How internships offer opportunity for students and startups

Meet John Boren, a 2020 graduate from the University of Alaska Anchorage’s Computer Science and Engineering program. He’s been piecing together his college education for the last 20 years.  The first in his family to pursue a college degree, Boren enrolled at UAA and began paying for each class out of pocket, working multiple jobs during the school year and spending summers in his hometown of Seward serving Alaska’s busy visitor industry. Boren made it through two years of college, but the more he worked to afford tuition, the less time he had for classes and studying. “I just started taking fewer classes, dropped others, and eventually stopped going,” Boren said.  The next two decades in Boren’s life were marked by living overseas in Europe and South America; a stint at the University of Colorado Denver; a brief return to UAA; internships at high profile companies like Lipper Analytical Services — a division of Reuters — and IBM Research; and jobs as a deckhand, assistant project manager for a boilermaker servicing company, bar manager, and a longshoreman. In 2015, Boren was working as a floorhand for Doyon Drilling and making more than $100,000 per year when oil prices fell to $27. He remembers watching as colleagues lost their jobs and thinking, “Is this my future? When I’m 50 will I lose my job if the price of oil drops again?”  The experience inspired Boren to quit his high paying job and use his savings to finally finish his degree at UAA. Although Boren knew he wanted a future in computer science, he didn’t know that he would also get a taste of the startup life. John Boren at his internship for Legalverse. (Photo/Courtesy/John Boren) Shortly after beginning his final year of his undergraduate program, Boren saw a poster advertising a new program called Upstart Internship. Offered by the University of Alaska Center for Economic Development , or UACED, as part of the ARCTIC Program funded by the Office of Naval Research, the program pairs students with local startups to learn about entrepreneurship and what it means to be a founder. Intrigued by the possibility of working for Anchorage-based Legalverse, a startup offering electronic document management for legal teams, he applied and landed the job. “Of all the internships I’ve had over the course of my college career, the Upstart Internship was the best,” Boren said. “My boss, Jeff Levin, gave me relevant, cutting-edge SaaS (software as a service) work with time for me to research and understand what I was working on. More importantly, Jeff really focused on being a mentor and dedicated time to building our relationship. It was a great way to learn, and was especially rewarding because I knew my work was making a difference in growing his company. That kind of experience is hard to find in the software industry.” Margo Fliss, Upstart Internship program manager at UACED, says the time spent on mentorship and professional growth is intentionally built into the program. “Companies say that students apply for jobs but don’t have the experience or soft skills needed, and students say there aren’t opportunities for them to get experience or develop soft skills because companies won’t hire them,” Fliss says. “This program bridges both challenges — it gives students hands-on experience and professional development before graduation to ready them for the workforce.” The program also provides Anchorage startup companies — often operating on a shoestring budget and hungry for talented employees — the opportunity to work with some of Alaska’s brightest students. Companies must apply to the program to be considered for each cohort, and the number of applicants continues to increase. After companies are selected, prospective interns apply and go through an interview process. Startups participating in the 2019-20 cohort included Gennaker Systems (autonomous aircraft software); The Launch Company (commercial space/rocket launches); The Boardroom (a coworking space serving numerous startups); Launch Alaska (a startup accelerator); Alpine Fit (outdoor apparel); and Legalverse.  Fliss says that the Upstart program differs from what some might consider a typical internship that often includes filing or coffee runs.  “Startups who apply to be part of our program know that students need to be engaged beyond basic tasks — they are part of work that is critical to the success of the company,” Fliss said.  “Because of this, students are a valued member of the team and they learn firsthand what it's like to start and run your own business.” The Upstart Internship program emerged from UACED’s work in the entrepreneurial ecosystem, Fliss says.  “Rates of young entrepreneurs in Alaska are low and falling. Although over 60 percent of 20-somethings say they want to own a business, few of them actually do, and only six percent of Alaska’s businesses with employees are owned by someone under 35. By helping students engage in our startup community, we’re helping them visualize entrepreneurship as a career path,” she said. For some, launching their own company might come sooner than expected. Boren started applying for jobs in February, hoping to find a computer engineering opportunity that would utilize his degree. Initially, he felt like his prospects were promising. The onset of COVID-19 changed that. “All of a sudden there just weren’t jobs to apply for anymore,” Boren said. “The day I graduated, Doyon Drilling — my former employer — laid off more than 300 people. There are less jobs out there, and more people competing for them, for less money.”  He began evaluating other options. During his last semester of college, Boren participated in another one of UACED’s programs, the Upstart Alpha Startup Accelerator, which is also part of the ARCTIC program. Accelerators offer intensive mentorship and experiential learning over a period of 3 to 6 months to a cohort of entrepreneurs. When they “graduate” from the program, participants have ideally compressed years of startup learning into months.   “I was already drawn to be part of Alaska’s startup scene because of my internship,” he says. “And I thought it would be like a mini business school. I wanted to learn from people who had already launched a company, figure out who the players are, and understand business aspects like product market fit.”  During the program, Boren worked on an app called GIF Dat, which creates GIFs using voice recognition. It is the first app in a series that Boren is developing relating to voice recognition.  Other participants pursued concepts like an all-in-one family communication platform, financial literacy programming for businesses, an alcohol-free third space for young adults, a website for concert-goers, a hydroponic food production company, a digital banking service for Nigerians, and bilingual, early-childhood education resources.  The accelerator focuses on building entrepreneurial skills and relationships within the startup community. Not all participants will continue on with their businesses, having learned that their concepts weren’t feasible or sustainable. Boren is one of them. “I realize I probably won’t make any money with GIF Dat, but now I have the tools to work faster on the next product I launch, for myself, or for a company,” Boren said.  Currently, he’s working on a project automating a data mining pipeline for UACED and says that if he needs to he will focus more on launching his own company instead of seeking employment at a company. Over the years, he’s learned a lot about how plans can change, and is comfortable with uncertainty.  “You just never know what’s going to happen, but opportunities will always present themselves,” said Boren. “But what I do know is that I’m always going to be working hard to better myself and my family. And someday, whether it’s sooner or later, I’m going to be my own boss.” Gretchen Fauske is a marketing-minded economic developer fueled by a passion for innovation and entrepreneurship. 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.

BROWN'S CLOSE: In defense of females over 'fur babies'

Unlike our forefathers, Millennials do not get married or have children. Rather, we move in with our significant others, eventually move out again, and engage in brutal custody battles over our pets.  Indeed, in evaluating potential mates, Millennials skip over having human children, and jump right into establishing pet relationship history. On dating apps, the questions came daily.  “Tell me about your fur children.”  “Do you have any fur babies?”  No, no, I do not. And unless you have supersonic genetic material which instills a freakish level of hair on your offspring’s person, neither do you.  Dogs are treated better than humans in other ways too. Coffee shops offer free dog treats. Where’s my free treat? I actually spent my hard earned wages on the coffee. Dogs poop with wild abandon on the sidewalks. Their owners fastidiously encase the poop in a delicate plastic bag and leave it by the side of the path, ensuring it is protected forever from the elements. Where’s my caretaker to gift wrap my poop as such, gleefully leaving it as a present for my fellow joggers? I am allergic to dogs. I am also a Millennial. In today’s dating climate, being allergic to dogs is treated with the equivalent level of skepticism as someone with five children from previous relationships, all from different men.  My would-be suitors rub it in.  “I couldn’t live without Georgie! Georgie is life!” To emphasize the point, Georgie would inevitably be brought on the date. Granted, this wasn’t always a bad thing. If the conversation stalled, we could just watch Georgie bother our fellow patrons at the appointed coffee shop. My suitors sometimes take my dog allergy as a personal attack. One portentous sweetheart leaned towards me and looked me earnestly in the eye.  “Rocky and I are a package deal. Rocky and I were together long before I met you,” he spat accusatorily.  What this man did not realize was I had no intention whatsoever of separating him from Rocky. Instead, I was actively seeking a means of separating myself from the date. “Well, of course. Isn’t that nice,” I looked around wildly for a route of escape. “Aren’t dogs the best?” We were in the parking lot, and I inched backwards towards my car. “Rocky’s in my truck! We go everywhere together. Wanna meet him?” Not really. “Why of course!”  Date opened the door to his truck, Rocky jumped out, jumped up on Date, then jumped up on me, his tail wagging frantically. The man pronounced the whole performance a test. “I want to see how you do with Rocky. Rocky and I are a package deal!” I didn’t know what to say. Rocky and I are a mutually exclusive deal. My allergy to dogs frequently outweighs my positive attributes as a partner in life. I have impeccable hygiene. I have nice hair. I’m a sparkling conversationalist. But alas, being allergic to dogs trumps all. My potential matches eventually move along. Having extensive experience navigating this particular deficiency, I hereby offer moral support and courting tips to my fellow animal allergy ridden sisters at arms: Make your affliction known as early as possible in the dating process. On your dating profile, put the words “MASSIVE BAGGAGE” IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS – “PROCEED WITH CAUTION. DAMAGED GOODS. DOG ALLERGY. CAN NEVER LIVE WITH A DOG.” That way, any dog fanatic matches can move along to other, better, girls. You will inevitably earn fewer matches on apps, but your heart will be protected from the ultimate break of being sidelined in favor of an animal. Play up your weak nature. Alas, as a fragile female, your poor sickly lungs cannot abide being exposed to dog allergens on a constant basis. Your body is such a finely tuned machine, one alien particle throws it off its usual ticker. Surely you need a big strong man to help you navigate your daily existence. Launch a social movement. The dog people have been winning the public relations battle for years. It is time we invalids assert our rights. The next wave of feminism must avow the value of a human woman over the value of an animal. A dog, while loveable, is unable to bring home the bacon, unless such bacon has been stolen from a neighbor’s porch. Some portion of the glory we have afforded to dogs must be reinstated to more productive beings.  Sarah Brown is a social pariah. She can be reached at [email protected], and on Twitter @brownsclose1. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac. For more of Sarah’s musings, visit Browns-Close.com.

Movers and Shakers for June 14

Command Sgt. Maj. Philip B. Blaisdell became U.S. Army Alaska’s top noncommissioned officer in an assumption of responsibility ceremony May 5. Blaisdell enlisted in the Army in November 1992 and attended One Station Unit Training at Fort Benning, Ga., where he trained as an Infantryman. He has served in every position from rifleman to command sergeant major while stationed at Fort Polk, La.; Camp Casey, Republic of Korea; Fort Bragg, N.C.; Fort Benning; Fort Campbell, Ky.; Fort Drum, N.Y.; Fort Jackson, S.C.; and Fort Shafter, Hawaii. Blaisdell’s military education includes the Sergeants Major Academy, as well as the First Sergeant Course; Basic Airborne School; Air Assault School; Combat Lifesaver Course; Emergency Medical Technician Course; Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Defense Officer/NCO Operations Course; Pre-Ranger Course; U.S. Army Ranger School, Instructor Training Course; Tactics Certification Course; and the Jumpmaster Course. Jennifer Thomasson was named partner at Gonzalez Marketing LLC. Thomasson started as a part-time marketing assistant in 2002 while attending college and was the company’s first employee. In short order, Jennifer demonstrated intelligence, work ethic, technical abilities, organizational skills, media knowledge and creativity that led to more responsibilities and duties being placed upon her, and ultimately the development of her current position, vice president of Client Services. In this role, Thomasson leads all projects and manages all client services. Donlin Gold announced that longtime Alaska miner Dan Graham will lead Donlin Gold as the project’s new general manager, succeeding Andy Cole, who is retiring June 16. As general manager, Graham will be responsible for progressing the project, working closely with the Calista Corp. and The Kuskokwim Corp., the Alaska Native Corporations which own the subsurface mineral rights and surface access rights, as well as shareholders Barrick Gold Corp. (Barrick) and Novagold Resources Inc. Graham earned a degree in mining engineering from the University of Alaska Fairbanks in the 1980s and has built a career in the industry in Alaska, beginning as an equipment operator and working his way up through the ranks over the past 36 years. Graham has been a registered Alaska Professional Mining Engineer since 1994 and has led Donlin Gold’s permitting and environmental activities for the past three years, bringing the National Environmental Policy Act process successfully to a close and receiving numerous major permits from state and federal agencies.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Where’s the money?

Now that the Legislature adjourned after more or less authorizing CARES Act funding, people are asking, “Where is the money and how is it being distributed?” To answer this question, we first need to understand what happened and what should have happened. Alaska’s constitution designates the Legislature the sole power to appropriate. To a limited extent, the Legislature can delegate that power, as we did in the budget we passed in late March. First, we said that additional federal funding to existing programs could be received and spent with the approval of the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee, or the LBAC, just like we do every year. Then, because of the coronavirus, we also gave the governor power to receive any federal funding for Health or Labor purposes related to the virus response. Out of the $1.5 billion in CARES Act money Alaska was getting from the federal government, almost $400 million of it was for health programs, so it was already pre-approved. The governor introduced a package to the LBAC to spend the rest. Eleven separate programs, totaling about $200 million, were, in some way, expanding some other federally funded program in the budget. These are things like airports, school lunches, and homelessness programs, and were approved by the LBAC with just some technical cleanup. However, it was the other $900 million that was problematic. It wasn’t the programs themselves: there was broad agreement that this money should be used to help municipalities, businesses, and fisheries. But there were no specific programs for these already in the budget, so it simply wasn’t legal for LBAC to approve them. There was immense pressure and a lot of anger directed at the committee because of the need to get the money out as quickly as possible to Alaskans who were hurting. As chair, I was obligated to rule the packet out of order because there were severe legal and constitutional issues that left the money vulnerable to being held up even longer, but I was outvoted by the committee. Within a couple of days, the action was challenged by a lawsuit. The right thing to do would have been to come back to Juneau when the governor introduced the package in April and pass legislation to describe the emergency programs and appropriate the money. In the end, the Legislature had to come to Juneau anyway to try and make the committee action legal. By then, it was three days from the end of the session, and there was no time to do it right. The “ratification” action we took was not a true appropriation, and we still don’t know if the court will find it legal. If future federal money becomes available, this may compound the problem. But for now, the funding is allowed to go forward, although there remain problems with the programs that could have been fixed in the legislative process. The community distribution funding formula was strangely put together, and kind of arbitrary. Half of it was mostly based on the state’s existing revenue sharing program, except for how unincorporated communities were treated and that all the money goes out in a single year. The other half was based on how much tax revenue (other than property taxes) a community may lose. The problem is, the U.S. Treasury said this money could not be used to replace lost tax revenue. If the funds are misused, the feds can ask for their money back. The Dunleavy administration reacted to this by requiring individual cities to take on the risk, hoping they will be responsible for paying it back if anything goes wrong. I’m especially concerned about the small business program. Based on input, the administration changed its proposal from a loan program to a grant program. Then they unsuccessfully tried to change the rules to expand eligibility to companies who have already received prior federal funding (like PPP and disaster loans). Not including them is unfair. Businesses would have held off for the more generous assistance had they known it would become available. At this moment, if a business received $1 in federal relief, they would be denied the possible $100,000 they could collect under the new state program. However, the administration wrote the exemption into the program, which the LBAC couldn’t amend, nor could the Legislature during the ratification process. That’s why the program didn’t begin accepting applications until June 1. If they still want to make this change, the administration will likely have to go back to the Legislature. Honestly, it would have been easier to just do it right the first time. Chris Tuck is the chairman of the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee and the representative for District 23 in South Anchorage.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Resources available to access AK CARES Grant Program

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent economic disaster has impacted all Alaskans. We have worked together to manage the re-opening of the economy and are slowly recovering, with more businesses resuming operations daily. Many of these businesses were required to shut down due to no fault of their own and have incurred significant economic injury. To address this issue, through the Federal CARES Act the State of Alaska received funds to provide small business relief. Working with the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development recently implemented the AK CARES Grant Program. AIDEA has contracted with Credit Union 1 to administer the grant program. These grants, which range between $5,000 to $100,000, are available to small businesses based, licensed, and located in Alaska. Small businesses and non-profits that were operating when the State of Emergency was declared on March 11, 2020; have experienced significant economic injury; have 50 or fewer employees on average; and were excluded, did not qualify, or were otherwise unable to obtain funding from a federal program under the CARES Act are eligible for these grants. Applications for the AK CARES grants are available through the Credit Union 1 website. Grants differ from loans in that there is no repayment required except if funds are used inappropriately. These grant funds are to pay for eligible expenses that were incurred during the between March 11, 2020 to eight weeks after the application date. Under this program, eligible expenses include operating expenses such as: payroll, rents, utilities, personal protective equipment, and other business-related expenses. More detail is available on the AK CARES Grant website. The AK CARES program is a huge step in the right direction for Alaska’s economy. Thousands of small businesses that received no assistance and were potentially going under will now benefit from these funds. These grants are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Understanding that those in rural areas may have connectivity issues, the program has set aside up to 20 percent of $290 million that is allocated for this program for rural small business. I encourage businesses to apply if they meet the eligibility requirements. The Alaska Regional Development Organizations and the Small Business Development Center are working with us and will provide technical assistance to small businesses that may need help understanding the program or applying for the grant. Their contact information is available on our website and I encourage you to contact them for more information to help move through the process quickly. Gov. Mike Dunleavy also allocated $568 million of the CARES Act funds to Alaskan communities. These funds are available to communities to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. As of June 4, we have funded 58 communities with more than $58 million to stimulate the economy. Communities can implement grant programs under the CARES Act guidance to assist their residents and small businesses as well. I urge you to contact your community to see if there are other local options available to help your business through this difficult time. Julie Anderson is the Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Now is a terrible time to increase oil production taxes

With the pandemic threatening our lives and our livelihood, oil prices at rock bottom, the loss of the visitor industry for the season and commercial seafood at risk, this is a terrible time to raise oil production taxes by as much as 300 percent. Ballot Measure 1 is a vicious and dangerous attack on the future of our state. It sends the message that “If you invest here, we will increase your taxes every time we run out of money.” People say this is an oil company issue. It’s not. It’s an Alaska issue. Oil companies can take their money and invest it anywhere in the world — and they will. But where do the rest of us go? This is where we have our homes, families, jobs and businesses. This is where we plan a future for our kids and grandkids. Where do we go when the pipeline shuts down, the jobs dry up, home values collapse and there is no one left to support our tax base, our charities and our economic way of life? Other industries, like mining, tourism, seafood, and the many service businesses, will ask the question: who’s next? Why would they want to invest here? Why would anyone invest in a state that is trying to kill itself? Proponents of Ballot Measure 1 imply that the oil industry pays little or no taxes. That’s wrong. In the past five years, according to information provided in a prior article by oil economist Roger Marks, the oil industry paid an average of almost $3 billion per year in taxes and royalties and kept about $1 billion. That’s a government take of 74 percent of the pretax value. The Lower 48 government take was about 64 percent. Increased oil production is the best solution to Alaska’s budget problems. The oil industry has plans to spend $24 billion over the next 10 years, which could boost our oil production by several hundred thousand barrels per day. This investment would stop — and oil production would decline to dangerous levels — if we overtax this important industry. Why risk driving away what a 2019 study by the McDowell group noted is a $5 billion annual payroll, 77,000 jobs, $4 billion in annual payments to Alaska businesses? This money runs throughout our economy and supports so many charities and events that provide needed services to so many in our state. We are extremely concerned that if Ballot Measure 1 were to pass, it would begin an economic death spiral for Alaska. Our economy is fragile, and this initiative could tip us over the edge. They call this the “Fair Share Act”: • Is it FAIR that you will no longer have a job? • Is it FAIR that your house will be worth less? • Is it FAIR that your children will have little to no opportunity to stay and work in Alaska if this initiative passes? • Is it fair that there is no industry left to pay for government services, our schools and support our charities? A better name would be “The Job Killer Act of 2020.” We have a choice: • More oil or more taxes • A strong economy or recession • Jobs or no jobs This is not the time to destroy what we have left in Alaska. Jim Jansen and Joe Schierhorn are members of the OneAlaska campaign opposing Ballot Measure 1 and the KEEP Alaska Competitive Coalition. Jansen is the chairman of the Lynden Companies. Schierhorn is the president and CEO of Northrim Bank.

Niblack parent company settles debt, gets new CEO

The owners of a multi-metal prospect in Southeast Alaska have new leadership and potentially new life through an agreement to settle $3.4 million of debt. Vancouver-based Heatherdale Resources Ltd. announced June 3 that it had reached the settlement with fellow Canadian mining firm Hunter Dickinson Services Inc. that clears the vast majority of the debt Heatherdale had compiled with Hunter Dickinson through normal business. Heatherdale Resources is the sole owner of the Niblack underground copper, gold, silver and zinc prospect on a remote portion of southern Prince of Wales Island. According to a statement from Heatherdale, the company had accrued more than $4 million (Canadian) in debt to Hunter Dickinson as of late last year. The settlement grants Hunter Dickinson more than 35 million shares in Heatherdale at a price of 9.75 cents per share. Robert McLeod, one of the purchasers of the stock, will take over as a director and CEO of Heatherdale as part of the deal as well. Heatherdale Chairman and CEO David J. Copeland agreed to step down from the leadership position and make way for McLeod, according to the company. McLeod is a professional geoscientist with more than 25 years of experience in mineral exploration, having worked primarily in Alaska, Northwest Canada and Nevada, according to Heatherdale. Hunter Dickinson is an owner in Northern Dynasty Minerals, which is the sole owner of the large and contentious Pebble deposit in Southwest Alaska. Ron Thiessen is a director and CEO of both mining firms. Heatherdale leaders said issuing the settlement shares will help the company preserve cash for future work. “The company’s board of directors believes that the debt restructuring is necessary to provide the company with a clean balance sheet in order to attract new capital and position the company to unlock value from its current project and acquire new interests,” the June 3 statement reads. Heatherdale has held the Niblack prospect since 2009 but work had slowed of late as the company dealt with its financial issues. The Niblack deposits hold 5.6 million metric tons of indicated resources with an average copper grade of 0.95 percent; 1.73 percent zinc; 1.75 grams per ton of gold, and 29.5 grams per ton of silver. Niblack also holds another 3.4 million tons of inferred resources at slightly lower metal grades, according to Heatherdale. The underground Niblack mine would mill between 1,000 and 1,500 metric tons of ore per day for 10-plus years if it is developed. Heatherdale has proposed a plant for processing metal concentrates on Gravina Island near Ketchikan — an operating model similar to that being advanced by Ucore Rare Metals Inc., which is working on the Bokan rare earth element prospect near Niblack on Prince of Wales. Ucore is planning a processing facility in Ketchikan, the company has said. Both projects received a boost from the state back in 2014 when the Legislature approved a bill signed by former Gov. Sean Parnell allowing the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority to assist in financing their development. At the time, Heatherdale was seeking a partner in the project, which was then estimated to cost between $175 million and $250 million to develop. The legislation authorized AIDEA to put up to $125 million into Niblack. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

Pipeline right-of-way permit under review for Donlin mine

Rising gold prices are fueling excitement among the owners of the Donlin gold mine but groups opposed to the project are raising questions about the thoroughness of its permitting process. Alaska Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Corri Feige on April 30 granted a request to reconsider her Jan. 17 approval of a right-of-way lease for Donlin’s natural gas pipeline following a Superior Court appeal of her decision to approve the lease and initially deny a request for consideration filed Feb. 6. Homer-based conservation advocacy group Cook Inletkeeper filed the permit appeal on behalf of several Kuskokwim-area Tribes. Feige initially denied the reconsideration request but reversed that decision in an April 30 letter to Cook Inletkeeper Advocacy Director Bob Shavelson. However, the two-page letter does not explain what motivated her to reverse course. Cook Inletkeeper and the Orutsararmiut, Chevak and Chuloonawick Native council and villages appealed Feige’s decisions to Superior Court March 19. The appeal was dropped following the April 30 ruling. The 14-inch pipeline would run 315 miles from near Beluga on the west shore of Cook Inlet to the mine site in the Crooked Creek drainage in the Upper Kuskokwim Valley. It would supply feedstock gas to the mine’s large power plant. Cook Inletkeeper’s request to reconsider the permit contends it is premature to issue the right-of-way for a pipeline that has yet to receive state fish habitat and other permits. The groups also argue it is DNR’s responsibility to consider the cumulative impacts of the $7 billion-plus project in granting the right-of-way lease. “The pipeline is proposed as part of a massive gold mine with substantial environmental impacts, including habitat loss and degradation, water and air quality impacts, and risk of tailings dam failure, to name a few,” the request states. “If the benefits of the entire Donlin project can be used to bolster DNR’s analysis of the public interest, the detriments of the entire project should also be used in its analysis to ensure the agency is truly acting consistent with the public interest.” Feige wrote in her decision that state law does not require a cumulative effects analysis and emphasized DNR’s role as a cooperating agency in the project’s environmental impact statement that was approved in 2018, “which stringently considered cumulative and reasonably foreseeable impacts.” “Nonetheless,” she wrote, “the Department of Natural Resources will conduct a further analysis of the cumulative and reasonably foreseeable impacts of the right-of-way lease for the Donlin pipeline. Once this analysis is complete, a new decision will be issued, and notice will be provided of a new comment period consistent with Alaska law.” She also wrote that granting the reconsideration “does not imply that the issues raised in the request have merit.” DNR spokesman Dan Saddler wrote in response to questions that the he could not provide more detail behind the reasoning for reversing the decision than is in the letter because it is an ongoing matter. According to Saddler, the department does not believe the additional look will set a precendent for when the state must review the cumulative impacts of a project for various permitting decisions. "By virtue of the state's participation in the (National Environmental Policy Act) process as a cooperating agency, DNR performed a cumulative impacts analysis leading up to its issuance of the right-of-way at issue here, but it is nonetheless undertaking addtional analysis thorugh the Commissioner's reconsideration," Saddler wrote. Feige and Gov. Mike Dunleavy have both expressed strong support for the Donlin project, stressing the roughly 1,400 jobs its estimated the mine would support are badly needed in the remote region of the state. The Tribes oppose the project that would be located on land owned by The Kuskowkim Corp., a Native village corporation largely because they fear the impacts it will have on subsistence resources, primarily salmon and whitefish in the Kuskowkim River. Donlin Gold LLC spokeswoman Kristina Woolston wrote via email that the reconsideration will not impact the project’s timeline and the company is awaiting the state’s updated decision. Donlin suspended its 2020 work program in early April in response to the COVID-19 pandemic but work resumed last month. The company is employing four drilling rigs and has 120 workers at the deposit that include Calista Corp. shareholders and Yukon-Kuskokwim residents, according to Woolston. Gold prices have increased nearly 30 percent in the past year to a recent plateau of approximately $1,700 per ounce. Tom Kaplan, chairman of Vancouver-based NOVAGold, which owns a 50 percent stake in the Donlin project, said during the company’s annual shareholder call in May that he is confident gold will soon exceed $3,000 per ounce. Donlin’s size as one of the largest gold mines in the world — with planned production of 1.1 million ounces per year — and its remote location mean the project will require a very strong gold market to develop. Company leaders have not said what price or market condition would trigger development if the project reaches that stage. The Tribes on June 5 also appealed a May 7 Department of Environmental Conservation decision to maintain a Certificate of Reasonable Assurance to Donlin that the project will meet Clean Water Act Section 401 discharge standards. The Tribes argue the EIS conducted by the Army Corps of Engineers concluded the project would result in elevated mercury levels, loss of salmon habitat and could increase stream temperatures. The appeal states that the area already has naturally-elevated mercury levels and the mine could add to that and exceed allowable levels. DEC Commissioner Jason Brune has 10 days to approve or rule on the request, per state regulations. DEC officials wrote in response to comments about the certification decision that they believe mitigation measures taken at the mine will be sufficient to limit stream mercury levels. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

PPP rules loosened, but some businesses still struggle to find aid

Congress continues to expand the COVID-19 economic safety net as it becomes clear it still isn’t catching some small businesses that have not been able to secure any of the several forms of government aid. President Donald Trump signed the Paycheck Protection Program Flexibility Act June 5, just 10 days after it was introduced in the House. As the name implies, the legislation significantly eases spending parameters for the federal government’s primary aid program to help small businesses survive the pandemic. It loosens the restrictions on how businesses can spend their PPP funds without being required to repay them; extends the time businesses have to spend the money from eight to 24 weeks; extends the loan maturity period for businesses that do have to repay at least a portion of their PPP aid from two to five years; and reduces the amount of a loan that must be spent on payroll from 75 percent to 60 percent; among other changes. Seeded with $660 billion over two installments, the Small Business Administration had dispersed more than $511 billion in loans — that turn into grants if the spending parameters are followed — through Paycheck Protection Program to more than 4.5 million businesses nationwide as of June 6. In Alaska, 10,265 small businesses had received more than $1.2 billion, according to the SBA. However, those figures have hit a plateau in recent weeks. Just 215 PPP loans totaling approximately $5 million had been approved in the past two weeks, according to SBA figures, despite the fact that more than $130 billion remains available. The state had nearly 71,000 small businesses in 2018, according to the SBA. “The PPP has served as a critical lifeline to keep our small businesses afloat through the peak of the coronavirus pandemic. I am glad to see these common sense changes to the program pass the Senate, changes that will undoubtedly give small businesses greater flexibility and the ability to keep their workers on their payroll,” Sen. Dan Sullivan said in a formal statement. Sen. Lisa Murkowski said the PPP changes should especially help seasonal business that make up a large share of the Alaska economy. “It’s got to help,” Anchorage Economic Development Corp. CEO Bill Popp said of the PPP Flexibility Act. Popp expects the changes will encourage new PPP applications and he hopes they do because he said AEDC staff has been consistently hearing from “dozens” of small business owners who previously couldn’t qualify for government aid to weather the pandemic. “Those (initial requirements) were all just too tight given the fact that business was just shut down for a period of time,” he said. “I’ve dealt with some pretty angry calls from people looking for someone to vent to.” Alaska Small Business Development Center Executive Director Jon Bittner similarly said he’s heard from individuals frustrated by some of the challenges and inconsistencies in the aid programs. Bittner said many small business owners will likely apply for a grant through the state’s $290 million AK CARES program being administered by Credit Union 1 before trying — sometimes again — to get a PPP loan because the state program is currently limited to those businesses that have not received federal aid. SBDC staff are hearing from some business owners who have received just a small Economic Injury Disaster Loan, or EIDL, from the SBA he said. “If you got $3,000, that’s not why (the state) was excluding people,” Bittner said. Kenneth Wake, who owns of Prepper’s Pack, a small emergency equipment and tactical outdoor gear shop with his wife in South Anchorage is one of the emerging group of business owners who didn’t initially qualify for PPP aid; and the changes don’t appear to have helped, either. Wake said the couple does not take regular paychecks from the business; they draw on their investment and then pay taxes off of that, meaning they don’t have the documentation the application process requires. The couple does not have any employees. The PPP Flexibility Act does not amend the loan application requirements. “We can’t show proof of income,” he said. Prepper’s pack closed March 23 and did not reopen for nine weeks. In the interim, Wake, a former hotel security director, accepted a security job so he didn’t apply for unemployment. The state Labor Department is also requesting his wife repay unemployment benefits because the couple’s income records are not standard issue, he said. “It shouldn’t matter how we pay ourselves to be self-employed,” he said, noting unemployment benefits have been extended to self-employed individuals during the pandemic. Wake first applied for an EIDL of up to $10,000 and was unsure of the status of the application when a $2,000 advance showed up in his account. However, that $2,000 in federal aid has prevented him from applying for an AK CARES grant of between $5,000 and $100,000 as well as Anchorage’s Small Business and Nonprofit Relief Grant Pilot Program. Wake said he filled orders for protective equipment from the Anchorage Airport Police and medevac services while Prepper’s Pack was closed to the public but estimates he gave up approximately $17,000 in revenue while the store was closed. He said their landlord forgave part of the April rent payment for the store and the couple paid part of May but they still owe for June. Business has gradually improved in the days since Prepper’s Pack reopened, but Wake said he is still unsure about the future of the business. “I’m hoping and praying we get through this but I tell you what I won’t be holding my breath,” Wake said. Bittner suggested that business owners having trouble finding assistance at the state and federal levels should begin to look locally for at least some sort of aid. He noted that nearly $600 million of the $1.5 billion the state received from the CARES Act is going to local governments that are setting up their own business assistance measures. “Those are going to be small pots of money,” Bittner said, but “There is some more funding on that level that should be easier to get.” Officials in Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration have said the rule limiting AK CARES grants to those who had not received federal help was written in late April when the PPP loan pool was first exhausted. It was intended to ensure as many Alaska businesses as possible got some help. Administration officials, House and Senate leaders have all said they want to remove the federal aid restriction for the program but it is unclear exactly how that will be done. Wake sent an email June 2 to Sullivan, Dunleavy’s Chief of Staff Ben Stevens and the legislators on the bicameral Legislative Budget and Audit Committee, which handles out-of-session fiscal matters, explaining his situation and expressing his frustration with the requirements for the various aid programs. He said he had not received any responses as of June 9. Credit Union 1 had accepted 1,224 AK CARES applications through June 8, according to spokeswoman Jessica Gallagher. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

Stadium virus prevention steers spotlight toward fan privacy

The metal detectors every sports fan has become accustomed to at the gate might soon be accompanied by thermal body scanners as part of the gargantuan task of preventing the spread of the new coronavirus and other airborne diseases. And that might be just one thing the public will need to be comfortable with in order to bring games back for in-person viewing. Tickets have widely transitioned from paper souvenirs to smartphone screens, but how about using your face as your proof of purchase Nascent forms of crowd monitoring — like laser-driven density detection and camera-based calculations of line length — will likely grow faster in a post-pandemic era of live sports that must highlight hygiene. “The pandemic really ups the need for greater assurance of stadium safety,” said Bob Boland, an athletics official who teaches at Penn State and has more than two decades of experience in sports and law as an instructor, consultant and agent. “Vaccine treatments, containment, they all could be game-changers, but people will need to be comfortable with mass body temperature screening and other technology that could be in play.” Not unlike the aftermath from the 2001 terrorist attacks, when long waits to pass through magnetometers and have a security guard wave a wand over pants pockets became the norm. “After 9/11 we overdid it, meaning we were so intent on making every building be safe and everyone safe that we made it extremely inconvenient to go to games and events. But we said that it would get better over time, and it did,” said Marc Ganis, cofounder of the Chicago-based consulting firm SportsCorp. “Now how do you do that?” Technology will be a vital piece of the puzzle. It will also further test a fan’s willingness to potentially sacrifice a little more privacy in exchange for the opportunity to sit courtside or behind the plate again. “Can I say both?” said Jim Mueller, a Milwaukee Bucks season ticket holder who also buys partial packages to Milwaukee Brewers and Green Bay Packers games. “I understand it from the Bucks’ perspective and the NBA perspective, but as an American I don’t want to be traced.” Dave Karls has Bucks season tickets, too, eager enough for his next visit to Fiserv Forum that having his location trackable in the arena would not interfere with the enjoyment. “I’d much rather have that than not be able to attend the game at all,” Karls said. Any concerns depend on an individual’s definition of surveillance, a word that carries a nefarious connotation in some corners. In some countries, the effort this year to stem the outbreak of COVID-19 with contact tracing has included citizen consent to location registration. Activity at a sporting event in the U.S. would likely only be collected in aggregate, like an elevated skin temperature flagged during a walk through a thermal scanner. That’s not a piece of data tied to someone’s actual identity that could run afoul of federal privacy laws. Perhaps QR codes will be used for patrons to self-report current health conditions. Carrying a smartphone and using it to shop already opens a user to some form of location tracking and direct marketing. Team-sponsored apps allowing fans to order burgers and beers directly to their seats and receive push notifications for merchandise already provide a framework for what could be next. “I think the stadiums could probably say, ‘Hey, we’ve got 50 people in the bathroom right now,’ in the aggregate because you already downloaded that app,” said Nerissa Coyle McGinn, a Chicago attorney with a practice in advertising, technology and privacy who has worked with sports teams including the Chicago Bulls, Detroit Red Wings and New York Giants. “You’ve agreed to their privacy policy, and sharing aggregate information isn’t considered sharing personal information.” The algorithms caused a bit of controversy at Alabama, where football coach Nick Saban’s frustration with students leaving blowout games early and a nationwide attendance decline prompted establishment of the “Tide Loyalty Points” program that rewarded fans for their fourth quarter presence with prizes and priority purchasing for in-demand events. Bluetooth technology is used in that case for tracking; it’s only functional inside Bryant-Denny Stadium. “The more information you can give to somebody, the more likely they’re willing to consent to the question of this type of data,” said Nan Sato, a Philadelphia attorney with a focus on the intersection of technology and sports. “Who’s getting the data? How is it being stored and used, how long is the data going to be retained, and how the privacy of the fans is going to be protected?” Screening technology that scans a user’s eyes, face or fingerprint has multiplied in recent years, particularly in airports to speed up security lines. Two years ago, Major League Baseball struck a deal with a biometric identification system, Clear, to accelerate ballpark entry by body part — fingerprints, for now, but perhaps one day a fan’s face will serve as his or her ticket. “When you kind of pull back the layers, people aren’t fearful of the facial recognition technology itself. They’re fearful of what happens to that data after. It’s more a matter of transparency on our clients’ front: ’Hey, we’re not going to sell this data to a third party. It’s maintained in an encrypted way,” said Shaun Moore, a former SMU football player and the co-founder of Trueface, a software startup with customers in a variety of sectors including sports. “We never see any of the data. We don’t know who’s in the database. So that’s one way we keep privacy in mind when developing these tools. There needs to be transparency in how the data flows and who has access to it, how long it stays in the system. Is it 30 days? Is it two days? Where is it being used?” AP Sports Writers Larry Lage, Steve Megargee and Dave Skretta contributed to this report.

Corps OKs $618M plan for Port of Nome

A long-sought plan for a deepwater port in Western Alaska appears to finally be gaining momentum. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers commander Lt. Gen. Todd T. Semonite approved a $618 million plan June 1 to expand the Port of Nome, leaving approval from Congress as the last major hurdle for a project that many officials hope is just the first in a series of infrastructure developments in the region. The Port of Nome Modification Feasibility Study is the latest iteration in a series of proposals made over the past decade to upgrade maritime facilities along Alaska’s largely undeveloped western coast. Army Corps Alaska District Acting Commander Col. David Hibner said in a formal statement that the existing port facilities in Nome are overcrowded and restrict vessel traffic because of water depth limitations. “We’ve developed a feasible engineering solution that provides safe, reliable and efficient navigation improvement to support a critical region of the state. Delivery of this important infrastructure will help to strengthen commerce and national security in the Arctic,” Hibner said. Earlier concepts to further develop Nome port or build a wholly new deepwater facility elsewhere on the Seward Peninsula were based on the expectation that the oil and gas industry was poised to start large-scale operations in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas. In 2015 the Army Corps of Engineers released a $210 million plan to expand the area of protected water in front of Nome and dredge the area for larger vessels. The Corps’ work on that plan started as early as 2011. However, when Shell announced later that year that its $7 billion Chukchi oil exploration effort had come up empty and it would cancel its offshore Arctic drilling program later, the corresponding plan to renovate Nome’s port to better handle oil and gas industry support vessels was scrapped as well. Congress then turned around in 2016 and subsequently broadened the scope of potential benefits the Corps is allowed to evaluate when considering marine infrastructure projects in Alaska to include “the viability of regions,” rather than strictly looking at a direct and immediate cost-benefit review for a given project. The latest plan — released in draft form in January — calls for roughly doubling the length of the port’s existing west causeway to reach approximately 2,100 feet farther into Norton Sound with a nearly 1,400-foot breakwater to protect harbor entrance from incoming waves. The L-shaped barrier would also hold two new 450-foot and one new 600-foot dock to handle the larger vessels that have started calling on Nome, according to Corps officials. The existing east causeway-breakwater would be demolished and replaced with a larger, 3,900-foot causeway-breakwater that would greatly expand the port’s outer basin. Approximately three-quarters of the material from the existing east causeway would be used to build its replacement, according to the study. The bigger outer port basin would also be dredged deeper — from 22 feet currently to 28 feet — and the three new docks would be near the end of the longer west causeway-breakwater in an area dredged to at least 40 feet deep. The 2015 plan called for adding 2,150 feet to the existing west causeway and dredging the harbor entrance channel to a maximum depth of 28 feet. The primary benefit to residents of Nome and outlying communities would be potentially lower-cost goods brought in by larger vessels and to realize that local officials will likely need to contribute significantly to funding the project. The $618 million price tag breaks down to $386 million funded by the federal government, largely for the in-water dredging and construction. The City of Nome would have to contribute nearly $123 million for the navigation features and another $128 million for infrastructure deemed “local facilities” such as access roads, docks, utilities and other things, according to Alaska Corps officials. Nome Port Director Joy Baker wrote via email that local government leaders are working with consultants on a plan to fund the project from several possible sources, but they are not yet ready to disclose the details. The 2020 American Water Infrastructure Act passed out of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee May 11 containing language directing Corps leaders to expedite approval of the Nome project. Sen. Dan Sullivan, who serves on the EPW Committee, said during a May 27 videoconference discussion hosted by Commonwealth North that members of Congress from other states are starting to recognize the need to focus attention on the Arctic as countries like China and Russia grow their icebreaker fleets and continue to grow their presence in the region that is believed to hold vast stores of energy, minerals and other resources. “There has been an Arctic awakening, there’s no doubt about it. It is across the board; Democrats, Republicans, Senate, House and it’s coming up all the time,” Sullivan said. Currently, Dutch Harbor is the only deepwater port in Western Alaska capable of being the homeport for large vessels — whether they are for research, spill response, search and rescue or industry. “It’s going to be expensive but the key is it’s going to be the first port” in the Arctic, Sullivan said of the Nome project. The Alaska delegation, state lawmakers and Defense and Coast Guard leaders in the state for years have emphasized what they believe is a need for an Arctic deep-draft port in Western Alaska as shipping traffic through the Bering Strait increases as a result of the ever-receding sea ice. City officials hope the project can relieve congestion at the port and generally make it easier for vessels of all sizes to utilize the facilities, according to Baker. Baker also expects more activity at the port from fishing fleets as populations of cod, Pollock and other species historically confined by water temperatures to the southern Bering Sea move north with warming water over the long term. Congress would still need to appropriate funding for the federal portion of the project in a spending bill even if it is ultimately authorized through the traditionally noncontroversial water infrastructure bill, as expected. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

OPEC, allied nations extend nearly 10M barrel cut by a month

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — OPEC and allied nations agreed June 6 to extend a production cut of nearly 10 million barrels of oil per day through the end of July, hoping to encourage stability in energy markets hard hit by the coronavirus-induced global economic crisis. Ministers of the cartel and outside nations led by Russia met via video conference to adopt the measure, aimed at cutting the excess production depressing prices as global aviation remains largely grounded due to the pandemic. The curbed output represents some 10 percent of the world’s overall supply. But danger still lurks for the market, even as a number of nations ease virus-related lockdowns, and enforcing compliance remains thorny. Algerian Oil Minister Mohamed Arkab, the current OPEC president, warned meeting attendees that the global oil inventory would soar to 1.5 billion barrels by the mid-point of this year. “Despite the progress to date, we cannot afford to rest on our laurels,” Arkab said. “The challenges we face remain daunting.” That was a message echoed by Saudi Oil Minister Abdulaziz bin Salman, who acknowledged “we all have made sacrifices to make it where we are today.” He said he remained shocked by the day in April when U.S. oil futures plunged below zero. “There are encouraging signs we are over the worst,” he said. Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak similarly called April “the worst month in history” for the global oil market. The decision came in a unanimous vote, Energy Minister Suhail al-Mazrouei of the United Arab Emirates wrote on Twitter. He called it “a courageous decision.” But it is only a one-month extension of a production cut that was deep enough “to keep prices from going so low that it creates global financial risk but not enough to make prices very high, which would be a burden to consumers in a recessionary time,” said Amy Myers Jaffe, senior fellow at the Council for Foreign Relations. “There is so much uncertainty that I think they took a conservative approach,” she said. “You don’t know how much production is going to come back on. You don’t know what’s going to happen with demand. You don’t know if there’s going to be a second (pandemic) wave.” Jaffe said improved oil demand in China and Asia and a gradual stabilization of demand in the United States and to some extent Europe, where there’s some cautious economic reopening, were encouraging for producers. OPEC has 13 member states and is largely dominated by oil-rich Saudi Arabia. The additional countries involved part in the so-called OPEC Plus accord have been led by Russia, with Mexico under President Andrés Manuel López Obrador playing a considerable role at the last minute in the initial agreement. Crude oil prices have been gaining in recent days, in part on hopes OPEC would continue the cut. International benchmark Brent crude traded Saturday at over $42 a barrel. Brent had crashed below $20 per barrel in April. Earlier this year, when demand was down, Saudi Arabia was flooding the market with crude oil, helping to send prices down to record lows. That prompted the U.S. government in April to take the unusual step of getting involved in OPEC’s negotiations, pressuring members of the cartel to agree to cuts to help end the oil price free-fall. At the time, President Donald Trump said the U.S. would help take on some of the cuts that Mexico was unwilling to make. And perhaps more importantly, a group of U.S. senators upset over the impact on U.S. shale production said at the time that they had drafted legislation which would remove American forces, including Patriot Missile batteries, from Saudi Arabia. Under a deal reached in April, OPEC and allied countries were to cut nearly 10 million barrels per day until July, then 8 million barrels per day through the end of the year, and 6 million per day for 16 months beginning in 2021. In a Rose Garden speech on June 5, Trump took credit for the April deal. “People said that wasn’t possible but we got Saudi Arabia, Russia and others to cut back substantially,” he said. “We appreciate that very much.” U.S. Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette tweeted his applause June 6 for the extension, which he said comes “at a pivotal time as oil demand continues to recover and economies reopen around the world.” However, some countries have been producing beyond quotas set by the deal. One was Iraq, which remains decimated after a years-long war against the Islamic State group. Iraq Oil Ministry spokesman Assem Jihad said in a statement that Baghdad had “renewed its full commitment” to the OPEC Plus deal. Analysts had expected only a one-month extension given the still fluctuating level of demand. “If the demand is great, countries like Russia will want to produce more oil, so they probably won’t want to get locked into a longer-term deal that may not help them,” said Jacques Rousseau, managing director at Clearview Energy Partners. In a research note, Clearview also said Saturday that the producers group “appears to be going to great lengths to keep the deal together despite unequal compliance” — trying to avoid public fights on the issue. “That solution might work today, but not repeatedly,” it said, citing reports of rising Libyan output and the end of production cuts from Mexico that will heighten the need for compliance. Major production cuts are simply untenable for countries such as Iraq, Oman and Ecuador, whose economies depend nearly exclusively on petroleum income, as they could face debt default. Bajak reported from Boston. Associated Press writer Cathy Bussewitz in New York contributed to this report.

Virus leaves the US travel industry struggling to recover

U.S. air travel down almost 90 percent from a year ago. A ghostly emptiness at Hawaii’s tourist hotels. Deserted Las Vegas casinos counting the days to reopening. Few sectors of the economy have endured as much devastation from the coronavirus as the travel business. Surveying the wreckage, economists and company leaders say it will take years to regenerate the $1.1 trillion the industry produced last year, potentially leaving many airlines, hotels, rental car companies and restaurants in peril. And as long as travel remains depressed, the economy could struggle to accelerate. About 10 percent of all jobs flow from the travel sector. Industry-wide unemployment now tops 50 percent, government reports suggest, a level that could presage bankruptcies and business closures. Spending by business and leisure travelers had provided an engine of growth that helped power the economy until the virus struck. “While the rest of the country is moving into a recession,” said Tori Emerson Barnes, an executive at the U.S. Travel Association, “the travel industry is already in a depression.” The industry’s collapse is unrivaled in recent memory. The closest parallel, the 9/11 terrorist attacks, closed airports for four days. The industry needed roughly two years to match its previous passenger levels. The cost this time is estimated at nine times the damage from 9/11, Barnes said. The industry was once a reliable gauge of economic health. From business people on high-priced overseas trips to tourists flying to Disney World, the industry benefited from steady spending. Not this time. Travel might be one of the last sectors to recover. “Usually travel would be a good leading indicator of confidence and discretionary spending,” said Gregory Daco, chief U.S. economist for Oxford Economics. “But in the wake of the global coronavirus recession, it’s likely to be a lagging indicator.” With revenue all but dried up, U.S. airlines are burning through cash and planning for layoffs this fall, when a no-layoffs provision in federal aid to the carriers will expire. That aid includes nearly $25 billion in payroll assistance and an additional $25 billion in loans. Even before then, American and United Airlines have said they will slash management and support staff by 30 percent — about 8,500 jobs between them. Delta has launched an early-retirement offer and warns of layoffs if there aren’t enough takers. Those moves don’t include the tens of thousands of union pilots and flights attendants who are likely to be furloughed in October, The U.S. Travel Association is urging the government to provide more help through individual tax credits worth up to $4,000 for domestic travelers. The industry also wants to make business meals and entertainment fully tax-deductible for companies. Stock market investors are embracing a future with less travel. Shares in Zoom, the now-ubiquitous video conference company, have more than doubled since mid-February. Delta, United and American, the nation’s three largest airlines, are worth — combined — $27 billion less than Zoom. Across the hotel industry, mid-priced companies are managing better than luxury ones. Hotels near beaches and in smaller cities are faring better than urban locations. Lodging that draws nearby tourists is doing far better than those that rely on airports. “We are seeing strength in drive-to destination travel,” said Geoffrey Ballotti, CEO of Wyndham Hotels and Resorts. The Wyndham Grand in Clearwater, Fla., was full Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights over the Memorial Day weekend. Most guests had come from within a three-hour drive. Danny Aderholt runs a company that owns eight hotels along highways in Ohio and West Virginia and one in downtown Pittsburgh that remains closed. Guest cancellations, he said, started in March. Then new bookings stopped. Each of his hotels is operating at an average monthly loss of about $35,000. The hotels that previously employed 20 now have about eight. “We let go of quite a few people,” Aderholt said. Nowhere is the devastation as severe as in Nevada. The state leads the nation with a crushingly high 28 percent unemployment rate — above the worst U.S. jobless rate recorded in the depths of the Great Depression. Once-jammed sidewalks of the Las Vegas Strip are sparse. The gambling and entertainment mecca has suffered a 97 percent drop in visitors in April from a year ago, the most recently available data show. Normally packed hotels had less than 2 percent occupancy, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. Casinos gaming revenue almost entirely disappeared in April. Casinos reopened on June 4. Hawaii has similarly suffered, with 22 percent unemployment. Other states, especially those with major airline hubs like California, New York, Texas, Illinois and Georgia, have also endured deep layoffs in the tourism sector. Airport officials in Orlando estimate that travel to the home of Disney World and Universal Studios won’t return to previous levels until sometime between 2022 and 2025. The number of passengers screened at airport checkpoints remains down nearly 90 percent from a year ago. The average domestic flight is carrying fewer than 50 passengers. Airlines are hoping for a slow pickup by late summer. But they’re wary of making predictions, not when people like David Ward worry about getting on a plane. A retired investor from Ohio, Ward was stranded in Morocco when it shut down travel in March. He’s still fighting to get refunds for cancelled flights. But to him, flying now feels risky. “You never know who is coughing and sneezing on you in a plane,” Ward said. Mark Miller, an executive in Boston, is accustomed to flying about 100,000 miles a year. He hasn’t ruled out a couple of trips late this summer and around the holidays. But he has no other immediate flight plans. He’s instead planning driving trips around New England. Even travel industry types have qualms. Terry McClintock, a Texas consultant who advises airlines, is taking his first COVID-era flight next week to meet with colleagues in Las Vegas, confident that the plane and airport will be cleaner than ever. He is drawing a line, though, at international travel. He isn’t eager to wear a mask for a long flight or face a possible quarantine overseas. “I’m bullish on getting back in gear, but not crazy,” he said. Neither are many other travelers, which is why U.S. airlines are burning through cash. Airline executives say that after the most immediate threat from the pandemic subsides, the carriers will likely shrink, with fewer jobs and fewer destinations. Already, cities like Erie, Pa., and Peoria, Ill., are losing some of their service, a trend that could accelerate after federal regulation of airline routes expires this fall. In the end, the industry won’t fully recover until nearly everybody feels safe about flying. “Honestly, we don’t think that will happen until there is a vaccine,” said United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby.

FISH FACTOR: Crucial fish surveys curtailed by COVID-19 precautions

Surveys of Alaska’s fish, crab and halibut stocks in the Bering Sea have been called off or reduced due to constraints and dangers posed by the coronavirus. In what they called an “unprecedented” move, NOAA Fisheries announced in late May that five Alaska surveys will be cancelled this summer “due to the uncertainties created by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the unique challenges those are creating for the agency.” NOAA said in a statement that they found “no way to move forward with a survey plan that effectively minimizes risks to staff, crew, and the communities associated with the surveys.” The annual surveys are the cornerstone of Alaska’s sustainable fisheries management and provide data on how fish stocks are trending, where they are and, ultimately, how much will be allowed for harvest each year. The cancellations include bottom trawl surveys at the Aleutian Islands, the eastern Bering Sea and the northern Bering Sea, the Bering Sea pollock acoustics survey, and the fall ecosystem survey. To reassure stakeholders, NOAA said “we are fortunate to be working in a robust management system with a long time series of fisheries and ecosystem data and stock assessment models which helps ensure there is limited conservation impact from the loss of survey data this year.” The agency also plans to use three wind-powered Saildrones equipped with echosounders to survey Alaska pollock stocks, which over 60 days will cover nearly the same area done by research vessels. NOAA also will gather data from state and industry partners and from fisheries observers. That’s small comfort to some, notably, fishing towns that count on cod. The Gulf of Alaska cod fishery was closed this year due to a collapse of the stocks from extremely warm water temperatures over several years that killed off two age classes. “We are concerned that with no surveys, the stock assessment will remain status quo and the GOA Pacific cod federal fishery will again be closed for 2021,” Alvin Osterback, mayor of the Aleutians East Borough, wrote in a letter to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, which oversees the stocks from three to 200 miles offshore. Likewise, Bering Sea crabbers are feeling uneasy. While they “understand the constraints the agency is under given this pandemic,” crabbers worry the lack of surveys could result in more conservative catch levels. “We’re very disappointed and concerned given the status of many of our crab stocks,” said Jamie Goen, executive director of Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers, a trade group. “Our bairdi Tanner fishery was closed this past year and our red crab fishery is approaching thresholds of closing. We rely on having a survey every year.” The complex process of setting crab harvest limits already includes a myriad of built-in protection buffers, Goen said, and the lack of one data point should not add more. Goen credited NOAA’s “crab team” for working closely with the industry and said ABSC already is looking towards next year. “How can we start planning now so that this doesn’t happen again if we’re still under the same restraints with a pandemic?” Goen asked. “Generally, the government only allocates survey money for one year. Can they guarantee that we’ll have that money next year? What if there’s constraints on government staff? One of the things we can do in advance is a lot more planning for next season.” “We all need to be understanding that the whole world is adjusting to a different situation right now,” Goen added. “Our fishing industries in Alaska are suffering and it’s a lot more expensive and stressful just getting our operations out the door. We’ve all got to roll up our sleeves and help each other out and find solutions to make sure we can continue to put food on people’s tables.” Halibut surveys reduced Similarly, the annual survey of the Pacific halibut stock also will have a “reduced footprint” this summer. A total of 898 stations will be surveyed, down 385, or 30 percent, from the originally planned 1,283 stations “as a result of the impacts and restrictions that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on our field operational capacity and concern for our fishing communities coastwide,” according to a May 29 announcement by the International Pacific Halibut Commission. There are a total of 1,890 set line halibut survey stations ranging from the west coast states and British Columbia to the far reaches of the Bering Sea, and typically 1,100 to 1,200 are assessed each year, said IPHC Executive Director David Wilson. About 17 longline vessels are usually contracted to conduct the surveys; this year 11 boats will participate. The survey duration also is reduced to July 1 through Aug. 31, instead of starting in June. The areas that will forego surveys this summer include waters off California, Oregon and Washington. For Alaska, areas 4CDE in the Bering Sea near the Pribilof Islands were cut, along with Areas 4A and 4B of the Aleutian Islands near Unalaska and Adak. “We also thinned out a little bit in 3B, the Western Gulf of Alaska, and we also removed the stations off Vancouver Island,” Wilson explained. He added that low halibut prices also affected their decision to reduce stations. The fish caught are sold to cover the costs of the surveys. “We’re looking at getting paid about 25 percent to 30 percent, less than in 2019,” Wilson said. Wilson agreed that when annual survey data is missing, it increases the level of uncertainty in stock assessments. But the IPHC believes it is acceptable for one year, Wilson said, adding, “we don’t have to sample every station every year.” “We’re going to maintain sampling in the core regions where about 74 percent of the known distribution and biomass of the halibut stock resides. So it’s still going to be a robust survey,” Wilson said. “The other thing to note is that we do this on an annual basis, and I don’t think there are any other surveys of this nature on this scale which then feed into annual stock assessments. We actually ran the scenario of what happens if we don’t survey this year at all and we would still feel confident that we would have very robust estimates of spawning stock biomass and mortality limits (catch limits) for 2021.” Free salmon updates More Alaska salmon fisheries are opening up around the state and weekly updates track catches and trends in every region. “We email them out at the beginning of every week that cover the prior week’s salmon harvests statewide, broken out by region,” said Garrett Evridge, a fisheries economist with the McDowell Group in Anchorage. “The goal is to provide context for what our state is harvesting relative to the prior year and historical averages and to highlight interesting things that are happening in near real time throughout the salmon season.” His team compiles the weekly salmon send outs under contract with the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, and they work closely with the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game to get the weekly numbers out as quickly as possible. “Over the last few years, we’ve narrowed the delay from about a week to 10 days to just a few days,” Evridge said. “Fisheries are happening statewide that conclude on the weekend and by Monday and Tuesday, we’re getting that information out to everybody. So it’s near real time.” Sign up for the free weekly salmon updates at [email protected] Fish subscriptions and feeding the needy Alaskans Own, the state’s first ever Community Supported Fishery, or CSF, is celebrating 11 years of its subscription service to seafood lovers. “A Community Supported Fishery project relies on forward funding from subscribers who pay in the beginning of the season and then receive fish on a regular basis, in our case, it’s once a month,” said Linda Behnken, executive director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association in Sitka. Up to 80 local boats supply a mix of salmon, halibut, rockfish, lingcod, sablefish and more to the program. “And the idea behind it is that consumers are getting to support the small scale, community-based fishermen who are bringing them the highest quality product, and we’re keeping more of that great Alaska seafood in Alaska,” Behnken added. Just 1 percent of Alaska’s billions of pounds of seafood remains in-state, and while many of their nearly 300 subscribers are from the Lower 48, Behnken says Alaska residents make up a good chunk of supporters. Subscribers also get seafood cooking lessons via Zoom. “Most people in this country eat seafood more at restaurants than anywhere else, and many people still are daunted by cooking seafood at home,” Behnken said. “So, one of the benefits we offer to our customers is that after they get their fish, a chef will make dinner with them through Zoom.” All CSF proceeds fund ALFA’s Fisheries Conservation Network in which fishermen and scientists partner on projects like mapping bycatch hotspots, testing electronic monitoring, fuel efficiency projects and strategies to avoid longline predation by sperm whales. Shortly after the coronavirus hit, Alaskans Own also started working with the Seafood Producers Cooperative and Sitka Sound Seafoods to donate fish to needy families. “We’ve set up a system where people can contribute to support the cost of processing, the cost of delivery and the fish is donated,” Behnken said. “We’ve been supported by the Sitka Legacy Fund, Silver Bay Seafoods, Slow Fish, along with 25 individual donors.” More than 800 pounds have been delivered to local families so far and Behnken said the donations will continue into the fall. Learn more at alaskansown.com. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Travelers confused, uncertain about Alaska testing requirement

Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s announcement May 29 that Alaska will require COVID-19 tests for incoming travelers set the phones ringing at the Denali Lakeview Inn in Healy. Not in a good way. At the 21-room hotel 10 miles from Denali National Park and Preserve, owners Daryl and Tara Frisbie estimate they’ve lost more than $700,000 so far this season as tourists sacrifice Alaska trips amid the uncertainties of the coronavirus pandemic. Bookings were already down by 85 percent when the governor held his press conference on May 29, according to Daryl Frisbie. “The 15 percent left were kind of hanging on to see what the governor was going to say,” Frisbie said June 1. “That next morning, Tara was taking nothing but cancellations.” Dunleavy that day announced that travelers entering the state could avoid the existing quarantine if they get a COVID-19 test within 72 hours of a trip, starting June 5. Without one, they could submit to a rapid test at the airport upon arrival or, failing that, comply with a two-week quarantine on the books since March. No other states are asking for COVID-19 tests around travel. But confusion is high among potential travelers. There’s been no additional guidance on the specifics of the new mandate and how it dovetails with the existing 14-day quarantine mandate due to expire June 5, which is not being enforced but instead relies on voluntary cooperation. The governor said he’d hold a press conference June 1 to answer questions. The event was canceled. He said the state would publish an updated travel mandate June 2 making the new policy clear. As of June 2, the state had posted this on the COVID-19 mandate website: “Additional information about updates for the mandatory self-quarantine order for international and interstate travelers will be released later this week. Travelers should continue to self-quarantine for 14 days upon arrival to Alaska.” The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services tweeted a message about details coming this week late Monday: “Travelers, changes are afoot! Beginning June 5, proof of a negative result on a qualifying COVID-19 test obtained before arriving in AK allows visitors, workers &residents to enter without a 14-day quarantine.” Travelers weighing trips to the state this summer have far more questions than answers. So many questions. How do I get a COVID-19 test when doctors in my community are only referring people with symptoms? What’s the point of a 72-hour window when I can get exposed to more people on the flight than anywhere else I’ve been for months? How do I get test results back in such a short time? If I wait and get tested at the airport in Alaska, how long do I have to wait there? What happens if I test positive after I arrive? The test itself also has false-negative issues for people without symptoms. Physicians say someone can test negative right after they’re exposed to the virus, only to test positive a week later — or become exposed en route to the state. Sheri Woodbeck was supposed to fly to Alaska June 9 from her home near Minneapolis. She had a motor home rented and a three-day halibut charter booked. Her doctor told her she could get tested June 7. “But I wouldn’t get the results back until maybe Tuesday (June 9). By then I’m going to be on the plane,” Woodbeck said. “What happens if I did test positive? I would be in trouble.” She canceled her flight this week. Camille Hammond decided to cancel her family’s trip to Alaska from Oregon rather than deal with the testing requirement. Hammond called her doctor. She was told she couldn’t get tested without symptoms. She and her husband would be traveling with their three children, ages 7, 10 and 11. She didn’t want to submit them to invasive nasal swab testing at the Anchorage airport, if that’s what it came down to. She wondered why the state can’t require temperature screening or mask-wearing like other places do. “We were planning on camping and fishing, doing things that are outside,” Hammond said. “But the bottom line is right now in Oregon, we can’t get tested if we don’t have symptoms and it just seems foolhardy to wait till we get up there and cross our fingers it all works out seamlessly.” Blaze Baker, a civilian flight chief at Buell Air Force Base in Northern California, still hopes to visit family in Alaska. An annual event for two decades, the trip hinges on camping, fishing, berry picking and — this year — celebrating Baker’s 50th birthday. Baker originally planned two different trips, one in July and one in August. He’s still hoping to come but is waiting to see what the state decides. Maybe he’ll forgo the test and quarantine for a couple weeks, then head out. Baker said the idea of forcing a test on someone is “kind of creepy” and raises constitutional questions but also said he couldn’t get tested anywhere near his home community. “I’d be more comfortable if I knew everybody on the plane was tested, but it’s simply not available. I don’t know what to do. I’ll probably play it up to the last minute,” he said June 2. “It was a nice idea but practically I just don’t think it’s implementable.” Travel reductions in the face of the pandemic have crushed the state’s tourist industry. More than 1.4 million visitors — just less than twice the state’s total population — were expected to arrive here this summer, many on cruise ships that canceled most sailings. Most of the rest come on planes experiencing drastic passenger reductions. Health officials say Alaska benefited from its ability to curtail the flow of visitors from states with more virus cases through a ban on non-essential travel and the 14-day quarantine enacted in March. A number of physicians in the state urged the governor to ban travel as much as possible. There were just over 100 active cases here this week out of a total of 487. About 10 percent of the state’s total cases, 47 people, have gotten sick enough to require hospitalization. Ten Alaskans with the virus have died. In Juneau, where the loss of cruise ships has hammered the economy, the Juneau Assembly held a public hearing June 1 about enacting a local 14-day quarantine for people coming from Outside to Juneau. Martin Stepetin testified that 500 respondents to a Facebook poll supported the quarantine and 100 opposed it. Several others testified in support of testing if it allowed travelers to avoid a lengthy quarantine, including Dr. Steven Greer, who travels for work between Juneau and Oregon. Greer suggested a policy where travelers get tested before they fly to Alaska, and then again upon arrival, with a quarantine of about three days while they wait for the results from the second test. The assembly postponed a decision until a special meeting June 3. “We really need to hear the specifics of the governor’s plan,” said assembly member Maria Gladziszewski. Alaska’s chief medical officer, Dr. Anne Zink, and state Department of Health and Social Services Commissioner Adam Crum have agreed to participate in the meeting, officials say. The only other state with similar isolation and travel policies is Hawaii, where an enforced, 14-day quarantine remains in effect. Last month, Lt. Gov. Josh Green proposed a “Travel With Aloha” initiative: Anyone wanting to travel to Hawaii must first get a rapid turnaround test for COVID-19 or undergo a test upon arrival. A negative result could exempt them from the mandatory, 14-day travel quarantine. As of this week, the initiative remains a proposal only. There is no set date for Hawaii to revise its quarantine requirements. At the Denali Lakeview Inn on Monday, Tara Frisbie continued fielding phone calls from frustrated visitors canceling their trips north. She said a comment from a guest that day summed up her frustration: “It’s like your governor doesn’t want people to come visit your state.”

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