The gate agent announced to the passengers waiting to board it was my last flight through Fairbanks. While reviewing the flight paperwork, a gentleman approached, wanting to shake my hand, and wish me well in the upcoming retirement.
He was short, tan and fit looking. Across the front of his baseball cap it said, “World War II Vet.” He was 94. We chatted. He flew a B-17 bomber in Italy during the war. I quickly did the math. That would have made him 23 or 24. He would have been the “old man” on the airplane.
This summer I’ve been sharing war stories about those young flight crews serving in Europe, and the sacrifices they made. I’ve been volunteering as a pilot-docent on “Aluminum Overcast,” the Experimental Aircraft Association’s B-17 – a four-engine bomber known as the Flying Fortress.
I had the honor of talking with some of the surviving crew members. They may move a bit slower, (haven’t met one without a hearing aid) but they all remember. The missions, the excitement, the fear, the 0300 briefs, the bad eggs at breakfast, and the plane that brought them home safely.
Now, some 70 years later, we refer to those that served in WWII as the “Greatest Generation”. They were. Why did it take us so long to realize that?
Today’s military personnel? We haven’t labeled them yet. They’re just young men and women doing a job. The equipment has changed. Now it’s Blackhawks, C-17s, F-22s, and a variety of other sophisticated military equipment.
Our Alaskan soldiers are out there protecting our freedoms and striving to gain freedoms for others less fortunate. Some wear the uniform daily and others serve as Guardsmen, or citizen soldiers. They leave loved ones behind and deploy to Afghanistan.
Family members left behind sacrifice. Alone they cope with the daily crisis, be it a simple flat tire or a devastating car wreck. Parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and other extended family members are doing whatever they can to encourage and support. During deployments the nightly news is cautiously watched.
The threats today may be different than the B-17 crews experienced but the potential outcome is the same. Losing body parts from German flak or by driving across an IED in Afghanistan has the same result – a changed life.
It’s not only an enemy threat – but dare I say it – our own military too. Non-combat losses in the B-17 were as bad as the combat losses. Midairs, training accidents, equipment failures, and weather, all contributed significantly. We may have the best military in the world but our troops today still have to deal with training mistakes, bad equipment and sometimes less than stellar political/military decisions. Yet, they are still willing to serve and protect.
Names and faces of those Alaskans I have known who paid with the ultimate sacrifice are popping into my head. Remembering is good but I wish I didn’t have to – I wish they were still here getting old enough to someday earn their own respectful “generation nickname”.
So when you see them, the Greatest Generation, or those now serving – Stop. Take a moment – say thanks. When you see their families, parents, grandparents at Costco – Stop and say thanks. It doesn’t have to be Veteran’s Day and they don’t have to be grey haired vets.
A 32-year-old Ketchikan man has been charged for allegedly stabbing another man during an argument Friday morning.
Ketchikan police say they received a report of a fight at 832 Buren Road at about 8:45 a.m. The argument started with a disagreement over some property, and allegedly turned physical, with one man grabbing a knife and reportedly cutting the other man’s stomach.
Officers arrested Simon Milne, and charged him with felony third-degree assault. He was due to be arraigned Friday afternoon in Ketchikan District Court. The second man, who was not identified, declined medical attention.
Senator Mark Begich addressed the issue of Military Sexual Trauma Treatment at a roundtable discussion at the YWCA in Anchorage last week.
Begich says one of the prevailing topics of conversation was around the need for more research into measures to prevent sexual assault.
“Doing a brain trauma is one thing; doing mental health service is another,” Begich said. “Sexual assault – trauma for sexual assault – is a whole [different] issue that we need to have some good, solid data to understand what’s the right approach for prevention.”
Another topic that came up is the gap in coverage availability between the military and civilian sectors. Begich says those are gaps that he and his counterparts in Washington DC can help fill.
“So, if you’re a military personnel that’s gone through sexual assault trauma, that you don’t have to say, ‘Oh, I’ve gotta go only to the military operations, maybe I can go see a civilian provider and get the same service,’ and not have to have any stigma or anything attached to it because you’re a military member,” he said.
Begich says he will take the ideas from the roundtable back to Washington DC and see what can be done through regulation and legislation.
Outside room 119 at Juneau-Douglas High School, a sheet of paper taped to the wall says, “FOG MACHINE IN USE.”
It’s the Friday before Halloween, and the usually no-nonsense control room and JDTV News anchor desk is dressed with spider webs, skeletons, jack-o-lanterns, black lights, and strobes.
Eleven students put together a live, 10-minute television newscast every week for their video production class. They shoot the video, write the scripts, and edit their stories. On Fridays, they run the studio cameras, a control room full of intimidating buttons, dials and screens, and go on camera as anchors and correspondents.
It’s a hectic scene as students – several in costume – distribute last-minute scripts, set mic levels, practice camera moves and load teleprompters.
And then there’s freshman Jessie Gregg. She’s in front of a green screen wearing a green bodysuit that covers her from neck to toe. It’s a visual effects gag. Viewers should only see her disembodied head and gloved hands floating over the weather graphics.
The effects test goes well.
“It was a little weird not to see my body when I like, looked on the screen, but it was – it’s a pretty cool effect,” Gregg says.
Mikko (and he goes by his first name with the kids, too) is busy, but there’s another idle observer in the studio. Carin Smolin manages the school district’s career and technical education programs, which includes Mikko’s contract.
“Mikko’s doing a great job. He’s been doing this for several years with us. And we’ve, we’ve got a full studio here, and people need to know about it,” Smolin says.
Much of the gear the class uses was donated by KTOO.
Then, from the anchor desk freshman Jade Kalk belts out, “Ready for rehearsal!” Smolin takes her leave.
The rehearsal gets under way and the first few minutes go smoothly. Gregg begins her weather routine:
“Thanks guys, and now for the weather. You may have noticed a teensie-bit of rain –“
But Mikko interrupts her midsentence on the squawk box.
“OK, bit of bad news. We need to stop our rehearsal there, we have 25 seconds to air,” he says, then ticks off a very fast, but intelligible series of instructions to the students sitting next to him in the control room and his two camera operators in the studio on headsets.
“Reset to the top please, black on air, first graphics ready. Ready two. Make sure you have the right script loaded. Ten seconds to air. We are recording. Quiet please.”
But there’s an equipment problem, and resetting takes more time than they have. The flurry of chatter and activity in the control room continues while dead air stretches on.
Eventually, Mikko begins counting down.
“Ready? We’re gonna go in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 — take all.”
The program opens with Kalk dressed as a gypsy and ninth grader Mirriam Meredith as a hippie at the anchor desk.
“Welcome to a very spooky episode of JDTV News,” Meredith says before the first scripted gag of the show. Kalk and Meredith say, “DUN DUN DUUUN!” as Keegan Brown on camera zooms in dramatically.
About 10 minutes later, the newscast winds down. There’s usually a burst of chatter after getting the all clear, but today the reaction is muted. There are a lot of deep sighs.
Mikko calls everyone into the control room.
The broadcast started almost half a minute late and went too long for the 10-minute slot on local cable channel 6. Viewers saw black at the beginning, and the show cut off before the end.
“How did we end up with black?” Brown asks.
“Prompter had a problem,” Mikko says. “And we cannot go without the prompter at the start of the show. K? What caused that problem? We weren’t ready. The script was not ready by deadline. The deadline for the script is before class on shoot day.”
They continue through the debrief identifying more problems. The students get a lesson in responsibility and consequences. Individual problems pile on and affect the whole team.
And the fog machine? They never fired it up.
The bell rings, and the students set aside their television responsibilities for the weekend – Mikko, too. He’ll be out of town next week, so the next show is truly a test.One week later
A week passes with Mikko out of town. In his absence, Calvin Zuelow is directing. It’s his third year taking the class, which is an elective.
The scripts were closer to being on time. They got through the rehearsal with enough time to make some script changes. And even though a key piece of equipment crashed a few minutes before air, everything came together to hit their live slot on time.
“It worked OK, there were a few technical problems, but there’s always technical problems,” Zuelow says. “You can’t really always foresee those.”
This week, we’re heading to Larsen Bay, a small community on Kodiak Island. Kara Darling works for the tribal office in Larsen Bay.
“My name is Kara Darling. I live in Larsen Bay, Alaska and I work at the tribal office.
“Well, we are in a bay — Larsen Bay — so we are on the coast, you see the ocean and there’s mountain all around.
“We have about two roads and, um, when you first get there you would see the post office, the school and the city building which is pretty much the extent of our office buildings besides the tribal office and the clinic.”
“We’re known as bear country because we have a lot of bears, um, in Larsen Bay in the summertime. We have about seven different — I think seven — lodges that people come out to see the bears and do the fishing. I think we even had Jonathan Taylor Thomas out here I heard.
“Right outside the tribal there’s a creek that leads to the ocean. And during the summertime you can go out there and just see bears about 10-15 feet away eating fish; and they’ll pretty much just leave you alone or they’ll just eat the fish. And like this last summer me and my supervisor looked out the window and there was a big baby cub just standing on its hind legs about three feet from our office.
“It’s actually even illegal to walk up to our dumpster in the summertime; you have to have a motor vehicle because there’s so many bears.”
“We also have a cannery here, so there’s a lot of people who come from all over the world to work here during summertime.
“In the winter it’s very very quiet… we probably only have, I would say less than 60 people. In the summertime it’s a lot more busy because we have all the lodges open and we have the cannery open.”
“I’ve lived here about a year and a half now.
“The rent is really cheap out here, to be honest. That’s probably one of the best things.
“It’s nice to be in a small community — everybody knows everybody — and practically everybody is related.
“We just had a, this Halloween carnival at the school last weekend — that was a lot of fun. The kids put it on, um, they decorated the gym all spookily and did a cakewalk and sold hot dogs and that type of stuff — played games.”
Nearly half of all states have right-to-work laws that prohibit contracts between employers and labor unions requiring workers to pay union dues.
Alaska is not one of them. But with a Republican dominated legislature and executive branch, it is seen as a state where right-to-work legislation could pass. No bills have been introduced here since 2011, and the issue does not seem to be a priority for business or political groups.
On the other hand, labor groups remain concerned about right-to-work and other efforts to thwart collective bargaining, as evidenced by a union sponsored training this week in Juneau attended by members of about a dozen local unions.
Gordon Lafer is a professor at the University of Oregon’s Labor Education and Research Center and an associate with the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C. He’s studied the impact of right-to-work laws around the country and has an idea about how one would play out in Alaska.
“To cut to the chase, the impact would be to lower wages and benefits for both union and non-union workers, but not to do anything to draw jobs to the state,” he says.
Proponents of right-to-work laws often sell them as a way to increase employment in a particular area. But Lafer says the real goal is to weaken unions and workers’ rights in general. A study done by his colleagues at the Economic Policy Institute shows full-time employees in right-to-work states make about $1,500 less per year than employees in non-right-to-work states, regardless of whether they belong to a union. He also says workers are less likely get health insurance through their job in right-to-work states.
“The idea of right to work is to lower wages and benefits in hopes of drawing more manufacturers into the state,” Lafer says. “Because theoretically that’s why they would come, is because it’s cheaper because people make less.”
Lafer admits he’s not an expert on Alaska’s economy, but says it’s hard to believe manufacturers would flood to a state with such high transportation and shipping costs if right-to-work were enacted. Currently, manufacturing accounts for only about 4 percent of all jobs in the state, according to the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
“On the flip side, the things that are here and are the big industries, which is mining, oil, tourism, seafood, and government employment including the military, like, those things aren’t going anywhere,” Lafer says. “They’re here because of the natural resources of the state, and the real question is not how to get them here, but whether those are going to be decently paying jobs or crappy jobs.”
Local labor groups brought Lafer to Juneau this week to give union members a primer on right-to-work issues.
Alaska Public Employees Association Business Manager Doug Swanson moved to the Capital City about a year ago from Wisconsin, where he saw firsthand how quickly anti-union legislation can be adopted. It took less than a month for the Wisconsin Legislature to approve Governor Scott Walker’s bill restricting public employee bargaining rights. Swanson says the same thing could happen in Alaska.
“The trend right now nationally is to whittle away at the rights workers have, regardless of what state you’re in, blue state or red state,” Swanson says. “And so, yeah, I’m worried that if we wait, we’re just going to be forever watching an erosion of the working class.”
In many states, chambers of commerce are the ones pushing for right-to-work laws, but not in Alaska – at least not yet. Ryan Makinster, Communications Director for the Alaska State Chamber, says the issue didn’t even come up at the organization’s recent legislative policy forum. Juneau Chamber of Commerce CEO Cathie Roemmich, who serves on the U.S. Chamber’s Committee of 100, says right-to-work is not on her radar.
The last time right-to-work was introduced in the Alaska Legislature was 2011, when a bill by the late Republican Representative Carl Gatto went nowhere.
Rodney Hesson is the Assistant Business Manager for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1547 in Juneau. He says even though right-to-work does not appear to be a priority for business or political groups in the state, it remains a concern for unions.
“Right-to-work has been introduced previously. So this is just an ongoing conversation,” Hesson says. “And having more facts – reliable facts – to have a decent conversation about what we’re really talking about, that’s the main reason I’m here.”
In 2012, Alaska ranked second nationally behind New York in the percentage of its workforce covered by a union.
The right-to-work training was sponsored by the Juneau Central Labor Council, the Juneau Building Trades, and the American Federation of Teachers.
The Alaska Court of Appeals has found a former law was ambiguous with regard to whether it banned text messaging while driving.
The decision comes in the case of Tyler Adams, who in 2011 was charged with texting while driving. Magistrate Jennifer Wells granted Adams’ request to have the case dismissed, citing unclear language in the law.
While some lawmakers said they intended to ban texting while driving with the 2008 law, the appeals court, in a memorandum opinion, found the legislative intent in that regard was ambiguous “at best.” The law referred to driving with a “screen device operating” but didn’t mention text messaging.
Legislators in 2012 amended the law to spell out circumstances in which someone would commit the crime of driving while texting.
Winter has been late in coming, this year. Temperatures are only now starting to get to levels near the seasonal norms. While that has meant extra time to split wood and change vehicle tires, it has also meant that bears have been active later in the year than usual.
Early Tuesday morning, Talkeetna resident Ed Craver was awoken by his dog, Kusko, who was apparently having a bad dream. Ed managed to calm Kusko down and get him back to sleep.
“Then, half an hour later, I had just dropped back into sleep and I heard him growling. If you know my dog, he’s a ferocious beast.”
Kusko weighs less than twenty-five pounds.
“So, he kept growling and I got up and turned the yard light on, and there was a big, blond grizzly sitting on my little porch.”
Ed banged on his metal door and tried to make as much noise as he could, but the bear, which Ed estimates at six to seven feet long, only moved a few feet off the porch. That’s when Ed decided to retrieve his shotgun. He opened the door and the bear started toward him.
“So, I am obviously a little conflicted about what I should do. I know, if I close the door, that would just simply aggravate him even more, and I would have a bear in my house.”
Ed decided to shoot at the ground ahead of the adult grizzly. Between the bright flash of the gunpowder and the boom of the shotgun, the bear decided it was time to go elsewhere. Ed says it is the second time a bear, possibly the same one, has been around his house since the beginning of November.
He says that, in forty years living in Talkeetna, he’s never seen a bear this late in the year. Ed is not alone in spotting late-roaming grizzlies. At least two other listeners have contacted KTNA to say they have seen bears roaming near the Talkeetna Spur Road. Ed’s concern is that hungry bears roaming later than normal could pose a significant risk to people in town, especially children.
“I just…have shivers when I think about the prospects of a small kid out playing in the yard or something, and then suddenly comes upon a bear, then decides he needs to run away.”
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is aware of the impact that the long autumn is having on bears. Todd Rinaldi, a wildlife biologist with Fish and Game, says there have been significant effects on when bears are deciding to hibernate.
“There are a bunch of factors that dictate when bears go into hibernation: weather, the amount of light, snowfall, but one of the biggest factors is their ability to acquire energy and to continue to feed throughout the fall. When those food sources go away or become unavailable, that’s their final trigger to go into hibernation.”
With fewer fish in the rivers, and the berry crop all but gone for the year, bears are looking more and more to trash cans and other human-created food sources. Todd Rinaldi says that it’s still too early for people to relax on bear awareness.
“It’s a really important time of year for residents to secure their garbage, secure their dog food, or to make sure that the electric fences are working around their livestock to prevent bears from getting into chickens and things like that. One of the things the Department recommends is to hold off on putting out bird feeders until even later in the month, so that those food sources are not available as well.”
Todd Rinaldi says that bears aren’t the only wildlife being affected by the late arrival of winter. Moose along the road can be harder to see without a blanket of white to contrast against, wolves have a harder time catching prey, and many small animals that use snow for insulation or camouflage will be at a disadvantage until snow flies. As for the bears, he says as long as they can find food, they’ll likely hang around.
Alaska Housing Finance Corporation is overhauling the state’s public housing system.
Effective April 1, any family with one able-bodied adult in the household will see yearly rent increases. After five years, the assistance will end and they’ll be responsible for paying their own rent.
The changes will impact those renting public housing and those receiving voucher assistance to rent private units.
Brian Butcher, the executive director of the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation which runs the state’s public housing programs says the rent reform will free up Alaska’s overloaded public housing system, making room for only the most needy.
“What we’ve developed is what we call a rent reform program where we help educate and work with individuals that are in our public housing that can work to get jobs and to work and eventually move out of public housing,” Butcher said.
He says it’s all part of a national trend.
“There’s a real emphasis on housing agencies doing what they can to help people in the public housing to eventually get jobs and to move out a bit. so this is one piece of it that being done by a lot of housing agencies across the country,” Butcher said.
Since 2008, Alaska has been participating, along with 38 other agencies in 22 states, in a national demonstration program called “moving to work,” which is behind the rent reform.
The reason for the reform says Cathy Stone, director of the Public Housing Division of Alaska Housing Finance Corporation, there are simply too many people staying in public housing in Alaska for too long. And that creates huge waiting lists.
“Statewide, they’re extremely long. In fact we are going to be closing waiting lists around the state soon. We have over 10,000 people on our waiting lists. People are looking at 10 or 20 years of being on a waiting list. It’s not an efficient or effective way to manage our program,” Stone said.
Congressional sequestration cuts reduced their budget by 9 percent last March, and made rent reform more urgent. Seniors and people with disabilities will not see many changes. They account for about half of people in public housing in Alaska. Current residents age 57 or older will be grandfathered in. AHFC will work with those with serious medical expenses on a case-by-case basis. But households with at least one able-bodied person will be required to participate. Stone is tasked with overseeing the implementation of the program.
“This actual rent reform implementation has been about two years in the works of development, working with a consultant, analyzing other plans and coming up with our own,” Stone said.
Here’s how it works: In the first year, rent will be based on family income. In years two through five, they’ll be responsible for more and more of the rent. After year five, they can stay in their housing but won’t qualify for any assistance. They can go back onto the waiting list, but they’ll have to back to the bottom of the list.
Stone says renters will also get help from something called the ‘family self-sufficiency program:
“They get case management. We offer them courses. In fact we’re in the building right now where the Anchorage family self-sufficiency classes take place. Right next to us is a computer lab. People can come in, work on their computer skills through an agreement with the University of Alaska,” Stone said.
The program is currently only offered in Anchorage and Juneau but the plan is to offer it statewide soon. Officials say the rent reform program will impact about 2,500 families statewide. More than half of those families are in Anchorage. Stone says the transition to rent reform will be a challenge, but in the long run it will be good for the state.
“Going into rent reform is just being good stewards of the federal funds. The fact that we’re facing some budget cuts helps us in our need to make these changes, looking forward I think we will realize some savings,” Stone said. “Initially it’s really just a break even. But it’s a more efficient way of managing the program as well as a way of encouraging people to go out and find employment and become more self-sufficient.”
In Bush communities like Bethel and Nome, where there’s a severe lack of affordable housing, low vacancy rates and low-incomes, Stone says, AHFC is considering a hardship extension after the five years are up.
The program begins statewide next year in April.
People living in public housing and those receiving vouchers will be informed of how rent reform will impact them, by mail, in the coming weeks.
The Bureau of Land Management has conveyed the final 4,516 acres to the Hooper Bay Sea Lion Native Corporation as required under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. The entitlement lands are located are north east of Hooper Bay near the Askinuk Mountains.
The final arrangement included a transfer of 1,280 acres from Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge in exchange 1,481 acres of prime coastal wetlands and waterfowl habitat.
This modifies an exchange from March of this year when the corporation gave 5,154 acres of upland habitat to the Refuge. They received 13,208 acres of subsurface rights plus 2,499 of additional land in March.
Myron Naneng is Chairman and President of the corporation. He says the final arrangement could allow the community of 1,100 to expand.
“I think we’ll work with our own village of Hooper Bay to see what future expansion they might consider with the land we’ve gotten especially around the village so we could consider a community expansion, working with both the tribal and city government for the betterment and welfare of the with community,” said Naneng.
The lands for the refuge includes important wetland habitat for threatened birds like spectacled and Stellar’s eiders.
The corporation received some subsurface rights with exchange, which Naneng says could have some long-term advantages:
“At some point we want to get more subsurface estate so that maybe we can do oil and gas exploration if need be with high energy costs. We need to find ways to reduce energy costs around our village,” said Naneng.
The Sea Lion Corporation has received 188,160 acres since its ANCSA conveyances began in 1982.
From local weather conditions on the other side of the point, to plankton blooms to current changes to ice changes, it’s all becoming more available to mariners, researchers and subsistence users.
HOST: Steve Heimel, Alaska Public Radio Network
- 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, November 12, 2013 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.
Gay rights advocates are celebrating a win today in the nation’s capital.
The U.S. Senate has passed a bill to ban workplace discrimination against gay and transgender people. Both Alaska senators voted for it. But, the bill is unlikely to become law.
In the end, it wasn’t even close: 64-32. Sen. Mark Begich says the relative lack of controversy is a mark of how far the country has come on gay rights in recent years, and he thinks Alaska is no exception.
“I think Alaskans don’t believe in discrimination of any kind, and you shouldn’t discriminate in the workplace,” he said.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski was one of 10 Republicans who joined the Democrats in voting in favor of the non-discrimination bill, known by its acronym: ENDA.
Current federal law already bans employers from firing or refusing to hire based on race, sex or ethnicity, but in Alaska and 28 other states, no law expressly bans discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Murkowski said on the Senate floor the existing categories leave some people out.
“Those in the LGBT Community for whom discrimination on the bases of sex doesn’t apply, so what ENDA does, is it bridges that gap, and it is time that that gap is resolved,” she said.
It has an exception for churches and religious schools. Still, it’s unlikely to pass the House, or even come to the floor.
House Speaker John Boehner opposes it. He says it would lead to frivolous lawsuits.
Shell Oil is taking measures to revive its troubled Arctic drilling program.
On Wednesday, the company filed an updated Arctic exploration plan with the Alaska office of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.
John Callahan, a public affairs officer for BOEM, says even though it’s based off the exploration plan Shell used in 2012, it’s a lot shorter.
“And what Shell submitted just focuses on the changed parts,” Callahan said.
This time, Shell left their Beaufort Sea leases out of the plan, because the specialized Kulluk rig the company used for that region is still out of commission from when it ran aground in the Gulf of Alaska on New Year’s Eve 2012.
Callahan says the exploration plan will go through the same review process that BOEM used last time.
“The first thing that happens is we have our folks look over it and determine if all the components are there to launch a more thorough review,” Callahan said.
BOEM has 15 business days to request additional information from Shell, before launching into a 30-day review. At that time, Callahan says BOEM will put the exploration plan online and start taking public comments on it.
Shell isn’t taking questions from reporters about their drilling plans. But they put out a short statement this week saying, “We will continue to take a methodical approach to this exploration phase and will only proceed if the program meets the conditions necessary to proceed safely and responsibly.”
But that’s not enough to satisfy environmentalists. The Ocean Conservancy called the 2014 exploration plan “premature” and accusing the company of rushing back to the Arctic.
For now, Shell is the only oil company that’s publicly considering whether to drill in the Alaskan Arctic in 2014.
Statoil has announced plans to drill test wells in the Norwegian Arctic next year.
The Alaska Supreme Court is standing behind a decision it issued last spring, affirming that the state must consider cumulative impacts of exploration and development as it reviews oil and gas leases. Opposing sides in the case have differing views on the significance of the decision.
After serving as acting revenue commissioner for the past three months, Angela Rodell now officially has the job.
The department collects taxes and handles the investment of those funds, but most Alaskans know the commissioner for announcing the Permanent Fund Dividend amount.
Rodell joined the Department two years ago, and has served as state treasurer and as deputy commissioner. She replaces Bryan Butcher, who left the position to head the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation.
Rough weather is taking a toll on the grounded fishing vessel Arctic Hunter, which has been stuck on the rocks outside Unalaska since last Friday.
The 93-foot crab boat has survived a series of storms this week without breaking apart. But salvagers haven’t been able to work on the vessel since last weekend.
Dan Magone of Resolve-Magone Marine Services is in charge of recovery efforts.
“We’ve got seas building out there that are expected to stay [as] big onshore swells until sometime next week, so we’re not too sure when we’re gonna get back out there,” Magone said.
Meanwhile, Magone says debris like toolboxes and a survival suit from the Arctic Hunter is starting to wash up on the beach. He says he expects the vessel’s condition to keep deteriorating in the bad weather before salvagers can return.
“It basically just beats them apart,” Magone said. “The bottom gets split open, sometimes the propeller shafts get pulled out through the back and the engines and gears fall out of the bottom, and, you know, it gets pretty ugly.”
Before the weather turned, Magone says his crews pumped out about 9,000 gallons of fuel-water mix from the Arctic Hunter. More than half of that was fuel. Magone says there could still be fuel in some tanks below the water line, but there’s nothing they can do about that until weather calms down.
While they wait, Magone says they’re getting ready for the final push:
“Right now what we’re doing is gear up [sic] for the wreck removal phase of the project, and so we’re busy getting our small barge set up so that we can use it to support the diving and the other work that we need to do in the shallow waters there,” he said.
At this stage, all the Coast Guard can do to help is monitor the seas for an oil sheen.
Coast Guard public affairs officer Shawn Eggert says once the vessel’s off the rocks, the Coast Guard will start digging in to what caused the accident.
“The investigation can take anywhere from a month to a year,” Eggert said. “You know, in this case I don’t expect that it’ll take that long, but I haven’t gotten any kind of an estimate on how long they expect it’ll take.”
So far, the Coast Guard has said the skipper of the vessel might have been asleep at the wheel. And Unalaska’s police department says the skipper failed a breathalyzer test a few hours after the grounding.
Eggert couldn’t say if or when charges might be filed.
It’s been almost three years since a tsunami hit the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan, releasing radiation into the ocean. Computer models indicate the contamination will reach Alaskan waters this year or next. But scientists haven’t been able to regularly sample Alaskan waters to check radiation levels.
Juneau residents took their questions to healthcare experts Monday night and got them answered by Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium navigator Monique Martin, United Way navigator Crystal Bourland, chief operating officer for Enroll Alaska Tyann Boling, and chief administrative officer for Enroll Alaska Chanel Moesh.
1. What is the difference between a healthcare navigator and a healthcare broker?
As a navigator we are really just sort of there to help people navigate healthcare.gov. Brokers can really help people to give them specific direction and suggestions on what plans might best fit their situation, versus a navigator, we’re there to just help them through the process and couldn’t direct them to a plan that might best fits their needs.
2. Will I get the same information about healthcare plans from a navigator and a broker?
Yes. Brokers and navigators are both able to help people on the marketplace. A broker might have more options outside of the marketplace. For instance, I believe Aetna is one that’s really offering a lot of plans. But they don’t offer plans on the marketplace. So a broker would be able to give you more options whereas a navigator just helps you on those plans that are available at healthcare.gov.
3. When will the healthcare.gov website start working?
Currently the federal government has stated that by November 30, they expect to have the website up and functioning. Once we are confident in the subsidy calculation and the functionality of the marketplace, we will deploy in full force to get individuals enrolled.
4. Since the website isn’t working properly, I keep hearing that I can enroll by phone or mail. Is this true?
The bottom line is no. The website, healthcare.gov is the one location where individuals can enroll into the federally facilitated marketplace. If the website is not functioning, individuals cannot enroll over the phone.
5. What’s the difference between enrolling for an insurance plan through healthcare.gov and enrolling straight from a provider?
If you qualify for a government subsidy, the only way to enroll into a health insurance policy and have that subsidy apply to your premium is through healthcare.gov. If you do not qualify a government subsidy, you can go direct to a carrier.
6. How do I qualify for a government subsidy?
You qualify for a subsidy really based on your household income, so for household income, we use the federal poverty guidelines. If you’re somewhere in between 100-400% of the federal poverty line in this state then most likely you’re going to qualify for financial assistant – aka, a subsidy – to help you pay for your health coverage.
7. What is Alaska’s federal poverty line?
For an individual, it would be $14,350 all the way up to around $57,000. So 100% of the federal poverty line in Alaska is that $14,350 and then four times that is at that $57,000. So if you’re an individual and you are somewhere in between that income level, then most likely you’re going to get financial assistance in the marketplace and you should definitely pursue that.
8. If I’m Alaska Native and I use the tribal health options that are available to me in my community, do I have to enroll in a new health plan?
No, if you go to a tribal health facility, you can keep going there just like you’ve been doing, that stays the same, but you do need to sign up for that exemption called the Indian Status Exemption so you aren’t subject to a tax penalty at the end of the year.
9. Do military have to apply for an exemption like Alaska Natives do?
No, if you get benefits, VA benefits or any sort of veteran benefits, then you don’t need to prove or apply for an exemption. And then in addition, if you’re on government programs like Medicaid or you have Medicare then you don’t need to apply for an exemption. You’re considered someone who has health insurance.
10. And finally, I keep hearing about bronze, silver, gold packages. What are they?
All plans have to offer what are called ten essential health benefits. So if they are really offering the same coverage, they’re going to differ in this metallic rating of bronze, silver, gold. If you have a bronze plan you’re probably paying less per month but maybe more in your out-of-pockets expenses when you go to the doctor for your copays or deductibles. Compared to someone who has a gold plan, they’re probably paying more per month for their premium, but then when they go to the doctor, they might have a smaller copay or deductible as part of that plan.
Where can I find prices of different healthcare plans so I can start shopping around by myself?
On the bottom of healthcare.gov, there’s an option to preview plans that are available in your state. You just select Alaska and then you’ll see 36 different plans available on the marketplace, and you can start to see what your monthly payment will be. If you’re just shopping around, it won’t calculate or tell you what your premium subsidy would be to offset your costs, but it will start to give you an idea of what is available out there for Alaskans.
What do the acronyms ACA, FFM, and QHP mean? Are there other healthcare acronyms that I might need to know?
ACA refers to the Affordable Care Act, which is the health reform law, also known as Obamacare.
FFM refers to the Federally Facilitated Marketplace, and that includes Alaska. Alaska chose not to partner as a state with the federal government so we’re what’s called a federally facilitated marketplace and we’re using healthcare.gov as our route to apply for marketplace coverage.
QHP refers to Qualified Health Plans. They are covering essential health benefits, which make them qualified to be sold in the marketplace.
Besides acronyms, there’s a lot of health insurance speak, things like, ‘deductibles,’ ‘copays,’ ‘cost-sharing.’ If you’re not in the world of health insurance or if you haven’t gone through the process of finding a plan on your own before, that’s confusing. There’s a lot of insurance speak and jargon. If you’re someone who needs a breakdown of those, there are resources on Premera and Moda’s website as well as healthcare.gov, but seek out help whether through a navigator, an agent, an in-person assistor and ask those questions. Those are fundamental terms that you want to know to help you make an informed decision on your healthcare needs.
What information should I have prepared for when healthcare.gov does work?
Some things people should get together is – if you’re a family and you may have children – social security numbers, dates of birth, tax forms from the previous years, maybe pay stubs from 2013 to get an idea of what your income might look like for 2014. You might want to have a list if you have any special prescription drugs that you have to take so that we can compare plans and make sure the plan you select covers those prescriptions. Bring your list of doctors as well.
How can I find out what my subsidy might be?
There are different tools available to calculate your subsidy or what you might qualify for. On healthcare.gov, there is the Kaiser Family Foundation subsidy calculator and we’ve found that to be a pretty good guess. However I’d say that navigators, as well as licensed agents and brokers, do have some other tools that are more manual and include percentages, so they’re probably going to be a little more accurate. But if you’re just curious, you can definitely go to Kaiser Family Foundation calculator or go to healthcare.gov, type in subsidy calculator and you will find it. There are ways to get it online, but know that it’s probably not exact; it’s just a rough calculation.
What if I buy insurance in Alaska but move to another state?
You’ll have to change your policy to the state where you reside at that point in time. You’ll have a certain time frame that you can switch over that insurance and it should be a seamless transition of coverage. It ends on the 30th of the month and starts on the 1st of the next month. In your new state exchange or federally facilitated marketplace, they have to recalculate the subsidy based on where you are residing at that time.
Why did my insurance plan get cancelled?
Individuals are getting cancellation notices because those individual insurance policies do not meet the requirements of the Affordable Care Act and, therefore, they are being cancelled. Individuals will then have to go out and purchase new insurance. If they qualify for a subsidy, they need to purchase an insurance plan on the marketplace, which is healthcare.gov. If they do not qualify for a subsidy, they can purchase a plan on the marketplace or outside the marketplace.
So if my insurance plan got cancelled, I have to shop for a new one? My insurance company won’t just automatically enroll me into a new plan?
Insurance carriers will map your coverage over, but they won’t determine if you’re subsidy-eligible or not, so they’re encouraging individuals to see if they are subsidy-eligible when they go pick a new plan. Insurance carriers won’t just outright cancel you. For Moda and Premera – the two insurance carriers we have within the Marketplace – they will map you over to a new plan. They will send out the new plan and tell you at that point in time, ‘This is your time to make a plan choice. Stick with the one we’ve given you and take the premium increase, or go to the marketplace and determine if you’re subsidy-eligible.’
The cost of prep work on a new power plant that Municipal Light and Power is building is now double what it was budgeted at.
Anchorage Assembly grilled the power company’s manager the about increased cost at Tuesday’s meeting of the Anchorage Assembly.
The project, which is part of an overhaul of the city’s power system, was originally supposed to cost around $5 million. It’s now slated to cost nearly $11 million.
Assembly member Amy Demboski gave this overview of the situation to Assembly member Paul Honeman.
“Essentially ML&P had a contract to do dirt work on a site that’s a the pre-curser to a power plant. The initial contract was about 5.2 million. And six weeks into the project, Mr. Honeman, the contractor notified ML&P that there was going to be at least a $3 million overrun. ML&P knew that and did not tell the assembly,” Demboski said.
A memo from Mayor Dan Sullivan dated Nov. 5 asks the assembly for the additional funds.
The contractor is Roger Hickel Contracting. The job was to prepare about five acres of land in the Muldoon area for construction and development of the new power plant. The memo says the cost doubled for several reasons – from removal of excess unusable soils to delays due to migratory birds being in the area.
Assembly members considered suing the contractor, but were advised that could cost between $250,000 – $400,000.
The Assembly wanted to know how the cost for prep work for a new power station in Muldoon ended up doubling and whose fault it was, the contractor’s or ML&P’s?
When questioned ML&P General Manager, Jim Posey, had few specific answers.
“This contractor took absolutely every day of that hundred and some days – whatever the number of days it was allowed under title seven provisions to do that. So, was that an accounting problem for them in coming up with a number? I can’t tell you. But as soon as we had numbers we started negotiating and coming toward you guys with the problem,” Posey said.
Roger Hickel Contracting was contacted for this story. President Michael Shaw sent an email saying that his company has, “acted in good faith with ML&P in constructing the necessary improvements to accommodate the ML&P Power Plant Project in 2014.”
In addition to being over budget the contractor needed a 45-day time extension.
Posey is set to retire at the end of the year. He says the full cost of the new plant will be more than $250 million.
He says the extra cost for the prep work is already figured into the total budget for the project and added that he’s confident the Assembly will go ahead and pay the bill.
The University of Alaska Anchorage is hosting community engagement events this week. The focus is on being urban in Alaska. Bree Kessler is an assistant professor for Health Sciences at the center for community engagement and learning. She says on Saturday a pop up museum will appear for a few hours in a downtown neighborhood.
The idea of UAA engagement has been around for a couple years, this year focused on urban in Alaska and specifically engaging in your neighborhood. The idea is pulling together the university and the greater community, bringing the university into the community and the community in the university.
What is a pop up museum? A pop up museum occurs for a couple of hours.
Ours will be from 11 am to 3 pm in the parking lot of the Fairview rec center and the idea is that people from the community, and we’re working closely with the Fairview community council, they’ve been a great help to us, people in the community will bring pictures and artifacts that are important to them. It will go into these tents, the museum we’re creating and anyone who comes can look at the objects and reflect on them and write about them and the idea is to create more accurate public memory and history of what happening in that neighborhood and what can happen in that neighborhood.
Will you archive the pop up material somewhere or is this meant to be temporary?
It’s both. It’s meant to be temporary in the sense that it will only meant to be there for a few hours, but the overall plan is that we will scan all the objects and once we have some funding, we will archive it on an interactive website, so that people can see what objects and pictures that were brought to the pop up. And ideally this is part of the centennial projects going on around town over the next year and a half.
You mentioned having the community bring these pictures and momentos and also write about them. Are you hoping to have them write about things right on sight and leave that for part of the archive?
Exactly, we’ve created some sheets that have writing prompts on them. They’ll be in front of the objects or pictures and community members or visitors that come to the pop up museum can reflect on the spot what they’re seeing. For instance, if they see a picture they might write, I have this same picture at home or I remember seeing this house when I was little. Things that connect the community together and again create a better collective memory of what’s happening in the neighborhood.
Are there other pop up museums planned for other anchorage neighborhoods?
That’s the idea. That this is somewhat of a pilot project and we would work with other community councils and other courses. This was a project of the civic engagement course that I teach at the University, through the center of community and learning. So next semester perhaps we would work with another community to organize a pop up in their neighborhood.
There’s also some neighborhood walks being planned this weekend. What neighborhoods are on the route?
Most of the walks are taking place downtown and one is in midtown. They were dreamt up by students in my honor’s class and they’re Jane Jacobs walks. Jane Jacobs was a public space advocate who talked about getting to know your neighbors and walkable cities. So there’s walks that look at art and boutiques downtown. There’s one called the urban survivor and that’s in midtown, looking at REI and survivor skills and a gun shop and thinking about how to be a great urban survivor in Anchorage.
Is there a culmination of the walk?
The hope is the students will be leading and talking throughout the walk talking about public space and Anchorage and that the reflection will happen throughout the walk. Some of them do end in a particular place, but the idea is to meet new people and there’s not always great ways in cities for strangers to meet each other for spontaneous things to happen. So one of the walks is going to have a flash mob that will occur during it, so the idea is that people on the walk will get to meet other people who will see the flash mob happening and hopefully join in on the walk spontaneously.
That sounds like a lot of fun.
I think it’s going to be a very wonderful walk. That walk is called the Glow and it’s happening Friday night starting at 7 o’clock. It’s open to anyone, but really for people under 21 to show them some great places that they may not have thought about to spend time downtown. In a way to sort of re-appropriate public places in a way that have been utilized before in hot spots.