Alaska News

300 Villages: Akiachak

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-04-18 17:05

This week, we’re heading to Akiachak, in Southwest Alaska. The village is the first in the state to formally decide to dissolve its local government in favor of traditional tribal representation. Jonathan Lomack is the executive director for Akiachak Native Community Tribal Government.

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Categories: Alaska News

AK: Hazing Birds

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-04-18 15:11

(Photo by Emily Forman, KCAW – Sitka)

At most major airports someone is paid to chase birds off the runway, but at Sitka’s airport that job is especially challenging.

That’s because 3/4 of Sitka’s runway is surrounded by water. Fish spawn along its banks, attracting hungry birds. That problem was highlighted four years ago when two Alaska Airline jets collided with eagles on takeoff. KCAW’s Emily Forman spoke with the expert who came in afterwards to make sure the runway is safe.

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Snarge. That’s the technical term Dave Tresham uses to describe unidentifiable bird debris. Avoiding snarge is the goal. It’s also the reason he’s speeding up and down Sitka’s runway 30 minutes before the noon flight departs for Ketchikan. He spots some loafing eagles at the end of the runway and stops the truck.

(Photo by Emily Forman, KCAW – Sitka)

“So now we have two eagles,” Tresham said. “So, the more you leave the birds alone the more they will show up.”

Tresham chooses a small hand pistol loaded with pyrotechnic shells aptly called screamers. Screamers tend to work best on eagles – who don’t fear much at the top of the food chain. Because when triggered, the screamers spiral wildly and shoot sparks. That’s what it takes to rattle an eagle.

Tresham is a U.S. Department of Agriculture wildlife specialist stationed at Sitka’s Rocky Gutierrez Airport. He notices patterns in bird activity at a very micro level. He has his eyes on every tuft of grass, puddle, and critter.

Tresham: “Many times I’ll spend an hour, two hours picking up bugs and worms up off of the runway.”
Forman: “Really you’ll go to that level of detail?”
Tresham: “I have pictures of night crawlers. There’s an isopod it’s called a rock loas. That is supposed to stay within a few feet of the shore line. And I’ve picked up literally hundreds of them out towards the center of the runway.”

Tresham has been modifying Sitka’s causeway since 2010. In August that year, an Alaska Airlines flight was forced to abort takeoff when a bald eagle was sucked into its left engine. That same week the replacement plane also hit an eagle on takeoff. No people were injured, only fowls, but after that, Tresham was hired to come up with a long term plan for deterring wildlife from making the Sitka runway home. That includes things like filling in still water with gravel or trimming down tall patches of grass.

Forman: “So, is there basically a Dave Tresham at every airport?”
Tresham: “There’s many. Yes. We probably have close to 30 USDA wildlife specialists working the state of Alaska alone…”

Tresham’s career path started with the Aleutian cackling goose. His first wildlife management job was removing an invasive species of fox that was preying on the cackling goose to the point of endangerment. He’s devoted a lot of time to kicking animals out of places where they shouldn’t be, but he loves wildlife. It’s tough love.

(Photo by Emily Forman, KCAW – Sitka)

“I just show up for work even when I’m not working because it’s nice to see the birds the populations,” Tresham said. “Just look at the scenery you have whales and sea lions. Where else can you do it?”

Tresham says the job has turned him into an avid bird watcher. Makes sense, that’s what the job requires. But he’s also become a really tense airplane passenger. His seasonal assistant Heather Bauscher agrees.

“You’re like where is the wildlife person! I see birds!” Bauscher said. “Why isn’t anyone doing anything about that!? Hahaha!”

They are both much more comfortable on the ground – a stone’s throw away from a 737 as it’s taking off. Because that’s where they have the most control.

(Photo by Emily Forman, KCAW – Sitka)

“We have to the south 3 to 4 maybe 5 eagles flying through those trees. From this distance those birds have felt that bangers going off…”

A banger is used with a 24 gauge shot gun. It’s a longer range shell than the screamer. Loud and resonant.

“…and if anything starts coming in this route I’ll be talking to the pilot to let them know where the birds are at.”

Tresham can literally change the course of a speeding plane minutes before it lands.

“So we have eagles above him eagles below him eagles in front of him,” Tresham said. “So we’ll be talking to the pilot 5-7 miles from the airport if we can see them saying, ‘Hey you’ve got eagles.’”

Categories: Alaska News

Congressional Issues: U.S. Representative Don Young

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-04-18 12:00

Alaska Congressman Don Young.

Taking phone calls from all over the largest congressional district in the nation can be a challenge, but it also makes for quite a radio show. Alaska Congressman Don Young is back in his district for the spring recess, and ready to talk with you on the next Talk of Alaska.

Do you have a question for Alaska’s lone congressman? Leave a comment below, email us, or call in during the live show on Tuesday.

HOST: Steve HeimelAlaska Public Radio Network

GUESTS:

  • U.S. Representative Don Young
  • Callers Statewide

PARTICIPATE:

  • Post your comment before, during or after the live broadcast (comments may be read on air).
  • Send e-mail to talk [at] alaskapublic [dot] org (comments may be read on air)
  • Call 550-8422 in Anchorage or 1-800-478-8255 if you’re outside Anchorage during the live broadcast

LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, April 22, 2014 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.

SUBSCRIBE: Get Talk of Alaska updates automatically by e-mailRSS or podcast.

TALK OF ALASKA ARCHIVE

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Lawmakers Vote To Allow Medevac Membership Programs

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-04-18 09:17

Legislation allowing medevac membership programs to continue is on its way to Gov. Sean Parnell for his signature.

The Alaska House unanimously approved Senate Bill 159 on Tuesday. It sailed through the Senate in late February.

An Airlift Northwest Lear Jet waits for a medevac call at Juneau’s airport. Airlift is ending its medevac insurance program in Alaska after losing a regulatory exemption.

The programs operated in Alaska for several years under an exemption, but Airlift Northwest’s AirCare was discontinued last year when the Division of Insurance said it no longer met state standards.

That resulted in lots of complaints from Southeast Alaskans, where AirCare had more than 3,000 members.

Rep. Cathy Muñoz, R-Juneau, started working with the insurance division to come up with a fix and shared the resulting legislation with her Southeast colleagues. Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, introduced it in the Senate.

“It basically just exempts these types of membership programs from the Division of Insurance requirements and it sets into law a reasonable regulatory regime within the division that allows this program to continue,” Muñoz says.

She says the bill had a lot of support from retirees, the commercial fishing industry, and people who work in remote sites such as mining and timber.

An emergency medical flight to Seattle or Anchorage can cost $100,000 or more. Membership programs are a supplement to other health care insurance to cover the patient’s co-pay.

“The primary insurance will pick up generally about two-thirds of a medical transport and the membership involvement would allow that extra charge to be waived if that was the only extra coverage the individual had,” she says.

Once the governor signs the bill into law, Airlift Northwest and other medevac companies will be able again to provide their membership programs to individuals who also carry medical insurance.

In a previous interview with KTOO, Airlift Northwest executive director Chris Martin said the company has always been clear that AirCare is not an insurance program.

“What an AirCare membership guarantees you is that you have no out-of-pocket expenses or no co-pay. So we bill the insurance, we take what the insurance reimburses us and you as our AirCare member do not see a bill for any further services,” she explained.

Categories: Alaska News

Carnival Miracle Cancels 15 Ketchikan Port Calls

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-04-18 09:15

Citing mechanical issues that affect the Carnival Miracle’s maximum cruising speed, Carnival Cruise Lines has canceled 15 of that ship’s port calls in Ketchikan this summer.

According to the Ketchikan Visitors Bureau, the cancellations affect scheduled Sunday port calls beginning May 25th, and include all sailings during the months of June, July and August.

The first three calls, on May 4th, May 11th and May 18th, will remain as scheduled, KVB reports. In addition, the last two calls in September have not been cancelled, but will experience a slight change in arrival and departure times.

The ship carries 2,124 passengers and the cancellations will reduce the number of passengers arriving in Alaska’s First City by about 30,000, based on pre-season estimates.

That brings the total expected cruise passengers coming through Ketchikan down to about 850,000.

Categories: Alaska News

State House Approves 2016 Sunset Date For Alaska Film Tax Credit

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-04-18 09:07

The state House voted Thursday to sunset the Alaska Film Tax Credit in 2016.

The provision was part of a bill requiring state agencies to report to the Legislature on so-called “lost revenue.” That’s the millions of dollars in revenues the state doesn’t collect each year due to various fee exemptions and tax credits. The bill adds sunset dates to some of them, meaning those programs would expire if lawmakers don’t intervene before then.

Rep. Chris Tuck addresses a joint session of the Alaska Legislature during debate about confirmations of the governor’s appointees, April 17, 2014. (Photo by Skip Gray/Gavel Alaska)

A group of Democratic House members tried and failed on the House floor to protect the Film Tax Credit, saying it hasn’t had a chance to prove itself yet. Representative Chris Tuck of Anchorage says the credit doesn’t just benefit filmmakers.

“A lot of different businesses, from limousines, restaurants, hotels, coffee shops, towing companies, electric companies, plumbing and heating companies – I mean, you name it, it has a residual effect,” Tuck said. “And what we’re trying to do with this incentive program is to build a new industry in the state of Alaska.”

A move to protect the veterans’ employment tax credit also failed. The sponsor of the lost-revenue review bill is Rep. Steve Thompson. The Fairbanks Republican says the legislation creates greater scrutiny but no worthy program has to die, he says, because lawmakers will have time to extend them. Anchorage Republican Dan Saddler put it in cinematic terms.

“It does not kill tax credits but it does prevent them from being zombies and walking on the earth long after their time and utility has passed,” Saddler said.

The bill passed 38-1 and now goes to the Senate.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Edition: April 18, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-04-18 07:39

Patrick Flynn takes over as chair of the Anchorage Assembly. The Alaska Legislature is still addressing major capital projects in the final days of the session. The Loussac Library bond failed by 14 votes. Why? Legislation to raise the minimum wage becomes deeply controversial. Wasilla does a turnaround on regulating the drug spice. The cost of Gov. Parnell’s North Slope initiative is ballooning. Two inmates die in Alaska prisons in a week.

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HOST: Michael Carey

GUESTS:

  • Steve MacDonald, KTUU Channel 2
  • Sean Doogan, Alaska Dispatch
  • Gregg Erickson, Anchorage Daily Planet Alaska Budget Report

KSKA (FM 91.1) BROADCAST: Friday, April 18, at 2:00 p.m. and Saturday, April 19, at 6:00 p.m.

Alaska Public Television BROADCAST: Friday, April 18, at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, April 19, at 4:30 p.m.

Categories: Alaska News

House Approves $3 Billion Transfer To Pension System

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-04-18 00:33

The Alaska State House has voted in favor of Gov. Sean Parnell’s plan to shore up the state’s pension system.

The bill uses $3 billion from the state’s reserve funds to help pay off the $12 billion unfunded liability. It also directs the Legislature to put $500 million into the retirement system every year, until the obligation is paid off.

Rep. Cathy Muñoz, a Juneau Republican, carried the bill for the governor.

“It’s like paying off a mortgage or a credit card,” said Muñoz. “Do we take a big bite now, and pay less later? Or do we take a small bite now, and pay more later?”

The bill passed Thursday night on a 38-2 vote, with Homer Republican Paul Seaton and Fairbanks Republican Pete Higgins opposing the measure.
While the vote was decisive, two amendments were attempted that showed a philosophical divide on how the state deals with its employee pensions

Seaton unsuccessfully offered an amendment dealing with the annual payments. The bill is written so there is some flexibility with how much the state actually has to put into the retirement trust fund every year, and Seaton wanted there to be no question that the state was obligated to pay the $500 million in full.

Anchorage Republican Charisse Millett went the other way. She proposed getting rid of the required annual payment altogether.

“I’m afraid to set expectations so high that when we get into more deficit spending, and we run out of general funds and run out of the [constitutional budget reserves] and we can’t make these large payments that we’ve made empty promise,” said Millett.

Millett ultimately withdrew her amendment and voted yes on the bill.

The bill now goes to the Senate, which is still considering taking its own approach to the unfunded liability.

Categories: Alaska News

Ferry Workers Considering Strike If Contract Negotiations Don’t Move Forward

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-04-17 17:15

Contract talks between the state and Alaska’s ferry workers are heating up as each side disagrees on how to make up the gap between revenues and the cost of operating the ferry system. Workers are now considering whether to authorize a strike if negotiations remain stalled.

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Categories: Alaska News

Texan Confirmed to Alaska Gasline Board

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-04-17 17:14

Sen. Hollis French, who argued against controversial appointments. (Photo by Skip Gray/Gavel Alaska)

Gov. Sean Parnell’s choice of Richard Rabinow drew criticism on two fronts: That he’s not Alaskan and that he spent a career at Exxon.  Sen. Hollis French, an Anchorage Democrat, questioned his allegiances.

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“Exxon already’s got 25 percent of the line. I don’t think they should get 20 percent of the public board positions on the Alaska gas Line Development Corp.,” French argued. “Mr. Rabinow’s work history is nearly exclusively with Exxon. Indeed, 34 years with the company. Thirty-four years.”

Rabinow, a Texan, is a former president of Exxon’s pipeline subsidiary, and he now works as a consultant on pipeline projects. The AGDC board is positioned to oversee a multi-billion-dollar natural gas project, and service on the board is unpaid. Underlying the debate over the appointment is the larger question of how closely aligned the state should be to its dominant industry. Rep. Charisse Millett, an Anchorage Republican, says it’s time to get closer.

Richard Rabinow (AGDC)

“They’re partners. We are partnering with Exxon in the pipeline,” she reminded legislators, gathered in a joint session for a series of confirmation votes. “The adversarial role that we have with them, we have to get rid of that. We have to stop that.”

Like other proponents, Millett says Rabinow’s expertise is invaluable to the board.

“It’s tough to feel we’re hiring an Outsider to come in and help us, but I want the best,” she said. “If I’m going to have brain surgery, I’m not going to go to the guy who maybe has done it once or twice. I’m going to go to the guy whose done it 120 times, 130 times.”

Lawmakers voted 43-17 to confirm him. Sen. Bert Stedman of Sitka and Rep. Tammie Wilson of North Pole were among the few Republicans who voted no.

The Legislature also voted 45-15 to confirm former Conoco Philips executive Bernie Washington to the board that sets the value of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline for tax purposes.

The critics, mostly Democrats, said Washington’s previous work winning favorable tariffs for the oil company left him with divided loyalties. Washington is now the chief financial officer of APRN’s parent company, Alaska Public Media.

Journalists within Alaska Public Media objected to his service on the state board, too, due to concern it creates the appearance of a conflict of interest for the news organization.

Categories: Alaska News

Parnell Signs Abortion Bill

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-04-17 17:13

(Photo distributed by Alaska Senate Majority)

Gov. Sean Parnell has signed a bill that restricts state Medicaid payments for abortions.

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The new law puts a set of recently adopted regulations into statute, and takes them a step further. It specifies that the state will not pay for elective abortions. It also limits the term “medically necessary” to cases where a woman’s life or physical health is at risk. The regulations had included a mental health exception.

The new law is expected to be challenged in court. Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union are already suing the state over the existing regulations, arguing that they violate the Constitution’s equal protection clause.

Last year, the state’s Medicaid program covered about a third of the 1,500 abortions performed in Alaska.

Categories: Alaska News

State House OKs Refinery Subsidy Plan

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-04-17 17:12

The Alaska State House has a approved a deal to give the state’s refineries – and one fertilizer plant — up to $200 million in subsidies spread out over five years.

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The plan was introduced by Gov. Sean Parnell, and it comes in response to the closure of the Flint Hills oil refinery. It originally applied to the Petro Star refineries in Valdez and North Pole and the Tesoro refinery in Kenai, but was amended yesterday to include the shuttered Agrium fertilizer plant in Nikiski.

The bill allows each of those facilities to secure an tax credit or payment of $10 million a year if they spend $25 million on tangible assets.

Supporters of the bill argue it’s necessary to keep the refineries running because of the jobs they provide and their importance to the state’s military bases. But some Democrats have characterized the bill as a bailout, and they unsuccessfully tried amending the bill so that the money would be given out as loans instead.

The bill passed today on a 35-5 vote. Anchorage Democrats Les Gara, Harriet Drummond, and Andy Josephson opposed the bill, along with Juneau Democrat Sam Kito III and Eagle River Republican Lora Reinbold. It still needs to be approved by the Senate.

Categories: Alaska News

High Mercury Levels Found In Lake Trout From Lake Clark

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-04-17 17:11

A new study shows that lake trout in the Lake Clark National Park and Preserve have mercury levels that exceed the state and national standards for consumption by women and children.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Inuit Circumpolar Conference Searches For Food Security Definition

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-04-17 17:10

The Alaska Inuit Circumpolar Council met in Nome this week to define food security from an Alaska Native perspective.

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Carolina Behe is the ICC Alaska Traditional Knowledge and Science Advisor.

“When we say food security, we’re talking about the entire environment, and there’s so many changes occurring within that,” Behe said.

As those changes occur, Behe says, Alaska Natives want a role in the decision making, but she says their voices are often not being heard and their participation often excluded.

“So if there is a lack of sea ice,” Behe said. “If all of a sudden a new regulation is imposed that limits their accessibility to getting a food resource, they’re not involved in making a decision that caused the impact of the environment or that resulted in the adaptation that people think need to take place for us to control the environment.”

Behe says, creating this definition helps communicate an Inuit understanding to outside bodies like government agencies and development corporations.

Education was also a major focus, particularly in teaching young people about subsistence. Behe says, failing to transfer this knowledge threatens food security by limiting accessibility and altering identity.

“Inuit are part of this ecosystem and their culture has evolved because of this ecosystem and this ecosystem has reacted to that,” Behe said. “It’s not static; it’s continuously changing and there’s continuous adjustments. But at this point, there’s a lot of outside interest, and it’s causing an increase in concern over food security.”

The Alaska ICC is planning another meeting in Bethel later this year. They’ve already held two sessions in Barrow and Kotzebue. The gathered information will be peer reviewed and then distributed to tribal councils, industry and government agencies, and the international Arctic Council.

Categories: Alaska News

National Weather Service Forecasts Kuskokwim Breakup

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-04-17 17:09

The Alaska Pacific River Forecast Center predicts the Kuskowkim will break up at Bethel between May 9th and May 15th. That range is right around the historical average of May 12th. But after a warm winter with little snow, the Forecast Center says this year’s breakup could happen in one of several ways.

Celine van Breukelen is a hydrologist with the National Weather Service. She says her team is looking at two different scenarios. The first is a traditional breakup based on snow melting upriver.

But the Kuskokwim snowpack is less than half of normal levels at this time. If the river breaks up in the traditional way with little snowmelt in the pipeline, the ice upriver could have trouble floating and lead to flooding.

“Because the water level is so low, there’s not enough depth to get the ice sheets down stream, they get caught in the bends of the river and they get caught on sandbars. That’s exactly what happened in Crooked Creek in 2011,” said van Breukelen.

Van Breukelen says, thanks to warmer than normal temperatures, that could lead to an earlier than normal breakup.

The second scenario is a thermal breakup – or mush out. That happens with the sun degrades the ice and there’s not enough water to push ice downriver.

“That could lead to a later than normal break up, in the sense that it just sits in the river and it takes time for the sun to work on it before it finally moves out,” said van Breukelen.

Ice thickness is currently a little below normal to normal. Measurements from earlier this month show ice 44 inches thick at Aniak, 34 inches at Napaimute, and 25 inches at McGrath.

In any case, the conditions over the next two weeks will in part determine what kind of flood risk residents of the Kuskokwim will face.

“It’s easy for people to say oh, there’s a very small snowpack, we can already see the ice beginning to deteriorate. But people just still be aware of the potential for breakup flooding, just for the reason that if there isn’t as much water to push on the ice sheets, they tend to ground and we could see some flooding from that. So still be aware and be prepared,” said van Breukelen.

Van Breukelen will be part of the 2014 River Watch program, a partnership between the state and National Weather Service to assess flood threats and navigational hazards. They plan to begin flying upriver around May 3rd, while a second team flying from Bethel could start around May 8th.

Categories: Alaska News

Birthday Cupcakes Exempt From Ketchikan Schools’ Nutrition Guidelines

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-04-17 17:08

The Ketchikan School Board adopted new administrative regulations last week governing student nutrition and physical activity, in order to meet new federal standards.

The standards essentially require that only healthy food be served in schools. There are some exceptions built into the rules and the Ketchikan school board added a few more, including the “cupcake clause.”

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Those last two areas raised some concerns, and led to a couple of language changes in order to relax the rules a little.

One of the issues was selling food at athletic competitions that take place during the school day, such as the recent regional basketball tournament. Many non-students attend those activities, and, as Board Member Stephen Bradford pointed out, want their snacks during a game.

“And I think that we can do that by amending line 263, after ‘sold or served’ add the words, ‘Directly to KGBSD students,’” He said “In other words, they can still operate the concession stand, old guys like me can still go in and enjoy my popcorn and coke while I watch the basketball game. We just have to put up a note up for our own students that says you can’t buy anything until 30 minutes after the instructional period is over.”

That amendment passed unanimously, as did Bradford’s second suggestion, which provides an exception to the healthy food standards for special occasions.

“So the amendment would be, ‘Traditional or cultural foods may be exempted from the food standards described above for educational or special school or classroom events when offered free of charge,’” Board President Michelle O’Brien summed up.

Board Member Dave Timmerman then asked, “Does that cover cupcakes?”

Bradford answered, “Well, I believe that a cupcake, in our culture, is a standard item to be offered at a birthday.”

Student board member Evan Wick suggested a third amendment to the guidelines. He noted that the rules prohibit any kind of educational material or school display that includes a name-brand of an unhealthy food.

“I’ve brought with me some educational materials. This is my AP world history book. It has a picture of McDonald’s in it. That would fall under the brands or illustrations of unhealthful foods,” he said.

Wick then handed around a detail from a mural that covers a wall in the high school’s commons area. “It features a Burger King soda, fries and what appears to be a cheeseburger, which I do believe probably falls under unhealthful foods,” he said.

As the student representative, Wick isn’t allowed to make motions, but he asked the School Board to consider amending the regulation, adding the words “within reason.” Board Member Trevor Shaw complied, and the amendment passed unanimously.

The main motion also passed without dissent.

Approving it means that the district’s policies now are aligned with the 2010 federal Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.

Categories: Alaska News

NOMAR Names ‘Alaska Manufacturer Of The Year’

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-04-17 17:07

NOMAR Manufacturing in Homer has been churning out gear for fishermen, hunters, oilmen and outdoor enthusiasts for more than 35 years. The company was recognized for its work a few weeks ago, when it was named “Alaska Manufacturer of the Year” by the “Made In Alaska” organization.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: April 17, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-04-17 17:04

Individual news 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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Ferry Workers Considering Strike If Contract Negotiations Don’t Move Forward

Margaret Friedenauer, KHNS – Haines

Contract talks between the state and Alaska’s ferry workers are heating up as each side disagrees on how to make up the gap between revenues and the cost of operating the ferry system. Workers are now considering whether to authorize a strike if negotiations remain stalled.

Texan Confirmed To Gasline Board

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

The Alaska Legislature confirmed a controversial appointee to the Alaska Gas Line Development Corporation board of directors on Thursday, but not without debate over whether he has Alaska’s interest at heart.

Gov. Parnell Signs Bill Restricting Medicaid Payments For Abortions

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Governor Sean Parnell has signed a bill that restricts state Medicaid payments for abortions.

State House OKs Refinery Subsidy Plan

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

The Alaska State House has approved a deal to give the state’s refineries – and one fertilizer plant – up to $200 million in subsidies spread over five years.

High Mercury Levels Found In Lake Trout From Lake Clark 

Mike Mason, KDLG – Dillingham

A new study shows that lake trout in the Lake Clark National Park and Preserve have mercury levels that exceed the state and national standards for consumption by women and children.

Alaska Inuit Circumpolar Conference Searches For Food Security Definition

Anna Rose MacArthur, KNOM – Nome

The Alaska Inuit Circumpolar Council met in Nome this week to define food security from an Alaska Native perspective.

National Weather Service Forecasts Kuskokwim Breakup

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

The Alaska Pacific River Forecast Center predicts the Kuskowkim will break up at Bethel between May 9th and May 15th. That range is right around the historical average of May 12th.  But after a warm winter with little snow, the Forecast Center says this year’s breakup could bring some flooding.

Birthday Cupcakes Exempt From Ketchikan Schools’ Nutrition Guidelines

Leila Kheiry, KRBD – Ketchikan

The Ketchikan School Board adopted new administrative regulations last week governing student nutrition and physical activity, in order to meet new federal standards. The standards essentially require that only healthy food be served in schools. There are some exceptions built into the rules and the Ketchikan school board added a few more, including the “cupcake clause.”

NOMAR Names ‘Alaska Manufacturer Of The Year’

Aaron Selbig, KBBI – Homer

NOMAR Manufacturing in Homer has been churning out gear for fishermen, hunters, oilmen and outdoor enthusiasts for more than 35 years. The company was recognized for its work a few weeks ago, when it was named “Alaska Manufacturer of the Year” by the “Made In Alaska” organization.

Categories: Alaska News

Mat Su Borough FY 15 Budget Outlook

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-04-17 11:13

 

The Borough administration’s various departments made their budget presentations to the Matanuska Susitna Borough Assembly on Tuesday. April 15.

 Borough manger John Moosey told the panel that the upcoming fiscal year’s Borough overall income would take a hit from a 20 percent reduction in state revenue sharing

“Revenue sharing is about a one million dollar hit. So it’d be a million dollars this year. That million dollar decrease is planned for in this budget.”

Moosey said that increased up-front costs associated with the state’s PERS retirement plan and changes in how the state reimburses PERS contributions will impact Boro spending accounts. He said plans are to eliminate one administrative position next fiscal year.

However, Moosey told the body, ‘..we have a lot for other people to be jealous of.’    He outlined Borough FY 14 successes in projects involving schools, roads, fisheries, recreation and the Port MacKenzie rail spur.

Among the Borough’s fiscal challenges, expenses for the upkeep of Port MacKenzie loom large. Moosey defends port development, especially in light of recent state legislative and budget developments regarding the Knik Arm Crossing. “We have to pay attention to port development”, he said.

According to Port Mackenzie director Marc Van Dongen, the proposed FY 15 port budget is less than the current fiscal year’s port budget. The total port budget of 915,708 dollars includes 135 thousand dollars in power bills anticipated this year, due to new electrical systems scheduled to be constructed at the port this year. The work itself is being paid for by a state grant.

Van Dongen told the panel that projected revenues from port usage have not materialized, due to delays in the coal production that initially were expected to keep the port in business. He said that the Port had not paid for its keep since 2008, when a gravel shipping project brought in more in than 800 thousand dollars into Borough accounts through royalites and wharfage and docking fees.

According to Van Dongen, the Port cannot generate enough revenue to meet expenses until the Port MacKenzie rail spur is up and running

“When that rail line is completed and we are shipping three million tons or more of commodities or combination of commodities, that will generate gross revenue of about five million dollars a year and net revenues of over four million dollars a year. That’s what we have been working toward for fourteen years, is to get to the point where we get the rail line completed and can officially import to the port large volumes of commodities via rail.”

 

He told the panel that Port MacKenzie has been successful in securing a three month project for the port this summer to receive and load 14 miles of concrete covered pipe for shipment to Nikiski. But he said the Port needs another three million dollars from the state legislature to pay for needed cathodic protection work on it’s pilings. And the last two miles of gravel road leading to the port still have to be paved. Van Dongen said there was a little over 900 thousand dollars left over from a state grant to pave the port road, but that would be barely adequate to complete the project. One Assembly member asked what would happen if the state took that 900 thousand back. Van Dongen said then the Borough could not finish the road paving.

Other setbacks include a US Army Corps of Engineers halt on wetlands permits the port requires to complete piling and electric work.  Van Dongen said it’s important to keep that 900 thousand in the Borough.

“It’s important that we retain those funds. We need a half a million to pave that last half mile, and we need 283 thousand to pay for the mitigation. That would come out of that 907 thousand .  There’s a freeze on our permits. The Corps is not letting us process any permits, and there’s three permits I need to be processing now, that are on hold until we satisfy that mitigation.”

 

The mitigation Van Dongen refers to is an agreement the Borough makes with the Corps to pay for wetlands purchases to compensate for wetlands impacted by the rail spur project.

Van Dongen said that four segments of the rail spur construction are underway, but two segments remain. He said 171 million dollars has been spent on spur construction so far, but another 101 million dollars is needed to complete the final two segments. The plan is to ask the state legislature for that money over three years. Van Dongen said Borough fiscal officials estimate the Port loses 400 thousand dollars a year, but that will be paid back to the Borough general fund when the rail spur is completed.

 

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

Drug Discovery at Unalaska School Leads to Four Arrests

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-04-17 10:44

Four people were arraigned in court Wednesday morning for allegedly selling marijuana. The cases are the result of an investigation into drug possession that started at the local high school.

Two of the defendants are students there — something that deputy police chief Mike Holman says is extremely rare in Unalaska. Holman says officers started looking into the case on Monday.

“We got some information from the school that one of the students — a 14-year-old girl — was found to have some marijuana in her possession,” Holman says. “We went down and spoke with her, spoke with her parents, spoke with another 15-year-old girl.”

The students alleged that they’d obtained marijuana from Soo Enele, a 22-year-old Unalaska resident. Police questioned Enele and took him into custody on Tuesday. He was charged with a felony for allegedly selling marijuana to a minor.

Following up on a tip from Enele, police spoke with a person on Tuesday who said they knew of other drug activity in the community, and agreed to act as a confidential informant.

“The individual who helped us out was able to identify another high schooler — his name is Shadrack Baird — who was selling marijuana,” Holman says. “He made an undercover purchase from Shadrack, who is 18.”

Baird was arrested Tuesday night, along with two people who drove with him to meet the informant — his classmate, 18-year-old Johanna Pham, and 30-year-old Jason Tungul.

They were all charged with misdemeanors related to the sale and possession of marijuana. Pham and Tungul were also charged with a felony for allegedly trying to get rid of drugs and paraphernalia before officers caught up with them.

It’s not common for police to pursue drug cases against high school students in Unalaska, Holman says. The district attorney’s office helped them weigh that against other facts of the case before pressing ahead.

“The age of the young girls at the school that were originally found in possession of the marijuana is one of the large factors in this,” Holman says, “Fourteen- or 15-year-old girls that are receiving or buying marijuana through the adults.”

Magistrate Judge Jane Pearson reviewed all four cases during a court hearing Wednesday morning. Pearson noted that Tungul is the only defendant with prior convictions. He recently served a felony sentence and is still on parole.

Pearson approved conditions of release for each defendant, which include contact restrictions and third-party custodians. But the magistrate made an exception for Baird. He told the court his family moved out of state a few months ago. He stayed behind in Unalaska to finish his last year of high school.

The magistrate waived Baird’s custodian requirement and set bail at a $500 unsecured appearance bond. She reviewed the state’s bail suggestions for the other three defendants but did not set bond amounts. They will stay in jail until the court screens and approves third-party custodians.

Categories: Alaska News

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