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Get Alaska statewide news from the stations of the Alaska Public Radio Network (APRN). With a central news room in Anchorage and contributing reporters spread across the state, we capture news in the Voices of Alaska and share it with the world. Tune in to your local APRN station in Alaska, visit us online at APRN.ORG or subscribe to the Alaska News podcast right here. These are individual news stories, most of which appear in Alaska News Nightly (available as a separate podcast).
Updated: 45 min 19 sec ago

Alaska House Finance Committee Hearing Public Input On Budget

4 hours 5 min ago

With the state facing a deficit of more than $4 billion, the budget is arguably the most important issue facing the Alaska Legislature this session. The House Finance Committee is now hearing from the public on its cuts, in preparation for any changes it might make to the spending proposal.

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Lori: What’s been the public response so far?

Alexandra: The public testimony started yesterday, with people physically present in Juneau first invited to speak, before the committee went to the phones. The scene was kind of a zoo. The committee room was standing room only, and people lined the halls to get in and say their piece. As soon as soon as their two minutes was up, testifiers were shuttled outside the door to make space for others.

On top of the 15 hours of testimony the committee has scheduled, it is also taking written statements, too. So far, the committee has received about 500 pages worth of letters, with plenty more still rolling in.

Lori: What issues have gotten the most response from the public?

Alexandra: It’s often said in the Capitol that every state dollar has its constituency. We’re seeing that maxim play out with these hearings. You have parents and teachers opposing cuts to early education programs, like Best Beginnings and the state pre-kindergarten program. There were deaf men and women who spoke through interpreters about interpreter services being cut, which was pretty striking. Listeners of public radio asked for station funding to be restored. Attorneys and people who have received pro bono representation from Alaska Legal Services spoke against cuts there. The removal of Medicaid expansion from the operating budget has been a touchy issue. People have testified on cuts to the ferry system and the state’s timber program, and more.

One thing that’s been interesting is that you do not really have people calling in to say we need further reductions. Some have acknowledged that the state is in a difficult position, given the multi-billion-dollar deficit and the need to draw from the state’s reserves, but the testifiers are mainly people who want to protect programs that matter to them.

Lori: So, how much have legislators cut from the operating budget so far?

Alexandra: The current version of the budget cuts $240 million over last year. That’s simultaneously a lot of money — and almost nothing at all, when you look at it in context of a deficit that’s more than 10 times that amount.

Because more than half of state operating spending comes from formula programs like school funding and Medicaid, there’s really only $2 billion in agency operations where the Legislature can make direct cuts that don’t require extra legislation. You could wipe out all those agency operations and still not cover the state budget.

Some agencies are feeling the cuts more than others. Three departments — Labor, Military and Veterans Affairs, and Commerce — are all seeing their budgets reduced by more than 30 percent over last year. Meanwhile, the Judiciary and the Department of Public Safety are looking at cuts of one and three percent, respectively.

Lori: How are the governor and the Legislature handling their own budgets?

Alexandra: There’s been an interesting conversation in terms of who is making deeper and more meaningful cuts. Based off the spreadsheets that the House Finance Committee is using, the governor is reducing his budget by 30 percent, and the Legislature is only cutting its budget by three percent over last year.

However, lawmakers and their staff have been quick to note that part of the reason it looks like the governor is cutting so much is that the executive branch doesn’t need to spend money on things like election staffing and the redistricting board this year. They say that once you take out those one-time budget items, the cuts look like they’re closer to eight percent. On top of that, some of the spending on domestic violence programs that used to be in governor’s budget has been shifted to the Department of Public Safety.

All this goes to show how many different ways these numbers can be sliced. Because money can be moved around and because there are so many ways to compare budgets, depending on whether you’re looking at last year’s spending or more recent proposals, people can be looking at the same budget items and describe them in radically different ways.

Lori: What’s the plan with the budget moving forward?

Alexandra: After public testimony is done, the House Finance Committee will start taking amendments. They’re hoping to move the bill out of committee by the end of next week. After that, it’ll go to the floor for a vote, and then be sent over to the Senate, where that body will have the chance to make its own cuts — or restore funding in some places, if they so choose.

Categories: Alaska News

Medicaid Expansion Event Brings Out Lawmakers, Davidson

4 hours 9 min ago

Speaking to a standing-room-only crowd in the Alaska Capitol, Christie Herrera, a senior fellow with the Foundation for Government Accountability, briefs legislators, staffers and members of the press about Medicaid expansion, March 4, 2015. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

Legislators, aides and others heard an alternate viewpoint on Medicaid expansion from a senior fellow with an organization that has referred to the “dangers” expansion poses in states that opt for it.

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Christie Herrera, with the Foundation for Government Accountability, spoke to problems that she said some states have experienced. Herrera spoke during an informal “lunch and learn,” sponsored by Sen. Mike Dunleavy.

State health commissioner Valerie Davidson, who also attended, questioned Herrera’s use of data in Arizona and Maine, which expanded Medicaid on their own and not under the federal health care law.

Herrera billed those states as cautionary tales, and said they provide a longer-term view of data.

Herrera was also confronted by Rep. Les Gara, an Anchorage Democrat.

“Why is it bad to provide health insurance to people who are low-income workers who work for a living?” Gara said.

Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage, questions Christie Herrera, senior fellow with the Foundation for Government Accountability in the Alaska Capitol, March 4, 2015. Herrera was briefing legislators, staffers and members of the press on Medicaid expansion. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

In her response, Herrera said she believes that Medicaid expansion will serve as a disincentive when it comes to people finding gainful employment.

“In my opinion, I don’t think more government spending and more people on a welfare program brings prosperity,” Herrera said.

Before the event, Gara had sent out an e-mail blast calling the Foundation for Government Accountability an “outside group” and pointing out their ties to the conservative industrialists David and Charles Koch.

Medicaid expansion has been a priority of Gov. Bill Walker. He is planning town-hall meetings to tout the benefits of expansion and rally support as lawmakers consider it.

At the lunch-and-learn event, the Foundation for Government Accountability served sandwiches from Juneau’s Silverbow Bakery, which is owned by senior Walker official Ken Alper.

Categories: Alaska News

P/V Stimson Likely to Move From Unalaska to Kodiak

4 hours 11 min ago

(Courtesy: Alaska Wildlife Troopers)

The state is once again looking to move the Wildlife Trooper patrol vessel Stimson from Unalaska to Kodiak. And this year, the change seems poised to go through.

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Officials in Unalaska fought hard to hang on to the troopers’ biggest vessel when the move was on the table a year ago. But this time around, city manager Chris Hladick says they’ve had to reconsider their priorities.

“I just don’t see us, with this budget climate, being able to save everything,” Hladick says.

Moving the 156-foot P/V Stimson to Kodiak would save the state almost half a million dollars, says Wildlife Trooper Col. Steve Bear. It’s either that, or cut three jobs — meaning, he says, the transfer is all but a done deal.

“I think everybody realizes that during these tough economic times, some of the politics that may have saved projects like this in the past just aren’t going to happen,” Bear says.

The savings with moving the Stimson come mostly in salary and housing costs. Bear says their employees in Unalaska make 60 percent more than those in Anchorage, because of the high cost of living. They also live in state-leased housing at around Anchorage rates.

If the Stimson’s five-person crew, their families and one of Unalaska’s two troopers moved to Kodiak, they would take a pay cut — and would have to find their own housing.

It would also mean a loss of several students from Unalaska’s schools, which are already running a deficit due in part to declining enrollment.

But Bear says the Stimson’s mission wouldn’t really suffer. In fact, he says they’ve planned around added fuel and travel costs.

“We could move the boat, sail an additional 27 days, and we’d still save about $480,000 a year by doing that,” he says.

The Stimson spent 116 days on the water last year, patrolling fisheries in the Aleutian Islands and Western Alaska. It’s a bigger area than they used to cover — the vessel was brought to Dutch Harbor in 1998 to police the derby-style crab fisheries. Back then, boats were racing to fish, even in dangerous conditions.

Now, with quota doled out among the fleet, Bear says the Stimson can focus on species besides just crab.

“That fishery is a lot cleaner and a lot safer than it used to be, and I don’t think people feel the need or are urged to make the risks that they used to in the past,” he says. “I think that frees the Stimson up to do other patrols. They do spend at least 30 days a year patrolling the salmon fisheries in Bristol Bay.”

They also cover cod, and even the caribou season in Adak. So for Unalaska-based Trooper Sgt. Robin Morrisett, a move could just mean more sea time in more places.

“If they see where it’s a couple more days of the boat driving from Kodiak out here – well, that’s a couple more days of going through the south part of the Alaska Peninsula to get out here to where we work, and then two more days going back,” he says. “That’s four more days in that area that we see that area.”

Chris Hladick, the city manager, wondered if the Stimson might be busier in the Aleutians as companies like Shell Oil establish a regional presence. But Colonel Bear says except in special cases, the Wildlife Troopers focus on what’s in their name: “Wild resources, the fish and the game of the state — not oil resources,” he says.

The troopers do have another vessel that does similar patrols — the 121-foot P/V Woldstad, already based in Kodiak. But Bear says it’s long past due for an engine overhaul that would take it out of service for several months.

“It can be used, it’s still operational, but we’re trying to be very cautious how much we use it, because the engines are so far past the rebuild date,” he says.

The Stimson got that kind of rebuild a little over a year ago. So Bear says it can help cover the Woldstad’s patrols well into the future.

The plan to move the Stimson is part of the state’s proposed public safety budget. It’s currently making its way through legislative approvals in Juneau.

Categories: Alaska News

Researcher Investigating Alaska’s Sexual Assault Issues

4 hours 12 min ago

A researcher from University of California Irvine is in Dillingham to collect the experiences of sexual assault victims.

The project is trying to figure out the cause of the disproportionately high number of sexual crimes in rural Alaska.

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There have already been a few studies that looked at the quantity of sexual assaults in rural Alaska. According to an FBI report, there were 80 reported rapes per 100,000 Alaskan residents in 2012 – the highest in the country.

Jeremy Braithwaite is a PhD candidate in criminal justice at the UC Irvine. Reading the reports on the high incidence of sexual assaults in Alaska, he noticed none offered conclusions as to why that is. The Californian packed his bags and moved to Alaska to see if he could help figure that out.

“I thought to myself why not go up there and peel back a few layers of the onion to really understand why this is happening a little bit more,” Braithwaite said.

Braithwaite’s research is unique because it goes beyond documenting the magnitude of the problem, as other studies have done before, but trying to explain why the problem exists in the first place.

He started interviewing women in Dillingham about two months ago. So far nine women have participated in his study.

“And when you look at a very small community like Dillingham, Alaska to talk to nine women that have been effected by sexual violence that’s a very, very high number,” Braithwaite said.

Victims tell Braithwaite that they have typically been discouraged from sharing their stories of abuse and assault.

“Everybody has said, when they came forward and talked to somebody about the abuse they were told don’t talk about it. That’s ugly talk. We don’t talk about that,” Braithwaite said. “So not being able to communicate that violence just pretty much allows it to continue. If you don’t talk about it, it doesn’t go away.”

He is still in the early phase of his research, but already one clear theme has emerged in the interviews he has conducted.

“Obviously the alcohol problem and the heroin problem in Dillingham have been unanimously named by everyone,” he said.

Braithwaite says that collecting these stories should help better identify some of the root causes of sexual violence here. He hopes that may lead to more effective ways to address the problem.

When he finishes his work here, Braithwaite says he wants to repeat the study in other rural parts of the state.

Categories: Alaska News

Mayor, Chief Pitch ‘Community Policing’ At South Fairbanks Meeting

4 hours 13 min ago

Fairbanks’s mayor and police chief rolled out a new approach to law enforcement last night. The community policing program is getting started in crime-plagued South Fairbanks.

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Mayor John Eberhart told about 100 people who packed the meeting room at the J.P. Jones Community Center that the new policing policy represents a departure from the way law enforcement officers have traditionally operated.

“It’s a different philosophy,” Eberhart said. “It’s a different way of forming closer relationships with your community.”

Chief Randall Aragon says that old approach involves a routine response after a crime has been committed: “Call the police. Send a car. Make an arrest.”

Fairbanks Police Officer Richard Sweet, left, and Chief Randall Aragon explain community policing at Tuesday night’s meeting at the J.P. Jones Community Center in South Fairbanks. (Credit Tim Ellis/KUAC)

Aragon says the old approach is reactive, and largely ineffective, because police get reports of crimes after the fact, the suspect is long gone in about 75 percent of the cases. And he says there’s typically only about a 5 percent chance that police will be able to arrest a suspect. The chief says a different approach is needed, especially for troubled areas like Fairbanks’s south side.

“We’re writing an excellent police report,” Aragon said. “But that bicycle from that neighborhood, they continuously get stolen, no one’s working on how to solve the problem. Community policing is trying to prevent it from happening in the first place.”

Aragon says community policing is intended to help residents both protect themselves from becoming crime victims and help police prevent crimes in their neighborhoods. That requires the police to get out into the community, and build trust with its residents.

To get the dialogue going, Aragon polled residents on their major crime and law-enforcement issues. They came up with a list of 17. The top three were drug activity, speeding – and a lack of respect shown by police.

A couple of residents raised concerns over what they thought might become an overly intrusive police policy. But most of those in attendance, like the Rev. Joe Blackburn, seemed comfortable with it.

“Well, I think it’s a wonderful idea,” Blackburn said. “I think it’s headed in the right direction. It shows concern….”

Blackburn, the pastor of Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church, says he’s hopeful that community policing will build the trust needed to encourage residents to interact with police and overcome concerns that some have about law enforcement.

“Just feeling comfortable, and not feeling that every time you see a policeman that he’s there to arrest you or serve you a warrant or something,” he said.

Officer Richard Sweet has been heading up the community policing program on much of the south side for about a month now. He says he hopes it’ll help residents understand that fighting crime is something most everyone can agree on.

“The hope is that it’s not an us-them proposition between the police and the community,” Sweet said. “Everybody’s together.”

Aragon says he’ll convene another meeting on April 30th at the J.P. Jones Center to check back on how community policing is working. He says the program will be phased in citywide in the coming months.

Categories: Alaska News

‘Iditarod Adventures, Tales from Mushers Along the Trail’ Documents Race Stories

4 hours 14 min ago

A new book, out just in time for this year’s race, documents stories of the Iditarod. Lew Freedman, a former Anchorage Daily News reporter and author of numerous other books on Iditarod legends, gets people who race or love and support the race, to tell their own stories. The book is called Iditarod Adventures, Tales from Mushers Along the Trail. Freedman starts with Martin Buser. He says he’s had a question he’s wanted to ask Buser since 1991.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: March 4, 2015

4 hours 14 min ago

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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Alaska House Finance Committee Hearing Public Input On Budget

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

With the state facing a deficit of more than $4 billion, the budget is arguably the most important issue facing the Alaska Legislature this session. The House Finance Committee is now hearing from the public on its cuts, in preparation for any changes it might make to the spending proposal.

Murkowski Seeks Lease Extensions for Shell

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

Last summer, Shell asked the government to extend its offshore drilling leases in the Arctic. Today, U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski pressed Shell’s case to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell in a Senate hearing.

Sullivan Jousts with EPA’s McCarthy

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan today engaged the head of the EPA, Gina McCarthy, in a testy exchange. Sullivan’s focus was the EPA’s proposed rule for the Clean Water Act. But first the senator extracted some crow from McCarthy for dissing gifts given to her when she visited Alaska last year.

Medicaid Expansion Event Brings Out Lawmakers, Davidson

The Associated Press

Legislators, aides and others heard an alternate viewpoint on Medicaid expansion from a senior fellow with an organization that has referred to the “dangers” expansion poses in states that opt for it.

Budget Cuts Would Eliminate Health Care Commission

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

The Alaska Health Care Commission would be eliminated in proposed funding cuts from the House finance committee. The Commission makes policy recommendations to the legislature and the Governor to improve the health of Alaskans and control health care costs.

P/V Stimson Likely to Move From Unalaska to Kodiak

Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska

The state is once again looking to move the Wildlife Trooper patrol vessel Stimson from Unalaska to Kodiak. And this year, the change seems poised to go through.

Researcher Investigating Alaska’s Sexual Assault Issues

Matt Martin, KDLG – Dillingham

A researcher from University of California Irvine is in Dillingham to hear from sexual assault victims about their experiences. The idea is to figure out the cause of the disproportionately high number of sexual crimes in rural Alaska.

Mayor, Chief Pitch ‘Community Policing’ At South Fairbanks Meeting

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

The City of Fairbanks is rolling out a new approach to law enforcement. The mayor and police chief introduced the Community Policing Program at a public meeting in Fairbanks crime plagued south side Tuesday night.

‘Iditarod Adventures, Tales from Mushers Along the Trail’ Documents Race Stories

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

A new book, out just in time for this year’s race, documents stories of the Iditarod. Lew Freedman, a former Anchorage Daily News reporter and author of numerous other books on Iditarod legends, gets people who race or love and support the race, to tell their own stories. The book is called Iditarod Adventures, Tales from Mushers Along the Trail. Freedman starts with Martin Buser. He says he’s had a question he’s wanted to ask Buser since 1991.

Categories: Alaska News

Sullivan Jousts with EPA’s McCarthy

5 hours 46 min ago

U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan today engaged the head of the EPA, Gina McCarthy, in a testy exchange. Sullivan’s focus was the EPA’s proposed rule for the Clean Water Act. But first the senator extracted some crow from McCarthy for dissing gifts given to her when she visited Alaska last year. Sullivan says her reference to a jar of moose meat that could “gag a maggot” was disrespectful to Alaskans.

“It doesn’t show that you’re focused on serving the people that you’re required to do,” Sullivan said. “Have you had the opportunity to make a comment on that, apologize? If you’d like to apologize here publicly, that would be fine.”

McCarthy didn’t hesitate.

“I’m happy to apologize for those remarks,” she said. “I will tell you that they were taken out of context but it doesn’t matter because they hurt individuals whose lives I care about.”

“They sure did,” Sullivan said.

McCarthy has repeatedly apologized for the gift gaffes, beginning days after the remarks were published in a Wall Street Journal profile of her.

Sullivan moved on to the Clean Water Act rule. Sullivan says a lot of Americans think the rule is an unconstitutional expansion of the Clean Water Act, beyond what Congress has approved.

“I asked for the legal analysis that you said your agency undertook that says the Waters of the U.S., the regulation you have, is a legitimate agency function because it’s based in statute. You said you were going to provide that. We have not seen that,” he said.

McCarthy pledged to give Sullivan a copy of the rule, which she says includes legal analysis.

The rule is highly controversial, with some opponents saying it will regulate ditches and puddles. More than a million people have submitted comments on it.

McCarthy says the rule is a clarification to comply with Supreme Court rulings and, compared to current regulation, shrinks the acreage covered by the Clean Water Act.

Categories: Alaska News

Senators from Alaska, Maine form ‘Arctic Caucus’

6 hours 17 min ago

Sen. Lisa Murkowski says she’s forming an Arctic caucus — a group of senators that will meet to advance discussion among senators and staff about issues important to the Arctic and its people, including defense, science and trade.

“It’s about what the vision is, the long-term vision, for the United State’s role in an emerging part of the globe that’s as dynamic as any place out there,” Murkowski said in a speech on the Senate floor today.

She says the Arctic is relevant to all senators, no matter what state they represent. The caucus already has its first non-Alaskan member: Sen. Angus King, an Independent from Maine.

Categories: Alaska News

Jewell: No Plan Afoot to Declare ANWR Monument

8 hours 11 min ago

President Obama infuriated Alaska’s political leaders when he announced in January he would ask Congress to protect more land within the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as wilderness, forever off-limits to oil drilling. Some, including Sen. Lisa Murkowski, predict Obama will act on his own to bar development, by using the Antiquities Act to declare ANWR a national monument. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said today that’s not in the works.

“There’s no discussions in the Administration right now about monument status for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge,” she said.  She then repeated it in response to a reporter’s question: “There are no plans the Administration has for using the national monument designation or the Antiquities Act for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.”

Jewell, though, does not agree that the “no more” clause of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act would prohibit the president from declaring new national monuments in Alaska.

“I’m not an expert on the legal status but I believe we could use the Antiquities Act,” Jewell said. “But there are no plans to do so in Alaska at this time.”



Categories: Alaska News

Murkowski Seeks Lease Extensions for Shell

8 hours 19 min ago

Last summer, Shell asked the government to extend its offshore drilling leases in the Arctic. Today, U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski pressed Shell’s case to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell in a Senate hearing. Murkowski says Shell needs certainty to continue to invest billions of dollars in its Arctic operations.

“Because of this very short window, a 75-day Arctic drilling season, and the difficulties and the delays and the legal challenges that are all out there, that Shell has endured for the past decade, there really are not enough drilling seasons remaining for Shell to complete more than a handful of exploration wells before the Chukchi lease portfolio expires,” Murkowski said.

Jewell says the clock on Shell’s 10-year leases in the Chukchi Sea was stopped for a period when a court ruled the government had to redo its environmental impact statement. Jewell says her department is still considering Shell’s request for a five-year suspension of the lease clock.

“We took our resources and focused them, as we were requested to do, on helping Shell move forward for this drilling season. I also know that we are actively working with them on suspensions and I think they can expect any answer in the relatively near future,” Jewell said.

Oceana and other environmental groups oppose giving Shell more time on their leases. They say the reasons for Shell’s lack of progress were known from outset, like the harsh conditions and the Native whaling season, or were of Shell’s own making.


Categories: Alaska News

Budget Cuts Would Eliminate Health Care Commission

9 hours 39 min ago

The Alaska Health Care Commission would be eliminated in proposed funding cuts from the House Finance Committee. The commission makes policy recommendations to the legislature and the governor to improve the health of Alaskans and control health care costs.

Representative Dan Saddler, a Republican from Eagle River chairs the subcommittee that is recommending the cut. He says the commission has done good work, but health department staff can provide the same expertise:

“I think every department would love to have it’s own policy think tank, but in our fiscal challenge these days we simply can’t afford it in this department and probably couldn’t afford it in other departments either.”

The Health Care Commission costs the state $350,000 a year. The committee decided to keep funding for the Commission on Aging, which is also under the Health Department and costs $400,000.

The legislature established the Health Care Commission in 2010 and voted unanimously to fund it for another three years during the last legislative session.

Representative Les Gara, an Anchorage Democrat, thinks cutting the Health Care Commission is short sighted:

“We have the highest medical costs in the country in this state. We have the highest annual increase in medical costs in the country in this state. Their job is to help come up with policies to stem that increase. That will save money for the budget. It will save money for individuals in their insurance premiums. Cutting them is just not a smart thing to do.”

The state is responsible for over $2.5 billion in health care spending each year. That includes employee and retiree health plans, health care for prisoners, Medicaid and workers compensation. Overall, health care spending in Alaska amounts to an estimated $10 billion annually.

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


Categories: Alaska News

Calista Announces Record Dividend

10 hours 18 min ago

The Calista Corporation announced a record dividend Tuesday, totaling just over $5 million. The dividend amount is $3.80  per share, which works out to about $380 for the average shareholder with 100 shares.

The Alaska Native Regional Corporation has issued dividends eleven times over the past eight years for a total of $31.3 million paid out. The company has about 12,900 shareholders, of which about 60 percent live in the YK Delta. Checks are expected to be mailed out by April 15th.

Categories: Alaska News

Daylight Saving Bill Triggers Time Zone Déjà Vu

Tue, 2015-03-03 17:39

Daylight fades over Lynn Canal north of Juneau, Alaska, date unknown. (copyright Skip Gray)

A bill that would eliminate daylight saving time in Alaska is now one step away from the Senate floor. But as the legislation has advanced, it has also changed in a way that could divide the state — literally. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports.

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Time is a social construct. Its movement is the subject of perennial debate in science, and some physicists have gone so far as to call it an illusion.

That has not stopped Alaska lawmakers from trying to tinker with it.

“In order will be [Senate Bill] 6, the elimination of daylight saving time,” opened bill sponsor Anna MacKinnon, when presenting the legislation to the Senate Finance Committee.

MacKinnon, a Republican state senator from Eagle River, points to negative health effects and the loss of productivity that comes from adjusting clocks twice a year. The bill would have Alaska join Arizona in exempting itself from daylight saving. In the winter, nothing would change when it comes to timing. But in the spring, when other states switch their clocks to get more evening light, Alaska would lag an extra hour. That would put it further behind the east coast.

“It would alternate between four and five under the current bill,” said MacKinnon.

That concept raised some hackles during public testimony on Tuesday morning, particularly from Southeast Alaska.

Pilots complained it would cut back the amount of flying time, since they would offer fewer evening flights. Dan Corson, of the Juneau-based Wings Airways, testified the change would hit them hard during tourist season.

“If this went into effect today, for this summer, we would lose up to 15 percent of business due to the loss of the one hour,” said Corson.

Stores that make money off of cruise ship passengers worried the change would mean less shopping time, while some testifiers said they simply did not like the potential loss of evening recreation time. Money managers, like Jim Parise with the Alaska Permanent Fund, feel the exemption would make it harder to do business with the rest of the country.

“If we are five hours away from New York, personally I will be going to bed around 7 o’clock,” said Parise.

While testimony skewed against the bill during the hearing, Sen. MacKinnon pointed to an online survey showing support for the elimination of daylight saving time. And Sen. Lyman Hoffman, a Bethel Democrat who caucuses with the majority, said communities in the western portion of the state could see their timing situation somewhat normalized by the bill.

“If you’ve ever been into Dutch Harbor-Unalaska, you are closer to Tokyo than Washington, DC,” said Hoffman. “There are other parts of the state that are going to see great benefit because of this legislation.”

Because of Alaska’s sprawling size and its distance from the contiguous United States, its place in time has been a regular source of disagreement. Until 1983, the state was split into four time zones, with Southeast on the same schedule as the West Coast and the Aleutians zoned with Hawaii. Now, Alaska is almost entirely in the same time zone, with only a few places — like Adak to the West and Metlakatla to the east — off of it.

With all the consternation about the loss of evening light in Southeast, the Senate Finance Committee added a provision that could allow Alaska to partially revert to that timezone map. Sen. MacKinnon explained the new version of the bill would allow the state to request a time zone change from the United States Department of Transportation to put all or part of Alaska in sync with the West Coast.

“We would petition the federal government to advance — at least some people have suggested — that we should advance to Pacific Time, but Alaska would stop flipping,” said MacKinnon.

That version of the bill advanced without opposition.

After discussing the nature of time, and how it affects Alaska, the Senate Finance Committee then continued on an agenda that felt pulled straight from a college dorm room: The next item was marijuana.

Categories: Alaska News

Cuts To Early Education Now Could Cost The State Later

Tue, 2015-03-03 17:24

A Juneau doctor says a child’s brain develops the interconnections that have to do with memory and language learning during the first years of life. (Creative Commons photo by Jonathan Warner)

Proposed cuts by Alaska lawmakers to early education programs could cost the state a lot more in the future. Program proponents say supporting parents and children from birth to age 5 is crucial to a child’s and the state’s development.

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Juneau resident Sabrina Nelson says she was a mess when she had her first child.

“You’ve just given birth, you’re dealing with postpartum depression. You don’t know what resources you have for you even though you’ve been given a bunch of handouts at the hospital or the birth center, and do you have time to read those things when you have a newborn? No. You’re just trying to keep up with sleep,” Nelson says.

Her doula told her about the free program Parents as Teachers. New parents get support and guidance from an educator who visits the home once a month.

Nelson joined the program when her son was two months old. She says it helped her profoundly. She learned activities catering to different aspects of her son’s development that she wouldn’t have known on her own. The program connected her with other families.

“Networking with the other families, I can say, ‘Hey, my child is having trouble with this. Have you gone through something similar?’ I wouldn’t have had the confidence to approach someone and ask those questions or go on playdates and things like that. I don’t think I would’ve been as actively participating in his development,” Nelson says.

Parents as Teachers is just one of the programs the state could eliminate funding for completely. A House Finance subcommittee also proposes cutting pre-kindergarten grants and money forBest Beginnings. The Anchorage-based organization supports early learning groups around the state and leverages private funds to help bring free books to thousands of Alaska children through the Dolly Parton Imagination Library.

Joy Lyon is the executive director of the Association for the Education of Young Children in Southeast. She says the proposed cuts come as a total shock and will affect families that rely of these programs.

“All indications that I’ve seen previous to this are that there are more and more people that understand the importance of early childhood, that by supporting children when they’re young, they’re going to be a stronger workforce in the future, we’re going to have a stronger economy. So having a strong stable family will lead to a stronger, more stable state,” Lyon says.

Retired Juneau pediatrician Dr. George Brown says a child’s brain develops the interconnections that have to do with memory and language learning early on.

“When children are in situations where their parents play with them, they talk to them, they hold them, they touch them, particularly during the first year or year and a half, they are increasing those connections amazingly fast,” he says.

Programs like the Imagination Library and Parents as Teachers encourage and provide support for parents to do these things and create safe environments during that early time period, Brown says.

Conversely, children who spend those years in unhealthy homes don’t develop those brain functions as successfully. Brown says that will likely lead to disadvantages later in life.

“If we invest as much as we can during the first three or four years of a child’s life, supporting those families, you are going to be saving a huge amount of money later in life in criminal cost, in court cost, in medical cost and in death cost. So it’s a no-brainer investment,” Brown says.

Economic analyst Jim Calvin with the McDowell Group agrees. The research and consulting firm has looked at the economic impact of early education and child care services in Alaska for the last 10 years.

“It’s better from an economic perspective for the state to maintain funding as much as possible than to cut it at this point,” he says.

With the state suffering from declining oil prices, Calvin says parents of young children need support more than ever.

Juneau residents can weigh in on the state’s operating budget, including cuts to early education programs, today at 1 p.m. at the State Capitol Building.

Categories: Alaska News

Secretary of Defense Affirms Need For Arctic Emphasis

Tue, 2015-03-03 17:23

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter affirmed on Tuesday the need for a U.S. military strategy for the Arctic as Russia builds its military in the north.

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In response to a question from Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan in the Senate Armed Services Committee, Secretary Carter said the Arctic should be part of the nation’s investment in defense.

“The Arctic is going to be a place of growing strategic importance,” Carter said. “The Russians are active there.”

“We are, as your state is right on the point of, an Arctic power, and that needs to be part of our strategy.”

Sullivan asked Carter and Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey what they thought of possibly removing combat brigades from Alaska’s Army bases. Dempsey answered indirectly.

“I won’t speak to the number of Army BCTs, brigade combat teams,” Dempsey said. “But I will say the Russians have just taken a decision to activate six new brigades and four of them will be in the Arctic.”

Carter and Dempsey’s main message was that Congress needs to lift the budget sequestration limits to adequately defend the country.

Categories: Alaska News

Crews Work To Clean Up Milne Point Oil Spill

Tue, 2015-03-03 17:22

Clean-up crews are still working on an oil spill at Milne Point, about 25 miles northwest of Deadhorse. Milne Point is operated by Hilcorp.

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Company spokesperson Lori Nelson says poor weather conditions delayed work on the spill, which was first reported Saturday morning.

“We were able to dispatch more personnel both from Anchorage on Hilcorp’s side and the regulator’s side, to get those boots on the ground to do a full evaluation of the site,” Nelson said. “We have been able to mobilize clean up and response equipment to the site and work is ongoing.”

Crude and water sprayed onto the tundra from a quarter-inch hole in a 10-inch production line. The line was shut down and a bypass was installed on Sunday. Some of the wells on the site have already been brought back online. Nelson says oil production at Milne is about 20,000 barrels per day.

The Department of Environmental Conservation reports that nearly an acre of tundra and well pads were affected. Response crews have cleaned up nearly 100 barrels of oil and other liquids.

DEC Environmental Program Specialist Brad Dunker says 15 to 20 people are onsite removing the contaminated snow and ice.

“Basically what they’re doing is putting the snow and ice that they scoop from the impacted area into containers,” Dunker said. “And those containers will be hauled off by a dump truck and disposed of properly.”

Dunker says they are focusing efforts on containing the spill so it doesn’t spread any further. The area is fenced off to prevent impacts on wildlife. DEC will inspect the damaged pipe and investigate the cause.

Categories: Alaska News

Iditarod Restart Route Moves Off Chena River

Tue, 2015-03-03 17:21

The Iditarod has changed its plan for the Fairbanks re-start. This winter’s warm weather that forced the re-start north from Anchorage is also causing problems in Fairbanks.

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Categories: Alaska News

Iditarod Trail Invitational Racers Set Record Times Into McGrath

Tue, 2015-03-03 17:20

Another record has been broken in the Iditarod Trail Invitational, the race from Knik to Nome. Anchorage fatbiker John Lackey pulled in to McGrath at 8:30 this morning after just 1 day, 18 hours, and 32 minutes, shattering the previous 350-mile record by more than 10 hours. Lackey says the win feels awesome.

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“Every single section of the trail was about as fast as it’s ever gonna be. The rivers were just glare ice. There was a tail wind coming out of Rohn,” Lackey said. “You could essentially ride the whole pass, so by the time we got over the pass you could tell that it was definitely possible that we could break that record. So I kept goin’, and here I am.”

Lackey didn’t sleep during the race and says he’s ready for a nap.

Fatbikers Kevin Breitenbach and Andrew Kulmatiski followed just hours behind Lackey for second and third place finishes. A dozen of the 53 competitors in the ITI are headed the 1,000 miles to Nome following the Iditarod Trail’s southern route.

Categories: Alaska News

National Geographic Photographer Reflects On Three Decades Of Work

Tue, 2015-03-03 17:19

National Geographic photographer Annie Griffiths will be speaking tonight in Anchorage about her more than three decades of work capturing the lives and cultures of people across the planet. Griffiths has worked in more than 150 countries. She raised her children on the road and says they loved the Middle East where they rode camels, milked goats and were warmly welcomed by people who prioritized family.

Griffiths first came to Alaska in the 90s to photograph grizzly bears in the Brooks Range with biologists from Barrow. Ten years ago she returned to shoot in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge. She says of all the places she’s worked, Alaska tops her list.

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Categories: Alaska News