Alaska News

Wrangell Hospital Renovations Don’t Preclude New Facility

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-04-16 17:47

Like many hospitals in Southeast Alaska, Wrangell Medical Center is starting to look its age. A brand new hospital is still the long-term plan, but for now, the building is getting a much-needed makeover.

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Institutional. That’s the word that best describes the old look of Wrangell Medical Center.

The walls are a generically dreary tan. The banisters are scratched. The floors show the wear and tear of a thousand muddy shoes scuffing up the walkway.

It looks…like a hospital.

“It’s utilitarian,” says hospital CEO Marla Sanger.

We’re in the basement of the medical center, walking down a hallway to a positively tiny room. It’s barely big enough to squeeze in some chairs and a desk and maybe a yoga mat.

“But this area in here was the space where most of the physical therapy activity occurred. It has one window that looks out at a wall where a little bit of indirect light gets in. But other than that it’s very much just the harsh lighting, it’s got a grey carpet. There still was very excellent care provided here but it is not an atmosphere that says welcome, come in, you’ve come to the right place,” says Sanger.

The hospital has struggled with its public image for the past couple of years. But it’s making some major changes in how it relates to its patients and the community.

That’s why Sanger says the time was right to freshen up the facility, too.

“It’s very treatment-like. I mean it feels, like you say, you feel like you’ve come here to have a treatment performed. Where, in the new physical therapy gym space, it feels to me much more like a health and wellness place- where people are coming in to achieve their optimal mobility and wellness,” says Sanger.

The new physical therapy space is upstairs. It’s a large room lined with mirrors. It’s filled with brightly colored therapy balls and lots of equipment and exercise machines.

The two rooms are like night and day.

And this change happened in less than a month. Earlier this year, the entire physical therapy program was overhauled. The department was given three weeks to strip it down to the basics, re-evaluate, and modernize.

“And their task was to redesign this space, to design new processes for physical therapy, design all their documentation tools, design the way patients would get registered, the scheduling, everything. They identified pieces of equipment that we didn’t have that they ordered and then, from the time that they arrived to three weeks later, we went from what you saw downstairs to this new space,” says Sanger.

The problem with re-doing one part of the hospital is that it underscores just how much the rest of the building needs a makeover too.

“And I would kind of liken it to when you fix up a room of your house and then the rest of your house suddenly doesn’t look so good. That feels kind of like what happened when we improved the physical therapy space and built the beautiful new gym. And then all of a sudden, we’re looking at everything a bit askance. And that’s why we’re doing this. It just needs to look better,” says Sanger.

Sanger says she was strict with budgeting the renovations and shopped around carefully to get the most bang for the hospital’s bucks.

The walls are getting a fresh coat of paint. Instead of the old peachy tan, they’re sunny yellow on top with rich green on the bottom. The old, worn banisters are getting re-finished. And new carpets line the hallways.

And, to further break from the old institutional feel, she involved hospital staff in parts of the decision-making process.

Kris Reed is a development assistant for the hospital. She’s also an artist with a flair for color. So, she helped choose the paint.

“I did a little bit of research online and found that greens and blues were colors that were recommended for places where people were being treated for a variety of different things. Just in looking at the colors available to us, it seemed like a good decision,” says Reed.

She chose some color options and posted samples around the building for staff to vote on. Once the feedback was in, the colors went up.

“Oh it makes a huge difference in how people feel in the space and to some degree, depending on the space, how productive you can be,” says Reed.

Reed says it makes it a more pleasant place for both patients and staff. It’s inviting. But that doesn’t mean the hospital stops here.

CEO Marla Sanger says that these renovations don’t replace plans for a brand new facility.

“Just because we’re doing these improvements right now doesn’t mean in any way that we’re not still very interested and very much wanting a new hospital. And we are going to be continuing to try for that. It might be a bit difficult but we are going to just try one step at a time to get back on track, get it going again,” says Sanger.

But in the meantime she says, the hospital can continue to care for the community in a freshened up space with a brand new outlook.

Categories: Alaska News

Origami Peace Peacock Finds Home In The State Capitol

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-04-16 17:46

The origami peacock for peace is made of more than 2,000 pieces of paper. It’s three feet wide and roughly two feet tall. (Photo by Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau)

Middle East exchange student Haytham Mohanna and the Thunder Mountain High School Art Club presented an origami peacock of peace to the Alaska State Legislature on Monday. The peacock is made of more than 2,000 pieces of folded paper.

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Mohanna says the peacock represents the dreams of the people of Gaza, his home country.

“I hope this peacock, which symbolizes the peace, go in each mind and each heart, and really rise our mind about the wars and conflicts,” Mohanna says.

Mohanna is studying at Haines High School through an exchange program funded by the U.S. State Department.

He learned how to make an origami peacock from a teacher in Gaza and taught the process to Thunder Mountain art club students while he was visiting Juneau. It took the club three months to fold more than 2,000 pieces of paper. The peacock is about three feet wide and two feet tall.

Art club coordinator Heather Ridgway says she didn’t immediately know where the peacock should be displayed. She wanted it to be in a place where it could inspire people.

“It was like, ‘Oh, of course, we’ll take it to the capitol. They are working on major issues that require everyone to commit time and attention and do a careful job and work together and be patient, just like making this peacock. Let’s give it to the legislature,’” Ridgway says.

Juneau Sen. Dennis Egan calls Mohanna an artist and says the peacock will definitely inspire visitors to the capitol and lawmakers.

“I can guarantee you that people will reflect on it and hopefully bring good things and remember that, you know, we’re all trying to come in peace,” Egan says.

Until a permanent place can be found for the origami peacock, it’s temporarily displayed in the House Speaker’s Chambers.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Trails Conference Kicks Off Next Week

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-04-16 17:46

With all its public lands and scenic values, it’s no surprise that Alaska has an advocacy organization for trails – for walking, skiing, bicycling, off-road vehicle riding and trekking. Called “Alaska Trails,” the group has statewide conferences every couple of years, and the next one starts April 24th at Alaska Pacific University.

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You can start with this – there’s never enough money.

Participants in the Alaska Trails Conference will probably be greeted next week with the news that the $400,000 trail building and maintenance money they wanted in the capital budget did not survive this legislative session – once again. But trail advocates are used to that and this will be about how to build alliances to make things happen. For instance, in and around Park City, Utah, there is now a huge network of trails.

“We have really been lucky with that,” trail builder, designer and consultant Troy Duffin said. “We now brag about having almost four hundred miles of public trails here, and that’s in about in a hundred square mile area.”

Duffin has been involved in making much of that Park City trail network happen. Duffin has been a consultant on several Alaska jobs, including re-conditioning the trails in Anchorage’s Far North Bicentennial Park. He’ll be a keynote speaker at the conference at APU, discussing how to get local buy-in for trails, particularly property owners – nervous about plans for incoming trails:

“It can be a very tough nut to get somebody to understand that a trail in close proximity to their home is a benefit because if you’re not used to it, the first blush is – Well I’ve heard everything, burglary and fire and personal crimes and voyeurism and anything you can imagine that the fears go through a homeowner or a property owner’s mind right off the bat. But without fail, every time a trail has gone in that I am aware of, property owners have just settled in and all those fears have dissipated and, whether they use it or love it or not, they at least are no longer afraid of it and do see it as a benefit,” Duffin said.

Along with a healthy lifestyle the benefit includes real money, with increased property values, and a quality of life valued by a young, creative work-force, and hence the companies seeking to employ them. And a trail holds onto valued green space in a city. The city of Anchorage has already seen this. For Alaska Trails Executive Director Steve Cleary the next task is making the trails connect.

“That’s one of the most interesting questions for me as I look at the conference is that interface between what I’ll just for ease of syntax, say, urban and rural trails, or connecting cities to the trails or the trails back into the cities,” Cleary said.

That’s going in the right direction – right into the cities, says Troy Duffin.

“It’s a very challenging thing to do, but what we’ve found is that most users really appreciate the opportunity to not have to y’know put their bike or skis on or in the car, and to be able to access things directly from their homes, and while it can be very difficult to do in a lot of areas, it seems to be very worthwhile to put in that effort and to connect people that closely,” Duffin said.

But how do you do that with little or no money? Duffin says in Park City they figured out what the benefits of their trail network would be, then backed it up and went out and made their case to civic organizations and local governments to get behind it.

“We were able to work with them and help prove up the fact that tourists and other visitors to the area are more likely to get out and use the systems if there is a connecting trail close in,” Duffin said. “You know, they have to be able to see and touch and feel that. Then those groups, and I’m talking again about the Chamber, the Muni and others, were willing to get behind it with support and funding, and then that led to the ability to offer up things to the reluctant private owners, which is typically, money.”

The money can then be used to purchase easements or corridors to make those last connections between the routes – an issue they call the “last mile.” And it turns out that Alaska’s largest city does have some buy-in, in the form of a “Live-Work-Play” initiative that the civic groups have already signed on to.

The conference is open to public participation, and there’s a free public talk next Friday by Olympic skier Holly Brooks, right next to the trails she trains on.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: April 16, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-04-16 17:23

Individual news stories are posted on the APRN news page. You can subscribe to APRN’s newsfeeds via emailpodcast and RSS. Follow us on Facebook at alaskapublic.org and on Twitter @aprn.

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House Speaker Adds Agrium to Refinery Assistance Bill

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

Governor Sean Parnell’s $150 million bill to subsidize Alaska’s oil refineries grew to $200-million today, when House Speaker Mike Chenault expanded it to include the Agrium fertilizer plant in Nikiski.

House Finance Committee Considers UAF Power Plant Project

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

At $245 million, the biggest item in the capital budget before the Legislature is a power plant for the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus. The project is now before the House Finance Committee for review, and lawmakers are less surprised by the price tag than how the funding package works in the first place.

USDA Files Complaint Against UAF

The Associated Press

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has accused the University of Alaska Fairbanks of possible Animal Welfare Act violations in the starvation deaths of 12 musk oxen at its large-animal research station.

USDA spokeswoman Tanya Espinosa said today an administrative judge will decide whether the university will face fines an animal rights group hopes total $10,000 for each animal.

University spokeswoman Marmian Grimes says the school is working on a response to the complaint.

The USDA says the university failed to provide adequate veterinary care, identify that the musk oxen were losing weight or enlist veterinary treatment. The animals died or were euthanized in 2010 and 2011.

The complaint filed in late March follows a request by the group Stop Animal Exploitation Now to investigate the school.

Bill Arming VPSOs Goes To Governor’s Desk

Zachariah Hughes, KNOM – Nome

Village Public Safety Officers will soon be able to carry fire arms if Governor Sean Parnell signs a measure approved this morning in the Senate.

State House Approves Alaska Native Language Bill

Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau

The Alaska House of Representatives approved a bill on Wednesday that would symbolically recognize 20 Alaska Native languages as official state languages. House Bill 216 passed on a 38-0 vote.

With less than a week to go in this year’s legislative session, the Senate State Affairs Committee will hear the bill tomorrow.

Leary Vies For Miss Indian World Crown

Daysha Eaton, KYUK – Bethel

Bethel resident Megan Leary is heading to Albuquerque, New Mexico later this month to vie for the title of Miss Indian World. The former Miss Cama-I is preparing and raising money for her trip.

Origami Peace Peacock Finds Home In The State Capitol

Lisa Phu,  KTOO – Juneau

Middle East exchange student Haytham Mohanna and Juneau’s Thunder Mountain High School Art Club presented an origami peacock of peace to the Alaska State Legislature on Monday. The peacock is made of more than 2,000 pieces of folded paper.

Wrangell Hospital Renovations Don’t Preclude New Facility

Shady Grove Oliver, KSTK – Wrangell

Like many hospitals in Southeast Alaska, Wrangell Medical Center is starting to look its age. A brand new hospital is still the long-term plan, but for now, the building is getting a much-needed makeover.

Alaska Trails Conference Kicks Off Next Week

Steve Heimel, APRN – Anchorage

With all its public lands and scenic values, it’s no surprise that Alaska has an advocacy organization for trails – for walking, skiing, bicycling, off-road vehicle riding and trekking.  Called “Alaska Trails,” the group has statewide conferences every couple of years, and the next one starts April 24th at Alaska Pacific University.

Categories: Alaska News

Huggins: Late Saturday Target To Finish Work

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-04-16 09:54

Senate President Charlie Huggins says lawmakers are aiming to complete their work by Saturday night.

Sunday is the scheduled end of the 90-day session, but that’s Easter. Legislative leaders have said they’d like to complete their work before then, if possible.

There are several major pieces in play, including the budgets and bills dealing with education, the state’s unfunded pension obligation and setting the state’s participation rate in a major liquefied natural gas project.

Also pending is a bill to raise Alaska’s minimum wage. The House narrowly passed such legislation Sunday, amid questions of lawmakers’ motives. Voters are scheduled to vote on a similar measure later this year.

Huggins says the bill would need to have the votes to reach the Senate floor. He said that could be a challenge.

Categories: Alaska News

Saint Marys Man Dead In ATV Accident

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-04-16 09:48

A Saint Marys man has died in a one-vehicle crash involving an all-terrain vehicle.

Alaska State Troopers say in a web posting that 27-year-old Joe Bryan Joe died at the scene of the accident, near the confluence of the Andreafsky and Yukon rivers.

Troopers were notified of the death about 5 a.m. Tuesday.

Joe’s next-of-kin have been notified, and the body will be sent to Anchorage for an autopsy.

A passenger on the ATV received minor injuries, and was treated at a local clinic.

Troopers say alcohol and poor weather are believed to have played a role in the accident.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: April 15, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-04-15 17:55

Individual news stories are posted on the APRN news page. You can subscribe to APRN’s newsfeeds via emailpodcast and RSS. Follow us on Facebook at alaskapublic.org and on Twitter @aprn.

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Legislature Passes Bill On AGDC Appointment

The Associated Press

The Alaska Legislature has passed a measure allowing out-of-state residents to serve on the board of a corporation that could play a key role in a major liquefied natural gas pipeline project.

The Senate’s 13-7 vote helps clear the way for Richard Rabinow, a former pipeline company executive from Texas, to serve on the board of the Alaska Gasline Development Corp.

Governor Sean Parnell appointed Rabinow last September and has defended the appointment as falling within his discretion under the constitution. Rabinow faces confirmation Thursday.

Supporters of the bill, including House Speaker Mike Chenault, have said it was an oversight to not explicitly allow for out-of-state residents to serve on the board. They say they want the best people possible to serve.

Opponents say Alaskans should make policy decisions for Alaskans.

Legislature Considers $150m to Help Refineries

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

The Flint Hills refinery in North Pole plans to cease operation this spring, and the Parnell Administration warns Petro Star’s refinery in North Pole might be next. A bill crafted by the Administration would prop up Alaska’s three remaining oil refineries with $150 million in state funds. But, even some legislators who are helping advance the bill say they’re uncomfortable with the loose terms of the giveaway.

Nikiski LNG Plant May Reopen Soon

Aaron Selbig, KBBI – Homer

The ConocoPhillips LNG plant in Nikiski may be re-opening soon, thanks to a boost from the federal government. The Department of Energy announced Monday that it has approved a request from the company to resume LNG exports to Japan.

Yukon Fishermen Prepare For Summer Of Conservation

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

Fishers on the Kuskokwim River are expecting unprecedented restrictions to bring more king salmon to spawning grounds.  On the Yukon River, fisherman can expect a similar set of restrictions.

Some Southeast Chinook Runs Expected To Be Strong

Joe Viechnicki, KFSK – Petersburg

King Salmon are expected to be plentiful in parts of Southeast Alaska this summer.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game this month announced a king salmon harvest quota allowed under the Pacific Salmon Treaty and based on the forecasts of Chinook returning to rivers and streams on the Pacific coast of the U.S. and Canada.

MEA Official Accuses Anchorage Assembly Of Misusing City Funds

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

A Matanuska Electric Association official charges that the Anchorage Municipal Assembly is spending city funds on private interests.  Joe Griffith, MEA’s executive director, has contacted Anchorage officials  with concerns that city money is being spent on one Assemblyman’s legal fight against a power station upgrade.

Haines Residents Pursue Railroad Link

Margaret Friedenauer, KHNS – Haines

Some residents in Haines are pursing the dream of a railroad that may one day link the community to Interior Alaska, Yukon mines and to a future port facility. The state and other stakeholders aren’t dismissing the idea outright.

Group Uses National Water Dance To Raise Compassion

Johanna Eurich, APRN Contributor

A small group of people gathered Saturday in Anchorage to use art to make change. The National Water Dance was an effort to use the art of human movement to generate compassion for the nation’s streams, lakes and oceans.

Categories: Alaska News

With Permitting Bill Dead, Some Provisions May Be Resurrected

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-04-15 17:48

Earlier this month, lawmakers announced they were killing House Bill 77, saying that emotions had become so inflamed over the permitting bill that it was best left alone. But now, some of its less controversial provisions might be coming back in a different form.

Natural Resources Commissioner Joe Balash does not undersell the heartburn that HB77 caused. He’ll even refer to it as “toxic,” and jokes about it being “tightly bound” in a casket.
So, when asked what parts of the bill he wants to come back this session, he’s very clear.

“We had all kinds things that caught a lot of heat and light from the public: general permits, appeals, water provisions, temporary water uses, reservations. None of that is what we’re talking about.”

The Parnell administration is currently working with Rep. Cathy Muñoz, a Juneau Republican, to revive language provisions dealing with land exchanges and leases. The idea is to attach it to Senate Bill 106, which already deals with the selling of state land.

Balash says he asked the sponsor of that bill, Sen. Kevin Meyer, if that could work without hijacking the legislation. Meyer was friendly to the idea of SB109 being used as a vehicle.

“This is hitchhiking. He pulled over. Said get in,” says Balash. “We’re good.”

The pressing argument for reviving the land exchange language is to allow property swaps in places like Ketchikan, Anchor Point, and Juneau.

Rep. Cathy Muñoz says the Juneau land swap in question has dragged out for more than a decade under existing statute.

“The trail that accesses Point Bridget State Park is on private land. So there’s a great interest on the part of the State and also on the part of Echo Ranch in having an equal value trade so the State can have access to the park, and Echo Ranch will have access to their facility.”

Balash says there was language in HB77 that would have let that deal go through. He says before the administration began real work to bring back those provisions, they went back to see if those sections of the bill had ruffled any feathers.

“We’ve not gotten negative testimony on it. There were never any amendments offered to undo or take out these provisions,” says Balash. “So, no zombies here.”

Because of the sensitive nature of the bill, the administration has been going around to lawmakers’ offices to see if they’re comfortable with the idea.

Sen. Peter Micciche, a Soldotna Republican, was among those who got briefed on the matter. Micciche had a number of reservations with the original bill, and he worked with the administration to try to rewrite it in a way that better balanced the interests of conservation and development.

Micciche says he agrees with Balash that some parts of the bill that should pass, and that he’s open to what the administration’s proposing on land exchanges. But he’s not willing to touch anything that generated negative public testimony.

“If they try to go into some of the other sections, then it’s too late,” says Micciche. “It’s too late to talk about those things this year.”

For his part, Balash says the administration is willing to drop the issue if there’s any push-back.

“If it were to become controversial, it’s not worth taking any heat over,” says Balash.

The exact changes that are being considered have not become public. Balash says they could come in the form of a bill rewrite sometime this week, or as an amendment to the land sale bill.

Categories: Alaska News

Legislature Passes Bill On AGDC Appointment

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-04-15 17:41

The Alaska Legislature has passed a measure allowing out-of-state residents to serve on the board of a corporation that could play a key role in a major liquefied natural gas pipeline project.

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The Senate’s 13-7 vote helps clear the way for Richard Rabinow, a former pipeline company executive from Texas, to serve on the board of the Alaska Gasline Development Corp.

Governor Sean Parnell appointed Rabinow last September and has defended the appointment as falling within his discretion under the constitution. Rabinow faces confirmation Thursday.

Supporters of the bill, including House Speaker Mike Chenault, have said it was an oversight to not explicitly allow for out-of-state residents to serve on the board. They say they want the best people possible to serve.

Opponents say Alaskans should make policy decisions for Alaskans.

Categories: Alaska News

Legislature Considers $150m to Help Refineries

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-04-15 17:40

The Flint Hills refinery in North Pole plans to cease operation this spring, and the Parnell Administration warns Petro Star’s refinery in North Pole might be next. A bill crafted by the Administration would prop up Alaska’s three remaining oil refineries with $150 million in state funds. Even some legislators who are helping advance the bill say they’re uncomfortable with it.

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But Fairbanks Republican Representative Steve Thompson says he worries it’s not enough money. He says Fairbanks needs Petro Star’s Interior refinery, especially if it hopes to attract the new F-35 fighter units to Eielson Air Force Base.

“No jet fuel? Goodbye. F16s (will) move. That means Eielson is going to close. 1500 civilian jobs. We’re going to have empty houses in Fairbanks. The economy is going to tank further,” he said at a House Finance hearing Monday.

State Natural Resources Commissioner Joe Balash says the high price of North Slope crude makes it hard for in-state refineries to compete with fuel imported from Outside. The Administration originally proposed $300 million in refinery assistance, primarily to help Petro Star, which faces higher costs for crude delivery now that its neighbor, Flint Hills, won’t be contributing.

Anchorage Democratic Representative Les Gara says he wants the refinery to stay open, too, but he calls the bill pending in the House now “insane policy.”

“It’s a bailout, it’s a giveaway, it’s poorly crafted,” Gara says. “It costs the state $150 million over five years, and it gives $50 million to Tesoro who doesn’t even want the money. At a time when we can’t afford our schools we need to come up with smarter solutions than just giving money to companies.”

The bill would allow an Alaska refinery to collect $10 million a year from the state for five years. That would mean $20 million a year for Petro Star, which has refineries in North Pole and Valdez, and $10 million a year for Tesoro’s operation in Kenai. The companies would get the money in the form of tax credits, or in cash if the company doesn’t owe state taxes. The refineries would have to do is show they spent $25 million a year on infrastructure. Gara says the definition is wide open, to include buying or altering any tangible property. And, says Gara, there are no limits on what the refinery can do with its state money. Companies can “keep the money in profits, give the money to their executives, give the money to their share holders,” Gara says “There are no sideboards.”

He proposed offering the refineries low-interest loans instead, but his amendment failed 8-3 in the House Finance Committee Monday. Rep. Tammie Wilson, a North Pole Republican, says Petro Star is too close to the edge for loans.

“Where they’re at right now, they may not be here in five years,” she said. “They’re not going to get a loan for something in which the company might not be able to make it. We have to do something now to make them healthy.”

Petro Star is owned by Arctic Slope Regional Corporation. ASRC Senior Vice President Tara Sweeney, at the Capitol to press for the bill, says she’s doing what she can not to close the refinery.

“The refining industry in Alaska is not healthy. We’re down here working to ensure that it is, and the tools are there that are necessary to keep us afloat,” she says.

“If it does close, the state says it would lose millions of dollars a year in revenues.  But lawmakers who question the refinery assistance bill point out Petro Star hasn’t opened its books for them. Republican Rep Alan Austerman of Kodiak says he’s troubled by the lack of information they’ve received from the state, too.

“We’re just going based upon, a company come(s) to the state of Alaska saying that ‘we’re going to go out of business if you don’t give us some money,’” Austerman says.

Fairbanks Democrat David Guttenberg says the bill was dropped on them in the last days of the session with no meaningful analysis. He’d like not to vote for it but he says they’re in a bind.

“Here we are faced with this, you know, this is what we have. Is it the best thing? I don’t think so. Is it the only thing? Yeah,” Guttenberg says.

The bill cleared the House Finance Committee Tuesday. Sponsors hope to get it through both the House and Senate before the Legislature adjourns this weekend.

Categories: Alaska News

Nikiski LNG Plant May Reopen Soon

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-04-15 17:39

The ConocoPhillips LNG plant in Nikiski may be re-opening soon, thanks to a boost from the federal government. The Department of Energy announced Monday that it has approved a request from the company to resume LNG exports to Japan.

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Categories: Alaska News

Yukon Fishermen Prepare For Summer Of Conservation

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-04-15 17:38

Fishers on the Kuskokwim River are expecting unprecedented restrictions to bring more king salmon to spawning grounds. On the Yukon River, fisherman can expect a similar set of restrictions.

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Twenty years ago, king salmon runs on the Yukon averaged 300,000 fish. In 2013, biologists counted just 76,000 fish.

Stephanie Schmidt is the Yukon River Research Biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

“I think with this run size, we’re going to have trouble reaching our escapement goals even if there is no harvest on the Yukon river,” Schmidt said.

The forecast this year is for between 64,000-121,000 kings. Managers don’t expect to have any directed king openings. Still, some kings could be accidentally caught in gillnets intended for other salmon species or whitefish.

Schmidt says fishers will likely not be able to use gillnets unless many more kings than expected come into the river. Using non-traditional gear is the subject of current discussions between managers and fishermen.

“The the idea is can we provide opportunity to fisherman for subsistence fishing in a way that would allow them to catch those other species, especially the abundant summer chum salmon or the fall chum salmon that come in and are supposed to have a good run this year. Are there way* that they can target those species and not harm king salmon?” Schmidt said.

One gear type is dipnets, which allow for the live release of kings. Fisherman may also be using beach seines, and fish wheels with a live chute. There’s no firm fishing schedule set, but subsistence fishing will close according to law when the first pulse of king salmon enter the river. As breakup approaches, Schmidt says conversations with Yukon residents have been positive.

“Fisherman on the Yukon recognize the issue, they recognize that we’re in a situation where we need to conserve, and we need to get more king salmon on the spawning grounds if we’re going to give this run any chance of recovering,” Schmidt said.

On the commercial side, The Board of Fish tweaked the rules for commercial summer chum fisherman. Non-circular dipnets can be as large as 6 feet by 3 feet. The board did not pass a proposal from the Yukon Delta Fisheries Development association to allow for purse seines during times of king salmon conservation.

Categories: Alaska News

Some Southeast Chinook Runs Expected To Be Strong

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-04-15 17:37

King Salmon are expected to be plentiful in parts of Southeast Alaska this summer.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game this month announced a king salmon harvest quota allowed under the Pacific Salmon Treaty and based on the forecasts of Chinook returning to rivers and streams on the Pacific coast of the U.S. and Canada.

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Categories: Alaska News

MEA Official Accuses Anchorage Assembly Of Misusing City Funds

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-04-15 17:36

A Matanuska Electric Association official charges that the Anchorage Municipal Assembly is spending city funds on private interests.

Joe Griffith, MEA’s executive director, has contacted Anchorage officials with concerns that city money is being spent on one Assemblyman’s legal fight against a power station upgrade.

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In a letter to Anchorage Municipal Assembly chair Ernie Hall, MEA executive director Joe Griffith says that one Assembly member, Eagle River’s Bill Starr, is planning to spend city funds to fight MEA’s appeal of a Muni Planning and Zoning Commission decision. Griffith says this is clearly a misuse of public funds.

“The Assembly has had no role whatsoever in this process,” Griffith said. “Now they, so far, have not had to weigh in on it, so therefore, they have no formal position.”

“And yet they have chosen to fund the attorneys that are fighting MEA’s request of a review of the process that refused us the right to upgrade a substation.”

Griffith adds, that, by law, MEA must maintain it’s facilities to keep up with power demands.

The city’s planning and zoning commission had earlier denied a bid by MEA for a conditional use permit for the upgrade of the power company’s Justine Parks substation in Eagle River. Now MEA is appealing the commission’s decision to the Board of Adjustment.

According to Griffith’s letter, Starr has tapped the law firm of Ashburn and Mason to help him in opposing the power station upgrade.

Starr would not agree to a recorded interview. He says there’s no impropriety, because the city maintains legal counsel for Assembly members. He says the “Board of Adjustment process is complicated” and that he wants good legal advice on how the Board operates.

Starr says MEA wants to build the substation in a residential neighborhood, and that “the residents have a right to complain.”

Categories: Alaska News

Haines Residents Pursue Railroad Link

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-04-15 17:35

Some residents in Haines are pursing the dream of a railroad that may one day link the community to Interior Alaska, Yukon mines and to a future port facility. The state and other stakeholders aren’t dismissing the idea outright.

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Categories: Alaska News

Group Uses National Water Dance To Raise Compassion

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-04-15 17:28

A small group of people gathered Saturday in Anchorage to use art to make change. The National Water Dance was an effort to use the art of human movement to generate compassion for the nation’s streams, lakes and oceans.

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Categories: Alaska News

Inmate Found Dead At Eagle River Women’s Jail

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-04-14 18:36

A 24-year-old inmate at a women’s prison has been found dead in her cell.

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The Alaska Bureau of Investigations Major Crimes Unit announced today that the inmate was found dead last Thursday in her cell at Hiland Mountain Correctional Center in Eagle River.

Correctional officers found Amanda Kernak unresponsive during a routine security check at 1:35 a.m.

Authorities say no foul play is suspected, and the State Medical Examiner’s Office took custody of the body.

A Department of Corrections spokeswoman says Alaska State Troopers are investigating Kernak’s death.

Categories: Alaska News

John Luther Adams Wins Pulitzer For ‘Become Ocean’

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-04-14 18:36

Former Fairbanks resident John Luther Adams has won a Pulitzer Prize for his composition “Become Ocean.”

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Adams’ work has long been inspired by the natural world he’s experienced, and the Pulitzer committee was attracted to the real-world feel of “Become Ocean,” which was informed by the waters off the coast of Alaska and the Pacific Northwest.

The committee said the composition is a “haunting orchestral work that suggests a relentless tidal surge, evoking thoughts of melting polar ice and rising sea levels.” The piece was commissioned by the Seattle Symphony, which debuted the work in June.

Categories: Alaska News

The 7.5 Million Obamacare Number Only Part Of The Story

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-04-14 18:36

Want to know how many people have signed up for private insurance under Obamacare? Like the law itself, the answer is exceedingly complicated. The administration is tracking the number of plans purchased on healthcare.gov and on the state exchanges. But the federal government isn’t counting the number of people buying plans directly from insurance carriers.

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When insurance broker Joshua Weinstein wanted to sign someone up for health insurance this year, he asked one key question – would they qualify for a federal subsidy? If the client didn’t, he steered them away from healthcare.gov:

“If you can avoid that whole level of bureaucracy and get a good plan, not necessarily at a good price, but at the same price and they’re not subsidy eligible, we’re going off the marketplace,” Weinstein said.

One of those clients is Oliver Korshin, a doctor who lives in Anchorage. Weinstein and Korshin worked together to enroll Korshin’s wife Rachel in a new health plan. They didn’t qualify for a subsidy so they went directly to Premera Alaska, says Korshin.

“The actual enrolling wasn’t difficult at all,” Korshin said.

Weinstein, their broker, estimates about 15 percent of his clients are signing up for insurance outside the exchanges. He says enrolling directly is easier because insurers don’t have to deal with the financial information required on healthcare.gov.

“It’s basically gathering demographic information, name, address, phone number, social security number, which plan do you want, sign up for how you want to pay your bill, monthly via statement or auto-draft and sign and off you go,” Weinstein said.

Weinstein does counsel people who are close to qualifying for a subsidy, to sign up on healthcare.gov, in case their income fluctuates during the year.

Alaska’s two main insurers report 1/5th of their customers bought plans directly from them. But these customers aren’t being counted by the Obama administration.

“That’s the big mystery,” Larry Levitt, an insurance expert with the Kaiser Family Foundation, said.

Levitt says there’s a lot of focus on the 7.5 million people who signed up through the 14 state exchanges or healthcare.gov. But he says the off-exchange number is just as essential to gauge how well the law is working:

“Oh I think it’s quite important,” Levitt said. “I think it’s probably the case that there are more people insured in the individual market off the exchange than on the exchange right now.”

In fact, a new survey from the RAND Corporation estimates 7.8 million people nationwide bought health insurance this year directly from a carrier.

Categories: Alaska News

HB23 Would Allow Public Financing Of KABATA

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-04-14 18:36

With a 16-4 vote on Saturday, the state Senate approved House Bill 23, allowing public financing of the Knik Arm Crossing. The approval moves the $892 million project forward by updating the project’s financial model. The bill allows funding for the bridge to come from three public entities: one third from bonds, one third from National Highway System funds, and the final third from federal loans.

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Categories: Alaska News
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