The legal fight over Alaska’s redistricting plan may be nearing an end.
Jason Gazewood, an attorney for Fairbanks-area plaintiffs George Riley and Ronald Dearborn, says they do not plan to appeal a decision approving the latest map. A spokesman says Alaska’s Democratic party also does not plan to appeal.
Gazewood says those who filed friend of court briefs may have standing to appeal but he didn’t think so.
On Monday, Superior Court Judge Michael McConahy ruled the plan met constitutional challenges. The decision was the latest in a dispute that dates to 2011 and has involved several proposed iterations for Alaska’s political boundaries.
The Alaska Supreme Court allowed an interim map to be used for last year’s elections but in December ordered the redistricting board to redraw the map.
With maps more firmed up, a couple of political challengers have submitted paperwork to the Division of Elections. Harry Crawford, a former state legislator from Anchorage, filed a letter of intent on Wednesday, but says he is still deciding whether to run for House or Senate. On Thursday, Mat-Su Borough Assemblyman Jim Colver announced that he plans to run against Rep. Eric Feige in the Republican primary for their district.
A construction project in McGrath last year uncovered three skeletons. Authorities opened a missing persons case, but it turns out these remains have been “missing” for much longer than anyone expected. Radiocarbon dating shows the bones could be a thousand years old. Scientist have spent the last year analyzing DNA and isotopes to find out more about who the individuals were, what they ate and whether they are related to people living in the McGrath area today.
The U.S. Senate this week has been debating how the military should handle sexual assault reports from service members. Both Alaska senators have signed on to an amendment that would let military prosecutors, rather than a suspect’s commander, determine which cases to pursue. Senator Lisa Murkowski on Wednesday spoke on the Senate floor about some of the incidents that motivate her.
In Alaska, fishermen and scientists have a long history of working together to figure out how to catch fish in a way that’s safe – for crew members, and for the species out in the ocean.
Now, there’s a plethora of research groups out there wanting to set up those partnerships – but, it’s getting harder to organize their efforts.
A new book celebrates 25 years of collaborative research and science between the Cup’ik people of Chevak, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Geological Survey.
The title, Banding Together to learn and Preserve, 25 years of goose banding at old Chevak lays out the premise of this year book style collection of pictures and science information gathered during the decades of bird banding.
The work was prompted by declines in Cackling, White Front, Emperor and Black brant geese.
USGS wildlife biologist Craig Ely got young people from Chevak involved to herd the geese. He says it helped alleviate mistrust by locals about what the feds were doing and whether it was harming the geese.
“So once you get to know them, maybe you’ll be able to believe a little bit more what they say,” Ely said. ”So when we tell them, oh, it doesn’t bother the birds, they’re more likely to trust us as individuals, so that was a big benefit of the project as well.”
Chevak elder Leo Moses worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on banding projects for many years along the banks of the Kashunuk river. The nearly 81-year-old teaches Cup’ik culture at the Chevak high school.
He says traditionally people herded the geese into nets and caught them to butcher and dry. He showed the biologists how to use the method to catch the birds for banding.
“We learned to work together. Which is good,” Moses said. ”And when the children started helping herd and band them and learn to sex the birds and stuff. Well that’s educational.”
Moses traveled from Chevak with James Ayuluk, who also teaches at the school and is the chief of the traditional council. Ayuluk remembers hunting the geese when he was younger, rounding them up and catching them in nets. It meant survival for Cup’ik people generations ago to be able to harvest the geese, now Ayuluk says the harvest is restricted, plus there’s new food in the area.
“Like moose, 50 years ago wasn’t there. Beaver, 30 years ago wasn’t there. But we do catch geese, yes. I try not to catch them as much,” Ayuluk said. ”I want my grandchildren someday to appreciate them as well. So, one dinner a month, that’s good enough. I have beaver meat over here, there’s moose meat over there. Other sources, if I want modern food, I go store maybe have a burger or pizza.”
USGS biologist Ely says an early 80s accord between local Native people and state and federal agencies resulted in the Yukon Delta management plan that he says was one of the first major agreements between indigenous people and agencies to manage through limited harvest. He says the results are clear.
“There’s five times as many Cackling geese as there used to be and White Fronted goose numbers were down, there’s too many of them now, they’re trying to figure out how to get rid of them now basically,” Ely said. ”Emperor Geese and Black Brant, we banded those also. They haven’t done quite as well, but they’re still improving.”
A copy of the book will be presented to all households in Chevak.
David Brabaw is clutching a frozen, 8-pound turkey in a pair of as-seen-on-TV Ove Gloves. He’s got a bowler’s stance as he eyes the pins at the end of the lane over the bird’s rump.
There’s a hush as bird strikes the pins, then an eruption of cheers as the pins settle, including an ecstatic, guttural “YEAH!” from Brabaw — he got a strike.
Brabaw’s not at a rowdy bowling alley, but on the eighth floor of Juneau’s State Office Building. He was one of a handful of state workers turkey bowling on Wednesday during the lunch hour. That unmistakable sound of bowling pins getting knocked around echoed up several stories of the building.
One makeshift bowling lane with 10 real pins was fashioned out of duct tape and a plastic drop cloth on the tile floor.
“Well, I have 34 right now in the fourth frame, but the last two frames, I’ll get a strike!” said Bong Carandang in the midst of a competitive game. “Or I’m gonna try and get a strike!”
The event was organized by employees of the division of Enterprise Technology Services. They charged $2 a throw, or $5 for a six-frame game. It was a fundraiser for the SHARE Campaign, a charitable giving program for state employees.
The turkey hucking was a spectacle. Folks were watching in the atrium, and several more gawked from interior office windows.
“Turkey bowling, I was very envious of, it sounded like great fun,” said Paula Pawlowski, the SHARE Campaign coordinator for the whole state, though her day job is as executive director of Serve Alaska. Different offices run the SHARE Campaign from year to year.
Turkey bowling was one many novel events state employees across Alaska put together to raise money for charities and nonprofits. Past events included selling chances to throw a pie at IT people, Halloween parties, coffee sales, silent auctions, chili cook-offs and bake sales.
“There are all kinds of creative ways that they’re having fun while giving at the same time,” Pawlowski said.
The SHARE Campaign goal for the year is to raise $415,000. The campaign is about two-thirds of the way there.
Wednesday’s turkey bowling event will kick in another $95, less the cost of the drop cloth. Taku Lanes donated the pins. The two turkeys used were also donated, but were too beat up to be regifted.
Going into 2014, the Anchorage School District faces more budget cuts.
The gap is big: $21 million, caused four years of flat funding from the governor combined with general cost of living increases. The School Board recently held three community meetings to gauge what the residents value as the district approaches the next round of cuts.
At the community meetings, participants heard an overview of the budget situation for the district. Then they answered multiple choice questions with a clicker. They also broke into small groups for discussion, kind of like a focus group.
Shanna Zuspan with Agnew Beck Consulting, the firm hired to conduct the research, recently briefed the Anchorage School Board on highlights of the meetings.
During the meetings participants were asked to rank programs by importance.
“The top point getters were Science, Social Studies, Career Technical and reading and writing,” Zuspan said. “And then in that same conversation there was a discussion about class size and participants were asked to decide whether that was important to education and 81 percent of participants combined thought it was either very important or important.”
The next set of questions was about staffing levels and where to make cuts. Forty-five percent of participants wanted to see cuts made to district wide support services, then building and ancillary support services and building leadership support. Instructional support and classroom instruction came in last.
Zuspan says the majority of participants preferred isolating the budget cuts to specific areas rather than across the board. But they also said this:
“In the small groups or in the report out sessions people did mention that isolating cuts to more popular programs would be a way to be an effective tool to engage more people in the community and kind of get them riled up and participating more,” Zuspan said.
Participants also discussed how cost cutting could impact sports and student activities.
“One of the questions that was asked was how important is student athletics to your educational experience,” Zuspan said. “And combined about 81 percent thought it was very important or important. And there was a series of questions getting at how that should be paid for.”
Zuspan says they asked participants what portion of the cost of participation in sports students and their families should be responsible for. Ten percent of respondents said players and families shouldn’t pay anything, while 16 percent said 100 percent of the cost should be paid by players and families.
The district will incorporate suggestions from the community conversations into the budget development process. The district also has an online suggestion box on their website.
Superintendent Ed Graff will present a balanced budget proposal to the Anchorage School Board in February.
Starting next month cancer patients in Juneau and Southeast Alaska won’t have far to travel for radiation treatment.
The new Southeast Radiation Oncology Center opens December 12th in the Capital City. It’s the first radiation cancer treatment center in the region.
Dr. Eugene Huang arrived in Juneau a week and a half ago, and says so far he loves his new community.
“I love this town,” he says. “Of any place I’ve ever been, the people here are the warmest, most welcoming, most inviting and most friendly people I’ve ever met.”
The 36-year-old Huang is medical director for Southeast Radiation Oncology Center. His wife, their two children, and a pair of Pomeranians will be joining him in the Capital City in about two weeks.
They come to Juneau from Cleveland, where Huang was a radiation oncologist at the world-renowned Cleveland Clinic. Before that he did his residency at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Centerin Houston, near where he attended medical school at Baylor University.
Huang says opening a brand new clinic has always been one of his professional dreams.
“To be able to be part of helping to build something, and to bring a service to a community that really needs it,” says Huang.
Radiation has been the missing component from cancer treatment in Juneau. Surgery and chemotherapy are available locally, but patients who need radiation have had to travel to Anchorage, Seattle, or other communities, sometimes for weeks or months at a time.
Once the center opens, Huang says people will be able to have their treatment during the day and sleep in their own bed at night.
“Most patients will be in and out of our doors within 15 minutes,” Huang says.
He’s not sure what the actual demand will be, but says the clinic will have the ability to see 35 to 40 patients per day. Huang says his job will be to act as a kind of care coordinator, working with other medical professionals to develop a treatment plan for each patient.
Both his mother and grandmother had cancer, so he says he knows how important it is to find the right treatment for each individual.
“Obviously as a physician, a lot of times we’re focused on the medical treatment aspect of it,” he says. “But I know from personal experience that that’s only one component of what a patient goes through.”
Nicole Hallingstad is president of the Cancer Connection board of directors. The Juneau nonprofit offers programs and services to help cancer patients, survivors, and their families. She says having a radiation oncology center in Juneau is a game changer.
“Being able to receive radiation in Juneau benefits the patient in so many ways,” Hallingstad says. “We recognize that patients will make choices about where they will receive their health care. But for those who can remain home, or in a region that has a support network for them, is tremendously important.”
According to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, there were more than 1,800 cases of cancer diagnosed in Juneau from 1996 to 2011, the most recent years for which data was available.
Huang and Southeast Radiation Oncology Center President Greg Merrill will be speaking at Thursday’s Juneau Chamber of Commerce luncheon.
Juneau’s water utility is not meeting peak demand during the summer cruise ship season. That caused the city to drastically reduce the amount of water it could sell to the cruise industry this year.
The city says the problem is due to aging wells at its main water source, Last Chance Basin – a problem that both the city and the cruise industry want to see fixed.
Six cruise ships docked in Juneau at once can guzzle about 1 million gallons of water a day. That’s 20 percent of Juneau’s daily water usage in the summer.
Cruise ships like to hook up two hoses when in port and buy as much water as they need. But the ships were limited to a total of 200,000 gallons a day this past summer due to unusually hot temperatures and an aging well system.
“There were many days where four ships in port had to basically share one hose over the course of a day,” says Kirby Day, director of shore operations for Princess Cruises. “So somebody would get the hose for a couple hours in the morning, somebody would get it a couple hours in the afternoon, a couple hours in the evening, which really cuts down the amount of water that we can purchase from the city.”
Cruise ships can get water from other ports, like Ketchikan, Skagway, Whittier, Seward, and Vancouver, but Day says ships prefer to buy water in Juneau because it’s right in the middle of a voyage. “If it was the first call or the last call, it might not be as crucial to buy water, but you’re basically about halfway through your itinerary,” he says. “Plus this is typically the longer of the port calls, so they’d like to be able to take as much water as we could without obviously creating a detriment to the city.”
David Crabtree, Juneau’s water utility superintendent, says, “We limited their use a bit but in previous years we let them take as much as they could take and it really put the hurt on our system.”
Juneau’s water supply comes from five wells in Last Chance Basin as well as from Salmon Creek Reservoir. On average, the utility distributes 3.5 million gallons of water a day. In the summer, that number can spike to five million gallons a day.
This recent summer saw those peaks, even with the ships taking a lot less. Crabtree says Juneau’s water needs come first; the cruise industry’s is a close second.
“It was balancing the struggle between keeping our reservoirs full and keeping the town adequately supplied versus having the ability to sell water,” he explains.
The wells at Last Chance Basin aren’t keeping up with demand. Production rates have declined so, as Crabtree explains, the utility keeps the wells running for up to 23 hours a day.
“Just because you design a water system that has the capacity of doing five million gallons a day doesn’t mean you do five million gallons a day every day,” he says. “That hurts your wells. They need to be able to relax.”
Some of the wells are 42 years old. Juneau’s engineering director Rorie Watt says the best thing would be to replace one or two of them, “Our wells essentially are reaching the end of their useful life and so the most rational thing to do is just drill a new well 20 or 30 feet away in the same part of the aquifer.”
This could cost as much as $3 million. Juneau has requested a state grant to upgrade Last Chance Basin, but Watt says it’ll be at least another couple of years before the cruise ship industry can take as much water as they want.
Even though limits are difficult, the industry will be patient, according to Day.
“That’s part of the business, I guess,” he says. “We come to Juneau for a lot of reasons, and it’s not just to come here to take water. And so we understand if the city is having an issue with the system, and if we shouldn’t take water or have to limit the water we take so they can get their water system back on line, we’re happy to work with them.”
With limits in place this past summer, Juneau sold about 25 million gallons to cruise ships, translating into about $78,000 to the city.
Over the past ten years, cruise ships consumed the most water in 2006 – almost 98 million gallons – bringing the city roughly $273,000.
On average, cruise ships consume about 61 million gallons of Juneau’s water per year, about 11 percent of the city’s total summer production.
Juneau could begin work on the wells as soon as this summer if funding is secured. At a recent Public Works meeting, the committee approved appropriating $300,000 toward project planning – half would come from utility reserves and the other half from marine passenger fees.
On Sunday, Talkeetna Wildlife Troopers arrested a man wanted in Idaho after conducting a traffic stop in Willow.
The driver, Dustin Simpson, is wanted for probation violation.
According to Trooper spokeswoman Megan Peters, Simpson’s probation was due to a charge of leaving the scene of an injury accident.
His probation violation earned him the label of “Fugitive from Justice.”
Simpson was taken to the Mat-Su Pretrial Facility, where he is being held on $500 bail.
A 6-year-old boy in Kwethluk was shot in the stomach while playing with a loaded pistol. Troopers received a report Monday from the boy’s father, 36-year-old Evon Savage. He says his son Marcus was playing with the .22 pistol when it fired and hit him in the abdomen.
He was medevaced to Anchorage where he underwent surgery for internal injuries. He was last listed in serous condition at Alaska Native Medical Center.
Two new prototype homes in Atmautluak don’t look like experiments. They’re rectangular with a slanted red roof. But how they were built: very quickly and with limited equipment, could serve as a model for other homes in remote communities.
The Cold Climate Housing Research Center builds a lot of advanced and experimental homes. This summer in Atmautluak, they helped on a project after being approached by the community
Jack Hébert is President and founder of CCHRC.
“It was the full package for us, because what we saw is the ability for job creation in Atmautluak, for training of a skilled workforce, and for demonstration for good building science for the region that would lower both construction costs and energy costs,” Hébert said.
The community formed a tribally owned construction company, Pikat Construction Company. Aaron Cooke is an architectural designer who drew up the house. He said the company took the leadership role.
“They’re handling not just the tool belt aspect, but the funding, the grant management, and ordering of materials. The did an incredible job of project management. They choose their own crew of carpenters, and laborers that they think have the most potential to stay on this crew,” Cooke said.
The crew included a member from each family that would live in the home. The new company had their work cut out for them. The project aimed to raise a home from bare ground in nine short weeks. But to throw another curveball in the mix, the community of 277 people has few construction tools at their disposal.
“Since they have no heavy equipment, we’ve got to keep that short season with manpower only, with our hands. And that’s when it gets very interesting, our solutions become more applicable to other communities,” Cooke said.
Crews moved the trusses and framing materials from the barge landing by balancing them between two ATVs and navigating the narrow boardwalks. The actual framing was designed to be fast, according to Cooke.
“Since the trusses have the floor diaphragm, the walls and the roof pitch all integrated into one cross section of truss, basically what you do it tip them up on in order on two foot centers, and what that means is that you can frame an entire house in one day,” Cooke said.
The three bedroom, 1,100-square-foot house is designed to use just 150 gallons of fuel oil a year. The use of a woodstove could cut down on the demand. The house is of course highly insulated with walls rated at R50 and floors at R60.
Other features include pilings that allow the homeowner to level it using just hand tools.
The CCHRC said they hope to be able to bring more of the process locally and manufacture the trusses in communities like Bethel. They would then move them out by barge in summertime, or even overland in the winter.
While the communities of Kotlik and Unalakleet have received attention from state-wide media and government following a large storm a week and a half ago, residents in Stebbins feel they have been ignored. During the storm, rushing water surged through homes and roads in Stebbins. Drying racks, smoke-houses, boats, steam houses, and several homes were damaged or destroyed. Flood waters poured in so rapidly that many residents were stranded in their homes until they could be rescued by a bulldozer.
Navajo code talkers were recognized more than a decade ago for their service in World War II.
They used their Native language as a code that the enemy was never able to crack, but until recently, no one knew that Tlingits from Southeast Alaska also served as code talkers.
They got their due Wednesday when Congress awarded a gold medal to the Tlingit and Haida Central Council. Much of their story remains a mystery.
Robert Jeff David Senior of Haines was a basketball legend in Southeast, a top fisherman and one of the first Sealaska board members. Charismatic and confident, he wasn’t one to keep his mouth shut when he had something to brag about. But his son, Jeff Jr., says he never said much about his service in the war.
“He told us he was in the Philippines during part of it; he said special services,” he said. “That’s probably all he could say.”
Jeff Junior says he only learned a few weeks ago that his dad, who died in the 1980s, was a Tlingit code talker.
At a Congressional ceremony attended by hundreds today, the Tlingits and 32 other tribes received congressional gold medals for their service to the nation as code talkers. They worked in pairs, usually over a radio.
During 48 hours on Iwo Jima, they say, 800 Native-language battle communications were received and translated. It took seconds, at a time when decoding by machine could take half an hour. House speaker John Boehner said the men undoubtedly saved lives.
“And after serving with honor they did the honorable thing, they kept their service a secret – even to those that they loved,” Boehner said.
The Defense Department declassified the Navajo program only in 1968. No one apparently, told Jeff David of Haines he could finally tell his story.
Former State Legislator Bill Thomas heard a few years ago the Defense Department was researching Tlingit code talkers. A few weeks ago he learned his old friend “Big Jeff” was one of them. Exactly what he did still isn’t known. Thomas says one of the mysteries is how the outspoken Jeff Sr. was able to keep quiet about it.
“I mean, I knew the guy all my life and I never knew, and my uncle Evans Willard was his best friend and I don’t think Evans knows,” Thomas said. “And we were talking last night, Evans is probably rolling in his grave or in heaven laughing at Big Jeff for having kept a secret for that long.”
Ozzie Sheakley received the Congressional Gold medal, on behalf of the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida. Five individual Tlingit men, all deceased, were honored with silver medals. They are Jeff David, Richard Bean Sr., George Lewis, and brothers Harvey Jacobs and Mark Jacobs Senior. A little more of the service history is known of the Jacobs, who were from Sitka and Angoon. According to a history published in 2008, the brothers joined the Navy and skipped basic training to serve on picket boats, first in Southeast Alaska and the Aleutians, then in the South Pacific.
ConocoPhillips announced Wednesday that they are adding another new drill rig to the Kuparak oil field on the North Slope.
This is the second rig they’ve added this year since the new oil tax bill was signed into law. The drill rig they installed in May is producing 1,600 barrels of oil per day.
ConocoPhillips President Trod-Erik Johanson says the newest rig will start producing in January, but it’s not as easy to extract oil from the massive field as it used to be.
“The way we drill today, we could go further out on the flanks. We drill more convoluted well bores. We need more high-tech technology to go out there and do it,” Johanson said. ”And, yes, it is more difficult. So, it costs a lot of money, but under the current tax system we have now, after SB21 was passed, we can make this to go around and actually make economic sense. So, that’s why I’m doing it.”
Johanson says SB 21 also motivated his company to move ahead with their projects in the Greater Moose’s Tooth Field. They are applying for permits from the Bureau of Land Management. According to the BLM, it would be the first oil and gas produced from the National Petroleum Reserve – Alaska and on federal lands in the state.
Johanson says the first step in developing NPR-A is finishing the infrastructure on Colville Delta Unit 5, which should start producing oil by late 2015. They already planned to develop that area even before the new tax plan.
If the Greater Moose’s Tooth Field is developed, it could add 30,000 barrels of oil to the pipeline per day.
Currently, oil production on the North Slope is declining by about 6% per year. Johanson spoke at the Resource Development Council conference in Anchorage.
The Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has revised their proposed hydraulic fracking regulations again.
Some of the new rules aimed to give the public more information about the chemicals used in the controversial oil and gas extraction method.
However in the latest version, companies are allowed to withhold some information from the public in order to protect their trade secrets.
If the regulations are approved, companies could mark some formulas confidential and only the AOGCC would see them. If the public wanted the information they would have to seek a court order.
Barrett Ristroph with the Wilderness Society says this weakens the provisions that protect the public.
“Also, I think this is an issue of such great importance to the public, that the public should know ahead of time what’s going on in and around their property and the areas where they might hunt,” Ristroph said. “It shouldn’t have to take a court order, which can take months or even years, to get that information.”
Ristroph says waiting for a court order could be especially dangerous if there is a medical emergency potentially linked to ground water contamination.
During a hearing about the proposed regulations in October, oil industry representatives argued that the specific chemical mixtures for fracking fluids needed to be protected so that other companies did not steal them. They argued that without protections, they would not be willing to use their best recipes in Alaska.
Other changes in the regulations say that if landowners don’t give the operators permission to gather baseline data on their water wells then the companies will not have to test the wells later for contamination. Though baseline data gathering will be required, follow up testing will only be necessary if the commission requires it or a landowner complains.
The regulations will be discussed at a public hearing on January 15.
The state’s insurance director is resigning. Bret Kolb is leaving to become development director at Victory Ministries of Alaska, a bible camp and conference center based in Palmer. He has been on the job at the Division of Insurance for 18 months, during a time of incredible upheaval in the health insurance industry, with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
Kolb says he doesn’t worry about leaving in the middle of that change:
“The division is well staffed. We have good people in place who understand the difficulties that are being faced. So between that and having a deputy director in place in Juneau who has insurance industry experience, I’m sure it will go on without a misstep.”
Kolb’s last day with the division will be December 19th. He’s working with health insurance companies now to figure out how to allow at least some individual plans that were supposed to be canceled starting in 2014 to continue. President Obama announced the so-called “fix” to the Affordable Care Act earlier this month following public outcry over canceled plans.
Kolb lives in the valley and says he’s looking forward to a much shorter commute with his new job.
The Anchorage Assembly heard final testimony Tuesday on what has become a controversial proposal to build a rec center in the city with indoor tennis courts.
The Assembly never asked for money for the project and accusations flew about how the tennis appropriation came about.
The tennis issue could not have come at a worse time for the Assembly. They’re finalizing their 2014 operating budget and preparing a capital budget request to send to Juneau, among other things.
The Assembly reordered the agenda to take care of more pressing issues and put tennis off until nearly the end of the night on what was a marathon day for the body. So at around 10 o’clock, a woman waiting to testify on tennis walked up to the podium without giving her name.
“I don’t know what the heck this even is but I am absolutely horrified at the way you guys are passing this around and not doing things in order. We’ve had the tennis people down here. We’re here to testify on something important … (Hall:) M’am we’ll get to you. Thank you. Thank you.”
The woman then walked out. About an hour later testimony was allowed. Assembly Chair Ernie hall acknowledged the delay.
“Now, Ladies and gentleman, our apologies,” Hall said. “We know that a lot of you are here to talk about tennis courts.”
“This is what we run into sometimes when we have a lot of testimony and we get things backed up.”
The Assembly has been considering whether or not to fund the Northern Lights Recreation Center, which would include indoor tennis courts. The Legislature approved millions of dollars for the project, but the Assembly never asked for it.
Tennis Association officials admitted they spoke with Mayor Dan Sullivan about the project and then lobbied Juneau directly, but did not consult the Assembly.
Racing the clock toward midnight, testimony from bleary-eyed supporters sounded like this:
“My name is Matt Henry. I think the Alaska Tennis Association did everything that we thought we were doing correctly to pass this through the public process.”
“My name is Scott Kolhaus. I’m also currently serving as the president of the Alaska Tennis Association. The issues that are being decided tonight are going to be decided this fall and tonight are the issues of whether or not high school tennis as we know it is gonna live or whether we’re gonna let it die.”
“I’m Zarina Clendaniel and I support building a public indoor tennis facility.”
But assembly members didn’t sound convinced and had questions about the appropriation.
Anchorage representative Lindsay Holmes, who holds a seat on the House Finance Committee reportedly secured money for the project.
Assembly member Bill Starr said he’d been doing some research on how the funding came about, and spoke with Republican Representative Bill Stoltz, co-chair of the House finance committee.
“I reached out to Bill Stoltz and he agreed to meet with me today along with chairman hall and Mr. Trombly and when I gave him the story that I had, and maybe it is a story,” Starr said. “I said what’s your story Mr. Stoltz. They said that Lindsay Holmes was told that she could have $4 million for that project. Does that make any difference in terms of legislative intent coming out of Juneau?”
Mayor Sullivan admitted that it was his office came up with the $10.5 million amount.
The Assembly chair says the body will likely take a vote on proposals related to the issue at their next meeting, Tuesday, Dec. 3.
The two proposals on the table would allocate less money for the project.
Earlier in the evening, the Assembly approved requesting $10.5 million for the facility in next year’s capital budget request to Juneau.
Anchorage residents will get relief from the clear and cold weather that has set in over the last few days, but the transition could be messy.
Forecasters expect temperatures to hover in the mid- to upper-teens on Thursday, with up to 2 inches of snow falling in the late afternoon and evening.
National Weather Service forecaster Bill Ludwig says the snow will likely turn into freezing rain early Friday morning, which will continue through most of the day.
“At this point, it really doesn’t look like we’ll have a heavy freezing rain event, that if we get some, it’ll be light, but sometimes you don’t need a whole lot to make things pretty nasty,” Ludwig said.
He says he expects less than a quarter of an inch of freezing rain accumulation.
Temperatures are likely to rise to around freezing by Friday afternoon. Then, between 3 and 5 inches of snow is expected Friday evening.
The National Weather Service is forecasting similar conditions for the Mat-Su Valley.
The federal government has finalized new guidelines on the use of sea otters by Alaska Natives. The change is aimed at better-defining a requirement that hides must be “significantly altered” in order to be considered authentic native handicrafts or clothing that can be sold to non-natives.
“These are guidelines and they are to help the native artisans to understand what exactly qualifies as significantly altered,” Andrea Medeiros is a spokesperson for the US Fish and Wildlife Service which has been working on the revised wording for more than a year
The final guidelines say a sea otter will be considered “significantly altered” when it’s not recognizable as a whole hide and has been made into handicrafts or clothing. The language goes on to define that in more detail.
It’s a positive step, according to the Sealaska Heritage Institute which teaches classes in the native tradition of skin sewing. SHI Chief Operating Officer Lee Kadinger says the new wording still needs some adjustment but, overall, he says SHI appreciates the change.
Kadinger thinks it helps clear up a term that, he says, has caused significant harm to artisans over the years, “Clarifying significantly altered to more align with the marine mammal protection acts original intent is…. we feel this language is going to help continue a tradition practiced since time immemorial without fear of prosecution….Protecting this inherent cultural right is not only good public policy but it supports and preserves cultural diversity and respects the traditions and lifestyles of Alaska Native people.”
The Fish and Wildlife Service’s new definition of “significantly altered” is very similar to language endorsed last year by the Alaska Federation of Natives. That’s with the exception of a line requiring that an otter skin be changed enough that it cannot be easily converted back to an unaltered hide or a piece of hide. According to Kadinger, S-H-I is concerned over the words “piece of hide” since it would be hard to prevent someone from cutting a piece of fur from finished clothing or handicrafts.
“We feel it is acceptable to require individuals, or an item, that cannot be converted back into an unaltered hide. Conversely, we feel including the few words ‘cannot be easily converted back into a piece of hide’ is unnecessary and problematic. So the real issue there is the four words ‘piece of hide’ that we hope to continue to work with Fish and Wildlife service to understand what that part means,” says Kadinger.
Sea otters are a federally-protected species and only coastal Alaska Natives are allowed hunt them. The revised language was, in part, prompted by concerns that unclear regulations and past enforcement actions had discouraged native use of the animals.
According to the agency, the final guidelines are based on input from a 2012 workshop with native artisans and hunters as well as extensive public comments on draft language that came out last spring.
Some commenters had found the draft language too restrictive. Others opposed the change as an attempt to weaken protections and encourage more hunting for the animals which have come into conflict with some of Alaska’s fisheries.