Seafood plant paid lobbyist $72,000 last year

Posted: Wednesday, May 21, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) Financially strapped Alaska Seafood International is paying a prominent lobbyist in Juneau while asking the state to continue paying $100,000 a month to keep it afloat.

ASI is using lobbyist Mitch Gravo, who earned $72,000 for his services to the Anchorage factory last year. The seafood plant also is using Anchorage advertising and public relations firm The Nerland Agency to court favor among lawmakers and the governor.

Meanwhile, a memorandum surfaced Tuesday indicating that officials at the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority last fall seriously considered evicting the troubled fish-processing business. The state agency acts as ASI's landlord,

The August 2002 memo, sent by then-executive director Bob Poe to the authority's board members, said ASI's financial backers no longer were interested in putting more money into the venture.

''Current discussions are focusing on an orderly shutdown of the business,'' the memo said, to free up the $50 million, state-owned building for other uses.

As it turned out, ASI continued, Poe left for another job in August, and a new governor took office in December.

ASI's chief operating officer, Doug Bell, has asked Gov. Frank Murkowski to extend ASI's rent-free occupancy of the 202,000-square-foot factory building, and for the state to keep paying $100,000 per month to cover the plant's utility, insurance and other costs. The firm just doesn't have enough business to pay these costs, Bell said.

The authority, as part of a company refinancing, has been making such payments since February, but the aid is scheduled to stop after next month.

A spokesman for Murkowski said this week that the governor hadn't had time to consider the ASI request.

Bell told the Anchorage Daily News he wasn't sure how much the company would spend on lobbying this year. He said the lobbying was paid for by ASI's private investors and not with state cash.

He also said lobbying is a legitimate and necessary expense for many businesses. He said Gravo had helped make introductions to state lawmakers but that he had done even more work in trying to settle a property tax dispute with the city of Anchorage.

''I certainly don't know how Juneau works and how city hall works,'' Bell said. ''That's just not my area of expertise. It takes somebody who knows where to go, who to see, that sort of stuff.''

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