioch, Calif. She was with Sutter Delta for 15 years, also serving as director of nursing and certified nursing educator. Stevens began her career in healthcare as a registered nurse, receiving a bachelor’s degree in nursing from California State University. She later went on to earn her MBA from University of Phoenix. In addition, Stevens furthered her professional development with courses in boethics from the University of Washington and the completion of Lean training.

OPINION: Misplaced priorities clarified amid coronavirus

From the endless memes to the Tiger King, dark humor will go down as one of the most effective coping mechanisms for isolated and anxious Americans amid a deadly outbreak that has killed and sickened tens of thousands across the country Unlike some locales that have deployed police drones or actually arrested people for not maintaining a proper distance, our government officials here in Alaska have benevolently allowed us to still go outside. Thanks to that indulgence I enjoyed one of the biggest laughs I’ve had over the past month. While walking Dakota along the Chester Creek trail — and after passing numerous fresh camps and endless trash piles — I reached a small collection of playground equipment pathetically draped in yellow tape. Most concerning as I gazed in sorrow over this plague-ravaged wasteland was realizing the small rocking duck had not been festooned with the impenetrable yellow ribbon of a mayor’s mandate. With no one but Dakota within earshot, I couldn’t help myself. I burst out laughing. It is difficult to imagine more gut-busting evidence that we can trust without fail in government despite its ceaseless complaints of being resourced-starved. While fanned out across the Anchorage parks and trail systems to weave tape through monkey bars and assiduously avoid picking up garbage or posting abatement notices, the Parks and Recreation Department under Mayor Ethan Berkowitz may have stumbled upon a solution to the problem of illegal camping: Yellow tape. If wrapping yellow tape around a swing set can close a playground, then surely a few more rolls strategically strung around some trees will convince the burgeoning greenbelt population to move along, seek help and stop stealing from the neighbors. Or there is the possibility that Operation Monkey Barred is a colossal waste of time and money. When evaluated based on risk of spreading the coronavirus, focusing on teeter totters buried in snow versus increasing neglect of the homeless population is akin to solving the draft from a broken window by closing the curtains. The cruelty of Anchorage’s compassion after years upon years of tolerating open lawlessness is colliding with an easily transmitted virus that’s putting vulnerable people and those who generously care for them at risk. Anchorage’s elected leaders have allowed this problem to get so out of hand that the working group tasked with helping the homeless is seriously requesting the deployment of the National Guard troops to clean up human waste. Downtown Assemblyman Chris Constant supports the request. Thank goodness Anchorage voters just gave this district another seat on the Assembly. We’ll be on the right track in no time. The single most dangerous situation that could contribute to community spread in Anchorage — particularly among the first responders and health care workers we need most right now — has not been reduced over the past month of the mayor strangling the economy and practicing pandemic theater at the playgrounds. It has gotten demonstrably worse. Closing Sportsmen’s Warehouse with the stroke of the pen is easy. Closing down sprawling camps taking over streets is more of a challenge. Only one is an act of leadership. Far secondarily, but shared in common is the mayor’s refusal to follow the lead of governors in Massachusetts and New Hampshire or the original plastic purgers in San Francisco to prohibit reusable bags in stores. The jurisdictions our mayor and Assembly chose to emulate recognize that reusable bags can spread disease, but apparently our problem is bad enough to keep us out of the park but not bad enough to keep germ caddies out of our stores. Banning reusable bags would be an admission the plastic bag ban was and is ill-conceived, which is likely why the mayor hasn’t done it. Saving theoretical sea turtles is more important than stopping the spread. Now, #stayhome, you. Some misplaced priorities have certainly been clarified amid the coronavirus response, and the state Legislature has been no different. A couple days after it was reported here that House Finance Co-Chair Jennifer Johnston declared she didn’t believe Alaska Natives could be trusted with an extra $1,000 and was therefore against paying out the Permanent Fund dividend early, Senate President Cathy Giessel and Senate Finance Co-Chair Natasha von Imhof sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. The letter to Mnuchin, who doesn’t have anything better to do, what with trying to persuade Senate Democrats to expand the Paycheck Protection Program by another $250 billion and literally overseeing trillions of dollars in coronavirus aid, was copied to the congressional delegation but not Gov. Mike Dunleavy and asked what he was “not” allowed to use the state’s share of relief funds for (emphasis in original). In the tone of a student who reminds the teacher she has yet to assign homework, the letter implies Dunleavy has cited plans for improper use of the funds according to their interpretation of the CARES Act. At the end of a week with most Alaskans stuck at home and nearly 40,000 on the unemployment rolls, two of the top three leaders in the Senate decided their most pressing priority was to undermine the governor and bother the U.S. Treasury Secretary while not bothering to help any Alaskans. They were unbothered by the revelation of what has long been alleged but unproven until confirmed by Johnston: members of the shot-caller cohort in the Legislature don’t trust Alaskans with the PFD. Rather than rectify that wrong by reconsidering their decision to withhold the dividend payment until the fall, Giessel and von Imhof chose to suggest Dunleavy is doing the same thing with his vetoes that they actually did with the PFD. Not only did they not pay the PFD according to the formula in state law, the amount and the timing were explicitly based on federal dollars from stimulus checks and unemployment benefits as a substitute. Projection ain’t just a job for laid off movie theater employees. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to put some yellow tape around the fridge. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

GUEST COMMENTARY: Five reasons Dr. Zink is crushing it as a crisis communicator

I don’t know how Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer, ever goes back to a life of relative obscurity when this strange time comes to end. She’s quickly become a bona fide local celebrity, a calming, trusted presence at the governor’s nightly press conferences to update us on the state’s efforts to combat COVID-19. And she is good at explaining the facts —beyond good, she is nearly perfect, yet to miss a beat. Dubbed the “explainer in chief,” Dr. Zink is doing so many things right when it comes to crisis communications she deserves her own highlight. Here are five of the many ways Dr. Zink is crushing it as a crisis communicator: 1.) She knows her stuff. Clearly, Dr. Zink is a subject matter expert. She is confident in her answers, because she knows the how and why of everything she is asked to explain. Sometimes, she is asked questions that don’t exactly relate to her area of expertise, but she doesn’t freeze up or fumble her way through a rambling non-answer. She does what us public relations professionals are constantly telling clients in media training sessions – she finds the right source to answer the question. If that person isn’t readily available, Dr. Zink makes a note to find out and get back to the questioner. We’ve checked. She does follow up. This is a basic media relations skill, and she excels at it. 2.) Zink is empathetic and human. She makes sure we know she and her family are going through this with the rest of us. That may sound overly simplistic, but a drill sergeant could deliver the same news as Dr. Zink and instill a sense of fear rather than a sense of “we will get through this together.” Zink expresses care and concern for the health of all Alaskans, and sounds like she means it. She encourages Alaskans to take care of each other, and to check in on neighbors who may need a helping hand. Honestly, Dr. Zink would probably deliver a hot casserole to a vulnerable neighbor’s doorstep if someone asked her to. In a word, she comes across as sincere, another essential trait for effective crisis communicators. 3.) She is calm and composed under pressure. Does anything rattle this woman? Dr. Zink is in charge of communicating some pretty heavy stuff. Think about it: Every day, she and the governor go live in front of thousands of Alaskans, and tell us how many people have contracted the COVID-19 virus, or even died from it. She walks into a press conference knowing she must tell parents their kids can’t go to school, families can’t visit nursing homes, and traveling is basically off limits. The prospect of communicating scary news would cause many of us to stammer, lose our breath, ramble, or freeze up. While I doubt she enjoys it, it is clear Dr. Zink understands she must maintain professionalism and decorum no matter how overwhelming the news gets. She is tough as nails, but still comes across as friendly and approachable – both rare traits in times of crisis. 4.) She speaks plainly and avoids jargon. We don’t need to hear medical terms we can’t comprehend. We need to know how to protect our families. Lord knows the health care field is full of acronyms and terms most of us do not understand. Dr. Zink knows this, and goes out of her way to explain complex medical concepts in terms we can understand. Just like the governor did when he talked about tsunamis and how waves roll onto a shore, Dr. Zink uses analogies that make sense. My favorite was early on in the crisis, when just a few cases of COVID-19 had been confirmed in Alaska. You could tell Dr. Zink wanted to discourage the media (and all of us watching online) from thinking that maybe we would escape the worst of this virus. So, she used the analogy of seeing a storm brewing on the horizon, with these first few COVID confirmations symbolizing the first drops of rain hitting the ground before it starts pouring. Oh, and who can forget the whiteboard? Pulling out a whiteboard and drawing pictures that helped Alaskans visualize what the disease curve would look like under different circumstances made Dr. Zink appear more like a teacher than a doctor. In this case, she was both. 5.) She expresses her gratitude and recognizes her team without downplaying the serious nature of the crisis at hand. It has not gone unnoticed that Dr. Zink thanks journalists after every question, of which there are many, to say the least. Some cynics have labeled it overkill, but you can tell, or perceive, that she recognizes the role media play in helping keep Alaskans informed, healthy, and safe. Dr. Zink also spreads the love and makes sure we all know she has a large team behind her and touts the excellent work being done by employees in public and private health, private industry, nonprofits and other entities contributing to tackling this crisis. In other words, she realizes she is not just a subject matter expert, but also a spokesperson, and wants to make sure citizens know about the many faceless heroes going the extra mile to keep us safe. Often, a crisis can worsen when communications are poor. In this case, the situation has undoubtedly improved because of the excellent crisis communications skills displayed by Dr. Zink. We Alaskans owe her a collective, socially distant hug. Sarah Erkman Ward is the president of Blueprint Alaska, an advocacy and strategic communications firm located in Anchorage.

GUEST COMMENTARY: UAA is here when you need us

Many of you have heard me describe University of Alaska Anchorage as Alaska’s modern, relevant, connected urban-metropolitan university. UAA has become the school of choice for Alaska’s best and brightest, and we open our doors to anyone seeking opportunity through education. UAA is Anchorage’s hometown university. We’re here to solve real-world problems. These words cannot fully describe the important asset UAA has become over its history. At no time has the value of UAA to this community been more apparent than during our current response to the COVID-19 pandemic. For the last 15 years, UAA biology researchers have been studying coronavirus strains, most recently in bats in Alaska, developing tools that can now be applied to the virus that causes COVID-19. Mutated coronavirus strains jumping from bats to humans are known to be the cause of the SARS outbreak in 2003 and the MERS outbreak in 2012. Our researchers have partnered with the Centers of Excellence for Influenza Research and Surveillance to standardize, catalog and make data accessible to everyone around the world, with the hope of painting a clearer picture of regional coronavirus variants. In addition to this research, the UAA College of Health is working to graduate up to 72 nursing students early so that they can join the health care workforce in Alaska. The college is coordinating with relevant university offices, the Alaska Board of Nursing and the accrediting agency. These students are completing their course requirements on an expedited timeline and will apply for temporary licensure that qualifies them to practice for six months. They will follow up with completion of the licensing exam that all nursing students take to become a permanent RN. The college’s Alaska Center for Rural Health and Health Workforce is working with the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services COVID-19 Task Force to quickly develop a medical supply survey tool to track supply usage and restock rates used by the state to prioritize and distribute critical medical supplies. Additionally, a research team from the UAA College of Health’s Division of Population Health Sciences and Institute for Circumpolar Studies used epidemiological modeling to predict the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations in the Anchorage and Mat-Su area. The report found without recent state and municipal intervention policies aimed at sheltering in place and social distancing, Alaska’s medical infrastructure would become overwhelmed. The report, which was shared with Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz, Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy and Alaska Chief Medical Officer Anne Zink, called for strengthening these intervention measures to “flatten the curve.” The researchers have now done similar modeling for the Fairbanks area. UAA’s contributions also extend beyond the College of Health. An economist within the UAA Institute for Economic and Social Research and the College of Business and Public Policy has conducted analysis on the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on Alaska’s economy. A faculty member with expertise in international policy and disaster response is actively contributing to local planning efforts. UAA engineering faculty have responded to requests by medical professionals to produce ventilator parts and personal protective equipment using 3D printing technology available on campus. Another faculty member is adapting orthopedic surgical suits for use in screening COVID-19 patients. The federally funded Small Business Development Center within the Business Enterprise Institute at UAA has consulted with over 200 small businesses in the state on strategies to mitigate financial losses due to business closures. In addition, the institute’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership worked with the Alaska Legislature on an amendment to Senate Bill 241. The bill extends the governor’s declaration of a public health disaster emergency in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and allows for temporary changes to state law. The amendment provides a liability waiver, making it possible for local manufacturers to produce badly needed PPE and allowing local health care providers to use it. The UAA colleges of Health, Arts and Sciences and Engineering transferred supplies of personal protective equipment to the state for distribution to health care workers. UAA research labs have transferred needed chemical supplies to Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium for use in COVID-19 testing. UAA’s Alaska Airlines Center has been converted into a medical alternate care site to treat patients in the event local hospitals experience an influx of COVID-19 patients. UAA is making space available in two of its residence halls to house health care workers if the need arises. The university’s dining services is also standing by to provide support to health care workers. Similar responses have occurred at UAA’s community campuses. We’ve produced a video series called “Ask a UAA Expert,” featuring just-in-time relevant information from faculty with expertise relevant to our COVID-19 response—everything from disaster recovery to talking with your kids about the pandemic to dangers the pandemic poses to rural Alaska Native communities. This work and more commenced immediately as part of Alaska’s COVID-19 response without anyone having to ask. That’s what being a relevant, connected university means. UAA is not the ivory tower. I have always said UAA excels at applied research that solves Alaska’s most pressing problems. It is no surprise to me that UAA has stepped up magnificently in this current crisis. This is your hometown university. UAA is right here wherever, whenever you might need us. Cathy Sandeen is the chancellor of the University of Alaska Anchorage.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Skilled Alaskan workers deserve our thanks

Let’s be real. Staying-in-place and hunkering-down is not as easy as many of us thought it would be, but a few things do make it bearable. Quarantined with kids? Tech workers are making sure schoolwork, videos and books can be downloaded and that electricity, gas and water is flowing so meals can be prepared. Working from home? Communication workers are still on the job making sure your internet stays on so you can connect to your team. Staffing a store, clinic, piece of the supply chain or other critical infrastructure? Electricity is keeping the vital equipment we need in hospitals, businesses, and infrastructure powered. No matter what we are doing, this pandemic has proven how heavily we rely on technology and utilities for work, education, communication and entertainment and how essential and critical it is to have highly trained professionals working to keep us safe and comfortable. The women and men who make up the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers represent some of the workers keeping things running right now so medical facilities can remain open and utilities running smoothly. Essential and mission critical workers include hospital technicians, warehouse workers, power linemen, electricians, power plant workers and technicians as well as communications workers like telephone linemen, installation and repair workers, telephone operators, central office technicians, cable maintenance workers, and fiber optic specialists, mechanics, line clearance tree trimmers and heavy equipment operators. The skilled workers and the companies who employ them to make all these things work deserve our thanks and our support over the long haul. This is especially true because they stand ready to deploy in whatever weather to do whatever it takes to safely make things work so our lives are not disrupted for long durations. More than the inconvenience it might cause most of us when there are downed lines or slow internet, reliable energy and fast repairs are a matter of life and death as hospitals work to treat people for viral infections on top of serving patients sick from other ailments. Utility and construction companies all along Alaska’s Railbelt and statewide made plans to quickly step up the safety protocols in order to preserve the people power it takes to maintain or fix things in an emergency. Many of these jobs require a crew, and if people get sick from COVID-19, or any other virus, replacements need to be properly trained and nearby to get the job done quickly. Luckily, due to a robust apprenticeship program and workers that live in Alaska, we can make this happen. Not only that, we employ Alaskans who are here and know our communities, the terrain and the climate, and who understand our weather and do not need to be quarantined for 14 days due to traveling from outside of Alaska during this pandemic. This emergency has highlighted the value of usually commonplace things such as cleaning products, facemasks, video communication and ventilators. It also highlights the value of all kinds of jobs and the people who do them. We look forward to a day soon when the importance of a trained, Alaska-based workforce is fully appreciated and when going back to our regular job sites will be the new normal. Stay safe out there everyone. ^ Dave Reaves is the Business Manager for International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1547, which represents more than 4,000 electrical, communications, construction, government and health care workers across the state of Alaska.

Doyon wants agreement with AIDEA before Ambler road work continues

As leaders of the state development bank work to advance a controversial road to access remote mining prospects in Interior Alaska, one of the primary landowners along the route contends they have not been adequately consulted and need much more information before they can approve of the project. Doyon Ltd. CEO Aaron Schutt wrote in an open letter to Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority Executive Director Tom Boutin dated April 7 that while the authority has been deeply involved with the Bureau of Land Management on the environmental review for the road, “AIDEA has for years failed to engage with Doyon in any meaningful communication” regarding the project. Doyon is the Alaska Native regional corporation for most of Interior Alaska. Holding title to just more than 11.5 million acres, Doyon is also the largest private landowner in the state. Doyon owns land that the road would cross at its east end, near the village of Evansville and the Dalton Highway. As proposed, the Ambler Mining District Industrial Access Project, commonly known as the Ambler road, would run west from the Dalton Highway for approximately 211 miles along the southern flank of the Brooks Range to the Ambler mining district. The area in the upper Kobuk River drainage has long been prized by mining companies for its high-grade prospects of copper, gold and other metals. Several companies are in varying stages of exploring numerous claims in the roughly 75-mile long district, but road access has consistently been cited as a required precursor to developing mines in the isolated area. Under the authority’s plan — modeled after the access road and port built to the Red Dog zinc mine in Northwest Alaska — AIDEA would own the road and recoup development costs through tolls paid by the mining companies that use it. State officials backing the plan have long stressed the road would be closed to the public and access would be closely monitored, though many skeptics of the plan question the feasibility and legality of restricting access, as roughly $26 million of state general fund money has already been approved for the project. However, many residents of the area have long opposed the road and the mines. They contend the construction of the road could disrupt the Western Arctic caribou herd that migrates through the corridor and is a primary subsistence food source for the villages clustered at each end of the route. Some are also concerned about the practicality of keeping the road closed to the public, fearing that a new route into the remote area could bring more hunters. The proposed mines have also drawn scrutiny for potential impacts to salmon and whitefish runs in the Kobuk River drainage. AIDEA originally estimated construction of a basic gravel road would likely cost somewhere in the $300 million range, but projections in the Ambler road final environmental impact statement, or EIS, issued by BLM March 27 put the cost at more than $500 million. BLM Alaska officials have supported AIDEA’s plan. The agency led the EIS work because it is in charge of reviewing the authority’s application for a road right-of-way across portions of federal lands in the area. Also on March 27, the AIDEA board of directors approved a transfer of $35 million from the authority’s Revolving Fund to its Arctic Infrastructure Development Fund to eventually support development of the Ambler road. Board members said the money would likely fund engineering, right-of-way acquisitions, public outreach and other pre-construction activities this summer. Schutt emphasized in the letter that AIDEA does not have an access agreement with Doyon either for the road right-of-way or for additional field work. Though many opposed are Doyon shareholders, the company does not have a formal stance on the project; the company has filed comments through the EIS process outlining the concerns with the project it wants the authority to address, according to Schutt. “AIDEA has never even presented a written proposal to Doyon for such access, much less a written proposal or detailed information regarding the (right-of-way). As such, AIDEA and its contractors do not have permission to enter or cross Doyon lands to conduct any field work in the summer of 2020, or at any time,” he wrote, while also noting that AIDEA does not have eminent domain authority granted to some state agencies. AIDEA spokesman Karsten Rodvik wrote in an email that the board approved the transfer of the $35 million “in support of Gov. Dunleavy’s Open for Business initiative.” “AIDEA is committed to working with all stakeholders to move this project forward in a responsible manner, to utilize the state’s extensive mineral resource potential to provide much-needed long-term economic growth and development, and to create job opportunities,” Rodvik wrote further. According to Schutt, Doyon is open to discussing the project and he specifically requested AIDEA officials provide Doyon with technical information for the portion of the road that would cross the company’s lands; information regarding a financial proposal for a right-of-way across Doyon lands; a detailed financing plan for the overall project; and how AIDEA plans to address concerns raised by the Evansville Tribe and Evansville Inc., a Native village corporation. In 2014, the Evansville Inc. board of directors passed a resolution prohibiting the road from crossing the company’s land around the village and the Evansville Tribal Council also passed a resolution in 2017 opposing the road. Doyon spokeswoman Sarah Obed also said representatives for the Native corporation have met with AIDEA officials several times over the years to discuss the Ambler road and generally asked each time about the items outlined in the letter. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

Satellite broadband project scuttled by coronavirus

An international partnership aiming to boost Alaska’s broadband connectivity is over as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. London-based OneWeb, an emerging global satellite broadband company, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy March 27, effectively ending a deal the company had just made with Anchorage-based telecom Microcom. Microcom founder Chuck Schumann announced in mid-January an agreement to be a distributor of space on OneWeb’s then-growing global broadband satellite network for Alaska and Hawaii through Microcom’s broadband subsidiary Pacific Dataport Inc. A statement on OneWeb’s website says the company had been in advanced negotiations for investment that would have funded it through its commercial launch. “While the company was close to obtaining financing, the process did not progress because of the financial impact and market turbulence related to the spread of COVID-19,” the statement says. OneWeb previously touted large international partners and investors such as fellow telecoms Hughes and Qualcomm as well as Coca Cola and Dutch aerospace giant Airbus. The partnership with Pacific Dataport was targeting large customers with Pacific Dataport selling wholesale broadband capacity on OneWeb’s network, which was based on a massive fleet of low-earth orbit, or LEO, satellites. OneWeb representatives said the broadband network was scheduled to be up in Alaska by the end of the year. Schumann said in an interview that he was very disappointed to hear about OneWeb’s bankruptcy, but noted the partnership was intended to add supplemental capacity to Pacific Dataport’s own Aurora broadband project. “They had funding, everything was going forward and they were in a good place. We had some meetings in (Washington) D.C., that first week of March and everything was in place,” Schumann said of OneWeb. “And then, from the COVID crisis, the oil prices and the stock market tanked, which caused their financers, their backers to back out, so they stepped out and left OneWeb hanging.” The regulatory issues inherent in a global network of LEO satellites are a constant challenge, according to Schumann. He said OneWeb needed to deploy about 200 satellites to make the project work with Pacific Dataport. The company had launched 74 satellites out of a total program of approximately 700, OneWeb said in a statement. About half of its ground 44 stations were complete or under construction as well. Northern latitudes were going to get the first coverage as OneWeb continued to launch its satellite fleet from north to south through much of next year, company representatives said in January. Schumann said it’s unclear at this point what impact the ongoing economic shutdown will have for Pacific Dataport’s Aurora broadband project, but he expects it to be delayed at least several months. Announced in January 2019, the Aurora project will utilize two geosynchronous equatorial orbit, or GEO, satellites specifically positioned to provide broadband coverage to Alaska. Pacific Dataport’s satellite manufacturer, San Francisco-based satellite developer Astranis Space Technologies Corp. is in the process of drafting a report briefing its customers as to what the current economic and supply chain situation means for its business and development schedule, according to Schumann. “The difficulty over the last couple of weeks has been trying to predict what was going to happen next week,” he said. “Things change — I mean, every four hours it seems it’s different.” The first Aurora satellite was scheduled to launch late this year with 10 gigabits of broadband capacity. A second satellite increasing the network capacity to 80 gigabits was set for 2022. Schumann is also trying to determine how satellite launch schedules have changed in recent weeks. “It’s got to impact us a little bit — within a matter of months, anyway,” he said. For a host of reasons, Alaska is consistently listed among the states with the lowest levels of broadband coverage in the country. Currently, Alaska has about 2.5 gigabits per second of satellite bandwidth across multiple broadband providers, according to Pacific Dataport. He said Alaska’s lack of broadband capacity has just been exacerbated by many people being forced to work from home and hold videoconference meetings while health care providers are trying to deliver telemedicine during a health crisis. “Rural Alaska is really hurting for additional capacity, additional connectivity, and there’s just nothing there,” Schumann said. The current work restrictions and health guidelines have added another layer of complexity to Microcom’s ongoing service as well. Microcom has approximately 30 technicians that work in the field while administrative employees are working from home, according to Schumann. As has been the case for many companies similar situations, it was difficult obtaining basic personal protective equipment and hand sanitizer for employees in the first couple weeks that COVID-19 spread across the country, Schumann said, noting that the availability of those products has improved of late. “We’re starting to get a handle on it. Nobody was ready for the crush of requirements — the crush of demand for those products,” he said. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

ADFG: Safe conduct of salmon fisheries is possible

State fisheries managers insist it is too early to close commercial salmon fisheries to prevent the spread of COVID-19 despite growing concerns from many in small communities about the coming influx of seasonal workers. Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang said in an interview that he is certainly aware of the issues that could arise from holding spring and summer salmon fisheries that start next month as everyone also attempts to limit the spread of the disease, but he stressed state officials are drafting plans to provide extra protection to local residents and fisheries workers. He also noted that salmon is just one sector of the state’s diverse and year-round fishing industry. “I think people are wondering whether we’re going to have fisheries; I think they forget that we actually have a lot of fisheries in the water right now and we’re geared up to manage those,” Vincent-Lang said. In addition to numerous federally managed fisheries, commercial boats are currently targeting crab, halibut, rockfish, pollock, Pacific cod and other species in state waters. Commercial and charter fishing have been deemed essential industries by state officials through the COVID-19 travel and work restrictions, meaning they can continue as long as participants submit operating plans to the state Commerce Department that adhere to current health mandates. Those ongoing fisheries “have been operating fairly smoothly,” he said, and ADFG managers are learning a lot about the daily operations of a fishery in the era of social distancing and travel restrictions that can be applied to the upcoming salmon seasons. “We’re learning how to be adaptive,” Vincent-Lang said. For example, managers are using new ways to sign fish tickets that verify catches and take biological samples used for management from harvested fish, according to Vincent-Lang. Dillingham Mayor Alice Ruby and Curyung Tribe First Chief Thomas Tilden urged Gov. Mike Dunleavy to consider closing the Bristol Bay sockeye fishery in a letter dated April 6 citing concerns about the region’s limited capacity to provide health care and a possible need to make the decision early to allow impacted fishermen and processors to apply for federal aid. In Cordova, home to the state’s first large-scale salmon fishery each year in mid-May at the mouth of the nearby Copper River, residents have started a KEEP CORDOVA SAFE website, containing numerous open letters to local and state officials demanding further travel restrictions for fisheries workers and suggesting only local fishermen be allowed to fish, among other measures. The leaders of 11 Bristol Bay processing companies followed up with an April 7 letter to regional leaders outlining their strategies for safe operations this summer in what has been a $300 million fishery in recent years. Vincent-Lang said the department is ready for the Copper River chinook and sockeye season and the first opener will be around May 14 with normal adjustments for weather and water conditions. “We’re expecting a fairly high participation rate in that fishery,” he said. Cordova Mayor Clay Koplin said in a prior interview with the Journal that processor companies have submitted detailed plans to the city for managing their crews this summer and some include bringing additional medical personnel to Cordova. As for Bristol Bay, where fishing starts in June and typically peaks in early July, Vincent-Lang said he has seen several plans from processors there as well. Processors are protecting public health by also making quarantines mandatory for their workers upon arrival on top of state and local government mandates as well as keeping them “on campus” throughout the season to limit interaction with local residents. “What I’m doing is telling local community leaders to be is patient; this is working its way through,” Vincent-Lang said. “We’re learning things as we conduct fisheries right now and it’s premature to make a decision to close those fisheries at this point. As we gear up we’ll be sharing our plans with you to understand what we’re doing to protect public health in those areas.” Bristol Bay Borough Mayor Dan O’Hara said he and other officials from area fishing groups and local governments have participated in teleconferences with Seattle-area processors and state officials in recent days to more closely coordinate operations this summer. O’Hara said the Bristol Bay Borough, which covers the communities of Naknek and King Salmon and receives more than $4.5 million in fish landing taxes each year, is not interested in closing down the salmon fishery this year. He also said it is too soon to take such a big step. Instead, “there’s nobody coming off the water to the mainland” at Naknek’s docks, O’Hara said as long as current state work, travel and distancing mandates persist. He said the borough assembly passed a resolution in April restricting travel into its communities beyond the governor’s health mandates but borough leaders were later informed by the governor’s office they did not have the authority to do so. Exactly what authorities local governments have to restrict travel and other specific activities during the ongoing public health emergency is also being worked out statewide. “We don’t need to be stepping around him,” O’Hara said of Dunleavy’s orders. As of April 14, Bristol Bay Borough administrators had received seven plans from processors, according to O’Hara. “They plan on either chartering in (workers) and being tested before they get here and just getting on the bus and going straight down to the processing plant, shutting the campus completely down and they’ll not come out of there until the fishing season’s over, and I think that’s a good plan,” he said. “As mayor I’d prefer that nobody comes here prior to May 15 but we already have 400-500 people here and they’re of course following the quarantine.” The Bristol Bay Borough will maintain the restrictions it can at least until public health officials have a better handle on the virus, according to O’Hara. If the situation improves, mandates could be lifted. Managers also must consider what not having a fishery could mean for future runs. Nearly 50 million sockeye are expected to return to Bristol Bay rivers this summer and not catching the vast majority of them would make for salmon escapements that would far exceed the goals for each river. Commercial fishermen usually harvest approximately 75 percent of the sockeye that return to Bristol Bay rivers. At a high level, managers typically try to allow sufficient numbers of fish to escape and spawn to generate the highest return based on historic data and scientific modeling. Allowing additional salmon to escape harvest and spawn can increase competition for food among juvenile salmon rearing in freshwater and reduce the productivity of future runs. “We don’t want to damage the long-term health of those ecosystems in terms of fish reproduction, but second of all it provides a significant economic boost to that local community in terms of income to fishermen and income to the local community,” Vincent-Lang said, while also stressing that accounting for those considerations will not come at the expense of public health. “We’re not going to just harvest fish and put the local health at risk.” Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

Pages

Subscribe to Alaska Journal RSS