Inside Alaska Business

A forecast for the Alaska economy in 2022 anticipates approximately the same level of growth as in 2021, up about 2.2 percent, or 7,000 new jobs. That would leave the state nearly 14,000 shy of where jobs were before the COVID-19 pandemic, yet federal infrastructure spending could entirely make up the difference. In his first forecast in two years, Mouhcine Guettabi, formerly of the UAA Institute of Social and Economic Research (ISER), concludes that a full recovery this year depends on the first billion dollars of IIJA funds being deployed quickly, provided the construction sector has the capacity to mobilize.

North Pacific Fishery Management Council

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council voted to switch halibut bycatch for Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands groundfish trawlers to an abundance-based limit. The trawl fleet is currently capped at no more than 1,745 metric tons of halibut incidentally snagged while fishing for sole or yellowfin sole. The cap has remained fixed for years while halibut abundance decreased steadily since 1990. The new method would lower the limit to 1,309 metric tons—slightly higher than the average annual bycatch—and float based on abundance surveys by the International Pacific Halibut Commission and the National Marine Fisheries Service. The new bycatch limit is scheduled to be implemented either in mid-2023 or the beginning of the 2024 fishing season.

Alaska Division of Agriculture
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) approved the Alaska Division of Agriculture’s plan for industrial hemp production. The Division of Agriculture drafted state regulations in 2019, and USDA approval aligns those regulations as a permanent program, in compliance with federal law. Hemp is the same species of plant as cannabis, used recreationally as marijuana, but the industrial variety has less of the psychoactive chemical THC. The production, manufacture, and sale of all industrial hemp products require registration with the Division of Agriculture or risk immediate enforcement action.
Tlingit & Haida
The Central Council of the Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska received a license from the Federal Communications Commission’s for a 2.5 GHz Rural Tribal Priority Window, providing exclusive use of prime mid-band spectrum to increase broadband access in rural communities. That means bringing improved internet to about 10,000 people in Southeast Alaska who currently have no access or limited options in their area. Funding has already been secured by Tlingit & Haida’s newly named broadband enterprise, Tidal Network, to begin a pilot project in Wrangell this spring.
Alaska Power & Telephone
The Falls Creek Hydroelectric Project can share power with Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, thanks to an intertie with the city of Gustavus. The 800-kilowatt run-of-river turbine is located on former park land, swapped to the State of Alaska in 1998 so that Alaska Power & Telephone (AP&T), the utility spanning Southeast, could build the project. It began generating in 2009, but not until 2017 did Congress approve $6.5 million for construction of the intertie. In October 2021, crews extended the powerline by using horizontal boring underneath sensitive terrain. The intertie lets Glacier Bay cut its dependence on diesel fuel; Falls Creek already replaces about 300,000 gallons of diesel in Gustavus, according to AP&T.

A new oil field unit aims to tap the Nanushuk formation on the North Slope. An Alaska subsidiary of Oil Search, which recently merged with Santos and now operates under that name, applied with the Alaska Division of Oil and Gas to form the Quokka unit. The area extends south from the Placer unit, acquired in 2021 from Arctic Slope Regional Corporation by Santos and Spanish oil company Repsol. The unit is just east of Santos’ Pikka unit. Four of the eleven wells drilled in the area have discovered oil.