Alaska News

Investor Pulls Out of Tulsequah Mine in BC

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-12-24 12:08

The company trying to re-open the controversial Tulsequah Chief mine in British Columbia announced a setback this week. It says a big investor is pulling out of the project. Chieftain Metals Company says it will use a bridge loan to repay a $10 million advance from Denver-based Royal Gold. Chieftain had been counting on another $45 million from Royal Gold to develop the mine, according to a July agreement that Royal Gold has now scrapped. The Tulsequah is one of five proposed mining projects near the Taku River that have Southeast Alaskans and fishermen worried. The enormous KSM project this week won environmental approval from the Canadian government. Chieftain Metals is proposing to move supplies into the Tulsequah — and transport minerals out – by barging them on the Taku.

Categories: Alaska News

Gov. Walker Signs MOU With Resources Energy, Inc.

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-12-23 16:01

Alaska Governor Bill Walker signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Tuesday with Japan-based Resources Energy, Inc. for liquefied natural gas development and export out of Cook Inlet. 

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The agreement stems from Japan’s desire to branch away from nuclear power, in favor of LNG in the aftermath of the massive 2011 earthquake, which caused the shutdown of the Fukushima nuclear plant.

Governor Walker says the memorandum of understanding doesn’t include many specifics.

“It’s just more of a cooperation agreement acknowledging that they have a need and we have a need,” he said. “Our need is for a market; their need is for a supply. And so, it’s the first step of what could be a long relationship.”

Resource Energy is working on longer-term development plans for North Slope LNG which could come to fruition by 2025. But, companies are expecting a market window in Japan before then, so Governor Walker says REI is considering a project in Cook Inlet.

“It is a small scale effort in Cook Inlet to just sort of get something, sort of a foot in the door, get something started, some flow going in that direction,” Walker said.

REI is confident LNG exports from Cook Inlet would be viable. The company anticipates a 1,000,000 ton capacity by 2019, increasing to as much as 3,000,000 tons.

REI spokesperson Shun-ichi Shimizu says the company is looking into the costs and figuring out exactly what infrastructure will be needed at the Mat-Su Valley’s Port MacKenzie.

“We have to build a brand new LNG facility there, so I can’t say exactly right now what sort of development we have to expect in Port MacKenzie,” Shimizu said.

Shimizu says the company expects to have a better idea of what will be needed by the end of March 2015.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Origins Of The Endangered Species Act

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-12-23 16:00

Humpback whales may be coming off the endangered species list soon – federal officials are expected to announce a decision within the next few weeks.

Regardless of what they decide, one thing is clear: without whales and other marine mammals, there might not even be an endangered species list.

In the first of a series exploring humpback whales and the Endangered Species Act, KCAW reporter Rachel Waldholz and biologist Ellen Chenoweth explain how one of the nation’s most enduring environmental laws emerged from the office of one of its least revered presidents.

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Categories: Alaska News

Minimum Wage Measure Could Boost Bus Driver Pay

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-12-23 15:59

A decision by voters to increase Alaska’s minimum wage could bring a bump in the minimum that must be paid to the state’s school bus drivers.

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The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports a state law passed in 1989 requires school bus drivers to be paid at least twice the minimum wage.

The law does not force employers to increase driver pay mid-way through a contract but could kick in with new contracts.

The state’s minimum wage since 2009 has been $7.75 per hour. That means school bus drivers for five years have had hourly wages of at least $15.50.

Ballot Measure 3, approved in November, will increase the minimum wage by $1 per hour on Feb. 24 and by another dollar to $9.75 per hour on Jan. 1, 2016.

Categories: Alaska News

‘Arctic Fiber’ Project Delayed into 2016

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-12-23 15:58

Both the subsea Arctic cable, and a terrestrial cable along the Dalton Highway, are seeing delays that could push the rollout of Quintillion’s ultrafast broadband network in rural Alaska to 2016 or beyond. (Image: Quintillion Network)

The backers of an ambitious project to build a fiber optic cable between England and Japan beneath Arctic waters—and in the process bring high-speed internet to remote corners of western Alaska—say undertaking has seen delays that will push the arrival of service back until at least 2016.

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Canadian telecommunications company Arctic Fibre is running the undersea cable, while Anchorage-based Quintillion Networksis the “middle mile” provider creating several spur lines that would shoot off the main fiber backbone and connect the ultrafast cable to telecom companies in Nome, Kotzebue, and other communities along the Bering Strait coast and the North Slope. Colloquially referred to as the “Arctic fiber” project, it promises to bring “gigabit internet” to the most remote parts of western Alaska. Quintillion expects speeds of 100 gigabits per second from the fiber line; current consumer broadband in Nome and Barrow reach speeds up to 6 megabits per second, equal to .006 gigabits per second.

During a May visit to Nome, Quintillion CEO Elizabeth Pierce said the cable itself would be built this winter and start being laid during the summer of 2015. But now both the prep work for the undersea fiber line, and the buildout of a terrestrial component to Quintillion’s planned network, are seeing adjustments to their schedules.

For the $650 million Arctic fiber line, Pierce said mapping and surveys began this summer and will continue into the summer of 2015, with onshore landing sites set to be constructed this winter. But she said that is “a small amount of work” compared to the next phase of the project.

“The major work, the horizontal directional drilling from the shore line to the spurs—and that’s again to get those spurs coming into the shore buried deep and out of harm’s way—that will happen next summer. Then the cable will be laid once those … boards are completed for the spur lines.”

But that undersea Arctic cable to Japan is only one part of Quintillion’s plan. The company is also tapping in to an overland cable set to run from Prudhoe Bay on the North Slope, down along the Dalton Highway, and on into Fairbanks and Anchorage. That part of the project, now being built by AT&T, has faced several delays.

Until either that land line is built, or the cable to Japan is laid, Pierce said it’s a waiting game.

“Our in-service date will be the earlier of whichever one of those connections come into service, whether it’s the Dalton Highway first, AT&T’s build, or whether it’s our connection to Japan first,” she said. “Whichever one of those comes in first, that’s when we’ll be able to turn up service. Either way, it’s going to be later into 2016 before we can turn up service.”

Regardless of which connection comes online first, Pierce said the plan remains unchanged, and Quintillion will complete both the undersea and overland cable. But only when the undersea cable is complete would the promise of ultrafast broadband be delivered to Bering Strait communities.

While that date for service may be a moving target, it’s not changing any plans of the local western Alaska telecoms preparing to bring Quintillion’s spur lines the final mile into homes and businesses.

TelAlaska CEO Dave Goggins said the company is still on board to bring the fiber line to Nome.

Steve Merriam, the CEO of the Arctic Slope Telephone Association Cooperative, said the co-op worked with Quintillion this summer to build $4.5 million worth of communication shelters in Wainwright, Point Hope, and Barrow. Merriam said his company’s confident enough in the project that they’re laying out serious money to get ready.

The project “definitely has legs,” Merriam said. “We’ve got about a $16 million RUS loan in process to upgrade our facilities on shore to take advantage of the fiber connectivity,” he said, referring to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Services’ loan program. The program provides what Merriam described as “low-interest” loans for electrical, sewer/water, and telecommunication projects in rural areas.

“I’ll tell you this, putting in an RUS loan is not a small undertaking,” he said. “It is very, very tedious and very tenuous, and it takes an incredible amount of time. We wouldn’t be doing this if we didn’t think this was a go.”

Having already missed targeted in-service dates of 2014 and 2015, and now delayed into 2016, just when the project will “go”—and if it will go first through the terrestrial line or the undersea cable—are all questions that can only be answered as each part of the project inches forward.

No matter how fast the fiber promises to be, the process of getting it built can seem painfully slow to many in western Alaska.

Categories: Alaska News

Juneau Assembly Committee: Scale Back Senior Sales Tax Exemption

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-12-23 15:57

A package of sales tax recommendations that could take a big bite out of the city’s anticipated $7.2 million budget deficit is headed for public hearing.

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The Juneau Assembly’s Tax Exemption Review Committee completed its six-month examination of municipal tax breaks Thursday.

The committee recommends:

  • Raising the maximum taxable value of big ticket items from $7,500 to $14,000,
  • Limiting the senior sales tax exemption to Juneau residents,
  • Limiting the senior sales tax exemption to food, fuel and electricity,
  • And limiting the senior sales tax exemption on all other goods to seniors with incomes below 250 percent of the federal poverty level.

The recommendations were made piecemeal. Deputy Mayor Mary Becker chaired the committee and noted the recommendations don’t constrain the Assembly’s policymaking authority.

One proposal the committee did not recommend was raising the age of eligibility for the senior sales tax exemption from 65 to 70 over five years.

“I would certainly not personally agree to that because I think it is a double whammy,” Becker said referring to the combination with the other changes to the senior sales tax exemption. “I think one or the other is fine with me.”

Assemblywoman Kate Troll said she saw it as a double break.

“They get two good benefits. Instead of eliminating the exemption altogether, we’re keeping it on essentials, we’re making it needs based,” Troll said.

Assemblyman Jesse Kiehl argued that people are living longer, healthier and many are choosing to continue working past age 65.

“And so some limited shift to reflect the realities of the world we live in I think is good tax policy, because it keeps, it keeps us in line with the economic realities of our age,” Kiehl said.

 The recommendation, which the Juneau Commission on Aging supported, failed in a 2-2 vote. Assemblyman Jerry Nankervis was the other no vote.

Becker says she expects the Assembly’s Finance Committee to take up the recommendations after the public hearing scheduled for Jan. 8.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story referred to a $9.2 million budget deficit. That figure did not reflect $2 million in cuts and new revenue to be carried forward from the current budget year.

Categories: Alaska News

Juneau Assembly Honors JPD’s “Rock Star”

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-12-23 15:56

Mayor Merrill Sanford reads a speech recognizing JPD Officer Blaine Hatch for his recent award as Alaska Municipal League Employee of the Year. (Photo by Casey Kelly/KTOO)

The Juneau Assembly last night honored a city police officer who recently received a statewide award as the top local government employee in Alaska.

Then for good measure, the Assembly recognized the entire Juneau Police Department.

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Officer Blaine Hatch is JPD’s school resource officer. He runs the D.A.R.E. program, which stands for Drug Abuse Resistance Education. He’s also often the first officer to respond to incidents in Juneau schools.

“Officer Hatch is somewhere between a rock star and a substitute parent for so many of Juneau’s kids,” said Mayor Merrill Sanford.

Hatch received this year’s Alaska Municipal League Municipal Employee of the Year award. AML is a nonprofit interest group for local governments in Alaska. Its board of directors bestowed the honor on Hatch last month after city officials nominated him.

Sanford listed some of the reasons Hatch deserves the recognition.

“He single-handedly teaches D.A.R.E. in six schools, runs the Junior Police Academy, responds to police calls in the schools and assists patrol in his spare time,” Sanford said.

When a student brought a handgun to Thunder Mountain High School earlier this year, Hatch detained him and assisted school officials with a lockdown. He’s also credited with helping save the life of a man who collapsed at a downtown bar this past summer.

But Sanford said it’s the little things that earned Hatch his award.

“Officer Hatch assisted with security at the prom celebrations during the spring of 2013. A school employee wrote JPD a thank you letter after seeing him vacuuming the entryway of the venue in his uniform just before the doors opened,” Sanford said.

After Hatch was recognized, Assemblyman Jerry Nankervis – himself a former Juneau cop – said a few words of thanks to the men and women of JPD.

“I know there’s been stuff in the press lately that has not been favorable toward police officers,” Nankervis said. “I am a homer. Hands down, even in spite of that, this is the best police department in the state of Alaska.”

After Nankervis’ remarks the dozen or so police officers and JPD family members at the meeting stood in a line as Assembly members and city staff offered personal thanks with a handshake or a hug.

Categories: Alaska News

Alice’s Champagne Palace to Open Solstice Weekend

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-12-23 15:55

The Homer icon, Alice’s Champagne Palace, will open for the first time under new management on December 19th.

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Alice’s Champagne Palace (Photo by Shady Grove Oliver/KBBI)

Matt North is a co-owner of Alice’s. He says there will be food, drink, and live music solstice weekend.

“The music we have scheduled Friday and Saturday,” says North. “Michael Hayes of Downward Dog Productions is handling booking of bands and stage confirmation. The new lights came in for the stage, so we’re getting that all hooked up which is exciting and fun to watch. It’s not anything that us three known a lot about, so it’s really fun to see it take shape. So I think we’re planning on a full open on the 19th.”

Both the bar and the restaurant will be open. North says there’s a new menu featuring locally-sourced dishes, rather than typical bar fare.

The new palace will still feature live music and dancing. And, North says, will try to live up to its reputation as “Homer’s Living Room.”

North purchased the palace earlier this year in partnership with Dr. Todd Boling and his wife, Beth.

He says the renovation and transition has taken a lot of effort, but things are finally falling into place.

“I think all of us have worked tirelessly and countless hours in getting this [done],” says North. “[There’s been] just a lot of cleaning and building. You’re not going to walk in and see a massive change, but behind the scenes in the basement, in the kitchen, in the bathroom, there’s been a lot of time put into it. We’re very excited to get this place back open again.”

Alice’s will be open from 4-10 p.m. December 19th.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: December 23, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-12-23 15:54

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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Gov. Walker Signs MOU With Resources Energy, Inc.

Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage

Alaska Governor Bill Walker signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Tuesday with Japan-based Resource Energy, Inc. for liquefied natural gas development and export out of Cook Inlet.

Origins Of The Endangered Species Act

Rachel Waldholz, KCAW – Sitka

Humpback whales may be coming off the endangered species list soon — federal officials are expected to announce a decision within the next few weeks.

Regardless of what they decide, one thing is clear: without whales and other marine mammals, there might not even be an endangered species list.

In the first of a series exploring humpback whales and the Endangered Species Act, KCAW reporter Rachel Waldholz and biologist Ellen Chenoweth explain how one of the nation’s most enduring environmental laws emerged from the office of one of its least revered presidents.

Minimum Wage Measure Could Boost Bus Driver Pay

The Associated Press

A decision by voters to increase Alaska’s minimum wage could bring a bump in the minimum that must be paid to the state’s school bus drivers.

‘Arctic Fiber’ Project Delayed into 2016

Matthew Smith, KNOM – Nome

The backers of an ambitious project to build a fiber optic cable between England and Japan beneath Arctic waters has been delayed. The project will bring high-speed internet to remote corners of western Alaska but the arrival of that service has been pushed back until at least 2016.

Juneau Assembly Committee: Scale Back Senior Sales Tax Exemption

Jeremy Hsieh, KTOO – Juneau

A package of sales tax recommendations that could take a chunk out of Juneau’s anticipated seven million dollar budget deficit is headed for a public hearing.

Shop with a Cop highlights family homelessness in Anchorage

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

For the past 15 years, Anchorage police and firefighters have donated money to the Shop with a Cop program. It gives disadvantaged children the chance to buy gifts for themselves and their family members for Christmas. But, it also highlights a problem in Anchorage – families experiencing homelessness.

Juneau Assembly Honors JPD’s “Rock Star”

Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau

The Juneau Assembly last night honored a city police officer who recently received a statewide award as the top local government employee in Alaska.

Then for good measure, the Assembly recognized the entire Juneau Police Department.

Alice’s Champagne Palace to Open Solstice Weekend

Shady Grove Oliver, KBBI – Homer

The Homer icon, Alice’s Champagne Palace, had its grand opening under new owners on Friday. The classic bar and eatery was packed from opening to closing.

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage Forms New Committee To Navigate Pot Legalization

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-12-22 17:40

Just a week after a vote shooting down a controversial proposal to ban commercialization of marijuana within Anchorage, the city Assembly is forming a new committee to handle local implementation in the months ahead.

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The committee, named the “Regulation and Taxing the Cultivation, Manufacture, and Commercial Sale of Marijuana,” will be headed by District Three assembly member Ernie Hall of West Anchorage.

“We’ll be making direct inquiry of all the community councils for their feedback to us, but I intend to hold a number of meetings where we will be taking public testimony,” Hall said.

The idea is to collect input from local stakeholders, advocates, and members of the public, and bring those perspectives to negotiations in Juneau as the state develops its own policies and procedures. The committee will let the municipality decide how to regulate marijuana just as the state is starting to issue commercial licenses a year-and-a-half from now.

“What I would like to see done is that we take all the input we’ve gotten with regard to conditional use,” Hall explained, “so that we end up with what would be a standard conditional use permit.”

Those permits are one example of where the Assembly can adapt state laws to meet local needs. Another instance likely to take some serious negotiating is who keeps what share of revenues collected from new taxes. Hall says it is much too early in the process to have the economics ironed out, but expects that much like alcohol and tobacco, marijuana sales will be taxed at both the state and municipal levels.

Bruce Schulte with the Coalition for Responsible Cannabis Legislation, an organization that has supported commercialization efforts, said the group looks forward to working with the city as new policies are drafted. The challenge, Schulte believes, will be finding the right level of taxation, one that covers administrative costs but is not so expensive that customers are driven away from the legal market.

The committee meets Tuesday, Dec. 23, at noon in Anchorage City Hall.

Categories: Alaska News

Orphan Bear Cubs Find A Home Outside

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-12-22 17:38

Black bear cub found near Eagle. Credit Terry Pratt / BBC.

A permanent home has been secured for two black bear cubs rescued last month. The animals are being temporarily housed at the Alaska Zoo in Anchorage, but they’ll soon be headed Outside.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: December 22, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-12-22 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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Goodbye Campaigns – Hello, Campaign Contributions

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, D.C.

The campaign for U.S. Senate is over, but the accounting continues. The latest batch of campaign finance reports show Democrat Mark Begich spent nearly $10 million, and Senator -elect Dan Sullivan spent$7.6 million, pushing the total spent on the race to $60 million.

Concerns Abound After Canada Approves Controversial Mine in Southeast

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

A controversial mine near Southeast Alaska’s border won approval from Canada’s federal government on Friday. That worries critics, who say the development could pollute salmon-bearing rivers.

Anchorage Forms New Committee To Navigate Pot Legalization

Zach Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

Just a week after a vote shooting down a controversial proposal to ban commercialization of marijuana within Anchorage, the city Assembly is forming a new committee to handle local implementation in the months ahead.

Doctors Aim to Reset Alaska Heathcare Model

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

A group of Anchorage doctors wants to do a better job caring for some of the sickest patients in the city. And they think changing the way those patients get their medical care can dramatically improve their health. It may cost more money initially, but in the long run, the goal is also to save health care dollars.  The new group is called Alaska Innovative Medicine and the idea is based on a kidney dialysis clinic.

Orphaned Bear Cubs To Head South

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

A permanent home has been secured for two black bear cubs rescued last month.

Bethel Receives An Unusual Winter Visitor – A Robin

Daysha Eaton, KYUK – Bethel

A rare winter robin has been spotted in Bethel.

Do I Need to Rinse This? The Inner Workings of City Recycling

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

The rules about what you can and can’t put into a recycle bin can be confusing, but they have a reason. Here’s a quick primer on the basics of recycling.

Categories: Alaska News

Canada Approves Controversial Mine in Southeast

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-12-22 15:53

A controversial mine near Southeast Alaska’s border has won approval from Canada’s federal government. That worries critics, who say the development could pollute salmon-bearing rivers.

Seabridge Gold’s Brent Murphy points to a valley to be dammed to hold tailings from the KSM mine during a July tour. The project just won Canada’s federal environmental approval. Photo by Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News.

The Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell project’s environmental protection plan got the OK from Canada’s Ministry of the Environment.

The project, known as the KSM, is in northwest British Columbia, northeast of Ketchikan and east of Wrangell.

Brent Murphy, of mine owner Seabridge Gold, says the federal action is an important step.

“It means that the project can proceed. We’ve received both the provincial and federal Canadian governments’ approvals. Essentially, it’s an approval in principle and now we move forward in the permitting phase,” he says.

He says the project has about 100 of the 150 permits it needs. It’s also seeking investors to develop the proposed $5.3 billion mine.

The KSM is a copper, gold and silver deposit upstream of two rivers that enter the ocean within about 50 miles of Ketchikan.

Fisheries, tribal, municipal and environmental groups in Southeast Alaska oppose development, saying the mine would pollute those rivers and harm salmon and those who eat them.

The KSM project’s mine site layout during the operation phase, from its environmental assessment certificate application. Image courtesy Seabridge Gold.

Canada’s action disturbs Carrie James, who co-chairs Southeast’s United Tribal Transboundary Mining Working Group.

“I’m just really disappointed in the decision. It doesn’t surprise me. And we’re not going to stop. We’ll keep fighting and we can’t stop,” she says.

Opponents are asking the Obama administration to pressure Canada to use more stringent permitting standards. They’re also pressing British Columbia to give the project a higher level of review.

Right now, the KSM is an isolated work camp near exploratory drilling sites.

Murphy of Seabridge Gold says construction won’t start until it gets more permits and substantial financial backing.

“The next big regulatory challenge will be the (B.C.) Mines Act permit for the mine site. That’s a permit that … we require in order to start construction of our water storage dam and all the associated water-management structures,” he says.

The next big step would be a permit for its tailings storage facility, including dams to hold back rock leftover from processing ore.

Those dams are a key area of concern for opponents in Alaska.

James, of the tribal working group, points to August’s massive tailings-dam break at Mount Polley, in central British Columbia.

“It’s been called one of Canada’s worst environmental disasters. The Mount Polley failure was a wake-up call for us. We can’t let Alaska waters be polluted by B.C. mine waste,” she says.

Seabridge Gold says its tailings dams will use a different structure than Mount Polley’s. Critics say they’re still worried about breaks spilling toxic metals and water.

Categories: Alaska News

Doctors Hope To ‘Reset’ Healthcare Model In Alaska

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-12-22 15:40

A group of doctors in Anchorage hopes to do a better job caring for some of the sickest patients in the city. It may cost more money initially, but in the long run, the goal is also to save health care dollars.  The new group is called Alaska Innovative Medicine and the idea is based on a kidney dialysis clinic.

Cesar Jose gets dialysis 3 times a week at Liberty Dialysis in south Anchorage. Credit: Annie Feidt

Cesar Jose spends 12 hours each week sitting in the same brown recliner at Liberty Dialysis in South Anchorage. On a recent morning, he settles in with slippers, a blanket and breakfast – a donut and cranberry juice.

After a weight and blood pressure check, a technician hooks Jose up to the dialysis machine. A small tube will serve as his kidney for the next four hours.

Jose is 67 years old and has kidney failure. But he laughs as he explains his labs are perfect.

“That’s why Dr. Gitomer told me, ‘Oh you’re boring because every month it’s the same… Oh Cesar, you’re boring!’ ”

Boring is exactly what Dr. Jeremy Gitomer is hoping for. To get to boring Jose has a team of providers – a doctor, a nurse practitioner, a nutritionist, a primary nurse, a technician and a social worker. They work together to make sure Jose stays as healthy as possible. It sounds simple, but Gitomer – who co-owns the clinic – says it is a long way from the standard in dialysis care when he came to Alaska about a decade ago:

“The death rate for dialysis patients was 25 percent (every year), which is terrible. And the patients really didn’t have close supervision. In fact, it was kind of a survival of the fittest.”

Gitomer does things differently. Cesar Jose’s team understands his basic health stats, like his potassium level. But they also know Jose has a weakness for hamburgers, that he wants to visit his four kids and 11 grand kids in the Philippines and that his wife lost her job recently. To get that kind of information, the whole team sits around a sprawling conference room table with patients and their families four times a year.

Six months ago, Gitomer says he had a patient who kept telling him, ‘I’m fine.’

“I didn’t realize that her husband was dying of Alzheimers. There was a tremendous strain on her and her family who were caring for her and her husband. We were able during that family meeting to hear all of this information and get him plugged into many Alzheimers resources, remove the burden from the family and now she’s not just doing fine, she’s doing great. She’s thrived and it’s really been one of those simple things that we never would have done in the past, because we never would have figured it out.”

Gitomer estimates it costs his clinic at least 50 percent more to care for patients compared to more typical dialysis centers in Alaska.

In the long run though, he’s convinced his patients save substantial health care dollars. And data from Medicare back him up. His clinic has one of the lowest hospital admissions rates in the country.

A few years ago he started wondering if a similar model could work for other chronically ill patients in Anchorage. Gitomer began talking to other doctors about setting up a group that would coordinate care for some of the sickest patients in the city. Dr. Terry Lester was on board from the beginning:

“I think this can have dramatic impacts,” Lester says. “I think this can be very big. We have the ability to truly reset the thinking of healthcare in Alaska.”

The group Lester and Gitomer came up with is called Alaska Innovative Medicine – or AIM. A health insurance company, Premera Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alaska is providing the initial funding. Premera won’t disclose how much, but describes the investment as ‘substantial.’ Starting in January, AIM will take Premera’s sickest patients and focus on doing a better job transitioning them from the hospital to home and providing more of their care at home. After a decade of working as a hospitalist in Anchorage, Lester has a long list of things he can’t wait to do differently.

“Physicians as a whole have not been very involved throughout a lot of reform in healthcare and I think that’s one of the biggest problems. We’re the ones who every day we see where things fall through the cracks, we see where the inefficiencies are, where the problems are, how we could do it better.”

Lester gives the example of a patient with a complicated case who is discharged from the hospital on a Friday afternoon. Home health services may not be available until Monday, which means the patient is on their own at a time when they’re at high risk for being readmitted to the hospital. AIM will have a case manager and a social worker to make sure the patient has help in those critical hours. They’ll also coordinate with the patient’s primary care doctor and specialists. Gitomer says one thing the doctors won’t do is focus on cost:

“Premera has guaranteed any home care that we have recommended for the first 30 days after hospitalization no questions asked, which is amazing when you think about that.”

Home care is not cheap. But it is a lot less expensive than a hospital. And long term, AIM’s goal is to save money… maybe a lot of it. The group wants to reduce hospital readmissions for their patients by 25 percent by the end of the three year demonstration project. They want to reduce ER visits by 6 percent. Gitomer thinks it’s going to work for one simple reason.

“We’re allowed to basically care for patients like we’d want to care for patients.”

If it is successful, AIM wants to use the same model to help the state’s Medicaid population. Gitomer says that’s where the group can have the most impact on the overall health of Alaskans and on the price tag of one of the biggest drivers of the state budget.

This story is part of a partnership between APRN, NPR and Kaiser Health News.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

Goodbye, Campaigns. Hello, New Campaign Contributions

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-12-22 13:20

The campaign for U.S. Senate is over, but the accounting is not. The latest batch of campaign finance reports show Democrat Mark Begich spent nearly $10 million, and Sen.-elect Dan Sullivan spent$7.6 million, pushing the total spent on the race to $60 million. 

Congressional campaigns often end in debt. Holly Robichaud, a Republican political consultant unconnected to Alaska, says she actually advises her clients to spend more than they’ve got.

“If you win you can raise lots of money. If you lose, usually people help bail you out if you don’t get into too much debt. You never want to lose a race because you didn’t spend the $500 that would’ve really made the difference,” she said.

But, after the most expensive election in state history, neither of Alaska’s U.S. Senate candidates appears to have taken that sort of advice. The campaigns aren’t closed out yet, but Sullivan reported no debt and $277,000 cash on hand on Nov. 24, the end of the reporting period. Begich showed more cash than debt, by about $7,000, on that date.  Without net debt, a candidate can’t accept contributions made after the election. But that doesn’t mean contributors aren’t eager to help.

Consider Altria PAC. Altria is the company that owns tobacco giant Philip Morris. Its PAC sent the Sullivan campaign $5,000 two weeks after Election Day. It had previously given $5,000 to Begich.

Kathy Kiely is a campaign finance expert at the Sunlight Foundation came up with a name for that: “strategic gift revision.”

“That’s the perfect illustration I think, that (of) the pragmatism of the big political players. Really, it’s all about influence. And so he’s a senator now and they are looking to make friends,” she said.

But, whatever AltriaPAC intended, a spokesman for Sen.-Elect Dan Sullivan says the campaign is sending that money back. Altria, he said, mistakenly believed the campaign had debt to pay off. According to FEC rules on post-election fundraising, a campaign must have more debt than cash on the day it receives a check in order to keep the money. (Sullivan reported to the FEC that he received some $44,000 between Election Day and Nov. 24. The campaign, though, says nearly all of that was actually sent before Election Day. Begich reported receiving $435 after Election Day. The only contribution large enough to be itemized — $100 from a Juneau physician – was received Nov. 5.)

Altria responded to our requests for an interview about its contributions in the Alaska race with an email describing the company’s commitment to transparency. It appeared to be lifted from the company website. But on the same day AltriaPAC contributed to Sullivan, they also contributed to a raft of other freshmen who won tough races, in Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Georgia and North Carolina. Those other candidates do appear to be able to accept the money to pay off their campaign debt. Kiely says that shows the incumbent advantage in fundraising starts early, even before a senator is sworn in.

“So you can see that right away, people who want to be the first in your door with a nice pleasant green handshake and hope that you’ll remember them when the time comes to cast your vote,” she said.

In any case, Altria and other would-be Sullivan supporters need not wait any longer to make their campaign contributions. Sullivan this month registered a new campaign committee with the FEC for his next Senate run. Just as Begich did, a few weeks after his election in 2008. In another rite of freshman passage in the Senate, Sullivan also established a leadership PAC this month: True North PAC. Leadership PACs allow senators to raise money from donors beyond the strict limits of campaign contributions. Lawmakers use them to fund certain expenses and to make campaign contributions to other candidates.

Now, since it’s the holiday season, let’s take a non-cynical view of money in politics. Despite widespread belief that campaign cash sways a lawmaker’s decisions, there’s little research to prove it.

“It’s just really hard to separate out the fact that people tend to give to those that agree with them,” says David Broockman. He’s a political science PhD candidate at Berkeley who ran a clever experiment that suggests contributions DO result in better access. He had emails sent to nearly 100 congressional offices saying they had a group from that lawmaker’s district who wanted to meet with the congress member, or top staffers. Broockman says the meeting requests differed in just one way: Half the offices were told the participants would be local constituents. The other half were told the participants would be local campaign donors.

“When the individuals were revealed to be donors they received access at that level almost 20 percent of the time. Whereas, when the group was only revealed to be constituents they received that access just over 5 percent of the time,” he said. “So we’re talking about a nearly four-fold increase.”

Even that could have a more innocent explanation, Broockman says: Lawmakers and congressional staff may think donors are savvier about policy and thus more worth their time.

Categories: Alaska News

Shop with a Cop highlights family homelessness in Anchorage

APRN Alaska News - Sun, 2014-12-21 21:43

Lilly shops with Officer Bonnie Charles for Christmas presents for herself and her family. Hillman/KSKA

For the past 15 years, the Anchorage police and firefighters have donated money to the Shop with a Cop program. It gives disadvantaged children the chance to buy gifts for themselves and their family members for Christmas. But  it also highlights a problem in Anchorage – families experiencing homelessness.

 

http://www.alaskapublic.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/22-Shop-With-A-Cop.mp3

A group of police officers and fire fighters wait near the entrance of Fred Meyer in Anchorage as dozens of children file in. The adults are about to take the kids Christmas shopping. Eight-year-old Lilly pairs up with Officer Bonnie Charles and they push their cart toward the toy aisle.

“What kind of toys do you like?” Charles asks Lilly.

Lily thinks for a bit, glances at her grey Hello Kitty t-shirt and says, “Hello Kitty toys.”

“I think we can find some of those,” Charles responds confidently.

Lily is shopping for herself and her three siblings. First she picks out a Nerf gun for her brother Connor but as soon as they move to a different aisle of toys, she quickly changes her mind.

“Cause Connor really, really, really likes cars,” she says after choosing a red remote controlled pickup truck.

Many things tempt her, and Lilly jumps from one shiny object to the next. She picks out a Barbie pool for herself, Hello Kitty long forgotten. Moments later she changes again and settles on a child-sized guitar.

“I had a guitar once and then my dad had to put it back because we were running out of food so he had to put it back. Then he got a lot of money and then he could buy food. Yay!”

Lilly lives at the Salvation Army’s McKinnell House with her siblings and their father. The emergency shelter is the only temporary housing that takes in single dads and their kids. It provides hotel-like rooms, meals, and a group playroom and lounge. They also teach classes on financial literacy and parenting skills.

Diana Gomez is the administrator of the house. She says families are only supposed to stay in the 16 units for 30 days, but many stay longer so they can save up money for permanent housing.

“Our goal is always that they will not go from shelter to shelter but they will go to their own apartment.”

Carmen Springer with the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness says 80% of the homeless population is only homeless for a short time. The most common reason is the cost of housing exceeding people’s incomes. Other causes are one-time events, like major illnesses in the family or lost jobs.

“More people than often like to admit it live only a couple pay checks away from homelessness and we have a very limited safety net both here and across the country.”

Springer says different programs, like rapid re-housing and rent subsidies, help get people back into homes quickly, and they usually don’t become homeless again.

She says it’s hard to have an accurate count of how many families and individuals are homeless. Some services count how many people they help and report it to a common database. Others don’t. And the numbers fluctuate by season as well.

Back at the store, Lilly finishes her shopping then thinks about the absolutely perfect gift for her family.

“A Barbie house that you press the button and then it turns in a real house that you can actually go in. It’s a clubhouse. But it’s not real life. Though.”

She and Officer Charles set off to get their gifts wrapped.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Do I Need to Rinse This?: The economics of recycling

APRN Alaska News - Sun, 2014-12-21 21:33

A pile of mixed recycling in Anchorage. HIllman/KSKA

Cans and bottles clink and crash as  KSKA’s Anne Hillman dumps her recycling into a bin. The rules about what you can and can’t put in there can be confusing, but they have a reason. So Anne hopped in a recycling truck to sort it out.

 

http://www.alaskapublic.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/19-Recycling-pkg.mp3

A black nine-foot-long arm extends out from the lumbering red truck and its claw clamps down on a blue recycle bin. The arm hoists the bin into the air, and recyclables tumble into the truck. Empty, the bin is placed back on the ground and the truck moves on.

Solid Waste Services employee Garret Fairclough guides the maneuver from inside the cab.

“It’s pretty much just one big video game. And that’s what I say, ‘Can you play video games?’ when I train people. Because if you can play video games, you can pretty much do this job.”

Fairclough has been picking up trash and recyclables for about three years. He says it’s simple, but he can talk continuously about the intimate details, like swaying motions of different trucks, the problems of open cans filling with water and ice, the flurried mess of loose grass clippings. He winds his way down a narrow neighborhood alley.

A recycle truck grasps onto a bin in Anchorage. Hillman/KSKA

“It’s cool. It’s fun. I love going past schools cause they’re all like ‘Garbage man, honk your horn!’” he says in an awkward falsetto.  ”And I’m like ‘Alright.’”

In the back of his truck he’s carrying comingled recyclables — that’s paper, cans, and plastic bottles. But not all plastics.

“All plastics are not created equal,” says Mary Fisher, executive director of Alaskans for Litter Prevention & Recycling.  ”Let me just say that first. All plastics are different.”

Fisher says people in Anchorage can only recycle plastic bottles with necks that are marked #1 and #2. And bottles are not the same as plastic containers called clam shells, even if they are marked with the same numbers.

“And that’s because in the plastic world, #1 PET is just the name for the resin that’s used. And then chemicals are added to that resin to form it in certain ways. So a different chemical is used to form a bottle than is a clam shell.”

Which means they melt at different temperatures. Mixing the two reduces the value of the plastic. Fisher says that’s a problem, especially now when the prices for recyclables has been low for about a year.

“The recyclers are very nervous because they’re profit margins are very, very low right now.”

So they can’t take low value items, like #5 plastics. Fisher says the recycling center in Palmer can take some of them because they are a volunteer-driven non-profit.

Fisher says a couple of inappropriate recyclables mixed in with a bale of ones and twos may not make a huge difference, “but you reach a point very quickly that the contamination really lowers the value of the material.”

So does food contaminate a recycle load? Not really, but Fisher says you should rinse all of your bottles and cans because it’s more sanitary for all of the people who handle them in the sorting process.

And what about plastic caps? First it was no- now it’s yes…

“We have changed because the technology that manages this material has changed, so you can recycle your lids with your plastics.”

Fisher says many of the changes have happened because it makes people more likely to recycle.

“It’s the only industry that I know of that depends on people doing the right thing in their household in order to get the basic material to make the new product. What other industry in the world that depends on you doing the right thing?”

Back on the road, Fairclough’s truck is full. He takes the recyclables to the Anchorage Recycling Facility off of Dowling and dumps them in a massive pile.

The truck beeps and rumbles. “So pretty much we use a packer blade to shove it all out,” he explains.

When the area is full, the recyclables are crushed together into square bales, packed into shipping containers and sent off to Seattle. There they’ll be sorted and sold and potentially turned into things you’ll later recycle.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Canada Approves Controversial Mine Near Southeast Alaska’s Border

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-12-19 16:41

A controversial mine near Southeast Alaska’s border won approval from Canada’s federal government on Friday.

The Kerr-Sulphurets – Mitchell project’s environmental protection plan got the OK from the nation’s Ministry of the Environment.

The project, known as the KSM, is in northwest British Columbia, northeast of Ketchikan and east of Wrangell.

Brent Murphy, of mine owner Seabridge Gold, says the federal action is an important step.

“It means that the project can proceed,” Murphy said. “We’ve received both the provincial and Canadian governments’ approvals.”

“Essentially, it’s an approval in principal and now we move forward in the permitting phase.”

He says the project has about 100 of the 150 permits it needs. It’s also seeking investors to develop the proposed $5.3 billion mine.

The KSM is a copper, gold and silver deposit upstream of two rivers that enter the ocean within about 50 miles of Ketchikan.

Fisheries, tribal and environmental groups in Southeast Alaska oppose development, saying the mine would pollute those rivers and harm salmon and those who eat them.

Canada’s action disturbs Carrie James, who co-chairs Southeast’s United Tribal Transboundary Mining Working Group.

“I’m just really disappointed in the decision; it doesn’t surprise me. We’re not going to stop. We’ll keep fighting and we can’t stop,” James said.

Opponents are asking the Obama administration to pressure Canada to use more stringent permitting standards. They’re also pressing British Columbia to give the project a higher level of review.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: December 19, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-12-19 16:32

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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Grand Jury Indicts Man in Alaska Prosecutor’s Shooting Death

The Associated Press

An Alaska grand jury has indicted a 47-year-old man accused of shooting a prosecutor in a jealous rage over a woman.

Walker Considers Delay in Legal Marijuana Sales

The Associated Press

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker says he’s considering a 90-day delay in implementing legal marijuana sales. Alaska voters in November approved legalizing recreational use of marijuana.

University President: Budget Cuts Will Require Downsizing to ‘Core’ Missions

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

University of Alaska President Pat Gamble is anticipating budget cuts that will force the institution to downsize, and focus on its core missions.  Gamble plans to retire at the end of the 2015 school year, but he’s looking beyond his tenure to help the university prepare for the future.

Omnibus Spending Bill Increases Money for Wildfire Management

Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks

The one trillion dollar spending plan passed by Congress last weekend and signed by President Obama includes money for wildfire mitigation and management. That budget is up from prior years.

Coastline Search Leads To First Residents’ Camps

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

The Earth’s crust is more flexible than you think – especially in Southeast Alaska. Growing and shrinking ice fields and glaciers, and rising and falling oceans have altered the region’s coastline over time.

Understanding those changes is helping scientists to learn more about the area’s early human habitation.

How the Alaska Native Brotherhood Changed Alaska History

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

In “A Dangerous Idea,” author Peter Metcalfe looks at the crucial role the Alaska Native Brotherhood played in securing Native rights and land claims before, during and after statehood. The recently published book explores an often overlooked chapter in Alaska’s story.

Lonnie Dupre Makes Fourth Winter Solo Attempt on Denali

Phillip Manning, KTNA – Talkeetna

Climber and arctic veteran Lonnie Dupre left Talkeetna yesterday for his fourth attempt to be the first person to summit Denali in January.

AK: Hockey Homecoming

Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage

Anchorage has a close knit hockey community. But if players want to continue on to college hockey or eventually play professionally, they have to move away from Alaska at a fairly young age…leaving friendships behind. They use their short breaks back home to relive some of those childhood memories on the ice. And the 5th Annual Christmas Classic gives them that opportunity.

300 Villages: Kipnuk

This week we’re heading to the Bering Sea community of Kipnuk. Jimmy Paul is the tribal administrator in Kipnuk

Categories: Alaska News

Grand Jury Indicts Man in Alaska Prosecutor’s Shooting Death

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-12-19 15:39

An Alaska grand jury has indicted a 47-year-old man accused of shooting a prosecutor in a jealous rage over a woman.

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Ronald Fischer is charged with first- and second- degree murder in the Dec. 8 shotgun death of 48-year-old Brian Sullivan, who was an assistant district attorney in Barrow, the country’s northernmost community.

Authorities say Sullivan was shot at the home of a woman who had children in a past relationship with Fischer. The indictment also charges Fischer with assault by placing the woman in fear with a shotgun.

The indictment was handed up Thursday by a grand jury in Nome because Sullivan had been presenting cases to a grand jury in Barrow.

Fischer is represented by public defender Mark Billingsley, who did not immediately comment Friday.

Categories: Alaska News

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