Alaska Digest

Posted: Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Gasline lawsuits to be dismissed

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JUNEAU - The remnants of former Gov. Frank Murkowski's legal battles with state lawmakers over his proposed contract for a natural gas pipeline are being swept clean, according to Gov. Sarah Palin.

Lawmakers, in a largely symbolic gesture, have agreed to dismiss two lawsuits against her predecessor involving the Alaska Stranded Gas Development Act, Palin announced on Tuesday.

"The secrecy of the previous administrations efforts to negotiate a fiscal contract and the concern that the former governor would unilaterally sign a proposed agreement resulted in two lawsuits that should never have needed to be filed," said Palin in a written statement. "The actions announced today are symbolic of a new cooperative approach as we move forward together toward a gasline agreement that will benefit all Alaskans."

The first lawsuit was filed last May by Sen. Hollis French, D-Anchorage, seeking the immediate release of the gas pipeline contract Murkowski had penned with the state's three major oil companies under the stranded gas act.

In a second lawsuit filed in early November the Alaska Legislature filed a lawsuit to enjoin former Gov. Murkowski from signing a fiscal contract with the producers without approval by the Legislature.

Palin said she intends to introduce legislation to take the place of the state's Stranded Gas Development Act in January. The bill would pave the way for new efforts to develop a natural gas pipeline.

Anchorage mayor touts wireless city

ANCHORAGE - The mayor of Alaska's largest city wants Anchorage blanketed with wireless Internet.

Mayor Mark Begich would like wireless in the downtown area by next summer. To make that happen he is offering telecommunication companies free placement on city owned light posts and rooftops if they pay the costs of creating and maintaining a wireless network.

The municipality wants people to be able to get online and access city-related Web sites for free, Begich said. Users would pay a fee for general Internet access.

Representatives from several companies, including Alaska Communications Systems and General Communication Inc., met with city officials last week to learn more about the plan. Companies have until next month to make a pitch.

The idea has prompted a lukewarm reaction from two local companies, ACS and GCI.

"We would urge the municipality to exercise extreme caution when government gets involved in the competitive arena, because sometimes it can introduce unintended consequences," GCI spokesman David Morris said.

ACS is reviewing the city's proposal with "great interest," according to senior vice president David Eisenberg.

"We don't know of a business model in any municipality where this has worked," he said.

Report: Coast Guard regs for Cook Inlet inadequate

ANCHORAGE - A report by a marine engineering firm finds that the Coast Guard's regulations for navigating the icy Cook Inlet are inadequate.

London Offshore Consultants found that when thick ice clogs Cook Inlet, oil tankers moored at the Kenai Pipeline dock have an unacceptably high risk of breaking away.

The report looked into some of the major factors that may have led to the grounding of a 600-foot tanker in Nikiski in February. The Seabulk Pride, buffeted by ice floes, broke free of its moorings at Kenai Pipeline's berth at Nikiski. The partially loaded ship drifted a half mile to the north before grounding along the Cook Inlet shore.

The partially loaded tanker, which was carrying nearly 5 million gallons of petroleum, spilled up to 210 gallons into the inlet. The ship was safely refloated, and it continues to carry crude and refined oil in the inlet to this day.

The study was commissioned by the operator of the tanker, Seabulk Tankers Inc. of Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The report also suggests increasing the number of mooring lines, measuring and monitoring ice thickness in the inlet and using a standby tugboat that could rush in to secure a tanker if needed.

The report suggests that floating ice puts stress on the Tesoro dock's mooring system that far exceeds the mooring system's strength.

The Coast Guard's ice guidelines restrict ship traffic in Cook Inlet when the velocity of ice hits four or more knots. But the speed of the ice is not nearly as important a factor as its thickness, according to the report.

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