Alaska News

Shell To Restart Chukchi Drilling This Summer

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-01-29 09:06

Shell plans to restart its drilling work in the Chukchi Sea this summer.

The company still needs federal permits and to resolve legal challenges. But CEO Ben Van Beurden told reporters in London today he’d be very disappointed if the company can’t proceed. The chief executive told the BBC Shell is as prepared as any company can be to mitigate the risks.

Shell put its plans for the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas on hold after its disastrous 2012 season

Categories: Alaska News

State Makes Offer On Interior Utility

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-01-28 19:59

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The State of Alaska plans to purchase Fairbanks Natural Gas, a utility that serves the Interior.

The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority has signed a letter of intent to buy its parent company, Pentex Alaska Natural Gas, for $52.5 million.

In a news release sent Wednesday, Gov. Bill Walker described the move as an effort to bring “energy relief to Interior Alaska.”

The purchase will require approval from AIDEA’s board and the Legislature.

Categories: Alaska News

Legislators Scrap Marijuana Bill With Controversial “Defense” Provision

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-01-28 17:53

Law-makers in Juneau have scrapped the first bill to try tackling the initial phase of full marijuana legalization in Alaska. Anchorage Republican Gabrielle LeDoux co-chairs the joint Judiciary committee that met for the second time Wednesday, and opted not to move Senate Bill 30 or the House versions introduced last week.

“We’re not gonna do anything more,” LeDoux said at the start of the hearing, “until these bills come back from legislative drafting in a form that we feel reflects the will of the people.”

The most controversial part of Senate Bill 30 was its use of what’s called an affirmative defense as the mechanism for decriminalization. The provision offered a legal defense for anyone brought to court for possessing an ounce or less of marijuana after a change in the legal status next month, which critics testified was both confusing and cumbersome at a haring on Monday.

Most of Wednesday’s testimony came from Cynthia Franklin, head of the Alcoholic Beverages Control Board, which is tasked with overseeing regulation as different components of a burgeoning marijuana industry are decriminalized. Franklin told the committee marijuana needs its own board for oversight. Rather than tacking on more duties to the ABC Board and trying to balance fair representation from both industry and public health advocates, she advises a separate body that’s still housed under the state’s Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development.

“We really don’t have marijuana regulators standing in a closet somewhere waiting to be just brought out and placed on this board,” Franklin explained.

“This is a new industry, it is a new substance to regulate in a regulatory manner versus a criminal enforcement manner,” she continued. “And I believe that the individuals who have the most experience in the kinds of problems that can come up with licensing individuals in a business setting to deal with a dangerous substance are the very people we have on our staff here.”

Franklin believes Alaska has a good opportunity to learn from lessons on legalization in Colorado, and proactively legislate regulations on the budding industry.

Members of the Judiciary committee are hoping to pass legislation that gives guidance to law enforcement and the public before February 24th.

Categories: Alaska News

Project Homeless Connect connects vulnerable communities with services

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-01-28 17:45

People wait in line for free haircuts at Project Homeless Connect at the Egan Center in Anchorage. Hillman/KSKA

More than 1,000 Anchorage residents experience homelessness every year. Some live in temporary or emergency housing, others are on the streets. Though Anchorage has dozens of agencies to help people, reaching them all is difficult. In comes Project Homeless Connect. The yearly, volunteer-run, donation-funded event brings services providers together to connect people with information and some immediate help.

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50-year old John peers through wire-rimmed glasses surrounded by a halo of thick curly graying hair and a bulky salt and pepper beard. He sits down in front of a volunteer hair stylist and puts in his request.

“I want this off of my face, can you do that?” he says, pointing to the six months of beard growth. “And I want a high and tight,” meaning he wanted most of his hair chopped off in a military style.

John ,who didn’t want to give his real name, is getting a free hair cut at the Project Homeless Connect event in Anchorage. He says a new, clean look will help him.

“So if I get rid of that,” he says, pointing to his mane, “maybe the girls will look at me more.”

John says it with a straight face then grins. His real reason?

“It’ll help me maybe find a job. And I have a problem with the winter because icicles get on my whiskers.”

John is currently homeless. He’s mostly been living in shelters for about four months, since his last construction job.

“It’s not very fun.” He pauses. “Too many people.”

John says he feels crowded in the shelters but sleeping in the cold isn’t comfortable either. Sitting on his lap is a check list of things to do at the event. After his hair cut he wants to learn about housing options. He says it will get him away from the alcohol on the streets.

“Because it’s not healthy. And I need to move on and I need to make it better for myself so I can be reliable so I can get this job I want.”

Project coordinator Trevor Storrs says the event is aimed at connecting people who are experiencing poverty or homelessness to necessary services.

“It takes about 50 miles to travel to get all the services that somebody needs, whereas here it takes about 50 steps.”

Different organizations are signing people up for public assistance, issuing state IDs, giving applications for housing options, offering health exams, and more. This is the 13th time the event has been held in Anchorage since it started in 2007.

Storrs says it’s also about raising awareness in the community about everyone who experiences homelessness. “We encourage all people when they are looking at those people on the corner, to remember that is not always the face. That’s just the visible. There’s a huge invisible face out there that are the families and the children, as well as the working poor” who also need permanent housing.

Back at the hair cutting station, the last of John’s locks tumble to the ground.

“What do you think?” he asks. “Does it look good?”

“You look like a different person!” I respond. Without the beard his face is a completely different shape, his nose and eyes seem much larger.

“I knew I would, that’s why I’m doing it. When I get home they’re gonna say ‘Intruder! Intruder!’”

He grins into the mirror and says he’s already encouraged.

“Someone told me I could get a job now. Said ‘Now you can get a job’ since I got the hair cut.”

He dusts off his shirt and heads off to learn about housing.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: January 28, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-01-28 17:37

Stories are posted on the APRN news page. You can subscribe to APRN’s newsfeeds via emailpodcast and RSS. Follow us on Facebook at alaskapublic.org and on Twitter @aprn.

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Lawmakers Scrap Bill Addressing Pot Legalization

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

Law-makers in Juneau have scrapped a bill that attempted to address the first phase of full marijuana legalization in Alaska. Anchorage Republican Gabrielle LeDoux co-chairs the joint Judiciary committee and at a hearing today said they won’t move the senate or house versions of the bill.

Anchorage Assembly Bans Marijuana From Public Use

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

The Anchorage Assembly voted unanimously Tuesday night to ban public consumption of marijuana.

State To Appeal Education Funding Lawsuit Ruling

Leila Kheiry, KRBD – Ketchikan

The State of Alaska announced today that it will appeal a final ruling by Superior Court Judge William Carey in favor of the Ketchikan Gateway Borough’s long-held argument that the state’s required local contribution for public education violates Alaska’s Constitution.

The state also will ask for a stay on Judge Carey’s ruling while the appeal is considered by the Alaska Supreme Court.

Murkowski Swings at Obama’s Arctic Wilderness Plan But Misses

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

Sen. Lisa Murkowski on Wednesday failed to land her first counterpunch at the Obama administration’s new Arctic conservation policies.

With Greater Numbers, Democrats Hope For More Leverage Over Medicaid Expansion

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

House Democrats plan to use their increase in numbers as leverage when pushing for Medicaid expansion.

Donlin Gold Closes Camp During Permitting

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

Donlin Gold is shuttering its camp at the site of its gold deposit near Crooked Creek.

Sugar Creates Genetic Trouble For Coastal Alaska Natives

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

The idea that traditional diets are best for coastal Alaska Native people is being further confirmed by the discovery of a gene deficiency that doesn’t allow their systems to process sugar.

Project Homeless Connect Brings Services, Information To Anchorage’s Homeless

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

More than 1,000 Anchorage residents experience homelessness every year. Though Anchorage has dozens of agencies to help people, reaching them all is difficult. In comes Project Homeless Connect. The yearly, volunteer-run, donation-funded event brings services providers together to connect people with information and some immediate help.

Scattered Services Make Homelessness In Haines Hard To Grasp

Emily Files, KHNS – Haines

It’s hard to get a true sense of how big of a problem homelessness is in Haines. There is no shelter or centralized service tasked with responding to homelessness. Right now, a patchwork of local organizations helps out people in need. But even they aren’t sure how large the problem is and what the solution should be.

Categories: Alaska News

State To Appeal Education Funding Lawsuit Ruling

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-01-28 16:59

The State of Alaska announced Wednesday that it will appeal a final ruling by Superior Court Judge William Carey in favor of the Ketchikan Gateway Borough’s long-held argument that the state’s required local contribution for public education violates Alaska’s Constitution.

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The state also will ask for a stay on Judge Carey’s ruling while the appeal is considered by the Alaska Supreme Court.

Kathryn Vogel is an Assistant Attorney General with the state Department of Law. She said, simply, that Judge Carey’s decision was wrong.

“The state believes that Alaska’s tradition of joint state and local school cooperation over public schools is constitutional,” she said.

The Alaska Supreme Court listens to a state attorney during the Supreme Court live event in Ketchikan last fall. Alaska’s high court soon will consider an appeal from the state in Ketchikan’s lawsuit challenging Alaska’s required local contribution for public schools.

In his decision, the judge ruled that municipalities should not be required to pay for public education because the required local contribution is essentially a tax earmarked for a special purpose. Carey said that is a violation of the Constitution.

Vogel said the state disagrees with Carey’s conclusion, because it’s not a state tax.

“Instead, it is locally raised money that goes directly to local schools,” she said. “The dedicated funds prohibition applies directly to state revenue, and that’s the biggest point of contention that the state has.”

Vogel adds that the prohibition on dedicated funds has a built-in exception for state-local cooperative programs.

“From the state’s perspective, public schools is a quintessential state-local cooperative program,” she said.

Borough Manager Dan Bockhorst said he’s heard all that before.

“The state argued that unsuccessfully in the court,” he said. “We disagreed, and the Superior Court disagreed with the state’s position, as well.”

Bockhorst said the state’s decision to appeal Judge Carey’s ruling was not unexpected.

“We’re certainly not surprised that the state plans to appeal, given the magnitude of the issue: Roughly $235 million annually statewide that is imposed on 34 municipal governments, two-thirds of the school districts in Alaska,” he said.

But, Bockhorst said, he is confident that the Supreme Court will uphold the lower court ruling.

“It is a charge levied by the state that is dedicated to a specific purpose, and that circumstance is prohibited by Alaska’s Constitution,” he said.

The Ketchikan Gateway Borough filed the lawsuit almost exactly a year ago, but borough officials have been talking about the issue for much longer. The issue has been litigated before without success, but those lawsuits focused on different arguments.

For example, the Mat-Su Borough many years ago sued the state, claiming that the required local contribution was unfair to municipal governments. While the current lawsuit didn’t bring those failed arguments back in front of the court, Bockhorst agrees that it is unfair, and adds that it’s just bad policy.

“It imposes, literally, over time, billions of dollars in burdens on 34 municipal governments in Alaska, and ignores one-third of Alaska school districts, without regard to their fiscal capacity,” he said.

Bockhorst said the policy also discourages new boroughs from forming, because people in unorganized parts of the state don’t want to be compelled to provide a specific amount for local schools.

Bockhorst adds that the lawsuit is not an attempt to get out of paying for education.

“We’re not opposed to local support for schools,” he said. “We want it to be done in a fashion that is fair and equitable, and imposes equal obligations on every Alaskan, not just those that live in municipal school districts.”

State attorneys plan to file their motion for a stay within a few days with Superior Court Judge William Carey. If he denies it, Vogel said they will file for a stay with the Alaska Supreme Court, which is where they’ll also file their appeal.

How long that appeal will take is unknown.

“There’s no fixed timeline for how long it will take the Supreme Court, but this is a case that is going to require robust briefing, so I anticipate it will be a few months to a year before we get a decision from the Alaska Supreme Court, if history is a guide,” Vogel said.

Bockhorst said the borough is ready to see the case through to the end, and has funds set aside for legal costs. Ketchikan’s Borough Assembly appropriated $400,000 for the lawsuit, and so far has spent only $150,000.

That’s a pretty good investment if the case ends up in the borough’s favor. Ketchikan’s required local contribution in 2014 was about $4.2 million. The borough did ask Judge Carey to make the state refund that money, but that part of the lawsuit was denied.

Categories: Alaska News

Murkowski Swings at Obama’s Arctic Wilderness Plan But Misses

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-01-28 16:58

Sen. Lisa Murkowski on Wednesday failed to land her first counterpunch at the Obama administration’s new Arctic conservation policies.

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The Senate rejected an amendment that would’ve put a time limit on wilderness study areas. Only Congress can permanently designate land as wilderness. But as Murkowski explained on the Senate floor, once the president recommends wilderness status, the government manages the land as wilderness anyway.

“In fact many areas have been managed as de facto wilderness for decades, because the Congress has not acted,” she said.

The amendment she proposed for the Keystone pipeline bill would’ve removed that protection if Congress didn’t approve a request within a year. The amendment would’ve started the clock on the 12 million acre wilderness area President Obama proposes for the Arctic Refuge. It also would’ve affected a wilderness study area inside the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska and other areas in a dozen Western states.

Fifty senators voted for it, but it needed 60 to pass.

Categories: Alaska News

Donlin Gold Closes Camp During Permitting

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-01-28 16:57

(Photo by Dean Swope / KYUK)

Donlin Gold is shutting down its camp at the site of its gold deposit near Crooked Creek. Kurt Parkan is external affairs manager for Donlin Gold.

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“Because a significant amount of fieldwork necessary to bring the project to permitting has already been completed, the need for a camp to be open during that permitting phase doesn’t exist, so we’re temporarily closing the camp during the final phase of the permitting process, and will make a decision to open it once we get through permitting and additional fieldwork justifies the need for the camp to be open again,” said Parkan.

Parkan expects 10 jobs lost in the closure. Over 200 people worked on site at times of peak exploration and fieldwork. The camp has been open for most of the past 20 years, during which companies have explored the massive gold prospect. Teams will continue basic environmental monitoring, but without the convenience of an established camp. Mothballing the site will take about two months.

Donlin is about two and half years into the permitting process and expect another two years before a final permit and the company makes a decision on whether to move ahead.

“The company is focused very heavily on the permitting phase right now, working with cooperating agencies, government agencies to complete the permitting process and environmental impact statement,” said Parkan.

draft environmental impact statement is expected in late summer or early fall of this year. Donlin’s proposed open-pit mine would be among the largest gold mines in the world. The company is owned by Nova Gold and Barrick Gold, two Canadian companies.

Categories: Alaska News

Sugar Creates Genetic Trouble For Coastal Alaska Natives

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-01-28 16:56

The idea that traditional diets are best for coastal Alaska Native people is being further confirmed by the discovery of a gene deficiency that doesn’t allow their systems to process sugar. Dr Matthew Hirschfeld is the director of maternal/child health services at the Alaska Native Medical Center. The intolerant gene causes a condition know as as C-Sid.

Hirschfeld says it’s likely 1 to 5 percent of Alaska Natives have the gene mutation. He told APRN’s Lori Townsend the addition of sugar into so many processed foods is not good for anyone, but is especially bad for coastal Alaska Native people.

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Categories: Alaska News

Scattered Services Make Homelessness In Haines Hard To Grasp

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-01-28 16:54

Haines Salvation Army corps officer Dave Kyle stands in a room where he lets people sleep if they’re in need of temporary shelter.

It’s hard to get a true sense of how big of a problem homelessness is in Haines. There is no shelter or centralized service tasked with responding to homelessness. Right now, a patchwork of local organizations helps out people in need. But even they aren’t sure how large the problem is and what the solution should be.

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“We had one guy here when I first got here, he slept in the back there for six months until he could get back to Chilkat Lake,” Lt. Dave Kyle said.

Kyle is a corps officer at the Haines Salvation Army. He points back behind racks of second-hand clothing to a room where five or six people have slept over the past three years. Kyle says he’s on “sketchy ground” letting people stay here when they have nowhere else to go. This isn’t a licensed shelter.

“I do tend to push the envelope a little bit in regards to helping my community,” Kyle said.

Sierra Jimenez works for Southeast Alaska Independent Living, which serves seniors and people with disabilities. SAIL and the Salvation Army are two Haines organizations that seem to deal with homelessness the most. Local churches, Lynn Canal Counseling and the police department also help sometimes. They often provide one-way ferry tickets to Juneau, to the Glory Hole shelter.

“[That happens] several times a year,” Jimenez said.  “And I don’t know that it’s a solution but it’s the solution that we have here in Haines. And that generally is for somebody who is chronically homeless, truly has no place to go and no resources and shelter is the only option.”

Roger and Judy Kley were in that situation when they showed up in Haines more than a year ago. KHNS brought you their story in December.

“When my PFD check come in that one year, I’d already made the decision that we were coming to Haines one way or another,” Judy Kley said. “I was getting real frustrated on the stress I was under not having a place to live.”

The Kleys came to Haines from Anchorage. They slept in the Salvation Army building for a night or two and then they were sent to the Glory Hole in Juneau. It wasn’t until they got disability income that Jimenez was able to help them successfully apply for a government-subsidized apartment in Haines.

When people like the Kleys show up, Jimenez and Kyle say it would be nice to have a shelter for them. But they’re not sure if there are enough homeless people in Haines to make a shelter worth it.

“You know it’s a really good question and I don’t know the answer to that,” Jimenez said. “It would be so nice to have an emergency bed or two for families that come through while we try to put the pieces together. That would be the dream, the ideal situation.”

“Yes, ideally a shelter would be an excellent deal for it,” Kyle said. “But in the emergency sense, in the crisis sense, I don’t think we have enough [people like that.]”

Kyle says helping people who are at risk of becoming homeless is a bigger concern here than helping those that are already homeless.

“Homeless care is very low on my expenses radar. I just helped a family out with $1300 worth of rent assistance, another family at $65 for electric, another family at $75 for electric, I just sent the guy to Juneau for $37 and I haven’t helped anybody for homeless,” Kyle said.

But he agrees that all of those people are at risk of homelessness if they didn’t have a place like the Salvation Army to turn to for assistance.

Jimenez also says helping people who are maybe a paycheck or two away from homelessness is a more common problem in Haines.

“Sometimes somebody just needs help one month with rent or food and then they can be back on their feet. Other people need education and help budgeting,” Jimenez said. “There’s every different story.”

After KHNS’s December story on homelessness, Haines Borough Manager Dave Sosa contacted the Salvation Army and SAIL to set up a meeting, which hasn’t happened yet.

“There’s plenty of room for discussion on these issues and to take a look at what’s the scope of the problem,” Sosa said. “Because I know that there are some homeless people, but I don’t know how many.”

If Sosa wants definitive numbers, he’s not going to get them. There are a few local organizations responding to homelessness. But there is no organization tracking it.

If people want to put a number on homelessness in Haines, it will require taking a leap and setting up a centralized service, even though the scale of the problem is uncertain.

Categories: Alaska News

Murkowski Swings at Obama’s Arctic Wilderness Plan But Misses

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-01-28 15:55

Sen. Lisa Murkowski today failed to land her first counterpunch at the Obama administration’s new Arctic conservation policies. The Senate rejected an amendment that would’ve put a time limit on wilderness study areas. Only Congress can permanently designate land as wilderness. But as Murkowski explained on the Senate floor, once the president recommends wilderness status, the government manages the land as wilderness anyway.

“In fact many areas have been managed as de facto wilderness for decades, because the Congress has not acted,” she said.

The amendment she proposed for the Keystone pipeline bill would’ve removed that protection if Congress didn’t approve a request within a year. The amendment would’ve started the clock on the 12 million acre wilderness area President Obama proposes for the Arctic Refuge. It also would’ve affected a wilderness study area inside the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska and other areas in a dozen Western states. Fifty senators voted for it, but it needed 60 to pass.

Categories: Alaska News

Borough Seeks To Fill Assembly Seat

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-01-28 14:33

Five hats have been thrown in to the Matanuska Susitna Borough’s ring to replace Borough Assemblyman Jim Colver, who won the state House District 9 election in November and is now in Juneau. The Borough Assembly is expected to choose Colver’s  Borough District 6  replacement at a meeting on February 5.

 Steve Menard, Robert Doyle, Barbara Doty, Gregg Hanson and Neal Lacey are under consideration. Interviews will be scheduled starting  Thursday.

The six remaining Borough Assemblymen could  vote on a replacement  as early as next week.  In the event of a tie, the Borough mayor will cast his vote.

The deadline for applications is  5:00 pm  Wednesday

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage Organizing to Stave Off Army Cuts

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-01-28 02:11

The City of Anchorage brought together leaders from the community to organize against potential military cutbacks at two Army bases Alaska. The municipality hopes to convince federal officials that the military is not only good for Alaska, but that Alaska is uniquely vital for the Armed Forces.

Representatives from a wide array of Anchorage institutions–universities all the way to tourism groups–gathered in a conference room at city hall on Tuesday. It’s part of an effort to get out ahead of a draw-down that could take as many 5,300 Army servicemen and women out of the Anchorage area, and with them, thousands of family members that are embedded in the local economy.

Mayor Dan Sullivan’s office reached out to prominent community members to start coordinating a cohesive message in the weeks ahead.

“We thought it’d be a good idea to incorporate all the different sectors, and make sure we can put forward a best-case scenario that lets this committee know the value not only of the military to Anchorage, but what we offer in terms of being a strategic location for training,” Sullivan explained.

Cuts could come from both Fort Richardson, as well as Fort Wainwright near Fairbanks. But Anchorage officials are hoping to make the case that the two bases must be viewed as part of the same package: access to training grounds, quick deployment capabilities, and good employment opportunities for family members.

To hone that message, officials are contracting with Art Services North, an events-planning group.

“The city sees this as a major event, and they see it as sort of needing someone to choreograph all the pieces and parts to create a fluid presentation,” said Darl Schaaff with the company, adding that right now the biggest challenge is how little time is available to gather input from stakeholders.

Part of Art Services North’s presentation will be a tour of Anchorage to officials from the Army and Defense Department when they visit in February ahead of a public listening session. Two co-chairs were selected from the city’s tourism and economic development lobbies to make those arrangements.

The draw-down is part of a national reduction in the size of the armed forces, eliminating 120,000 positions from active duty. A maximum of 11,100 troops could be removed from Alaska.

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage Assembly Bans Marijuana From Public Use

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-01-28 02:03

The Anchorage Assembly voted 11-to-0 last night  to ban public consumption of marijuana. It’s a big first step as both the city and state try to regulate marijuana ahead of decriminalization next month.

Many of those who testified before the Assembly accused the body of violating the will of the voters by trying to ban marijuana in Anchorage. But that is not what the new ordinance does. Instead, it gives the Anchorage Police Department and law-makers the first in a series of instructions about how to proceed as marijuana goes from illegal to legal on February 24th. The new rules treat marijuana almost identically to alcohol: no lighting up on the sidewalk, no driving under the influence, no consuming if you’re under 21.

The measure creates a civil citation for consuming in public, bringing with it a $100 ticket, but no jail time or criminal record. Mark Mew is chief of the Anchorage Police Department, and believes that while the bill is imperfect, the municipality would send the wrong signal if it took no action on the matter until the Legislature finished a totally comprehensive bill later on.

“But by that time, everybody’s gone hog-wild,” Mew explained, “and we’ll never be able to contain it back to where it is.”

The very big missing piece in Alaska’s decriminalization process right now is regulating who can grow, process, and sell marijuana products.

Until local and state officials develop rules for dispensing, there’s still no technically legal way to obtain recreational marijuana. That also means that even after February 24th, businesses like bars are not allowed to let patrons use pot in their establishments. For now, a private business counts as public when it comes to marijuana.

Assembly member Bill Starr added an amendment to the measure bringing it back before the body a year from now to re-assess whether or not the law is working.

As municipalities around the state weigh their local options, a joint Judiciary committee in Juneau is hammering out a bill of their own, SB-30. And the process is no less complicated.

Categories: Alaska News

With Greater Numbers, Democrats Hope For More Leverage Over Medicaid Expansion

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-01-27 21:43

House Democrats plan to use their increase in numbers as leverage when pushing for Medicaid expansion.

With the last election, the House Minority caucus grew from ten to 13, making support from at least some of their members necessary for any action that requires a three-fourths vote. The most significant of these actions is a vote to allow the Legislature to cover a shortfall through the Constitutional Budget Reserve, a hard-to-tap rainy day account that is worth $11 billion.

At a press availability on Tuesday, House Minority Leader Chris Tuck said that requirement could help his caucus push for Medicaid expansion. While the federal government would pay the added costs of Medicaid expansion through 2016, the Legislature must accept the money through a line in its budget.

“We do know that that’s going to be a bargaining strength for our side,” said Tuck. “We’re going to use that vote very cautiously. We want to make sure that we’re doing the best for Alaska, making those lasting opportunities not just in health care, but in education.”

Expanding Medicaid to include Alaskans with incomes at 138 percent of the federal poverty level been a priority for Democrats in the Legislature and for unaffiliated governor Bill Walker. According to a report commissioned by the state in 2013, Medicaid expansion would bring more than $2 billion in federal funding to the state over the next six years. But opponents of expansion — including former Gov. Sean Parnell and some Republican lawmakers — note that same report concludes the state would be obligated to pay over $200 million over that same time period.

With a projected deficit of over $3 billion, the Legislature’s financial analysts have determined that it will be necessary to access the Constitutional Budget Reserves. The withdrawal could be structured in such a way that education funding is tied to a vote, making opposition to use of the reserves more difficult.

Categories: Alaska News

Double Homicide in East Anchorage Latest in String of Gun Incidents

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-01-27 18:44
A shooting early Tuesday morning killed two people in an East Anchorage four-plex. It was the second fatal incident in less than a week. The Anchorage Police Department wrote in a release that at around 3:30am shots from a firearm left 27-year-old Christian Haynes dead. Bullets also struck a 23-year-old female inside the building who police have not yet identified. She was brought to a hospital and pronounced dead shortly afterwards. APD Spokesperson Jennifer Castro says that while no suspects have yet been taken into custody, detectives have spoken with witnesses. “We are throwing everything we have at this case right now with our detective, patrol resources, and investigative resources,” Castro said. “We’ve had our crime scene team out there all day long. So, at this time, we’re all hands on deck right now.” Castro declined to comment on whether the shots were fired inside the residence, saying the Department does not want to release details that could help a perpetrator avoid arrest. The incident comes within a day of police taking a 14-year-old into custody in connection with the shooting death at a Midtown parking-lot at the corner of Tudor and Lake Otis. Since the start of the year, APD has issued releases on eight gun-related assaults. The Department’s crime analyst is in the process of investigating whether or not gun violence is on the rise. “We know that there’s been a lot of violent crime happening in our community lately, it’s certainly a concern of our citizens,” Castro explained.   And the biggest thing that we’re asking for, ” she continued,  ”is getting good solid information from our citizens.” The department asks witnesses, or anyone with information to call officials at 561-7867.
Categories: Alaska News

Alaska New Nightly: January 27, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-01-27 17:35

Stories are posted on the APRN news page. You can subscribe to APRN’s newsfeeds via emailpodcast and RSS. Follow us on Facebook at alaskapublic.org and on Twitter @aprn.

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Obama Withdraws 9.8m Acres of Arctic Ocean

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

President Obama is withdrawing 9.8 million acres of the Beaufort and Chukchi seas from future oil and gas lease sales. Today’s announcement comes in conjunction with the Department of Interior’s draft five-year offshore plan. Sen. Lisa Murkowski has already described it as a gut punch to Alaska’s economy. Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell, though, says the withdrawals are limited to small areas of the Beaufort, a 25-mile buffer along the Chukchi Coast and the area around the Hanna Shoal, northwest of Barrow.

Invoices, Invitations, Litigation, and Even Secession: Walker Says All Responses Possible To Arctic Drilling Decision

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Alaska lawmakers have described the new protections for the Arctic as an act of war against the state. Now the governor wants to shoot some volleys of his own.

Cook Inlet Gas Considered To Relieve Interior Alaska’s Energy Costs

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

State and local leaders are trying to determine if natural gas from Cook Inlet is a viable option for interior’s need for a lower cost, cleaner energy source. At issue are some of the same costs that derailed an earlier focus to bring in North Slope gas.

Sullivan: Alaskans Dream Big, Breathe Air ‘Bathed in Promise’

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

In his first Senate speech, U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan today spoke in support of the Keystone Pipeline. He likened it to the tie vote in the Senate over the Trans-Alaska Pipeline in 1973.

Proposed ASD budget includes 24 new teachers

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

The Anchorage School District’s proposed $770 million budget for next year includes 24 new teaching positions. It’s a drastic change from previous years’ cuts and this year’s initial feared shortfall.

Delta To Add Year-Round Competition In Juneau, Fairbanks

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

Delta Air Lines will fly year-round between Juneau and Seattle starting in May. This is a change from just offering flights during the summer, and could signal more Delta service coming to the state in the future.

Unalaska Locals Hope Proposed Watershed Fixes Are First of Many

Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska

Unalaska Lake and the Iliuliuk River run through the heart of Unalaska. The watershed used to be habitat for thousands of salmon. But after decades of development and little consideration for containing runoff, that fish population seems to be on the decline.

This week, after months of public debate, Unalaska’s city council will take a first look at one million dollars of mitigation projects. Residents hope it’s the first step down a path to recovery.

Walker Says Rupert Terminal Will Be Rebuilt

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

Gov. Bill Walker says he’ll continue pushing for construction of a new ferry terminal in Prince Rupert, British Columbia.

AMHS To Close Ferry Bar Service This Winter

Leila Kheiry, KRBD – Ketchikan

The Alaska Marine Highway System is closing bars on state ferries, a move that state Department of Transportation officials say will save about $750,000 a year.

Categories: Alaska News

Cook Inlet Gas Considered To Relieve Interior Alaska’s Energy Costs

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-01-27 17:08

State and local leaders are trying to determine if natural gas from Cook Inlet gas is viable option for Interior’s need for a lower cost, cleaner energy source. At issue are some of the same costs that derailed an earlier focus to bring in North Slope gas.

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The state lead Interior Energy Project is aimed at getting natural gas to Fairbanks consumers at a price equivalent to $2 a gallon heating oil.

The Fairbanks Economic Development Corporation is helping vet potential suppliers, and the governor’s office recently re-focused the project on Cook Inlet gas. FEDCO president and CEO Jim Dodson says current Cook Inlet production is committed to south central area customers.

“We’ve got to convince somebody that we’re willing to pay a price high enough so that they’re able to have an investor come in and invest at least $10 million or more, probably, into Cook Inlet and go down and drill a well that has we don’t know what probability it has of success, but it’s not 100%,we heard that,” Dodson said.

Dodson heard that from Cook Inlet Energy Commercial Manager Mark Slaughter, who met with FEDCO and other local leaders this week, to talk about supplying Fairbanks. Slaughter refers to the Interior Energy Project targeted gas price as a starting point.

“It’s a commercial negotiation, so it just will depend between the parties how everything works out and it’ll depend realistically on financing and what level of government involvement is involved,” Slaughter said.

The state is backing the Interior energy project with an over $340 million financing package, but that’s for a range of needed infrastructure including getting liquefied gas north, something FEDCO Dodson lists options for.

“[It] could be a pipeline, it could be a rail car, it could be a truck, all of those things are in play,” Dodson said.

Governor Bill Walker is pushing the option of moving Cook Inlet LNG north on the Alaska Railroad. The Interior Energy project originally proposed trucking in gas from the North Slope, but the ballooning cost of a LNG processing facility there, pushed the estimated consumer gas price too high. Upping Cook Inlet production to meet broad demand in Fairbanks would also require expanded processing capacity.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Unalaska Locals Hope Proposed Watershed Fixes Are First of Many

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-01-27 17:05

Murky water in Unalaska Lake is evidence of a runoff problem that may be harming salmon. (Annie Ropeik/KUCB)

Unalaska Lake and the Iliuliuk River run through the heart of Unalaska. The watershed used to be habitat for thousands of salmon. But after decades of development and little consideration for containing runoff, that fish population seems to be on the decline.

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On Tuesday, after months of public debate, city council is voting ontaking its first look at a million dollars of mitigation projects. Residents hope it’s the first step down a path to recovery.

Qawalangin Tribe president Tom Robinson is standing in the middle of one of the most desirable residential neighborhoods in Unalaska. The valley’s lined with duplexes and family homes overlooking a winding creek. But it’s not all picturesque:

Tom Robinson: You can see – we are at the base of the Overland Road. And you can see an attempt to capture some of the sediment problems from the quarry…

Robinson’s pointing at a pool of murky runoff, which sits below a gravel road leading up to a privately owned rock quarry. He and other locals think this area’s a main source of the silt, which has been clogging up the Unalaska Lake watershed.

“The amount of gravel that’s put on the road … you know, I don’t think anyone really thought that the runoff would be a big problem,” Robinson says. “Well, folks, it is. And it’s killing our lake.”

For the past few months, the Anchorage-based consulting firm PND Engineers has been running tests on the lake and the river. And they’ve asked residents like Robinson what they think would be the best way to clean them up and help restore the salmon runs.

Robinson says there’s been a lot of public participation in that process:

“By the demise of our lake, this is probably the first time that, I think, you saw that many entities in one room, taking on a topic,” he says.

PND is working with a million-dollar grant, left over from the defunct Coastal Zone Management program. At this week’s city council meeting, they’ll present their ideas for using that money to improve the watershed. (Click to see the draft plans for the lakeand the river.) 

One suggestion: better training for roads crews on how to reduce runoff while they’re out plowing snow. They also recommend new culverts, ditches and sediment traps on the gravel roads that run through the watershed.

Ideally, they say the city should start paving those streets. City Engineer Robert Lund is a big supporter — but he says it’s a major undertaking.

“It really, really rains here a lot, so that’s one of the things you’re kind of fighting, is just the weather and the topography. It’s very steep and all that,” Lund says. “So those are expensive issues — that’s why paving’s, I think, a good one, because it really takes the source.”

Lund says that controlling runoff wasn’t always a priority for the city. But now, he hopes they’ll draw new lessons from the research that’s been done on the local watershed.

“There’s better practices that we could be doing,” Lund says. “And there’s not really an excuse not to take care of our environment to the extent that’s practical, or at least conserve it … while there’s still fish in it.”

The salmon, he says, are the best indicator of whether the watershed is healthy. And it’s widely believed that the population is a fraction of what it used to be.

Right now, the most reliable source of data to back that up is the high school hatchery class. They’re the only ones conducting regular checks on the salmon and their habitat.

On a recent morning, students were out at the river measuring the water level, and checking how clear it was.

Ashley RobinsonCan you feel it, though?
Cole McCracken: 
It’s right here.
Ashley: So… yeah.
Cole: But that seems pretty low. Well, normally, we do it from right on the end of the side. It’s the deeper area…

Senior Cole McCracken’s been speaking up at public meetings about the watershed. He’s grown up fishing salmon here, and he says he’s seen the river change:

“The sediment concentration has increased over the past few years, for sure – or, more than that,” he says. “Probably over the past, like, couple of decades.”

Eventually, McCracken’s class may not be the only ones keeping tabs on the river. The engineers who’ve been helping the city wade through options for their grant are recommending two fish weirs to collect hard data on the size of the runs. That could help shed light on what’s causing them to drop off.

Steven Gregory is the teacher in charge of the hatchery class. He’s a big advocate of the weirs — but he says he hopes the city — and residents — will go further in tackling runoff.

“There has been a perception that something needs to be done, and now, I think, people believe that there actually are some ways to make an improvement,” Gregory says. “So I’m excited about that, but again, it’s going to take a sustained effort.”

And, probably more funding than the million dollars the city has at its disposal right now. That’s why Robinson and the Qawalangin Tribe have pledged to track down additional grants for clean-up.

And after a petition from dozens of residents, the city of Unalaska is looking into a special historic designation for the watershed. That could pave the way for more funding and protection in the future.

CLARIFICATION: After the PND presentation and a chance for public input at Tuesday night’s meeting, city council will decide how to move forward. City manager Chris Hladick expects they’ll ask staff to compile a final plan on what projects the city can afford and finish on time — the grant money has to be used by June 2016.

Hladick says council will vote on a final watershed plan at their Feb. 10 meeting.

Categories: Alaska News

Walker Says Rupert Terminal Will Be Rebuilt

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-01-27 17:04

Gov. Bill Walker says he’ll continue pushing for construction of a new ferry terminal in Prince Rupert, British Columbia.

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His administration cancelled project bidding Jan. 21 due to a dispute over construction materials.

Federal funds covering most of the project require U.S. steel to be used. Canadian officials won’t let that happen.

The ferry Taku loads up at the Prince Rupert, B.C., ferry terminal July 24, 2014. (Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)

At a recent press conference, Walker said he expected to find a way around the conflict.

“It’s an important part of what we do as far as our Alaska Marine Highway System. So, we’ll continue to have that discussion and I’m sure we’ll come to some sort of understanding so the project can move forward,” Walker said.

Prince Rupert is about 100 miles southeast of Ketchikan. It’s the only ferry port on the mainland road system in the thousand miles between Skagway and Bellingham, Washington.

State Transportation Department officials say the current dock and ramp will last no more than five years.

The terminal had to close for repairs when it was deemed unsafe in 2008. But that was only a temporary fix.

Since then, there state has negotiated a $3.3-million, 50-year lease for the terminal, which is part of Prince Rupert’s port.

Transportation Department spokesman Jeremy Woodrow said that’s a long-enough commitment to justify reconstruction.

“Usually when we build facilities, bridges, roads they have a finite life. And 50 years is a pretty good estimate for a lifespan of a terminal,” Woodrow said.

Bidding documents listed the cost at $10 million to $20 million.

Woodrow says if the project proceeds, it’s expected to take one or two construction seasons to build.

Categories: Alaska News

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