Alaska Digest

Posted: Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Alaskans scramble to file for bankruptcy

ANCHORAGE - Financially shaky Alaskans, and others across the country, are hustling to file for bankruptcy before a new federal law that makes it tougher to erase debt obligations in bankruptcy takes effect in mid-October.

Bankruptcy filings to federal courts in the April-to-June quarter totaled 467,333, according to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. That marked a record number of filings made in any quarter.

Alaska filings were up 33 percent to 464.

The current quarter will likely be even busier with the law taking effect Oct. 17, industry experts said.

Earlier this year, President Bush signed into law the most sweeping rewrite of U.S. bankruptcy codes in a quarter century. The Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005 mandates standards for measuring a filer's income and more paperwork than the previous filing process.

State waits to hear on gas pipeline pact

ANCHORAGE - State officials were waiting Monday to hear whether North Slope producers would accept state terms for a contract proposal for building a natural gas pipeline.

Gov. Murkowski had set Monday as the deadline for companies to reply, but administration officials said there was nothing to report yet.

Becky Hultberg, the governor's spokeswoman, did not return a call for comment after the end of the business day.

The 30-year contract proposal with the state includes six points, including state ownership in the pipeline and making the gas available for instate use. All points are negotiable but all must be discussed, Revenue Commissioner William Corbus said.

"We have an idea of what we want but it is give and take," Corbus said. "I think all six points have to be addressed."

Murkowski earlier this month announced that he'd provided the three big producers - BP, Exxon Mobil and ConocoPhillips - with contract terms for developing the pipeline. The proposal includes a $4 billion investment in the project from the state, about a fifth of the projected total cost. Under the contract, the state could make as much as $3 billion a year.

The proposed contract follows months of confidential negotiations with the three producers to develop Alaska's 35 trillion cubic feet of known natural gas reserves on the North Slope.

Representatives from the three oil companies were tightlipped Monday.

"I can tell you that our discussions with the state continue," said Dave MacDowell, BP's director of external affairs for gas.

Construction on Denali center to start

FAIRBANKS - Construction on the foundation and shell of the $9 million Eielson Visitor Center in Denali National Park and Preserve is set to start in the spring.

The center, about 66 miles from the park entrance, will be energy efficient and blend with its natural surroundings, according to park architect Mary Tidlow.

"The idea is to make the building melt into the landscape, not to hide it or screen it," Tidlow said.

The 8,500-square-foot building will also feature a tundra garden atop its "green roof."

To increase the use of natural light, skylights will be cut so the sun shines on the exhibits as much as possible.

The main visitor center will feature a large lobby space with massive windows on the south wall for viewing Mount McKinley. Walls will be built of large rocks resembling those in the area.

Workers are currently removing contaminated soil from an old diesel spill discovered at the site, and plan to backfill the hole with fresh dirt. As of this week, 200 cubic yards had been hauled away, and workers were still finding tainted soil.

Denali National Park and Preserve estimates there are 120,000 visitor stops at Eielson Visitor Center every season out of about 360,000 total visitors.

A temporary visitor center has been set up in a large weather port at Toklat, about 50 miles down the park road.

New Valdez cameras help Coast Guard

ANCHORAGE - Video cameras mounted on towers throughout Prince William Sound are helping the U.S. Coast Guard direct shipping traffic at Port Valdez, where North Slope crude oil is loaded onto tankers bound for West Coast refineries.

Coast Guard officials say they will continue to rely mainly on radar technology to manage ship traffic in Prince William Sound, but the video is a helpful supplement.

"Now we can physically see what's going on in the sound," said Coast Guard Lt. Jim Rosenberg, outgoing head of the Vessel Traffic Center.

This summer a Coast Guard contractor, New Horizons Telecom Inc. of Palmer, installed cameras on communications towers at four remote sites around Prince William Sound. For security reasons, Coast Guard commanders declined to disclose the exact location of the cameras.

All of the cameras were functioning by the last week in August.

Besides providing an actual look at vessels, the cameras will strengthen the Coast Guard's homeland security capability and give more accurate reads on fog and other weather in the sound.

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