Interior Department sued over revised NPR-A plan

A coalition of environmental groups sued the Interior Department Aug. 24 urging a federal judge to halt implementation of the Trump administration’s plan to expand oil and gas opportunities in Northwest Alaska. The six state and national conservation organizations, including The Wilderness Society, the Northern Alaska Environmental Center and the Alaska Wilderness League allege Bureau of Land Management and Interior Department officials violated at least three longstanding federal laws in selecting a land-use plan for the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska that would open more than 80 percent of the massive federal parcel to hydrocarbon development. The groups, led by the Anchorage-based nonprofit environmental law firm Trustees for Alaska, argue in-part that BLM Alaska leaders violated the foundational National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, by only conducting a cursory review of the impacts of additional development in the petroleum reserve. The agency also did not consider any management alternatives in the final NPR-A land-use environmental impact statement, known as the reserve’s integrated activity plan, meant to substantially increase protections for the reserve’s wildlife and aquatic resources — another NEPA violation, according to the complaint. To the contrary, the final EIS published in late June identifies a preferred alternative that would open more of the nearly 23 million-acre reserve to industry than was contemplated in any of the three action alternatives detailed in the draft review. The most industry-friendly management alternative discussed in the draft EIS would have opened 81 percent of the NPR-A to potential leasing and development, while the BLM’s preferred alternative in the final review would open 82 percent, or 18.7 million acres, of the reserve to leasing by industry. All of the alternatives in the final EIS would also reduce the size of the Teshekpuk Lake Special Area and eliminate the Colville River Special Area — parts of the reserve previously established to support local subsistence harvests and maintain habitat for caribou, waterfowl and other species — the complaint notes. The Obama administration finalized the current NPR-A plan in 2013, which made about 11.8 million acres available for leasing and roughly doubled the size of the Teshekpuk Lake Special Area to 3.6 million acres, with more than 3.1 million acres of the special area off-limits to leasing. Suzanne Bostrom, the Trustees for Alaska attorney who signed the complaint, said in a statement that the Trump Administration is doing everything it can to meet industry’s wishes with little regard for the impacts to locals and wildlife in the region. “BLM’s decision to launch an all-out assault on the western Arctic is completely at odds with its obligation to provide maximum protection for areas like Teshekpuk Lake and lands and waters essential to the health of western Arctic animals and people,” Bostrom said. She wrote via email that the lawsuit was filed before BLM has issued a record of decision finalizing its plan because of a clause in federal law requiring any complaint specific to an NPR-A leasing review be made within 60 days of publication of the final EIS. In unrelated cases, Trustees attorneys have successfully sued the Interior leadership twice in the past two years to have separate land exchange agreements meant to facilitate an emergency access road through what is now the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge on the Alaska Peninsula. The firm is also leading another suit filed Aug. 24 against Interior officials over the administration’s plan to open the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in far northeast Alaska to oil and gas exploration. BLM’s preferred alternative for the NPR-A would open the entire 3.6 million-acre Teshekpuk Lake Special Area to leasing with limitations on activities and permanent facilities intended to limit impacts to wildlife. The area around the large lake, which sits in the northeast corner of the reserve, has become of particular interest to oil and gas industry advocates because of large Nanushuk formation oil discoveries made on nearby state land and within the NPR-A. Those discoveries led the U.S. Geological Survey in late 2017 to increase its resource assessment for the reserve to nearly 8.7 billion barrels of technically recoverable, undiscovered oil. A 2010 NPR-A assessment projected a mean resource estimate for the reserve of just 896 million barrels. The vast majority of the acreage currently under lease is held by ConocoPhillips, which is in the environmental permitting process for its large Willow oil prospect in the northeast portion of the reserve and is also working on smaller projects in the area. Expected to cost up to $6 billion to fully build out, the Willow project could produce upwards of 160,000 barrels of oil per day at its peak, according to the company. Former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke first directed department agencies to reevaluate the reserve’s oil and gas potential as well as changes to the management plan in May 2017. BLM’s preferred management plan for the reserve includes elements from the range of alternatives analyzed in the draft EIS and was developed with input from cooperating agencies and stakeholders, according to the agency’s Alaska spokeswoman Lesli Ellis-Wouters. BLM officials expect the new management plan could help spur oil production of up to 500,000 barrels per day over the next 20 years with up to 250 miles of new roads and approximately 20 new drilling pads in the reserve under a “high development scenario,” according to the agency’s analysis. The complaint additionally alleges that BLM violated the 1976 Naval Petroleum Reserves Production Act and related regulations by voiding many protections put in place for the Teshekpuk Lake area and doing away with the Colville River Special Area entirely. “The (NPRPA) instructed the Secretary of the Interior to designate any areas containing significant subsistence, recreational, fish and wildlife, or historical or scenic values as special areas and to provide ‘maximum protection’ for those values,” the complaint states. The alleged failure to fully analyze all of the impacts resulting from industry activity under the new management plan also violates the Administrative Procedures Act, according to Trustees attorneys. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

‘Nothing is for certain’ amid operating restrictions

In October 2013, Fat Ptarmigan opened its doors. After years spent working at bars and restaurants in Anchorage, co-owner and head chef Guy Conley was excited about bringing a “fast casual” dining option to the downtown scene. “There were a lot of fine dining options, but not many for someone looking for something casual,” says Conley. “No one was doing wood fired pizza when we opened and I couldn’t find a decent meatball in this town to save my life.” The restaurant opened to positive reviews and an overnight following. Diners loved the simple but delicious fare as well as the inviting ambiance of warm wood, exposed bricks, and a front row seat to watching Conley work the pizza oven. Less than a year later, the recession hit Alaska. “It definitely wasn’t an ideal time to open a restaurant,” says Conley. An opportunity, and a challenge Fast forward to early 2020. Fat Ptarmigan was still going strong, but downtown had changed since the restaurant’s early days. On the positive side, apartment buildings and condos being constructed were attracting new residents to the area and Conley felt like the Anchorage Police Department’s relocation to 4th Avenue was leading to decreased crime. New businesses were opening or expanding. On the negative side, Nordstrom, a downtown retail anchor since 1975, closed in 2019 and much of downtown business still depended on the visitor season and events that brought locals to the area. Conley says that even when the economy rebounded after the recession, people just weren’t eating out as much as they did pre-recession. Always on the lookout for ways to strengthen Fat Ptarmigan’s business model, a collaboration with the Double Shovel Cider Co. seemed like a good opportunity to diversify the restaurant’s offerings and co-mingle clientele, while taking advantage of underused space. For Double Shovel, it was a chance to have a downtown presence and easily connect with locals and visitors. Anchorage Cider House launched in February 2020 in Fat Partmigan’s south room, offering cider from Double Shovel on tap and in cans. Galen Jones, co-owner of Double Shovel, says that the collaboration with Fat Ptarmigan is grounded in shared values and a mutual appreciation of downtown. “A vibrant and thriving Downtown is good for Anchorage, and fortunately it’s on the upswing. We want to be part of developing an even more popular scene with increased activity, mixed use and residential buildings, help it be a place people want to hang out at all hours of the day,” Jones said. Jones’ plans for Anchorage Cider House included featuring ciders from around the world, educational tours spanning the cidery (located in Midtown) and the cider house, live music, special release parties, and Spain-inspired events serving cider directly from casks. Any other summer, and the Anchorage downtown restaurant scene would most likely be booming. But summer 2020 is unlike any other summer in living memory: it’s the summer of a global pandemic. A twist called COVID-19 By Anchorage Municipal Emergency Ordinance, restaurants and bars were closed to indoor dining from March 18 to May 11, and then again in August for a four-week reset meant to slow the rising numbers of COVID-19 in Anchorage. The closures have been brutal for businesses. “One bad week is hard to recover from,” says Jones. “And we’ve had months of bad, with no sustainable revenue. It was a big investment for us to open Anchorage Cider House, and if something were to happen to Fat Ptarmigan, we’d be up the creek without a paddle.” To get through the closures, Jones, Conley, and the rest of their team are focusing on new ways to reach customers. Conley says that third party apps like GrubHub and DoorDash are essential, but terrible in terms of revenue. “When we have a full dining room and can sell cider, wine, and beer, they’re okay. But now, when we’re relying on them, the fees they charge are devastating.” (Pro tip: if you connect to delivery apps from a restaurant’s website, the app waives the fees.) Both Jones and Conley say the federal Payroll Protection Program, or PPP, has helped, and are hopeful that State of Alaska CARES Act funds will soon be made available to businesses who received more than $5,000 from PPP (this has been proposed and will likely be approved soon). Conley says options like rent relief or delayed property taxes would be welcome. During a time when the Independent Restaurant Coalition estimates that as many as 85 percent of independent restaurants across the country may permanently close by the end of 2020, restaurateurs are looking for creative solutions. Getting creative Conly says that the Open Streets ANC initiative, organized by the Municipality of Anchorage and the Anchorage Downtown Partnership, is helping. “Downtown is like a ghost town, without the tourists and with the small number of people who live here. We’re not seeing a lot of foot traffic. But, we’re trying to get people to the outside seating and right now we’re only down 25 percent of our annual revenue, which is good compared to other restaurants I know.” The State of Alaska’s decision to allow to-go and delivery for alcohol is also helping. “We really focused on people picking up cans and growlers when we were first shut down,” says Jones. “Now with the ability to pick up cider combined with the open streets, we’re seeing revenues grow.” Conley found another way to reach customers, too: the Migrating Ptarmigan, a food truck selling Fat Ptarmigan fare. “It’s going well, and it’s another way to promote the business.” What does the future hold? “Right now we’re so preoccupied with the day-to-day and how to get people to come downtown, we haven’t really thought about how to get through the winter,” says Jones. “I wish I had a plan, but between running Double Shovel and keeping our full-time jobs, it’s tough to look further than a week into the future. But I know downtown in the winter is going to be really tough for everyone.” Conley hopes that indoor dining will return at least at 50 percent indoor seating capacity in the fall. Both like the idea that initiatives like Open Streets ANC and the EasyPark’s recently launched Operation Downtown Dine Out, which provides restaurant seating in parking spaces, might return next summer. “It’s so cool that there are all these options now with seating and shops, and it feels like a safe and fun place to be. You can get food and see live music, see friends while staying distanced, support local businesses,” says Jones. Neither is keen to predict too far into the future though. “If there’s one thing I’ve learned,” says Conley, “It’s that nothing is for certain.” Gretchen Fauske is a marketing-minded economic developer fueled by a passion for entrepreneurship, innovation, and small business. She is the associate director for the University of Alaska Center for Economic Development, Board President for Launch Alaska, Vice Chair for Anchorage Downtown Partnership, and a Gallup-certified CliftonStrengths coach.

Movers and Shakers for Aug. 30

Tasha Nichols was promoted to First National Bank Alaska Human Resources manager and appointed Human Resources officer. Nichols obtained a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Alaska Anchorage and a bachelor’s in human resource management from the University of Alaska Southeast. She is an accredited Senior Certified Professional through the Society of Human Resource Management. Nichols began her career with First National in 2016 with more than 20 years of local human resource experience. Alaska Behavioral Health announced several new staff members to its clinics in Anchorage and Fairbanks: Dr. Curt Wengel, child and adolescent psychiatrist; Kelsea Henry, chief financial officer; Christine Alvarez, director of Adult Services; and Sarah Koogle, clinic manager, Fairbanks Adult Clinic. Wengel completed medical school in south Texas. He went on to general psychiatry residency at Brooke Army Medical Center, the Veterans administration and University Health Systems before completing a child and adolescent fellowship at San Antonio State Hospital and Clarity Child Guidance Center. Originally from New Mexico, Henry joined the United States Army and served for 4½ years before being honorably discharged in order to pursue a calling in the healthcare industry. Upon completion of a bachelor’s degree in healthcare management, Henry joined Mountain Family Health Centers as their controller in 2017. In 2018, Kelsea joined Memorial Regional Health in Craig, Colo., as chief financial officer and graduated with her MBA in finance. Henry comes from White Mountain Regional Medical Center in Arizona where she was their CFO. She is currently pursuing her doctorate in business administration. Alvarez has more than 13 years of mental health experience and has served in a variety of leadership roles including Team Lead of Austin-Travis County Integral Care’s Expanded Mobile Crisis Outreach Team, Director of Multnomah University’s Counseling Center, and assistant executive director of the Domestic Abuse and Sexual Assault Crisis Center of Warren County. Alvarez is licensed as an LPC in Texas, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, and soon, Alaska. Alvarez will be overseeing adult services in both Anchorage and Fairbanks. Koogle has a master’s degree in clinical community counseling. Koogle has worked at AKBH since 2015 and was recently promoted to manager of the Fairbanks Adult Clinic. She has worked with a wide range of mental health issues both inpatient and outpatient care, adult and children.

Hospitals keep up with COVID cases, but staff feel strain

Alaska’s health care providers are following the number of new of coronavirus infections with trepidation as it trends upward while they try to manage the cases and urge people to take precautions. As the summer draws to a close, Alaska is watching its hospitalizations for coronavirus infections steadily tick up. As of Aug. 25, there were 40 coronavirus-positive hospitalizations in the state, with six others under investigation. That’s the most it has been since the pandemic began in March, and since June, hospitalizations have been regularly reaching new highs. Hospital capacity remains adequate for now, with just more than half of the inpatient beds in the state occupied as of Aug. 25, according to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services. Since the very beginning, officials have been taking on mitigation measures to try to keep hospitals and health care systems from being overwhelmed by COVID-19-positive patients. But as time goes on, hospitalizations have increased even as the overall infection curve seems to flatten and the state is heading into flu season and the start of school, when normal hospital occupancy goes up and staff becomes busier. That’s something health care executives are keeping a very close eye on, said Jared Kosin, the president and CEO of the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association. As long as Alaska can continue to ride the wave, hospitals should be able to handle it. “Our single biggest concern is if hospitalizations keep growing and hospitals stay this busy, and we have this influx of COVID patients that we’ve never seen before,” he said. At the beginning of the pandemic, there was significant concern about hospitals’ capacity for high-acuity patients with COVID-19 who required intense care and ventilators within an intensive care unit. Increasingly, COVID-19-positive patients in Alaska are not having to go to the ICU. Of the 40 who were reported hospitalized with the virus, only 25 percent were in the ICU, Kosin said. Hospitals decide on staffing partially based on their daily count of patients. They have some flexibility based on the level of care patients need, with some constraints; for example, ICU nurses typically have additional training. Patients hospitalized with COVID-19 who need ICU care may also require the services of a respiratory therapist, which places additional needs on hospital staffing. Keeping staffing levels up has long been an issue for hospitals, between employees taking leave, schedule coordination, sudden outbreaks of disease, and now the need to quarantine staff who may have been exposed to the coronavirus. Kosin said hospitals are constantly working on their emergency response plans for massive demands on their services, such as in the case of a plane crash or natural disaster. So far, they’ve been able to absorb the additional needs into their operations without having to activate surge plans. There are definitely strains on staff, though. Donna Phillips, the labor council chair with the Alaska Nurses Association, said wearing the PPE all day every day is uncomfortable, in part because of temperature. Hospital facilities for staff, like break rooms, may not be set up for social distancing, either, and moving patients around from area to area with all the equipment and protective gear requirements are additional time burdens for nurses who were busy to begin with. “Those kinds of things I think are super challenging,” she said. “It’s very different, the heat that is generated by wearing a mask all day is kind of difficult. I’m fascinated by how hot you are.” There’s also been the additional burden of bedside care for patients who can’t have visitors, either. Phillips said that’s something nurses will make time for, as they want to provide good bedside care, but it’s not necessarily something they get extra time for. “It is more work for the bedside caregiver … to keep everybody around them safe, and without having visitors in the hospital, you’re the only one who can calm that patient down and (still) have one, two, three, four, however many patients you have, so the only person that’s with (the patients) are the people working in the hospital,” she said. “Now that falls to the nurse, the social worker, the case manager, whoever else has time to hold that iPad so they can have a 10-minute conversation with their family once a day.” So far, there has not been a critical shortage of staff, but there may be some burnout among nurses, she said, especially as hospital census counts have gone back up with other patients beyond coronavirus patients. If infections and hospitalizations increase again enough to reverse some of the state’s reopening, it could have serious financial consequences for hospitals. This spring, as a preventive measure to conserve beds for the pandemic, hospitals cancelled all elective surgeries and other procedures. Unlike emergency services and some other acute services, elective surgeries are major moneymakers for hospitals, and cancelling them for several months meant a major financial hit, particularly for smaller and rural hospitals that operate on thinner margins. Health care providers, including hospitals, did receive some pandemic relief money, but Kosin said the uncertainty looming around infections and hospitalizations is concerning. Kosin said ASHNHA and other health care agencies are encouraging the public to take precautionary measures like washing hands, wearing masks and social distancing expressly with the intent of keeping hospitalizations down to a manageable level, especially as flu season approaches. “The fate of this is really in every individual’s hands,” he said. ^ Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Hydro expansion another step in grid improvement

A small valve opened in a remote mountain valley at the head of Kachamek Bay sending a stream of water downhill that will eventually become low-cost power for places as far away as Fairbanks. The Alaska Energy Authority started flowing water through its West Fork Upper Battle Creek Diversion Project Aug. 25. The $47 million project will increase the amount of water in nearby Bradley Lake, in-turn increasing the practical power production capacity of the AEA-owned Bradley Lake Hydro Project by about 10 percent, according to AEA project manager Bryan Carey. Already the largest hydro plant in the state, Bradley annually produces about 380,000 megawatt-hours of power for the six electric utilities in Alaska’s Railbelt. The reliable supply of glacial-fed “fuel” stored behind the Bradley dam can be used by the utilities to manage the variable portion of their electric load and optimize operation of their gas-fired generators. “We want our gas turbines to be at the sweet-spot” for maximum efficiency, Homer Electric Association Board of Directors Vice President David Thomas said during a tour of the new facilities. “You could argue Bradley Lake is the largest battery in the state.” The Bradley Lake turbines are rated to produce up to 120 megawatts of power at any given time but constraints at both ends of the project have limited its average production to about 44 megawatts. And because Bradley power costs just 4 cents per kilowatt-hour to produce, according to AEA — making it some of the cheapest power in the state — more is better, said Tony Izzo CEO of Matanuska Electric Association. Izzo also chairs the Bradley Lake Project Management Committee. The hydro project is operated by HEA under a contract with AEA. Feedstock natural gas for the utility’s other power plants calculates out to a cost of about 8 cents per kWh. “It’s pretty easy to see the benefit (of Bradley Lake) when you look at the numbers,” Izzo said. MEA is in the middle of studies to see how much variable renewable power its grid can accept and identify some of the prime areas for renewable energy generation in its service area. The Battle Creek project will add about 37,300 megawatt-hours of production capacity to Bradley by diverting glacial water from the West Fork of Upper Battle Creek and piping it nearly 2 miles to the manmade lake; enough power to light about 5,000 Railbelt homes, according to AEA. The 60-inch high-density polyethylene pipe buried largely alongside the project access road installed to carry the water from the lake can handle up to 600 cubic feet of water per second, equivalent to a small river, according to Carey. The diversion stream was flowing at about 60 cubic feet per second, or cfs, on Aug. 27, he said. Being short and steep glacial drainages Bradley and Battle creeks do not have many salmon — which makes them good candidates for harnessing their water — but they do have some. AEA is required to keep an average minimum flow of 15 cfs in Battle Creek to maintain fish habitat. Carey acknowledged the project will likely change the fish habitat some; the stabilized flow is likely to benefit salmon such as kings that spawn mid-stream, but could challenge others. He said Battle Creek was finished on time, but slightly over budget — AEA previously pegged it at about $44 million — but Izzo noted it was completed within the parameters of the original financing plan and small overruns are often a fact of life for that type of work. “On a remote project in the mountains, that’s not exceptional,” Carey said. At about $16 million, the three miles of new road needed to reach the project accounted for approximately 40 percent of the overall cost of the work, which was led by Anchorage-based Orion Marine Contractors. AEA and utility officials noted the recent agreement to purchase of the 39-mile Soldotna-to-Quartz Creek segment of transmission line by the authority from HEA is another small step along with the commissioning of the Battle Creek project to spur more efficient power production and distribution Railbelt-wide. The “S-Q” transmission line was out of service for about four months last year following damage from the Swan Lake fire, which cost ratepayers to the north about $11 million by cutting off access to Bradley Lake and necessitating more gas-fired power. Even when the 115-kilovolt line is operational, it has “line loss,” or the amount of power lost during transmission, of about 40 percent at maximum capacity, according to AEA Engineering Director Kirk Warren. The goal is to eventually upgrade the S-Q line under AEA’s ownership with financial support from the utilities that will benefit. Warren estimated upgrading the S-Q line to 230 kilovolts would cost $800,000 or more per mile based on previous work, but it would also allow the utilities to access more Bradley power without losing nearly as much of it to the ether. “It’s part of the overall continued effort to reduce rates or keep rates down and increase the use of renewables,” Izzo said. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

‘Nothing is for certain’ amid operating restrictions

In October 2013, Fat Ptarmigan opened its doors. After years spent working at bars and restaurants in Anchorage, co-owner and head chef Guy Conley was excited about bringing a “fast casual” dining option to the downtown scene. “There were a lot of fine dining options, but not many for someone looking for something casual,” says Conley. “No one was doing wood fired pizza when we opened and I couldn’t find a decent meatball in this town to save my life.” The restaurant opened to positive reviews and an overnight following. Diners loved the simple but delicious fare as well as the inviting ambiance of warm wood, exposed bricks, and a front row seat to watching Conley work the pizza oven. Less than a year later, the recession hit Alaska. “It definitely wasn’t an ideal time to open a restaurant,” says Conley. An opportunity, and a challenge Fast forward to early 2020. Fat Ptarmigan was still going strong, but downtown had changed since the restaurant’s early days. On the positive side, apartment buildings and condos being constructed were attracting new residents to the area and Conley felt like the Anchorage Police Department’s relocation to 4th Avenue was leading to decreased crime. New businesses were opening or expanding. On the negative side, Nordstrom, a downtown retail anchor since 1975, closed in 2019 and much of downtown business still depended on the visitor season and events that brought locals to the area. Conley says that even when the economy rebounded after the recession, people just weren’t eating out as much as they did pre-recession. Always on the lookout for ways to strengthen Fat Ptarmigan’s business model, a collaboration with the Double Shovel Cider Co. seemed like a good opportunity to diversify the restaurant's offerings and co-mingle clientele, while taking advantage of underused space. For Double Shovel, it was a chance to have a downtown presence and easily connect with locals and visitors. Anchorage Cider House launched in February 2020 in Fat Partmigan’s south room, offering cider from Double Shovel on tap and in cans. Galen Jones, co-owner of Double Shovel, says that the collaboration with Fat Ptarmigan is grounded in shared values and a mutual appreciation of downtown. “A vibrant and thriving Downtown is good for Anchorage, and fortunately it’s on the upswing. We want to be part of developing an even more popular scene with increased activity, mixed use and residential buildings, help it be a place people want to hang out at all hours of the day,” Jones said. Jones’ plans for Anchorage Cider House included featuring ciders from around the world, educational tours spanning the cidery (located in Midtown) and the cider house, live music, special release parties, and Spain-inspired events serving cider directly from casks. Any other summer, and the Anchorage downtown restaurant scene would most likely be booming. But summer 2020 is unlike any other summer in living memory: it’s the summer of a global pandemic. An twist called COVID-19 By Anchorage Municipal Emergency Ordinance, restaurants and bars were closed to indoor dining from March 18 to May 11, and then again in August for a four-week reset meant to slow the rising numbers of COVID-19 in Anchorage. The closures have been brutal for businesses. “One bad week is hard to recover from,” says Jones. “And we’ve had months of bad, with no sustainable revenue. It was a big investment for us to open Anchorage Cider House, and if something were to happen to Fat Ptarmigan, we’d be up the creek without a paddle.” To get through the closures, Jones, Conley, and the rest of their team are focusing on new ways to reach customers. Conley says that third party apps like GrubHub and DoorDash are essential, but terrible in terms of revenue. “When we have a full dining room and can sell cider, wine, and beer, they’re okay. But now, when we’re relying on them, the fees they charge are devastating.” (Pro tip: if you connect to delivery apps from a restaurant's website, the app waives the fees.) Both Jones and Conley say the federal Payroll Protection Program, or PPP, has helped, and are hopeful that State of Alaska CARES Act funds will soon be made available to businesses who received more than $5,000 from PPP (this has been proposed and will likely be approved soon). Conley says options like rent relief or delayed property taxes would be welcome. During a time when the Independent Restaurant Coalition estimates that as many as 85 percent of independent restaurants across the country may permanently close by the end of 2020, restaurateurs are looking for creative solutions. Getting creative Conly says that the Open Streets ANC initiative, organized by the Municipality of Anchorage and the Anchorage Downtown Partnership, is helping. “Downtown is like a ghost town, without the tourists and with the small number of people who live here. We’re not seeing a lot of foot traffic. But, we’re trying to get people to the outside seating and right now we’re only down 25 percent of our annual revenue, which is good compared to other restaurants I know.” The State of Alaska’s decision to allow to-go and delivery for alcohol is also helping. “We really focused on people picking up cans and growlers when we were first shut down,” says Jones. “Now with the ability to pick up cider combined with the open streets, we’re seeing revenues grow.” Conley found another way to reach customers, too: the Migrating Ptarmigan, a food truck selling Fat Ptarmigan fare. “It’s going well, and it’s another way to promote the business.” What does the future hold? “Right now we’re so preoccupied with the day-to-day and how to get people to come downtown, we haven't really thought about how to get through the winter,” says Jones. “I wish I had a plan, but between running Double Shovel and keeping our full-time jobs, it's tough to look further than a week into the future. But I know downtown in the winter is going to be really tough for everyone.” Conley hopes that indoor dining will return at least at 50 percent indoor seating capacity in the fall. Both like the idea that initiatives like Open Streets ANC and the EasyPark’s recently launched Operation Downtown Dine Out, which provides restaurant seating in parking spaces, might return next summer. “It’s so cool that there are all these options now with seating and shops, and it feels like a safe and fun place to be. You can get food and see live music, see friends while staying distanced, support local businesses,” says Jones. Neither is keen to predict too far into the future though. “If there’s one thing I’ve learned,” says Conley, “It’s that nothing is for certain.” Gretchen Fauske is a marketing-minded economic developer fueled by a passion for entrepreneurship, innovation, and small business. She is the associate director for the University of Alaska Center for Economic Development, Board President for Launch Alaska, Vice Chair for Anchorage Downtown Partnership, and a Gallup-certified CliftonStrengths coach.

OPINION: Fahrenheit 99501

The crux of Ray Bradbury’s classic novel Fahrenheit 451 is his simple yet brilliant inversion of the traditional fireman from a protector to a destroyer. Firemen in Bradbury’s dystopian American future don’t put out fires or save property and lives. They burn down houses and the books within. Those who resist setting the fires or the government prohibitions against preserving written knowledge are now criminals targeted by a police state aided by supine citizens content to engross themselves in television and report on their neighbors. As it goes in Anchorage, Mayor Ethan Berkowitz and his pals on the Assembly are treating diners and dive bars as if they are secret stashes of ink and paper that must be scorched to save society. Those who protested by opening for indoor service were summarily felled by a flamethrower of fines, injunctions and threats of contempt of court should they risk their livelihoods to keep up the fight. Much like Bradbury’s firemen, Berkowitz and his uncaring cohort have turned the job description of a public servant on its head with their dismissal of public opinion, open derision for their critics, and disregard for the consequences of their actions or lack thereof. Should that sound hyperbolic, it is difficult to fathom what the mayor and Assembly would do differently if their goal was to destroy small businesses while concurrently creating despair and dependence on government. Look no further than the way the mayor and Assembly plan to distribute more than $156 million in CARES Act funds intended to be prioritized for economic relief and not progressive pet projects. Just a bit more than $14 million, less than 10 percent, has been scraped together for the hospitality industry that was already reeling before Berkowitz’s Aug. 3 “reset” order that reset to zero many of its members’ revenue and their employees’ paychecks for another four weeks. Meanwhile, $8 million, or more than half of what is set aside for the hospitality industry, is going to temporary government make-work jobs to line union pockets for recreation trails, “green” jobs and an “Indigenous Wayfinding” project. Rather than preserving permanent jobs by ensuring shuttered businesses can break even on expenses and provide for their employees, the Assembly is sidetracked with building singletrack bike trails. Winter is coming, which will mark the end of these seasonal jobs as well as the ability for restaurants to comply with the mayor’s mandates for outdoor service. Even the ones with enclosed heated tents. But for every day between now and Dec. 30, and every day since March 1, the municipality will use $21 million in CARES funds to cover the previously budgeted payroll for police and firefighters by exploiting a perceived loophole in the Treasury Department guidance to claim all of those expenses are related to the coronavirus response despite the fact they plainly are not. The beak-wetting union jobs and payroll backfilling alone total $29 million that could go to economic relief, and we’re not done yet. We haven’t gotten to their plan to divert $12.5 million in CARES funds to address long-standing homeless service issues that should be paid for with municipal revenue such as the recently-approved retail alcohol tax that is specifically dedicated to funding first responders and “substance misuse treatment, prevention programs, detoxification or long-term addiction recovery facilities, mental and behavioral health programs and resources to prevent and address Anchorage’s homelessness crisis.” They are going to use $3 million in CARES funds to start up their mental health first responder program that is also supposed to be paid for with the alcohol tax. For those keeping track at home, that’s another $15.5 million on top of the above $29 million to total $44.5 million not going to economic relief. A new health clinic in Girdwood is included for some reason at $5 million to bring a partial price tag for funding this Nero fiddling to nearly $50 million in non-economic relief. All of this is bad enough, but worse is that there is still no way to access the meager economic relief funds that have been appropriated. The Assembly website simply says “This page will be updated with more information on programs as they roll out, with links to resources specific to each program. For example, if an application becomes available for Small Business and Nonprofit Relief grants, it will appear within the Small Business and Nonprofit Relief program section.” When you check that line item on the page, it helpfully notes this money was appropriated in May and June. As of Aug. 24, there was no link to a grant application on the page. Same goes for the rental and mortgage assistance page that is supposed to have $20 million available. The Mat-Su Borough had a grant application online Aug. 10 after approving a $13 million business relief program using its CARES funds in July. No matter how much the mayor’s eyes well up with his crocodile tears or his voice quavers with contrived emotion, it matters little to the people he is hurting for their own good. His concern is belied as counterfeit when compared against his lack of urgency to help businesses as he helps himself to federal economic relief money to pay for his political agenda while proclaiming he is above petty partisanship. Berkowitz and his Assembly allies are no more public servants than Guy Montag was a real fireman, but at least Montag stopped lighting matches. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

New Corps requirements may signal end for Pebble

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers gave the Pebble Partnership a very steep final hill to climb to reach federal approval for its mine plan with a short letter establishing strict requirements to offset the project’s impacts to area watersheds. Corps Alaska District Regulatory Chief David Hobbie wrote in a two-page letter on Monday to Pebble Permitting Vice President James Fueg that district officials have determined the copper and gold project, as proposed, would “cause unavoidable adverse impacts to aquatic resources” resulting in significant degradation of those resources. “Therefore, the District has determined that in-kind compensatory mitigation within the Koktuli River Watershed will be required to compensate for all direct and indirect impacts caused by discharges into aquatic resources at the mine site,” Hobbie’s letter states. He wrote additionally that compensatory mitigation will also be required for direct and indirect impacts from the project’s transportation corridor that includes a port on West Cook Inlet. The stringent requirements laid out by Hobbie are in such sharp contrast to Pebble’s proposed mitigation plan and guidelines issued by the Trump administration in 2018 that both mine opponents and traditional resource development advocates reacted to as if the project is ostensibly dead. Under the requirements, Pebble must compensate for impacts to 2,825 acres of wetlands, 132 acres of open water and 129 miles of streams at the mine site, as well as 460 acres of wetlands, 231 acres of open water and 55 miles of streams impacted by the port and 82-mile access road. The company also must submit the new mitigation plan within 90 days. The Koktuli River drains approximately 290,000 acres and contains more than 36,000 acres of wetlands in its headwaters, according to the final environmental impact statement for the project. Sen. Dan Sullivan, an emphatic critic of the Obama administration’s attempt to preemptively “veto” the mine in 2014 via the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Water Act Section 404(c) authority, said in a prepared statement that he has always advocated for a “science-based review” of Pebble “that does not trade one resource for another,” and that is what has happened. The Army Corps of Engineers administers Clean Water Act Section 404 wetlands permits nationwide but the EPA has final say over whether a wetlands fill permit is issued. “I have been clear that given the important aquatic system and world-class fishery resource at stake, Pebble, like all resource development projects in Alaska, has to pass a high bar — a bar that the Trump administration has determined Pebble has not met,” Sullivan said. “I support this conclusion — based on the best available science and a rigorous, fair process — that a federal permit cannot be issued.” Sen. Lisa Murkowski said she supports the decision and agrees that “a permit should not be issued.” “After years of extensive process and scientific study, federal officials have determined the Pebble project, as proposed, does not meet the high bar for large-scale development in Bristol Bay,” she said. Sullivan’s challenger in the November election, independent Senate candidate Al Gross opposes the Pebble project. Corps officials released the final Pebble EIS July 24. A record of decision on the EIS and Pebble’s Clean Water Act wetlands fill permit could be issued 30 days after the EIS was published in the Federal Register. The voluminous final EIS generally maintained the conclusions in the draft EIS and states there would be “no measurable change” in the numbers of salmon returning to the Nushagak and Kvichak rivers or in the long-term health of the commercial fisheries in the region. The Koktuli River is in the upper reaches of the Nushugak watershed. Murkowski and Sullivan previously expressed concern that the Corps’ EIS did not sufficiently analyze the full range of potential impacts of the mine, particularly following highly critical comments from federal and state resource agencies about the scope of the review. Bristol Bay Native Corp. CEO Jason Metrokin said in an interview that while the mitigation requirements aren’t an official death knell for the project, he was happy to learn that, from his perspective, the Army Corps has finally concluded what the BBNC, and a majority of Alaskans have; that Pebble’s plan is insufficient. “They can’t produce a quality mitigation plan in three months if they haven’t been able to do so for years,” Metrokin said, noting Pebble has not backed up the claim that its smaller 20-year mine plan is economic. BBNC has long opposed the project and has refused to allow Pebble access to its land for development. Pebble CEO Tom Collier downplayed the significance of the requirements, saying the letter is a normal part of the permitting process and the company is well on its way to developing a mitigation plan to meet them in a prepared statement. The company has had teams totaling about 25 people in the field this summer and a large part of their work has been mapping wetlands in the region over about the past month, according to Collier. Pebble’s new mitigation plan will likely focus on preserving an area multiple times larger than the aquatic areas impacted by the project, which should meet the requirements based on discussions with Corps officials, Collier said. “Anyone suggesting a different opinion — i.e. that Pebble will not be able to comply with the letter or that such compliance will significantly delay issuing a (record of decision) — must be ignorant of the extensive preparation we have undertaken in order to meet the requirements of the letter,” he said. Pebble spokesman Mike Heatwole wrote in an email to follow-up questions that Collier’s statement provides the best information the company has on the work right now and more details will be made public when they are available. Shares in Pebble’s parent company, Vancouver-based Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd., closed Monday trading on the New York Stock Exchange at 90 cents per share, down 38 percent on the day after the letter was made public. Pebble’s initial compensatory mitigation plan released in January relied on a collection of smaller — and likely less costly — mitigation efforts outside of the Koktuli watershed. The company first planned to replace culverts in the Dillingham area to restore salmon access to about nine miles of spawning and rearing habitat; improve water treatment facilities at villages near the mine site; and periodically clean debris from seven miles of beach around the Cook Inlet port site. All of that potential work is outside of the remote and undeveloped Koktuli watershed. Pebble’s permitting executive Fueg acknowledged when the draft mitigation plan was published that the lack of development in the region beyond the immediate communities made it difficult for the company to identify opportunities to restore damaged wetlands or preserve areas threatened by other development — the more traditional means of wetlands mitigation now being demanded by the Corps. A Corps Alaska District spokesman did not immediately respond to additional questions for this story. Former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and Assistant Army Civil Works Secretary R.D. James signed a joint memo in June 2018 that updated guidance from the early 1990s as to how the agencies would handle wetlands mitigation specifically in Alaska. The revised guidance states that Alaska’s situation — more than half of the state is classified as wetlands with relatively little development — means specific, focused compensatory mitigation requirements traditionally used in the Lower 48 often aren’t realistic in Alaska. When avoiding or compensating for development impacts to wetlands is not practicable, minimizing wetlands impacts will be the main means of complying with Clean Water Act requirements, according to the 2018 memo. It also explains that compensatory mitigation over larger watershed scales could be appropriate for Alaska given that options to offset wetlands losses on a more localized scale are often limited. The guidance does not lay out quantitative thresholds for determining major versus minor impacts — that is decided on a case-by-case basis — but it outlines what should be considered in making that determination, an EPA spokeswoman said at the time. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

Governor proposes lifting state CARES grant restrictions

Update: Lawmakers approved the Dunleavy administration's request to expand eligibility for the remaining AK CARES grant funds Thursday at a Legislative Budget and Audit Committee meeting in Anchorage. The changes, which take effect Aug. 31, allow businesses that recieved any amount of aid from the federal Small Business Administration's Paycheck Protection or Economic Injury Disaster Loan programs to also recieve AK CARES support, which is federal CARES Act money passed through the state. Businesses that are the owner's secondary source of income are also now eligible for AK CARES grants. Gov. Mike Dunleavy thanked committee members for approving the changes and said the adminsitration is working to quickly distribute the roughly $240 million that remains in the program in a statement from his office. Committee chair Rep. Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage, said he believes the administration could have eased the eligibility requirements for the state's federally funded small business aid program without legislative approval, but all of the potential roadblocks are now cleared for more businesses to access the funds. "It's been clear for months that the administration had the broad authority to get this relief to small businesses, but today's action eliminates any uncertainty," Tuck said. On Wednesday, the Municiaplity of Anchorage announced a second round of pandemic aid grants is now available for many small businesses in the city. The $5 million infusion to the city's Small Business Stablization Fund follows $1 million in grants that awarded to eligible businesses earlier this year. The latest round of grants are for businesses within the municipality that have been economically impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, had less than $1 million in gross revenue in 2019 and had no more than 20 employees at any time last year. Eligible businesses generally must be the owner's primary source of income, according to criteria provided by Mayor Ethan Berkowitz's office. Successful Small Business Stabilization Fund applicants will recieve a $10,000 grant to be used on payroll, benefits, utilities, rent and other normal business expenses. Franchises, pawn shops, bars and marijuana shops are among the businesses not eligible for the grant funds. The grants will be processed by Cook Inlet Lending Center and the Small Business Stabiliation Fund application is available on the center's website. Applications will be accepted through Sept. 12, according to a municipal spokesman.   Original story: With about four months left before all the Alaska CARES Act money has to be out the door and roughly $240 million left unspent, the state is moving to change the eligibility to include small businesses that have received other federal pandemic aid. In a Revised Program Legislative noticed issued Aug. 20, the state notified the Legislature that it wants to open up the Alaska CARES pandemic relief funding to more businesses. Currently, small businesses that received more than $5,000 in Paycheck Protection Program funds or Economic Injury Disaster Loan funds are not eligible. The state estimates that more than 20,000 small businesses in the state received those funds and therefore couldn’t get any of the state funding. Between that and other initial caveats, including making commercial fishermen ineligible, the state was left with way more pandemic relief money available than it was distributing. Regional economic development groups, known as the Alaska Regional Development Organizations, began advocating for major changes to the program in June to the Legislature. In a press release issued Aug. 20, Gov. Mike Dunleavy said the state wants to provide businesses with tools to survive the ongoing impact of the pandemic. “AK CARES was crafted with the finest mesh to help those businesses who fell between the cracks when the door closed on them to other federal relief efforts,” Dunleavy said in a statement. “We accomplished opening that door, and we are now expanding that relief to other small Alaska businesses in real need.” The RPL letter and attachments can be found here.  The state’s revised RPL will go to the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee for review. The exact language is to allow the administration remove any additional state restrictions on businesses applying for the funding, including businesses that received those PPP or EIDL funds and businesses that are a secondary source of income. Companies based outside Alaska, companies with more than 50 employees would still be ineligible as will marijuana businesses, and amounts would still be limited to between $5,000 and $100,000.  Though businesses that received those PPP and EIDL funds would now be eligible, there’s a catch: they still wouldn’t be able to seek reimbursement for expenses already covered through another relief program. The deadline may be extended federally, but the RPL would provide the Alaska Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development more flexibility in administering the funds, according to the RPL documents. “This flexibility will allow DCCED to ensure AK CARES meets the needs of small businesses in the most effective and efficient manner possible,” the documents state. “This may include, but is not limited to, raising the number of full-time equivalent employees a business may have and still qualify for the program, disbursement processes, and allowable expenses. Accordingly, the DCCED will be able to adjust eligibility requirements and grant amounts as necessary to allow for full use of federal funds made available through the CARES Act to assist Alaska businesses.” The Legislature now has 45 days to act. No action would lead to automatic approval of the change. If the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee — scheduled to address the RPL’s at an Aug. 27 meeting — approves the change, it could go into effect immediately. If the committee doesn’t approve it, the administration could reassess, and if the reassessment shows that the change still benefits the state, could override the Legislature and put it into effect immediately. The Legislature’s recourse then would be to go into session and require a two-thirds majority vote to override it.  Legislators have by and large said they had wanted the administration to take action to ease the restrictions for small businesses to access the $290 million originally appropriated to the AK CARES program, but have not moved to make the changes themselves during campaign season. The clock is ticking down on the availability of pandemic relief funds. The federal CARES Act stipulated that all the funds had to be distributed by December 30, 2020. Many municipalities around the state have been busy administering their own local programs, but the state program has been slow to get money out since opening applications on June 1. Besides the eligibility roadblocks, there has also been a bottleneck for processing applications, as Credit Union 1 was the only financial application that agreed to process the applications. Applicants have reported waiting for weeks to even hear back. CU1 had distributed $32.3 million in AK CARES Grants with another $8.7 million in dispersals pending as of Aug. 21, according to spokeswoman Jessica Gallagher. The credit union had received 2,559 applications totaling roughly $115 million in requests since the program began in June. Gallagher wrote via email that the decision by DCCED leaders to move the online application to a portal on the department’s website, which went live Aug. 6, allows state officials to more easily bring on additional AK CARES operators to increase the program’s grant processing capacity. The credit union developed multiple resources, including tutorial videos for prospective applicants to review prior to submitting their documents but consistently found staff needed to assist applicants throughout the process because applying for grants isn’t something most small businesses do, she wrote. Gallagher added that each applicant is different and deserves their application to be reviewed carefully, which simply takes time, and CU1 officials welcome help from other entities. “Credit Union 1 understands the significant challenges these small businesses are facing right now, so the more operators working toward helping the distribution of AK CARES funds, the better,” Gallagher wrote. Alan Weitzner, executive director of the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority — the state development bank under DCCED tasked with finding AK CARES operators — said in an interview Aug. 25 that the state has partnered with the Juneau Economic Development Council for processing assistance and now has nearly 60 grant processors to CU1’s program staff of approximately 35. CU1 staff are focusing on the applications the credit union received prior to the application change, according to Weitzner, who said they have done a great job focusing on the needs of Alaskans. “It was never going to be fast enough” he said, given how many businesses are in need. The added help has cut the time needed to process an application roughly in half over the past several weeks, he added, and state officials are looking at bringing on even more help in the near future. The RPL notice issued Aug. 20 includes 12 items total. Of those, 11 are capital projects that total about $42 million in federal funds. This is around the time of year when federal receipt authority becomes active. The other 11 projects include money for the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development, the Department of Natural Resources, the Department of Fish and Game, the Department of Public Safety, and the Department of Environmental Conservation. The federal funds for those projects don’t require an appropriation of state match, according to the RPL documents. Small businesses statewide have been collectively wringing their hands about what’s going to happen in the fall and winter. This summer already forced a lot of belt-tightening around the state due to the lack of tourists and limited economic activity even within communities, and the fall and winter usually bring low economic activity even in ordinary times.  Elwood Brehmer contributed to this report. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected] 

Movers and Shakers for Aug. 23

RIM Architects named David L. McVeigh as CEO/president, succeeding Larry S. Cash, who plans to continue as founder and chair of the board. Since joining the company in 1986, McVeigh has spearheaded initiatives across the company’s portfolio, working with each of RIM’s five offices to maximize the potential of each regional site and strengthen the offerings of the entire firm. He has introduced and led the firm into foreign markets spanning from Australia, Russia, and throughout Asia. Ethan Schutt was appointed to the Alaska Permanent Fund Board of Trustees. Schutt is a lifelong Alaskan who currently serves as the chief executive officer of Alaska Native Resource Development LLC, a subsidiary of the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. A Stanford-educated attorney, Schutt previously spent a decade managing Cook Inlet Region Inc.’s energy investment portfolio which spanned 1.5 million acres of Alaska Native corporation land. Schutt replaces outgoing trustee Marty Rutherford, whose four-year term ended earlier this year. Anchorage Downtown Partnership recently added three new board members: Matt Samuel, regional director of Diamond Parking; Larry Michael, owner of Arctic Fox Inn B&B; and Eric Ritner, real estate broker. Samuel has a degree in urban geography and has worked in real estate and site research for the past 20 years. For the past eight years, Samuel has worked in downtown Anchorage as regional manager for McKinley Properties &Diamond Parking. Michael moved to Bethel in 1982 and relocated to Anchorage in 1990 where he worked for the Anchorage School District and then North Slope Borough Schools. He retired from education in 2018, and now owns Arctic Fox Inn B&B lodging with his husband, Allan. With more than 10 years of experience in commercial real estate, Ritner joins ADP with insight on how to serve property owners throughout the Downtown Improvement District. Col. Damon Delarosa became the 29th commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Alaska District. Delarosa, a native of San Antonio, replaces Col. David Hibner, who served as the acting district commander since April 2020. Delarosa will oversee a multi-million dollar program that provides engineering, construction, planning, contracting, real estate, emergency operations, environmental and regulatory services to the military; federal, state and local governments; as well as the public in Alaska. In addition, he will be responsible for the district’s support to the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command by designing and constructing humanitarian assistance projects throughout Southeast Asia. Under the Department of Defense Foreign Military Sales Program, the district also oversees master planning, requirements validation, design and construction of infrastructure for the government of India’s C-17 aircraft at Hindon Air Force Station, India. Before assuming command in Alaska, Delarosa served as the human resource manager for engineer, chemical colonels in the Colonel Management Office for the Office of the Chief of Staff of the Army. Previously, he served as the commander of the Corps’ Walla Walla District covering six states stretching from the Tri-Cities in Washington to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. He is a graduate of the Engineer Basic and Advanced Courses at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.; the Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.; and the Airborne, Air Assault, Ranger and Sapper Leader Schools. His awards and decorations include the Army Bronze Star Medal, Distinguished Meritorious Medal, Meritorious Service Medal, and the Bronze Order of the DeFleury Medal. Delarosa was commissioned in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1998 after graduating from the United States Military Academy at West Point.

Greens Creek silver output up; Constantine investigates gold

The owners of a Southeast silver mine again reported production growth last spring despite the pandemic and an explorer in the region believes it is honing in on the source of historic placer gold deposits. Hecla Mining Co. produced 381,000 more ounces of silver at the Greens Creek underground mine near Juneau in the second quarter from a year ago — a 17 percent increase to 2.7 million ounces. For the year, silver production at Greens Creek is up more than 920,000 ounces, or nearly 20 percent, from the first half of 2019 to 5.5 million ounces total, according to the company’s quarterly earnings and operational report. Gold production at Greens Creek was down 8 percent, however, to 25,300 ounces in the first half of the year. The improved production at Greens Creek helped Idaho-based Hecla increase its overall sales revenue by 24 percent to $166.4 million in the second quarter. Hecla’s Alaska mine accounted for 51 percent of the company’s revenue in the quarter. The company also has precious metal mines in the Lower 48, Canada and Mexico. While Hecla still absorbed a net loss of $14 million despite the production growth, CEO Phillips Baker emphasized that the company produces roughly a third of all the silver mined in the U.S. and the second quarter production totals were the best since 2016. “I am extremely proud of our workforce’s adaptability and commitment in this challenging time, which positions Hecla well to improve cash flow generation in this higher silver and gold price environment,” Baker said. Hecla generated $27 million in free cash flow during the quarter. The company has leased a hotel in Juneau where incoming workers are quarantined for seven days before traveling to the Admiralty Island mine for three weeks of work, according to a monthly investor presentation. With the long-term upward trajectory of production at Greens Creek — Hecla has increased annual ore throughput at the mine 15 percent since purchasing it in 2008 — the company also increased silver reserves by 22 percent at the property last year and expects to operate Greens Creek with strong production into the 2030s, according to the presentation. Constantine gold To the north of Greens Creek on the mainland, Constantine Metals reported Aug. 13 that the company had identified prospects with “high-grade gold sampling results” at its Porcupine Creek property north of Haines. The prospects, dubbed Golden Eagle and McKinley Creek Falls, are located up a valley from historical placer operations. Historical mineral sampling by the U.S. Bureau of Mines produced samples with mineralization of up to 531 grams per ton of gold, according to Constantine. Company President Garfield MacVeigh said the high-grade occurrences have received little investigation for their potential, particularly given geological similarities with other known gold deposits in the region. “We look forward to evaluating these previously untested areas of prospective high-grade mineralization,” MacVeigh said. Earlier this year Constantine scaled back the summer exploration program at its nearby Palmer copper prospect from initial plans to limit the risk of spreading COVID-19. The McKinley Creek area, which is 100 percent owned by Constantine, is about five miles east of the much more advanced Palmer deposit. The company spun off the rest of its gold-focused program into HighGold Mining Inc. last year. HighGold is conducting 15,000-meter drilling program at the Johnson Tract prospect within Lake Clark National Park and Preserve. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

GUEST COMMENTARY: Ballot Measure 2 will amplify the voices of all voters

Last year, I launched a campaign for the Republican nomination for president. I knew the odds were long, but I believed Republican and independent voters deserved a conservative, credible option. From the beginning, I knew my success depended on the support of independent voters. Unfortunately, with so many states limiting independents’ ability to participate in primaries, taking on an incumbent in a primary system controlled by the two major party organizations proved almost impossible. I have few regrets about our campaign, though. The one I do have is that we couldn’t carry the fight far enough to compete in Alaska’s primary. It has always been one of my favorite states. I believe we would have done well here as Alaska has the highest percentage of registered voters — more than 60 percent — who choose to remain independent from the dominant two-party system. The experience of running for president last year renewed my interest in electoral reform. I have long felt that all voters deserve to have their voices heard in both primary and general elections. That is why I believe Alaska’s Ballot Measure 2 deserves your support this November, whether you are a Republican, Democrat, a member of one of the smaller parties, or an independent. To begin with, Ballot Measure 2 would establish unified, open primaries, in which all voters are eligible to participate. More than two-thirds of Alaskans polled support opening primaries to independent voters and giving an equal voice to Alaskans of all political affiliations. Alaska previously had an open-style primary system that worked well, but due to a lawsuit in the early 2000s, the state was forced to abandon it. Currently, political parties are allowed to decide which Alaskans can participate in their primaries even though those elections are subsidized with public funds. With an open primary, you would not have separate Republican and Democratic ballots. All candidates would appear on a single unified ballot with their political affiliations next to their name. If you prefer, you would be able to vote for a Republican for U.S. Senate, a Libertarian for the U.S. House, and a Democrat for state representative, all from the same ballot. That would give voters a real choice and better reflect the independent nature of the state. A nonpartisan primary would also simplify the process and is proven to increase voter turnout. And despite the misleading claims that opponents of the measure have made, party affiliations can still be clearly listed next to each candidate’s name. It merely provides voters with more choices and avoids the need for a write-in campaign like U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski won in 2010. Ballot Measure 2 would also allow the use of ranked choice voting in general elections. The top four vote-getters for each office from the primary election would qualify for the general election ballot, and voters could vote for their top choice as usual. But they would also have the option to rank their second and third preferences if they choose. Ranking candidates takes the power away from the parties and the special interests that control them and gives it back to the people. After all, elections are for voters, not politicians. Rank choice voting allows voters to express their preferences more clearly and ensures the final winner has the support of the majority of the voters. Under the existing system, candidates often win elections in Alaska with the backing of far less than a majority of the electorate. In fact, no U.S. Senate candidate has captured more than 50 percent of the vote in the general election since 2002. Ballot Measure 2 will go a long way toward empowering Alaskans to choose leaders who are as independent as they are. It also increases transparency in Alaska’s elections by requiring campaigns and donors to disclose the true source of large contributions. Ballot Measure 2 won’t make elections perfect, but it will be a huge step forward that will amplify all voters’ voices. I have long believed that more voices are always better for a healthy democracy. Measure 2 would encourage more people to run for office and seek political consensus, and it would provide more choices for voters and increase participation. This is a commonsense initiative that deserves your support this fall. Bill Weld is the former governor of Massachusetts and an attorney, businessman and author.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Why doing the right thing for UAA means a fall semester online

As the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise in Alaska and across the country, university administrators have grappled with the difficult question of how to move forward with course delivery and campus operations this fall. By their very nature, universities are places where people gather in person to learn, study, work, collaborate and socialize. The continuous flow of people in and out of campus poses an elevated risk of spreading COVID-19. The Anchorage Health Department reported more than half of new COVID infections in Alaska are from those ages 20 to 39, a demographic that makes up more than 40 percent of UAA’s student body. Additionally, the Municipality of Anchorage remains in the state of Alaska’s high alert level with greater than 10 cases per 100,000 population over the last 14 days. The potential impacts of disease transmission on our economy are even more startling when one considers the majority of students commute to campus, work full or part-time jobs and have families, illustrating the clear integration of the university population and the local community. For UAA administrators, this fact could not be ignored: Connection is part of the college experience. University leadership determined the best way to help students and employees safely connect during the pandemic is by leveraging alternate delivery methods for courses and remote work for most employees. The Anchorage Health Department unequivocally supports the university’s decision to proactively limit face-to-face campus activities, an approach that also mitigates the opportunity for spontaneous gatherings to occur. Social gatherings, particularly large ones, provide the ideal circumstances for the virus to spread. The UAA public health experts consulting with the municipality can attest to the dire consequences rising COVID-19 case counts pose, threatening to overwhelm intensive care units at local hospitals if transmission is not slowed. While UAA’s mission is first to educate, the health and safety of students, faculty and staff is paramount. This drove leadership’s decision to announce on April 1 that UAA would fully deliver the summer semester online and the subsequent decision in early May to continue with alternate delivery for fall, offering a limited number of hands-on courses that can only effectively be delivered face-to-face. In-person classes require dean authorization along with a hazard mitigation plan approved by the university’s Office of Risk Management. Use of masks will be required this fall for face-to-face courses and any on-campus operations. In addition, because congregate housing poses an increased risk of COVID-19 transmission, UAA has limited the number of occupants living on campus to 25 percent of its overall capacity. This comes with a loss in revenue, but the alternative is a price too high to pay with regard to students’ health. Residence Life has also implemented a two-step COVID-19 testing requirement. Students entering the residential community at the beginning of the semester are required to have two negative COVID-19 tests. This applies regardless of whether the student’s point of origin is in-state or out-of-state and prior to attending any face-to-face classes. The collective health and safety of student-athletes, coaches, and fans is also the reason UAA Athletics stood in solidarity with nine other schools in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference in support of the GNAC CEO board’s difficult, yet unanimous decision to suspend all fall athletic competition through at least Nov. 30. UAA leadership was unwavering in its decision to put people’s health first. UAA has the difficult task of balancing academic rigor with safety for its students, faculty and staff, the majority of whom are also members of the greater Anchorage community. Rest assured the leadership of Anchorage’s Hometown U and the municipality will continue to work together to do the right thing for our campus community, our city and our state. We can and will get through this, together. Cathy Sandeen is the chancellor of the University of Alaska Anchorage. Natasha Pineda is the former director of the Anchorage Health Department and a 2015 alumna of the UAA Master of Public Health program.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Ballot Measure One will hurt investment in our state

The Alaska Chamber serves as the statewide voice of Alaska business, a job we take seriously. Our membership ranges from small, mom-and-pop businesses to large, multinational corporations. The shutdowns and mandates related to COVID-19 have dealt a devastating blow to all of them, with no end in sight. To say it’s tough for anyone to do business in Alaska right now is an understatement. Ballot Measure One will make it worse. Starting a business or making new investments involves taking on risk, a factor that must be managed before any potential investor pulls the trigger on a new venture. Even in a roaring economy, investment is risky. Seemingly solid business plans fail for reasons few could anticipate: market disruptions, trade agreements, and shifting consumer demands are a few examples. Many of these risks fall outside of an individual’s control. The chamber’s focus is on promoting practices that Alaska can control. Public policy is one such area of emphasis. That is precisely why our membership is so strongly opposed to Ballot Measure One. To willingly impose this kind of tax increase on any industry or business at this point would be a devastating choice. Ballot Measure One will set our economy back. We have a long, hard road ahead of us to achieve economic recovery under the best circumstances, and we should not be asked to impose punitive new taxes on Alaska’s largest economic driver. Such a move is foolish, and will hurt everyday Alaskans in the form of lost jobs and decreased business investments in our state. For all the bumper sticker talking points about “fair share” and “our oil,” Ballot Measure One proponents cannot hide from the basic fact that businesses invest where the rules are fair and predictable. Investors have choices, and punitive new taxes will persuade investors to look to more stable areas to deploy their capital. It is not a gamble we will win. Not in good economic times, and especially not now. Additionally, the ballot box is perhaps the worst place to decide complex tax policy. Voters are presented with two, overly simplistic options on Ballot Measure One: Yes, or no. There is no “yes, with amendments” or “no, but maybe once the pandemic is over.” It is an all-or-nothing proposition. The Alaska Legislature is the appropriate venue to take up complex public policy. Recently, the state changed tax regimes with respect to the oil industry; if we wish to once again change the rules, our elected leaders can tackle the issue of oil taxes with all the analysis and data they need to make an informed decision. Alaskans can and should hold them accountable, and participate in the well-defined public process. Ballot Measure One is the wrong idea at the wrong time. It will slow Alaska’s economic recovery, meaning fewer jobs for Alaskans across the state. As an organization focused on creating opportunities for Alaska businesses to succeed, we urge Alaskans to vote no on Ballot Measure One in November. Allen Hippler is the chair of the Alaska Chamber.

New CEO: Safety, customer service top priorities for restarting Ravn

The new leadership team at Ravn Alaska is hopeful scheduled service to many of the hub communities the grounded airline used to serve can resume in mid-September with a renewed focus on customer service. Ravn Alaska CEO Rob McKinney said in an Aug. 18 interview that there is no set return-to-service date because the approximately $9.5 million bankruptcy asset sale closed Aug. 8, meaning the group could not dive into what it had earlier agreed to purchase until then. Restarting the Part 121 business — scheduled service with large aircraft — will require mechanical inspections that became due for several aircraft over the five-month period after it stopped flying; it was by far the largest passenger airline based in Alaska and Ravn’s people will be taking refresher courses before getting back in the air as well, according to McKinney. “Virtually every flight crew is being sent back to training, so everyone’s going to be going to flight safety. All of the flight attendants are going to train from scratch just because of the length of time (since Ravn suspended operations),” McKinney said. “We just want to make sure we err on the side of being conservative.” Ravn Air Group Inc. filed for Chapter 11 protection in Delaware Federal Bankruptcy Court April 5, three days after grounding its fleet of 72 regional and commuter aircraft. Airline leaders said at the time they were forced to shutter following a roughly 90 percent drop in passenger demand at the outset of the coronavirus pandemic. Before closing, Ravn employed approximately 1,300 people and served 115 communities across the state. McKinney said Ravn will need about 400 employees when it starts flying. The Anchorage-based carrier is actively recruiting both former and new employees on its website. Having purchased the Federal Aviation Administration Part 121 flight certificates for both Ravn and Penair, which was purchased out of bankruptcy by Ravn in 2018, McKinney’s group also acquired the associated Ravn-branded aircraft: nine DeHavilland Dash-8s. He said service will be added over several weeks after it initially starts and the plan is to eventually operate in all of the hub communities Ravn previously served with the exception of Kodiak and Kotzebue — also served by Alaska Airlines — at least for the first year. “We’re not going to be able to roll out 14 cities on Day 1, but by the end of week three or so we hope to be over 10 cities that we’re service and be back to probably all 16 cities within six weeks or so,” McKinney said. Ravn won’t be refunding previously booked tickets for unfulfilled flights but passengers can re-book the reservations for future flights as they become available. Unalaska and St. Paul are the “top two” communities on Ravn’s list to serve first primarily because their remote locations mean limited transportation options, he added. Last October, a Penair Saab 2000 aircraft operated by Ravn Air Group skidded off the end of the runway at Unalaska, killing one passenger. Ravn immediately suspended service to Unalaska, which left the major fishing hub without scheduled flight service. The company resumed service after nearly a month on Nov. 14 with the smaller Dash-8 aircraft after experts’ preliminary conclusions that the Saab 2000 overshot the 4,500-foot runway while attempting to land in a swirling tailwind. The pilot also had relatively little experience in the Saab 2000, according to an initial National Transportation Safety Board report on the crash. McKinney noted that Ravn will be flying its Dash-8s to Unalaska when it resumes service. McKinney was part of the group that started Float (Fly Over All Traffic) Shuttle, a Southern California air taxi largely focused on serving Los Angeles and San Diego-area commuters. When state and local coronavirus travel restrictions forced Float to suspend operations, the group began searching for opportunities amidst the most severe downturn in the history of the passenger airline industry and quickly focused its attention on Ravn because of prior time in Alaska, he said. Both McKinney and new Ravn Chief Commercial Officer Dan Kitchens had worked in Alaska aviation before; McKinney for a Southeast carrier and Kitchens for multiple operators in the state, including Ravn. “As soon as we saw in April that they filed for bankruptcy we went to pursue this because we just knew from our experience what an opportunity it was. We knew how much the communities depended on the service to connect them to the city and medical and shopping as well as the rest of the world. We felt that of every airline in the country, Ravn had the best opportunity because so much of the business is freight and people really have to travel regardless of whatever happens to be going on in the world,” he said. While in the process of permanently relocating to Anchorage, McKinney, who has flown extensively as a commuter pilot and managed flight operations for several carriers, offered a common refrain as to why he has come to favor his work in the city over his prior time in Alaska: “Southeast…it rains a lot,” he said. Getting enough people to fly with Ravn again will also require repairing an image that is damaged in many communities. Increasingly unreliable service from Ravn often accompanied with multi-day waits following non-weather-related cancellations in the year-and-a-half after purchasing Penair pushed residents in Bristol Bay-area communities to petition for year-round service from Alaska Airlines, which the major carrier started this summer. Ravn said in statements issued last year that airline leaders reduced scheduled flights in an attempt to right-size the Bristol Bay market specifically following the acquisition of Penair, a former competitor, which at times resulted in more demand than available seats. McKinney acknowledged that a question from the Journal regarding the perception of Ravn statewide was one of many he has received in the same vein. However, he doesn’t believe it would be a worthy investment to rebrand the airline. “I think that’s just needlessly spending money painting airplanes and changing out signs when really people know it’s the same company. They’re going to see a lot of maybe the same employees, but I tell you what — when you come in here with a new message to the employees that customer service is the most important thing and — and I think that if we’re transparent and we publish our completion stats and our on-time performance, I think over time people will see that it’s a new Ravn and we really do care about the customers that we serve,” McKinney said. “It’s not just about doing what hits the bottom the best, but actually making sure that we’re taking care of our customers as best we possibly can and that will pay us dividends in the long-run.” Ravn’s new leaders conducted detailed modeling to determine what business outcomes will be necessary to be successful, but the airline will also be aided greatly by its ownership structure of one, according to McKinney. California entrepreneur Josh Jones is the airlines’ sole investor and he will be patient as Ravn rebuilds its operations, McKinney said. “(Jones) is not a private equity guy. He’s done well for himself. He’s been an incubator of other businesses and started and sold several businesses of his own but just a really, really sharp guy and he saw an opportunity here and saw the vision that we have, so yeah, we have to keep one guy happy, which makes life a lot easier,” McKinney said, adding that Jones wants Ravn to offer free wi-fi at all of its facilities. “He’s very, very customer service driven and believes strongly that if we take care of our customers they will take care of us.” Ravn’s prior majority owners were the New York-based investment firms W Capital Partners and J. F. Lehman and Co., according to bankruptcy filings. Attempts to reach Jones in time for this story were unsuccessful. “We really are a different Ravn; same planes and the same paint but we have such a different attitude towards the people that we serve,” McKinney said. “We truly care about the communities and we want to be a part of their lives that they can depend on.” Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

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