Alaska News

Earthquake Rattles Southeast Alaska, Likely Damaging Communications Network

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-07-25 17:26

Mother Nature rattled Northern Southeast this morning with and magnitude 5.9 earthquake and several dozen aftershocks. The quake appeared to have damaged internet and cell service to thousands of Southeast residents.

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Alaska Power and Telephone is one of the primary internet and cell providers for Haines and Skagway and other small Southeast communities. With 3,000-4,000 of its customers without service, spokesman Mark McReady says the company presumes an major underwater fiber optic cable near Juneau was affected by the quake.

“It sounds like the majority of our Southeast Alaska customers are affected because, I believe, that particular highway was our primary link between Seattle and Alaska to the rest of the world,” McReady said. “So, at this point you basically have a lot of the carriers – long distance and data carriers – scrambling to reroute and talking to each other to determine how best to get that accomplished in the shortest time frame.”

The cable is owned by Alaska Communication Services but used by several providers, including AP&T.

ACS has not released any details of the outage or an exact cause, except to say it is working to restore service.

There was no information from AP&T or ACS about how long the outage might last.

The main quake happened just before 3 a.m. and was centered about 40 miles west of Gustavus. That’s along the Fairweather Fault, according to state seismologist Michael West of the Alaska Earthquake Information Center. At 5.9, it was widely felt he said and is considered a significant quake.

“Only in Alaska would we dismiss that as maybe not that big,” West said. “We really have the magnitude scale completely devalued in Alaska – 5.9 is a very significant earthquake.”

West also explains earthquakes can generate underwater landslides that can damage or sever underwater cables. He can’t confirm that’s the exact cause of the Southeast outages, but it’s definitely plausible, he says.

“There are well-published studies on submarine landslides in this area,” West said. “You look at Southeast right there, there’s big, tall mountains and big glaciers and what are these processes doing? Well, they’re dumping massive amounts of sediment right into the ocean, right off shore. And so that whole area is known to be very prone to landslides.”

“We’re speculating here, right now, you and I, but there’s every reason to think that an earthquake of nearly magnitude 6.0 would be capable of generating modest submarine landslides.”

Categories: Alaska News

State Supreme Court Rules Same-Sex Partners Can Access Death Benefits

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-07-25 17:25

The Alaska Supreme Court has ruled that same-sex partners are eligible for death benefits, even though they are prohibited from marrying by the state Constitution.

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The case was brought by Deborah Harris, whose partner Kerry Fadely was murdered in 2011. Fadely was a manager at the Millennium Hotel in Anchorage, and was shot and killed on site by a disgruntled ex-employee. When Harris applied for survivor benefits, she was denied by the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Board on the grounds that the couple was not married as required by statute. Harris appealed the decision, arguing that their relationship had spanned more than a decade and that the two would have gotten married if the state allowed it.

“It’s pretty humiliating to be told as you’re grieving from the loss of the person you love most on this earth that you’re relationship was essentially worthless and your family was not the kind worth protecting,” says Lambda Legal’s Peter Renn, one of the attorneys on the case.

The Alaska Supreme Court sided with Harris on equal protection grounds. The court reasoned that because same-sex partners cannot legally get married, the denial of survivor benefits on that basis would essentially block a whole class of people from ever accessing them. Harris’ benefits claim will now be sent back to the workers’ compensation commission.

This is the second case the court has taken up this year where it has reaffirmed that the marriage ban does not extend to same-sex benefits. The court had the option of striking down the marriage ban entirely, but chose instead to rule on narrower grounds. Renn says that was expected, but that the ruling weakens the argument for the marriage ban.

“If you can’t discriminate with respect to benefits associated with marriage, then it stands to reason you really shouldn’t be able to discriminate with respect to marriage itself,” says Renn.

The Alaska ban is the currently being challenged in federal court with arguments scheduled for October.

Categories: Alaska News

Comments Sought on Possible Beaufort Lease Sale

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-07-25 17:24

A federal agency is testing the waters on a possible new lease sale in the Alaska Arctic.

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The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management plans to take comments on areas in the Beaufort Sea that have the most promising oil and gas potential. The agency says it also wants to learn more about environmentally sensitive habitats and subsistence activities within the planning area.

Spokesman John Callahan says this is the first step in a long process, and no decision has been made on whether to go ahead with a lease sale.

The executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League says her group does not want to see more drilling in the Beaufort, citing the uncertainty of the arctic climate and lack of scientific information about the Arctic Ocean.

Categories: Alaska News

Report Finds Beaufort Sea Oil Spill Response Inadequate

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-07-25 17:23

A report released today by the World Wildlife Fund in Canada finds the capacity for oil spill response in the Beaufort Sea is woefully inadequate, even as Canadian regulators consider relaxing safety standards for offshore exploration.

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WWF ran 22 separate models looking at how different spill scenarios would impact wildlife and habitat in the Beaufort Sea, drawing on industry development proposals and environmental data. Though conducted in Canada, the research affects Alaska, as well.

“I think the report is very applicable because, again, it shows that oil spills don’t stop at a boundary,” Margaret Williams, the managing director of WWF’s Arctic program in the U.S, said.

She says the report demonstrates that subsistence users in Alaska’s coastal areas would be hurt if contaminants leaked into the Beaufort’s important marine mammal habitat.

“Almost all of the scenarios show oil moving in a Westerly direction from the Canadian Beaufort Sea into the Alaskan Beaufort Sea,” Williams said. “We share so many species, we share a common concern with the food they provide for the people living on the Beaufort Sea shore.

The report comes as Canada’s National Energy Board is about to conclude a public commenting period on August first over a proposal to ease its standards for oil spill contingencies in offshore operations. Imperial Oil Resources and Chevron of Canada are applying to drill exploratory wells in the Beaufort. Canadian regulations require companies to have a backup plan for drilling an emergency relief well within one season to mitigate underwater blowouts. Chevron and Imperial are asking they be allowed to move forward in their Beaufort drilling with a contingency plan that can achieve the same outcomes, but using a different method than a relief well.

Very little in today’s WWF report is groundbreaking. The conclusions are general cautions that are well-known to anyone familiar with the Arctic: ice and light conditions will complicate cleanup efforts, important marine habitat will be hurt by a spill, and the oil is likely to travel West and North with ocean currents.

But the credibility of those conclusions is bolstered by the comprehensiveness of the modeling methods researchers used. And that, Williams says, should inform how development projects are weighed.

“It’s really important that the process—the decision-making process—is transparent, and is based on the best available science. And is based on knowledge that people living on the shores of the Beaufort Sea have,” Williams said.

A spokesperson with the Alaska Oil and Gas Association was unavailable for comment in time for broadcast on what the report means for industry in Alaska.

Categories: Alaska News

Officials Consider Proposed Federal Takeover of Kuskokwim Salmon Fishery

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-07-25 17:22

After a summer of long Chinook salmon closures and a weak chum run on the Kuskokwim river, middle and upper river subsistence fishermen eagerly await word about whether the federal government will take control of the fishery.

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The Office of Subsistence Management in Anchorage is preparing to present the Federal Subsistence Board with a recommendation on whether to federalize the salmon fishery, which is currently under state control.

Evelyn Thomas is the Tribal Council President in Crooked Creek, a community of about 100 people located upriver from Bethel. She says her tribal council plans to pass a resolution in support of federalization. She says the state has not listened.

“They keeping wanting to have [commercial] openings for silvers and late chum run when we haven’t even gotten enough, subsistence users don’t have fish yet, I know here in Crooked Creek, nobody has enough,” said Thomas.

Gene Peltola Junior is Assistant Regional Director for the federal Office of Subsistence Management in Anchorage.

They’re currently responding to a growing number of resolutions from tribes and groups who want to ensure they get silver salmon. His team is in the early stages of drafting a recommendation based on current and historic data on silver salmon.

“There may not necessarily be an allocation between the federally qualified users aspect of it, that’s one part we’re determining now, we may not have a full 804 determination or analysis,” said Peltola Junior.

That refers to section 804 of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, or ANILCA, that determines how to distribute a resource that isn’t abundant enough for all subsistence users. His office went through a similar process this spring after the Napaskiak Traditional Council asked that federal managers limit Chinook harvest to Kuskokwim residents and make an allocation strategy.

Peltola was not clear about what a federal takeover could mean for the controversial commercial openings, and simply pointed to ANILCA. Both federal and state law include subsistence priorities. The state is expecting a below average coho run and an above average subsistence demand.

Any federal action would apply to just refuge waters, from the mouth to Aniak.

More and more silver salmon are showing up in the Bethel Test Fishery, and time is short on any potential action. Peltola Junior does not have a firm timeline.

“Fisheries issues are very complex, we’re not dragging our feet whatsoever, but we are taking the appropriate time to come up with a reasonable and appropriate proposal to the Federal Subsistence Board for their consideration,” said Peltola Junior.

The federal subsistence board has a work session for next week. Peltola says he doubts they’ll take up the issue at that meeting and it could take more time to issue a decision.

Categories: Alaska News

Usibelli Submits Coal Bed Methane Plan

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-07-25 17:21

Usibelli Coal has submitted a plan to drill coal bed methane exploration wells on state land near Healy. The company is licensed to look for shallow gas on over 200 thousand acres of state and private land in the area, and this is the first action the company has taken.

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Categories: Alaska News

“State of the Schools” shows progress for Anchorage students and need for innovation

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-07-25 15:20

The superintendent of the Anchorage School District presented his State of the Schools speech to a group of principals and community members Friday morning. New data shows that the schools are improving but still have a ways to go.

Preliminary standardized test scores show that about 83 percent of Anchorage’s students can read well and 79 percent can write well. Those scores are up from last year. Math scores are down slightly — only 71 percent passed– but that may be due to the introduction of a new curriculum. The school district wants 90 percent of all students to pass all three subjects by 2020, but they’re behind on reaching that target.

School attendance is on the rise for all grades, but four year graduation rates are down slightly.

“Yes, we have a lot work ahead of us,” said Superintendent Ed Graff during his speech at the East High Auditorium. “I’m confident we’ll get there.”

Graff introduces members of the Class of 2027 during the State of the Schools speech.

He says one of the key ways to help students is to engage them more with the subjects. ”Great things happen for students when you provide them with interesting, hands-on activities. We know this from our own observations and our own experiences.”

Graff said to help encourage that, student engagement will be a major component of teacher evaluations. The district will also continue its focus on social and emotional learning skills — helping students learn how to interact in healthy ways. Graff said students with those skills perform better academically.

One of the pilot programs for the upcoming year will add more pre-K classrooms to the district and introduce literacy coaches.

Graff said similar programs are already working in Anchorage’s schools. ”Tyson Elementary School has both a Title I coach and a building literacy coach. They’ve seen student test scores jump 12 to 18 percent in reading, writing, and math. When we provide the resources to our schools and our students, they achieve.”

Graff did not address the district-wide staff cuts during his speech. They cut 105 positions for this school year. Speaking to reporters he acknowledged that it does make student success harder, but he said other resources can fill some of the gaps. ”Those resources look like different things. It’s not always about a position. Sometimes it’s about the right materials. Sometimes it’s about the right training. Sometimes it’s about the right community and parent involvement and partnership. So that’s really what we’re focused on.”

The district will also be using federal money to provide more free meals to kids with less paperwork for the school. And they’re adding more cameras, auto-lock doors, and better intercom systems so that students and staff feel safer.

Anchorage schools re-open for most students on August 20.

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

Primary Election: Republican U.S. Senate Candidate Joe Miller

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-07-25 12:00

It will soon be decision time for Alaska voters on which of three Republican should face incumbent U.S. Senator Mark Begich in November. The statewide public radio forum, Talk of Alaska has offered each of the three an hour-long live opportunity to answer phone calls from public radio listeners statewide. Mead Treadwell and Dan Sullivan have had their turn, and next up is Joe Miller.

HOST: Steve Heimel, Alaska Public Radio Network

GUESTS:

  • Joe Miller, U.S. Senate candidate
  • 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, July 29, 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

Earthquake Felt in Southeast Alaska, No Tsunami Expected

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-07-25 11:50

Update 10:47 a.m.:

An early morning earthquake today is causing widespread communications problems in Southeast Alaska.

Both Alaska Communications and AT&T wireless and internet services were affected.

A recorded message on ACS’s customer services line says the outage is affecting some customers in Southeast.

“This is our highest priority and we are working to restore service as quickly as possible,” the message said.

ACS spokeswoman Hannah Blankenship says crews are still working to determine which networks were affected by the quake.

An AT&T representative could not be reached for comment.

Revised figures from the Alaska Earthquake Information Center put the quake’s magnitude at 5.9. It struck about 97 miles west of Juneau at a depth of about 6 miles. It was followed by several aftershocks. The largest was magnitude 5.7.

Update 9:29 a.m.:

Alaska Communications says the earthquake has caused outages affecting Southeast Alaska wireless and internet services.

In a statement, President and CEO Anand Vadapalli says restoring service quickly is the company’s highest priority.

Original post, 3:19 a.m. Friday:

An earthquake shook Southeast Alaska just before 3 a.m. Friday.

The preliminary magnitude 6.0 temblor was centered about 96 miles west of Juneau, according to the Alaska Earthquake Information Center. It struck at a depth of about 6.2 miles. A 5.7 magnitude aftershock was felt about a minute later. No tsunami was expected, according to the National Tsunami Warning Center.

This is a developing story. Check back for details.

Categories: Alaska News

300 Villages: Thorne Bay

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-07-25 11:22

A view of Thorne Bay from the ocean. (Photo from the City of Thorne Bay website)

This week we’re heading to Thorne Bay, on Prince of Wales Island. Rochelle Huddleston Lorton is the district ranger for the U.S. Forest Service in Thorne Bay.

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Categories: Alaska News

AK: Welding

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-07-25 11:16

(Photo by Emily Files, KRBD – Ketchikan)

There are more than 100 people employed at Ketchikan’s Vigor Industrial Shipyard. Out of all of them, Cat Wong might have the most unusual story about how she got there.

The 25-year-old is a pipe fitter and welder. She was born in the U.S., but grew up with her family in Singapore. When she was 21, Cat made an unusual choice, and moved to Ketchikan.

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“That’s a three inch pipe that I’m welding on there,” she said. “It’s gonna be a water main pipe.”

(Photo by Emily Files, KRBD – Ketchikan)

When I talk to Cat, she’s welding a pipe for an Alaska Marine Highway ferry. She’s 5’2” and her thick work jacket and boots look like they were made for someone twice her size. Cat says, back when she was 18, she never would’ve guessed she’d end up here. She was working two part-time jobs at a bar and a restaurant in Singapore, hoping to become a restaurant manager.

“Got to the point where I needed a full time job cause I was working long hours as a part timer,” Cat said. “I sent out resumes to whatever companies would hire me. An industrial training center hired me, I was admin assistant.”

She hated that she was sitting at a desk all day, but that job was actually what put her on the path to shipyard work. She started to get interested in skilled labor, like welding and maritime trades. The more research she did, the more interested she became.

“Conversation with family, yes,” Cat said. “Mom wasn’t too sure about it. Office worker daughter wants to work in a shipyard?”

“They thought I lost my mind. Friends [said], ‘Cat are you serious?’ Yes I am very serious about it.”

Cat decided to sign up for a welding class, but the industrial training center where she worked wouldn’t take her.

“They thought I would get hurt,” she said. “Why? Women….welding…fragile.”

So she went to a different center and they were hesitant to train a 20-year-old woman as well.

“They said you’re a girl you can work in an office,” Cat said. “[It] made me more determined. Here’s the money do you want it or not?”

They took her money and she took the welding class. After that, she tried to apply to skilled labor jobs in Singapore, but realized the chances of a good-paying gig were slim. But she had another option – because she was born in the U.S., Cat was an American citizen.

(Photo by Emily Files, KRBD – Ketchikan)

In Singapore, you’re not allowed to hold dual citizenship. So, if Cat really wanted to, she could choose to give up her Singapore citizenship and move to the US. She gradually realized that was her best option. So, a month after her 21st birthday, she went to the immigration office and gave up her Singapore passport.

“It was sad,” she said. “Then I realized that if you keep staying in your comfort zone you don’t know what you’re capable of.”

Then the U.S. job search began. With the help of Google, Cat decided the Ketchikan shipyard looked promising. And she realized the only way she would get hired is if she went there in person. So she left Singapore, and moved to Alaska, her future riding on the hope of a job at this shipyard. She arrived in late October 2011 on a day where the wind whipped the rain sideways. After she settled in, Cat started showing up to the shipyard nearly every day.

“It was daily process of coming here every day, writing name in log book just to show that I’m here,” she said.

She applied for jobs there and signed up for an advanced welding class at the University of Alaska Southeast. And then about two months later, she got a call from Troy Tackert, a shipyard supervisor.

“Got a call from Troy [and he said], ‘Are you interested in interview?’ Yes, when do you want me to come in? Tomorrow?” Cat said.

“It was very interesting,” Tackert said. “She’s a super intelligent young lady. She was just looking for somebody to give her chance. All she wanted to do was work in a shipyard and I thought why not?”

“He called a week or two later, go to TSS for drug test and then report at 8,” Cat said. “How’d you feel? I’m not unemployed I’m so happy!”

Now Cat has been there for two and half years learning nearly every aspect of ship repair. She’s paid $20 an hour.  Over a year ago, her mother and brother moved here from Singapore and her brother, Felix, also works at the shipyard now. So, in a matter of about 5 years, Cat went from a bartender and office assistant in Singapore to a pipe welder in Alaska.

Files: “Do you ever feel like, ‘how did I even end up here?’”
Cat: “I do feel like that, I’m a churchgoer, I have faith in God, did some praying. I felt prompting that I have to leave my comfort zone. I kind of did that.”

Cat says her story shows that if you just put one foot in front of the other, eventually you’ll climb a mountain –or end up in an Alaska shipyard.

Categories: Alaska News

Fecal Bacteria Contaminates Many Anchorage Waterways

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-07-25 10:58

 

Test results from samples at Cuddy Park pond. The blue dots are E. coli (photo courtesy of Anchorage Waterways Council)

It’s a beautiful day in midtown, and Thom Eley of the Anchorage Waterways Council circles the perimeter of a pond in Cuddy Park with his intern Robert Veeh.

Robert squats at the lakes edge and measures its temperature; it’s about 70 degrees fahrenheit. He then unwraps an eyedropper, sucks up 5 milliliters of water, and drips it into a small vial so it can be tested for fecal coliform, a bacterium found in human and animal feces.

If you find high fecal coliform counts, there’s only one way that’s getting in there,” Eley says, holding back a chuckle. “Some sort of poop is going in the water.”

Eley has monitored the pond in Cuddy Park—which is actually a part of Fish Creek—for thirteen years. He has found high levels of e-coli and other fecal bacteria in the waterway. His advice to park visitors: “Don’t fall in it, don’t get a mouth full of water.”

Fecal pollution has many possible sources, such as leaking septic systems, homeless camps, and duck droppings. But Cherie Northon, executive director of the Anchorage Waterways Council, says the most common vector is probably dogs. “There are about 70,000 dogs in urban Anchorage,” she says. “Every dog is going to poop maybe a half a pound. If you do the math, that’s 20, 30 tons a day, not a year but a day, that ends up on the ground.”

If dog owners don’t pick it up, all of that poop gets washed into the city’s streams and rivers. As of 2010, essentially all of Anchorage’s waterways were on the EPA’s impaired water list for high levels of fecal bacteria. “It’s an invisible problem, it’s not a floating piece of trash or an oil sheen,” Northon says. “The water looks crystal clear, and yet it’s carrying all of this bacteria.”

Fecal pollution isn’t uncommon in urban waterways, and it doesn’t harm fish or other wildlife. It can cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea if ingested by humans, though, which is why Northon says Anchorage’s watershed needs to be cleaned up.

“We’ve gone down Campbell Creek, my husband fell off the back of our raft once, and in that situation you grab a mouth full of water….You’re not planning on it but you still get it in your mouth.”

State and local agencies are trying to remove fecal bacteria from Anchorage’s watershed in a number of ways, including erecting “mutt mitt stations” near lakes and streams, which hold plastic bags for dog refuse; regulating septic systems more carefully; and, doing regular street sweeps to reduce the amount of bacteria traveling in storm water.

Over the past few years three Anchorage lakes have been removed from the impaired water list, including Lakes Hood and Spenard.

Categories: Alaska News

Complaint Filed Against Anti-Marijuana Campaign

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-07-24 20:01

Sponsors of a marijuana regulation initiative have filed a complaint against their opposition, alleging that Big Marijuana Big Mistake has violated disclosure rules.

At issue is whether the owners of the anti-marijuana group’s public relations firm are serving in a volunteer capacity and whether the firm’s time is being properly accounted. Kristina Woolston, a majority owner of Northwest Strategies, has identified herself as a volunteer for Big Marijuana Big Mistake when serving as a campaign spokesperson, and her time working against the initiative has not been disclosed in any campaign finance reports.

Chris Rempert, a sponsor of the Campaign To Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, believes the anti-marijuana group is using that as a tactic to paint the initiative sponsors as outsiders.

“It’s very clear that they are willfully misrepresenting themselves to the public, to the media, and to election regulators because they think that will benefit them,” says Rempert.

Alaska law requires initiative campaigns to disclose their expenditures within a 10-day time frame, and the Alaska Public Offices Commission requires any sort of commercial services provided by volunteers to be documented as campaign contributions.

Northwest Strategies started working for Big Marijuana Big Mistake in mid-April, and the campaign’s first independent expenditure report was filed on May 27. None of the campaign’s independent expenditure reports make any note of Woolston’s volunteer time.

Woolston believes that the APOC complaint is a “distraction,” and that initiative sponsors are using it to divert attention from the $500,000 in funding they’ve received from the Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project.

Woolston says she identifies herself as a volunteer because she is not a salaried employee of Northwest Strategies.

“Yeah, well, this isn’t my job. I mean the work that I do is volunteer,” says Woolston. “You know, I don’t work for Northwest Strategies. I work for Chenega Corporation. I understand the ownership issue, but it’s a family business. And really, they’re grasping here.”

The connection between Big Marijuana Big Mistake, Northwest Strategies, and the Chenega Corporation is a bit of a tangle.

The Chenega Corporation employs Woolston as their vice president of government relations, and it gave $25,000 to the Big Marijuana Big Mistake campaign using Woolson as a contact. Big Marijuana Big Mistake is also a client of Northwest Strategies, which Woolston and her husband Tim own. According to the expenditure reports that have been filed to date, Northwest Strategies has done $24,150 in work for Big Marijuana Big Mistake, with $19,150 of that amount yet to be paid.

Woolston says that when she identifies herself as a volunteer, she’s representing herself as an executive at the Chenega Corportation not as an owner of Northwest Strategies. She adds that Northwest Strategies has a $7,500 a month contract with Big Marijuana Big Mistake, but the amount covers hard costs only and she is not personally profiting from it. She says she and her husband are actually “losing money on this.”

“My husband and I both volunteer our time,” says Woolston. “Yes, we do have an agency that has a very small contract — really a drop in the bucket if you want to talk about numbers and what the opposition is being paid.”

But the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol takes issue with that logic.

“You can’t say you’re giving something away for free and then charge for it,” says Taylor Bickford, a spokesperson employed by the pro-initiative campaign.

Woolston says she still plans to identify herself as a volunteer when campaigning against the marijuana ballot initiative.

Categories: Alaska News

In U.S. Senate Race, GOP Rivals Lag Far Behind Sullivan

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-07-24 18:01

Campaign finance reports from Alaska’s U.S. Senate race show Republican candidate Dan Sullivan is increasing his financial lead over GOP rivals Mead Treadwell and Joe Miller. Lt. Gov. Treadwell raised just over $160,000 in the second quarter of the year. That puts him slightly ahead Miller, who raised $130,000. Meanwhile, Sullivan raised $1.2 million for the quarter, almost as much as the incumbent senator, Democrat Mark Begich. Unlike the other candidates, Treadwell has loaned his own money to the campaign, and he reports debts of $250,000. Treadwell says in a press release he’s pleased that 60% of his money comes from Alaska. Ninty percent of Sullivan’s contributions have been from out of state. Sullivan’s campaign, though, says he has raised more money within Alaska than his primary opponents. In fact, the nearly $200,000 he raised from Alaskans over the past three months is more than the entire second-quarter haul of either Treadwell or Miller.

Categories: Alaska News

Oil Tax Heavyweights Spar At Packed Debate

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-07-24 17:43

Alaska Common Ground drew an at-capacity audience for a debate on oil taxes at the Wilda Marston Theatre in Anchorage on Wednesday, July 24, 2014. (Alexandra Gutierrez/APRN)

It was standing-room only at an Anchorage debate on whether to keep the new capped oil tax rate or to switch back to a system where the rate goes up along with the profits. It was an unusually large – and even occasionally rowdy – crowd for the subject matter. But with voters deciding how they want to manage the bulk of the state’s revenue in less than a month, the stakes are high.

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Even after turning dozens of people away, the Alaska Common Ground forum on Wednesday night was still close to violating fire code.

The two-hour debate had State Senator Bill Wielechowski (D-Anchorage) and economist Gregg Erickson making the case for repealing Senate Bill 21 on one side. That law was passed last year as a priority of the Parnell administration, and it puts a tax ceiling of 35 percent on oil company profits.

The pair argued that tax rates historically have had little effect on oil production, and that Alaska was a profitable place to operate even when the state had a windfall system that taxed profits as much as 75 percent when prices were high. Erickson also accused the oil companies of using scare tactics by suggesting that the development of a natural gas mega-project depended on the failure of the repeal, and he recalled similar rhetoric used in 2006 when voters considered a gas tax initiative.

“The oil companies, particularly Conoco Phillips, paid millions of dollars for ads that said, ‘You pass this initiative folks, and there’ll never be a gasline,’” said Erickson. “Well, voters of Alaska took that to heart and declined to pass that initiative. Folks, we still don’t have a gasline, and they’ve been telling that same thing every time we proposed a change in the oil tax regime.”

The opposing side was represented by oil and gas consultants Roger Marks and Brad Keithley, who countered that tax incentives can encourage production and in turn bring in more state revenue. Keithley explained that the ACES tax system had a “Robin Hood” effect – redirecting state money from proven oil fields to areas that may not be profitable to produce.

The pair was also asked to explain why the oil companies were spending more than $10 million to defeat the referendum. The audience skewed in favor of the referendum, and Keithley’s response was met with some skepticism from repeal-friendly attendees.

“I don’t think the oil companies are scared. I think the oil companies realize the resource potential of Alaska. I think they realize the potential to develop additional oil in this state. And I think they see SB21 as a way that provides them an incentive to continue to bring investment to this state and continue to produce. They are investing the money in the public campaign to try to educate Alaskans on what the opportunity is,” Keithley said to some laughter. “And I would do the same thing if I were in business.”

Even after an hour and a half of the two sides going back and forth, answering questions from moderator and University of Alaska professor Gunnar Knapp and prodding each other, the audience still wanted to hear more. Knapp was only able to get to a handful of the 174 questions he said were submitted.

The oil tax referendum is one of the marquee issues of this election season. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Byron Mallott and independent candidate Bill Walker were both in the audience. Both have come out in favor of the repeal measure.

It will be put to voters on August 19.

Categories: Alaska News

Effort to Ban Commercial Set Netting Moves Forward

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-07-24 17:42

The push to ban commercial set netting moved another step forward this week. A Superior Court Judge in Anchorage ruled yesterday that the Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance can begin collecting signatures for a ballot initiative, so voters can decide about the value of commercial set net fishing in Cook Inlet.

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Categories: Alaska News

Investigation Continues Into Tourist Train Derailment

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-07-24 17:41

An investigation continues into what caused a tourist train to derail along a mountain pass north of Skagway yesterday, injuring 19 passengers.

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Categories: Alaska News

Tribal Leaders Discuss Ambler Road

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-07-24 17:40

Tribal leaders are gathering interested parties, including state and federal officials, in the village of Allakaket to discuss the state’s proposed road into the Ambler Mining District. Upper Koyukuk River people are concerned about impacts to subsistence resources by the road, and mining development it would bring.

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Categories: Alaska News

Over 11,000 Alaskans Receiving Health Insurance Refunds

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-07-24 17:39

More than 11,000 Alaskans are getting refunds from their health insurance companies.

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As part of the Affordable Care Act, companies have to spend at least 80 percent of premium dollars on medical care and wellness. If they don’t hit that target, they are required to send refunds to customers. The average refund amount in Alaska is $388 per family.

Premera Alaska has already sent checks to more than 6,000 current and former members. Spokesperson Melanie Coon says customers in Alaska didn’t use as much health care as the company expected last year:

“Our experience in Alaska has been that health care costs trends, especially in the individual market, can vary significantly from year to year,” she said. “So we like to be right on, but it’s always positive when you can say, ‘you know what, people didn’t spend as much so that’s your money and we’re giving it back.’”

Coon says the company also works to keep administrative costs down.

Kristine Kennedy is an Anchorage resident who used to buy an individual health plan from Premera. Earlier this month, she was sifting through her mail when she found a letter from the company. She says thought it was a survey asking her why she canceled her plan.

“I just assumed this was another follow up letter and I opened the envelope and low and behold it’s a refund check,” Kennedy said. “So for the first time in years, after watching our rates go up at least 15 percent per year, it was, ‘holy smokes, wow! Thank you, Affordable Health Care Act.’”

Kennedy’s refund was for $169.

The two other companies issuing refunds in Alaska are the MEGA Life and Health Insurance Company and Time Insurance Company.

Categories: Alaska News

Business leaders and Politicians Meet in Whistler BC for Economic Summit

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-07-24 17:38

The Pacific Northwest Economic Region, or PNWER, summit is happening right now in Whistler British Columbia.

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The annual gathering of business leaders and politicians from Western Canada and the Northwest states alternates between the two countries each year. Last year, meetings were in Anchorage. At least 11 of Alaska’s legislators are attending.

Gas and Arctic issues are a big focus this year. David Ramsey is the Northwest Territories minister of industry, tourism and investment and the newly appointed PNWER president. Ramsey say the Northwest Territories and Alaska have a lot in common: small population in a large area rich in resources – many of them stranded. He says the focus in the Northwest Territories has shifted to oil, because lower gas prices have left their McKenzie gas line proposal sitting on a shelf.

“At some point in time that might change, but for now I think we’ve got to switch gears and put our focus into oil and the prospect of an oil pipeline north from Alberta, which would get close to the Beaufort coast and then through the Yukon and then into Alaska and that’s the discussion that I think really needs to happen,” Ramsey said.

Ramsey says greening the supply chain is an important industry initiative because Alaska and Canada are on the front lines of climate change. He says alternative fuels and hydro development can help mitigate global warming and create jobs. He says a focus of his year-long presidency will be to encourage greater participation by Native communities.

“I’d like to see representatives from each of the 10 jurisdictions in PNWER have aboriginal leaders come to the conference and participate,” Ramsey said. “I think it’s very healthy for the organization to be doing that and also it helps connect the aboriginal leaders to a myriad of business leaders that they’re involved in PNWER and also legislators, decision makers.”

Ramsey says Arctic security and the current concerns with Russia are a big concern, saying it’s frightening that cooperation with Russia in the arctic may not be forthcoming. The PNWER summit wraps up tomorrow.

Categories: Alaska News
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