Alaska Gov. Bill Walker's administration has hired a pair of high-priced consultants to help the state with its elusive natural gas pipeline project from the North Slope.
Rigdon Boykin, a South Carolina-based attorney, is earning $120,000 a month to negotiate on the pipeline project on Walker's behalf. Radoslav Shipkoff, a financial adviser based in Washington, D.C., is being paid $100,000 monthly by the state's natural resources department to work on financing for the pipeline project.
Walker questioned the salaries paid by a state-owned gas line corporation, the Alaska Gasline Development Corp., during his campaign last year. The top executive there, President Dan Fauske, makes $366,000 -- far less on a monthly basis than Boykin and Shipkoff.
But in a phone interview this week, Walker defended the contracts for his consultants, saying they had unique expertise that made them critical contributors to the development of a project that could cost as much as $65 billion. It's one that Alaska lawmakers are counting on to at least partially replenish the state's savings, which are currently being depleted by deficit spending stemming from a crash in oil prices.
"We're negotiating the best deal we can for Alaska's future. This isn't just a new porch some place or a highway extension -- this is the future of the state of Alaska," Walker said. "I'm very proud of the team we have at the table."
Boykin and Shipkoff worked with Walker previously when he ran a public entity, the Alaska Gasline Port Authority, that was pushing to build a gas pipeline from the North Slope to Valdez.
State lawmakers instead picked a pipeline route that finishes in the Kenai Peninsula town of Nikiski, the home of Republican House Speaker Mike Chenault. Walker now says he supports that plan, and his administration is working on the project with three North Slope oil producers -- Exxon, BP, and ConocoPhillips -- but there's still no guarantee a pipeline will ever be built.
Shipkoff's firm, Greengate LLC, has been paid $200,000 by the state this year to work on natural resource issues. Shipkoff's job consists of financial modeling and analysis of others' financial models to help the state evaluate the economics of the state's pipeline project, according to Greengate's contract.
In the interview, Walker said Shipkoff has a "long history of putting together project financing deals," pointing to Shipkoff's work on a liquified natural gas project in Australia that's nearing completion. It's "critical to have someone of that stature involved," Walker added.
Boykin, meanwhile, has earned $484,000 this year under two separate contracts -- one with the governor's office and another with the Alaska Gasline Development Corp.
He's an attorney once described as a "brash South Carolinian" who sits on presidential candidate and U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham's finance committee for that state, and he used to work for the large Los Angeles-based law firm O'Melveny & Myers.
Boykin's current contract with AGDC calls for him to help coordinate the corporation's work with three of Walker's executive branch agencies, as well as with the governor's office. He's also responsible for negotiating with the North Slope oil producers whose gas would help fill the pipeline.
Boykin's contract calls for reimbursement for living expenses in Alaska -- he rents an apartment in Valley of the Moon in Anchorage -- and for travel to South Carolina once a month. And he has business cards with a state seal that say he's the "personal representative for the governor of Alaska" on liquefied natural gas development.
Walker called Boykin "the hardest driving negotiator I've ever met." The two have worked together on a natural gas pipeline for more than a decade, dating back to when Boykin worked as counsel to Walker's gas line port authority.
Asked about his compensation in a separate interview this week, Boykin responded: "The governor is getting a deal."
In the past, Boykin said, he's been paid more than $1,000 hourly. His rate for Alaska is a fraction of that, he added, given that he's working more than 100 hours a week.
"Last night I went home early, about 7:30," Boykin said. "I literally work seven days a week. My effective rate is probably $400 an hour -- that's a peanut."
Boykin said he's working for Walker at a discount because the governor is a friend.
Boykin and Shipkoff, Boykin added, both have "pipeline disease."
"This is the only project I've never gotten done, just about," Boykin said. "We joke about it all the time, but we do absolutely outrageous things because we're frustrated -- we've never gotten this damn project done. It's hard to describe but it really is a disease."
The expensive contracts with Boykin and Shipkoff aren't unprecedented -- a point stressed in tabular material that the Walker administration sent to Alaska Dispatch News along with Boykin's contract.
The table compared Boykin's daily rate with other contracts, including one for a Bahamas-based oil and gas consultant, Pedro van Meurs, hired by a state legislative committee in 2011.
Van Meurs' daily rate was $6,400, and he was paid an additional $19,500 to cover his fees, travel, and accommodations for a two-day training seminar in Anchorage in 2011 -- though van Meurs' total contract was capped at $50,000.
At $120,000 monthly, Boykin's compensation amounts to $4,000 a day.
At the Alaska Gasline Development Corp., meanwhile, Fauske is paid $366,000 annually, and gets a $145,000 benefits package that brings his total compensation to roughly $510,000.
Walker's budget this year contained salaries of more than $190,000 each for six other employees at the gas line corporation.
During his campaign last year, Walker questioned the compensation offered by the corporation, saying that "a lot of salaries over there seem excessive." He said in the interview this week that he stood by those statements, arguing that none of the employees at Alaska Gasline Development Corp. have "the experience and expertise that Radoslav Shipkoff has, and Rigdon Boykin."
"They've just never put those kind of deals together," Walker said, adding that the employees are "fine people."
"It's a significantly different task," he said.
Rep. Mike Hawker, R-Anchorage, who's been critical of Walker's plans for developing the natural gas pipeline, said he would be cautious about comparing the governor's campaign rhetoric to his actions after being sworn in.
"Now that he's in place, I think he's come to understand there is a great deal of difference between, as I would describe it, the poetry of campaigning and the prose of governing," Hawker said in a phone interview.
The benchmark the public should use to measure the value of consultants like Shipkoff and Boykin, Hawker added, is whether they help the state actually get a pipeline built -- a goal that's eluded Alaska politicians for decades.
"That's the benchmark," Hawker said.
For now, it's too early to draw conclusions, he added.
"I think the jury's still out on the governor and his team's success on advancing the project," Hawker said.
—Alex DeMarban contributed reporting to this story.