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AG approves Northland buyout with conditions

Barge company Samson will provide new competition for Lynden in Southeast Alaska communities

Posted: August 8, 2013 - 6:40pm  |  Updated: August 9, 2013 - 12:12am

The state Attorney General’s office approved freight transportation company Lynden’s buyout of competitor Northland Marine Services on July 31, Assistant Attorney General Ed Sniffen said. But the approval comes with some conditions.

Lynden, which operates Alaska Marine Lines, and Northland are the only companies currently delivering cargo to Southeast Alaska. The Attorney General’s office investigated the buyout because of concerns that the merger would violate Alaska’s anti-trust laws and create a monopoly, Sniffen said. Northland will operate as an independent company under Lynden and will retain its current management team, according to a Lynden news release. The buyout would allow Lynden to expand its reach, the release stated.

“Our role as anti-trust enforcers is to make sure these deals don’t have an impact on competition,” Sniffen said. Lynden “could raise prices and squeeze out competition in a way that harms consumers” unless certain conditions are met.

One of the conditions listed in the Attorney General’s recent decision allows Sitka-based Samson Tug and Barge to lease space and equipment that will have previously belonged to Northland. Samson will replace Northland as Lynden’s competitor in Southeast, Sniffen said.

“It should be good for Southeast in the long run to get another competitor in there that’s from Southeast,” Sniffen said. “If they don’t do well we still have some remedies.”

Before the transaction can be completed, the Attorney General’s decision, called a consent decree, must remain open for public comment until Sept. 27. Comments will be forwarded to the Alaska Superior Court for a final ruling on the sale. The decree, as well as directions on how to submit comments, can be found at law.alaska.gov.

If the sale is court-approved, the Attorney General’s office will monitor shipping in Southeast to make sure family-owned Samson remains competitive. Samson will be new to Juneau; it currently transports cargo from Seattle to Sitka, Fairbanks, Seward, Anchorage and Kodiak, among other locations. Lynden now has 17 subsidiary companies, including newly acquired Northland.

Currently, Samson operates solely out of its Sitka port and Seattle corporate office, Samson business analyst Britton Winterrose said. If the Lynden-Northland deal goes through, Samson’s expansion would nearly double the size of the company. He said he thinks Samson will be competitive with Lynden.

“It’s especially neat because our company has been in Sitka for years and years and years,” Winterrose said. “It’s great for us to come back to our roots and provide for people in our own local communities.”

Samson would begin expanding in December, with operations ramping up in early 2014. Among other locations in Southeast, Samson would open a dock in Juneau, and would begin service to Ketchikan, Petersburg, Wrangell, Thorn Bay, Craig and Metlakatla, Winterrose said.

Winterrose said Samson’s expansion will create jobs in Juneau and all over Southeast. The company is preparing to hire in the fall.

Reporter Katie Moritz can be reached at 907-523-2294 or at katherine.moritz@juneauempire.com.

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