Northwest Digest

Posted: Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Day of Caring set for Juneau

JUNEAU - About 140 volunteers from as many as 20 local businesses are expected to volunteer on projects at 17 area nonprofit organizations Thursday for the annual Day of Caring, sponsored by the United Way of Southeast Alaska.

Projects planned for the event range from a food drive at a local grocery store, landscaping and shampooing carpets at a local nonprofit. Zach Gordon Youth Center, The Glory Hole, Catholic Community Services and Gastineau Human Services are a few of the nonprofit agencies participating in the event.

Multiple employers have donated employees for a five- to six-hour day to help out with the volunteer projects. Wells Fargo Home Mortgage will be closed on Thursday so all of its employees may volunteer.

"With so much necessary attention and resources going to Hurricane Katrina victims, it is a good time to remember the important role our nonprofits play in the daily life of our community," said Max Mertz, Day of Caring chairman.

Staff and students from the University of Alaska Southeast will extend the volunteering over the weekend, holding a Day of Caring on Saturday to allow more students to participate without missing classes.

Agrium to cut work force at Kenai plant

KENAI - Agrium U.S. Inc. plans to close an ammonia plant at its North Kenai fertilizer facility and cut its work force by as many as 25 employees, a company official said.

The downsizing will leave about 150 workers, said spokeswoman Lisa Parker.

Agrium will perform a turnaround, or maintenance, on two plants beginning later this month.

Plant 1 will continue to operate during the turnaround and shut down after it is complete at the end of October or when natural gas to run it is gone, Parker said. After the turnaround is done, Agrium will run one ammonia plant and one urea plant. Right now, it is running three plants total.

Parker said the reduction in staff will occur either through attrition or layoffs when Plant 1 shuts down.

"It's something that people have been talking about and expecting," Parker said.

The Calgary, Alberta-based manufacturer of fertilizer products has a natural gas supply contract with Union Oil that expires Oct. 31. Agrium had planned to shut down the facility at that time until it secured more gas supply contracts with Cook Inlet producers to stay open one more year.

The gas supply contracts are with a variety of producers, although specific companies and contract terms remain confidential.

The future of the plant is certain only for one more year. In the meantime, there will be ongoing talks with gas producers about future gas supply contracts, Parker said.

AK tourism pioneer dies in Haines

HAINES - Chuck West, a bush pilot who turned his love of Alaska into a multi-million-dollar tourism empire, died Tuesday at his cabin near Haines. He was 90.

West had suffered failing health for some time. His wife of 62 years, Marguerite, and their grown children where present at the time of his death, said Melanie Cole, an executive at Seattle-based Cruise West, now run by the tourism pioneer's son, Dick West.

"It's an incredibly sad loss," Cole said. "Chuck West was a leader and a pioneer."

Known in the industry as "Mr. Alaska," West was born Nov. 27, 1914, in Des Moines, Iowa.

After flying missions during World War II, he took a job as a bush pilot in Alaska. From the air, he saw the great potential of marketing the vast wilderness of the state to travelers.

He founded his first northern venture - the Arctic Alaska Tours travel agency in Fairbanks - in the mid-1940s despite doubters who found it hard to believe people would want to visit a state perceived as little more than frozen tundra.

The business flourished, offering local sightseeing excursions and air tours over the Arctic Circle. Then came hotels, buses and small-ship cruises.

In 1949, he expanded the business to Anchorage. He moved his base of operations to Seattle in 1951.

In 1957, he began offering cruises through Southeast Alaska and launched Westours. But a fleet expansion threw his company into financial and labor union crises, and near bankruptcy, and West sold controlling interest in Westours to Holland-America cruise lines in 1971.

He launched Cruise West two years later and today the company bills itself as North America's largest operator of small cruise ships.

Federal cutbacks push out some renters

ANCHORAGE - Federal cutbacks are forcing some residents out of the city's first rent-to-own housing.

Those residents include 64-year-old Barbara May who came home from the hospital last week to find a letter saying her share of subsidized rent would be jumping from $189 to $426 a month. She lives on Social Security with a bit of state assistance and now plans to move to a small apartment across town.

About 600 low-income individuals and families around Alaska have been sent similar letters from the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation requiring them to pay more.

The cutbacks are due to a drop in federal housing funds this year, said Wes Weir, public housing director of AHFC.

Alaska took a bigger hit than other states because the federal government did not take into account additional expenses due to distances and other factors here, Weir said. The percentages and formulas are "based on a model not accurate for Alaska," he said.

AHFC quit adding new clients for five months this year to save money, leaving thousands on a waiting list. They include mainly low-income people, who may be in substandard housing or staying with relatives.

Lewis and Clark replica fort burns

WARRENTON, Ore. - Fort Clatsop, a replica of the compound where the Lewis and Clark expedition spent the soggy winter of 1805-1806 after reaching the Pacific, was destroyed by fire late Monday night, park Superintendent Chip Jenkins said.

Volunteer firefighters worked for hours to try to save the fort at the Lewis and Clark National Historic Park, Jenkins said, but "half of the fort was burned up, and the other half is essentially a loss."

A cause for the fire has not yet been determined. Fire investigators began looking for the cause of the blaze on Tuesday morning.

The fire happened just 40 days before a Lewis and Clark Bicentennial event was scheduled to be held at the fort, the culmination of a two-year, national celebration of the explorers' journey West.

Private group watches Canadian border

BLAINE, Wash. - The Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, which has a strong base along the U.S.-Mexico border, has started operating along Washington state's northern border to watch for people illegally entering the country from Canada.

The group formed a year ago after concerns developed about the number of immigrants crossing the U.S. border from Mexico. Its first patrols were in Arizona.

Members opted to also monitor the 4,000-mile northern border, even before a drug-smuggling tunnel was discovered in July.

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