State Briefs

Posted: Monday, June 30, 2003

Valdez city officials hold natural-gas summit

VALDEZ - In an effort to sort out his options in getting Alaska's natural gas to market, Gov. Frank Murkowski huddled with gas experts from Asia and the Lower 48 in a four-hour session in Valdez on Saturday.

The focus was on how to market North Slope natural gas in the face of competing interests, conflicting studies and differing points of view.

Hosted by the city of Valdez at a cost of $75,000 to bring the experts together, the meeting saw Japanese and Korean interests making their case for Alaska's gas along with experts from the California Energy Commission, Sempra Energy and the holding company for San Diego Power & Light.

California is now facing a genuine energy shortage after being battered by huge financial losses in a contrived energy crisis in the early 1990s, said Jim Boyd, the chairman of the California Energy Commission.

One point all the participants did agree on: the window of opportunity for marketing Alaska natural gas to South Korea, Japan, Taiwan and to California is now open. "But that window will shut," if Alaska does not act with haste, warned Valdez city attorney Bill Walker at the close of the session.

Whichever way the gas gets to market, the stakes are high.

The U.S. Minerals Management Service estimates Alaska natural gas known reserves at 27 trillion cubic feet. That's about 16 percent of the U.S. reserves, equal to 4.6 billion barrels of oil and valued at $130 billion.

Kodiak to keep its VPSOs for now

KODIAK - Village public safety officers employed by the Kodiak Area Native Association will keep their jobs while alternative funding is sought.

VPSO coordinator Valerie Pillans said KANA will be able to keep its VPSOs for at least six more months.

Pillans said other funding sources are being explored, including a Justice Department grant and a federal grant that funds tribal police officers in the Lower 48.

While new funding is sought, the VPSOs will receive funding through the Alaska Native Sobriety and Alcohol Control Program.

Earlier this month, Murkowski slashed $1 million in state expenditures by eliminating grants to 15 VPSO positions. Six of the VPSOs slated to be cut worked for KANA in Kodiak villages of Port Lions, Ouzinkie, Old Harbor and Larsen Bay.

Board decision could increase crab yield

ANCHORAGE - The Bering Sea commercial crab industry could become more lucrative under a regulatory change approved by the Alaska Board of Fisheries.

The board on Tuesday authorized the state fish and game commissioner to increase the catch of Bristol Bay red king crab by 25 percent if an at-sea survey this summer shows the crab population is strong enough to support the larger harvest.

Such an increase could mean an extra $10 million or more for fishermen in the fleet of about 250 boats.

Tom Casey, a Seattle crab boat consultant who lobbied the board for a bigger harvest, called the decision perfect timing. The crab fleet has weathered tough economic times in recent years because of the crash of Bering Sea snow crab stocks.

"It's big, big news, and we owe the Department of Fish and Game big time," Casey said. "Their flexibility is the only reason we can do this."

City-owned shop draws fire from businesses

KENAI - Some Kenai retailers say they're victims of unfair competition from the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center's retail operation.

The city owned center netted about $30,000 from the sale of gift items last year. That's money that could have gone to area businesses, local retailers said at a June 18 meeting between the Kenai City Council and Kenai Convention and Visitors Bureau representatives.

"The visitors center needs to be supportive (of local businesses) or there won't be anything left," said Susan Jordan, owner of Fireweed Herb Garden and Gifts in Kenai. "You've got $30,000. That might be small potatoes to you, but we'd all like a split of that."

At the heart of the complaint is the fact that the city provides about $40,000 a year to pay for the maintenance and utilities of the center. The city also pays $60,000 a year to the Kenai visitors bureau to operate the center as part of its management contract.

Retailers said the city is in effect subsidizing the center's gift shop.

"I cannot compete with the visitors center on a day-to-day basis - it's impossible," said Ron Goecke, owner of Gallery 25 in Kenai. "The price (of the merchandise) is the same, but they don't have to worry about overhead."

Trawler workers arrested in altercation

UNALASKA - Five trawler processing workers are accused of ganging up on another crewmember on a dock in Unalaska.

Sean M. McGraw was stabbed several times in the attack Tuesday, according to police. He was medevaced to Anchorage in critical condition, but police said he is expected to recover.

The five workers were arrested on charges of assault and riot. They had fled the scene by the time police arrived and were hiding on the vessel, Seafreeze Alaska, before surrendering to authorities.

The workers are set for a court appearance Thursday.

Record numbers enroll in summer school

ANCHORAGE - A record number of high school students in Anchorage are taking remedial summer school classes to prepare for the 2004 exit exam.

High school students, for the first time, will have to pass the exams in reading, writing and math in order to get a diploma next year.

This summer, 2,140 Anchorage high school students are taking summer school classes - a 33 percent increase from last year.

Students fill every available classroom at West High. With teenagers clogging doorways and lounging against lockers, it looks like a normal school day in September. Reading classes are being held in the library. Even the cafeteria is being used for math classes.

"It's incredible," said Jim Bailey, who is West High principal and runs summer school. "Here's our cafeteria, full of kids doing math. Isn't that cool?"

Funding restored to Denali Commission

FAIRBANKS - The Denali Commission, which builds health clinics, water systems and other facilities in rural Alaska, received more than $100 million in federal funding for the current fiscal year.

Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, who convinced Congress to create the commission in 1998, got $27 million in funding restored.

The Bush administration earlier this year proposed the $27 million cut. But the funding was restored when the Senate Appropriations Committee approved $40 million for the commission in the proposed annual spending bill for the departments of Labor and Health and Human Services this week. Stevens is chairman of the committee.

The committee, in its report on the bill, said restoring the funding would help remote communities in Alaska develop critically needed health and social service. The report said funding for those services was not available elsewhere.

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