Alaska News

Borough Musher’s Law Protects Dog Kennels

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-11-21 16:01

A  hundred huskies howling is  the  kind of noise that angers homeowners who happen to live close by a sled dog kennel. And with suburbia edging ever – closer to the heart of the Mat Su, clashes between dog owners and new neighbors are inevitable.  Iditarod musher Cim Smyth, from Big Lake, testified Wednesday at the Mat Su Assembly public hearing on a new ordinance aimed at protecting musher’s rights.

“There’s a lot of regulations out there. Very few are positively supporting our sport. Which is the state sport. It is a major hobby for a lot of people, but it is also a major business in this state for a lot of people. I pay my taxes racing sled dogs, racing sled dogs.”

The ordinance sets out terms for a three year kennel license  for a fee of 150 dollars.

 Mat Su Assemblyman Vern Halter , who  keeps a kennel, has run his share of Iditarods, and happens to be an attorney.  Halter sponsored the lengthy ordinance that covers everything from a definition of sled dog to mushing facility standards of care.

 Halter also points out that  sled dog  mushing is the state sport, and that Alaska has been officially recognized as a “right to mush” state by the legislature.

 A number of professional kennel owners spoke up at the meeting in support of the ordinance.   Dee Dee Jonrowe,  says the ordinance protects the dogs as well. In her forty years of mushing, Jonrowe says she’s seen positive changes in dog care.

“And I believe that this ordinance is really helping to design the framework for the quality facilities that I think we would like to see all sled dogs have available to them.”

 Other mushers related negative incidents aimed at their sport… blocked trails and signs with derogatory messages. The ordinance spells out the the definition of interference with mushing, with possible fines for interference of up to one thousand dollars and imprisonment of 90 days.

 The Borough’s Animal Control Board did not offer an opinion on the ordinance. But John Wood, board chair and a sprint musher, noted the economic boost that mushing has become for the Valley

“If you take a look at the economic driver that this industry provides for you, it’s immense. It’s an international sport. If we play our cards correctly, we could be the center of that.

 But some expressed concerns.  Patty Rosnel spoke against the ordinance, saying that  the Borough has not attached a fiscal note to the law, and that there is no money in the Borough budget to pay for enforcement.

 Despite that complaint, the ordinance passed unanimously, adding a new chapter to the Borough’s animal care regulations.

Categories: Alaska News

LNG Project Gets Export Approval

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-11-21 15:53

A federal agency has approved the export of liquefied natural gas from a proposed mega-project in Alaska to free-trade nations.

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The U.S. Department of Energy said Friday that the automatic approval, which was required by law, should not be read to indicate the department’s views on a still-pending request to export to non-free trade countries, like Japan.

Pacific Rim nations such as Japan have been eyed as possible markets for the project, which is being pursued by the state, TransCanada Corp., and the North Slope’s three major energy companies. A final decision on whether to build the project has not been made.

Federal pipeline coordinator Larry Persily said more significant than Friday’s order was the relatively little opposition the department received related to the project’s export license application.

Categories: Alaska News

Regional Tribal Government Considered by Calista Regional Committee

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-11-21 15:52

A new regional tribal government, new taxes, and a constitutional convention will be considered when theCalista-facilitated Regional Committee meets Monday in Anchorage.

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The delegates will look at major changes to how the YK Delta is governed through four main resolutions under discussion. The first option being considered would strengthen the role of the Association of Village Council Presidents. Amendments include changing the name to the “Association of Sovereign Yupiit Villages,” providing for direct election of the President, and modifying the charter to allow the President to take executive action to carry out directives from the board.

The next option is to create a new borough government under Alaska state law, with the goal of strengthening the region’s political voice.
The third option is a constitutional convention to establish a regional tribal government with the intention of assessing taxes currently being paid by regional and village corporations to the United States and State Governments.
Willie Kasayulie is Chairman of the Calista board of Directors, as well as the Regional Committee and its steering committee.

“I think the strongest of the three options would be a regional tribal government format. In that concept we basically create a two house system, similar to the state and federal legislative structure. One side of the house would include tribal representation and tribal governments, the other house would be the house of organizations,” said Kasayulie.

A draft 12-page constitution lays out a regional tribal government, complete with three branches of government, power for law enforcement, and fish and game management. The resolution looks at capturing income taxes from native corporations and assessing taxes on regional lands and businesses.

The Regional Committee formed this February after the Calista board of directors voted to create the group to study problems with current legislation affecting Alaska Native people, tribal government, and corporations, and come up with a strategic plan. A 16-person steering committee has met several times since the spring. Calista’s website says more than 50 tribes have registered for the second full meeting in Anchorage.

Several regional organizations have passed resolutions opposing the Regional Committee and regional tribal governments, including the Bethel Native Corporation and Bethel’s tribe, ONC among others.

The Association of Village Council Presidents provided a list of 16 groups opposing an earlier AVCP resolution in support of a regional tribal government, or the Calista Regional Committee process. Myron Naneng is AVCP President.

“That has come up before but it has been rejected by tribal governments in the villages because they want to ensure they have their local tribal power. This happened 1986 and 2000. We’re kind of perplexed by the fact that Calista wants to move in this direction,” said Naneng.

A final option calls for no changes in governance and would terminate the regional committee. The meeting agenda includes a vote on whether to pursue any of the governance options.

The Regional Committee meets at the Egan Center in Anchorage Monday. Calista’s board approved 200-thousand dollars to run the committee process. Several corporate sponsors made it possible to fly in delegates to Anchorage for the meeting.

KYUK requested to broadcast the proceedings for both of this year’s full meetings, but Calista declined. When KYUK requested that a reporter attend the meeting, a spokesperson said the meeting was closed to the public and to the media. It’s open to shareholders and descendants, space permitting.

Resolutions and draft constitution are posted on Calista’s webpage.

Categories: Alaska News

Another Orphaned Alaska Bear Cub Needs A Home

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-11-21 15:49

“BaBa” the bear cub, comes out of a dog house at his temporary home with Kate Rourke and Andy Bassich. (Credit Terry Pratt / BBC)

Another orphaned Alaska bear cub needs a home. The young black bear found near Eagle is the 8th the state has dealt with this year. The other seven cubs, all but one black, including a trio rescued in Galena in September, have been placed in lower 48 wildlife care facilities. The fate of the latest orphaned cub is uncertain.

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Categories: Alaska News

NOAA Designates Kachemak Bay a Habitat Focus Area

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-11-21 15:48

Ocean acidification and climate change have become more prominent topics of conversation over the past few years, especially in areas heavily dependent on the sea, like Alaska.

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“The ocean conditions are changing and that’s something that we want to understand as well as we can so that we can be better prepared to address those changes and help our coastal communities be more resilient to those changes,” Julie Speegle, who works with the Alaska region of the National Marine Fisheries Service, said.

She says Kachemak Bay joins seven other habitat focus areas nationwide under NOAA’s Habitat Blueprint initiative. And it was a logical choice.

“One of the special things about Kachemak Bay is we have already gathered quite a bit of data on ocean conditions and habitat there,” says Speegle. “What we haven’t done is put all that data together and see what comes out of it, what we can learn from it.”

The bay is already a State of Alaska Critical Habitat Area and a National Estuarine Research Reserve. So, the building blocks are already in place. She says the blueprint initiative provides the framework for organizations to efficiently work together in a targeted area.

“So, we basically select habitat focus areas where we can prioritize resources and activities and foster and leverage partnerships to address changes in coastal and ocean habitats,” says Speegle.

NOAA already has relationships with outside groups in the Kachemak Bay area, including tribal governments, regional citizens advisory councils, municipal bodies, and environmental interest groups like the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies.

But the designation also encourages NOAA to make a concerted effort within the branches of its own organization.

“So, you’ve got NOAA’s National Ocean Service, National Weather Service, National Marine Fisheries Service and we’ll be working together internally to focus our efforts on Kachemak Bay,” says Speegle.

But what does that mean practically?

Speegle says it provides groups with the incentive to conduct scientific studies and the facilities to streamline data sharing. But it also has the potential to ease the financial burden that’s often a barrier to ongoing research programs. She says there is some federal funding that opens up to projects once they are designated within a habitat focus area.

The research and information that comes out of these projects will reach beyond Kachemak Bay as well.

“So, as we go forward, we’ll be sort of using Kachemak Bay as a testing area to improve NOAA mapping and model information,” says Speegle. “And we have a goal of developing new tools for habitat assessment that can be used not just in the Kachemak Bay area, but other coastal areas throughout Alaska.”

Speegle says the next step is to evaluate ongoing studies and what’s already in place. Overall, she hopes Kachemak Bay will provide some more insight into changing ocean conditions and the best ways to manage those changes for the future.

Categories: Alaska News

Federal Court Rejects Alaska’s Appeal

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-11-21 15:47

The state of Alaska has lost another attempt to reinstate a ban on same-sex marriage, and Gov.-elect Bill Walker has changed his stance on the issue.

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The federal appeals court for the West rejected the state’s request that an 11-judge panel review the district court decision that found the state’s ban unconstitutional.

The state could appeal again to the federal court or to the U.S. Supreme Court. The state has spent more than $100,000 defending the ban.

As a candidate, Walker said he wouldn’t pursue costly litigation with little chance of success, even though he personally believes marriage should be between a man and a woman.

But now his spokeswoman says Walker wants a proper analysis before making any decision on the lawsuit.

Categories: Alaska News

Listen: What Marriage Means For One Alaska Same-Sex Couple

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-11-21 15:46

Kelli Burkinshaw (front) and Megan Ahleman paddling in Berner’s Bay this past fall. (Photo courtesy Kelli Burkinshaw)

Since same-sex marriage became legal in Alaska, of the roughly 480 marriage license applications in the state, about 20 percent are from same-sex couples.

One of those couples is former KTOO employee Kelli Burkinshaw and her partner Megan Ahleman. They’re getting married tomorrow in Juneau.

The two had talked about marriage before, but they didn’t get engaged until a federal judge decided October 12 that Alaska’s same-sex marriage ban was unconstitutional. It was important they marry in a state that meant something to both of them.

Megan and Kelli had a conversation at KTOO last Sunday about their relationship and getting married. In the tradition of StoryCorps, here’s an excerpt of their conversation:

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Categories: Alaska News

Borough Bus Lines To Consolidate

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-11-21 15:45

Several public bus lines now serve various markets within the Mat Su Borough, but a new state mandate may force them to consolidate. 

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Public transportation in an area as spread out as the Matanuska Susitna Borough poses its challenges. Some of those challenges have been met with the help of non – profit transportation companies, like MatSu Community Transit, or MASCOT, that runs mini busses through remote neighborhoods. The Valley Mover line makes regular commuter runs from Wasilla to Anchorage, and Talkeetna’s tiny Sunshine Transit, operated by the Sunshine Health Clinic, provides wheels for patients and the elderly headed for doctor’s appointments or shopping in Wasilla and Anchorage. The services have one thing in common – they all depend on a state subsidy, and now that money may be drying up.

 Naomi Nelson, Mascot executive director, says the state Department of Transportation wants to see cost savings, and has mandated a consolidation of transit services:

“The idea behind that is to reduce expenses and to put more busses on the road and provide better service.”

In a letter to the bus companies, DOT’s transit program manager said there would be no grant funding of any future transit expansion projects unless the bus companies merge. DOT wants an operational plan in place by next year. And a committee has been formed to come up with a plan so that the Mat Su bus systems can continue to get funding in the next grant cycle. Nelson says the committee needs to submit it’s plan by January of next year.

“That plan will outline more than just the merger. There’s community needs that need to be assessed. There’s a lot of work going into planning routes and services, including costing those out.”

The Mat Su bus lines share in a million dollar a year pot of money from the Federal Transit Administration that is passed through DOT. So far, the committee has decided that Sunshine Transit does not have to be a part of the merger, since it is essentially an arm of a health clinic.

A fourth bus line, operated by the Chickaloon Tribe, would be excluded, too, because it is paid for with tribal funds. That leaves MASCOT and Valley Mover to merge their administrations and staff.  Valley Mover executive director Jennifer Tew says the merger plan is still uncertain.

“So we don’t know exactly how it’g going to pan out yet. But that’s the whole purpose, to bring more services to the Valley.”

Tew says her busline makes 15 round trips to Anchorage a day, keeping cars of the highway, and that the DOT funds are needed to help defray costs to consumers.

“Our fare cost is $7 one way, $10 round trip, but our cost per ride is about $12″.

The state money helps makes up the slack between fares and costs. Consolidation would mean the organizations would reduce administrative staff.  Mascot’s Nelson says implementation of the plan is set for July of next year.   Nelson says the trend toward consolidation is nationwide, but Mat Su is the first area in the state to be affected.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

Village Sewer and Water

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-11-21 12:00

It is estimated that one of every three families in village Alaska still do not have a sanitary means of sewage disposal, in spite of hundreds of million dollars poured into rural sanitation. Systems have been installed in 77 percent of villages, but the smaller the village the higher the cost per person. What is the answer to this puzzle?

HOST: Steve Heimel, Alaska Public Radio Network

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Categories: Alaska News

300 Villages: South Naknek

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-11-21 10:27

This week, we’re heading to the community of South Naknek on Bristol Bay. Lorianne Rawson is the tribal administrator with the native village of South Naknek.

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Categories: Alaska News

AK: Eagles Up Close

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-11-21 10:19

Photographer James Norman shared this picture of eagles along the Chilkat River. (Photo by James Norman)

Each fall, thousands of bald eagles flock to a stretch of the Chilkat River about 20 miles north of Haines. The birds fly there for a late chum salmon run. It’s thought to be the largest gathering of eagles in the world. Dozens of people travel to witness the raptors each year, filling up almost every hotel room in Haines.

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“They have a fish, two more kind of flew in eyeing it, so far the first guy has it,” Laura Ferraro said, standing on edge of the Chilkat River watching bald eagles fish for salmon. Ferraro describes herself as a “serious hobby photographer.” She has a camera on a tripod in front of her with a huge lens.

“Yeah it’s probably close to two feet long so it’s pretty heavy, probably 8 and half pounds just for the lens,” she said.

Ferraro is from Orange County, California. She’s visited here once before to photograph the eagles.

“They’re a beautiful bird, they symbolize freedom. They’re great,” Ferraro said. “And it’s really fun getting the interactions with them here when they try to steal fish from each other.”

Ferraro is not alone on this bank of Chilkat River. Half a dozen photographers are clicking away.

They’re here during the Bald Eagle Festival. It’s a week-long event Haines holds each November to capitalize on the influx of visitors like Richard Barrett, who has traveled even farther than Ferraro. Barrett is an amateur photographer from the UK.

Barrett: “Quite a difficult place to get here is Haines, and I’ve come a very long way to get here.”

Files: “Do you think it’ll be worth it?”

Barrett: “Oh yeah sure. Definitely, no doubt. All the raptors are great birds to photograph. And then here we got the fantastic mountain backdrop as well. So you’ve got a lot of ingredients to make a really nice photograph.”

He’s planning to use some of the pictures he takes here in a wildlife calendar.

Eagle photographers along the Chilkat River. (Photo by John Hagen)

Other people have less official plans for their eagle photos.

“Making everyone else envious they haven’t been here,” Chris Klore, who traveled from Dallas with her twin sister, Michaela Davis, and their husbands Duncan and Jack, said. They’ve been planning this trip for three years.

Michaela: “It sort of makes my heart beat fast, it’s so pretty.”

Jack: “It’s something you don’t see in the Lower 48. You don’t see all this beauty. It’s something different for us to see.”

Michaela: “It’s flat where we live. We have no mountains; we have no snow; we have no bald eagles.”

This year, there seem to be fewer bald eagles, because the weather has been clear and sunny and the rest of Chilkat River isn’t frozen over. But American Bald Eagle Foundation Executive Director Cheryl McRoberts says they’ve counted more than 2,000 eagles along the river.

This is the 20th year the foundation has held the Bald Eagle Festival.

“We have people here this year from New Zealand, Africa, England,” McRoberts said.

McRoberts says 184 people registered for the festival. Throughout the week, the foundation holds eagle feedings, raptor presentations, lectures and more.

Dave Olerud is the founder of the Bald Eagle Foundation. He helped advocate for the 48,000 acre Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve that was established by the state in 1982.

“Every creature out there has a beautiful story to tell,” Olerud said. “And the bald eagle is a classic.”

Olerud says one reason people are interested in eagles is their power.

“Ancient civilizations or old civilizations what did they use to tell the story of their dominance or the power of their society?” Olerud said. “They used the eagle.”

Back along the river, Dave Teeson from Whitehorse points out a group of about a hundred eagles near the water.

“I think it’s rare for wildlife not to be scared of us,” Teeson said. “Most animals just avoid us so much that you just catch a short glimpse.”

“But for eagles you can watch them close up for a long time they don’t care.”

What many of the photographers here hope for is that perfect picture.

“I got a shot yesterday I’m just thrilled to death with, it makes the entire trip worthwhile,” James Norman, an amateur photographer and retired lawyer from Virginia, said, describing the picture. “Two eagles interacting, both in the air, claws extended separated by an inch perhaps, nice spray of backlit water behind them. I’m just thrilled to death.”

Norman plans to enter the shot in photography contests.

The migration of eagles and photographers to the Chilkat River will continue until the end of the salmon run, around late December.

Categories: Alaska News

Reports Highlight High Rate of Violence in Alaska

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-11-21 08:00

Two recent reports highlight the tragically high rate of violence in Alaska. One from the FBI is a revision of how rape is defined in the state. The new definitions have resulted in much higher numbers in a state that already suffers from being the worst in the nation for sexual violence. The second report looks at the impact on Native children from exposure to violence in their homes and communities.

HOST: Lori Townsend

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KSKA (FM 91.1) BROADCAST: Friday, November 21 at 2:00 p.m. and Saturday, November 22 at 6:00 p.m.

Alaska Public Television BROADCAST: Friday, November 21 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, November 22 at 4:30 p.m.

Categories: Alaska News

ASD budget surplus indicator of unfilled positions

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-11-20 17:32

The Anchorage School District spent less money than they planned during the first quarter of this year. If that trend continues, they’ll have an extra $22 million left over by the end of June 2015. 

Superintendent Ed Graff attributes the savings to prudent business practices and the district’s difficulty in hiring and retaining highly-experienced teachers and staff. ASD is spending less than planned on salaries and benefits.

According to state law and board policies, the district can only keep 10% of their budget in a fund balance that’s held in case of emergencies. That means they have 18 months to spend about $24 million dollars. Graff says he thinks they need to set most of it aside for next school year’s $22 million projected fund deficit.

“We do have budget challenges based on projected revenue. That’s not going away,” Graff says.

Graff says the district also needs to address ways to solve the hiring problems. The district was unable to fill 23 full-time teaching positions this year, and those classes are being taught by long-term substitutes.

“People are deciding they don’t want to take a risk and seek employment, or they understand the challenges we’re facing and the uncertainty,” he says. “You know, that’s difficult.”

The district also has dozens of posted support staff openings.

Alyse Gavin with the education advocacy group Great Alaska Schools says the fund surplus indicates unknown problems within the district.

“When we heard these numbers come out, the first thing in our mind was ‘why haven’t we heard these alarm bells sooner? A) That we’re having trouble hiring teachers, and B) that we can’t keep the teachers that have great experience that are really contributing to our classes.’ If that truly is happening over the last few months, I think we should have heard about it by now.”

Gavin says part of the problem goes back to insecurity about long-term school revenues.

School Board member Natasha von Imhof says the extra money could help complete studies and implement practices to make the district run more efficiently in the future, but they’re keeping the vacancies in mind.

“We’re going to be very conservative, I think, with the spending of the money. We will continue to make every effort to fill the needed positions, and the money will be set aside for sure.”

The district also might spend the money on summer school programs and increasing pay for substitute teachers. The administration will make recommendations and the School Board will discuss the issue during their December 1st meeting.

Categories: Alaska News

Hoffman, Halford Prepare for Walker Transition Weekend

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-11-20 17:05

Hoffman and Halford speak as Bill Walker and Byron Mallott look on. (Photo from Walker campaign)

Bethel’s Ana Hoffman and former Senate President Rick Halford are chairing incoming Governor Bill Walker’s transition team. Walker is racing towards inauguration next month.

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Hoffman and Halford are pulling together stakeholders in 17 topic areas, from budgets and subsistence to the National Guard and education. Those people will attend this weekend’s transition conference to prepare briefings for Walker and Mallott. Hoffman says they’re seeking a demographic that’s representative of Alaska.

“We’re trying to reach out to a variety of age groups, males, females democrats, and republicans, people who work in both rural and urban Alaska, so all those perspectives can be shared and can contribute toward the end product,” said Hoffman.

Over the weekend, about 200 people will gather at the University of Alaska Anchorage campus with the incoming Governor and Lieutenant Governor Byron Mallott to dig deep into the state’s most pressing issues.

“We’ll get together and identify the most significant area of concern, areas where we can reach consensus, and steps forward for implementation. The groups will spend time identifying areas under those specific topics where the stakeholders couldn’t reach consensus but try to identify items that can be overcome and work toward implementing those areas where they can overcome their differences,” said Hoffman.

Hoffman says the group will work more with policy issues and less with any personnel decisions for the incoming administration.

Walker must submit a budget to the legislature in less than a month. While he’s been campaigning around the state, the price of oil has dropped well below forecasts, leading to deficit spending for the legislature and lean budgets in the near future. Hoffman says the state’s fiscal reality will play into every discussion this weekend.

“I’m sure that all of the different areas, such as infrastructure, natural resources, public safety, revitalizing the National Guard, in all of those areas, I’m sure everyone would agree they need more services. But before those discussions happen, participants will all need to understand what type of budget constraints we’re facing in the state, and with that in mind, what sort of things we can continue to strive toward,” said Hoffman.

Walker is slated to be sworn in December 1st.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: November 20, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-11-20 17:04

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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Begich Bill Would Shush Political Calls

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

After losing an election that was the most expensive — and some say annoying – in state history, outgoing Sen. Mark Begich has proposed a bill that would curtail political calls to voters’ homes. Begich proposes to expand the “Do Not Call” registry to superPACs and political non-profits.

Hoffman, Halford Prepare for Walker Transition Weekend

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

Bethel’s Ana Hoffman and former Senate President Rick Halford are chairing Governor-elect Bill Walker’s transition team. Walker is racing towards inauguration December 1st.

Gov.-Elect Walker Wants To Expand Medicaid. Can It Happen?

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

On the campaign trail, Bill Walker made expanding the state’s Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act one of his top priorities. And he’s confident he could make the decision without input from the state legislature.

Anchorage School District Could Have Up To $22 Million Surplus Next Summer

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

The Anchorage School District spent less money than they planned during the first quarter of this year. If that trend continues, they’ll have an extra $22 million left over by the end of June 2015.

Report: ‘Rural Governance Remains Unfinished in Alaska’

Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage

Formalizing a government to government relationship between tribes and the state was the message and mission today of former members of a commission tasked with addressing tribal self governance. Their report says rural governance “remains unfinished business in Alaska.”

North Pole City Council Considering Sales Tax Hike

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

North Pole’s mayor says the City Council is considering hiking sales taxes to cover an estimated $180,000 drop in property-tax revenues caused by the shutdown of the Flint Hills Resources refinery.

Community gives input on Anchorage plan to end homelessness

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

The Municipality of Anchorage is developing a new community plan on ending homelessness in Anchorage. During a listening session held Wednesday evening, about 20 people gathered to discuss possible solutions to the decades old problem.

President Obama Highlights Sitka Schools on Technology

Rachel Waldholz, KCAW – Sitka

The Sitka School District has a big fan – none other than President Barack Obama. Sitka Schools Superintendent Mary Wegner was in Washington D.C. yesterday for a White House summit on technology and education. Wegner was the only Alaska superintendent present, and Sitka’s effort to integrate technology into the classroom got some special attention.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Report: ‘Rural Governance Remains Unfinished in Alaska’

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-11-20 17:02

Bruce Botelho leads a discussion on rural self-governance in Anchorage. (Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage)

Formalizing a government to government relationship between tribes and the state was the message and mission today of former members of a commission tasked with addressing tribal self governance. Their report says rural governance “remains unfinished business in Alaska.”

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The Alaska Commission on Rural Governance and Empowerment first reported on the need for tribal recognition 15 years ago.

Veronica Slajer, the president of the North Star Group and member of the original commission, says Thursday’s report outlines the need for the state to recognize a Native Way of Life Priority, allow for tribal jurisdiction and develop natural resources for the benefit of local people.

Slajer says these priorities all allude to one thing.

“The number one recommendation is the state at some level, whether it’s legislative initiative or administrative initiative or both, needs to once and for all recognize tribes,” she said.

Though little progress has been made at a state level on the issue, Slajer says the state’s social and political climates have changed over the last 15 years.

“Everybody sees that there’s an issue. And also, there’s fewer people who are fearing this issue,” she said. “There’s more people who recognize tribes, work with them and are in fact seeing the constructive role and see how everybody needs to work together.”

Despite those changes, Slajer says the state’s inconsistent message when it comes to working with tribes has made progress slow.

“Until we get that consistent message, whether it be from the administrative arm, the legislative arm, or the judicial arm, being comprehensive recognition of tribes and working with tribes universally, we have a lot of work to do,” she said.

With a new state administration, Slajer is hopeful progress can be made.

Incoming Lieutenant Governor Byron Mallott also served on both commissions and is a Tlingit from Yakutat. He says he will work with Governor elect Bill Walker to strengthen the state’s relationship with tribal entities.

“We will try to make progress at the level of the policies and programs and the administration of state government to maximum extent possible,” Mallott said.

The commission is no longer active, but former commission members and others met last December to streamline the report, which they presented to the public Thursday.

Categories: Alaska News

President Obama Highlights Sitka Schools on Technology

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-11-20 17:00

The Sitka School District has a big fan: President Barack Obama.

Sitka Schools Superintendent Mary Wegner was in Washington D.C. on Wednesday for a White House summit on technology and education.

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Wegner was one of more than 100 superintendents from across the country — and the only one from Alaska — who were recognized for their efforts to bring their classrooms into the 21st century.

And she got a special shout-out from the president.

Obama: And then you got Mary Wegner, superintendent of the Sitka, Alaska School District. Where’s Mary? She came a long way. There she is. Yeah, give her a hand for coming from Alaska…

 The superintendents’ summit is part of the White House’s ConnectED initiative, which aims to bring high-speed internet access to every school in America.

 Here’s how the president explained it:

Obama: It’s a five-year plan to close the technology gap in our schools and connect 99% of American students to high-speed internet. And this is why it’s important: right now, fewer than 40% of public schools have high-speed internet in their classrooms – less than half. That’s not good, since we invented the internet.

President Obama honored the Sitka School District for making major strides in recent years.

“Six years ago, the technology in the schools was so outdated that only a few people could even print documents and logging on the internet could take 20 minutes,” he said. “Today, with help of the Recovery Act, the whole district has wifi, the ratio of computers to students is four to one, and falling. Kids are skyping in class with experts from all over the world on a whole range of subjects, and Sitka is now in the top tier of districts in the state.”

“It’s been transformative,” he said.

Wegner agreed.

“Six years ago, the students at Sitka High School came to the school board and said, you’re not preparing us for our future,” she said.

The district received over $1-million in funding under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, also known as the stimulus bill, and used it to revamp its technology — everything from switching out dysfunctional email and printing systems to investing in laptops and smart boards for the classroom. The school board now has a goal of equipping every student in the system with a laptop or tablet.

Wegner was the assistant superintendent at the time. She was hired in part to help integrate the new technology into the classroom, and she says the big question for the district has been, “OK, we have the hardwire, but why does this make a difference for learning?”

Chris Bryner has an answer for that. Bryner is a fourth-grade teacher at Keet Gooshi Heen Elementary School in Sitka. When the president mentioned that Sitka students are skyping with experts around the world, he was talking about Bryner’s class.

“I call it ‘The Big Q.’ It’s the big question,” he said.

Bryner assigns “the Big Q,” each year. Students are encouraged to ask any question that they want, and then figure out the answer. Bryner usually tries to connect them with an expert — whether it’s the east coast ice cream entrepreneur who skyped in to talk about how to design ice cream flavors; or Martin Keen, the founder of Keen Footwear, who walked students through how to build a one-legged stool.

“Each time this happens, I think the students get some information they couldn’t get elsewhere,” Bryner said. “But more importantly, I think they really benefit from the fact that these adults are taking them seriously and treating them like colleagues, and it gives them this sense of, you know, if there’s something I want to know, then I have the ability to find out.”

And sometimes, he said, it’s downright magic. Take the student who asked if Bigfoot is real. He got a call back from James Fay, also known as Bobo, from the Animal Planet show Finding Bigfoot.

“And he goes, hey man, you must be the smartest kid in your classroom because only geniuses know that Bigfoot is real,” Bryner said. “And this is this shy kid in my class. And, I wouldn’t say that it’s, like, changed his life or anything, but definitely in that moment, when he hears those words, his whole face just lights up. And to me, it was one of my favorite moments, of just watching that kind of, like, spark happen.”

As for Mary Wegner…

KCAW: How did it feel to have President Obama say, ‘Mary Wegner? Where’s Mary Wegner?’

Wegner: [Laughs] I, it was pretty exciting…It was pretty exciting to be recognized, but it’s not just me being recognized, it’s the work that we’re doing in Sitka that’s being recognized. And that started from students, to the School Board, then down to the teachers and continued with the students.

And, she said, that work will continue.

Categories: Alaska News

Begich Bill Would Shush Political Calls

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-11-20 14:32

After losing an election that was the most expensive — and some say annoying — in state history, outgoing Sen. Mark Begich has proposed a bill that would curtail political calls to voters’ homes.

Begich proposes to expand the “Do Not Call” registry to superPACs and political non-profits. Americans have registered more than 217 million phones on the “Do Not Call” list, but that only keeps commercial telemarketers at bay. The Begich bill would require political groups that can raise and spend unlimited amounts of cash to abide by the same rules that apply to telemarketers. It would also prohibit robocalls to any phone on the registry and ban telephone push-polling in general. It does not cover candidates or political parties.

More than $57 million was spent on Alaska’s 2014 Senate race, most of it by outside groups of the sort Begich is targeting in the bill. Although Begich lost to Republican Dan Sullivan, the outside money favored Begich. Some $22 million was spent on behalf of Begich, compared to about $18 million to help Sullivan.

Categories: Alaska News

Community gives input on Anchorage plan to end homelessness

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-11-19 23:58

The municipality is developing a new community plan to end homelessness in Anchorage. During a listening session held Wednesday evening, about 20 people gathered to discuss possible solutions to the decades old problem.

http://www.alaskapublic.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/19-homelessness.mp3

Darrel Hess was the former and only homeless coordinator for the Municipality of Anchorage from 2009 to 2012. He said during that time he read through 40 years of studies and plans about homelessness in the city, and end results were typically the same. They suggested that agencies try to solve it with little cost to the local government. Hess, speaking as a citizen, said that needs to change.

“I’m hoping with the next plan there is a robust commitment from local government. Without that commitment, the plan will once again not be nearly as successful as it could be.”

Hess suggested that the municipality could do things like speed up the permitting process or adjust some zoning rules to enable affordable housing developments.

Brian Shelton-Kelley from Anchorage Neighborworks agreed with these suggestions. He said developers need incentives to build property for low income households. But Shelton-Kelley said the problem is two-fold. It costs at least $500 just to maintain, insure and keep the lights on for a rental unit — that’s too much for people on very small, fixed incomes to pay. And even if properties could be subsidized and built, community members have to be open to projects in their areas.

“While there’s general overall support for affordable housing, when we go to communities or neighborhoods to suggest a project or suggest that a project will be located on a particular site, no one wants it in their backyard.”

Ron Alleva owns property by the Brother Francis Shelter and Beans Cafe. He said those services and others hurt businesses, enable substance abuse, and cause more harm than good.

“It’s a disaster economically. It’s a disaster health-wise. You wouldn’t know the things I put up with — unsanitary conditions.”

Carmen Springer is the Executive Director of the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness and she chaired the listening session. She said the new 5-year community plan will incorporate the input of everyone who is impacted by homelessness. For her, that’s everyone in Anchorage.

“We all interact with the homeless community everyday, whether its because we know someone who may be part of the community or whether we’re trying to decide how it fits with the larger framework of the Anchorage community.”

Springer says the plan aims to solve the problem even when agencies are receiving less and less funding.

“So if we can come together as a community and look at the services that are needed and how we can provide them in a more strategic way, so that it’s more economically feasible and it’s reaching all of the people with the appropriate services at the appropriate time, then it’s going to be better for everybody.”

Some participants suggested consolidating services across agencies to make them more efficient.

The plan committee will hold a large summit in the early spring to discuss their ideas and present the data they gathered, including results from a recently completed community-wide survey. The new plan will come into effect this summer.

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage Will Talk With Uber on Ride-Share Regulations

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-11-19 17:50

More than a hundred people attended Tuesday’s Assembly meeting. Photo: KSKA.

The ride-share service Uber won an important battle in last-night’s Anchorage Assembly meeting, and will be allowed to keep operating in the city as they work out a short-term memorandum of understanding with the municipality.

Uber is a smart-phone app that lets users arrange for a private driver to chauffeur them around for a set price. Sounds like a cab, right? Well, that’s where it gets complicated.

The Assembly voted 8 to 3 to begin developing an MOU with the company. That will set up the terms the company is allowed to operate on in the municipality. In the mean-time, they can keep doing what they are already doing, which is providing the service while not charging passengers a fee. They still pay a small fleet of drivers, but as long as they do not charge riders then they are not violating any of the city’s laws, or the cease-and-desist letters issued by the municipality since they first started operating in September.

During two hours of public testimony at last night’s meeting, the majority of those who spoke were drivers and company owners who say Uber is expanding their business but not playing by the same strict rules that regulate cabs under Title 11 of the Municipal Code.

Sussie Smith runs a taxi business and says Uber has found a way around the insurance requirements and equipment standards she and her drivers are required to follow.

“These drivers are operating in a commercial manner, operating daily around our city, and risking the public safety for our citizens,” Smith said after the Assembly meeting.

On the other side of the issue are advocates like Sam Moore, who says the city should not, and cannot stop innovative business models from appearing, especially when the current model is far from perfect.

“I can’t see well-enough to drive, I take taxis, buses, and now Uber,” Moore explained. “It’s a transportation option that should be available to all users in the market place.”

Assembly member Amy Demboski challenged many of the public comments made, saying this ordinance does not settle anything, it sets up a mechanism for figuring out how the municipality will regulate Uber, if it allows it at all.

“This is not throwing out the rules of Title 11, no matter how you cut it,” said Demboski, who voted in favor of the measure. “This is saying that Uber’s going to have to play by the rules. This is just an opportunity to start the discussion.”

There’s no set time table for when the city attorney will have a memorandum of understanding ready for the Assembly.

Categories: Alaska News

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