Alaska News

U.S. House Votes to Sell Midtown Lot to Muni

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-06-01 15:35

The U.S. House today voted to sell a 9-acre lot in Anchorage to the Municipality, at fair market value. The property at 40th and Denali Street is one of the largest undeveloped lots in Midtown. The late Sen. Ted Stevens intended the site to be the Alaska location of the National Archives. With his support, the government bought the land in 2004 from real estate developers John Rubini and Leonard Hyde for $3.5 million. But when Stevens lost his Senate seat, the project had no champion and was never constructed. Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan wanted the land as a transit hub. The transition manager for Ethan Berkowitz says the mayor-elect is still considering the best use for the land. The bill next moves to the Senate.

Categories: Alaska News

Premera Alaska Files For Another Large Rate Increase

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-06-01 15:32

Premera Alaska is asking the state and federal government to approve an average rate increase of 39 percent for its Affordable Care Act health insurance plans in the state for 2016. That follows a 37 percent that was approved for 2015.

The company says a small number of customers with complex medical problems are filing millions of dollars in claims that can’t be absorbed by the small size of the insurance pool in Alaska. Premera has about 8,000 members on Affordable Care Act plans in the state.

The company is working with the state of Alaska to develop a program that would help spread the risk of expensive claims and stabilize the market.

Many Premera members who buy insurance on qualify for subsidies that will help lesson the impact of any increase.

Moda Health, the other insurer who offers health plans on the federal exchange in Alaska, has filed for an average rate increase of about 22 percent.

The state will make its decision by August 25th.

This story is part of a reporting partnership between APRN, NPR and Kaiser Health News.

Categories: Alaska News

Cold Front Sweeps in From the North

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-06-01 15:09

June has ushered in a dramatic change in the weather as a cold front from the high arctic dips into Alaska. National Weather Service meteorologist Chris Cox in Fairbanks says the system is packing an un-summery punch.

“We’ve had some strong winds reported up on the Dalton Highway where we’ve had some trees knocked down near the highway up there, and here in the interior, we’ve had temperatures drop substantially, and we’ve had reports of snow in the Delta Junction and Salcha areas, and we’ve actually had some reported power outages, as some of the snow has accumulated in the trees.”

Cox says the weather system is tracking south, and as Interior skies clear and winds calm overnight, there’s the potential for frost.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Friday, May 29, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-06-01 14:58

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

Download Audio:


As Marijuana Rules Take Shape, Focus is On Control

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

The state has a year until it begins issuing licenses for businesses selling recreational marijuana.

Supreme Court: DNR Wrongfully Issued Pebble Permits

David Bendinger, KDLG – Dillingham

Just a day after two federal lawsuits involving the Pebble Mine were in the news, mine opponents Friday are hailing the Alaska Supreme Court’s decisions on two state cases.

AIDEA Holds Off On F.N.G. Decision

Dan Bross, KUAC –Fairbanks

The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority has delayed action on the state agency’s proposed purchase of Fairbanks Natural Gas parent company Pentex.

Earthquake Rattles Southwest Alaska

David Bendinger, KDLG – Dillingham

There were no tsunami warnings, but last night’s 6.4 magnitude earthquake northeast of the Chigniks rattled residents all over Southwest Alaska.

State Reacts To Study Linking Childhood Obesity to Domestic Violence

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

A recent study linked obesity in children to domestic violence. Now, evidence indicates that childhood trauma can spur physical disease later on, when an abused child reaches adulthood.

UAS Chancellor John Pugh Leaves Behind a Legacy of Caring for Students

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

Friday is John Pugh’s last day as Chancellor of the University of Alaska Southeast. He’s retiring after almost three decades with the college.

AK: A Teenager And His Past

Elizabeth Jenkins, KTOO – Juneau

It’s graduation season for Alaska’s high school seniors. Earning a diploma marks a milestone in a person’s life. And for one Juneau student, that milestone is especially sweet after his high school experience was interrupted with several trips to juvenile detention.

49 Voices: Amanda Cash and ‘The Magpie’

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

This week, we’re talking with chef Amanda Cash, who owns a new food trailer in Anchorage called ‘The Magpie’ that specializes in making breakfast- and lunch- with local ingredients.

Categories: Alaska News

1 hospitalized after mid-air crash over Talkeetna airport

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-06-01 11:23

On Sunday evening, an airborne collision between two airplanes hospitalized an Eagle River man.

At 5:15 pm, the Alaska State Troopers responded to a report of the collision at the Talkeetna State Airport.

According to reports from Troopers and other witnesses, a Cessna 185 belonging to Talkeetna Air Taxi was piloted by Antonio Benavides and carrying four passengers when it collided with a Cessna 172 piloted by Cole Hagge of Eagle River.  Both planes suffered significant damage.  Hague was transported to Mat-Su Regional Medical Center with what Troopers are calling non-life threatening injuries.  The passengers and pilot aboard the Cessna 185 were uninjured.

Shaun Williams, who is investigating the incident for the National Transportation Safety Board, says that both aircraft were descending to land at the Talkeetna Airport when the incident occurred.  He says a preliminary report will likely be issued in the next five-to-ten days, but that the full report could take up to a year to be released.

Categories: Alaska News

Wreckage of Yute Air Plane Found

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-06-01 11:18

This is a developing story.

Searchers have found the wreckage of the Yute Air plane that’s been missing since Saturday morning. A team Sunday evening spotted the Cessna 207 in the Kwethluk River, about 40 miles southeast of Bethel.

According to the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center, a Yute pilot first spotted the downed airplane in the river at about 6:45 Sunday evening. A civil air patrol pilot confirmed the wreck moments later. Crews on a jet boat and helicopter left early today to go to the scene.

Megan Peters is a spokesperson for the Alaska State Troopers.

“We have our troopers as well as other agencies, including the National Transportation Safety Board, going to the site to look at the wreckage, to look at the circumstances, to hopefully recover the pilot,” said Peters.

The plane left Bethel at about 8:30 Saturday morning after a maintenance check and should have been back in three hours. It never returned.

Yute Air offices in Bethel were closed yesterday and remain closed today. Yute Air serves the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, providing flights for passengers and freight to more than 20 surrounding villages as well as charters around the state.

Original Story:

A search is on for a Yute Air pilot who did not return from a flight out of Bethel Saturday. The Alaska Rescue Coordination Center is in charge of the search and rescue operation. Troopers and others are assisting in the search.

Searchers say the missing plane is a Cessna 207. According to National Transportation Safety Board officials the flight left Bethel Saturday morning after maintenance and never returned.

The Alaska Department of Public Safety is providing aircraft to assist in coordination with the civil air patrol and military assets.

Yute Air offices in Bethel were closed yesterday and remain closed this morning. Yute Air serves the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, providing flights for passengers and freight to more than 20 surrounding villages as well as charters around the state.

Daysha Eaton contributed to this story.

Categories: Alaska News

Court Recordings Highlight Nome Judge Tim Dooley’s Alleged Conduct Violations

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-06-01 11:17

Picture and brief résumé of Nome Superior Court Judge Timothy Dooley. Image, text: Alaska Department of Law.

Nome Superior Court Judge Timothy Dooley is facing a host of allegations from a judicial oversight commission for alleged violations of professional conduct, as well as violating sections of state law that the charges allege call his integrity into question.

In all, the Alaska Commission on Judicial Conduct cites six incidents—brought to their attention through anonymous complaints—beginning the first month Dooley was on the job in May of 2013 and running through September of last year.

Courtroom recordings, made available through the commission, highlight a series of statements by Dooley the commission said violates state law and the state’s code of conduct for judges, by showing “insensitivity” to victims, witnesses, and others in both criminal and civil cases.

In a May 2013 hearing, Judge Dooley asked a man facing a misdemeanor charge of resisting arrest:

“You don’t have to answer this question, but has anything good ever come out of drinking other than sex with a pretty girl?”

In a November 2013 sentencing hearing—after a guilty conviction for sexual abuse of a 14-year-old girl—Dooley said to the man being sentenced:

“From what I’ve read this was not someone who was, I hate to use the phrase asking for it, there are girls out there who seem to be temptresses, and this does not appear to be anything like that.”

In August 2014 Judge Dooley said during a domestic violence case, when a juror could not hear the victim on the stand: “I’m not allowed to slap her around, I can just say something.”

A civil trial that same month showcased Dooley’s self-described “medieval Christianity;” statements the commission said are “inappropriate to the dignity of judicial office.”

“I’m going to enforce those oaths, and they’re enforceable with a two year sentence for perjury. And I’d be the sentencing judge,” Dooley began. “I also have a medieval Christianity that says if you violate an oath, you’re going to hell. You all may not share that, but I’m planning to populate hell.”

A final violation alleges Judge Dooley essentially bargained a specific sentence in exchange for a defendant’s “no contest” plea. In addition, the commission states the defendant didn’t have a lawyer, all of which the commission claims is conduct that harms “the administration of justice” and brings the judicial office “into disrepute.”

Marla Greenstein is the executive director of the commission. She said the complaint was built on review of court transcripts and interviews with people working in the Nome legal system. (The names of those interviewed, Greenstein added, remains confidential at this time.) She said the case has been building for months.

“The commission evaluates the conduct in the investigation at various stages and gave notice to [Judge Dooley] several times in the process,” Greenstein said. “The point where they made the determination it was serious enough to warrant public charges was at a meeting on May 12.”

Judge Dooley has 20 days to respond to the complaint. He said Wednesday he has no comment on the alleged violations.

Greenstein said Judge Dooley could face a hearing before the nine members of the commission (she estimates as early as November). He could also reach a settlement before a hearing. Either outcome will ultimately go before the state Supreme Court, which will rule on one of three possible outcomes.

“A public censure, basically a public statement that the conduct was wrong and violated the Code of Judicial Conduct,” Greenstein said. Judge Dooley could also face “suspension from office for a certain period of time; and then, the most severe, is a removal from office.”

Only one judge has faced that “most severe” punishment, former Bethel Judge Dennis Cummings, who was removed from his position as judge in January 2013.

An Alaska resident for nearly 40 years, Judge Dooley has lived all over the state, from urban hubs like Anchorage and Fairbanks to rural communities like Bethel and the North Slope. He opened an Anchorage-based private law practice in 1993. He assumed his current position in Nome in March of 2013 by appointment from former governor Sean Parnell.

Categories: Alaska News

Tribal leaders and fishermen protest Alaska military plans

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-06-01 11:12

Tribal leaders and commercial fishermen are protesting against military exercises planned for the Gulf of Alaska.

Dozens of fishing boats and kayaks set out on the Port of Kodiak Saturday while supporters set off smoke bombs and flares.

Alaska’s largest military exercise this year is scheduled to begin in June on land and at sea.

Sunaq (Pronounced SHU-Nak) tribal chairwoman Sophie Frets says she’s concerned about damage to salmon, crab and other marine life. She says fish have been a part of her ancestors’ diet for generations and she doesn’t want to lose cultural traditions.

Alaska Command Spokeswoman Anastasia Wasem says damage mitigation is a major part of the exercise. She says the military wouldn’t do the drills if it thought the exercises would harm the environment.

Categories: Alaska News

Healy power plant back online after 16 years

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-06-01 11:12

A Healy power plant is back online after sitting inoperative for more than a decade.

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports that crews from Golden Valley Electric Association started up the Healy Unit 2 power plant on Thursday.

Workers spent more than a year updating the $300 million facility. GVEA Vice President of Power Supply Lynn Thompson says they evaluated each valve, rung and pipe, completing checklist that included thousands of items.

The plant was supposed to burn low-grade oil using an experimental technique to significantly cut pollutants. But it went dormant in 1999 after two years of sporadic use plagued by reliability and safety problems.

GVEA officials say the facility will help replace expensive oil-fired power generation. They say the more predictable price of coal will stabilize the utility’s rates.

Categories: Alaska News

Senate Finance rolls out proposal meant to spur talks

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-06-01 11:11

The Senate Finance Committee has proposed a version of the budget similar to what lawmakers passed in late April as a way to force negotiations between the House and Senate on a spending plan.

The proposal was rolled out Sunday, one day before notices are scheduled to be sent to state workers warning of possible layoffs if a fully funded budget is not passed by July 1.

Committee co-chair Pete Kelly called the panel’s proposal part of a strategy to get the budget into a conference committee where House and Senate negotiators can try to come to terms. To reach a conference committee, the House would have to reject the Senate plan.

The House passed a compromise between the majority and minority but senators balked at some of the terms.

Categories: Alaska News

City of Bethel Settles For $175,000 Over Violent Arrest

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-06-01 11:09

The City of Bethel has settled with Wassillie Gregory, a man who was violently arrested by a Bethel Police Officer in 2014. Bill Ingaldson, an attorney hired by the City says the settlement was dispersed last week.

“The settlement amount was $175,000, that includes his medical expenses which he had a dislocated shoulder and ended up having surgery on his shoulder so those were pretty expensive around $80,000. The settlement was agreed to about three or four weeks ago and consummated last week,” said Ingaldson.

The arrest took place in the parking lot of the Bethel Alaska Commercial Store on July 12th, 2014. The officer, Andrew Reid, was fired from the Bethel Police Department in March.

Gregory was originally charged with harassing the officer and pleaded guilty without the assistance of an attorney in a deal to drop two other charges. His conviction was overturned by a Bethel judge in May after surveillance video of the incident surfaced showing the officer repeatedly slamming Gregory to the ground.

The Bethel District Attorney’s office has turned the case over to the FBI. The City of Bethel was contacted for this story but did not want to go on tape and said only their lawyer could comment on the matter.

Categories: Alaska News

Haines wants to waive dock fees to lure more cruise ships. But will it work?

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-06-01 11:07

Haines has the lowest cruise ship docking fee of any Southeast port. The Haines Borough thinks waiving that fee could lure even more ships here. Economists say it’s hard to know if that strategy will work. But industry officials say it could open the door for more ships to take a look at Haines as a destination.

Haines Tourism Director Leslie Ross wants a hook when she talks to cruise lines. She wants something that will entice the companies to bring their ships to Haines and tie up at the Port Chilkoot Dock.

“What I would like to do, and what we’re working on, is to have a good strong proposal to go forward with the ships.”

Ross and borough economic development director Bill Mandeville have been working on a waiver proposal along with the Tourism Advisory Board.

There are 42 port calls planned for Haines this summer for a total of about 43,000 passengers. By borough estimates, each passenger that walks off the ships will generate around $5 in sales tax revenue for the town.

By comparison, Skagway which is just 13 miles away will see about 800,000 cruise passengers this summer.

Ross, Mandeville and the tourism advisory board suggest waiving dock fees in Haines would entice more ships to come here. They developed two options for waiving the whole fee, or a percentage of fees for cruise lines that commit to Haines.

But at least two Alaska economists say it’s not that simple.

“I think the situation you’re talking about is governed by larger principals. In the big picture I think things like port fees are relatively minor factors,” said Ginny Fay an assistant professor of economics with the Institute of Social and Economic Research University of Alaska Anchorage. She used to serve as director of the Alaska office of tourism and economic development in the Alaska Department of Commerce. She says a waiver might make cruise lines look more seriously at Haines, but there are many other factors that play into their decision about whether to come here. For example, if there’s enough infrastructure, shore excursions and money-making opportunities for the ships.

“It might be that if you waive the port fees that you might be able to convince the cruise companies that you want to have an open dialogue with them and do planning, but I think in order to have favorable investment and worthwhile investment it would be good to get the Northwest cruise folks and the companies to sit down with people in Haines and make some kind of plan.”

One of Fay’s colleagues at the university agrees that an incentive program to waive dock fees is no guarantee that cruise lines will come. Economics professor Steve Colt writes in an email that the question of whether a waiver would draw more cruise ships is almost impossible to answer objectively. He says it’s like asking if subsidizing a sports stadium will attract and a team and then if a team will attract fans.

Fay says part of the uncertainty is that cruise lines are notoriously private about how they go about choosing ports. That was illustrated when we tried to ask the cruise companies about it. One company declined to comment and three did not return emails or phone calls. But the Cruise Lines International Association of Alaska did respond.

“It sends a very positive and power message to the industry that Haines wants their business and I think that makes a big determination in how they make their ports of call,” said John Binkley, president of the association.

He says waiving dock fees would not guarantee cruise lines would come to Haines. But it could open the door for discussion.

“You’re going into those meetings with something positive to offer them rather than just telling them what a great destination Haines is,” Binkley said.

In Haines, supporters of the idea say there’s not much risk in trying a waiver program. With such low docking fees anyway, the borough would lose little by trying the idea. Most ships have enough passengers that, on average, they will provide more sales tax revenue than is lost in docking fees.

“We need an excellent incentive to bring the ships here to see what we have,” said Haines assembly member Diana Lapham. “I think once they see what we have, it’s a hand glove then their visitors are going to want to want, there will be a heightened awareness of Haines.”

But Haines resident Carol Tuynman takes a bigger view. She says that having the lowest dock fees in Southeast hasn’t lured more ships here already, so why would waiving the fees altogether make a difference? She also says that if Haines were to get an influx of visitors, does Haines have the capacity and resources to serve them and keep them coming back?

“The real question is ‘why weren’t they coming?’” Tuynam said. “We need to know why they weren’t coming not how we can lure them with zero fees. We may lure them but we make be taking a big risk that doesn’t solve the problem of how to serve them.”

The Haines Borough commerce committee will discuss the waiver proposal again on June 4th before making a recommendation to the assembly.

Categories: Alaska News

KIYU-Galena GM Rigs His Home for Temporary Broadcast

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-06-01 09:09

This is a story about dedication to public radio.

KIYU-Galena serves middle Yukon River area communities; it’s making do while the station’s building is being elevated. KIYU-Galena general manager Brian Landrum says the facility is being raised above the high water level as a precaution in case of floods like the one that inundated the village two years ago this month.

KIYU-Galena is broadcasting from the general manager’s home until the station’s ‘face lift’ is complete. Photo: KIYU.

“We’re goin’ up about 3 feet higher,” Landrum says.

Rather than go off the air while the multiday operation is completed, Landrum says he’s continuing to broadcast the station from his home.

That’s not an echo… it’s ‘Olive’ the bird, who tries to repeat what reporter Tim Bodony says over the air. Photo: KIYU.

“We have a backup transmitter and back up console, and we moved it into the downstairs room. I’m using my son’s room, and so we’ve got wires strung all over the place and we’ve got a box that sends the signal to our other villages and — knock on wood — we’ve been able to stay on, and be able to broadcast. We’re hoping to be able to stay on a few more days while they move the building back into place.”

Landrum says things are going fairly smoothly, but there are challenges to broadcasting out of his family’s home.

“We have five kids, and a dog, and a cat, and a parrot, and so yeah, you never know what kind of noise can get on the air, especially when the younger ones decide to fight over Legos or something like that,” Landrum says.

Transmitter: check. Photo: KIYU.

Landrum expects he’ll be able to return to the station facility by the middle of next week. He says the project has provided an opportunity to clear old abandoned wiring from the building, as well as do other clean-up work. All of that is expected to improve KIYU’s sound and operational efficiency. A mix of federal, state and local funds will pay to elevate the station, which serves as a primary information conduit in the region.

Categories: Alaska News

Illness Linked To Child Trauma

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-05-29 17:33

A recent study linked obesity in children to domestic violence. Now, evidence indicates that childhood trauma can spur physical disease later on, when an abused child reaches adulthood.  In Alaska, the state is working to reduce adverse childhood experiences to lessen the latent impacts of trauma, and to help reduce the burden on social services programs.

In late Februray of this year, the  conference room at a downtown Anchorage convention hall buzzed with chatter, in anticipation of keynote speaker, Linda Chamberlain. And Chamberlain has a strong message.

“Our early emotional experiences do become part of the architecture, the foundation of our brains. Our brains are incredibly plastic, during childhood, but don’t forget as I talk about this.. until the day you die, your brain is plastic,”  she told the audience.

The event was  a symposium hosted by the state Advisory Board on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse. Dr. Chamberlain told the audience that adverse childhood experiences, such as witnessing drug use and domestic violence, can stunt a child’s neurological development.

“The younger the child, the more vulnerable the brain is. The thing is, that you will go into a shelter, a domestic violence shelter, and I will see babies with PTSD. I know it right away. They’re avoiding eye contact, they are frozen, inhibited.”

The good news, she says, is that, with effort, negative brain wiring can be changed. Chamberlain bases her comments on the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study, or ACEs, which was conducted through the Centers For Disease Control and Kaiser Permanente during the late 1990s. Researchers found strong links between childhood traumas and long – term health and economic outcomes.   Patrick Scidmore is a planner with the Alaska Mental Health Board.

“This is true of people who have ever been diagnosed with depression, people who have asthma, obesity. The negative outcomes are just more likely in the group with high ACES scores.”

Scidmore, is and a member of the state Advisory Board on Alcohol and Drug Abuse.  His expertise is reading the data, and translating that to more tangible information.

“For example, for current smoking, we estimate from our Alaska data, 32 percent of the people who are current smokers would not be smokers if we could eliminate all adverse childhood experiences. And that translates into about $185 million dollars of savings to the state. Not necessarily state government, but across the public and private sector.”]

Scidmore says data gathered by the Alaska Division of Public Health during 2013 shows how childhood trauma contributes to chronic disease: for example, thirty percent of asthma sufferers in the state have links to ACES, and almost half  of  COPD patients have high ACES scores.

Since it is more cost effective in human terms to prevent childhood trauma, than to pay for the damage later on, social service providers are seeking ways in which to do that. Communities in several locations in Alaska are working on becoming “Trauma Informed”.  Elizabeth Ripley is CEO of the Matanuska Susitna Health Foundation. 

“Since the ACEs study was released, the brain science has caught up to the science behind the ACEs study, to show that literally, trauma changes the very physiology of the brain. But the good news that Linda Chamberlain shares is that we can heal the brain, but we have to be intentional about it.”

Ripley says Mat Su has eight personnel trained in how to inform the public – in schools, law enforcement, and in businesses — on efforts to reframe how we deal with childhood trauma. Especially in school, where children who act out are often misunderstood.

“We’ve tended to ask ‘what ‘s wrong with you?’ And this changes the framework to ‘what happened to you?”

Ripley says a cohort of Alaskans have worked with the original authors of the ACEs study to train 25 people from around the state to help by providing information about the prevalence and impacts of child trauma

“The information about the fact that people can heal, and that we can build resilience and help people heal from the trauma and have brighter futures, is really incredibly revelatory to most people.”

She says creating resilience is the key, and that just informing the public and private sectors that touch children is a huge part of the effort. Mat Su joins Homer, and a half dozen Alaska communities now working to become “trauma informed.”  





Categories: Alaska News

Mat-Su Borough Assembly Rethinks Lifetime Auto Registration

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-05-29 17:13

Last year, the Matanuska Susitna Borough voted to become the first governmental entity in the state to allow lifetime registration for cars eight years old or older. But, this week, Borough Assemblymembers admitted that it could be a mistake.  

In October of last year, the Mat Su Borough Assembly voted to put a new state law into practice. With the payment of a small fee, Borough residents with cars eight years old or older, would have the option of registering the car, or a non-commercially used trailer, one time for the lifetime of the vehicle. Sponsors of the move said it is designed to help people save money. The state law went into effect January first of this year, as did the Borough code. But that was before the devastating fiscal effects of the oil price slide were apparent. And before a scramble for more revenue sources.

Fast forward to this week, when Mat Su Assemblyman Jim Sykes put a motion to rescind on the table.

“We are getting about 2.4 million dollars a year from the motor vehicle and trailer registration. And so, what’s happening under our current law that allows permanent registration, this is going to gradually decrease, through a number of machinations, it is going to decrease to next to nothing. It’s going down, so over a period of time, we don’t know exactly when the funds are going to run out, it could be 2022, or 2024, but very little money by then will be collected. After about three years, the major portion of it is gone, ”  Sykes told the Mat Su Assembly.

The law as it stands now, allows Borough residents with qualifying vehicles to pay a 25 dollar tax to the borough on top of the standard state registration fee at the time of renewal and that pays for the vehicle for life. The Borough already collects a 70 dollar road tax on vehicles 8 years old or older at the time of registration, and that money is distributed to the Borough’s road service areas.  And that is the rub. Sykes says the RSA’s will be getting less and less money due to the  lifetime registration option.

“This road maintenance fund, once it gets down toward the bottom, it’s going to lose over $2 million a year. And so the permanent registrations, if the law sunsets, as it is set to do now in 2018, it’s not that it is going to start going back up, because remember, these vehicles were registered permanently, so as long as people drive them, they won’t be registered again. So it will rise, but it won’t go up to the same level it was, until people buy new cars.”

Sykes says road maintenance is a major concern in the Borough. And if the RSA’s don’t have enough money, they will rely on the Borough for more money, and that money will come from Borough property tax payers.

Sykes offered an amendment to his own motion that would exempt non-commercial trailers from the repeal. That was approved by the Assembly.

Assemblyman Vern Halter agreed the drop in revenues to the RSAs would cause the mil rate in those areas to go up. But Assemblymember Steve Colligan wants to know just how much money goes to the RSA’s and how it’s used before a decision is made. Colligan says a good portion of the auto fees go into the Borough’s general fund.

Sykes says that if the law is rescinded, the Borough can gain $ 2.4 million , or about $ .2 million  less  than that if the trailers are allowed to be permanently registered. Not a lot of money he admitted, but,

“What I am saying is, we are in a fairly permanent downhill slope in terms of the revenue coming to the Borough. And we are in a fairly permanent slope of rising and fixed costs that we are not collecting. The difference is getting greater every year. ”

Sykes’ motion would restore the registration program to the way it was in 2014. The Assembly could not agree on the main motion, and the item was postponed until August. 4


Categories: Alaska News

As Marijuana Rules Take Shape, A Focus on Local Control

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-05-29 16:44

The state has a year until it begins issuing licenses for businesses selling recreational marijuana. Between now and then, the Alcoholic Beverages Control Board is home to a new body developing regulations: the Marijuana Control Board.

The rules taking shape are modeled on commercial alcohol sales, with regulators hoping to learn from past mistakes in Washington and Colorado.

On Thursday, ABC Board Director Cynthia Franklin spoke to members of the Anchorage Assembly in a packed conference room. The state codes concerned with growing, selling, and managing marijuana are expected to be done by November. And similar to Title 4 dealing with alcohol, the emerging ordinances are based on lots of local control.

“There’s really no way for the board to know what’s going on in the community,” Franklin said. The five-member Marijuana Board created in this year’s legislative session is patterned on the ABC Board, made up of five unpaid volunteers representing industry, public safety, and public health. Rather than administer every bar, restaurant, and liquor store, the small body defers to decisions made in towns and villages across the state, after proposoals have been vetted at the local level.

“That’s the only way to really make it work,” Franklin added. The same approach is being brought to marijuana.

The first set of regulatory guidelines deal with opt out provisions, and the ability for communities to reject commercial sales all together, similar to local option laws banning liquor stores or bars.

But for towns and municipalities that go forward with commercial ventures, the business requirements will be modeled on alcohol, all the way to dosage labeling and expiration dates. Many see an opportunity to improve on the excesses of the alcohol industry in Alaska.

“Bar licenses in Anchorage, for instance, are selling as much as $275,000 to $350,000,” said Franklin, who has been critical of the secondary market for permits that are privately sold back and forth.

The board aims to places limits on license transfers, without eliminating them all together. It also gives municipalities control of how many licenses they want to make available in the community. And it makes the permit application system merit based, rather than a lottery system. The idea is to keep bad operators out of the market.

As the second and third sets of regulations take shape, residents can also expect to see industry guidelines that will determine which marijuana is legitimate for sale, and what’s illegal if regulators find it on shelves. This is what’s known as “trackability,” being able to track strains of cannabis to make sure it is up to par with state standards–like the difference between a bottle of branded alcohol and a jug of moonshine.

At a recent convention in Anchorage for marijuana businesses, Assembly Member Amy Demboski was impressed to see software that can track product from “seed to sale,” helping merchants source their wares.

However, Demboski believes that fear of sanction should not be the only thing keeping potential businesses working within state guide-lines.

“If there is a bad actor,” Demboski said, “it would be very helpful for the industry to self-police.”

So far, Demboski and other Assembly members are impressed with how comprehensive and responsive the ABC Board’s regulatory process has been, incorporating Assembly feedback and public input.

That’s true for some jumping into the burgeoning private sector, as well.

“I think the process seems really fair, and the new marijuana control board will set fair regulations,” said Theresa Collins, owner of a local business that hosts marijuana-friendly events.

“It’s really important for people that are going into the industry to get involved,” Collins added after the work session ended.

The next meeting of the Marijuana Control Board  is on July 2nd in Fairbanks, followed by a 30-day public commenting period. The first set of draft regulations are available through the ABC Board’s website.


Categories: Alaska News

Supreme Court: DNR Wrongfully Issued Pebble Permits

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-05-29 16:43

Just a day after two federal lawsuits involving the Pebble mine were in the news, mine opponents Friday are hailing the Alaska Supreme Court’s decisions on two state cases.

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The justices unanimously overturned a 2011 ruling in a case that challenged whether the DNR permits issued for exploratory work at the Pebble site should’ve included some public notice.

The plaintiffs, including Nunamta Aulukestai, Vic Fischer, and former first lady Bella Hammond, argued that DNR was essentially disposing of public lands when it permitted the drilling of more than 1,000 holes and dozens of seismic blast lines as Pebble explored the deposit north of Lake Iliamna.

An Anchorage Superior Court judge ruled in favor of the State of Alaska, and Pebble, which had joined the lawsuit. The plaintiffs appealed to the Supreme Court, which reversed the 2011 ruling.

The second case, linked to the first, involved the matter of collecting legal fees after a lawsuit. After the first case was ruled on in 2011, Pebble and the State of Alaska sought costs and attorney’s fees of nearly a million dollars from the plaintiffs.

The plaintiffs argued they had brought a non-frivolous constitutional claim, and didn’t have a sufficient economic motive for doing so. The Supreme Court justices unanimously agreed.

Categories: Alaska News

AIDEA Holds Off On F.N.G. Decision

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-05-29 16:42

The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority has delayed action on the state agency’s proposed purchase of Fairbanks Natural Gas parent company Pentex. The AIDEA Board announced the delay, following an executive session in Anchorage Wednesday, siting technical engineering issues related to the $54 million deal. The session followed numerous public comments critical of the deal.

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The Pentex/Fairbanks Natural Gas utility purchase is aimed at forwarding the state lead Interior Energy Project to bring low cost natural gas to Fairbanks. The overall project has general public support, but its viability and timeline drew questions at the AIDEA meeting. Most of the public commenters urged the agency to re-focus on the alternate option of shipping in low cost propane from Canada. Commercial property owner Pamela Troop emphasized the fuels portability.

Another commenter, Delta Junction wind energy producer Mike Craft, pointed to the lack of a sufficient natural gas supply, and FNG’s currently limited local gas distribution system.

AIDEA is helping finance FNG and North Star Borough’s Interior Gas Utility expansion of local gas distribution piping, but broader use of the clean burning fuel is expected to still be years out, too slow for residents like Jimmy Fox, who also voiced support for propane as an alternative to wood heating, that fouls wintertime air.

The AIDEA Board did not respond to public comments, but is considering propane as part of an RFP process. A statement from AIDEA spokesman Karsten Rodvik says the corporation remains positive about progress, and continues to work to bring affordable energy to Fairbanks. The AIDEA Board can take up resolutions related to the Pentex purchase with 5 days public notice, or at its next scheduled meeting in Fairbanks June 25.

Categories: Alaska News

State Reacts To Study Linking Childhood Obesity to Domestic Violence

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-05-29 16:40

A recent study linked obesity in children to domestic violence. Now, evidence indicates that childhood trauma can spur physical disease later on, when an abused child reaches adulthood.

In Alaska, the state is working to reduce adverse childhood experiences to lessen the latent impacts of trauma, and to help reduce the burden on social services programs.

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Categories: Alaska News

UAS Chancellor John Pugh leaves behind a legacy of caring for students

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-05-29 16:39

John Pugh’s last day as chancellor of the University of Alaska Southeast is Friday. He’s retiring after almost three decades with the college. Pugh leaves a legacy of being much more than a chancellor to students — he was a teacher, adviser and friend.

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John Pugh joined UAS in 1987. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

Valerie Davidson was 19 when she met John Pugh. She was interning for the Alaska Legislature and studying elementary education at UAS. He was her college adviser.

“As many 19-year-olds are, I had these grand visions of how I was going to change the world and what I so appreciated about John was he enthusiastically accepted all of my grand visions of the world, but helped me to establish more realistic timelines,” Davidson says.

Davidson is commissioner of the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, a position Pugh formerly held. When she was appointed, Davidson and Pugh saw each other at a governor’s reception and they reconnected. She says he continues to be her adviser.

“You know there are just times in your life when you meet people who are there at exactly the right time, exactly the right place and for exactly the right reason. And I was very fortunate because I got not only one of those experiences with John but I got two, at times in my life that were really critical decision points for me,” Davidson says.

Pugh arrived in Juneau in 1978 to work for health and social services. Afterward he worked briefly as a legislative staffer before joining UAS in June of 1987 to help with the budget. By fall, Pugh was the dean of Arts and Sciences.

Since then the number of full-time students has grown from 300 to more than 800. Several facilities, like the Egan Library and residential housing, have been built on the Juneau campus.

Pugh was also part of the 1987 reorganization to integrate what was then Ketchikan Community College and Sitka Community College into campuses of UAS. Pugh says that was a hard transition.

“We worked constantly getting to Sitka and Ketchikan and making sure they felt a part of this, and I’d say it took a good ten years to get to where there was a real comfort level of trust,” Pugh says.

Ketchikan Campus Director Priscilla Schulte has been at the school for 35 years, back when it was a community college. She says Pugh has done a great job of being inclusive.

“We get the feeling that he understands our community. He has always kept us in mind so that when issues came up he was always, ‘What does Ketchikan think?’” Schulte says.

She says Pugh really supported the bachelor of liberal arts distance program, which helped UAS Ketchikan evolve.

“Once the pulp mill closed and we were losing the local students, moving into the e-learning was really important for us,” Schulte says.

When he was a dean, John Pugh was duct taped to a library pillar for a student fundraiser.

Pugh was appointed chancellor in 1999. He says his biggest challenge was making sure UAS got enough funding to be a quality institution. With UAS representing less than 10 percent of the entire University of Alaska budget, Pugh says it was never about competing with the bigger schools for resources.

“We’re not UAF, we’re not UAA. We’re UAS. What is it that we can do? What can we do for our region? What can we do for the state?” Pugh says.

Pugh is known for walking around campus with a smile. He’s a self-proclaimed “glass half full” type of person, but if he ever did find himself down, “I would find where the students are and it always picked me up.”

UAS Student Body President Callie Conerton says Pugh would do anything to make the students laugh.

“John did the dunk tank at Spring Carnival and students, of course, lined up. How many students can say that they dunked their chancellor,” Conerton says.

He’s had pies in his face. He’s jumped into frigid water for the polar plunge. Pugh has even been duct taped to a library pillar.

Conerton says having an approachable college leader has made a difference in her academic career.

“It makes me want to attend school. It makes me realize that people care about me. One thing that UAS is great about is that it’s a community and so John was great about making sure that students knew that they were a part of something bigger than themselves,” Conerton says.

Pugh says he got just as much from the students as they got from him.

“Those interactions really buoyed me and gave me strength and it made me understand why I’m doing what I’m doing, helped me to really push harder to advocate for higher education,” Pugh says.

He says his departure from UAS is filled with mixed emotions.

“I often wonder what I’m going to do when I get up in the morning. I’ve said that to my wife. So not coming out here – that will be very different,” Pugh says.

Pugh became Chancellor Emeritus as UAS’s recent commencement ceremony. Pugh says that means he’ll have a permanent connection to the college. He doesn’t see the rank as just a title, but as a responsibility.

UAS is hosting a retirement party for John Pugh this Saturday from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Lakeside Grill in UAS’s Mourant Building. The public is invited.
Categories: Alaska News