Northwest Digest

Staff and Wire reports

Posted: Monday, February 28, 2005

Four Capitol design teams to speak today in Juneau

JUNEAU -The Capitol design competition jury will hear from each of the four finalists today in the Baranof Hotel Treadwell Room, and the public is welcome to attend.

The schedule: 8-9:30 a.m., Rich Dallam and Steve McConnell of NBBJ, Seattle, and Terry Hyer, ECI/Hyer, Anchorage; 10-11:30 a.m., Moshe Safdie of Moshe Safdie & Associates, Boston, and Michael Carlson of McCool Carlson Green, Anchorage; 12:30-2 p.m., Mehrdad Yazdani of Yazdani Studio of Cannon Design, Los Angeles, and Joe Abegg, of Livingston Slone Inc., Anchorage; 2:30-4 p.m., Thom Mayne of Morphosis, Santa Monica, Calif., and Mike Mense, of mmenseArchitects, Anchorage.

Jury deliberations will begin tonight and continue through the morning of March 1. A winner will be announced at noon March 1 in the Juneau Assembly Chambers.

Gas-to-liquids plant still operating

ANCHORAGE - A Nikiski plant where BP has been experimenting with technology to transform natural gas into liquid form will not be dismantled until at least fall.

Since 2003, London-based oil giant BP has experimented with secret technology and company officials report good results.

BP erected the $86 million plant to convert gas drawn from Cook Inlet into essentially a clear, clean version of crude oil. The product is sometimes called syncrude, or white crude.

BP and its partner, Russian-owned Davy Process Technology, have been testing components with an eye toward someday building larger versions that could convert stranded gas reserves into a stable and easily transportable liquid.

The companies want to perfect a compact reformer device to cut the size and cost of gas-to-liquid plants, as well as reduce the large amount of gas lost in the conversion process.

Usibelli applies for exploration license

FAIRBANKS - A subsidiary of Usibelli Coal Mine has applied for an exploration license to search for natural gas or coal bed methane near the company's Healy coal holdings.

Usibelli Energy wants to find out how much gas the land on the northern edge of the Alaska Range could hold, said Steve Denton, president of business development for Usibelli.

Workers at the mine have spotted bubbles rising out of the ground that may indicate natural gas, Denton said.

Usibelli wants to explore 208,630 acres over 10 years, with the promise to spend at least $500,000.

It's not the first foray into gas for the company. Usibelli is working with Doyon Ltd., Arctic Slope Regional Corp. and Denver-based Andex Resources to explore for natural gas in the Nenana Basin 50 miles to the north.

Lawmakers take a shot at phoning while driving

OLYMPIA, Wash. - Chatty drivers using one hand to hold their phone better not speed or break any other traffic laws if one lawmaker's crusade against distracted drivers makes it into law this year.

Sen. Tracey Eide has tried to get a handsfree requirement onto the books for years without success. This year, her bill has passed out of the Senate Transportation Committee and could go to a floor vote within the next few weeks.

If the bill passes, using a cell phone without a headset would be considered a secondary offense, which means a police officer can't pull people over simply because they're on the phone. They would have to be committing some other type of violation, like speeding. The headset violation would be considered a moving violation, and they'd have to fork over an additional $101 in fines.

Washington joins at least 14 other states that are considering handsfree legislation this year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Of those states, at least three are also considering complete cell phone bans - Connecticut, Indiana and New York.

Washington to look into tribe's catch

SEATTLE - Under pressure from sport fishermen, Gov. Christine Gregoire is asking state officials to look into the Makah Tribe's winter chinook harvest, which was 12 times greater than had been anticipated for the season.

Some anglers fear the tribal harvest of more than 19,000 salmon - 1,800 had been expected - might reduce the recreational summer fishery, and are asking why the state Fish and Wildlife Department failed to stop the harvest.

The tribe has defended its catch, saying it should not have any impact on protected stocks or on non-Indian fishing seasons.

State and tribal representatives jointly establish fishing guidelines, but state officials cannot legally dictate the number of fish tribes can take.

Tribal managers asked the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission in mid-November to review the catch when they realized it was larger than expected. The commission and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the harvest would not have major impact, and the tribe continued to fish.

The Makah closed the fishery earlier this month, well ahead of the scheduled April 15 closing date, tribal fisheries manager Russell Svec said.

Cove studied prior to road development

ANCHORAGE - A bounty of life in the shallows of Shotgun Cove was unveiled by an ongoing federal study as Whittier prepares to upgrade the first couple of miles of a pioneer road and considers a much larger development around the cove itself.

The National Marine Fisheries Service decided to map and study fish in the cove in advance of any specific proposal, said Jon Kurland, assistant regional administrator for habitat conservation in Alaska. Nothing seen so far would preclude development, but what has been found could help guide it.

In the four years since the Whittier tunnel was opened to vehicle traffic, more and more people have been traveling to Whittier to fish, boat, paddle and sight-see along the spectacular fjord, at the northwestern reach of Prince William Sound.

The 2.5-mile Shotgun Road project would extend activity to the east by fixing the primitive road, rebuilding several bridges and giving better access to the ocean for visitors.

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