New Enstar president promises commitment to community

Posted: Sunday, April 16, 2000

Business leaders heard a message of commitment to the community from Enstar's new president at the Kenai Chamber of Commerce lunch Wednesday.

The address by Barrett Hatches nearly had the crowd at Paradisos Restaurant rolling in the aisles.

"Everybody asked me what I did so bad that I was sent to Alaska," said Hatches, who transferred here from Michigan, where Enstar Natural Gas Company's new parent company, Semco Energy, is based.

"I'm extremely happy to live in Alaska. I have the Alaska pride already," he said. "I go back to the Lower 48 and have huge conversations about that. I make them think I've lived here all my life."

Hatches related a telephone conversation he had with a friend from his native Mississippi about living in Alaska.

"I told him I was looking at a moose outside of my window, and he asked me, 'Why would your office be so close to the zoo?'" Hatches said. "He was serious. And I was in midtown Anchorage."

Hatches said the buyout of Enstar has prompted a number of people to question if Semco was here merely to reap profits. He said that was not the case.

"That is not our intent. We are here for the long haul," he said. "Semco was a small regional gas company, just like Enstar. We paid a lot of money for it, so we plan to be here for a long time."

Hatches said Gov. Tony Knowles asked him earlier this year why Semco chose Alaska to expand into.

"It's been unseasonably warm in the Lower 48, and warm weather is not our friend," he said. "When you think about cold weather, you think about Alaska."

He added that with direct flights to Detroit from Anchorage, he can be at the home office in six hours.

Hatches spoke of his new vision for Enstar, which includes increased community service and expansion of service.

"It's the same company, but we will do a few things different," he said. "Things utilities don't traditionally do."

He said utility companies used to be monopolies and had no incentive to become involved in the community. He said he will encourage his employees to get involved in local service agencies, even if it means giving them time off during the day to attend meetings.

"If any of our employees wants to get involved in any agency they want, we will support it," he said. "But we won't force anybody to get involved."

He said Enstar doesn't have enough money to give to every agency that needs it, but added that the company can give in terms of some cash, as well as time and talent.

"If we're not getting involved in the community the way we should, Charlie (Pierce, Enstar's Kenai Peninsula manager) is the guy to talk to," Hatches said.

Kenai Mayor John Williams asked Hatches to address a particular community involvement issue.

"I've had a discussion with Charlie, and I have some deep concerns about the ability to continue running that barbecue you have that runs on natural gas," Williams said.

"I've had that conversation in our shop and said that I want to see that grill smoking every time I come down here," Hatches replied. "And if there is a need, we'll build another one."

Enstar's large barbecue grill is used often at community gatherings, including Friday night's volunteer appreciation party thrown by the city of Kenai.

Hatches also was asked his opinion on running the proposed natural gas pipeline from the North Slope to Nikiski.

"I will say that I support natural gas. I just hope they build it close enough to us that we can run a spur off of it."

Jim Fisher asked if there was any truth to the rumor that Semco planned to move management of Enstar to Michigan.

"There is no truth at all about the rumor we're going to close our Anchorage office. We will continue to operate Enstar out of Anchorage, Alaska," Hatches said, adding, as he leaned closer to a radio reporter's microphone, "Closing Anchorage is crazy, and I'll go on the record to say that."

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