Opinion

OPINION: Redlining the Arctic

The biggest bank in Alaska is redlining its biggest employer. At just more than $6 billion as of June 30, 2019, Wells Fargo holds more deposits in Alaska than every other bank combined with 51 percent of the market share according to the most recent Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. data. That is just a tiny fraction of the San Francisco-based bank’s more than $1.2 trillion in deposits nationwide, which is probably why the company’s board of directors cares not a whit about its policy of refusing to finance oil and gas projects on Alaska’s North Slope. Along with Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan and Morgan Stanley — who have also announced they will not finance oil and gas projects in the state — perhaps they should be made to care. Rather than gerrymandered borders of neighborhoods drawn in the past to exclude entire populations of disadvantaged people from credit services, these mega banks that were all bailed out by the federal government after the 2008 financial crash have taken advantage of the existing line at 66 degrees North otherwise known as the Arctic Circle. Above this line are thousands of Alaska’s first people that the United States government made a deal with in 1971 through the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act to exchange millions of acres of land in order to facilitate construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System. That contract guaranteeing Alaska Natives the rights of economic opportunity and self-determination is in jeopardy from these federally-backed banks that are pandering to Green New Dealers with a redlining policy that harkens back to the original New Deal of 1933. Alaska’s congressional delegation is therefore on to something with its recent letter to Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, Comptroller of the Currency Brian Brooks and FDIC Chair Jelena McWilliams that calls out these banks’ anti-Arctic policy for what it is: discrimination against Alaska Natives. That is no stretch. These banks are declaring they will help deny billions of dollars in potential royalties to Alaska Natives from the National Petroleum Reserve and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Coastal Plain that are both explicitly designated by Congress for development, as well as the state lands from which shareholders in Arctic Slope Regional Corp. and the village of Nuiqsuit would benefit. Doyon Drilling, a subsidiary of the Interior Native regional corporation, works extensively on the North Slope and was forced to lay off more than 300 employees as ConocoPhillips shut down exploration amid the pandemic and then curbed production by some 100,000 barrels per day as prices briefly turned negative. As of December 2019, Doyon shareholders numbered 226 at Doyon Drilling and earned $21 million in wages last year. The Green New Dealers may believe they are only screwing with evil big oil companies, but stopping Arctic projects by turning off financing spigots will disproportionately hurt companies like Doyon that are led from top to bottom by its Native shareholders. More broadly, these banks’ discriminatory policies hurt all Alaska Natives that would receive revenue sharing from North Slope development and the state as a whole that relies on oil revenue to pay for health care and education. Quite simply, banks that are still in existence today thanks to the extraordinary rescue measures taken 12 years ago and who are now borrowing from the Fed at essentially 0 percent should not be allowed to discriminate against any group of people, let alone an entire state or industry. Wells Fargo and its too-big-to-fail cohort are literally anti-Alaska. To be clear, this is not a reflection on the bank’s state leadership or its staff, who have made overwhelmingly positive contributions to Alaska and in particular the nonprofit community. But they have no sway in San Francisco. This is not to suggest that banks should be forced to finance Arctic oil projects, although extending loan services into economically distressed areas was and is mandated as a remedy to historic redlining practices. They may even have their own internal reasons for not participating in Arctic projects. However, no bank should be allowed to publicly declare and even boast about a discriminatory policy against sovereign people, an entire state or an industry that is vital to national security while still enjoying the benefits and backing of the federal government. Even absent a federal solution, Alaskans have other options for their money with banks and credit unions that are based here and are far more invested in the state’s future than Wells Fargo has decided to be. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

OPINION: A fair share of deception

This week we publish an “explainer” from Robin Brena of the “Fair Share Act” campaign for no other reason than to illustrate the depths he and his cohort are going to deceive Alaskans into raising oil taxes. The only thing the campaign is being honest about is the fact they want to dramatically jack up taxes by at least $1 billion per year according to their own estimate. How they are trying to convince Alaskans to do so is a litany of outright lies or misleading claims being made by people who are still fighting the outcome of the 2014 referendum they lost over the current oil tax structure. The first falsehood they are basing their campaign around is that the tax increase will only be charged against the three large “legacy” fields and “As a result, it will not impact the development of new fields in Alaska.” This is pure garbage. Because ConocoPhillips is required by the Securities and Exchange Commission to break out its Alaska operations in its quarterly and annual tax filings, we know that in 2019 the company made profits of $1.5 billion in Alaska while spending $1.5 billion on capital investments on the North Slope. Every nickel of the company’s income last year was matched on building projects such as Greater Mooses Tooth-2 and exploration development at its massive prospect dubbed Willow. ConocoPhillips executives have stated that while its board sets a global capital budget, its Alaska operations are essentially self-contained in that profits in Alaska are reinvested in Alaska. Even when the company was losing $4.4 billion in 2015, its capital budget in Alaska remained essentially unchanged at about $1 billion and went from 5 percent of its global total to about 20 percent. To argue that raising taxes on legacy fields will not impact the development of new fields is a naked attempt to fool voters. Brena also attempts to mislead Alaskans by describing a “pre-tax profit” on a barrel of oil from Prudhoe Bay he calculates at $40.61 in 2018. Investopedia defines “profit” as “the financial benefit realized when revenue generated from a business activity exceeds the expenses, costs, and taxes involved in sustaining the activity in question.” (emphasis added) A gross, “pre-tax” profit may be useful to a business owner, but only insofar as it helps them determine what their tax liability will be. A picture of profits without accounting for taxes is less informative than trying to interpret a three-year-old’s finger paintings. Brena then combines a lie with another incomplete claim when he writes that Alaska “paid the producers more in cashable credits than we have received in production revenues” since Senate Bill 21 took effect for a full year in 2015. Brena well knows that the major, “legacy” producers have never, ever received “cashable” credits that were only delivered to small companies with either no production or daily output of less than 50,000 barrels per day. A favorite omission by the tax raisers when they talk about only production tax revenue is to never mention the record low oil prices that hammered companies — and the state’s budget — from 2015 to 2017. By conflating the cash credits that predated SB 21 with production tax revenue, Brena et al claim that Alaska’s “share of production revenues after credits collapsed from $19 billion (2009-2013) before SB21 to less than $0 (2015-2019) after SB21.” They don’t tell you what is in the most recent state revenue forecast, which also summarizes historic petroleum revenue from all sources. According to the 2020 figures, from 2015 to 2019 the state collected $10.75 billion in unrestricted and restricted petroleum revenue. At the same time, ConocoPhillips lost billions for three years from 2015 to 2017. During 2016, BP reported that it lost about $1 million per day from its North Slope operations. Nevertheless, they still owed production tax thanks to the gross minimum in SB 21 (that would have collected zero under the previous ACES), they owed property tax and they owed royalty payments. Corporate taxes, which are calculated on net income versus gross (production tax and royalty), were negative but have rebounded to positive territory since 2018 as prices recovered. Here we are again with another price collapse that has crushed revenue, production and jobs, yet the Fair Sharers blithely march along trying to appeal to Alaskans’ rightful concern over the budget and smaller dividends with a self-destructive solution that would drive a stake through the state’s economic engine. We didn’t fall for it in 2014, and it is even more vital to see through another dishonest campaign in 2020. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

GUEST COMMENTARY: The Fair Share Act explained

The Fair Share Act will be Ballot Measure No. 1 this November. It will (1) only apply to our three largest and most profitable oil fields, (2) increase Alaskans’ share of revenues from our three major fields, (3) limit cost deductions from our share of our three major fields to the costs of producing oil from them, and (4) require production tax filings for our three major fields to be public. This article details these provisions and explains why they are important for Alaska’s future. Applicability. The Fair Share Act will only apply to the Prudhoe Bay Unit, the Kuparuk River Unit, and the Colville River Unit. These three major fields are low-cost, high-profit fields that should be paying Alaskans a fair share. In 2018, for example, when oil was $63.61 per barrel, Prudhoe Bay produced oil for $13 per barrel in operating costs, $2 per barrel in capital costs, and $8 per barrel in transportation costs, or about $23 per barrel in total. The resulting $40.61 per-barrel, pre-tax profit is more than the major producers made anywhere else in the world with major reserves. Importantly, the Fair Share Act will not apply to other fields until they produce 40,000 barrels per day and 400 million barrels in cumulative total. As a result, it will not impact the development of new fields in Alaska. Increases Alaskans’ Share. The Fair Share Act increases Alaskans’ share of production revenues from our three major fields by about $1 billion per year when oil prices are normalized in the $55 to $65 per barrel range. Under the current law, Senate Bill 21, Alaska is getting a smaller share of production revenues than ever in our history and a smaller share than any other major resource owner in the world. Alaskans’ share of production revenues after credits collapsed from $19 billion (2009-2013) before SB21 to less than $0 (2015-2019) after SB21. Since SB21, Alaskans have paid the producers more in cashable credits than we have received in production revenues. A $1 billion per-year increase is more than fair to the major producers. With this increase, the major producers will actually be paying less on average than they have paid for the past three decades before SB21. Production revenues are the greater of a gross or a net calculation. The gross calculation is based on a percentage of the gross value at the point of production after subtracting transportation costs and profits to the West Coast. The Fair Share Act makes two changes to the SB21 gross calculation for our three major fields. First, it increases Alaskans’ minimum share from 0-4 percent to 10 percent. Second, it makes the new 10 percent rate progressive by adding an additional 1 percent for each $5 increase in the price of oil beginning at $50 per barrel, up to a maximum of 15 percent when the price of oil reaches $70 per barrel or more. The net calculation is based on a percentage of the production tax value (gross revenues less allowed costs and credits) realized at the point of production, less transportation costs and profits to the West Coast. The Fair Share Act makes two changes to the SB21 net calculation for our three major fields. First, it increases Alaskans’ share by eliminating the $8-per-barrel credit. Second, it makes the current 35 percent rate progressive by adding an additional 15 percent when producers’ profits reach $50 per barrel or more. Limits Deductions. The Fair Share Act requires that the costs deducted from the revenues of our three major fields be related to producing oil from them. Under SB21, the major producers are deducting unrelated costs for developing future prospects on federal lands from our share of our three major fields. As a result, our share will decline and the state deficit will increase by $300 million per year for most of the next decade. The Fair Share Act will put legacy producers in the same competitive position as new producers and require the costs of the new fields to be deducted from the revenues of new fields. Transparency. The Fair Share Act requires production tax filings for our three major fields to be public and transparent. Under SB21, Alaskans are kept in the dark while the wealth from our three major fields is being taken from Alaska. As owners, Alaskans are the stewards of hundreds of billions of dollars of oil resources, and we have the right to know the revenues, costs, and profits from our three major fields. A Necessary Part of Any Deficit Solution. To more fully fund PFDs, jobs, education, universities, ferry service, police and fire, and essential services, Alaska needs additional revenues. Recovering a fair share from our oil is the first place Alaskans should look to provide those revenues. It makes no sense whatsoever to continue to give away our oil to major international oil companies and then tax ourselves to get back the revenues we just gave away. The Fair Share Act is a fair and necessary part of any long-term solution to the state deficit. Vote “Yes” on Ballot Measure No. 1, the Fair Share Act.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Our university needs us

The Board of Regents of the University of Alaska met recently and adopted a budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1. This budget eliminates about 40 long-standing academic programs at Alaska’s three universities, UA Anchorage, UA Fairbanks, and UA Southeast. These dramatic cuts were the direct result of the Governor’s budget vetoes that the Legislature did not override. The word used most frequently at the Regents meeting and during the discussions leading up to it was “transformation”. In my world, transformation is a good word. When the Alaska recession crashed into Craig Taylor Equipment in the fall of 2015, my business partner and I had to reinvent our company. After three exhausting and painful years, our company emerged as a much stronger entity. One huge benefit of our commitment to transformation was our creation of Flyntlok, a software company now serving customers throughout the West. Like our company, our university can emerge from its transformation as something more efficient, more focused, different, and better. However, this will not occur unless citizens rally to the aid of our university system. We should rally because the university is one of the most critical elements of our Alaska public infrastructure. What can we do to assure a positive transformation of our university? 1. As the citizen owners of the universities, we all need to insist that they innovate rapidly in order to operate as efficiently and effectively as possible. 2. As Alaskans who care about future generations, we need to demand that the university budget cuts end. General fund cuts began six years ago and began accelerating rapidly last year. The state government truly faces a tough fiscal environment, but why should we put the university on the chopping block first? In FY ’21, we will spend 20 percent more state money on jails than on the university system. That is incredibly short sighted and defies common sense. If we diminish the quality of our universities, the brain drain out of Alaska will turn into a stampede. We need to set budgets with a courageous focus on building our future economy, not with a cowardly short-term focus on politics. 3. As employers, community leaders and workers, we should look for new and creative ways to use university resources and to partner with the universities. After being out of school for decades, I took two courses at UAA each semester over the last academic year and got huge value for the time and money invested. The quality of instruction was first class, in many ways providing a better experience than I had as a student in college and graduate school at Harvard. As an adjunct instructor for many years, I saw the great potential for the university to build stronger communities. For that potential to be realized, we need to look to university resources to build our businesses and communities. Our university system is a foundational element in our Alaskan culture and economy. It fosters lifelong relationships, builds a strong permanent workforce, and enhances the economy. We all need to stand up and do our part to transform a strong university system into an even stronger one. Our future depends on it. David Hoffman is the founder and former CEO of Alaska Growth Capital and CEO of other Alaska businesses. He and his business partner Sean McLaughlin own Craig Taylor Equipment, a 65-year-old Alaskan company that operates four branches statewide.

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.

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.

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: 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: Keep energy affordable during COVID recovery

In the wake of nearly 40 million jobless claims in recent weeks, Americans are clearly struggling to pay the bills. In fact, a new national poll found that nearly 50 percent of registered voters are increasingly worried about paying for household expenses, including electricity. This isn’t surprising given the havoc that the coronavirus pandemic has wreaked on the country. But it reinforces the fragility of the U.S. economy, and why careful decision-making will be needed to get the nation back on its feet. So, what to do when millions of Americans are hurting in a way not seen in generations? One step is to ensure that the basic necessities of life do not become unnecessarily more expensive. And that starts with families being able to pay for the electricity needed to keep their homes livable during lockdown this summer. A pandemic requires exactly this type of blunt, realistic thinking: “How do we make sure families can stay in their homes? How do we hold down costs and make sure budgets aren’t stretched beyond the breaking point?” It’s likely that we’re only in the early stages of the pandemic and recovery. But the financial toll to date suggests that we’re already facing several years of a potentially serious economic downturn. And so, common sense dictates that we start planning right now to ensure families can keep paying for basic expenses over the next few years. Here’s one approach that public officials should consider: Right now, we simply don’t have the luxury of tinkering with the nation’s power grid. In recent years, there’s been plenty of well-intentioned talk about emissions targets and renewable energy mandates. But lawmakers, utilities, and public service commissions will need to change how they think about energy for the foreseeable future. Their priority must shift toward ensuring that the American people still have access to affordable, reliable power. What will that mean? For starters, families can’t afford to see their electric bills start climbing simply because baseload power plants — like reliable coal plants that have kept their electricity bills steady and manageable — are pushed into premature retirement to meet arbitrary renewable energy targets. Yet that’s already happening across the nation, with utilities marking up their rates and raising consumer prices to cover the expense of building new energy infrastructure. Even before the current pandemic the U.S. Energy Information Administration warned that one-third of U.S. homes were facing challenges in paying for electricity. Does anyone doubt that this burden will now increase? Compassion for our fellow Americans means recognizing that literally millions of families can’t afford to have their electricity bills rise by even a few dollars a month. And they certainly can’t face power outages or brownouts during peak demand. Reliability and affordability have suddenly become more important than ever in the shadow of an epidemic that has turned the U.S. economy upside down. The nation must pursue an energy policy that ensures balanced, secure, and affordable electricity. Matthew Kandrach is the president of Consumer Action for a Strong Economy, a free-market oriented consumer advocacy organization.

GUEST COMMENTARY: A stable economic future follows the Ambler Road

As COVID-19 continues to create global economic hardship, it is reassuring to see steady progress on a project offering immediate and long-term benefits to Alaska’s economy. The Ambler Mining District Industrial Access Project, or Ambler road, would help bring jobs and new revenues for the Northwest Arctic Borough and the State by lowering the cost to explore, build and operate future mines in the area. We have known of the Ambler district’s vast copper and base metal deposits since the 1950s. Congress recognized the value of developing them, including specific guarantees in the 1980 Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, or ANILCA, for a road to link them with the Dalton Highway. In 2009, state transportation planners identified an initial route, and in 2013 the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority took over as project lead, hoping to replicate its success with the DeLong Mountain Transportation System, which provides access to Northwest Alaska’s Red Dog mine. One of the world’s largest zinc mines, Red Dog has contributed significant revenues to the Northwest Arctic Borough and NANA Regional Corp., and provided family-wage jobs and other opportunities to rural Alaskans since 1989. The Ambler Road proposal is for a 211-mile gravel industrial road branching west from the Dalton Highway near Prospect Creek, crossing state, federal, and Native corporation land, ending in the Ambler Mining District. Access would be restricted to industrial and commercial uses. While it would be closed to the general public, the road would allow deliveries of commercial goods to local communities and access for emergency responders. Since first submitting applications in 2015, AIDEA has progressed this project through the extensive federal environmental review and permitting process. Over the past five years, federal agencies developed economic and environmental analyses, evaluated alternatives, and solicited and incorporated extensive public input. The draft environmental impact statement, or DEIS, was published Aug. 23, 2019, the final EIS on March 27, and the final record of decision is due in mid-May. These studies clearly describe the project’s benefit to Alaska’s economy: 365 jobs and from $280 million to $380 million in road construction spending, plus 80 year-round road maintenance jobs. Development of the Ambler district’s four major deposits would bring 2,777 direct jobs carrying a $286 million annual payroll, plus 2,034 indirect jobs carrying $108 million in payroll. AIDEA would finance road construction and maintenance by issuing bonds, earning back between $988 million and $1.1 billion – a positive return on investment for Alaskans. The Ambler Road would greatly improve the possibility of developing known deposits of copper and other minerals in the Arctic and Bornite prospects and would support exploration for and discovery of new deposits. Deposits in the Ambler District hold key strategic minerals that are increasingly important to Alaska and the nation. Without the Ambler road, those minerals would remain stranded in the ground. Like most Alaska development projects, the road inspires different opinions. Opponents claim a road would decimate caribou; that mines would poison water; that access would destroy Native culture; or that progress would drive out wilderness. Supporters note building roads brings jobs and a lower cost of living that benefits all area residents; mines could offer steady jobs and paychecks that compliment subsistence activities and allow local residents to stay in their communities; caribou thrive near existing construction and industrial projects; and millions of acres of nearby wilderness will remain untouched. AIDEA has carefully followed the process and requirements laid out in ANILCA, the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Water Act, and other applicable federal laws. On the state side, the Alaska Department of Natural Resources’ Office of Project Management and Permitting has closely coordinated with federal and state agencies and other authorities to ensure the process meets legal, procedural and practical standards and milestones. Following completion of the federal process, DNR will work with other state agencies to evaluate the proposed Ambler road under Alaska’s robust regulatory programs. Through this process, we will again hear from Alaskans as the agencies work to balance the possible impacts and benefits of the project. Advancing the Ambler road project would fulfil both the state’s constitutional responsibility to develop Alaska’s economy, and AIDEA’s mission to promote, develop and advance economic growth and diversification in the state by providing financing and investment options. I encourage all Alaskans interested in economic growth and diversification for our state to join me in supporting the continued progress on this important development project. Corri A. Feige is Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources

OPINION: Dunleavy rewarded for faith in Alaskans

Across the country from Huntington Beach to the Jersey Shore, protests against lockdowns, civil disobedience and court cases striking down governors’ orders are spreading. Here in Alaska all has been relatively calm other than a single drive-through rally in Anchorage on April 22 targeting Mayor Ethan Berkowitz. Now, as the state stands ready for nearly a full reopening on the eve of Memorial Day weekend, Gov. Mike Dunleavy deserves tremendous praise for his leadership style throughout this 100-year pandemic event that has and will continue to wreak long-lasting damage on the state economy. While there has been much fawning (often deservedly) over Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink’s performance, there has been relatively little credit paid to Dunleavy’s steady and optimistic tone since the very beginning. Dunleavy incessantly repeated his trust in Alaskans to do what was being asked of them from social distancing to accepting the need to shutter most businesses temporarily as health care capacity and testing were ramped up. He emphatically and consistently resisted every question or call to use tools such as state inspectors or State Troopers to patrol businesses or the highways to enforce his mandates. Unlike many governors and health officials around the country, he also refused to move the goalposts of what the closures were intended to achieve: lowering the rate of cases and having health care capacity in place to handle any increase. Dunleavy’s faith in Alaskans turned out to be well-founded. The state leads the nation in any metric you can choose from deaths (even inflated as they are by out-of-state numbers and questionable accounting) to cases to hospitalizations to testing per capita. On May 18, more than three weeks after Dunleavy first gave the go-ahead for limited openings on April 24, there were more than 630 tests reported with zero positive results and only a few dozen active cases. In the state’s largest city of nearly 300,000 people, where Berkowitz has acted reluctantly in following Dunleavy’s lead, there were just 22 active cases as of May 19 and barely more than couple hundred cases in total. Those of us who live in Anchorage, whether average citizens or small business owners, owe a great deal of thanks to Dunleavy for getting the state moving far ahead of Berkowitz’s “hunker down” order that he gave every indication of keeping in place until at least May 5. Although Berkowitz repeatedly claimed his orders would be driven by data and not dates, his reopening plan released April 20 had crippling and arbitrary timelines of 14 and 42 days for the first two phases that crushed the hopes of owners who’d been following the shrinking case numbers closely and waiting for any indication from the mayor there was a light at the end of this tunnel that wasn’t an oncoming train. Instead, it has been Dunleavy and his administration that are using data and not dates to open as much as possible as quickly as possible always guided by the principle that we are a free state in a free country ruled above all by personal responsibility. Dunleavy understands that governments derive their power from the consent of the people, and by treating Alaskans with respect and confidence he received the buy-in that other leaders in places like Michigan, New York, California and New Jersey have squandered through excessive restrictions, outright contempt for citizens and the use of police power to enforce their orders. Describing Dunleavy’s less than two years in office as tumultuous is an all-time understatement. Apart from self-inflicted wounds, he has also had to face earthquakes, devastating wildfires and now a pandemic that has driven down oil prices and production, crushed fishing markets and all but eliminated the 2020 tourism season. Tens of thousands are still on unemployment and monumental budget challenges loom that will continue to test his leadership. Leaders accept blame and share credit, so don’t expect Dunleavy to start patting himself on the back. But as we enjoy a three-day weekend that honors those who have given all for this nation among our family and friends whether in the backyard, in the beautiful Alaska outdoors or at our favorite local watering hole, don’t forget how we got to a point that is the envy of most states. We have a governor who didn’t just say we were in this together. He believed it. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

BROWN'S CLOSE: The Young and the Redemption

While I was hoping the next report would be from the other side, alas, I’ve enjoyed eight full weeks of quarantine here in West Anchorage. This is largely due to my own sense of caution; the Municipality of Anchorage is well into Phase 2 of reopening. On the first day that restaurants were open, I stepped out onto my front porch and into the brilliant sunshine. I took a tentative step forward, breathing in the fresh air. As detailed in Episode 1, my main source of entertainment over the last eight weeks has been my daily hour-long walk through my neighborhood; my cardio stints come from the quick weaves and dodges to avoid my neighbors. But the day restaurants opened, well that porch stepping had the added significance of being the possible first move into the world beyond my neighborhood. I could actually go to some destination, should I so choose. The man in the next driveway was climbing into his car, and I cheerily waved at him. While not one to normally greet anyone, least of all my neighbors, I was overflowing with the spirit of goodwill for my fellow man. He waved back, and promptly coughed. I dropped my hand, scandalized, and scuttled back into the dim recesses behind me. Every day now, I peer eagerly out of my windows, awaiting news of either devastation or recovery. Nevertheless, this is the third installment of series sponsored by COVID-19, preceded by "The Young and the Restless" and "2 Young 2 Restless: Covid Drift." Updates to key dramatic subplots are included below for your convenience: Workouts – I've joined three fitness challenges through work. I’ve got seven blisters and two biceps to show for it. Karate – Someone circulated a rumor that my karate sensei trained the Karate Kid. This story soon evolved into he trained the guy who trained the Karate Kid. Latest version is that he may have seen the Karate Kid once. Bottom line, the sensei’s life continues to remain shrouded in mystery. Speaking of karate – I am due to test for my “yellow-orange” belt at the end of the month. Logistics remain uncertain and I am not sure whether a virtual test will be easier or harder than an in-person test. Most students advance to black belt (i.e. master ten belts) in three years. At my rate, I can expect to become a black belt in twice that time. I advance through life at half the speed of a nine-year old. Television – I determined it was time to tackle a movie with slightly more gravitas than Alice and Wonderland (the last feature film I watched in quarantine). Netflix had The Shawshank Redemption on rotation. I’d never seen it, had no idea what the plot was, and sat down to watch it with no advance research. Upon viewing, I became unduly morose, and spent 48 hours worried about whether there was any reasonable likelihood I would one day have to stage a prison break through a hole in the sewage piping. After a few comforting episodes of Parks and Recreation, I started Hollywood on Netflix, thinking it would be a cheerful cartoonish reimagining of post-war California. It is not; I’d say the early tone of the show is cynical at best. I watched the central character’s employment struggles for about fifteen minutes, became unduly morose, and went back to Parks and Recreation. I thought a third venture was warranted, and went back to that tried and true genre of British period soap operas. Julian Fellows of Downtown Abbey fame debuted a new show over the Easter weekend and I tuned in. Sure enough, the first episode had a surprisingly affecting death scene, after which I became unduly morose and swore off new content for the foreseeable future. Reports from the front lines both locally and nationally are promising, but with an added dose of whimsy. Women can return to beauty parlors, but cannot have their hair blown dry. Nail salons may take customers, but manicurists must wear the equivalent of a moon suit to protect themselves and their customers. Gyms can hold classes, but only outside. In a nutshell: businesses may take customers, but customers should stay home. Drawing courage from the relatively tame scene locally, I stepped onto my front porch for the second time a few weeks following my neighbor’s assault. Again, I blinked my eyes against all that new bright May light, and glanced down at my phone. Per the news, giant murder hornets have arrived in the United States. I retreated again. The Egyptians understood plagues, and darned if I wasn’t going to follow their hunker down example. Sarah Brown delights in the outdoors. When she is not frolicking in nature, she can be reached at [email protected], and on Twitter @mesarahjb. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac. For more of Sarah’s musings, visit Browns-Close.com.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Yes, we can bring manufacturing back from China

As the toll from the COVID-19 pandemic mounts, more and more Americans are saying the same thing: “We need to bring manufacturing back from China.” This makes sense, given the tremendous disruption caused by the coronavirus. Medical supplies are on hold, since China is keeping facemasks and other equipment for their own use. Medications are delayed, because America’s drug compounds are sourced from China. And we have a shortage of hospital ventilators. The list goes on. The United States has become incredibly reliant on overseas producers for everything from antibiotics, vitamins, and auto parts to computers, steel, and military equipment. And our health is at risk because we don’t even produce facemasks, face shields, and hospital gowns. The transferring of our factories overseas has eliminated roughly 5 million good-paying manufacturing jobs over the past 20 years. And now we’re seeing the end result — an over-dependence on imports to sustain a safe standard of living. Americans are right to be troubled by this dependence; China’s strategy to dominate global manufacturing is now harming our national security, healthcare, and economic wellbeing. And we’re justifiably angry with Beijing’s deceitful behavior at the onset of the pandemic. All of this paints a picture of an aggressive competitor intent on eroding America’s prosperity and global leadership. What’s encouraging, however, is that the United States holds the power to rebuild industries that once made our nation prosperous and self-reliant. And the key to restoring our economy is bringing back the critical manufacturing needed in the 21st Century: everything from steel and renewable energy systems to medical supplies, pharmaceuticals, and wireless technologies. To do this, Congress needs to get trade policy right. The U.S. dollar remains heavily overvalued due to the ongoing demands of foreign investors in America’s financial markets. This has helped Wall Street, but it has also made the dollar uncompetitive by lowering import prices and making U.S. exports more expensive. Congress should immediately pass currency legislation introduced in the Senate last year to make the dollar more competitive. That would provide a huge boost for America’s manufacturers as they struggle against heavily subsidized factories in China. We should also rebuild our nation. To get Americans working again, Congress could launch a robust plan to fix America’s ailing infrastructure, including crumbling roads, bridges, water works, and transit systems. That effort should include strong “Buy America” provisions to ensure that tax dollars are directed to domestic companies whenever possible. Overall, Congress could enact a “Made in America 2030” plan to rebuild needed infrastructure while investing in areas crucial to national security like medical supplies, the pharmaceutical industry, and wireless networks. That could strengthen the U.S. economy while also creating millions of jobs and boosting GDP. There’s little time to waste. America must bring back key industries from China. And we must enact an ambitious trade and infrastructure program to create millions of good-paying jobs, jumpstart the economy, and make America stronger than we were before COVID. Michael Stumo is CEO of the Coalition for a Prosperous America. Follow him at @michael_stumo

GUEST COMMENTARY: Prepare now for summer wildfire, COVID-19 battles

Remember how terrible last summer’s wildfires were: the smoky skies, the traffic jams, the evacuations, the damaged homes and property? Now, imagine having to battle such fires while fighting the coronavirus at the same time! That scenario has the Alaska Division of Forestry and its national partners working hard together to plan ways to keep firefighters and residents safe, while dealing with both wildfires and the COVID-19 pandemic this summer. We need the cooperation of every Alaskan in this effort. We do not know if this fire season will be as bad as last year’s. While deep snowpack and early season prediction models hint fires may hold off a while, that can change with just a week or two of warm, dry weather. Fire managers are monitoring conditions and hoping for the best. But, as we do every year, we are also planning for the worst. We face a tremendous additional challenge this year in the form of the COVID-19 pandemic. As our number-one priority is the safety of the public and firefighters, we plan to follow as closely as possible the Centers for Disease Control anti-virus protocols and best practices on hygiene standards, social distancing, and non-essential travel. In these ways, we hope to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus by protecting firefighters, their families, the communities where they live, and ultimately the communities they protect. We know that robust preparation helps keep firefighters safe on the job, and so we‘re taking unprecedented measures to make sure they get the training to be safe on the fire line, while reducing their risk of early season exposure to the virus. We are delaying our spring training schedule, delivering some elements online, evaluating our regular training weekly, and modifying our plans as we better learn how to reduce exposure to this unforeseen health hazard. This will be even more important as we enter active operations. Our firefighters work side by side in hot, dirty conditions, and both they and their support personnel eat and sleep in close proximity, often in remote fire camps with few amenities. We will work hard to reduce their risk from fire and coronavirus alike. Each person sidelined by illness weakens our ability to hold the line against wildfires. Last year, Alaska imported more than 5,000 firefighting personnel from the Lower 48, including 120 crews, to help during one of the busiest, longest, and most expensive fire seasons on record. While I hate to imagine what we would have done without this support, the Division and other wildfire suppression agencies are drawing up plans now for how we might have to respond to wildfires to keep Alaskans safe without robust Outside help. Because we cannot be sure of having enough resources, we Alaskans must all do our part to prevent the small fires that can quickly become big fires. Compost instead of burning grass clippings. Chip the brush pile instead of burning it. Go without campfires. Maintain mechanical equipment and ATVs in fire-safe condition. Think before doing anything that could start a fire. Report suspicious smoke early. Be a leader in your community by helping us spread the fire safety message. Use the unexpected opportunity from self-quarantine to use the Firewise program to make your property and your neighbors’ as fire-resistant and resilient as possible. For our part, we at the Division of Forestry will use every fire prevention tool available to us, including statewide burn permit suspensions, delaying prescribed fires, increasing prevention patrols through fire-prone areas, possibly implementing burn closures, and if necessary, working with the state fire marshal to ban fireworks during our driest summer months. With long experience in Alaska wildland firefighting, I know far too well that fire is an indiscriminate destroyer of property, lives, and dreams. I also believe all Alaskans understand our responsibility to our families, friends and neighbors to be ultra-cautious. On behalf of all firefighters, I ask you to do everything you can this spring and summer to protect the people and state we love by thinking, planning and acting responsibly, today and throughout the fire season. We can do it, together. Chris Maisch is the State Forester and Director of the Alaska Division of Forestry

What I learned cleaning up a homeless camp

The first thing I noticed upon reaching the abandoned piles of trash alongside Chester Creek behind my apartment building were several small black and yellow boxes. They resembled the type of packaging that may contain auto fuses and I wondered what new intoxicating purpose had been discovered within them, but as I crouched down for a better look and picked one up I realized the boxes had once contained contact lenses. Then I found the contents strewn about nearby: dozens of lenses still in their unopened plastic containers. The hundreds of dollars worth of product obviously stolen from someone’s mailbox had proven of little value to the thieves and been summarily discarded. The next thing I found was the empty bottle labeled “Dirty Needles!” with the exclamation point cheerfully spiked by a heart. All around I had soon plucked about a dozen needles from the ground, carefully grabbing them by the middle through the Kevlar-lined gloves purchased with this specific risk in mind, and breaking off each tip before placing them into the first of 20 39-gallon trash bags I would eventually fill over four days. I was immediately frustrated as I tried to start with big items such as sleeping bags, pillows, foam and even a box spring but found them literally frozen solid into the ground. They would not budge and forced me to go back to picking up the more mundane trash of cans, bottles, clothes, all types of plastic (but not plastic grocery bags thanks to the Anchorage Assembly and Mayor Ethan Berkowitz!), a seemingly infinite number of batteries, empty aerosols mined as inhalants, and more needles. One lesson quickly learned about avoiding contact with human feces was to be less aggressive grabbing paper or any trash bag near a tree. The oddest thing I kept finding were the six-round loaders sold for toy cap guns, and I wondered once again what new high was being sought from such an innocuous item. I never did find any toy guns, but I did find enough toys to stock a daycare center. The toys, stuffed animals, children’s clothing and diapers that filled my bags were depressing evidence of what had been going on unchecked for months over the winter just 50 yards from my apartment balcony. Not only were an untold number of addicts in a non-stop pursuit of their next high by any means necessary, but small children in the same camp were exposed to this danger and criminal neglect. After spending a couple hours on each of the first two days on the biggest problem area, I moved a little farther downstream to the next site behind my building on the third day. This was apparently some kind of trash burn area, so the piles were at least a bit more concentrated. But without a shovel or a front-loader there was no way to even begin to clean those up other than grabbing the larger items around the edges. Day three was relatively quick work, although I couldn't remove items such as a charred shopping cart and the burnt insides of a mattress. Feeling better about my progress for the day, I spotted a Quaker Oats canister tucked under a bush. It was filled with dozens of needles, which was as disheartening of an exclamation point to the day as the handwritten label on the bottle I found to start day one. My plan for cleanup was to take care of the area immediately behind my building. I assume the land is owned by the municipality based on the fact that the maintenance crew that takes care of the landscaping at my building refuses to pick up even a McDonald’s bag in the area if it isn’t in the parking lot. The area also lies across Chester Creek from the trail so I had zero faith whatsoever that the Parks and Recreation Department would be by anytime in the next few months to take care of it. I’ve lived here for a few years now, and this area had always been a nice perk. I can be on the trail with Dakota in just a few minutes or stroll along the creek banks for shorter bathroom breaks. Every year I host a “trailgating” party for the Iditarod start through Anchorage where friends can gather for breakfast and then watch up close as the teams go by without battling the downtown crowd. The area has been off limits to me since last fall when the camps started popping up behind my building and the one next door. No longer could I stroll through the woods on my way home or walk along the creek. Last September, I heard a splashing sound coming from the creek and wondered if it was a salmon. I knew Chester Creek had salmon, but had never actually seen one despite countless walks on this trail over the years. I walked to the bank and curiosity turned into dismay as I saw what was happening. A shopping cart had been tossed into the creek and several pink salmon were struggling to get around it as they kept getting pushed by the current into the basket. After tying Dakota’s leash to a tree, I made my way down the bank and pulled the cart weighed down by leaves and other trash out, but not without crashing into the mud first. The salmon swam upstream in relief and I drug the cart up the bank and pushed it about 50 feet away. The next day I went back and sure enough it had been chucked into the creek again. As I pulled it out, some guy emerged from a tent and told me he had the cart in the creek trying to catch his girlfriend’s purse that he’d thrown in there. I told him he wasn’t allowed to have carts anymore and muscled two of them up into the parking lot, into my Tahoe and back to their home at Walmart. Not long after I used the tool on the Municipality of Anchorage website to report the budding camps. Rather than the camps being vacated, they expanded all winter to the point they had reached when I started my cleanup. After four days taking care of my small area, I walked up the small rise “next door” and literally stood still in amazement as I gazed around at the scene. An area as big as a football field along the creek is utterly ravaged by trash and burn piles. Imagining what the Environmental Protection Agency would do to a company that allowed this kind of pollution to amass at a drill site or a placer mine is easy. Fines totaling hundreds of thousands if not millions would be in order, yet this is the state the Municipality of Anchorage has allowed to develop within critical fish and wildlife habitat. Chester and Campbell creeks are protected by the state Anadromous Fish Act, and as streams that flow into Cook Inlet and eventually the Pacific Ocean they are subject to the federal Clean Water Act. The creeks and riparian areas are also home to ducks, geese and other species that are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Pollution from plastics, human waste and other trash entering the water is obvious, as are the toxic chemicals leeching into the soil. Perhaps if the administration and the Assembly are not motivated by humanitarian reasons to get Anchorage in order, they could be inspired by the possible liability for destroying the protected natural habitat that is also the central pillar of the city’s marketing strategy. “It’s a national problem,” the mayor often says as he passes the buck when asked about the homeless problem. With all due respect, what has happened to Anchorage is a local problem that has gotten demonstrably worse from the neglect of its elected leaders over the years. When I picked up trash along the Chester Creek trail during City Cleanup in 2010, I filled three or four bags along a mile of the trail. It took a half-hour in one small spot to fill up that many in 2020. While the mayor hectors law-abiding people about getting tattoos, he gives a pass to the people who are passing out or passing the bottle without interruption at the busiest intersections in town. I didn’t clean up the creek banks behind my building so I could write a story about it. I did it so I could enjoy the area again. I know I don’t live in a fancy part of town, but I like it and I’ll be damned if I move before the people who are destroying it are forced to. There are thousands of people like me around Anchorage. We deserve to be heard, and we’re tired of hearing the same story. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

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

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

OPINION: Misplaced priorities clarified amid coronavirus

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

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

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

GUEST COMMENTARY: UAA is here when you need us

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

GUEST COMMENTARY: Skilled Alaskan workers deserve our thanks

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

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