A Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson soldier is to be sentenced Monday on espionage charges. Army Specialist William Colton Millay, 24, a military policeman, pleaded guilty before a military judge in Anchorage in March to attempted espionage, issuing a false statement and communicating national defense information, among other charges.
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One of Petersburg’s small seafood processors is about to get a lot bigger. Tonka Seafoods has bought a long-unused cannery building and dock from Trident Seafoods.
“I’m excited, I’m excited to get out there and start moving things around and try to make a really nice plant outa that out there,” says Wendell Gilbert, President of Tonka Seafood’s. The custom fish processing company just finished buying the Mitkof Cannery building from Trident Seafoods, “So I was really looking forward to this. I’ve been waiting a long time and its just been taking forever to get done and I’m ready. I’m ready to go. Let’s go. Let’s do this.”
It’s a huge step for the small, local company. Seth Scrimsher is Chief Financial Officer, “There is a little bit of stress involved going from a smaller operation to making the leap to the larger operation but (I’m) definitely relieved that the deal is done. We’re out there. The first stage is done,” says Scrimsher.
Without going into detail on the price, Scrimsher says Tonka financed the purchase. He says the company needs to have as much working capital as possible for buying fish and other operations, so they weren’t able to purchase the building outright.
The plant is close to downtown Petersburg on Mitkof Highway, just past the ferry terminal. Gilbert says Tonka bought the waterfront Facilities, but not the warehouse closer to the road, “Everything has basically been stripped out of this plant. It is a bare bones project that we have to build back up from scratch. So we’re buying a shell of a building with a nice big dock. And we’re not sure how its all going to come together yet. We’re working on it. We’ve got plans. We’ve got people working on it already. And its just….come see us next year and you’ll see what we come up with.”
Tonka’s current plant is located on the first floor of a downtown apartment building and has no waterfront access to take deliveries from fishermen. Having a much larger facility as well as a dock will make a big difference for the company.
Scrimsher says Tonka has needed more space for a while, “We’ve kind of outgrown our existing facility over two years ago. So, we’ve been struggling in the small space we’re at. So, its probably been about a two to three year project. This plant became available last spring. So, we’ve been working on that for about a year.”
Gilbert and Scrimsher hope to have their whole business moved out to the new, roomier location by late May and continue with their normal operations for now.
“We anticipate to continue doing the same kind of work we’re doing here. We’re not goin g to stop doing custom processing right now. We’re going to keep doing the custom processing along with more processing at the new facility and making it easier to do the job much easier and faster so that’s going to help us a lot,” says Gilbert.
The company plans to build up the facility’s capacity to handle more fish over the next year.
Tonka currently processes less than a million pounds of fish a year, according to Scrimsher who says, with the bigger plant, they hope increase that to between six and seven million pounds for all species.
“There’s some things we need to do. We need to remodel the ice house. We need a little remodeling on the dock. So, yeah there is some facility work we’ll need to do before we can expand into the larger fisheries but we’re able to do it, kind of remodel as we go instead of all at once. So, that’s the plan,” says Scrimsher.
Scrimsher says Tonka employs six people year round and up to eighteen at the peak of the summer. Scrimsher hopes to double that once the new plant is fully geared up in a year or so.
Along with more salmon, he says the company will be looking to buy more halibut, black cod, pacific cod, rockfish and other species. They want to eventually get the equipment to process shrimp and they’d also like to expand into flounder, which has not been commercially fished since the 1970’s in Southeast. According to Gilbert and Scrimsher, the seafood market is showing renewed interest in those flat fish.
“We are interested in every potential that the oceans have to offer around here and us being a small, year-round company, we feel we can take advantage of smaller, kind of niche fisheries that the larger companies don’t have a desire to or aren’t open certain times of year to take advantage of them,” says Scrimsher.
They both credit Petersburg’s Community Cold Storage with helping their company grow to the point that it could make this move.
Gilbert says the public facility made it possible for his business to fill much bigger orders, “Without that local cold storage, we would be having a serious problem trying to store fish. Because, especially now that we’ve gone into these bigger projects, we’re bringing in fish by the container load and we have no storage here. So, without that Petersburg cold storage there, we would not have been able to do this at all.”
The community cold storage is owned and operated by the Petersburg Economic Development Development Council. PEDC coordinator Liz Cabrera think’s Tonka’s expansion to the Mitkof Cannery will do a lot for the community.
First, she says it’s great to see a local company investing so much here in town, “Secondly, seeing them use a facility that has laid dormant for a few years, so putting that asset to work is also great for our town. As a fishing community, we all know anytime more seafood is landed, crossing the dock here, it’s good for the borough coffers. Its good for employment. It’s good for brinGing more fishing boats to town. So, the multiplier effect, if you will, is great. It’s fantastic and we really are excited to see what Tonka’s doing and their prospects for the future.”
The Mitkof Canery dates back to the 1950’s, according to Tonka’s Gilbert, who says they’ve done extensive surveys and everything looks sound. The facility last canned fish in 2003 when it was owned by Norquest Seafoods which bought the plant in 1999. Trident bought Norquest in 2004.
And in the interests of full disclosure, the author of this article works as a commercial troller in his spare time and has sold fish to several of Petersburg’s local processing plants, including Tonka.
The time has come to stop talking and start acting when it comes to changes in the Arctic.
That was the message of a talk to the Juneau World Affairs Council this week by Alaska Dispatch owner and publisher Alice Rogoff.
Next week she will be in Washington, D.C. with Iceland’s President to announce a new nonprofit designed to promote international cooperation on Arctic issues.
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It’s not easy to get people to fork over hard-earned cash. Even for a good cause. But over the last decade Juneau resident Marc Wheeler has perfected the art of fundraising for the annual Big Brothers Big Sisters’ Bowl for Kids’ Sake. Wheeler has a secret weapon that involves throwing in some extra fat.
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This week we’re going to the village of Platinum, near Dillingham on the Bering Sea Coast. Mark Moyle is the Mayor of Platinum.
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It’s time to find out what’s new in renewable Energy in Alaska. From wind farms to DC power-lines, from giant dams to mass produced solar cells, from tidal turbines to super-insulated homes, it comes up at the annual “Business of Clean Energy” conference, and we’ll get a preview on the next Talk of Alaska.
HOST: Steve Heimel
- Chris Rose, Executive Director, Renewable Energy Alaska Project
- 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, April 9, 2013 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.
In a short court decision Wednesday, the Akiak Tribal Court voted to banish an alleged bootlegger and drug trafficker from the village indefinitely.
31-year-old Joseph Miranda, of Anchorage, failed to call in to the hearing yesterday afternoon. According to Akiak Tribal Court officials, Miranda had not responded to three notices, several calls and an ad in the regional newspaper informing him of this court proceeding.
“It is very, very hard to deal with these issues. It’s hard on the family. It’s hard on all of us. It’s hard on the staff, the tribal court staff, to initiate this kind of thing. But when we see children suffer. When we see domestic violence and everything else, and our young people committing suicide. It creates a lot of problems with our children and with our families. We have been living with this for a long time in Akiak,” Tribal Leader Mike Williams Sr. said during the trial.
“It is very, very hard to deal with these issues. It’s hard on the family. It’s hard on all of us. It’s hard on the staff, the tribal court staff, to initiate this kind of thing. But when we see children suffer. When we see domestic violence and everything else, and our young people committing suicide. It creates a lot of problems with our children and with our families. We have been living with this for a long time in Akiak.”
The small crowd that turned out to hear the decision clapped and cheered.
Longtime Akiak resident Lena Foss said she was proud of the court’s decision.
“I’ve witnessed it, I’ve seen it. You know it’s a hurtful thing to see our community members, my brothers, my sisters, my relatives drunk because of the situation, the people that come and bootleg. I’m an alcoholic myself; I drank from, you know, buying a bottle from him, too. I’m glad they’re doing this. It put a halt to the community, where it’s hurting the community members,” Floss said.
After the hearing, Williams looked relieved sitting on a bench in the back of the room. He says the ball is now in Miranda’s court.
“He needs to contact us. And we will be issuing the order for the tribal police, VPSO (Village Public Safety Officer,) that when he’s seen here he’ll be taken into custody until the tribal court meets with him. And also the tribal council, as ordered by the tribal court judges. So he is banned from Akiak until then.”
Some Ballots Thrown Out of Anchorage Election Because of Officials’ Error, New results expected Friday
(Dennis Wheeler reading names of some ballots being considered for rejection.)
That’s municipal attorney Dennis Wheeler reading the names of a few of the voters whose ballots were rejected during the Public Canvas Thursday evening.
More than 100 questioned ballots were rejected. Ballots were rejected for a variety of reasons – because they were cast in a district in which the voter was not registered, because they were postmarked after election day or because the voter who cast the ballot was not registered at all, among others. The eight-person Election Commission conducted the canvas with help from the clerk’s office and the municipal attorney. Tom Cresap drove all the way from Eagle River to protest his ballot being thrown out. He says he cast an in-person absentee ballot at the Chugiak Senior Center on election day. He did everything right but,
“One of the guys at the polling place there, just didn’t sign off on it. Everything else was correct. I filled everything in, signed everything, voted correctly, did all that stuff.”
Cresap was one of 11 voters whose ballots were rejected not because of any mistake of their own, but because an election official failed to sign off on them. The election commission voted unanimously to throw all 11 ballots out, arguing that they had sworn to follow municipal code, which states that votes may not be counted if election officials fail to sign off on them. That doesn’t sit well with Cresap.
“I’ve been voting here for 48 years and I voted the same way I’ve always voted. There was nothing irregular. I didn’t do anything wrong, like voting twice or anything like that. My vote has always been counted before.”
Cresap said that he felt the Election Commission should have made an exception and counted the 11 ballots without the election officials signatures. In addition, he said that the clerk’s office should better train their election workers insure they sign off on the ballots that they’re responsible for. Furthermore, Cresap said the municipal code needs to be changed so that no other voters have his experience. The write-in candidate in the tight west Anchorage race, Nick Moe watched the canvas attentively. He told Cresap that he hoped something good could come of the mishap.
“You know, I really believe that every vote should count. I still have concerns over the fact that it was out of their control. They didn’t get a chance for their vote to count because an election person didn’t sign it. And we saw that here tonight, and it was pretty disappointing. It would be one of the first things I would change on the Assembly is to allow the city code to reflect the state law that allows for votes to count, even if they were not signed.”
The commission accepted a few ballots – one where a voter’s drivers license number didn’t match the one on her questioned ballot. That voter protested, officials checked her birthdate, found it was correct and counted her vote. Another two were ballots that were accepted, were requested by fax, after the deadline, which was a week before the election. The ballots were faxed back on election day. Members of the public argued that state code allows voters to request a ballot by fax until 5pm the day before the election. The public canvas lasted several hours. Voters are watching the west Anchorage Assembly race closely where write-in candidate Nick Moe trails Assembly Chair Ernie Hall closely, by just 93 votes. The remaining ballots are scheduled to be processed through an Acu-vote machine today and the clerk’s office anticipates that new election results may be available before the close of business on Friday. A hand count of the West Anchorage District is scheduled for Saturday.
Alaska is set to put a “Stand Your Ground” law on the books.
On Thursday night, the Senate passed a bill that would get rid of the duty to retreat if a person feels threatened, so long as that person has a right to be in that place.
About two dozen states have similar self-defense rules. The Alaska legislature considered a comparable bill last year, but the legislation stalled after the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed Florida teenager. That homicide attracted national attention because the shooter was not initially charged with any crime because of the Stand Your Ground law.
The bill passed 15 to 4, with Anchorage Democrat Bill Wielechowski teaming with Republicans to support the measure. The House approved the measure last month.
The legislature has approved a plan allowing for natural gas to be trucked from the North Slope down to Fairbanks. It’s seen as a way of bringing down energy costs in the Interior.
The bill creates a $355 million financing package made up of low-interest loans, bonds, credits, and grants to set up a system where private industry would supply natural gas to the region at half the price of heating oil.
Rep. Tammie Wilson, a North Pole Republican, said that the bill would help combat the Interior’s’ pollution problem by giving residents a better energy option than they currently have.
“The reality is we use wood and coal — we burn wood and coal — in the Interior because it is what we can afford to do,” said Wilson.
The bill passed unanimously in the House after sailing through the Senate.
It started with an unusual storm that passed over the North Pole on Feb. 8. The National Snow and Ice Data Center says it caused the sea ice to crack, and the cracks to spread in a curving pattern, from the tip of Alaska to Canada. Similar patterns have appeared in the past, though not of this scale.
What usually happens is the leads freeze back up, but Assistant Professor Andy Mahoney of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute just got back from several days of helicopter overflights out of Barrow.
“This year it’s been pretty persistent, and I think that’s really what marks this year as being different from the other examples that we’ve seen,” Mahoney said.
Geologist Richard Glenn of the Barrow Arctic Science Consortium has been watching the sea ice phenomenon closely.
“It’s basically unzipped the whole ice cover along the coast from Cape Lisburne all the way to the Canadian high Arctic, and we saw it here,” Glenn said. “It was impossible to miss of course.”
There has been a trend of sea ice freezing up later and breaking up earlier for decades, but the ice has also been getting thinner. And in recent years, the remaining thicker ice, formed over a period of several years, has been breaking up and flushing out. Mahoney says this winter, their intensive helicopter search found none at all.
“We went looking for multi-year ice, we were hoping to find maybe some small isolated floes that the satellites hadn’t picked up, and we didn’t see any sign of multi-year ice,” Mahoney said. “So we do believe that the Beaufort at the moment is pretty much devoid of multi-year ice.”
There is plenty of theory, but the reality is that nobody knows how this thinner, so-called “new” ice is going to behave. The giant leads that appeared in February may have been triggered by a storm, but their persistence could have more to do with the ocean’s internal heat dynamics. Warm water flows into the Arctic from the south, but it mostly stays deep, with colder meltwater on top of it. With less ice, the ocean is darker and that upper layer absorbs more heat from the sun. Scientists have not been able to pin down which heat source might be involved in weakening the winter ice.
One thing Mahoney knows for sure is that warm water has shown up right next to shore at Barrow.
“We have a measurement site in the landfast ice at Barrow, and what we observed just a few weeks ago was actually melting of the ice, even in winter,” Mahoney said. “And we saw five centimeters of melt, in pretty much just a single day, and that appears to be related to a warm pulse of water passing underneath the ice.”
That open water is right in front of town, says Richard Glenn.
“And we don’t even need the space images to see it,” Glenn said. “It’s right in front of our front window.”
Subsistence whalers are concerned about the open water lead. They can usually count on a sturdy layer of ice along the shore that allows them to travel out to set up their camps near the Bowheads’ migration path, but longtime North Slope Borough whale biologist Craig George says this year is different.
“You know the ice broke right to the beach, which typically doesn’t happen,” George said. “It didn’t happen in the past as much, when there was heavy multi-year ice mixed in with the landfast ice.”
The ocean’s heat budget is at the root of a major dispute between climate scientists. Computer modelers expect an ice-free Arctic by 2030 or 2040, but a growing number of field scientists say there must be some things the modelers do not understand about local conditions and they expect ice free conditions within just a few years.
A measure that would put the state in charge of school districts’ health plans is speeding through the legislature.
Right now, school districts negotiate their own health insurance plans. This bill would change that by allowing a state commissioner to select a plan for all districts, essentially putting all educators into one big insurance pool. The idea is that the larger the pool, the lower the rates.
A number of school districts have offered their initial support for the bill. On Thursday, the Mat-Su School District testified that such a change could save them over $5 million. Bruce Johnson, director of the Alaska Council of School Administrators, also called in to say he likes the proposal.
“If there’s a means to create efficiencies, we stand behind the effort. SB90 provides a vehicle creating a large pool of employees from all school districts, with the state administering the program on behalf of school districts.”
But opinion on the bill isn’t universally positive. The Unalaska City School District is opposed to the idea of a mandate, and a group representing 350 employees from the Anchorage School District have said that the change could actually raise rates for those people.
There are also concerns that the bill has been moving too quickly, and that the legislature has not studied the full costs to school districts or the state. Companion bills were introduced in the House and Senate two weeks ago. While they had been assigned to the education committees in both chambers for review, those referrals were removed.
The pacing of the bill came up during a finance committee meeting when Sen. Mike Dunleavy, a Wasilla Republican who sponsored the bill, asked National Education Association representative Rhonda Kitter for her group’s take on the bill.
DUNLEAVY: Is your group against the bill? Is your group against what you perceive the speed at which the bill is progressing? Could you clarify that for me?
KITTER: Our group is against the bill because of the speed at which it is progressing. We do not feel there has been sufficient notification to the employees or sufficient research into the impact.
The legislation is now in its final committee of review in both chambers. With the legislature scheduled to gavel out on Sunday, the bill could be held over until next year’s session.
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Before it even gets to the new laws, the Senate needs to agree to talk about them.
The byzantine rules of the Senate are contained in the 1600 page book Riddick’s Senate Procedure: Precedents and Practices.
One rule in particular has dictated the Senate for the past few years: cloture. Cloture allows debate to begin in the Senate, and it requires 60 votes.
Freshman Senator Brian Schatz read the tally of the cloture vote.
“On this vote the yeas are 68, the nays are 31, 3/5ths of the Senators duly chosen and sworn having voted in the affirmative, the motion is agreed to.”
And with that less-than-plain English, the Senate begins debating the first new gun measures in nearly two decades.
The core bill calls for universal background checks on gun sales, stiffening penalties for straw purchases, the practice when someone buys a gun legally for someone who can’t, and increasing school safety.
“The base bill that we were filibustering, in the sense of the cloture vote, was problematic for, what I have heard, Alaskans on a pretty regular basis,” Sen. Mark Begich said Thursday afternoon.
Senator Begich joined 28 Republicans and one fellow Democrat in filibustering to force a cloture vote.
There will be many attempted amendments, and the bill will look different weeks from now than it does today.
Two amendments are guaranteed to get votes: one regulating the size of magazines, the other an assault weapons ban.
Senator Begich said he’s talking with Majority Leader Harry Reid about allowing a vote on one of his amendments. That amendment would force states to enter people who are legally barred from owning a gun into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
“When you have 600,000 people across the country, about 2,000 in Alaska, Alaska being one of the 22 states that doesn’t put any of this information into the NICS system when someone has been deemed mentally incompetent and shouldn’t posses a firearm,” Senator Begich said.
Senator Begich said he’s had minimal contact with the state Department of Law or the state Court System about entering those 2,000 names. He talked to state legislators about the issue when they visited D.C. earlier this year.
Senator Lisa Murkowski, who has repeatedly called for regular order – that process of debate and amendments – voted against it.
In a crowded subway underneath the Capitol, she said she worries that bringing the bill to the floor would strengthen the chance of an assault weapons ban; something she calls a nonstarter.
One of the first amendments would expand background checks to gun shows and online sales, while excluding private sales.
Senator Murkowski said Alaskans “would not tolerate” background checks for person-to-person sales, but would not say whether she supports them at gun shows and online.
While the Senate has cleared a major 60 vote hurdle, more votes are in store. Each amendment will need 50 votes to pass.
Once every amendment is finalized and the final package crafted, there’s another 60 vote threshold, to end debate.
Then the Senate would vote on final passage, but nobody has any idea when that will be.
The House Finance Committee released their version of a bill that would overhaul the state’s oil tax policy on Thursday. It’s forecasted to cut taxes by $3.5 billion over the next five years, a smaller amount than the last proposal. That number is expected to appease swing votes on the bill.
Like all other drafts of the bill, the House Finance version would get rid of progressivity, a mechanism that raises taxes on oil as the price per barrel goes up. Instead, it would set a tax ceiling of 35 percent for all oil. When it comes to oil extracted from legacy fields, producers would get a credit that operates on sliding scale of sorts, with that credit getting smaller as oil companies are seeing higher profits. At a price of $80 per barrel, producers would get an $8 per barrel credit, with the credit disappearing entirely if prices climb past $150 per barrel.
It would treat new oil somewhat differently. The state would let a fifth of oil coming from new fields go tax free, while offering a flat $5 per barrel credit on the rest of it.
With the legislature scheduled to gavel out on Sunday, this should be one of the last major revisions of the bill.
The Kobuk 440, Kotzebue’s annual sled dog race kicked off at 12:30 this afternoon. 18 mushers signed up this year and Kobuk 440 board President Liz Moore says this numbers on the high end. She says they did have to make some team changes before the race got started.
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The National Park Service released its compendiums for 2013 this week. They outline this year’s designations, closures and restrictions for national parks and preserves. Some of the changes to Alaska’s compendiums this year come in response to state policies regarding predators like wolves and bears.
The National Park Service received more than 59-thousand comments last year as the agency set to work compiling changes and revisions to this year’s rules and regulations regarding Park Service managed land. John Quinley is the Park Service Spokesman for the Alaska Region. “There were some actions taken by the state board of game extending the wolf hunting and trapping season and coyote season,” says Quinley. “They also in certain areas allowed the baiting of brown bears. In both of those cases, we have taken actions to dial the season back leaving the wolves unaffected at the den to raise their pups and to stop bear baiting in national preserves.”
Quinely says state policies are not in keeping with the Park Service’s federal mandate. Doug Vincent Lang is the Director of Alaska’s Division of Wildlife Conservation with the Department of Fish and Game. He disagrees. “Congress gave them organic legislation to manage their parks, but we feel that the organic legislation should be viewed through the lens of the subsequent ANILCA legislation that created some of these additional parks and preserves in Alaska and that the default should be the allowance of hunting and fishing as long as it doesn’t affect the conservation of those species.”
ANILCA, or the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act was passed by Congress in 1980. It designated over 100 million acres of land in the state, to be managed federally by the Park Service, Forest Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service. Vincent Lang drafted a lengthy letter in opposition to changes in the Park Service Compendiums this year. He says he doesn’t think the agency adequately responded to the state’s comments. “They readily acknowledges that the restrictions on hunting opportunities are not based on conservation concerns, that is it’s not affecting sustainabilities of wolves, coyotes or bears,” says Vincent Lang, “but it’s based on some subjective value system. We asked for how they quantitatively or even qualitatively reached that assessment and none of that information was provided to us.”
But John Quinley says the Park Service responded as the state advised. “We have asked on numerous occasions that the Board of Game exempt national preserves from some of the wildlife provisions that we feel liberalize hunting and trapping season and methods and means too far,” he says. “They have essentially told us to use our own process which is the compendium process.”
Quinley says both agencies cooperate well on joint research projects, but that direction from Congress and that coming from Alaska’s legislature differ fundamentally. Doug Vincent Lang says the state will review the compendiums before taking any action.
In a release today, the National Park Service states the wolf population in the Yukon-Charley National Preserve has decreased by 50 percent since last fall. The Park Service says the decline “coincides with predator control efforts by Alaska Department of Fish and Game conducted near the preserve.”
In November, Park Service biologists counted 80 wolves in nine packs in the region. They say hunters and trappers typically take about six wolves near the Preserve each winter. This spring, biologists took advantage of the late season snow fall to survey wolves in the Preserve by air. They counted up to 39 wolves in six packs. The agency says it‘s the steepest decline on record for wolves in the Yukon-Charley National Preserve.
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A farmhouse built in Palmer in 1935 has been added to the National Register of Historic Places. The Campbell House was one of the original Matanuska Colony farmhouses.
The house is a rare example of an intact frame-built home from the colony period that still has historical and physical integrity. It joins more than 15 other Colony properties already listed on the Register, according to Judy Bittner, state historical preservation officer.
The house gets its name from George and Onabelle Campbell of Michigan, who drew Lot 54 in the lottery held for colonists to receive farm sites.
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A state fine particulate pollution implementation plan for the Fairbanks area due out this summer, will likely include burn bans. The yet to be released plan for getting Fairbanks into compliance with federal air quality regulations was previewed this week.
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Officials in Galena continue laying the groundwork to fund a community-wide woody biomass project.
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