Alaska News

Food To Schools From Farms

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-01-09 12:00

Click for more information about growing your area’s Farm to School program.

A national effort to bring fresh food from farms to schools has resulted in $385 million in purchases for school lunches and other meals across the country.  More than half the school districts in Alaska are participating in the Farm to School program, feeding more than a hundred thousand kids in the state.

HOST: Steve Heimel, Alaska Public Radio Network

GUESTS:

  • Deborah Kane, Director, Farm to School Program, U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service
  • Johanna Herron, Farm to School coordinator, Alaska Division of Agriculture
  • Callers statewide

PARTICIPATE:

  • Post your comment before, during or after the live broadcast (comments may be read on air).
  • Send e-mail to talk [at] alaskapublic [dot] org (comments may be read on air)
  • Call 550-8422 in Anchorage or 1-800-478-8255 if you’re outside Anchorage during the live broadcast

LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, January 13, 2015 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.

SUBSCRIBE: Get Talk of Alaska updates automatically by e-mailRSS or podcast.

TALK OF ALASKA ARCHIVE

Categories: Alaska News

The Future Of Alaska’s LNG Pipeline Project

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-01-09 09:00

As the Federal Coordinator’s office for an Alaska North Slope LNG pipeline prepares to close its doors, we take a look at the history of the office, the current state of proposed Alaska LNG pipelines and the outlook on the future of the project.

HOST: Lori Townsend

GUESTS:

  • Larry Persily, federal coordinator, Office of the Federal Coordinator for Alaska’s Gas Line

KSKA (FM 91.1) BROADCAST: Friday, January 9 at 2:00 p.m. and Saturday, January 10 at 6:00 p.m.

Alaska Public Television BROADCAST: Friday, January 9 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, January 10 at 4:30 p.m.

Categories: Alaska News

Walker: With State In Red, Tax Credit Payouts “Unsustainable”

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-01-08 18:59

Since the Murkowski administration, every Alaska governor has offered his or her own version of oil tax reform. Now, Gov. Bill Walker is taking issue with aspects of the current tax regime, without committing to any immediate legislative changes.

On Thursday, Walker took to the pages of the Alaska Dispatch News to raise concerns over how the existing oil production tax works at low prices. With the value of oil now in free fall, Walker explained the state is now collecting less money than it is paying out. The Department of Revenue expects to collect $524 million in revenue this fiscal year, after North Slope producers deduct $750 million available to them in liability credits. Those liability credits can be used to buy their tax burden down, but do not require the state to pay out money. The major producers — Exxon, BP, and ConocoPhillips — are the top beneficiaries of these credits.

But on top of those deductions, the current tax law also grants smaller producers refundable credits meant to encourage more competition on the North Slope and stimulate production in Cook Inlet. These independent companies are eligible to receive $625 million in subsidies that can be cashed out if they end up exceeding their tax bill.

Once both kinds of credits are applied, the state expects to lose $100 million on its oil production tax.

Walker called this situation “irresponsible and unsustainable,” and said the revenue problem must be addressed “from all angles.” But that doesn’t mean legislators should prepare for an oil tax fight this session. In an interview with APRN, Walker said he does not plan to introduce a tax bill.

“No, no, no. I think we have to maybe look across the board and give it some thought. Nothing maybe this year — I’m not looking at going in and making any significant changes,” said Walker. “But I just feel it’s part of my job that Alaskans know what I know, and this is unusual.”

Walker also has no plans to make regulatory changes to the oil tax system that would affect the credits.

While campaigning, Walker came out against the current tax regime. He was in favor of a ballot referendum to repeal Gov. Sean Parnell’s 2013 oil tax law, known as Senate Bill 21. When the referendum narrowly failed in August, Walker said that he respected the outcome and that he would give the law more time on the books if he became governor.

Since Walker was elected on November 4, oil prices have fallen from $80 to $50 per barrel. Walker said that drop is responsible for the state going into the red with its production. His office has done an analysis of how Parnell’s Senate Bill 21 compares at current oil prices to the system that preceded it — ACES — and found the outcomes were not “significantly different.”

“Whether it’s ACES or Senate Bill 21, we’d be in this situation either way, quite honestly,” said Walker. “So, it’s not being judgmental on one versus the other. But’s a new place for us. We’ve never been here before, that we’re paying out more than we’re receiving in production tax.”

Historically, oil tax receipts have made up the bulk of the state’s revenue. Last year, the state generated nearly $5 billion in oil revenue, with more than half of that coming from production taxes.

The state still expects to collect $2 billion this year from other forms of oil revenue, including royalties, corporate income taxes, and property taxes from production.

Categories: Alaska News

Early Study Shows Surprising Optimism Among Homeless Alaska Natives

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-01-08 17:38

A University of Washington researcher says a strong desire to pass down traditional knowledge may be related to high levels of optimism that he’s found among homeless Alaska Native elders. (Photo by Heather Bryant/KTOO)

A University of Washington professor has found high levels of optimism among homeless Alaska Native elders living in Seattle, and he’s connected the finding to a strong desire to pass on knowledge and experiences to future generations.

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As an Aleut who grew up in Naknek, Jordan Lewis knows a little something about Alaska Native culture. Whenever he’s back home, Lewis says he likes to talk to elders and soak up traditional knowledge.

“They tell stories about how Naknek used to be when they were kids, because it’s changing so much now,” he says. “And I think just the fact that they talk to you and share their experiences, and pass on recipes, or how they used to make things, or where they used to pick berries, is this idea that they are hopeful that you’ll take that knowledge and use it to benefit your own life, but then pass it on again.”

Lewis is an assistant professor at the University of Washington’s School of Social Work. His research focuses on Alaska Native communities and generativity, a concept developed by psychologist Erik Erikson. It says that as we grow older, humans tend to want to pass on their experiences and knowledge to future generations.

“The first generative act most people have in their lives is having kids,” Lewis says. “That’s going to secure your future. But as you grow older there’s this need to pass on your legacy, write your memoirs, storytelling for elders, and passing down stories you heard to your grand kids.”

Lewis has studied how generativity helps Alaska Natives age well and become role models, as well as overcome addictions.

He says he became interested in the homeless because it’s an underserved and often overlooked population. Years ago, he says, his family had a relative involved with the Chief Seattle Club, a nonprofit that provides meals, housing assistance and other services to low-income and homeless Alaska Natives and American Indians. That’s where he and a student interviewed 14 Alaska Native elders last year. He says the results surprised even him.

“All of the elders talked about the importance of giving back and teaching others,” he says. “Whether it’s through sharing a sandwich, giving extra change if they had extra change to someone who wasn’t doing as well as they were. Volunteering at the Chief Seattle Club was almost everybody’s response. That’s what made them happy, that’s what got them up every day. And they all said that they did that because it’s going to come back to them in a positive way.”

He says other themes of the interviews included the importance of laughter and religion.

In addition, each of the elders – ages 45 to 70 – filled out surveys to measure generativity and optimism. Lewis says 12 of the 14 individuals scored very high in both.

“That kind of complimented the qualitative interviews. So I could say, you know, 85 percent of the people I interviewed are very optimistic and like to give back and teach the young people, and then here we have specific examples of what they do to do that,” Lewis says.

While he’s excited about the early results, Lewis admits more research is needed to confirm his findings. He’d like to do more than 100 interviews, and has considered expanding to include American Indians.

He’s planning to present his research at the Chief Seattle Club, and ask officials there for ideas on how to do a broader study of Native homelessness.

“How could we either help the people who are homeless, or how do we prevent homelessness, or how do we make their lives more enjoyable from these experiences of what these elders are doing for themselves,” he says.

Lewis also hopes to publish his findings in a peer-reviewed journal. The initial study was part of an online Stanford University program on successful aging that he participated in last year.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: January 8, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-01-08 17:38

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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Is SB21 Working?

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage & Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Since the Frank Murkowski administration, every Alaska governor has offered his or her own version of oil tax reform. Now, Governor Bill Walker is expressing concern with aspects of the current tax regime.

Chugiak Lawmaker Proposes Legislature Move

Jeremy Hsieh & Jennifer Canfield, KTOO – Juneau

Sen.-elect Bill Stoltze plans to introduce a bill to move the Alaska Legislature to Anchorage.

On Murkowski’s First Day Chairing Energy Committee, Panel Passes Keystone Bill

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

Senator Lisa Murkowski held her first hearing today as chairwoman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. The committee promptly passed the first priority of the Republican leadership: a bill approving the Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta, Canada through Nebraska. Murkowski also outlined what she wants the committee to accomplish.

UAF To Field Wildfire Crew

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The University of Alaska Fairbanks will field a wildfire fighting crew. The tram will be staffed by students in a wild land fire science program.

Petersburg’s New Superintendent Resigns

Angela Denning, KFSK – Petersburg

Petersburg’s School board will be searching for a new superintendent again this year. The superintendent of the school district has resigned after six months on the job.

An LGBTQ Renaissance In Juneau

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

Juneau’s alliance group for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people has been going through a renaissance with new board members and energy. Now, with recent grant funding, SEAGLA hopes to increase visibility and awareness in the capital city and beyond.

Early Study Shows Surprising Optimism Among Homeless Alaska Natives

Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau

A University of Washington professor has found high levels of optimism among homeless Alaska Native elders living in Seattle, and he’s connected the finding to a strong desire to pass on knowledge and experiences to future generations.

Categories: Alaska News

Is SB21 Working?

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-01-08 16:59

Senator Bill Wielechowski, a Democrat from Anchorage, has been a vocal critic of the state’s new oil tax structure. He says the law provides larger tax credits to oil companies as the price of oil declines.

Senator Cathy Giessel, a Republican from Anchorage, helped craft the new oil tax law. She says the tax structure is designed to bring in more revenue at lower oil prices than the previous law, ACES.

Listen for the full interviews with Sen. Bill Wielechowski (D-Anchorage) and Sen. Cathy Giessel (R-Anchorage)

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Categories: Alaska News

Chugiak Lawmaker Proposes Legislature Move

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-01-08 16:58

The Alaska state capitol building in downtown Juneau. (Photo by Skip Gray/Gavel Alaska)

Update | 4:05 p.m. Jan. 8, 2015

Sen. Dennis Egan, a Juneau Democrat, says he thinks the bill “is a crock.”

“I’m really dismayed that he’s pitting one section of Alaska against another,” Egan says.

Through a spokeswoman, Gov. Bill Walker said he typically doesn’t commit on how he’ll deal with legislation before receiving it. But, he added, he doesn’t favor moving the capital.

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Original post | 7:27 p.m. Jan. 7, 2015

Sen.-elect Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak, plans to introduce a bill to move the Alaska Legislature to Anchorage. Stoltze isn’t proposing a full-on capital move. Instead, KTUU reports that the bulk of state government would remain in Juneau and legislative sessions would be held at the Anchorage Legislative Information Office.

“I have always been a vocal advocate for relocation,” Stoltze told KTUU.

This is the second time Stoltze has advocated for such a move. In 2008 he supported a similar bill introduced by Rep. Mark Neuman, R-Big Lake.

Many attempts and discussions to move the capital have taken place since the days of Alaska’s first constitutional convention. According to a brief history compiled by The Alaska Committee, the last attempt to swing the legislature away from Juneau happened in 2002. Voters defeated a ballot measure that required the legislature to meet in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough.

Stoltze’s bill will be introduced as the state grapples to deal with a $3.5 billion budget shortfall and declining oil prices.

Categories: Alaska News

UAF To Field Wildfire Crew

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-01-08 16:56

The University of Alaska Fairbanks will field a wildfire fighting crew. The tram will be staffed by students in a wild land fire science program.

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Categories: Alaska News

An LGBTQ Renaissance In Juneau

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-01-08 16:55

SEAGLA members get together to march in Juneau’s 2014 July 4th parade. (Photo courtesy James Hoagland)

Juneau’s alliance group for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people has been going through a renaissance with new board members and energy. Now, with recent grant funding, SEAGLA hopes to increase visibility and awareness in the capital city and beyond.

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SEAGLA has been around since the early 1980s providing support for the LGBTQ community in Juneau. The name used to be an acronym for Southeast Alaska Gay and Lesbian Alliance, but it’s moved away from that strict definition to be more inclusive.

For years, SEAGLA’s programming consisted of a weekly Friday night social and an annual picnic. Last year, SEAGLA organized a first ever Pride Week in Juneau with several events.

“We did a film festival, a hike, a kickball game, a karaoke night, a big dance and a picnic,” says James Hoagland, one of eight volunteer board members. “All sorts of different kinds of events because we wanted to see who was out there, who our community was and what they needed from us, and we found that they liked all the events and they said, ‘We need more of this and we need to do it even bigger.’”

The annual picnic last year drew about 200 people, the biggest attendance in the organization’s history.

It recently received a $5,000 grant from thePride Foundation, which supports LGBTQ groups in the Northwest. It awarded funds to 56 organizations – three in Alaska. This is the largest grant SEAGLA has ever received.

The money will help expand programming.

“We know that there are hundreds of people out there who just even locally want to get together and do things and build community in all sorts of ways,” Hoagland says.

SEAGLA is meant to be an alliance group for all of Southeast Alaska, but it’s historically served just Juneau. The grant will allow the nonprofit to bridge gaps and offer services to other Southeast communities. Hoagland says individuals in Ketchikan, Haines, Sitka and Skagway have reached out to SEAGLA.

Josh Hemsath with Pride Foundation in Anchorage says the organization gave funding to SEAGLA for this very reason. Anchorage-based Identity Inc. also received a grant to bring students from rural areas to a youth leadership summit at Birchwood Camp.

“The need that we were seeing was how best to address serving individuals, whether they be youth or people who experience geographic isolation because they live in rural and remote communities,” Hemsath says.

Outside of grant funding, Hoagland hopes SEAGLA can grow in other ways.

“It’ll be particularly interesting during the legislative session and figuring out how to plug SEAGLA into the really dynamic political landscape that’s going on right now in Alaska for LGBT people,” Hoagland says.

With the legalization of same-sex marriage, Hoagland says other issues are ripe for change. Representatives Cathy Muñoz, a Republican, and Democrat Andy Josephson have pre-filed billsto add sexual orientation to the state’s anti-discrimination laws. Hoagland says SEAGLA can play a role in education. He says many Alaskans don’t even realize that people can get fired from a job because of sexual orientation.

“They thought that maybe we’re protected under another law or something like that and it’s just not the case and I think that most people understand that that’s just not fair. And just opening up their eyes to the importance of putting that on the books in writing so that we can make sure that people don’t experience a really tragic situation like losing your job just because of the person you love,” Hoagland says.

Hoagland says making a political impact will be a natural outcome of expanding membership and strengthening SEAGLA.

Categories: Alaska News

Tongass Supervisor, Deputy, Leaving The Forest

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-01-08 10:35

The Tongass National Forest will soon be without its two top officials.

Forest Supervisor Forrest Cole plans to retire in April after about a dozen years in the job. He’s overseen timber sales, stewardship efforts and other agency programs in Southeast Alaska.

The Tongass National Forest makes up most of Southeast Alaska (Courtesy U.S. Forest Service)

Cole’s deputy, Tricia O’Connor, is moving to a new Forest Service job in Wyoming. She’ll be supervisor of the Bridger-Teton National Forest, which borders Yellowstone National Park, starting in February.

Both have been based in Ketchikan. Neither was immediately available for comment.

The supervisors work under Alaska Regional Forester Beth Pendleton, who also oversees Southcentral’s Chugach National Forest.

Cole came to the Tongass about 35 years ago and worked in management positions throughout Southeast. Most recently, he’s been a leader in the forest’s transition from old-growth logging to harvesting younger trees.

O’Connor has been Tongass deputy forest supervisor since 2011. She’s been in the region almost 15 years, beginning as Yakutat district ranger.

Both positions have been posted on USA Jobs, a federal employment website.

The Tongass is the nation’s largest national forest, at about 17 million acres. Most of Southeast Alaska is within its borders.

We’ll have more on the Tongass management changes in future reports.

Categories: Alaska News

Human Remains Found In ‘Talkeetna Area’ Cabin Fire

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-01-08 10:18

The Alaska State Troopers report that a cabin fire in the Talkeetna area killed one person.

According to troopers, the initial call was received just before midnight on Saturday night. When troopers arrived from the Talkeetna post, the cabin had burned to the ground.  The next day, they returned with a Deputy Fire Marshal to search in the daylight.  Human remains were found during that search.  No positive identification has been made of the remains, and the investigation is ongoing.  Troopers say foul play is not suspected at this time.

Trooper spokeswoman Megan Peters says that, since there is currently no positive ID, no further details, including the location of the fire, are being released.  Talkeetna Fire Department Chief Ken Farina says that the Talkeetna Fire Department did not respond to any structure fires in on Saturday.

Categories: Alaska News

On Murkowski’s First Day Chairing Energy Committee, Panel Passes Keystone Bill

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-01-08 08:21

Sen. Lisa Murkowski gavelled in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee this morning with a Tsimshian mallet. On her first day as chairman, the committee passed a bill to approve the Keystone XL Pipeline, by a vote of 13 to nine, without amdendments. The bill is the first priority of the new Republican leadership of the Senate. It now heads to the Senate floor and debate scheduled to begin next week. The House is expected to pass its version tomorrow.

Categories: Alaska News

As Walker Forges Own Way On Gasline, Republicans Wary

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-01-07 19:59

It was a not-quite-midnight purge. At 9pm on Tuesday, Gov. Bill Walker announced via press release that half the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation board of directors was being dismissed. And in the process, he put the oil and gas industry on notice that he would be doing things differently from his predecessor. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez has more.

The announcement came just 36 hours before the board tasked with representing Alaska’s interests on the natural gas megaproject was set to get an update on how the work was going. Of the five public members, three — Drue Pearce, Al Bolea, and Richard Rabinow — were notified they should not plan on attending a Thursday meeting in Anchorage.

All three were appointed when the board was created in 2013 by former Gov. Sean Parnell. Pearce heads an oil spill response company in Anchorage, and previously served as the federal coordinator for an Alaska Natural Gas project and as president of the Alaska State Senate. Bolea is a retired BP executive who once chaired the Alyeska Pipeline Services Company board. Rabinow is a former president of the ExxonMobil Pipeline Company. Rabinow’s appointment was opposed by a bloc of Democrats because of his status as a Texas resident, and legislation explicitly permitting out-of-state board appointments was passed to allow him to serve.

Walker says his reasons for removing these members was not personal. He says he mainly wants to see more geographic diversity on the board, and plans to make sure rural areas are represented.

“I think we need to spread out a bit,” says Walker.

The original announcement did not provide a reason for the dismissals, except for to say the changes were part of a “paradigm shift in the way the state will conduct business with Alaska’s gas.” In addition to the board dismissals, Walker announced that the two cabinet members — Labor Commissioner Heidi Drygas and acting Commerce Commissioner Fred Parady — who represent the administration on the board have been directed not to participate in discussions that require confidentiality agreements.

“There’s certainly appropriate times to go into executive session, and organizations do that all the time. But it’s unusual to layer on top of that a confidentiality agreement,” says Walker. “It just seems like it’s one more step of keeping the public away from what’s going on, and I’m not sure that’s the way to do business.”

The state is currently in talks with Exxon, BP, ConocoPhillips, and TransCanada to develop an 800-mile pipeline to get North Slope natural gas to market. The project is expected to cost at least $45 billion. In 2014, the Legislature passed and Parnell signed a bill that would allow legislators to review specific terms of negotiations so long as they sign non-disclosure agreements. The producers involved say the confidentiality rules are needed to prevent competitors from learning proprietary information about the project.

Walker is allowing his natural resources deputy commissioner, Marty Rutherford, to participate in confidential meetings.

“We will participate in AKLNG with our representative,” says Walker. “That’s a different entity and a different process.”

Walker’s announcement was met with a mix of surprise and apprehension by key Republicans in the state Legislature.

“The three people that have been removed, of course, have decades of expertise and experience,” says Sen. Cathy Giessel, an Anchorage Republican who chairs the resources committee. “To let them go — it was just kind of breathtaking.”

Giessel is worried that rehauling the board puts the Alaska LNG megaproject at risk.

“I’m concerned it’s going to slow it down,” says Giessel. “As we miss windows of achievement on that timeline, this could jeopardize the project altogether.”

Giessel is also concerned that refusing the confidentiality terms could make it hard to work with the partners on a project.

“To reject that means rejecting a seat at the table. It doesn’t make sense,” says Giessel.

House Speaker Mike Chenault agrees.

“Without confidentiality agreements, I just can’t see this process going forward,” says Chenault.

Chenault says Walker’s actions raise questions about his strategy for moving ahead with a gasline.

“Nobody was informed on what was transpiring,” says Chenault. “By sending out that message, I have no clue which direction the governor wants to go. Is he wanting to keep these two projects online, or is he wanting to kill these to come up with some other project? I don’t know.”

Meanwhile, Alaska’s partners in the LNG project are staying quiet on Walker’s announcement. A representative from ExxonMobil declined an interview on the subject, while ConocoPhillips and BP each offered brief written statements saying that their positions on the project had not changed.

But even if the producers are not commenting on Walker’s action, they’re still watching them closely.

“I would expect industry is waiting to hear more details on what Walker’s ‘paradigm shift’ means,” says Larry Persily, the federal coordinator for an Alaska North Slope natural gas pipeline.

Persily notes that Walker’s recent actions signal a more confrontational approach with industry than his predecessor.

“Proponents of the Parnell administration would say he made great strides — new investment on the Slope, new investment in Cook Inlet. Critics of Parnell would say he was too cozy with the industry and the state needs to stand up more. And my guess is the industry is waiting to see how Walker goes about things,” says Persily. “The important person in all this is not any of the individual AGDC board members or the head of AGDC or the deputy commissioner of natural resources or revenue. It’s the governor. He sets the policy. He sets the tone, and makes the important decisions. So, the announcement about a ‘paradigm shift’ in dealing with the industry is much more important than changing some board members or getting into a debate over who signs the confidentiality agreement.”

Categories: Alaska News

Mat Su Ferry Draws Interest

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-01-07 17:15

 Despite televised reports that a sale could be imminent, the Matanuska Susitna Borough’s ferry MV Susitna remains tied to a dock in Ketchikan, while the Borough faces a tight deadline for repayment of a twelve million dollar debt to the Federal Transit Administration.

At  Tueaday night’s   Borough Assembly meeting, Borough Attorney Nicholas Spiropolous [ spir OPP o lous ] told the body that the FTA wants its money back by January 15. He said he’s written a reply to FTA.

“Our submittal to FTA in response to [their] demand letter is due January 15. The manager and finance director and port director have seen a draft and made comment on it. ”

 

The mid – January date represents an extension of an earlier, September, deadline.

But a European – based company, Intercity Rental Car Corporation, has given the Borough 20 thousand dollars to pay for a demonstration of the boat’s abilities. The Borough Assembly spent little time Tuesday in approving the acceptance and appropriation of the money to pay for the sea trials, passing the motion without comment.  

Intercity Rental, however, is not an American company, and selling the vessel to a foreign – owned company could pose a challenge. The ferry can be given away to a US non-profit, or sold to an American company, but the FTA could frown on selling a Navy – built ship outside the US.

According to its website, Intercity Rental is a fleet leasing company in Turkey, which has about a quarter share of the market. The company leases cars to corporate clients with 1 year to 3 year contracts, and provides comprehensive maintenance services.

 The Borough was given the ferry free of charge, but with grant restrictions attached. The Borough failed to initiate ferry passenger service across Knik Arm, so the FTA is asking for it’s grant money back.

The MV Susitna sea trials have already taken place.  Borough manager John Moosey says negotiations are ongoing.

Categories: Alaska News

Gov. Walker Meets With DC Officials

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-01-07 17:00

Gov. Bill Walker scheduled meetings with two of President Obama’s cabinet secretaries while he was in Washington Tuesday for the swearing in of Alaska’s new U.S. senator.

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He says he talked to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell about the road options to the Greater Moose’s Tooth field on the North Slope. That wasn’t the only road they discussed. Walker says Jewell seems resolute in opposing a road between King Cove and Cold Bay, but he says it was good to hear her exact reasons. Walker says he doesn’t think it’s a lost cause.

“Well I’m not convinced of that. Sometimes a fresh set of eyes on it is a good thing,” Walker said. “So I’m going to take a look and see if there are some options available in advancing that road project.”

He took up the Prince Rupert ferry dock with Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. Walker made the case for a waiver from the requirement to use U.S. steel.

It was the new governor’s second trip to the nation’s capital since he was sworn in. He says he doesn’t plan to make the trip so frequently in the future.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Murkowski: Keystone XL Pipeline Worth Fighting For

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-01-07 16:59

The new Congressional session is barely underway, but Senate Democrats managed to derail Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s plan for Wednesday morning. She’d hoped to hold a hearing on the Keystone XL Pipeline in the Senate Energy Committee.

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The Keystone Pipeline is the signature environmental fight of the moment. It’s the rallying cry, the poster child, the new polar bear. It occupies the political space once held by the fight over drilling in ANWR. The new Republican leadership of the Senate made it their No. 1 priority.

Sen. Murkowski is eager to move the bill through the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. She’s the committee’s incoming chairman. But Democrats threw up a procedural hurdle on the Senate’s opening day, objecting to the hearing she’d planned. Murkowski says she’s undeterred.

“My goal and I know the goal of the Republicans is to advance this through the process as quickly as possible,” Murkowski said.

President Obama has already issued a veto warning. Here’s his spokesman, Josh Earnest.

“I would not anticipate that the president will sign this piece of legislation,” Earnest said. “We promised – We indicated that the president would veto similar legislation that was considered by the previous Congress, and our position hasn’t changed.

The White House followed up with an official statement, saying the Keystone bill would “cut short” an important permitting process. It galls Murkowski.

“Cut short were the words that the president used,” Murkowski said. “This has been under consideration for six years. Give me a break!”

She and other Republicans say the pipeline will create jobs and has broad support among the public. The pipeline is intended to move oil from Alberta through Nebraska and ultimately to refineries in Texas. Opponents say it will contribute to global warming, especially because it will carry petroleum extracted from the oil sands of Alberta, which environmentalists say is particularly harmful.

Murkowski said last month she intends to use her committee chairmanship to “get things done” by passing bills the president will sign, not to just send a message. Now, even with a veto threat looming, she says Keystone is worth fighting for. Murkowski says Senate Republicans can’t let President Obama set the agenda.

“I don’t think we’re going to sit back and just wait to see what the president wants to support before we decide we’re going to move forward with it,” Murkowski said.

She’s proceeding with another committee meeting on the bill this week. She says she’ll work to get a veto-proof majority on the bill, but she acknowledges that may not be possible. Nose-counters around the Senate say it’s about 4 votes short of that 67-vote threshold.

Categories: Alaska News

Poor Air Quality Raising Health Concerns In Fairbanks

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-01-07 16:57

Areas of Fairbanks and North Pole suffered poor air quality this a week as cold stagnant air allowed smoke from wood burning and other combustion to accumulate. The situation is nothing new and the focus of state and local plan to clean up the air.  Fine particulate pollution is a known health hazard, and that’s confirmed in a locally produced report.

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Categories: Alaska News

Despite Spending Freeze, Juneau Access Road Effort Continues

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-01-07 16:56

A sign near Juneau’s Auke Bay Ferry Terminal points to the end of Glacier Highway. The road would be extended about 50 miles to a new terminal closer to Haines under a state plan that’s temporarily on hold. (Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)

Work continues on the Juneau Access Project, despite Gov. Bill Walker’s spending freeze. But it doesn’t involve moving dirt or pouring concrete.

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The Juneau Access Road is one of six projects Walker put on holdduring his first month in office. It would extend the capital city’s highway system about 50 miles north to a new ferry terminal on Lynn Canal. From there, shuttle ships would complete the link to Haines and Skagway.

In his announcement, Walker told state agencies they could complete what’s already paid or contracted for. But he said no additional money could be committed or spent.

Juneau Access Project Manager Gary Hogins says the Department of Transportation’s current work is preparing a Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, which is needed for federal funding and approval.

“We just finished going through the public involvement process and what we do next is review the comments, respond to comments and evaluate and select a final alternative,” he says.

Hogins says that will take about a year and $600,000.

He says no other work is planned – for now.

“We would have expected to go into design and construction, but that’s been put on hold,” he says.

“Gov. Walker has made a very smart decision to put the brakes on the Juneau Road extension,” says Emily Ferry of the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council.

SEACC says the Alaska Marine Highway System offers a safer, more environmentally friendly alternative.

“DOT’s own study shows the extraordinary cost of constructing and maintaining the road far exceeds the minimal benefits of making weekend getaways a little bit cheaper for Juneauites,” she says.

The agency says the road would do a lot more than that. It also says the project would ultimately save money by shortening ferry routes.

Road supporters, who share those views, say they’re not giving up.

“I’m disappointed in it. I don’t know that that’s the end of the project. I think it’s a bump, probably for all those other projects too. I think they’ll probably all come back at some point in time,” says Wayne Jensen, who chairs the Alaska Committee’s board of directors.

He supports building the road to increase access to the capital city, and he remains optimistic.

“The stuff that’s committed is continuing and I think that’s a good sign. They’ve got contracts committed and processes in play. And I expect those will continue until some point in time when either there’s a further delay or the projects are reinstated,” he says.

The Transportation Department recently increased road funding in its long-term project list, called the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program.

The proposed $152 million brings the total to be spent to $520 million.

Road projects of a similar value in Anchorage, Wasilla, Cordova and the eastern Interior were removed from the list.

SEACC’s Ferry says that’s wrong.

“If DOT is allowed to proceed with the Juneau Road extension, other transportation projects across the state will have to be sacrificed over the next decade,” she says.

It’s not clear when the governor will decide what to do with the Juneau Access project.

DOT’s Hogins says he’s assembling the data.

“He’s asked for information as far as what would be the downside or the risk of delay or termination. And we are responding to that,” he says.

Walker said low oil prices mean the state cannot afford the road — and the other five projects — right now. The state faces an approximately $3 billion budget gap for the current fiscal year and the same for the next one.

Other projects put on hold are the Ambler Road, the Susitna-Watana Dam, the Kodiak Launch Complex, the Knik Arm Crossing and the Alaska Standalone Pipeline Project.

Categories: Alaska News

Pajinag Takes The Reins Of Front Street Community Health Center

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-01-07 16:54

Kelly Pajinag grew up in Juneau and graduated from Juneau-Douglas High School in 2000. He joined Hospice & Home Care of Juneau in the summer of 2013. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

Kelly Pajinag is the new interim executive director of Front Street Community Health Center as of Jan. 1. He’s also the program manager of Catholic Community Services’ Hospice & Home Care of Juneau.

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As he juggles two jobs, Pajinag hopes to help the homeless clinic get through some growing pains.

Kelly Pajinag, 33, says he doesn’t have much of a social life these days. His dual leadership positions have similar responsibilities.

“In regards to some of the things that I’ve experienced at Hospice & Home Care of Juneau with implementing more of the administrative business backbone to the program, I kind of saw a relationship here at the Front Street Community Health Center in regards to recruitment, the staffing, the billing platforms to be implemented and put into place,” Pajinag says.

He’s the second executive director of Front Street Community Health Center since last May whenit left umbrella organization Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium. Pajinag says the clinic, which has offered medical, dental and behavioral health services, is going through a challenging transition.

“We’re still in the works of really trying to pick up the pieces of having the luxury of a large organization provide your billing, your payroll, your human resources. These are all things that we have to do at the clinic level now,” Pajinag says.

Pajinag sat on the board of the health center prior to becoming its interim executive director. He has three months to fulfill some big goals. One is continuing to diversify its clientele; Front Street has long been ahomeless clinic and still receives a large chunk of its federal funding for that purpose. It hopes to provide care for patients from all walks of life.

“‘Cause there is a need for thousands of people in our community, so my goal is to make it efficient and effective and available for people to access, whether it’s the homeless population, uninsured, underserved or someone that’s conveniently located nearby,” he says.

Another goal is figuring out the clinic’s staffing shortage. Two of its three main care providers are no longer there. Nurse practitioner Janna Brewster, who also served as the clinic’s manager, resigned in November and dentist Ed Linsell retired. The health center is actively recruiting for both medical positions.

In the meantime, Pajinag says part-time nurse practitioners are filling the gap as Front Street continues to provide medical and behavioral health services. Linsell is providing dental care one week a month.

Pajinag says the health center will soon implement billing and get reimbursements from Medicaid, Medicare and private insurance. The goal is to get a third of its revenue this way.

At the end of March, the Front Street Community Health Center board will reevaluate Pajinag’s position. Dr. Carlton Heine is a board member.

“Does he have the capacity to do this job with his other job or do we need to look for a different person for executive director?” Heine says.

Until then, Pajinag says he’s confident, with the help of staff and community members, the health center will get through the tough transition and start offering patient-centered care to more of Juneau’s population.

Categories: Alaska News

Touring A Historic Anchorage Building

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-01-07 16:53

Anchorage turns 100 this year. And one of the city’s first permanent homes was the Oscar Anderson House downtown.

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Categories: Alaska News

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