Alaska News

NOAA Proposes Critical Habitat For Ringed Seals

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-12-02 17:21

A federal agency has proposed about 350,000 square miles of ocean off Alaska’s north and west coasts as critical habitat for the seal that’s the main prey of polar bears.

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The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced today that it’s proposing much of the Bering, Chukchi and Beaufort seas within U.S. jurisdiction as critical habitat for ringed seals.

Shaye Wolf is the climate science director of the Center for Biological Diversity. She says the habitat proposal is the largest in history.

“We know that species that have critical habitat are twice as likely that species without it to be recovering,” Wolf said. ”So we know that critical habitat works.”

A critical-habitat designation means federal agencies that authorize activities there must consult with NOAA Fisheries to determine the effects on seals. Wolf says the designation wouldn’t ban oil and gas drilling, but it does require the permitting agencies to take extra precautions to ensure drilling won’t harm the seal’s habitat.

But Senator Lisa Murkowski criticized the size of the proposed critical habitat area. In a news release she said she is concerned, “this designation would severely impact any economic development.”

The seals were declared threatened in December 2012 because of the loss of sea ice from climate warming. Ringed seals use sea ice for breeding and molting.

The agency will take public comment on the proposed critical-habitat designation for 90 days.

 

Categories: Alaska News

BOEM Report Says Chukchi Sea Drilling Runs Heightened Risk Of Large Spill

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-12-02 17:20

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is holding hearings around the state on lease sale 193, in the Chukchi Sea. In its latest Environmental Impact Statement, BOEM says there’s likely more oil there, but also more risk of a large oil spill.

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Categories: Alaska News

Caribou, Reindeer Compete For Space On The Seward Peninsula

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-12-02 17:18

Male caribou running near Kiwalik, Alaska. (Photo: Jim Dau)

For decades, caribou have posed a threat to reindeer herders on the Seward Peninsula — their numbers swelling, even as the reindeer population shrinks.

Now, a new front has developed in the turf war between reindeer and caribou.

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An unidentified herd of animals has settled near Serpentine Hot Springs, in close proximity to several reindeer herding operations. And the animals’ presence has both wildlife managers and reindeer herders asking: Are they reindeer or caribou?

“Nobody knows if it’s a caribou herd reestablishing itself on the Seward Peninsula, or if it’s a group of reindeer that have run off and gone feral,” said Greg Finstad with the University of Alaska Fairbanks Reindeer Research program.

In order to solve the mystery, UAF’s Reindeer Research Program is teaming up with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to genetically test the animals.

The two agencies are soliciting small tissue samples from hunters who harvested game — caribou or reindeer — near Serpentine Hot Spring this summer. Those samples will then be compared with relatively “pure” reindeer samples from St. Lawrence Island, and caribou samples from the Interior, to determine whether the Serpentine herd is more closely related to caribou or reindeer.

Jim Dau is an ADF&G biologist working on the project. He said while the distinction between the two animals may seem slight — it makes a big difference to reindeer herders in the region.

“The reindeer industry has lost a tremendous number of reindeer, especially since the mid 90s. And those losses have occurred primarily when caribou that winter down there leave in the spring. They can just overwhelm a reindeer range and when they leave in the spring they take reindeer with them,” he said.

According to Dau, if the animals are caribou, they’ll likely be viewed as a new threat — especially since they appeared at an unusual time of year: Summer, rather than the typical winter migration period.

On the other hand, if the animals turn out to be reindeer, the reaction would likely be more optimistic.

“If they are feral reindeer, then a reindeer herder can go out and recover them,” said Finstad.

A definitive I.D. would also make it clear which agency is responsible for the animals — for instance, caribou are public resources within the purview of ADF&G; while reindeer are under the stewardship of private herders — and who will have to foot the bill when it comes to monitoring them.

According to Finstad, monitoring is particularly important in the case of caribou. There is very little reindeer herders can do to protect their reindeer from a group of several thousand caribou — but early warnings do help.

“If you have a group of reindeer, and you know where the caribou are, then you do have a chance and you can maybe move them out of the way,” he said.

Still, Dau with ADF&G noted that tracking costs time and money. Warning systems rely on expensive radio collars, plus transportation costs and hours spent placing those collars on the animals.

The total Western Arctic caribou herd is over 200,000 strong. Dau said it’s hard to justify placing a several collars in a relatively small area like Serpentine Hot Springs when he has such a large group to worry about — as well as other stakeholder interests in the region.

“There’s another whole aspect to this,” he said. “There are a lot of people on the Seward Peninsula who are not reindeer herders. They are absolutely delighted to have access to caribou. They want to go caribou hunting and get meat.”

But when it comes to the Serpentine herd, identification is still the first step. Dau said ADF&G is still collecting tissue samples from game harvested between May and August of this year in the Serpentine-Shishmaref-Cape Espenberg area.

Hunters interested in donating samples can bring them to the ADF&G office in Nome.

Categories: Alaska News

State Releases Design Study For Tustumena Ferry Replacement

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-12-02 17:17

The ferry Tustumena is getting old. For the last few years, the state has been looking into options for repairing or replacing the aging vessel, which serves parts of Southcentral and Southwestern Alaska, Kodiak Island, and the Aleutian chain. On Dec. 2, the Department of Transportation released the design study report for a replacement vessel with an estimated construction cost of $237 million.

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Categories: Alaska News

Burst Water Pipe, Flood Temporarily Shut Down Juneau Homeless Shelter

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-12-02 17:16

The Glory Hole, Juneau’s emergency homeless shelter and soup kitchen, is temporarily closed due to a burst pipe and flood Sunday night. (Photo by Casey Kelly/KTOO)

The Glory Hole, Juneau’s emergency homeless shelter and soup kitchen, is temporarily out of commission following a burst water pipe and flood at the downtown facility Sunday evening.

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Executive Director Mariya Lovishchuk says 21 patrons and an overnight staff member were at the shelter when the pipe burst.

“I was not there, but from what I heard, you know, the flood gates opened and everybody got really cold and wet,” Lovishchuk says.

City and Borough of Juneau Emergency Management officials set up a temporary shelter at the Downtown Transportation Center. Patrons and staff were later relocated to the city’s Zach Gordon Youth Center.

Lovishchuk says Juneau International Hostel will provide rooms to Glory Hole clients while a contractor assesses the damage to the shelter. Downtown Juneau’s Cathedral of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary has temporarily offered its parish hall for meal services.

“Everybody was amazingly helpful,” Lovishchuk says. “The city, the Red Cross, the local churches, the Glory Hole board – just lots of really, really helpful entities.”

Lovishchuk says she won’t know until Tuesday what caused the water pipe to burst or how long the shelter will be closed.

Categories: Alaska News

Compliance Ordered for Ketchikan Water Supply

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-12-02 17:15

A compliance order from the state Department of Environmental Conservation spells out what the City of Ketchikan is required to do over the next couple of years to address ongoing water concerns.

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The compliance order calls for Ketchikan to finish research into options for dealing with the source of the city’s water, and submit engineering design plans for any needed upgrades by the end of 2015.

The city also must continue plans to upgrade its new water treatment plant and start testing for the waterborne parasite Cryptosporidium – something it’s not tested for previously.

All this is expected to cost between $1.75 and $2.25 million. The city does have about $1.8 million left from a low-interest state loan that paid for construction of the new treatment plant. That is a loan, though, so it will have to be paid back over time.

John Kleinegger, water division manager for the city-owned Ketchikan Public Utilities, explained that “KPU issues the bond and the state makes a guarantee, so the financing would come from the revenue of KPU – Electric, telephone and water combined.”

That means the loan will be paid for by KPU customers.

While the loan would cover the low end of the estimate, it’s likely that the overall cost of the compliance order will exceed that amount. City Manager Karl Amylon writes in a memo that additional costs could be covered by KPU reserves.

Ketchikan’s water supply has been problematic in recent years for a couple of reasons.

First: Ketchikan Lakes, which is the source of the city’s drinking water, has higher-than-allowed levels of coliform bacteria. The water is disinfected before it’s distributed, but the federal Environmental Protection Agency still regulates coliform levels in the source water.

Kleinegger said it might be possible to resolve that issue through the city’s ultraviolet radiation treatment system. The city’s new treatment plant combines chemical and UV disinfection. Kleinegger cited a similar system in the Seattle area.

“This is the Cedar River treatment plant, where, like us, they do have higher than acceptable levels of coliform,” he said. “But they were also able to demonstrate to their regulatory agencies that by providing more UV disinfection than is technically required, they were able to achieve a waiver.”

Ketchikan also will investigate taking water from different locations in the lake.

The second problem is that the city’s water supply has a lot of organic material floating in it, and when that material comes in contact with chlorine disinfection, it forms byproducts that also are regulated by the EPA.

The city’s water has too many of those byproducts, despite the new treatment system that was built specifically to address that problem. That new system uses UV and chloramine — a blend of chlorine and ammonia rather than chlorine alone. It brought the levels down, but not quite enough.

“By what we’ve done so far with chloramination, we’ve cut the levels in half, but we’re still not below 60 parts per billion,” Kleinegger said. “We’re close, but close only counts in horse shoes.”

The city has a plan under way to tweak the new treatment plant and get those byproduct levels below the threshold. It involves adding chlorine early on, but not as much, passing the water through the UV treatment, and then adding the ammonia and more chlorine. Kleinegger said he expects that will bring the levels down to an average of 30 to 40 parts per billion.

All of this is part of the city’s ongoing effort to avoid building a really expensive filtration plant. A conventional filtration plant would cost an estimated $35 million to build, and would be much more costly to operate than the current treatment system.

Kleinegger said that despite all the plans to avoid filtration, he is keeping an eye on the technology as it develops.

“If all this doesn’t work the way that we hoped it will, then our next position will be, if we have to go to filtration, to make it as inexpensive, not only to construct but also to operate, as possible,” he said.

The water compliance order has been under development since this summer, and City of Ketchikan officials have participated in its drafting. It is a legally binding document, and violating it could lead to fines, or civil or criminal court actions.

Kleinegger said it’s a way for the EPA, along with state regulatory agencies, to make sure public water suppliers follow regulations.

“They want to get the serious offenders, which unfortunately includes us, on the path of meeting the requirements of the surface water treatment rules,” he said. “The best way to do it is a legal document that both parties have to agree to.”

The City of Ketchikan is on the EPA’s Enforcement Target List, according to City Manager Amylon. But, signing off on the compliance order should satisfy EPA officials, at least for the time being.

The water compliance order will be in front of the Ketchikan City Council for approval on Thursday. Representatives of CH2M-Hill, the city’s water treatment consultant firm, will be there to answer questions, along with representatives from the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

Categories: Alaska News

Artists Flock To Juneau’s Public Market

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-12-02 17:14

Artists and vendors from all over Alaska and some from the Lower 48 landed in Juneau last weekend for The Public Market. It’s part Christmas craft fair and part gallery.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: December 2, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-12-02 17:13

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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NOAA Proposes Critical Habitat For Ringed Seals

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage & The Associated Press

A federal agency has proposed about 350,000 square miles of ocean off Alaska’s north and west coasts as critical habitat for the seal that’s the main prey of polar bears.

BOEM Report Says Chukchi Sea Drilling Runs Heightened Risk Of Large Spill

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is holding hearings around the state on lease sale 193, in the Chukchi Sea. In its latest Environmental Impact Statement, BOEM says there’s likely more oil there, but also more risk of a large oil spill.

ASD Seeking Solutions To Staff Morale, Hiring And Retention Problems

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

Financial uncertainty at the Anchorage School District is leading to morale problems and an inability to attract qualified teachers. The School Board is looking for solutions.

Iditarod Boosts Payout to $70k for 2015 Winner

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

Iditarod 2015 will have the highest winner’s payout in the race’s history.   Stan Hooley, Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race CEO, says the first to Nome will receive $70,000, that’s almost $20,000 more than the winner earned last year

Caribou, Reindeer Compete For Space On The Seward Peninsula

Francesca Fenzi, KNOM – Nome

For decades, caribou have posed a threat to reindeer herders on the Seward Peninsula – their numbers swelling, even as the reindeer population shrinks.

State Releases Design Study For Tustumena Ferry Replacement

Shady Grove Oliver, KBBI – Homer

The ferry Tustumena (tuss-tah-MEE-nah) is getting old. The state is looking into options for repairing or replacing the aging vessel, which serves parts of southcentral and southwestern Alaska, Kodiak Island, and the Aleutian chain. On Dec. 2, the Department of Transportation released the design study report for replacement with an estimated construction cost of $237 million.

Burst Water Pipe, Flood Temporarily Shut Down Juneau Homeless Shelter

Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau

The Glory Hole, Juneau’s emergency homeless shelter and soup kitchen, is temporarily out of commission following a burst water pipe and flood at the downtown facility Sunday evening.

Compliance Ordered for Ketchikan Water Supply

Leila Kheiry, KRBD – Ketchikan

A compliance order from the state Department of Environmental Conservation spells out what Ketchikan is required to do over the next couple of years to address ongoing concerns over the city’s drinking water.

Artists Flock To Juneau’s Public Market

Kayla Desroches, KTOO – Juneau

Artists and vendors from all over Alaska and some from the Lower 48 landed in Juneau last weekend for The Public Market. It’s part Christmas craft fair and part gallery.

Categories: Alaska News

South Korean Trawler Sinks in Russian Far East

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-12-02 12:16

The Oryong 501. (via Korea Times)

At least one person has died and dozens more are missing after a South Korean trawler sank in the western Bering Sea early Monday morning.

The Oryong 501 was fishing for pollock off Chukotka in the Russian Far East, with about 60 crew members aboard.

They were reportedly hit by a wave while hauling in fish in bad weather, and began taking on water. There was no report of a distress call before the vessel sank.

Seven people aboard were rescued from a life raft, and one has since died of hypothermia, according to reports. Russian search crews and nearby fishing vessels are still looking for at least 50 missing crew members in the cold waters nearby.

Categories: Alaska News

Iditarod Boosts Payout to $70k for 2015 Winner

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-12-02 12:13

2014 Iditarod champion Dallas Seavey celebrates his victory in Nome. (Photo by David Dodman, KNOM Radio Mission)

The 2015 Iditarod winner will take home the race’s biggest payday ever — $70,000.

Announcing the winning purse for the 2015 race—the largest payout for the first musher to Nome in the history of the race—the Iditarod Trail Committee notes the sum is $19,600 more than the $50,400 paid out to Dallas Seavey when he was first under the burled arch as the winner of last year’s Iditarod.

The extra money won’t only go to the top winners, however; second through fifth place will also see an increase over last year’s payouts. The second-place musher will take home $58,600, a jump over last year’s second-place take of $47,600. The third place finisher will net $53,900, just $100 shy of last year’s first-place prize.

All told, race officials say an extra $50,000 will be spread among the top five finishers, with $700,100 set to be paid out among the top 30 mushers. Mushers finishing behind 30th place each receive $1,049, a symbolic amount based on the race’s “official” – but often fluctuating – trail length.

So far 78 mushers signed up for the 2015 Iditarod, which starts in downtown Anchorage Saturday, Mar. 7.

Categories: Alaska News

MEA Rates To Rise

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-12-02 11:52

Matanuska Electric Association has announced an increase in rates effective January of next year.  

MEA spokesperson Julie Estey says the power company’s board of directors authorized a  rate hike of 15 to 20 percent  in November.  Part of that increase is an .81 base rate increase.

“So every quarter, MEA can file what they call a simplified rate filing based on our costs to provide power. So this .81 percent is that quarterly adjustment that we do through the RCA,”  Estey says.

 

MEA members can expect to see a total monthly increase of about $0.63 as a result of the base rate adjustment.  If the  quarterly  increase is approved by the RCA, customers can expect to see about eight to ten dollars more a month in their electric bills.

“This is a component of the 15 – 20 percent increase that we were projecting for 2015. So this is not in addition to that, this is part of that 15 to 20 percent.”

Estey says the average MEA member uses just over 700 kilowatt-hours of electricity per month. The higher bills in January will reflect about 10 – 12 percent of the projected retail rate increase for 2015.

She says  MEA has requested an additional adjustement due to a hike in costs of fuel.

“And that’s an additional filing that the RCA is looking at right now, which is basically pass through costs of fuel for us.”

The majority of projected increases will be reflected in January 2015 customer billings, as MEA meets the increased cost of fuel under the new, higher-priced contracts for Cook Inlet gas, Estey says.

MEA’s new Eklutna power plant is almost ready to begin generating power. Right now it is going through tests. Estey says four of the engines should be up and running by the end of the year, and the final six engines should be ready by March.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

ASD seeking solutions to staff morale, hiring and retention problems

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-12-02 00:00

Financial uncertainty at the Anchorage School District is leading to morale problems and an inability to attract qualified teachers. The School Board is looking for solutions.

http://www.alaskapublic.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/01-teacher-retention.mp3

Marty Decker has taught English at Chugiak High School for 20 years, but now he’s thinking of retiring early. His class sizes have grown, he has less support, and many of his fellow teachers have been transferred to other areas.

“I love the kids,” he says. “But the added duties and the stresses and the broken hearts of people around me being transferred away, et cetera is pretty tough to take on.”

Decker says it’s no surprise to him that the district is having trouble recruiting new teachers because they offer low pay and no designated retirement. He says programmatic cuts are hurting students, too.

“The kinds of experiences that make a kid want to go to school, the elective subjects et cetera have been basically gouged out of the scenario. So, I think that in addition to the large class numbers that are sort of intimidating for students, there’s less for them to come to school for.”

Decker spoke before the Anchorage School Board on Monday evening. Other parents and teachers talked about the lack of substitute teachers. When a sub can’t be found, principals teach or classrooms are split up. The district is also having trouble hiring support staff, like IT technicians.

ASD already has an extra $8 million in the fund balance because of the high vacancy rate and the lower salaries for the less experienced teachers they hired. If the trend continues, they’ll have $21 million by the end of the fiscal year.

But School Board Member Kameron Perez-Verdia doesn’t see it as a budget surplus.

“What we do have is a $22 million deficit this next year and a $70 million plus deficit in the next three years. We have a serious financial problem and we also have serious internal challenges because of the cutting we’ve been doing for the last three years.”

Perez-Verdia and other board members say they want to focus on improving student experiences and overall morale for the second semester of this year.

So the district is considering solutions, such as increasing pay for substitute teachers. The rate hasn’t been raised in seven years. They’re also looking at hiring a recruiter to help find qualified teachers, especially teachers for Special Education. That department has a 6 percent vacancy rate.

Parents also made suggestions like giving retired teachers incentives to substitute teach, stop moving staff to different schools to improve continuity, and create schools where teachers feel safer expressing themselves.

The Board will make final decisions on how to spend the unassigned fund balance on December 15. They could decide to put some of the money toward next year’s projected fund deficit.

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage charter schools seeking facilities, school board discussing solutions

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-12-01 23:25

The Anchorage School District is considering ways to help charter schools find permanent facilities. ASD has six facility-based charter schools and one more that’s petitioning for creation. Most of them are have difficulty finding and paying for adequate building space, especially the German immersion program, Rilke Schule, and the proposed math, science, and arts middle school.

Joey Eski has children at Aquarian, which has a building but needs to expand. “Having support from the school district for facilities for charter schools, allows the school to focus on their program and really achieve their mission without being bogged down with facility problems,” she told the school board during their late session on Monday evening.

School Board member Natasha von Imhof says one potential solution is creating a $5 million Charter School Facility Fund. It would give low-interest loans to the schools to build or lease space. She says the creation of the fund might attract future federal and state dollars.

But School Board President Eric Croft thinks it might be better to bond to build new schools.

“The more I stare at the charter facilities problems, Rilke’s and others, the more convinced I’ve become that we can’t continue asking charters to find facilities out there. It’s difficult to find an abandoned school.”

Other possibilities include building one facility to house multiple different charter schools, like is done in the Mat-Su Valley.

Von Imhof also put forth a different proposal to provide more immediate funding to Rilke Schule, which will not have a building next year.

Both proposals were added to the agenda right before the meeting started. They will be discussed in more depth and voted on during the December 15 school board meeting.

Categories: Alaska News

Walker, Mallott Sworn Into Office

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-12-01 17:09

It was a celebratory tone in Juneau today during the inauguration ceremony for Governor Bill Walker and Lieutenant Governor Byron Mallott. After opening songs by the Mount Saint Elias Dancers, David Katzeek gave a traditional welcome that emphasized the unity campaign’s theme.

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“Say it loud” “Woo-CHEEN” “It means ‘together.’ Together. Together–there’s not a thing we cannot accomplish,” Katzeek

Both Walker and Mallott were sworn in, sharing a stage with outgoing governor Parnell, as well as U.S. Senator-elect Dan Sullivan.

Dressed in traditional Tlingit regalia, Mallott’s short address focused on political bipartisanship and cultural empowerment.

“Whether we wear Carhartts, blue jeans, fancy suits, or silk ties. Whether we fish, or whether we work with your hands,” Mallott said. “We can empathize. We can know from Angoon to Anaktuvuk Pass, to Anchorage, that we Alaskans can be one.”

Mallott concluded with a call to “rise as one,” the motto at this year’s Alaska Federation of Natives meeting.

After thanking all those who helped his campaign, Governor Walker gave an emotional personal account of his own life. He says it mirrors the narrative of the state he now leads.

“My family’s story is Alaska’s story. Ya know, I remember my parents efforts and advocacy for statehood,” Walker said. “Forever etched in my memory is the very day that eight stars of the Alaska flag became the 49th star of the United States of American flag.”

Walker said inclusivity and transparency will be the hallmarks of his administration. He gave a general nod to expanding energy programs as the way to fix the state’s troubled budget outlook.

“Today oil was hovering in the $70 range. We’re heading for some lean times,” Walker said. “There is no reason we cannot turn that around. We live in one of the most resource rich states in the nation, in one of the richest countries in the world. The key to every growing economy is low cost energy. We don’t have a resource problem in Alaska, we have a distribution problem.”

Walker’s address was light on specific policy points, although he pledged to immediately begin work to expand Medicaid coverage in Alaska. Later he appointed Valerie Davidson as the new commissioner of the Department of Health and Social Services. Davidson championed Medicaid expansion in her former job with the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium.

Walker also named former Democratic legislator Sam Cotten as his acting commissioner of Fish and Game. Marty Rutherford, who held a post in the Department of Natural Resources during Sarah Palin’s adminstration, will be rejoining the agency as a deputy commissioner.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: December 1, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-12-01 17:09

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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Walker, Mallott Sworn Into Office

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

It was a celebratory tone in Juneau today during the inauguration ceremony for Governor Bill Walker and Lieutenant Governor Byron Mallott.

Anchorage Assembly Member Pushes For Pot Ban In Municipality

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

The municipality of Anchorage may use its leverage as the state’s population center to influence how laws on commercial marijuana take shape in the year ahead.

Native Municipal Leaders: Pot-Legalization Law Could Harm Youths, Communities

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

Municipal leaders beyond Anchorage also have a lot of questions about the new state marijuana law. They got answers to some of their questions last month in an Alaska Municipal League session in Anchorage.

Experimental Pollock Seine Fishery Opens in Cook Inlet

Shady Grove Oliver, KBBI – Homer

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is conducting a test fishery for walleye pollock using seine gear that starts today and runs through February.

Wrangell Hospital Project Closes Contracts, Starts Fresh

Katarina Sostaric, KSTK – Wrangell

The City and Borough of Wrangell and the Wrangell Medical Center recently closed a settlement with a company formerly contracted to help finance a new hospital building. After the hospital project stalled in 2012 with more than a million dollars spent on contracts, city and hospital officials are hoping for a fresh start.

New Palmer Landfill Proposal Up For Public Comment

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

The Matanuska Susitna Borough Planning Commission will hear public comment Monday on a proposal to locate a new landfill in the Palmer area.

Researchers Say Dementia Risk Increases With Age

Joaqlin Estus, KNBA – Anchorage

Baby Boomers, like everyone else, know that avoiding tobacco use, watching their weight, exercising, and staying mentally active, contribute to longer life. But, researchers recently announced findings that show there may be a downside to living longer.

Buying A Landmark

David Waldron, APRN – Anchorage

A group of Alaskans is trying to buy the landmark Butte, located in the Mat Su Valley. A non-profit is looking for donations to make sure the summit of the popular hike is protected from development. The fact that it’s even for sale is news to most.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage Assembly Member Pushes For Pot Ban In Municipality

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-12-01 17:08

The Anchorage Municipality may use its leverage as the state’s population center to influence how laws on commercial marijuana take shape in the year ahead.

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Anchorage Assembly member Amy Demboski is behind a proposed ordinance that would ban the sale and cultivation of marijuana in the city. Nation-wide pot is in legal limbo: voters in states and cities are opting for legalization, but the at the federal level it’s still a controlled substance. Those inconsistencies could get very tangled when it comes to entities like banks and highways, which operate locally but have federal standards. Like, say, if you use a federal highway to deposit cash you made selling commercial marijuana, are you or your bank breaking federal laws on money laundering and illegal transport? See how quickly this get’s tricky?

Demboski believes its prudent to let other communities in Alaska test the waters on commercialization first:

“To me this is just a wait-and-see approach. In no way is this advocating for a ban on personal use of marijuana at all,” Demboski said. “All I’m saying is before we get into a commercialized industry that’s still federally illegal, we need to understand and make sure there’s no federal impacts when it comes to millions of dollars in transportation dollars.”

Because of its population, Anchorage is the largest potential market in the state for regulated marijuana, and Demboski thinks leveraging that influence can help residents and the city set better terms in the implementation phase.

“I think by opting out now what it does is it gives the citizens of Anchorage the opportunity to really be a loud voice in the development of these regulations,” Demboski said. “I think you’ll see the marijuana industry, I think you’ll see the state regulators come to the city of Anchorage and say ‘what is it you’re concerned about’ as we move forward, and ‘what is it that Anchorage needs in order to move forward with this potential industry.’”

But not everyone agrees that a local ban is a wise strategy. Proponents of the Ballot 2 initiative that passed this November say Demboski’s ordinance ignores the will of the majority of voters.

“For the Anchorage Assembly to consider opting out now is, we think, irresponsible and wildly premature,” Demboski said.

Bruce Schulte is spokesman for the Coalition for Responsible Cannabis Legislation. Given that under the state’s timeline for implementation it will be another 15 months before commercial terms are set and permits accepted, no one knows yet what the rules will look like.

“Because those governing bodies have no more information to work from than the voters did on November 4th,” Schulte said.

Schulte and his organization are not pushing for every community in the state to allow pot. He says Ballot Measure 2 specifically includes the option for local bans, the same way many communities across Alaska have voted to go dry or damp. But Schulte says what’s at stake is making an informed decision on what exactly is being banned, and what “wait-and-see” actually means.

“Local communities have the option to opt out, and it’s expected that some will. If they feel that marijuana is overly burdensome, well they have that right,” Schulte said. “As does the municipality of Anchorage. We just feel that it’s irresponsible to do so now. We think the prudent this is do is wait and see what the state-wide regulations look like before making that determination.”

Demboski’s ordinance, which is co-sponsored by Assembly member Dick Traini, will have a public hearing during the Assembly’s regular meeting on December 16th.

Categories: Alaska News

Native Municipal Leaders: Pot-Legalization Law Could Harm Youths, Communities

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-12-01 17:07

Alaska Native municipal leaders say a new state law that will legalize the use and sale of marijuana could damage people in communities. Last week they told an Anchorage attorney who’s researched the law that the tax it authorizes won’t raise enough money to repair that damage.

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Attorney Matt Singer says he’s been getting questions from local-government officials about the new pot-legalization law. And he got a lot more from a roomful of the officials Thursday during a session sponsored by the Alaska Municipal League.

Alaska Native leaders weren’t happy to hear Singer’s answer to a question on whether communities can ban the personal use of pot.

“So, you cannot declare a dry village, the way you can with alcohol,” he said.

North Slope Borough Assemblyman Forrest Olemaun said after the session that he and most other Native leaders oppose the law because of the damage substance abuse has inflicted on indigenous peoples.

“For many years, we’ve been dealing with the social aspects of alcohol and drug abuse,’” Olemaun said. “And my concern (is) the legalization of marijuana may lead to more use, more abuse.”

North Slope Borough Mayor Charlotte Brower says legalized pot could jeopardize the borough’s efforts to keep young people away from drugs so they can qualify for good-paying jobs with industries that prohibit their use.

She says the borough will continue to drug test its employees and maintain a drug-free workplace.

“We will continue to do that until we are forced in courts that (rule) that we are doing something illegal,” Brower said.

Singer told the municipal leaders that nothing in the law will change drug-free workplace policies. But He said both public and private employers will have to make it clear to workers that the new law does not exempt them from such policies.

Olemaun says he’s also concerned that the $50-per-ounce excise tax that the law requires to be levied on the sale of pot won’t raise enough money to pay for increase drug-treatment and rehabilitation that he believes will be needed.

“My fear is that’s not going to be enough to deal with the negative social impacts,” he said, “and if there’ll be a mechanism in place to adequately fund agencies that are having to deal with this, whether it be state, local or tribal.”

Singer says the municipal officials should be talking about that with their legislators, who can increase that tax and make other changes in the law.

“Any ballot initiative can be amended by the Legislature immediately,” he said. “So the Legislature could start tinkering with this as soon as it goes into session. And the Legislature has the right to repeal, or vacate a ballot initiative after two years.”

Singer said afterward that the new law raises many questions that will have to be answered by the courts.

“Ballot Measure 2 marks a major change in Alaska law. And any time there’s a change, it creates uncertainty,” he said. “And so I expect there’ll be litigation, and disputes.”

Singer says the litigation may delay the part of the law dealing with the production and sale of marijuana. He says the part of the law allowing personal use will go into effect by March 1st.

Categories: Alaska News

Experimental Pollock Seine Fishery Opens in Cook Inlet

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-12-01 17:06

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is conducting a test fishery for walleye pollock using seine gear that starts today and runs through February.

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Bycatch is always a concern.

“It is the highest priority for us to not catch king salmon,” says Fish and Game groundfish management biologist Jan Rumble.

Because seining for pollock hasn’t been done here before, extra precautions are in place to make sure it’s done right.

“We will have observers on every trip that goes out to go try to catch pollock with seine, there will be one of our observers on board to monitor what is coming up in the net besides pollock,” says Rumble. “Then, if there’s too many king salmon coming up in the nets, there’s a large possibility that we will stop this experiment immediately.”

But if things go right, the test fishery will run for about three months. Then, the results of the experiment will likely go before the Board of Fish for review in March 2015.

According to the ADF&G release, one main purpose is simple – to test the effectiveness of using purse seine gear to fish for pollock, instead of the typical trawling.

But Rumble says this is one step in a larger effort to evaluate the viability of adopting a state guideline harvest level pollock fishery in the Gulf of Alaska.

“People are interested in having state waters fisheries so that we can still maintain smaller fleets of people who have access to fisheries without having permits,” says Rumble.

As the federal pollock fishery goes to a catch shares program, there’s been interest among fishermen to see more state waters open up.

“There’s a big push with fishermen to have some fisheries that are not already spoken for, that you can enter as a young fisherman,” says Rumble. “You don’t have to buy a permit; you can just sign up and try out the fishery and see if you’re good at it, see if you can make part of a living doing it.”

That’s been some of the feedback garnered at meetings of the Gulf of Alaska Pollock Workgroup.

According to Rumble, in the last meeting cycle, there was a proposal before the Board of Fish to establish a state waters pollock fishery management plan.

Rather than take action on it, it formed the working group. It’s made up of federal fisheries managers, ADF&G, fishermen in existing pollock fisheries, and fishermen interested in developing fisheries.

It’s taking a closer look at how a state-GHL fishery would maximize the use of Gulf of Alaska pollock resources while maintaining environmental protections.

Rumble says after a meeting earlier this year, Kodiak’s ADF&G biologists sought out fishermen for test seine and jig fisheries. There was a lot of initial interest, but when it came time to assign commissioner’s permits, no one showed up. Rumble says she understands why.

“You know, it’s a risk, right? What if they don’t catch anything? I mean, they’re probably going to invest some gas and time and money in their nets to do this fishery and if they come out and they don’t make any money, it’s a little bit of a risk,” says Rumble.

Now, biologists are trying again in Cook Inlet. They’ve already got a number of fishermen signed up. Rumble says it’s a reflection of changing times in this area.

“You know, 20 years ago, we had a big shellfish fishery here for Tanner crab, for Dungeness, for shrimp,” says Rumble. “Basically, there’s been a switch from that kind of shellfish to Pacific cod and pollock. So, people will tell you, if you interviewed a fisherman right now, even the sport fishermen, they would tell you there’s tons of pollock in this bay.”

The harvest limit comprises some of the quota left over from the federal fishery. 220,000 pounds are available before December 31st. Then another 220,000 are available until February 28th.

Categories: Alaska News

Wrangell Hospital Project Closes Contracts, Starts Fresh

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-12-01 17:05

The City and Borough of Wrangell and the Wrangell Medical Center closed a settlement this month with a company formerly contracted to help finance a new hospital building. After the hospital project stalled in 2012 with more than a million dollars spent on contracts, city and hospital officials are hoping for a fresh start.

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Wrangell Borough Assembly and Wrangell Medical Center board members approved the settlement with InnoVative Capital at a special executive session, a closed-door meeting.

Wrangell Borough Manager Jeff Jabusch said the settlement allowed both parties to walk away from the agreement.

“The monies that we had already paid to InnoVative Capital, they were allowed to keep those. But we didn’t have to pay any additional funds, or there was no money that changed hands at all with the settlement,” Jabusch said. “So that was important to us.”

Jabusch said InnoVative Capital was paid about $900,000 to help finance the hospital project. The company secured a $24 million loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for hospital construction due to start in 2011. But the loan was not used, and it is no longer valid.

Jabusch said about $600,000 was paid to American Health Facilities Development for bid coordination services. That brought the total spent on contracts for the original hospital project to at least $1.5 million.

“And there were two construction contracts that we just basically received letters, and if we didn’t take any action there was nothing really we paid them. The only ones we paid were [American Health Facilities Development] and InnoVative Capital,” Jabusch said.

Jabusch said the work done under those two contracts is probably not applicable to the current hospital project. But he said some of the work done by InnoVative Capital to get the USDA loan could speed up the intense process of applying for a new loan in the future.

The contracts for $1.5 million were a source of controversy in 2012. Petitioners cited the contracts as one of three reasons for a hospital board recall election that year. They alleged the board violated Wrangell’s municipal code by authorizing the former hospital CEO to enter two contracts for a borough-owned building.

Wrangell officials declined to comment on the legitimacy of those contracts because of a settlement with the former CEO.

Wrangell Medical Center CEO Marla Sanger said the settlement with InnoVative Capital allows more flexibility in decision-making for the hospital project.

“It just seemed like it was time to start fresh and think about what kinds of financial services would we need now going forward, because things have changed, and it might be something completely different. So now we have that option,” Sanger said.

Sanger said she is trying to secure pre-development help for the hospital project.

Federal stimulus money made the old USDA loan possible. Sanger said even though those funds are no longer available, the USDA regional director has shown support for the project.

“We’ve had a site visit from him as well as the state engineer, and they seem very favorable toward what we’re trying to do,” Sanger said. “It will depend on whether we can show that we’re financially ready to make a loan application like that.”

Alaska Director for USDA-Rural Development Jim Nordlund confirmed the USDA’s support for the project and encouraged Wrangell to submit a new loan application.

The Borough Assembly listed the hospital project fourth in its capital budget requests to the governor and legislature this year.

A project team was formed early this year that includes Jabusch, Sanger, and others from the borough, hospital and Alaska Island Community Services.

The team has been working on a conceptual design that would join the new hospital building to the existing AICS clinic.

Categories: Alaska News

New Palmer Landfill Proposal Up For Public Comment

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-12-01 17:04

The Matanuska-Susitna Borough Planning Commission will hear public comment Monday on a proposal to locate a new landfill in the Palmer area.

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Central Monofil Services has requested a permit for a so-called monofil to be used for construction debris only. It is Central Monofil’s second request for a permit. A year ago, the Mat-Su Borough planning commission turned down the company’s application.

Palmer resident Stephanie Nowers says the landfill permit is not a good idea. Nowers says certain types of toxins – such as benzene and arsenic – can leak out of landfills and could threaten local water sources.

“And what we are seeing in this proposal is not any sort of recognition of those impacts or the near source of water on this property,” Nowers said. “There’s an aquifer that feeds our area wells and water. And so we are really concerned about these materials getting into our water and we are not seeing protection from this company in terms of a liner or a ground water monitoring plan.”

The proposed debris dump is in a gravel pit near the Glenn Highway. Central Monofil owner Shane Durand did not return calls for comment.

In 2013, Central Monofil was issued three citations by the Mat-Su Borough for illegally dumping debris in the gravel pit, for operating without a permit, and for creating a public nuisance. But John Klapperich chair of the Borough’s planning commission, says the company has been working with the Borough since then on a new application.

“And this is a resolution that has never been brought to us, so anything in the past is not part of this application this evening,” Klapperich said.

The public hearing is set for 6 p.m. at the Mat-Su Borough chambers.

Categories: Alaska News

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