The proposed 2014 budget for the Municipality of Anchorage is out and it’s $4.5 million less than last year’s.
Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan summarizes his proposed 2014 budget this way.
“The proposed budget that we’re putting forth is less than the previous year which doesn’t happen in government very often,” he said. “It’s about $4.6 million less than the 2013 budget.”
The proposed 2014 budget is $470,799,885 – which is $4,550,402 lower than the 2013 budget.
Sullivan says this will mean a drop in property taxes. He says there are several reasons the administration can make these reductions.
“Some of the efficiency measures that we’ve put into place are yielding results, we’ve got some areas where revenues are up a little bit,” he said. “And last year we also had some one-time expenditures which we won’t be incurring in 2013.”
Sullivan asked departments to identify savings and efficiencies of about 1 percent of their budget as way to cut costs. Ongoing union negotiations could also help reduce spending, he says, referring to the controversial labor law, also known as AO37.
“I mean we’re negotiating as if AO37 was in place,” Sullivan said. “We’re anticipating in 2014, the contract that we do sign will be at a reduced level of increase.”
Whether repealing the labor law appears on the ballot awaits a court decision. Sullivan says the city also plans to reduce pension contributions this year as a way to cut costs. Funds for city workers are performing better than expected, he says, so the budget proposes reducing the city’s contribution from $10 million last year to $8.8 million in 2014.
Chief Financial Officer Lucinda Mahoney says the administration plans to save money by passing the cost of programs that they’ve been subsidizing on to the public. Ambulance rides would increase by about $300 under the proposed budget.
“The goal of the Municipality is to align the cost of programs with the users,” Mahoney said. “And so for example, not everybody uses an ambulance, but for those that do use the ambulance we’re just seeking to have them pay a larger share of the overall cost.”
Bus fares would also go up under the proposed budget. Adult fares would go from $1.75 to $2.00. Seniors fares would double from 50 cents to $1.00. Anchor Rides, a ride service for people with seniors and others with disabilities who can’t take regular public buses would see a fee increase of 50 cents too, from $3.00 to 3.50. And all passes would also go up.
Mahoney explains that it’s not just revenue increases and cost reductions that would drive property taxes down
“The reason why and individual home owner would experience a property tax reduction is because the base of property tax payers is expected to go up,” she said. “And this is due to the new construction that we are seeing here in the city of Anchorage in 2013.”
“We expect new construction of about $200 million – commercial construction mostly.”
The owner of a $300,000 home would see a reduction of around $9.
Mayor Sullivan says he expects the budget to pass with a few revisions.“There’s always folks that would like to add spending for their special projects, there’s always folks that say you’re spending too much,” Sullivan said. “It’s the Assembly who sets the budget. The ball kind of goes into their court here.” Budget work sessions are scheduled for the next two Fridays, Oct. 11 and 18 at City Hall. The Assembly is required to pass a final budget by the new year.
Biologist Gordon Haber may have spent more hours observing Alaska’s wolves than anyone else. He died in a 2009 plane crash tracking wolves in Denali National Park. His work will be the subject of a book coming out later this month.
HOST: Steve Heimel, APRN
- Marybeth Holleman, co-author, “Among Wolves: Gordon Haber’s Insights into Alaska’s Most Misunderstood Animal”
- 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, October 8, 2013 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.
This week on AK, we’re heading to the small community of Coffman Cove on Prince of Wales Island in Southeast. Carolyn Duncan is the mayor of Coffman Cove.
My name is Carolyn Duncan and I’m mayor here in Coffman Cove, Alaska down in Southeast on Prince of Wales Island.
It did start as a logging camp, but the people who lived here became such neighbors and friends and family to each other over the years, it was a very happy camp and a very stable one. People’s families started to grow up here instead of moving here and there to work. And it was a big, what we call homegrown, group here who just simply wanted to stay, so they started petitioning for land and that’s what they did.
The heart of our community always has been the school. And I’m sitting right here as I speak with you in the very first school house in Coffman Cove. It’s now serving as our city hall. But the school, by which we mean the students and the teachers and the atmosphere a whole thing.
[The] biggest day of our year is graduation, because we’re saying goodbye to children we’ve raised here in many cases.
Toward the end of the 90s there, the logging shut down completely. You know, between beginning to go in about the mid-90s and by 2000 it was gone. And people who were then making, you know, $42,000 a year, today make $22,000 a year, so it really had a huge economic impact. We went from 60 kids in the school when the logging camp was active down to around 10 a couple of years ago.
And we’ve worked very hard to boost morale around here and make little jobs available to people. So, today I’m proud to say we have 28 students in our school. We have a beautiful view out over Clarence Strait, so about 7 miles of water. It gets to be pretty big water there. And that’s what we view. We’re on the east side of Prince of Wales looking toward Edelin Island there, so it’s quite a beautiful view.
Our big event of the year is in August; it’s our arts and seafood festival and we’re very, very proud of it. We’ve worked hard to bring that on and make that a wonderful, welcoming event for people from all over, and we certainly would love to see other people from Alaska come to that.
I think anyone who comes any time of the year will be struck by how friendly the people are and how much we value you coming to us.
A home burned to the ground in the Old Believer community of Nikolaevsk and the remains of one person was found inside.
The fire happened early Thursday morning, and Troopers say while next of kin have been notified, no identification will be released until the medical examiner confirms it.
A Parnell administration official says a decision will be forthcoming by mid-December on allowing an expansion of Medicaid eligibility in Alaska.
The cost of the expansion would be funded by the federal government, but a number of governors have been balking anyway, saying they are concerned about future years.
Parnell asked for an analysis that was supposed to be done some time ago. Now Parnell aide Josh Applebee says his decision will come out before he sends his budget to the Legislature.
Construction workers in Juneau are making progress on the State Library Archives Museum building – otherwise known as SLAM. What most people don’t see is all the work behind the scenes.
A small team of museum staff members, volunteers and museum professionals from around the state are packing up the Alaska State Museum’s entire collection – ranging from a 45-foot umiak to half-inch-tall ivory pieces.
Only 5 percent of the museum’s collection is displayed at any given time. The rest is stored in the basement.
Lisa Phu took a tour of the museum basement to find out what it takes to move a museum.
As conservator for the Alaska State Museum, Ellen Carrlee is responsible for figuring out how to pack up more than 32,000 objects. This involves opening every drawer in every storage unit and coming up with a plan for each item.
“Like this drawer for example has several boxes in it already which are really easy to travel, but this drum which is from the Arctic Winter Games; it’s a walrus stomach drum from 1974 and it has signatures of people all over,” Carrlee said. “It’s very delicate.”
Carrlee says she and other museum staff members pack and move objects all the time – for exhibits or to go on loan – that’s part of their job description. But moving an entire collection usually happens only once in someone’s career.
There’s no manual on how to pack up a museum collection, so Carrlee resorted to more pedestrian means – she Googled it.
“If you look on the internet for good methods for packing museum artifacts, and you try to search Google images or whatever, you’d think there’d be a lot of images but there’s not nearly as many as we’d like to see,” Carrlee said.
So they’ve had to improvise. Carrlee has come up with about a dozen different techniques for packing various artifacts, including dance fans with feather appendages, ivory cribbage boards, spruce root baskets, a three-foot high piece of red tree coral.
She walks around with a yellow legal pad, scrutinizes each artifact and writes down a plan to stabilize it. After she’s gone through all the objects, she tapes her handwritten notes and diagrams to the outside of the cabinet.
“Every cabinet, every drawer, every item has to have a plan,” she said.
Carrlee heads up a team of staff and volunteers who are tackling different aspects of the packing.
On this day, museum professional Jon Loring is focused on ivory. He wears cotton gloves and is in the process of making custom storage mounts for carved ivory pipes.
“Ivory is one of the most fragile objects in the collection,” he said.
Loring sits by a table filled with cutting materials, measuring devices, a glue gun, a spool of cotton ribbon, and different size scraps of foam and cardboard.
“Some of these are really complicated and you have to cut exactly the right angle to support the object and it’s not so easy,” Loring said. “I can probably do about 12-15 of these a day.”
The museum has 70 ivory pipes in its collection. Loring is also making custom mounts for masks. There are 600 of those.
Volunteer Fran Dameron has been helping out at the museum for 14 years. At the moment she’s putting numbers on mining artifacts.
“Did you see these enormous wrenches down here?” she asked. “I wouldn’t try to lift it; that’s why I was working on the floor.”
The numbers are linked to the museum’s database which keeps track of all the collection items.
Carrlee says the process of having to look through every storage unit has helped the team locate what are called “registration problems” – items without a number.
“This museum goes back to 1900 so we’ve got 113 years of potential clerical errors,” she said.
But there’s also the chance of finding something that was missing, or two pieces that were separated.
“Right now I’ve got a bag that has a wing in it from a taxidermied bird and I know that through this process, I’m eventually going to find a bird with one wing and we’re going to reunite the bird with its wing,” Carrlee said.
The team has until the end of February to pack up the museum’s collection. Once that’s all done safely and securely, Addison Field is in charge of moving the collection.
The majority of it will travel in carts through a tunnel to be built between the current building and the new one.
Field says other items, like paintings, may be hand carried.
“One object and one person and that’s not the most efficient way to do things, but when you’re dealing with things that are really truly treasures and need to be safeguarded, that’s the safest way to do it,” she said.
Certain items won’t fit through the tunnel, like the 8-foot wide, 45-foot long walrus hide umiak, which was originally assembled inside the building. Field doesn’t know how that will be moved, but he does know is when the doors of the new State Library Archives Museum opens in the spring of 2016, the umiak will be there unscathed.
Salvagers have made progress recovering the sunken fishing tender Lone Star from the bottom of the Igushik River. The 78-foot vessel sank in a channel of the river on June 30.
Ever since then the efforts to recover the vessel have been hampered by strong tides and currents that have basically been burying the Lone Star deeper and deeper into the mud. However, quite a bit of progress was made in the recovery effort earlier this week.
Petty Officer Shawn Eggert is a spokesman for Coast Guard Sector Anchorage, which has been overseeing the recovery effort.
“On Monday the salvage crews, that are on scene in the Igushik River, were able to get the chains wrapped onto the Lone Star and move the vessel 200 feet towards the east shore,” he said. “Once they are able to get the vessel moved to a more shallow area of the river they will be able to pump out the water.”
“They will need some hoses to basically push out all the mud that has accumulated in the boat.”
For the past couple of weeks the recovery plan for the Lone Star included pumping a buoyant foam into the vessel to help lift if off the bottom of the river. However, Eggert says the foam was not needed. Once the water and mud are pumped off the Lone Star the vessel will be inspected with the goal of making it seaworthy enough to be towed to Unalaska for repairs.
If you want to get a proposition on the ballot, you’re given a pretty gargantuan task. Not only do you have to collect at least 30,000 signatures from registered voters, you need to make sure those names come from districts across the state. So instead of relying on volunteers, most initiative sponsors bring in professionals. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez caught up with a paid petitioner who’s working on the campaign to regulate marijuana to find out what goes into the job.
It’s pretty safe to say that as a kid, Jerad Spencer did not dream of talking to strangers about marijuana policy when he grew up. But a couple of years ago, he kind of came into it when he lost his job in Oregon.
“I was in manufacturing, and I’d gotten laid off. They shut the plant down kind of thing. And I was doing my unemployment and I really wanted to work. And I’d seen this thing for OCTA …”
That’s the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act.
“And they had a paid position. And I’m like, ‘Oh, a job! Okay!’”
Now, Spencer is one of the half dozen paid petitioners working on Alaska’s marijuana initiative, which could be on the ballot next August. There’s a whole cottage industry based around every ballot proposition that gets introduced, with the same players often handling signatures for a different initiative or referendum every couple months. The pay isn’t great — by law, you get paid a maximum of a dollar per signature — but it’s apparently enough to keep people like Spencer going.
“It’s hours just walking around in the rain, and trying to talk to strangers and approaching people, which isn’t the easiest thing I don’t think for any of us, really, especially when you get denial after denial after denial and it’s raining and it’s getting dark. And if you’re volunteering, it’s a lot easier to give up versus making a little something.”
Spencer’s been collecting signatures in Juneau for about two weeks. He grew up in Southeast, so he seemed a natural fit for the assignment. Most of the signature gathering efforts have taken place on the road system, but because sponsors want to hit a self-imposed goal of 45,000 signatures by December 1, they’re getting serious about other regions of the state.
If you’re walking around downtown, you’ll be able to spot Spencer because he’s the one carry a clipboard that’s covered in cannabis leaf stickers and wrapped in plastic.
“Yeah, I got all the raingear on.”
It’s a pretty casual job. It mostly involves walking around busy streets, hitting up events, and hanging out in a designated area a couple of times a week. Still, Spencer wants to be professional about it.
“I’d really like to have business cards, especially with some web information on it or when I’d be at the library. Those kinds of things.”
While some controversy surrounds just about every ballot proposition, Spencer says dealing with the marijuana initiative can be extra tricky. While similar propositions passed in Washington and Colorado last year, Alaska would be one of the first states to legalize marijuana for recreational use, regulate it, and tax it. Spencer says he doesn’t target people based on how they look, but he will soften his approach in some cases.
“If somebody has children especially, I’ll just ask them if they want to sign a petition. Then I don’t have to say that … that word. Because it is, it can be a real hot button with people.”
He says in those cases, he’s had plenty of parents surprise him and not only sign the petition but explain the whole initiative process to their kids. Actually, for the most part, he’s had expectations turned around. So far, the marijuana campaign is at 24,000 signatures, and most of the ones that Spencer has collected have come from people who aren’t interested in using it recreationally.
“One of the reasons a lot of people sign it is for the money. They’d like to see the money in legitimate hands, and they’d like to see it taxed — that sort of thing. And other people it’s about personal freedom, and some people it’s just about ‘let’s vote on it.’”
And the people who have been angriest with him? Well, he says it’s guys who are already growing and selling marijuana.
“Here I am trying to make it legal to where even if they were in the field, they’re not going to make as much money off of it. They’re going to have to pay their taxes. They’re going to have to hire employees.”
Confrontations like that — along with the rain and low pay — make it a more difficult gig than one might expect. Spencer eventually wants to find other work. But for now, a job’s a job, and at least this one gives him plenty to talk about.
The Yukon-Kukoskwim Delta is the size of Ohio and includes over 50 villages. The region’s hub, Bethel, has over 6,000 residents. Until now, families who had an elder they couldn’t care for at home went to Anchorage, 400 miles away by airplane. That is until the first elder’s home opened up after a decade of planning.
Peter Atchak gently holds his wife’s hand leading her into a bedroom of the new facility. Mary shuffles slowly beside him. She has dementia and Peter takes care of her at their Bethel home. But he knows that one day soon, this could be her new home.
“It means hope, relief. . .possibly relief,” Atchak said.
Over the past few years, Mary’s been in and out of a couple of assisted living facilities in Anchorage. Plane tickets cost around $400 round trip from Bethel and twice that from some villages.
Ultimately, it didn’t work out.
“That wasn’t good,” Atchak said. “I mean they were good places, but, without family, she was just. . .fading away.”
In most places, residents would probably like the privacy of their own room. But in the Yup’ik culture extended families often pack into tiny village homes.
Liz Lee is YKHC’s Home Care Services Director.
“We know that in our culture our elders live in multi-generational homes most of the time and so you take them from their area of comfort and you put them in a single room. We thought that that could be an issue,” Lee said. “So we thought of the hotels, how you can share a door with the next room, and if your roommate next door is okay with it, you can open the doors and still enjoy each others company.
Lee has worked on the project for over 10 years. They gathered input from a team of elders who had specific priorities in mind for the design.
“Things like the chapel, things like the colors of the region,” Lee said.
Lucy Jacobs was one of several local elders who attended the open house. In Yup’ik she says she was grateful that the building was there, especially for the elders who do not have children around to care for them.
The structure of the building itself is different. There are 18 beds, split into two main pods, which also contain large open living areas. The pod-design eliminates the need for hallways. It keeps the atmosphere open and homey and allows staff to see a large space all at once. The place looks as expensive as it is. It cost $16.3 million to build, mostly from the State of Alaska appropriations.
The elders won’t be paying out of their pockets to stay there. Most of them are Indian Health Services beneficiaries and will use that along with Medicaid to foot the bill.
“If we factor in the electricity and you know, everything, it would be probably about a thousand dollars a day,” Barbara Jacobson, YKHC’s Chief Nurse Executive, said. “Most people can’t afford that.”
Most elders are from the villages in the region, some hundreds of miles away from Bethel. As Jason Blalock, the home’s administrator explains, they will be able to use video conferencing through the village’s health clinics to stay in touch back home.
“So, the family member can actually communicate with the villages in our clinics,” Blalock said. “So, our clinics have the same video conference technology.”
New technology is everywhere. There’s a computer programs that tracks all the details of the residents daily activities including their diets.
But it doesn’t look sterile. The floor is special microbial wood and the wall protectors have real flowers and grass captured in the resin.
Atchak appreciates all the technology. But the real importance to him is being close to home.
“When you recognize people, and foods, and [culture], it helps you way inside,” Atchak said. “And you remember, she remembers a lot of things that she cannot express right now. When you have love around you, it conquers all…that’s all it amounts to.”
Construction of the project started in 2011. The ribbon cutting ceremony was held Sept. 27.
Juneau labor unions are criticizing a recent CBJ Docks and Harbors Department decision to bid a contract for two new floating cruise ship berths without a Project Labor Agreement.
A PLA is a deal between the owner of a project and labor unions establishing terms for things like wages, working conditions, and benefits. While PLAs do not require the owner to hire a union contractor, they typically encourage them to use local workers and apprentices wherever possible.
“You are hiring based upon local rates. You have a commitment to hire apprentices. And you are going to be hiring people who are right there in the community,” Pete Ford, president of the Juneau Central Labor Council, said.
Ford last week wrote a letter to Juneau’s Docks and Harbors Department asking it to reconsider a recent decision to bid a $54 million project for two floating cruise ship berths without a PLA. He says the move goes against a policy adopted by the CBJ Assembly in 2008, which says the city should seek to use the agreements to the fullest extent allowed by law.
“Certainly in the 13 years I’ve been in Juneau, anything approaching $30-million to $50-million has been a PLA project,” Ford said.
Courts have upheld the use of PLAs by public entities, though critics say they disenfranchise non-union contractors.
CBJ departments review projects on a case-by-case basis to determine whether they need a PLA. The review looks at the complexity of the project, the amount of time it will take to construct, and whether an agreement would lead to cost savings or other efficiencies, among other factors. The city’s Law Department does not review projects, unless an agreement is challenged by PLA opponents.
CBJ Ports Director Carl Uchytil says a review of the cruise ship dock project determined a PLA was not warranted.
“It’s a large dollar project, but 75 percent is pile driving, 20 percent is materials, and the remaining is electrical and pipe-fitting work,” Uchytil said. “So, when you look at the complexity of the project, it does not lend itself to a PLA.”
“There’s not a lot of trades that are involved in this particular project.”
Uchytil says local hire is not one of the criteria CBJ departments use when evaluating whether to use a PLA. And while he says not a lot of trades would work on the project, he’s fairly certain the only prime contractors to bid on it would hire union workers.
“The plan holders for this particular project all of them are union shops,” he said. “So, we fully expect that the contractor that will be awarded this project will be a union shop.”
But Uchytil thinks a PLA could limit competition.
“I do know there’s non-union companies that are capable of providing subcontractor work that would be disenfranchised,” he said.
The Central Labor Council’s Ford says he’s concerned the lack of a PLA for the project will set a bad precedent for future city projects. And he disagrees with Uchytil’s assessment of the project’s complexity.
“Putting a new dock in our waters is not a simple task. Getting it secured, and depending upon how you’re going to secure it, requires some very, very skilled construction knowledge and abilities,” Ford said. “And it’s a job that you would want the best skilled tradesmen working on that you could possibly get.”
Uchytil says the Docks and Harbors Board has no plans to reconsider the decision to bid the project without a PLA.
The docks are being funded with local and state cruise ship passenger fees. Construction is expected to take two years, with the first berth ready for the 2015 cruise season and the second ready by summer 2016.
Bids are due Nov. 5.
The U.S. Forest Service has decided to make changes in its Tongass land management plan. That means users and interest groups will get to submit suggestions on road-building, logging, stream restoration and habitat protection.
The decision is no surprise to anyone who follows Tongass politics.
The Forest Service is required to consider opening the plan for changes every five years. It usually does, but can choose to leave the document as it is.
Agency offices are closed due to the federal government shutdown. So, no one was available to discuss the decision, described in a press release issued just before furloughs.
The lengthy process concerns both advocates and critics of the way the Tongass is managed.
“Once you open a plan and start changing a plan, everything comes to a screeching halt,” Shelly Wright, the executive director of the Southeast Conference – which supports more logging and mining in the Tongass, said.
The organization released its own Tongass management plan last month, which would remove some forest protections and allow more old-growth logging.
“There is a silver lining, we hope, that the Forest Service will open their minds and their planning books and take a look at our strategy,” Wright said. “(It’s) a strategy that we feel is a good strategy for the environment and the economics and the social and cultural environment in Southeast Alaska.”
“You know, it’s hard to conclude that the Forest Service is making good on its promise to rapidly transition out of old-growth logging,” Williams said.
The group worries agency managers have set up too many timber sales in mature forests.
Williams says that costs the government too much. He says the agency should do more to support the growing fishing and tourism industries.
“There’s really an opportunity right now for the Forest Service to help Southeast Alaska take advantage of this momentum and really start investing in the areas that really benefit Southeast Alaska,” he said.
The logging industry says it would be in better shape if it could access the timber promised in the current plan.
Owen Graham, executive director of the Alaska Forest Association, says mills and loggers have only gotten 20 percent of what was promised.
“We weren’t seeking a huge increase; we’d like to see a small increase in the amount of volume from what they had in TLMP,
but more than that, we want them to actually make changes so they can implement the plan,” Graham said. “But they can’t implement the plan they have, so simply reducing the volume to 20 percent of what it was isn’t a solution either.”
A Forest Service press release says plan modification, “is expected to focus on identifying the timber base suitable to support a transition to young-growth management.”
Trout Unlimited’s Williams supports the change from old to young growth.
“We have some concerns the transition is dragging out longer than it needs to,” he said. “But we are encouraged that the Forest Service is at least trying to move away from the large-scale, old-growth sales and into young growth and other kinds of projects.”
Tongass officials have already received numerous suggestions about changing its management plan. Those came during the process of deciding to open up that document.
In a September interview, before the government shut down, Tongass Supervisor Forrest Cole said he expected a lot more input.
“I believe over the life of the current forest plan, we’ve probably looked at 30 or 40 different alternatives,” he said. “And I’m guessing that we’ll look at a wide variety again. “
The Forest Service’s press release did not include a comment deadline, meeting schedule or overall timeline. And, due to the shutdown, no one could speak to those details.
Guardian Flight takes over all SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium medevacs on Tuesday, Oct. 1.
SEARHC Chief Operating Officer Dan Neumeister says a contract signed last week puts Guardian in charge of all medical evacuations.
“Guardian will be responsible for providing services wherever our clinics are. So at Angoon, (if) you need to fly out on a float plane, they’ll be responsible for either providing their own float plane or subcontracting out and getting a plane, putting their people on it and going to get our patients,” he says.
SEARHC laid off the nurses who staffed their own medevacs.
Guardian is Alaska’s largest medical evacuation operation, with bases in eight cities, including Sitka.
Neumeister says turning all medevacs over to Guardian will be simpler and more efficient.
“We had tried to perform the services ourselves part of each day. And we found that that was not as effective, even though we had very dedicated employees providing the service,” he says.
SEARHC has cut several programs this year to save money.
Alaska’s largest school districts lost over 600 teachers and staff over the past three years. That’s the conclusion of a report produced by the Legislature’s research department.
The report shows that teacher, career and guidance counselors or other education staff fell as student enrollment increased or remained flat. Teacher assistants, custodians, and other support staff took the biggest hits.
In Anchorage, the number of teachers has dropped by 3 percent since the 2010-2011 school year.
The report was requested by Reps. Les Gara and Harriet Drummond, both Democrats from Anchorage. Their caucus has been pushing for an increase in per student funding, which has been kept at the same level for the past four years. Gara and Drummond say this report shows the negative impact of not keeping classroom funding on pace with inflation.
Governor Sean Parnell and Republican lawmakers have instead given one-time finding increases for energy, school security, and other out of classroom expenses.
Leaders of Alaska’s visitors’ industry will gather in Sitka next week.
More than 400 excursion operators, tourism managers and cruise officials are expected to attend the Alaska Travel Industry Association’s conference.
“It’s the annual time where our industry partners and managers gather to learn about trends and projections and network and get excited for the next season,” Sarah Leonard, president of the ATIA, said.
The conference offers business, marketing and public relations sessions for those in the industry.
International tourism consultant Lenwood Sloan is a keynote speaker. Leonard says he will address what’s called heritage tourism.
“He’s going to be talking about how communities can weave those characteristics into their destination and help highlight their destinations around cultural tourism,” Sloan said.
Leonard says Alaska’s visitors’ industry is slowly growing, bringing about 1.8 million people to the state. Close to one million tourists cruise the coast, while others arrive by plane, car or RV.
The travel industry association does not have numbers for this year yet. But she says tour operators have told her it was a good summer.
Leonard is optimistic about the 2014 season.
“We see hopefully increases in international visitation through some new services like the state’s partnership with Iceland Air and bringing that new air service to Alaska,” she said. “So we’re very excited about that.
She says government and private advertising campaigns are increasing interest in the state. She says Alaska “reality” TV shows are also helping spread the word.
An Anchorage superior court judge has approved a deal allowing Lynden Inc. to buy out its shipping competitor, Northland Services.
Right now, there are basically two ways to ship a lot of stuff in and out of Southeast Alaska: Alaska Marine Lines or Northland Services.
So when Lynden, AML’s parent company, announced in April it was buying its competitor, the risk of a regional shipping monopoly raised a red flag at the Alaska Department of Law.
The department put together a deal that leaves Southeast Alaska with two competing carriers: AML and the soon-to-expand Samson Tug & Barge.
The plan requires AML to assist Samson with its expansion into Southeast. The specifics are confidential, but Samson would buy assets from AML, lease space aboard AML barges, have a guaranteed barge charter from AML during peak shipping seasons, and have the option to rent AML terminal facilities and storage in Southeast and in Seattle.
A 60-day comment period closed last week with no formal objections. Judge Andrew Guidi approved the deal on Monday.
Samson Vice President Cory Baggen says she’s excited about clearing the last major legal hurdle in her company’s expansion.
“Right now, our tentative plan is to start service into Southeast Alaska on November 8th,” she said. “I admit, we’re still working out some of the final details, since the decree did just go through on Monday. So we’re still working through some of the last, last minute details.”
The buyout may not change much in Southeast, but AML President Kevin Anderson has said it will help his company in western Alaska and Seattle.
The parties have 60 days to finalize and execute some contracts in the plan. But otherwise, Assistant Attorney General Ed Sniffen says the transaction is complete.
The salmon tender Lone Star is still submerged in at the mouth of the Igushik river near Dillingham, but salvage crews have successfully moved it. The Coast Guard says that Resolve-Magone crews on Monday pulled the vessel 200 feet to the east shore of the river. That required heavy chains and two cranes.
The Lone Star is still extremely heavy, so to be able to lift it, salvagers must pump out the water and mud in her tanks. The plan is to ultimately make the vessel seaworthy and tow it to Unalaska. The 78-foot boat sank June 30 with 14,000 gallons of fuel on board. A consistent fuel sheen shut down the sockeye fishery at the peak of the season.
The Air Force’s proposal to relocate a squadron of F-16s from Eielson Air Force Base south to Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson has been scrapped. Members of Alaska’s congressional delegation received the news midday Wednesday.
The Air Force’s decision to retain an F-16 squadron at Eielson F-16 could bode well for it basing a squadron of the new F-35 fighter jet. Eielson is one of two bases in the Pacific region under consideration for getting the new stealth aircraft.
The shutdown of much of the federal government has closed National Parks. In Interior and Northern Alaska, that means just a few staff remaining on to carry out essential work.
Municipalities across the state held elections Tuesday.
Matanuska-Susitna Borough defeated a 5 percent alcohol tax. The Mat-Su Assembly in mid-July proposed the tax on alcohol sales in bars, restaurants and liquor stores. Assembly members estimated it could have brought in $1 million annually.
A measure to lower the sales tax in the Wrangell was also soundly defeated yesterday, by about 75 percent of voters.
The measure would have dropped sales tax from 7 percent to 5.5 percent. If it had passed, the city would have faced a shortage of about $500,000, which is used for services such as police and public schools.
And Homer retailers will apparently again be allowed to use plastic bags. The City’s ban on lightweight plastic shopping bags went into effect January 1st but nine months later, the ban appears to be history. As KBBI’s Aaron Selbig reports, Homer residents voted to repeal the ban in yesterday’s municipal election.