This week we’re heading to Little Tutka Bay, a small community across the Kachemak Bay from Homer. Rick Harness owns a tourism business called Seaside Adventure; Rick is also a scuba diver.
“My name is Rick Harness, I live in Little Tutka Bay. I have an ecotour business so I take tourists out to play with the wildlife, explore the bays and islands and the dunes.
Most people come over by boat, some people come over by floatplane…. People in our area travel mostly by skiffs, rowboats and kayaks – kayaks are more and more popular as time goes and you’ll see more people traveling that way. We’ve been doing our kayaking business for a few decades now and it’s just our way of life.
In the summertime we have one of the richest plankton counts that you’ll find anywhere. As the spring progresses the waters turn green and greener. But on the shoulder side of season the water clears up and it’s amazing, amazing. It’s like taking a jungle walk with all the kelps and the kelp forest under there and it has such a diverse marine life. Every once in awhile something will be shadowed off to one side of you and pretty soon you find out there’s an otter that’s curious enough to check out out. And I’ve had sea lions come right up to my facemask and stare me down – it’s fun, but quite unnerving. It’s an amazing activity to do because the world above is so rich, but down below is even richer yet.
Everybody that comes to visit says it’s one of the most beautiful places they’ve ever visited – so that says a lot.”
Homer’s youth resource and enrichment co-op, known locally as “The R.E.C. Room,” is giving teens a taste of what it’s like to work in a commercial kitchen.
The after school youth-outreach program has been holding FORK Club Cooking Classes for the last few months providing kids tips on using healthy, local ingredients.
It falls in line with the program’s core mission of empowering teens through health education. Organizers hope the classes will be a gateway to a job, or at least a way to help put dinner on the table for their families.
A group of seven kids is paying close attention to Megan Palma as she starts explaining the best way to cut a tomato. They’re standing around a covered pool table at the Alibi in downtown Homer, which is serving as a make-shift classroom for the evening. Megan is owner of Alibi a la Carte. She said having students come work with her was a natural pairing since she’s an advisor for the REC Room. She and her pupils are doing the prep work for the restaurant’s halibut tacos.
Megan was focused on safety. She was surrounded by a small group of 12 to 15 year olds who probably don’t interact with kitchen knives on a daily basis like she does. But her students are handling themselves well. At least until they got to the onions.
Ultimately, everyone was able to fight through their watering eyes and move on to the fresh lime juice and garlic. Finally Megan talked cilantro.
But this is only the prep work for the main event. Megan took the kids into the kitchen two-by-two to pan-sear the halibut and warm up tortillas. Danielle Couch and Ian Brant were first up.
In no time at all, the halibut is cooked to perfection and Danielle and Ian were both headed back to their prep areas. They added the guacamole, pico de gallo, red cabbage and Megan’s Baja sauce.
It’s safe to say Danielle’s favorite part of the evening was eating the taco. Ian had a different take.
“I thought the salsa was pretty good. And especially the avocado because you could actually put your hands in and start to mix it; it got all messy,” he said.
Ian also mentioned he thought he did a nice job with the knife considering he’s only just starting out. And he said while he doesn’t see cooking as his future profession, he wouldn’t mind making it his passion.
“I always tell my mom I want the third-biggest room in my house to be the kitchen because I like to cook; then my bedroom, then the living room. I don’t want it to be my job, but I want it to be my second hobby, I guess,” he said.
Both Ian and Danielle said they’d like to see more kids show up for the next class because they had so much fun. And Megan had a good experience, too. She said she’s happy with everyone’s performance, especially when you take their ages into account.
“At first they were a little squirrely, but… I was amazed at how quickly their skills developed just in one day,” she said.
Megan said she also likes the fact that her students learned and completed a recipe from start to finish.
“Even if they do cook at home, they’re still just assembling already prepared food. So I think it’s nice for them to see as much as we could do it in two hours,” she said.
And I have to say, after watching these kids make the prep work look so easy, I’m not sure what my excuse is for not doing this more often at home.
The state’s fish board has passed some new rules for commercial salmon fishers in Cook Inlet, but will the rules help salmon conservation in times of declining runs?
HOST: Ellen Lockyer, Alaska Public Radio Network
- Mac Minard, biologist and fisheries consultant with Mat-Su Borough
- Jim Colver, Mat-Su Borough Assemblyman
- Callers Statewide
- Post your comment before, during or after the live broadcast (comments may be read on air).
- Send e-mail to talk [at] alaskapublic [dot] org (comments may be read on air)
- Call 550-8422 in Anchorage or 1-800-478-8255 if you’re outside Anchorage during the live broadcast
LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, February 18, 2014 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.
Representative Bob Herron, a Bethel democrat, received a second ethics citation tied to his co-ownership of a school bus company.
Joyce Anderson is the administrator for the Select Committee on Legislative Ethics. She says the committee received a complaint about Herron’s participation in a vote on Senate Bill 57, in April 2013.
“It was regarding the per-pupil rate for transportation, set by the state,” Anderson says. “And then, the funding for transportation comes from state funds.”
Senate Bill 57 says that the state has to adjust its school bus rates every year to keep up with inflation.
Herron co-owns Golden Eagle Unlimited, LLC. The company has a contract with the state of Alaska to provide school bus service in the Bethel area.
When the bill came up, Herron voted for it without stating a conflict of interest.
According to statute, legislators aren’t allowed to vote if they have a substantial financial interest in the matter at hand. If they do, they are supposed to rescind their vote and declare a conflict of interest.
The Ethics Committee started investigating this complaint in November 2013 — right around the time they decided to cite Herron for failing to report his school bus contracts on state financial disclosures.
Anderson says that for this investigation, the Ethics Committee tried to determine how much of a stake Herron had in the legislation.
“And the committee felt that because the school bus contract was $930,000 in 2012, and for the 2013 contract, it was over a million [dollars], they felt that he did have a substantial conflict of interest,” Anderson says.
The state is currently playing Golden Eagle Unlimited $1.5 million annually for school bus service.
The Ethics Committee did not levy a fine against Herron for this violation, and they recommend no corrective action. In an email to KUCB, Herron wrote that he should have rescinded his vote.
“All through this ‘investigation,’ I said it was not intentional but there is no excuse,” Herron wrote.
Herron was previously fined $5,000 by the Ethics Committee and about $7,500 by the Alaska Public Offices Commission for omitting Golden Eagle Unlimited contracts from his financial disclosures.
This week’s drug-related arrests came after a several-month-long investigation involving the work of a confidential informant. It led to seizures of heroin, pot, and the arrest of an alleged bootlegger who bought over 1,500 bottles of whiskey.
The first arrest came Sunday evening, when Bethel police pulled over a vehicle with 52-year-old Andre Williams Senior in the passenger’s seat. They quickly found a glass jar with foil packets of black tar heroin. After searching the car, they seized 33 grams of heroin and 2,370 dollars cash. The street value of the heroin could be 33,000 dollars.
A second heroin related arrest came Tuesday. Troopers went to the home of Kevin Cockroft, 57, and through a window, saw him grabbing a yellow candy container and running back to the rear of the house. They say that container had 8 “niffs” of heroin, each about a tenth of a gram. That package was later found in a honeybucket. They also found a rock of heroin in the fridge.
The investigation came with help of an informant, known only as N1008, who had been involved in shipping alcohol to a local option community. The suspect agreed to help law enforcement identify drug dealers in Bethel. An informant had bought small amounts of marijuana twice at Cockroft’s house.
The informant led law enforcement to evidence alleging that Gabriel Baker, 42, sold marijuana and whiskey out of his home. Troopers say the informant made 3 buys from Baker, each around a tenth of an ounce of marijuana for $100. The informant also bought a bottle of R&R Whiskey for $50. Troopers says Baker bought a total of 1,560 bottles of whiskey, spending more than 21,000 dollars. Selling at 50 dollars a bottle yields 78,000 dollars.
The informant made at least five buys of marijuana and hashish from Christopher Hickman over the past couple months, according to court documents. On Tuesday, law enforcement went to his wife Lorraine Hickman’s apartment and truck, seizing more than 13 ounces of marijuana, 1,400 dollars cash, and drug selling paraphernalia like scales and baggies. A police affidavit says that Lorraine was present at some of the buys and handed Christopher tin foil.
Another defendant, Matthew Hickman Jr, 21, traveled to Phoenix Arizona in violation of his release conditions and spoke on the phone to Richard Hickman, a co-defendant in another case.
Five of the defendants were arraigned Wednesday afternoon in Bethel. The court entered not guilty pleas on behalf of them, before they had a chance to speak with their public defenders or outside counsel.
The state’s law department deals with a wide range of legal matters but this week’s show focuses on tribal courts and what the future may look like for court proceedings in rural Alaska. Earlier this week the Senate Indian Affairs Committee reviewed the Indian Law and Order Commission report. It paints a bleak picture for Native communities, saying the high rates of crime in Native communities is a “National Disgrace and a National Problem” and calls for more authority for tribal justice systems, saying in part that the state and fed government should strengthen rather than degrade tribal sovereignty.
HOST: Lori Townsend
- Alaska Attorney General Michael Geraghty
KSKA (FM 91.1) BROADCAST: Friday, February 14 at 2:00 p.m. and Saturday, February 15 at 6:00 p.m.
Alaska Public Television BROADCAST: Friday, February 14 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, February 15 at 4:30 PM.
After two years of high profile officer-involved shootings, the Anchorage Police Department has made their use-of-force policy public. Police Chief Mark Mew made the announcement last night, (Thursday 2/13) during a community forum at Clark Middle School in the Mountain View Neighborhood.
“The more we dug into it, the more we worked with community groups, the more we started asking ourselves, instead of always trying to explain a policy that we don’t show people, why don’t we just show people the policy.”
In 2013, Mayor Dan Sullivan directed the Anchorage Community Police Relations Task Force to review APD’s use of force policy after an increasing number of officer involved shootings. Reverend, Doctor William Green is the chair of the task force. He says releasing the policy is a step in the right direction.
“That’s good. I mean the public should know about what’s going on in the police department. It’s not top secret.”
The task force made seven recommendations, including making the policy public. There have been ten officer-involved shootings in Anchorage over past two years.The use of force policy, along with the entire 600-page APD policy manual is now available on the department’s web site.
In 2013, the state paid nearly a million dollars for lawmakers to fly across Alaska, across the country, and in some cases, around the world. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports that legislative travel costs went up nearly 50 percent last year.
Over the past year, Kurt Olson has traveled out of state 10 times in his capacity as a legislator. He’s gone to Boston, Denver, DC, Kansas City, Philadelphia, Las Vegas, Atlanta, and Nashville. He’s also had to bust out his passport twice – once for an Arctic policy meeting in Reykjavik, Iceland and once for an energy meeting in Banff, a Canadian resort town.
“At that point in time, it was the coldest place in the world. Not just North America. It was 40 or 42 below for three days,” says Olson. “So, I don’t think anyone would accuse me of having gone on a junket on that one.”
All told, the Kenai Republican racked up a $40,000 travel bill, making him the second most-traveled person in the Legislature. Usually, he’s closer to the middle of the pack.
“I was not expecting to be as high as I was, but if I couldn’t justify them, we wouldn’t be having this conversation,” Olson laughs.
When Olson and I sit down to talk about travel, he’s got all his documentation out and annotated. Kansas City was for the annual Council on State Governments conference. Nashville was for the National Conference of Insurance Legislators, which is relevant to Olson because he chairs the House Labor and Commerce Committee.
“Two of the other meetings were generally worker’s compensation. At least two were related to Obamacare, which I am involved in. And none of the meetings were offered in Alaska,” says Olson.
Olson says he can point to four bills he’s working on that are the direct result of his travel. One has to do with opioid use by injured workers; another, their medical bills.
“I don’t really have any problem justifying the travel,” says Olson. “I mean, as long as I am using it and doing things with it that will help the State of Alaska, I certainly don’t have a problem.”CASE-BY-CASE APPROACH
That’s the general philosophy held by those approving the travel requests.
Mike Chenault is the Speaker of the House, and any member of the majority caucus has to go through him if they want travel reimbursement. In many cases, he’s inclined to give it, especially if involves travel within Alaska or if it has a serious policy bent.
“Knowledge is never a bad thing. And if we just stayed here, we wouldn’t know what was going on elsewhere,” says Chenault.
Travel reimbursements can cover a broad range of activity in and out of state. There are trips for bill signing events, constituent meetings, and interim committee hearings. Rural legislators often have to expense travel within their district, because their communities can only be reached by water or air. Sometimes, lawmakers travel to different regions to get a sense of how legislation will affect districts other than their own. They can also attend funerals on state business. Last year, some lawmakers received reimbursements to attend the funeral of long-time lawmaker John Cowdery, who left the Legislature because of a corruption conviction.
Caucuses can also get reimbursed for retreats they hold in advance of session. In 2013, the House and Senate Majority hosted such events at the Alyeska Resort in Girdwood. (Members of the Senate Majority were reimbursed $85 a head for dinners at the Double Musky steakhouse during their retreat. A spokesperson for the Senate Majority says the caucus did not intend to eat there, but had to relocate to that venue after the closure of the Alyeska tram forced a cancellation of their original plans.) Chenault says these private gatherings can help a caucus determine which bills should get priority and allows them to work more efficiently once the Legislature convenes.
Out-of-state travel reimbursement request are almost exclusively related to conferences.
Chenault thinks his caucus experienced a 60 percent increase in travel reimbursements for a few reasons, like airfare going up. But probably the biggest thing is that last year wasn’t an election year. Lawmakers weren’t out trying to win votes, so they had more time to go to conferences. Because this year is a campaign year, there might not be as many travel reimbursements.LESS MONEY, FEWER MILES?
There might also be less interest in travel for financial reasons. This year, the state is looking at a $2 billion revenue shortfall. Chenault says that will be on his mind as he makes travel decisions, but it won’t be the only factor.
“Will out-of-state travel be less this year than it was last year? I’m going to say ‘yeah,’” says Chenault. “But I don’t have a specific dollar amount that ‘that’s it, you’re not traveling anymore.’”
His counterpart in the Senate, Charlie Huggins, has similar feelings.
“It will have bearing. Yes, it’ll have bearing,” says Huggins. “But in the same token, you can’t become an isolationist.”
Huggins says if multiple people want to go on a trip, he might ask them if their attendance is absolutely necessary. Last year, 20 out of 60 lawmakers went to DC for Energy council, 17 went to Las Vegas for the Council of State Governments, and six went to Iceland for the Arctic Energy Summit, all on the state’s dime.
“You know my technique is not so much ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ It’s about ‘reconsider.’ You know, think about it,” says Huggins. “And people, generally speaking, are frugal.”A LEGISLATIVE STAYCATION
But other lawmakers in the Capitol have different definitions of frugal.
Les Gara is an Anchorage Democrat, and for the past two years, he’s been at the bottom of the travel list. He jokes it hasn’t helped his frequent flyer status.
“I’m definitely not MVP Gold,” says Gara.
Where the average lawmaker spends about $16,000 on travel, Gara’s reimbursements amounted to just $1,300. That covers his ticket to and from Juneau for the session, and another ticket for him to get to a constituent meeting in Anchorage.
“Apart from those two trips, I just haven’t seen any need to spend state money to go travel.”
As part of the small House Minority Caucus, Gara doesn’t have the same access to travel funds as his colleagues in the majority do. In each chamber, the leader of that body is given ultimate authority on the legislature’s travel budget. But to avoid getting involved in the minority’s travel decisions, the Speaker of the House just gives them a pot of money to budget as they will. Combined, the House Minority spent a little over $50,000, a tenth of what the Majority spent.
Gara says that even if he had greater access to travel funds, he doesn’t think he would use them.
“I can learn about legislation here. I know that we charge too much in terms of student loans, double what the federal rate is. I don’t have to travel to find that out. I know we’ve laid off 600 teachers over the past three years. I don’t need travel to find that out or how to reverse that trend. I can figure that out living in Alaska and staying in Alaska.”
Gara doesn’t begrudge other members their travel, though. In his career as a lawmaker, he’s taken two out-of-state trips, and he says he got a lot of information out of them. He just thinks if the state’s going to be paying for him to go somewhere, it better get a lot in return.
Several members of the Alaska Legislature sent a letter of support earlier this month to the head of the company looking at developing the controversial Pebble Mine in the Bristol Bay region. The letter was signed by 8 lawmakers including the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House.
All of the lawmakers are Republicans. In the letter they stressed that Alaska is a resource development state and they claim Alaska has a history of using its natural resources in a responsible manner. Mike Chenault is the Speaker of the House. He’s from Nikiski, which features a lot of oil and gas infrastructure.
“I think a number of us don’t know if we support Pebble until we see a project plan but I think all of us support the notion that we have a process to develop mines in Alaska. Corporations such as Northern Dynasty should have the opportunity to go through that process. At the end of the day if the project doesn’t meet the criteria of the permitting process we have the ability to say no.”
In the letter the Republican lawmakers assert that they support Northern Dynasty Minerals efforts to advance the Pebble Project and they stress that the Pebble deposit is a state asset that sits on state land. Speaker Chenault maintains that the proposed Pebble Mine has the potential to have a huge positive impact on the state’s economy.
“I look at the jobs that it could possibly be created that would be long-term, well-paying jobs that would be a boom to the economy.”
Northern Dynasty Minerals is currently the only entity in the partnership that was created to develop the Pebble Mine. The giant mining company Anglo American pulled out the Pebble Limited Partnership last year and Northern Dynasty Minerals is looking for another mining company to join the partnership. The 8 lawmakers ended their recent letter to Northern Dynasty Minerals by asserting that Alaska is open to investment from those who seek to develop the state’s natural resources in a safe and responsible manner that respects and benefits its citizens. Speaker Chenault notes that while he supports Northern Dynasty being able to apply for permits for the Pebble Mine project, he won’t support the project if the developers can’t address his concerns.
“I don’t thing that anyone wants to see the Bristol Bay salmon go away. At the end of the day if they can’t prove to me that they can do it environmentally safe then I won’t support it. I can’t support it.”
The Pebble Limited Partnership recently hired a new CEO with experience in the federal permitting system and the company reiterated that the goal for this year is to advance the project and to initiate permitting. However, many observers believe the Partnership won’t go forward with permitting until another company is found to join the Partnership.
State transportation officials have selected a preferred route for a mid-town Anchorage road connecting the University of Alaska and two city hospitals with major traffic arteries. The municipality and the state are partners in the project, along with landholders in what is called the U-Med district.
Stuart Osgood, a consultant with the engineering firm Dowl HKM, says the new road will serve a major employment center for Anchorage
“About 11 percent of Anchorage’s workforce works in the U-Med district, which is really shocking. 1 in 9 jobs coming from there. When we went through our analysis, we discovered that about 43% percent of all of the trips into and out of the U-Med area were headed to destinations north and east – to Eagle River, to north east Anchorage, maybe to the Valley. Yet we have very poor access north and east of the U-Med district.”
Osgood says the new road takes pressure off high – crash routes leading to and from two universities within the district.
A 2009 study identified fifteen potential routes, but only four were selected for study. Of those, two were not supported by UAA, because they would route five to seven thousand cars a day through the university campus, causing potential conflict with pedestrians. A third route was considered too expensive.
The preferred route connects Elmore to Bragaw, allowing vehicles to flow South through UAA lands. A good portion of those lands are wetlands, according to the state Department of Transportation’s chief highway design group’s Jim Amundsen. Amundsen says wetlands permits required by the US Army Corps of Engineers will be applied for, now that a route has been selected. One million dollars has been budgeted for wetlands environmental concerns. Steward Osgood says the Corps
“ They first looked to us to avoid, and then to minimize and then to mitigate, and we’ll be doing all of those things. And at the end will pay fee in leiu of mitigation, so the project actually pays into a bank that is used to buy conservation lands elsewhere that are valuable in the eyes of the Corps of Engineers. So that million dollars is set aside for the fee in leiu of mitigation.”
The mitigation program requires a developer to pay into a bank that buys alternate wetlands to compensate for those damaged by construction.
The legislature has provided 22 million dollars so far for the road project. Dowl’s Osgood says the preferred route is expected to cost 19 point 4 million dollars for point seven miles of road. It is designed to be a two lane road, with a bicycle lane and pedestrian walkways. Osgood says work on the new road could begin in about a year, and a 2015 opening date is expected.
An open house on the U-Med road is set for next week at East High School in Anchorage.
In Washington, D.C. the Senate Indian Affairs Committee yesterday reviewed a controversial report on Native American law-and-order that portrays the high rates of violence in rural Alaska, particularly against Native women and children, as a national disgrace. While Alaska’s senators agreed the gaps in law enforcement are deplorable, the long-standing dispute over tribal jurisdiction in the state hangs over the search for solutions.
One of the witnesses, Anvik resident Tami Truett Jerue, told the Senate panel she has the routine concerns every working parent has, though as a resident of a Native village off the road system, she has more to contend with.
“But I also worry about whether my children, my nieces, nephews or relatives are going to be hurt today. And in Anvik I consider us to be a fairly safe community,” she said. But she says it’s a sign something is wrong “when I have to have a conversation with my 14-year-old son when he gets out his snowmachine and goes to school in the morning, ‘Hey I want you to come home early today, the booze came in on the plane.’”
Jerue works for the Anvik Tribal Council, and came to Washington representing Tanana Chiefs Conference, an association of Interior tribes. She endorsed the findings in the report of the Indian Law and Order Commission – including the controversial conclusion that Congress should amend federal law to clearly recognize Indian Country throughout Alaska. Without full self-government, she says communities like hers will continue to suffer, even though tribal courts are doing the best they can.
“They’ve come up with some excellent ideas, but we were then hindered by state intervention and/or lack of.”
The congressionally-chartered Indian Law and Order Commission produced its report in November. It catalogues the high crime rate Indian communities in the Lower 48 endure, but says the dangers are more severe in Alaska. Commission Chairman Troy Eid told the Senate committee the state is clinging to a colonial model that should give way to greater tribal self-governance and the kind of Indian Country powers that tribes have on reservations in the Lower 48.
“The system in Alaska is not serving the people there, because the state can never police it from afar,” Eid said. “When we were up there last time in December, the leaders came to us and said, ‘We just had a 12 year old girl raped, it took them four days to come out to our village.’ That’s not acceptable in our country.”
The Parnell Administration raised objections to the commission last year, saying the state and Alaska Natives themselves rejected the reservation concept with the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act in 1971. State Attorney General Michael Geraghty wrote that Alaska recognizes tribal authority over certain civil matters but maintains that, absent reservations, tribes don’t have criminal jurisdiction, even over their own members.
Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski asked Eid why the report recommends that Alaska essentially recreate the reservation model when there’s a constant stream of news stories suggesting law enforcement isn’t working well on reservations either.
“I’m not suggesting that the Alaska situation is acceptable. It is absolutely not,” she said. “But do we want to take what many would acknowledge is a failed or a failing system and then just say that’s the Alaska answer?”
Eid says Alaska doesn’t need reservations for tribes to govern themselves in their own territories. And the report argues tribal law enforcement would be more effective and less costly than what the state is doing now.
Murkowski says the report’s chapter on Alaska focuses too much on the Indian Country question. While that remains a hot-button issue, Murkowski says tribes are working with the state to construct public safety buildings in villages, and tribal courts are issuing domestic violence protective orders that the state is enforcing. She says all sides should work harder for that kind of co-operation.
Alaska could soon have a Human Breast Milk Bank. The Milk Bank would operate under the Alaska Blood Bank and supply the state with donor milk. The Blood Bank has submitted a proposal to their board and is awaiting a decision. KNOM’s Anna Rose MacArthur reports.
Across the U.S., 13 milk banks supply all 50 states with donor milk. And Dr. Norman Means, Chief Medical Officer for the Alaska Blood Bank, says supply is not meeting demand. Means says the nation requires nine-and-a-half-million ounces of milk per year. Only about one-third of that is met.
“So as you can see, there’s a big gap in what the need is and what’s available.”
Kim Updegrove, President of the Human Milk Banking Association of North America, says with stocks limited, donor milk goes to level-three neonatal intensive care infants. The standard of care for these preterm babies weighing 53 ounces or less is a breast milk only diet.
Alaska’s only level-three NICU is in Providence Hospital in Anchorage. Providence sources the majority of its donor milk from Colorado— about 700 ounces per week for 42-hundred dollars. A milk bank in Alaska would not only cut shipping costs but also increase the state’s milk security and bolster national supplies of what Updegrove calls a “scarce resource.”
“Currently, the Alaskan NICUs are getting that milk from other states. So they are feeding donor human milk to their babies, which is great but they are missing out on the opportunity to say to the Alaskans, you can take care of the babies born in this state and your milk is optimal for your baby and lifesaving for pre-term babies.”
If the proposal passes, it will be the first combined blood and milk bank in the country. Dr. Means says the combination makes sense. Both banks require similar operations, and the consolidation reduces redundancies in infrastructure and staffing. And the proposal, Means says, has already received widespread support, often unsolicited, from the medical community, state and local governments, and moms.
“Everywhere we turn, we have the support of anybody who’s involved in the care of mothers and babies.”
The Bank is waiting on the board’s decision. The Blood Bank should break ground on a new building in May, and the facility includes space for a milk center. Means says after receiving approval, the Milk Bank could begin operating in six months.
Two local businessmen have come up with an early design concept for a prime piece of real estate in the Capital City. The so-called subport property, near the corner of Egan Dr. and Whittier St., has been vacant for more than a decade. The Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority owns the bulk of the proposed development site. The question remains: Is the authority ready to let it go?
The subport lot looks out at Gastineau Channel. Across the water are the snow covered mountains of Douglas Island. Look left, and on clear day, you can see down the channel for miles. It’s easy to see why the property is so desirable to developers, like Paul Voelckers.
“The majority of use, if this project turns out to be real, would likely be small, but high quality condominium housing,” said Voelckers, president of Juneau-based MRV Architects.
Together with local businessman Reed Stoops, he’s come up with what he calls “a first series of sketches” for possible development of the subport lot, which is currently the staging area for construction crews working on the new State Library Archives and Museum building, scheduled for completion in 2016.
Voelckers says the idea for high end housing on the lot came out of frequent conversations he and Stoops find themselves having with Juneau residents of a certain demographic.
“They’re 60, or 65, or something,” he said. “And they don’t need a big place anymore, and they’d like the opportunity to travel, but they’d like to maintain a base in Juneau.”
Inevitably, he says, they hear the same things.
“It would be great if there was additional housing opportunities downtown that took advantage of the great view, the walking proximity to an art district, walking proximity to a grocery store, and health club,” Voelckers said. “Just all the things that part of town might potentially offer, but is you know still sort of sitting there unrealized.”
The proposed condo building would be 3-5 stories and include retail and office space on the ground floor. The overall concept includes an extension of the seawalk – already a prominent feature of the downtown waterfront south of Marine Park. Voelckers and Stoops envision a small marina for yachts near the uplands development.
It’s also being pitched as an alternate site for a proposed bronze whale statue, though the city is already working to place the sculpture at a new park near the Douglas Bridge.
“At this stage we continue to look at the bridge park site as our preferred alternative,” said former Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho, a spokesman for the Whale Project. “But any proposals that come through that will materially advance the timeline of the project, we’re prepared to look at.”
Voelckers says it’s important to recognize, this is all very preliminary. Five years ago, a proposal to build a new state office building in the subport area fell through when Juneau’s legislative delegation failed to convince other lawmakers the deal was worth it.
“We’d be getting ahead of ourselves to say there was a timeline or even what the exact pieces were,” he said.
Voelckers says the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority has indicated a willingness to entertain proposals for the subport property. John Morrison is Chief Administrative Officer of the Trust Land Office. He declined an on-tape interview for this story, but says he had one meeting with Stoops and Voelckers. Morrison says the land office is not actively pursuing any deals at this point, but is always interested in maximizing the value of the trust.
Voelckers and Stoops have also met with city officials, including Juneau Mayor Merrill Sanford. Housing is one of the Juneau Assembly’s top priorities. Sanford says he thinks its fine that the proposal is for high end condos, rather than more affordable housing.
“No. We need housing in Juneau, Alaska,” said Sanford. “So whenever I see anybody from the private sector, who will break their dollars free to build, then I see it as a good thing.”
The Assembly in December appointed Voelckers to the Juneau Planning Commission. He’d have to recuse himself if he were still on the panel and the project made it to the permitting stage. Voelckers says the timing of the appointment and his work on the subport proposal is entirely coincidental.
Dog mushing is Alaska’s official state sport, but not everyone can just jump on a sled and go. KUAC’s Dan Bross reports on a new Fairbanks non-profit organization aimed at getting people with disabilities out mushing.
The U.S. Senate is considering two international treaties that Sen. Lisa Murkowski says would help crack down on pirate fishing in the North Pacific. Murkowski today told the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee that illegal high seas fishing is an economic threat to the crab industry. The senator says it lowers the market price, costing legitimate harvesters more than half a billion dollars since the year 2000.
“As recently as 2011, NOAA Law Enforcement seized 112 metric tons of illegally harvested Russian king crab that was being shipped to U.S. markets through the Port of Seattle,” she told the committee.
Murkowski says the illegal crab catch has also deprived Alaska of millions in landing fees. One of the treaties aims to require countries to better police their ports to keep pirate shipping vessels from unloading. The senator has a special interest in the Bering Sea crab fishery, made famous by the “Deadliest Catch” TV show. Murkowski says her son just finished a season working as a crab fisherman.
“He’s heading back home and he’s probably going to have some Bering Sea crab stories that I’m not sure his mother is really ready to hear yet, but I’m bracing myself,” she said.
Both treaties had broad support at today’s Senate hearing.
The record setting pink salmon catch in Alaska last year has left seafood processing companies with several year’s worth of inventory of canned product, although not all of the pink salmon winds up in a can. In fact, industry in recent years has been freezing and reprocessing around half of Alaska’s pink catch. Analysts say that move has helped weather the boom and bust cycles of salmon returns.
“The 2013 pink harvest was the largest on record,” said Joe Jacobson, director of the state’s division of Economic Development, testifying before the House fisheries committee this month. “It’s led to a glut of supply and it will probably, there will be downward pressure on prices because of it. And it’s really been a pretty tremendous impact.”
Fishing fleets caught 219 million pink salmon in Alaska last year. That helped fill up an estimated four million cases of tall pink cans and its left companies with almost five million cases in inventory.
“Even though the catch was big, we’re not having any real problems moving through it,” said Tom Sunderlund, vice president of marketing for Ocean Beauty Seafoods, one of the companies that processes pinks in Alaska. He says the demand for Alaska salmon seems to keep growing. “That isn’t to say we don’t have a lot of inventory, we do. We’re in a heavy inventory position right now and that’s always a little worrisome when you’re holding more inventory than you want but it is selling well. That’s what I’ve heard from other processors as well. No one’s in any kind of panic mode. Nobody feels the need to start dropping prices or taking any kind of drastic action. So at this point even despite the heavy catch it looks like it’s going OK.”
Companies say a can of salmon has a shelf life about six years so processors don’t need to sell all of the 2013 catch right away. Andy Wink is a seafood analyst for the McDowell Group, a consulting firm that works with the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. “Given where sales have been the last several years, we’re looking at inventory of about 2.6 years, in terms of how much supply do we have and how much inventory do we have. So that would take us beyond 2015 even if we did not can another salmon for the next couple years.”
Wink says a chronic oversupply depressed prices in the early 2000s. “That made it very difficult obviously to sell new production, but through a lot of hard work, through lot of marketing and actually through just shifting a lot of that product out of the can, we were able to bring that inventory down and price has improved as a result. So I think we’ve probably in this area before but it has been some time.”
Pinks that don’t end up in cans are often headed and gutted, then frozen and shipped overseas for more processing. That’s become an increasing portion of the catch, according to the Institute of Social and Economic Research’s Gunnar Knapp. “Processors have increasingly started freezing salmon and shipping it to the far east to countries like China, Vietnam and Thailand for reprocessing into value added products.”
That fish is processed into many different kinds of products, including pouched pink salmon and then sent back to the US or elsewhere around the globe. “I think that what is going to make things somewhat easier with this year than compared to other years is that not as large a share is going into cans. And so they’ve got a big inventory but it would have been a lot bigger if it was all going into cans,” Knapp says.
Analysts say that product diversification has helped drive down inventory and improve prices for Alaska’s pinks. Wholesale prices for cases of tall pink salmon cans topped 100 dollars in 2012 and 2013, more than double what they were a decade ago. There’s some expectation that those high prices will start dropping. But there’s also help on the way for the big inventory of cans.
The Department of Agriculture will be buying 20 million dollars of canned pink salmon for food assistance programs across the country. That’s an expanded purchase over past years and the decision was hailed by Alaska’s Senators in January.
Analyst with the McDowell Group, Wink says it will be a process to move through the big catch. “But I think there is the capacity for the market to absorb it. And again one other thing for canned salmon, especially with this buy by the federal government, the hope is we can introduce new people to the product. Because it’s really hard to double production, or triple it and then assume you’re gonna move that into the same number of consumers. When that happens you’ve gotta get new people buying the product.”
That’s where marketing comes in.
“Well it certainly presents a marketing challenge when you have such a huge catch and trying to maintain the value,” says Tyson Fick, Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute’s communications director. “But it’s very much a good problem to have.”
Fick says ASMI will be spending an additional one point five million dollars to move pink salmon and notes companies don’t want to hold a big can inventory for too long. “And at the same time we don’t wanna be dumping product on the market and crashing the price because that’s not good for anybody either. So that’s where the marketing effort comes in is to try and maintain the value, while at the same time incentivizing product moving.”
That means recipe and coupon campaigns to bolster sales in traditional domestic markets for canned pinks, places like the southeastern United States. Fick says they also hope to market some of the Alaska product to canned food companies in the United Kingdom. “Looking to partner in the UK with places like John West and Princes, where the UK is a very big traditional canned salmon market, currently more focused on sockeyes but again this is an opportunity to come in at a little bit lower cost with our largest canned salmon export market.”
Fick says canned salmon’s biggest competitor is probably canned tuna fish and other proteins that customers reach for in the supermarket. Traditional customers are the baby boomer generation and their parents but ASMI also wants to promote canned fish to new potential customers in the younger generations.
Sports fishermen in the Mat-Su Borough are thrilled with a change the Alaska Board of Fisheries made this week to the Cook Inlet drift-net fisheries.
KTNA’s Phillip Manning reports:
The State of the Judiciary address can sometimes be a lofty affair, where the head of the State Supreme Court sets out a vision for what justice in Alaska should look like. This year, Alaska Supreme Chief Justice Dana Fabe delved into more pragmatic concerns, like the effect of declining revenues on the state legal system.
It’s means working smart and doing more with less, so that we continue to operate in the manner the constitution requires of us even in the face of of budget constraints.”
Fabe highlighted the work of retired justices who fill in to help manage case loads and the money the state is saving by filing documents electronically. State lawmakers rapped their knuckles on their desks as a form of applause when Fabe noted the court system had found other ways to pay for a sobriety program and was returning a $40,000 legislative appropriation.
This was Fabe’s eighth address to the Alaska Legislature.
More than five thousand Alaskans have signed up for health insurance on the federal marketplace. The new numbers released today include enrollments through the beginning of the month and show a 30% jump since the end of the December.
Tyann Boling is CFO of Enroll Alaska. She says she’s seeing at least a small increase in enrollments, even in the last week. Still, Boling is not impressed:
“You know I think it’s a far cry from what we were hoping for for the state of Alaska.”
Boling hoped the state would sign up 20 thousand people for health insurance by the end of the year. She thinks the troubled roll out of healthcare.gov made that difficult, if not impossible, to accomplish. Boling also says there are still a lot of Alaskans who don’t know about the Affordable Care Act:
“That’s always been our greatest challenge. I think we’ve done okay with getting the message out about us in the Anchorage area and some of our lager communities. But truly the challenge is to get people to understand what it means to them, what the benefit is for them and just to have them call to get a consultation.”
The federal report on enrollment includes figures for Medicaid. Alaska Governor Sean Parnell decided not to expand Medicaid in the state. But healthcare.gov has determined about 2,500 Alaskans are eligible for existing Medicaid coverage.
Ron Kreher directs the Division of Public Assistance. He says the number of Alaskans discovering they qualify for Medicaid is in line with what the department was anticipating. He’s pleased more low income Alaskans are going to get the healthcare they need:
“It matters a great deal. It means there’s roughly another 2,500 Alaskans that are going to receive healthcare service and access to healthcare that they many well not have had previously.”
Kreher says about 150,000 Alaskans are covered through Medicaid.
The open enrollment period for signing up for insurance on healthcare.gov lasts through March 31st. It’s a deadline Alaskans should know well, since it’s also the date Permanent Fund Dividend Applications are due.
Spending on construction projects in Alaska is expected to increase this year according to the University of Alaska’s Institute of Social and Economic Research. The 2014 construction spending forecast was put together by the ISER researchers for the Associated General Contractors of Alaska.
The researchers believe that construction spending in both the public and private sector will top $9.2-billion dollars this year. That’s up 18-percent compared to last year’s spending level. The number of those employed in the construction industry is expected to remain stable this year at around 16.3-thousand. ISER notes that most of the growth in private construction spending will come from the oil and gas industry. The forecast is that the private sector will spend over $4.2-billion dollars this year on construction projects. That’s up 33-percent compared to 2013. According to the forecast…. ConocoPhillips is scheduled to do quite a bit of exploratory drilling this year including developing the large CD-5 satellite, while BP has announced an expanded capital program this year that includes well work-overs in the Prudhoe Bay field. The other major oil company, Exxon Mobile, is expected to continue the work developing the Point Thomson field. The forecast also outlines the exploratory and development work planned for this year by several smaller oil and gas companies including ENI, Pioneer, Brooks Range Petroleum, Repsol, and Linc Petroleum. The recent uptick in activity in Cook Inlet is expected to continue this year. The forecast notes that Hilcorp, which recently purchased the assets of Chevron and Unocal, plans to drill around 10-new well this year. Other companies expected to be active this year in Cook Inlet include Buccaneer, Furie and Cook Inlet Energy.
While construction spending by oil and gas companies is expected to be up this year, spending by mining companies is expected to be down with a forecasted total of $205-million dollars. The researchers with ISER suggest that the drop in the price of gold is one of the reasons for the drop in spending. The forecast notes that spending for drilling and other site work will be down at the Donlin Creek, Pebble and Livengood projects. The forecast anticipates that spending by seafood processing companies will be significant with about $60-million dollars in expected spending this year on 2 seafood processing plants in Naknek. Construction spending on hospitals and health-care infrastructure is expected to be similar to last year’s level with the largest planned project at the Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage. That project will include a residential housing facility and a new parking garage.
Public spending on highways and roads is forecasted to be about $765-million dollars this year. That includes the Wood River Bridge to connect the North and South shores of Aleknagek. Public spending on airports, ports and harbors is forecasted to be about $425-million dollars. Spending on construction projects associated with education is forecasted at $477-million dollars this year. That includes the construction of a new school in Koliganak, which is expected to be largely completed this year. Construction will also get underway this year for the school in Quinhagak. The 2014 construction forecast also points out that the Coast Guard will be building a new hangar at Cold Bay along with new housing on Kodiak Island.
The construction industry in Alaska is a major player in the overall economy with well over 16-thousand official employees. However, the recently released forecast notes that there are an unknown number of “hidden” construction workers that work in other industries like oil and gas, mining, utilities and government. There are also an estimated 9-thousand self-employed construction workers in Alaska. The 2014 construction spending forecast for Alaska can be found on the website of the University of Alaska’s Institute of Social and Economic Research.