Snowboarder Callan Chythlook-Sifsof of Girdwood claimed a bronze medal yesterday in the team snowboard cross in a World Cup event in Switzerland. Chythlook-Sifsof was teamed with Faye Gulini of Salt Lake City. In individual events, she has medaled in 2007 and 2011.
The United States is increasing the amount of interceptor missiles it stockpiles from thirty to forty four. The 14 additional missiles will be based at Fort Greely, near Fairbanks.
Pentagon officials say they’re confident the new missiles will be capable of shooting incoming long-range missiles out of the sky. They say the biggest threat is from North Korea, which recently conducted its third nuclear test.
Previous missile defense tests, like one in 2008, failed to shoot incoming dummy weapons out of the sky.
The upgrade to the program will cost taxpayers about one billion dollars – this despite mandated cuts to future spending at the Pentagon. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says the program should be up and running by 2017.
There’s no indication yet whether this means reactivating the mothballed missile field at Fort Greeley, or whether there will be new construction.
The Parnell administration and two public employee unions have reached tentative agreement for a new three-year contract to begin in July.
The Alaska Public Employees Association settled earlier this week; the Alaska State Employees Association finished late Thursday afternoon. Both say they will recommend members ratify the proposal, which increases salaries slightly, while health benefits remain essentially unchanged from the current contract.
Negotiators from both unions say they fell short of their ambitions.
“Had to recognize that the stars were simply not aligned in our favor,” says Pete Ford, APEA Southeast Regional Manager.
“The Legislature’s been pretty specific and clear about the manners in which they want to restrain advances in employee compensation and bring about some restrictions, and the administration has similar concerns,” he says.
State law requires that financial terms of the agreements be presented to lawmakers by Friday, March 15, the 60th day of the legislative session.
In a mid-February letter to Gov. Sean Parnell, Senate President Charlie Huggins, House Speaker Mike Chenault and chairmen of both finance committees urged the administration to “hold the monetary terms of the contracts at zero.”
Negotiations were well underway.
Unions bargain with the administration, not the legislature. Still, Ford says, it was clear the letter had a chilling effect on state negotiators.
“Areas where we thought there might be movement tended to close down and the administration recognized what the legislature was saying and it certainly impacted or appeared to impact their flexibility at the table,” Ford says.
APEA represents about 2,200 members of the Supervisory Unit and 210 Confidential Employees Association members; ASEA represents about 8,000 workers in the General Government Unit. The proposal calls for salary increases of 1 percent in each of the first and second years of the contract, and 2.5 percent in the third year.
Deputy Administration Commissioner Curtis Thayer was at the negotiating table. He says the letter from legislative leaders made the path clear for state negotiators.
“That’s one of the reasons I think we were successful in getting the one /one (percent raise) in the first two years of the contract,” he says. “Quite frankly, the unions came in quite a bit higher, but I think it set the tone for continuing negotiations knowing what the fiscal outlook is for production and the price of oil. It had an effect. It did.”
ASEA business manager Jim Duncan says the atmosphere surrounding bargaining this year was difficult. He calls it a modest contract.
“We’re going to recommend that members ratify it because it’s the best we could do under this atmosphere. It’s got gains in it for the membership but not clearly to the level we would like to have had,” he says.
One gain comes for long term employees. Those who have worked for 15 years or more will get an additional day of annual leave deposited to their account.
But Thayer says state employees hired after July 1, 2013 will earn fewer hours of annual leave for days worked.
He says a cap will also be put on annual leave.
“People that have over a thousand hours, they’re grandfathered in, but for new employees, there will be a cap of no more than a thousand hours,” he says.
According to Thayer, the state’s total leave liability is more than $164 million and the leave reduction and cap are an important part of the proposed contracts.
“The whole idea around leave is to take it. Take time off, recharge your batteries. come back with a fresh perspective,” he says.
The proposed contract also will require state employees take at least two weeks a year of personal leave, he says.
The unions will begin a series of meetings at works sites around the state to explain the tentative agreement, then ask members to vote in favor.
Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan has rejected an offer to freeze wages of city workers for one year in exchange for tabling a controversial ordinance that would limit unions. KSKA’s Daysha Eaton has the story.
In the past, Mayor Dan Sullivan has said the changes his ordinance would make are needed to keep costs down, and the ordinance must be rushed because of upcoming union negotiations. But now he says there are bigger goals. In a 2-page letter sent to union leaders via email Wednesday, Mayor Dan Sullivan said he couldn’t take the offer made by 5 of the 8 unions, because, for him, it’s about more than money.
“It’s about revising the way that we negotiate contracts in the future to make sure that they’re standardized, that they’re easier to both understand and to implement and that they’re fair to the employees and as importantly, to the citizens who pay for public services.”
Sullivan says he wants his administration and future administrations to have more control over workers. He proposed the ordinance February 8th. It would limit longevity and performance pay, benefits, and eliminate binding arbitration along with strikes. It would also allow some municipal jobs to be contracted out. Last Friday, unions leaders representing about 22-hundred municipal employees offered to delay the expiration of contracts in exchange for tabling of the ordinance. Monday, despite warnings from the ACLU of Alaska, the Assembly ended public testimony on the issue after 285 people had testified against the ordinance over four evenings. Sullivan says he supports the assembly’s decision and he did not accept the union’s offer because:
“I didn’t see any real reason to go with that. We’re more than willing to negotiate the contracts that are coming up on the current time schedule and we want to do so under the rules that are being considered by the assembly. I’m not sure what it would have accomplished. We think the ordinance is ready to go, there will be some miner amendments going forward, we didn’t see any reason to delay for a year.”
Union supporters have compared the changes that Sullivan’s ordinance would make to to labor reform that took place in Wisconsin. Sullivan says his proposal is different because it does not eliminate collective bargaining. He says workers can still negotiate things like how much they get for education enhancements, clothing allowances and tool allowances. Jillanne Inglis is Vice President of the Anchorage Municipal Employees Association. She represents city government workers from clerks to engineers. She has worked for city for municipality for 17 years. She says she’s disappointed with the Mayor’s response and She says it shows that he does not want to work with unions.
“I’m feeling that the Mayor does not want to have a good piece of legislation, really. It takes time. And we offered to take the time and to sit down at the table with him. This has been our experience for the last four years. We try to make an offer and work with him and he rejects it or he’s not interested in it. For him, it’s philosophical. He does not like unions.”
Sullivan denies that he doesn’t like unions and says he just wants to narrow the parameters of negotiation. Sergeant Gerard Asselin with the Anchorage Police Department Employee Association says the ordinance narrows the parameters so much that it leaves little to be negotiated. And he says it’s being fast-tracked for a reason.
“The stars have aligned for the administration. He’s pretty confident, as he has said from the beginning, he has the votes.”
Asselin says It’s no coincidence that Attorney’s started crafting the ordinance in secret last summer, but waited to make it public until February. Asselin says he believes that the majority of people who live in Anchorage do not support the Mayor’s proposal.
“So, what recourse are we left with other than to try to engage the community and if that comes in the form of the polls on April 2nd, then I’d say, that’s what we need to do.”
A work session on the ordinance is scheduled for Friday, March 22nd at City hall.
The Assembly is scheduled to take action on the ordinance Tuesday, March 26th.
Buccaneer Energy Alaska has filed litigation countering a lawsuit brought by a subcontractor in December concerning work on the jack-up rig Endeavor. The Endeavor is currently in Homer.
As part of Women’s history month, Alaska Public Media brings you the voices of influential Alaskan women who have helped shape and define the social, cultural and political discourse in Alaska. Fifteen women were recently inducted into the Alaska women’s hall of fame at a ceremony in Anchorage. Former Anchorage Assembly chair and hall of fame steering committee member Jane Angvik tells us more about one of the inductees – education advocate Carolyn Covington.
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After hearing that their oil tax bill could mean at least $6 billion in revenue lost over the next five years, the Senate Finance committee made some adjustments on Thursday.
Their new bill would give oil companies a tax break of $4 billion to $5 billion over that same period. It would bring the base tax up from 25 percent to 35 percent for the next three years. After 2016, that rate would be brought down to 33 percent. To offset that tax hike, it gives oil companies a $5 credit for every barrel they produce. And like previous versions of the legislation, it gets rid of a mechanism known as “progressivity” that raises taxes on oil when prices are high.
In addition to making tweaks to the oil tax bill, the Senate finance committee also took testimony from the major companies on the North Slope yesterday. Representatives from ConocoPhillips and Exxon avoided making commitments to new oil production, while BP’s Damian Bilbao said that the bill doesn’t go “far enough to attract the type of meaningful investment that’s required to make the future look different.”
Without clear support from the Big Three, members of the Senate Finance committee turned to their own consultants to get input on how their bill would affect oil development. Sen. Mike Dunleavy, a Republican from Wasilla, asked Econ One’s Barry Pulliam if their changes to the tax structure would have an effect on the production decline.
DUNLEAVY: Would you be surprised if in three years you found out there was little additional investment above what some would consider maintenance or routine investment? Would you be surprised if in three years that occurred?
PULLIAM: I would be, if the kind of change that you’re making here didn’t have an impact on attracting new investment.
Pulliam added that he thought that the oil companies were excited by the prospect of a tax overhaul, but wanted to avoid making commitments in hopes of a better deal.
The updated bill was moved out of committee, and the next step is the Senate floor.
Debate on the operating budget started in the dark. The lights flickered out, and one legislator reacted by joking if the cause was budget cuts. It turned out that someone had accidentally hit the switch, but the tone had been set. The next year would be a lean one.
Rep. Alan Austerman, a Kodiak Republican who co-chairs the finance committee, said as much while introducing the document on the House floor.
AUSTERMAN: This budget begins a process of slowing the growth of state government.
The specter of declining oil production, and thus declining state revenue, hung over the room. At $9.8 billion, the House operating budget shaves a percentage point off Gov. Sean Parnell’s version and holds spending on state agencies at zero growth.
It took more than four hours for the House to pass the bill. Democrats introduced amendment after amendment, nine in total. Some were big-ticket items, like one to increase school funding by $240 million over the next three years as a way of combating staff cuts. Some focused just on trying to restore funding that had initially been included in the governor’s budget for things like pre-kindergarten education and behavioral health. Each one failed.
Without the numbers to get any of their changes through, the nine Democrats in attendance used the session as a way of showing how they would like state money to be spent.
“The budget’s a moral document, and it speaks to this legislature’s priorities,” said Rep. Scott Kawasaki of Fairbanks. “It speaks to our values. It speaks to this legislature’s common vision for Alaska.”
They argued that their amendments would save the state money in the long run. On the subject of early education, they cited studies that more funding for programs like Parents as Teachers would mean less money spent on remediation for students down the road. One legislator pushed for increasing funding for therapeutic courts by talking about how they reduce criminal recidivism all while drawing a comparison to the film version of Les Miserables.
Rep. Les Gara, of Anchorage, also pointed out that in total, the money that the minority caucus wanted to add to the document was still under the governor’s target.
“This disagreement is about one percent,” said Gara. “With the Democratic amendments that you heard today, we would have had a budget — if they passed — less than the one percent budget growth the governor proposed. A smaller budget than what the governor proposed.”
But the bottom line for the majority caucus was that looking ahead, the state just won’t have the money. Rep. Mark Neuman, a Republican from Big Lake, described the cuts as painful but necessary.
“There’s nobody who wants to cut funding to kids that are disabled, mentally handicapped, to seniors,” said Neuman. “Nobody wants to do that. But it’s going to get even worse.”
The operating budget ultimately passed on a 29-8 vote, with all but one Democrat voting against it. It will now move on to the Senate.
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Anchorage School District Superintendent Jim Browder will retire in June after less than one year on the job, and his replacement has already been chosen.
The announcement came after a closed door meeting between School Board members and Superintendent Jim Browder at the Anchorage School District Education Center. From a podium in the Center’s atrium, School Board President Jeannie Mackie said that she wanted to clear up any uncertainty and speculation about the district after recent events.
“Dr. Browder will, is intending to retire from the district. His retirement will be affective three months from now, which puts us at about June 14th, is when he will no longer be employed with the Anchorage School District,” Mackie said.
Earlier this month, Browder was one of three finalists for a job in Des Moines, Iowa, but he did not get the job. Browder recently told the board that he might need to leave the district to be closer to family members who are experiencing medical issues. He is just eight months into his 3-year contract. Browder was hired in July to replace longtime Superintendent Carol Comeau, after a seven-month-long search that cost the district more than $50,000. Mackie says Browder’s contract is being adjusted to allow him to retire in order to be closer to his daughter and grandson in Georgia.
“[I’m proud of the numerous accomplishments that we’ve been able to make in this period of time. You know this is a great school system and in a year, we’ve made huge growth,” Browder said.
Besides working to develop the district’s strategic plan, Browder is credited with helping the board make $25 million in budget cuts and with beginning to realign ASD curriculum to the common core standards. Mackie also announced that Assistant Superintendent Ed Graff will replace Browder. Graff has worked closely with Browder over the past months.
“We’ve worked hard to develop a strong strategic plan in destination 2020, and we’re going to continue to focus on that, increasing the achievement for all students as well as improving the performance for every child every year. The Anchorage School District has outstanding potential and I’m ready to lead the school district in realizing that potential and taking us to the next level,” Graff said.
Graff has been with the district for more than 20 years. He has worked as substitute teacher, an elementary school classroom teacher, and as a principal. Browder and Graff will work alongside each other during the three-month transition. Browder makes $180,000 a year. Mackie says Browder will not receive a severance package. The details of his contract adjustments will be disclosed Monday.
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The Department of Interior has concluded its expedited review of Shell’s failed 2012 Arctic drilling campaign.
Before resuming activity in the Arctic Ocean, the company must undergo a third party review of its entire operation.
Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar put it bluntly.
“Shell screwed up in 2012,” he said.
And now the company must follow new orders from the government before it can operate again in the Arctic Ocean.
Shell must produce an “integrated plan” for future work. The company will have to detail each facet of Arctic drilling – from marine transport, to emergency response, to demobilization.
The company also must allow an outside firm to review its Arctic practices.
Bureau of Ocean Energy Management director Tommy Beaudreau says the review will need to illustrate whether Shell is capable of overseeing the contractors it uses. He says the company continually failed to do so this year.
Shell contracted Superior Energy, a company with a long history in the Gulf of Mexico, to design its underwater containment system.
“Ultimately, Shell, working with Superior, was not able to bring that system online. They were not able to obtain Coast Guard certification for the vessel. The deployment test of the system itself failed,” Beaudreau said.
That’s why the Interior Department only allowed Shell to drill pilot wells last summer.
Beaudreau went on, saying Shell relied on contractors for emissions controls that could not meet government muster. That led to violations of EPA air permits.
And most recently, the company relied on contractors to tow the Kulluk, a rig that grounded New Year’s Eve.
“Taken altogether, this points to the need for strong operator oversight of the contractors they’re working with,” Beaudreau said. “Now these issues, based on our recommendations, are issues that are going to have to be specifically addressed, and we need to be told how they’re being addressed.”
Before the company can resume any drilling – regardless of the depth, Beaudreau says, it must prove the containment dome can operate correctly.
Secretary Salazar says the government reacted appropriately to Shell’s stumbles – that the various agencies in the Department of Interior successfully managed the setbacks.
“We were very much keeping coordinated,” Salazar said. “I was being informed daily on the activities relating to the US Coast Guard and on issues relating to oversight of the Arctic Challenger.”
Shell Alaska spokesman Curtis Smith says the company does not know which firm will conduct the review. Nor did he have an idea how long the review will take.
The company still says Arctic drilling is possible next summer.
“2014 is a possibility, but our future plans offshore Alaska will depend on a number of factors, including the readiness of our rigs and our internal confidence that lessons learned from our 2012 drilling program have been fully incorporated,” Smith said.
Shell sent its rigs to Asia for repair, and last month announced its suspending its drilling program this coming summer.
Conservation groups are disappointed. Michael LeVine is senior council with Oceana. He says Shell should be held accountable, but that’s only the first step.
“It is also necessary for the department of Interior to look inward and fundamentally reassess how and why it allowed an unprepared company to allow in unforgiving, harsh waters in Alaska,” LeVine said.
The Coast Guard is conducting its own review of the company. There is no time frame when that will be released.
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Competition in this year’s Iditarod was nothing less than fierce, and the racing didn’t quite until the finish line. The race for first and second place was close in this year’s Iditarod, but there were three other races among top twenty finishers that were even closer.
In the wee hours of the morning, Rookie of the Year Joar Lleifseth Ulsom narrowly beat out Jake Berkowitz for seventh place. The Norwegian’s lead dog Sivo crossed under the burled arch just as Jake Berkowitz’s leaders caught up with Lleifseth Ulsom’s sled.
When it was all over, Berkowitz said he’d had a lot of fun.
“We were running together he passed me maybe a mile out. Basically our one goal, we saw those lights coming from behind and clocked him at 10 minutes behind us. We just had to do whatever to get over cape Nome and get away from those guys, so we had a real good time out there,” Berkowitz said.
Jake Berkowitz finished with 15 dogs. It’s the largest team to cross the line so far. But it just wasn’t enough to catch the Norwegian.
“He took off and I need to learn some Norwegian commands or something because he took off like a bandit,” Berkowitz said.
Lleifseth Ulsom was all smiles when he finished. He hadn’t expected to place in the top-10, let alone claim Rookie of The Year.
“It’s much better than I thought I could do, I’ve been very happy with the dogs, they’ve been amazing,” Lleifseth Ulsom said.
He gives most of the credit to his dogs. The 26-year-old’s team has a large following back Norway.
“I don’t know. I bet my mom is proud, huh?,” Lleifseth Ulsom said.
By the time the sun came up, another close race was playing out on Front Street. Veterans Paul Gebhardt and Cim Smyth battled for 15th place as their teams neared the finish line. When Smyth saw Gebhardt five miles out, he knew the time had come.
“There was a little bitty dot and I thought that might be a dog team. I watched it for a while and it was moving like a dog team not a rock,” Smyth said.
A mile and a half before the finish line, Smyth caught Gebhardt.
“We were really cooking at that point, just smoking a long, but neither one of my leaders had ever been here before. There were some people cheering up on the road, and one of my leaders though that’s gotta be the finish line,” Smyth said.
Smyth had to stop his team and switch out his rookie leaders for a 10-year old veteran. But while he was reorganizing his dogs, Gebhardt reclaimed the lead. Once he stripped off his heavy coat, to run with his dogs, Smyth, a 12-time Iditarod finisher, was able to pass one last time.
“I don’t know that there’s been a single race where I haven’t picked up a place or two between White Mountain and here,” Smyth said.
Smyth and his brother Ramey are known for their fast run times into Nome.
“We’re late everywhere else. It’s a last minute thing. Just a last minute kind of guy,” Smyth said. “It’s cause the dogs are ready to go, you know they’ve been nurtured and cared for the whole way and they’re finally primed to run.”
That’s Ramey Smyth, Cim’s brother. He posted the fastest time in the top 20 on the last run from Saftey. A nearly identical race scenario played out for him, but this time, the competition was four-time champion Lance Mackey, who pulled in under the burled arch, panting, sweating and generally flabbergasted.
Like his brother Ramey Smyth’s shy team balked on the city street, so Mackey ran down to help his competition across the line. When it was official, the two shook hands.
Mackey says he was “dilly-dallying” on the trail until he saw Smyth’s team barreling down upon his.
“I seen a little dot coming down the hill, it looked like a snow machine it was coming that fast. So whatever reserve they had I asked them for it. He caught me right here in no man’s land. He had me hands down, came on to the avenue, shot across the road and that was my one opportunity to get it back. I’ve never been passed in the last little bit and that was kind of a weird feeling,” Mackey said.
In hindsight, Smyth says he should have done things a little differently.
“I should have waited to pass him on the street to catch him and not pushed quite so hard to catch him before the street and just take it down the wire and wait to see if it happened,“ Smyth said.
Smyth had a tough race. He was forced to drop a dog from his team early on and he drove for nearly 500 miles on a sled with a broken runner.
Ramey Smyth has now finished 20 Iditarods. He says someday he’ll return to the race, but he needs to recover mentally and financially from this year’s run to Nome.
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It may seem odd that an Alaskan author would write an entire book on the concept of heat, but all things hot is the focus of Bill Streever’s newest offering. Streever is the author of the best seller Cold and in his new book, he explores everything from tasting crude oil to walking on fire, an experience he described as enjoyable.
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Arctic shipping could be possible for unescorted, open-water vessels by mid-century.
“This research quantifies for the first time the speculations that have been buzzing around for a number of years now,” says Laurence Smith, a geographer with the University of California, Los Angeles.
Smith and a fellow geographer modeled Arctic shipping routes using climate change models, and navigation rules. The results show that by 2040, light icebreakers will be able to go pretty much anywhere in the Arctic Ocean during the late-summer melt season, including straight over the North Pole.
“And open-water vessels are able to, definitely able to, cross through the Northern Sea Route over Russia, and increasingly through the Northwest Passage as well,” Smith says.
Right now, there’s almost no commercial shipping through the Northwest Passage, and vessels transiting the Northern Sea Route need an icebreaker escort. But both routes cut thousands of miles off the standard journeys through the Suez or Panama canals, and the ability to travel unescorted could make them increasingly attractive to shippers. Smith says that should concern policymakers in the region.
“The Arctic is a very remote place, a very dangerous place, always will be. The ice will always come back in winter, it’s dark, the charts are poor, and ordinary open-water ships make up the vast majority of ships on Earth.”
And the day when open-water vessels can make the journey may be coming even sooner than Smith’s models predict. The climate change models he used assume incremental change between now and 2040, but Smith says real-world satellite observations tell a different story.
“The rate of sea ice decline in the Arctic is actually shrinking even faster than even our most aggressive models, so the outcomes of this study should be considered conservative.”
With shippers eager to know when the routes will become commercially viable, Smith says his next project is to expand the study from just September to all twelve months of the year.
You can read the full paper here.
As part of Women’s history month, Alaska Public Media will be bringing you the voices of Alaska women who have made a difference in their communities and the state. Fifteen women were recently inducted into the Alaska women’s hall of fame at a ceremony in Anchorage. Former Lt. Governor Fran Ulmer was inducted herself in 2009. She was on hand to introduce one of this year’s inductees — the late Architect Daphne Brown. Brown’s husband, Jonathan, and daughter, Catherine, accepted Daphne’s award.
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The latest rewrite of a bill cutting taxes on oil companies is expected to bring down state revenue by more than $1 billion next year. That’s more than any version that’s been introduced so far.
The Senate Finance committee offered their adjustments to Gov. Sean Parnell’s oil tax bill on Tuesday, and the Department of Revenue weighed in on how it would affect the state’s treasury Wednesday morning.
Under current production forecasts, the new plan would cut taxes on oil companies by up to $1.3 billion dollars next year. The analysis goes out six years, and during that time, the total tax break would fall somewhere between $7 and $10 billion. For comparison, the governor’s bill is projected to cut taxes by $5 billion over that same period.
Sen. Lyman Hoffman, a Bethel Democrat who serves on the Finance committee, calls those numbers “truly staggering.”
“Too move this much cash across the table is going to have, in my view, detrimental effects to the state’s operating budget,” says Hoffman.
Representatives from the Department of Revenue say their analysis is preliminary and does not consider how the bill would change levels of oil production. Roger Marks, a tax consultant on contract with the legislature, projects that the finance committee bill would have a neutral effect on revenue if production increased by 70,000 barrels of oil per day over the forecast. If production were to exceed that amount, the bill would have a positive effect on revenue.
Right now, the state levies a variety of taxes on oil, including a profits tax that goes up with the price per barrel of oil. All versions of the oil tax bill that have been considered scrap that element of progressivity. The governor’s original proposal would just have oil taxed at a flat rate of 25 percent, while the finance rewrite ups the base tax by 30 percent with a $5 per barrel credit offset.
Joe Balash is a deputy commissioner with the Department of Natural Resources, and he says that the administration will be working with the finance committee to tighten the revenue projections.
“We’re anxious about that, but the Senate appears to be trying to find its own happy balance,” says Balash.
Balash adds that he’s happy to see that the Senate hasn’t reintroduced any sort of progressive mechanism to the bill.
The Senate finance committee will continue to review the bill this week.
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Congress enacted the Magnuson Stevens Act more than 30 years ago and last amended it in 2006. The bill put an end to foreign fishermen legally harvesting seafood in American waters and stabilized many fisheries by enforcing catch limits.
No member of the House Natural Resources Committee present this morning indicated they’d let the program expire. And everyone who testified said it should be continued, though with some changes.
Commercial fishermen and industry representatives complained about the requirement to have human observers on vessels … recording the size of the catch and by-catch.
“If they were allowed to use less high tech methods, and cheaper methods, they would be allowed to survive,” said Bob Dooley.
Dooley’s company, United Catcher Boats, fishes the west coast and throughout Alaska. He told the committee a captain is responsible for covering the cost of an observer, and it’s prohibitively expensive.
“It’s north of $900 a day, approaching $1,000, for the government to provide an observer,” he said.
That number could neither be verified nor applied to the various fisheries in the state. It took many by surprise, including NOAA’s Sam Rauch.
After the hearing, he said NOAA is concerned about the cost of observers, and is interested in pursuing cameras in their place.
“A technological issue: What can the cameras tell you now? They’re very good at showing discard events. Did somebody throw something overboard? They’re not yet to the point where they could identify individual fish,” he said.
On top of that, NOAA would have to adapt regulatory requirements to include the cameras.
Representative Don Young, an original author of the Magnuson Stevens Act, said the observer program wasn’t included in the original authorization.
“It was put in there for NOAA to make decisions on the quota,” he said. “And I’m saying let’s go beyond the muleskinner and get into the computer age.”
Young said he’s considering writing a provision into the reauthorization that would allow commercial fisherman to use newer technologies to monitor the catch.
“An observer is probably the worst thing that can happen to the sustainable yield rationalization,” he joked. “An observer is human. He can be corrupted. He can be put into the trawl net, to solve some problems. He could be a drunk.”
The act will expire September 30th, leaving Congress plenty of time to debate the measure.
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Lieutenant Governor Mead Treadwell announced yesterday a $200,000 multi-year study of Arctic marine shipping. He told a meeting of the Arctic Parliamentarians in Washington, D.C. the project will be conducted by the University of Alaska-Fairbanks. The state Department of Commerce will pay for the research.
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Seventeen Iditarod teams have crossed under Nome’s burled arch so far, with more closing in quickly. This year’s was one of the most competitive and closest races in Iditarod history.
A crowd in Nome cheered as 53-year-old Mitch Seavey drove his 10-dog team into Nome under the burled arch to become the Iditarod’s oldest champion. Seavey made a tough final push to Nome from White Mountain with Aliy Zirkle chasing close behind.
“I hate to do that to Aliy, but you know there’s only room for one winner this year, so it had to be me,” Seavey said.
This is Seavey’s 18th finish and second win. He says he was pleased with how he ran his dogs in the first half of the race.
“The main key about the whole Iditarod is the run rest ratio, run enough to be in position and rest enough to keep your speed. I think I did a pretty good job of that in the early part of the race,” he said.
But Seavey fretted over the amount of rest is team had as they got closer and closer to Nome.
“I tried to make a couple of big jumps and it took away my speed and so then you get into the wrong kind of a cycle, where you can’t rest enough to get your speed back without losing out on a top position so you get stuck back in the crawling mode and having turtle races out there,” Seavey said.
The top-10 teams spent most of the 936 mile race leap frogging each other. Second place finisher Aliy Zirkle pulled into Nome less than an hour behind Seavey, as the crowd chanted her name.
Zirkle worked her way up to second in the last few runs, but was unable to finally catch the team in front. This is the second time in as many years that Zirkle has finished in second place. It’s also her second loss to a Seavey. Last year she trailed Mitch Seavey’s son Dallas coming into Nome. The Two Rivers musher took a deep breath as she checked her gear and gave her final signature to race officials.
“Yeah, I was glad to be done for sure,” Zirkle said.
Zirkle had a frustrating run into Nome. At times both she and Mitch Seavey could see each other. But Zirkle’s leader, Quito, who ran the entire race up front, just wasn’t feeling up to the chase.
“She had a belly ache. She did and I did and she wouldn’t lope at all today.” 00:08
An hour and a half after Zirkle’s team had left the finish chute, a delighted Jeff King pulled his team across the finish line. The four-time champion and 23-time finisher, from Healy, went up the line greeting each of his dogs on the way.
When he got to his leader, Skeeter, he laid down, lifted the dog on his chest and took a deep breath. King says he’s very proud of his team.
“This team is here in spite of me. I made a couple of really big mistakes. You never really know until you have things play out a bit. In retrospect, I did a couple things I really wish I hadn’t but I can’t complain. An awesome finish with an awesome team and great competitors,” King said.
King made a big move out of Koyuk to take the lead late in the race, but a soft trail and the hot sun worked against him.
“It takes a lot of confidence. The dogs need to know you’re on their side and you’re in this together. It was getting so difficult to travel after such a long run after Unalakleet, basically, such a long run that we just stopped until they had the energy to do it again,” King said.
King will take home a portion of this year’s $600,000 purse, which is split among the top-30 finishers. More than $50,000 of it goes to winner Mitch Seavey. Seavey also wins a brand new Dodge Ram pickup truck.
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The Tanana Chiefs Conference annual convention is happening in Fairbanks this week. Tuesday, delegates heard from four Interior men, the organization believes were wrongly convicted of murder. The men known as “The Fairbanks 4”: George Frese, Kevin Pease, Marvin Roberts and Eugene Vent are serving long prison sentences for the 1997 beating death of teenager John Hartman in downtown Fairbanks. It’s a case that’s long drawn questions.
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On Wednesday, March 6, Tom Marsik and Kristin Donaldson of Dillingham had their home on Gauthier Way tested for air tightness. A conventional blower door test was used, which is common practice for energy audits. But Wednesday’s was no ordinary test; it was actually an attempt to secure an official world record for “Tightest Residential Building.”
On Monday, March 11, Tom and Kristin were notified by email that their results had been certified by the World Record Academy, and that they indeed are now recognized as having the most air-tight house known to exist in the world.
“We are certainly excited about this,” said Marsik. “The purpose of this world record attempt was to help bring attention to energy efficiency, and hopefully motivate others to be energy efficient. With this official world record recognition, I think it really helps emphasize our message of what’s possible.”
The Marsik home tested at 0.05 ACH (air changes per hour) at 50 pascals of pressure. That’s an extraordinarily low number; some experts point to buildings in the 1-2 ACH range as being exceptionally efficient.
Tom and Kristin began building their super-efficient home in 2010, modeled after a “Passive Office” designed at the UAF Bristol Bay campus. A “passive” building relies on heat from passive solar gain, body heat, and “waste” heat from lighting and electrical appliances to maintain a comfortable inside temperature. Key to the Marsik place’s efficiency are both the 28″ thick, fully-insulated walls, and the extremely air-tight seal.
The 600 sq. ft. house and all its amenities run entirely on electricity. In 2012, Tom says it took just 3700 kWh to power the place. To keep the place warm, he calculates the house needs an electrical equivalent of just 35 gallons of heating oil per year.
Tom and Kristin say they’ll be alright if someone beats their world record in the future; actually, they’d be happy to see people try. Building the house and advertising the success has never been about personal recognition so much as they hope to spread the word about energy efficient designs and the new technologies that make them possible. Marsik, who teaches in the Sustainable Energy program at UAF’s Bristol Bay campus, is always looking for opportunties to share what he’s learned with anyone who’s interested.
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