Arctic borough pulls out of deal with bankrupt Alaskan airline, reaffirms right to seize assets in emergency

Passengers in the Ravn Air terminal in Bethel, Alaska, preparing to board a plane to Toksook Bay, Alaska, U.S., January 21, 2020. (Brian Adams/Reuters)
The North Slope Borough is backing out of a tentative deal to rent RavnAir Group’s Utqiagvik hangar and is reasserting its right to use Ravn’s assets to support air service to its communities during the coronavirus emergency.

On Monday, an agreement between Ravn and the North Slope Borough was filed in federal bankruptcy court in Delaware, spelling out that the borough would pay Ravn $100,000 a month in rent for use of Ravn’s hangar at the Barrow Airport in Utqiagvik. But in a press release on Wednesday evening, borough mayor Harry Brower wrote that negotiations on that agreement were “not fruitful.”

Earlier this month, the borough issued an emergency order saying that it was “commandeering” all of Ravn’s assets in the borough in order to provide vital air service to its communities, which are off of the road system, after Ravn announced it was stopping all operations and filed for bankruptcy. The company said the coronavirus pandemic had led to a 90 percent drop in ticket bookings.

In a new emergency order released Wednesday, Brower wrote that thanks to other air carriers who stepped in immediately after Ravn’s bankruptcy, the borough would not have to commandeer “all” of Ravn’s assets and was in the process of determining what assets would be needed in order to continue air service.

But the borough did reassert its right to seize assets under borough code and Alaska state statutes.  The borough points to state statutes that say that in an emergency, local officials can enter public and private property when it’s “reasonably necessary to actually alleviate or prevent the disaster,” in order to “take them and to perform work and take measures that are appropriate without the consent of the owners of the land or buildings.”

Last week, however, the state’s attorney general wrote that the borough’s emergency order commandeering Ravn’s property was “void” because the property belonged to the bankruptcy estate.

RavnAir Group could not be reached for comment.

Related stories from around the North:

Arctic: Roundup of COVID-19 responses around the Arctic, Eye on the Arctic

Canada: Canadian government providing nearly $130M to help Arctic territories during pandemic, CBC News

Finland: Visits to commercial establishments down sharply in Finnish Lapland, Google data, Yle News

Greenland: COVID-19: Arctic science expedition postpones flight campaign after trainee tests positive for virus, Eye on the Arctic

Norway: Norwegian Arctic wilderness tourism hit particularly hard by coronavirus, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Novatek construction site faces fastest growing coronavirus outbreak in northern Russia, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Why Sweden can’t declare a state of emergency over COVID-19, Radio Sweden

United States: Alaska’s largest rural airline RavnAir could be forced to shut down for good, court docs say, Alaska Public Media

Lex Treinen, Alaska Public Media

For more news from Alaska visit Alaska Public Media.

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