According to the state’s Department of Revenue, Cook Inlet production increased by 13 percent last year.
Up-and-coming companies, like Hilcorp, spent $300 million this year on their investments, including drilling 10 new wells and working over more than 70 old ones.
So does the Cook Inlet Renaissance mean that Southcentral’s energy woes are over?
It depends who you ask.
Sitting in his warm office on a chilly Anchorage morning, John Simms looks at a brightly colored chart. He’s the director of business development at Enstar, the company that provides natural gas to heat the Anchorage area. The chart shows which petroleum companies have agreed to provide gas from Cook Inlet through the beginning of 2018.
“And then here you can see the large black section which represents we have demand out there and we don’t have a contract yet to meet that demand,” Simms said. “So that’s undesignated, so we’re looking to fill that void there in 2018.”
Simms says it used to be different. Large oil companies would contract to provide as much gas as Enstar needed for 20 years or more. Now, he says they’re in constant communication about the supplies. At this point, they have the next four years secured.
“Yeah, it’s four years,” Simms said. “But still when you start looking at Enstar’s options outside of Cook Inlet, it’s basically right on the verge of our comfort level.”
That’s because right now, the only other option is to import liquid natural gas. Setting that up takes between three to five years.
Simms says what they need is new development in Cook Inlet, and HilCorp, the company that took over Chevron and Marathon’s old plays, says they are working on it.
Greg Lalicker is the President of HilCorp. Speaking at the Resource Development Council meeting in Anchorage in November, he said they’re moving ahead with developing the inlet’s middle-aged fields. He said they would review the gas situation every year to see if they can meet the region’s demands.
“We don’t think we’re going to run out of gas anytime soon,” Lalicker said. “How long the party can last, I don’t know.”
“Depends on how successful we are. As long as we keep spending money and finding … reserves, we’re gonna keep trying to get it sold and move on down the line.”
Most of their expanding production actually involves reworking old wells rather than doing new exploration.
Other small companies, like Bucaneer and Furie, are also developing new areas.
Pete Stokes with Petrotechnical Resources of Alaska has completed several studies on Cook Inlet production. He says the Renaissance is completely dependent on small companies like these who are partially motivated by the state’s incentive package. Cook Inlet is insubstantial for the larger companies but a significant investment for new independents.
Stokes says exploration is happening now, but before anything big happens, companies need to secure a market.
“Well typically, if a company were to discover say, gas in Cook Inlet, they would need to go and get investors to finance the development and investors would want to know where they are going to sell their gas,” Stokes said. “And we’re a fairly small gas market in Cook Inlet.”
Without a larger market to sell to, there’s no incentive to invest. That means no secure supply for Southcentral. But a solution may be on the horizon. ConocoPhillips filed an application this month with the Department of Energy to re-open the LNG export plant in Nikiski.
Not everyone thinks that’s the best solution though, especially when the resource is needed locally. Bob Shavleson is with Cook Inletkeeper. He thinks the state needs a better energy plan so supplies are more consistent and the state doesn’t lose money.
“And so now there are calls to reopen the LNG plant and to export this highly subsidized gas to Tokyo where we’d sell it probably for a lower price than we’re paying for it here,” Shavleson said. “So it really makes no sense, so it would behoove everyone in the state to have a sensible energy plan.”
Shavelson says that plan needs to include renewable energy as well.
Chugach Electric spokesperson Phil Steyer agrees. He says they primarily rely on natural gas and they are confident they can continue to depend on that resource for many years. But they would also like to diversify.
“We’re 10 percent hydro and 2 percent wind,” Steyer said. “And we have an interest in our board room towards having more renewables in our portfolio.”
Back at Enstar, a natural gas supply company, a move towards renewables won’t help anything. Simms says he’s optimistic about the development he’s seen lately in the Inlet, but, “activity doesn’t really mean much to Enstar unless they’re willing to ink it on the contract.”
The president of HilCorp said his company is planning to start talks again in April.
Video by Unalaska Community Broadcasting’s Pipa Escalante.
Alaska Ship Supply had an unwelcome customer for about three hours Wednesday night — a bald eagle, which flew in a loading door around 6 p.m. and refused to leave.
The juvenile bird flapped around the store for about three hours before state troopers and employees were able to get it out.
Toopers and local public safety officers tried to scare the eagle down with noise. They clapped their hands and fired loud bursts of air at the eagle with a small air cannon.
But the bird didn’t seem to care.
It knocked cans of spray paint off shelves, unhooked some aisle signs and startled employees and customers. The store was open for business at the time, so they were all grouped by the front entrance.
The eagle wreaked the most havoc in Ship Supply’s liquor section. At one point, it fell from the rafters and smashed up some shelves of wine, as this employee found after the bird had flown away again:
Employee: “Here! Oh … the expensive one.”
State trooper Tom Lowy says the bird did about $400 in damage in total.
By hour three of the eagle’s shopping trip, Lowy was wondering if it might not want to leave the brightly lit store for the nighttime darkness outside. So Lowy hatched a plan.
Lowy: “We darkened as much of the store as we could, and then we left an area like a runway of lights. So the theory was that the birds don’t like the darkness, so he’d stay with the lights, and the light was going toward this back door by the auto parts.”
The one lit-up aisle was enough to guide the bird near the door.
Then, automotive employee Alex Mendigorin was able to capture it.
Mendigorin: “I’m here — and then the bird, it’s on the pipe, and then it just drops here. And I grab the net — then I grab it. [laughing] That one is hard! It’s too big!”
With the eagle in the net, the troopers were able to get it outside, where it flew away.
Trooper Lowy says this is the first time they’ve dealt with an eagle in a department store in Unalaska. But the birds have flown in warehouse doors at the post office before.
He says stores should try to keep large loading doors shut when they’re not using them — or risk inviting unwelcome feathered shoppers.
Two Sitka hunters sustained serious injuries Tuesday evening, after their boat struck a cliff in Kakul Narrows, about 25 miles north of town. Both men have been hospitalized, one in Seattle.
37-year old Mitch McGraw and 34-year old Nick Galanin were returning from a hunting trip in Peril Strait at dusk when their aluminum boat ran aground while traveling at high speed.
The ground was not a beach, however. It was a sheer cliff face.
Speaking from his hospital bed Wednesday afternoon, Galanin told KCAW that he had dozed off in the passenger seat after a long day of hunting. He awoke just moments before the crash and dove toward the back of the 31-foot Almar.
Both men were knocked unconscious. When Galanin came to, he summoned help and began to steer the boat south toward Sitka. McGraw also revived, and was able to assist.
A Coast Guard helicopter was already airborne at the time of the accident, and was quickly on scene.
Sitka Mountain Rescue also responded in the harbor skiff. Rescue captain Don Kluting says the Almar’s power and steering were still operable, despite the crash.
“The damage to the boat was all in the bow — the impact area was the bow. There was glass everywhere in the cabin. It was kind of a mess on board the boat.”
Kluting says McGraw had already been packaged in a litter and hoisted into the helicopter. Galanin was also taken on board.
“We went ahead and stood by while the Coast Guard helicopter went in and conducted hoist operations, and then went in and picked up their rescue swimmer on the beach. They went ahead and landed.”
McGraw and Galanin’s boat was in Neva Strait by this time. A good Samaritan vessel operated by Jerry Matthews and Noah Mayo had assisted in getting the distressed Almar to the beach, between Whitestone Cove and High Water Island.
Both McGraw and Galanin were flown by the Coast Guard back to Sitka. Galanin was hospitalized for a broken rib, four spinal fractures, and cut on his head; he says McGraw was injured by colliding with the Almar’s steering column. McGraw was subsequently medevacked to Seattle for further care.
All that remained was to salvage the damaged boat. Good Samaritans Matthews and Mayo brought the Almar alongside their craft, but it became clear that it was taking on water.
Kluting says they made an unusual decision.
“Together we determined that the best course of action was going to be to actually drive the 31-foot boat back. The engine was still running, the prop was undamaged. To get the bow — the area that had been significantly damaged — out of the water.”
Rescuers were met by family members of the victims at the Starrigavan ramp at about 6 PM, and the damaged Almar was hauled out on a trailer. Troopers estimate the damage to McGraw’s vessel at $30,000.
An industry representative says Southeast geoduck clam divers have not been affected by China’s recent ban on West Coast shellfish import since they haven’t been fishing recently.
According to Southeast Alaska Dive Fisheries Association Director Phil Doherty, other factors have been keeping divers off the grounds since early this month.
In southeast, the state and industry test geoduck clam beds for paralytic shellfish poison on a weekly basis and if the levels are too high, then the fishery does not open. Doherty says that’s what happened the weekend before last (12/7-8).
“All of the nine beds tested too hot or the psp levels were too high to fish. So, that was the first week that this China problem was starting to rear its head and we did not fish,” says Doherty
Around 60 divers normally get to fish for just a few hours each Thursday if the weekly tests come up clean. This past weekend (12/14-15), according to Doherty, bad weather prevented divers from gathering the samples.
“Due to the storm that we had come through here on Saturday and early Sunday our boats were unable to get out. So, again we’re not going to fish this week cause we did not take any psp samples. So, for the first two weeks of the China problem, we haven’t fished. So it hasn’t really affected our fisheries at all,” he says.
And Doherty says the fleet normally takes a mid-season break around the holidays. So, the Southeast fishery is not actually slated to open again until January 9th, “So, we’re hoping that within the next two or three weeks that there are agreements reached in China and this is all behind us by the time we get back into the water. Now, Washington State’s gonna have to deal with this on a day-in, day-out basis because, you know, they want to be harvesting geoducks both on state tracts and native tracks and they also have oysters, mussels and clams that are regularly sent over to Hong Kong and China.”
KUOW radio in Seattle reported last Thursday that China said was imposing the ban because its inspectors had found high levels of arsenic and the toxin that causes paralytic shellfish poisoning in recent shipments of geoduck clams from Northwest waters.
Tucked a few miles off the highway in Sterling is one of the newest players in the burgeoning Alaskan craft spirits industry.
“Would you like a hot toddy?” was the friendly greeting I got when I walked into the tasting room at the High Mark Distillery.
It was after noon and snowing. Seemed appropriate.
Owner Felicia Keith-Jones started her venture five years ago, but she didn’t initially plan on producing her own libations. She was working with a group in the Mat-Su Valley to develop bio-fuels, but that endeavor ran out of gas.
“The big dogs did not wish for us to have biodiesel in this state. We were studying for three years, and then my husband mentioned that if you remove three steps and add wheat, what have you got? Vodka. And that truly was the family joke,” Jones said.
After her husband passed away five years ago, she took a break from teaching to see if the family joke could become the family business.
“What if? What if I did make vodka? Because I already had the education for it. What if I did pursue this?”
A chance meeting in Bethel led her and her boys to Ireland, where they know a thing or two about turning grain and water into something more interesting.
“When I got back to Alaska, I knew, absolutely knew, that this was the path I wanted to take because it was one of the few things that absolutely every day made you smile. The challenges were huge, and once I had my first batch, I smiled,” she said with a laugh.
And High Mark’s signature vodka was born. Since then, Jones has adapted old-world recipes for the popular Nickel Back Apple Jack and a corn liquor she calls Blind Cat. Since wheat, apples and corn aren’t exactly signature Alaskan crops, Jones sources them from Washington.
“The orchard that grows for us also grows for Gerber farms. So with the corn and the apples, we decided if it was good enough for babies, it was good enough for us.”
High Mark uses spring white wheat as the base grain for its vodka.
Now, you can have all the knowledge and the best ingredients in the world, but that’s still no guarantee that what you pour is going to be any good. The key to making quality, consistent spirits is doing it in small batches with a lot of attention.
“When I say that it’s a gamble every single time, the truth is, if you don’t take absolutely beautiful notes and write down everything you put in to one of these, you can’t duplicate it. So, you might end up with rot-gut and you might end up with just the recipe you were hoping for. So you’ll test it every few weeks to record how it’s maturing.”
It’s not just the whiskey that’s maturing. High Mark’s one year anniversary is this month. And Jones says there are plans for growth and new products. The Blind Cat moonshine is just one step away from becoming a bourbon. Just pour it into a barrel and wait. That new spirit will demand a new position at the distillery.
“The worst job you can have at a distillery is to be the bunghole checker,” Jones jokes.
“Once the barrels are all into the barrel house, they have to be rotated because when you fill them, you do end up with a tiny air bubble. So that top layer of bourbon would not react with the wood, so you have to rotate your barrels and check your bung,” she says, trying not to crack up again. The only thing that might be more plentiful than the spirits here is the laughs.
Over the past year, High Mark has become at least a semi-regular stop for neighbors. The nearby lodges on the Kenai River also bring in customers. When I dropped by on a recent Saturday, I met Karen von Breyman. She lives just down the road. She’d seen the signs for the new place all last winter.
“We have lots of friends who come in the summer to fish and hang out, and we discovered that it was 1,400 yards, so we could just walk up the hill. So we walked and we tasted, and it was a good thing we walked, and then we giggled all the way home,” von Breyman said. ”I don’t know why I’m so excited about it, I just think it’s a fascinating story and a business. I’m not even a big drinker, but I just think it’s wonderful.”
During the recession, Alaska lawmakers spent record amounts on infrastructure as a way of putting people to work. They even went as far as calling their capital budgets “job bills.”
But with less tax money coming in, the days of fat capital budgets are coming to an end. Should Alaskans be worried about what that means for the state unemployment rate? APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports.
Just last year, the state spent $2 billion on capital projects. There was money for ski clubs, shooting ranges, climbing walls, and theaters, on top of all the bread-and-butter stuff, like bridges and harbors.
The FY2015 capital budget that Gov. Sean Parnell proposed last week is not quite so ample. It would bring state spending down to about half a billion dollars. With the state expecting a drop in revenue, there’s simply less money to go around. Even Parnell’s critics, like Sen. Bill Wielechowski, understand where the governor was coming from on this.
“You have a deficit of billions of dollars, and so where are you going to cut? And that’s probably the easiest place to start cutting.”
Just because Wielechowski gets the reason for the cut doesn’t mean he’s comfortable with its potential impact. Earlier this year, he asked the Legislature’s research department to figure out what effect capital spending has on Alaska’s economy. An Anchorage Democrat, Wielechowski has been supportive of higher taxes on oil, and he wanted to find out just how many jobs the capital budget created under the previous revenue system. The report’s conclusion?
“You can look at these numbers and see we created 15,000 to 25,000 jobs per year every year,” says Wielechowski.
Using numbers from the state’s Institute of Social and Economic Research, every million dollars spent on infrastructure supports eight to 12 jobs. That counts people who are directly employed by the project and it counts people who are simply benefitting from the extra money circulating in the economy. Retailers, restaurant workers … really anyone who sells goods or services to the construction crew.
Legislative Research Services estimates that 25,000 jobs were created in FY2013, when state capital spending was at its $2 billion peak. This fiscal year, the state reduced the capital budget to $800 million, and the employment impact is estimated at less than 15,000. Based on ISER’s multiplier, next year’s capital budget would support between 5,000 and 7,000 jobs if the state ends up spending the amount proposed by Parnell. Even if legislators appropriate hundreds of million of dollars more for their own projects, the employment impact will still be low compared to recent years.
Wielechowski says that finding work could be harder for all those extra people who benefitted from bigger capital budgets in the past.
“The job that you don’t create is harder to quantify,” says Wielechowski. “You know, you don’t have someone out there whose job you’re cutting.”
And here’s where things get a little more complicated. You can say capital spending creates jobs, but that doesn’t necessarily guarantee unemployment will go up just because the state’s spending less on infrastructure projects.
Neal Fried tracks employment trends for the Department of Labor. He says Alaska’s job market has been steady for a while, and the construction industry has been “fairly stable.”
“Employment has not fluctuated very much year-to-year for at least four or five years,” says Fried.
What changes is who pays for it.
“Some years it’s very little private, but a lot more federal. And some years, there’s a lot more oil-related construction,” says Fried.
Already, the state is expecting the federal government to pick up some of the slack on infrastructure projects. Parnell’s proposed budget authorizes more than a billion dollars in federal spending, which is an increase over last year.
The governor also expects development on the North Slope to buoy the employment rate. Regardless of whether it’s because of the new oil tax regime or it’s because they’re finally making good on projects that have long been in the works, companies like BP and ConocoPhillips are ramping up their spending. This month, Conoco announced that it would be increasing its capital spending by more than half, to $1.6 billion.
Fried says we’re also seeing more activity in the retail sector, with stores like REI coming to Fairbanks and a certain donut shop opening in Anchorage.
“Krispy Kreme certainly wouldn’t have made that decision in 2008 or 2009,” says Fried. “A lot of these places would have ever thought about opening up new stores or restaurants or, you know, other kinds of operations during the middle of the recession.”
There’s one more big source of money that could keep employment up. Fried says the capital budgets of past years could actually end up offsetting smaller capital budgets in the future.
“These dollars — especially the public dollars whether they’re federal- or state-related public dollars — they take a long time very often to be spent,” says Fried. “So, there’s a lot of money that was allocated two, three, four years ago that will just start getting spent, or will start being turned into brick and mortar now.”
Even if this year’s budget is a little lean, there’s still lots of capital money left from previous budgets available for construction. During his budget rollout, Parnell said that there was still $5 billion in old capital appropriations that hadn’t hit the streets.
Early estimates from the Office of Management and Budget suggest there could be even more, with $6.3 available for approved projects and another $5.2 encumbered for work yet to be done on specific projects.
A Coast Guard petty officer has died after being injured during a rescue near Unalaska in November.
The Coast Guard says Petty Officer Third Class Travis Obendorf died Wednesday in a hospital in Seattle. Obendorf was a crew member aboard the Coast Guard cutter Waesche.
The Waesche sent its small boat to rescue the crew of a stranded fishing vessel, the Alaska Mist, on Nov. 11. The 160-foot Alaska Mist had lost power and was adrift off Amak Island, which is north of Cold Bay. The Resolve Pioneer was also sent from Resolve-Magone Marine Services to assist in towing the vessel back to Unalaska.
The Coast Guard reports that Obendorf was aboard the cutter’s small boat. He suffered head trauma during the course of the rescue. He was flown to Anchorage and later Seattle for medical treatment. He passed away in Swedish Hospital during surgery.
Federal court rulings supporting the National Park Service regulation of state owned waters in parks are being appealed. A recent ruling turned down Anchorage moose hunter John Sturgeon’s challenge, of a Park Service ban on hovercraft on the Nation River inside Yukon Charley National Preserve.
Alaska State Troopers will be increasing work to reduce property crimes in the Matanuska Valley soon. Trooper Captain Hans Brinke, says the new Crime Suppression Unit will the area from Palmer to Valdez. The new unit starts on January 1, and will include one sergeant and three troopers.
Studies show bullying is linked to a host of problems: vandalism, poor performance and absenteeism at school and work, increased school dropout and job turnover, anxiety, depression, and suicide. Now an Anchorage professor sees a link between bullying and substance abuse.
CNN will examine Alaska’s struggle with sexual assault and domestic violence in its Change The List project, propelling the issue to the national stage. The news agency sent a reporter to the state to start exploring the problem.
Columnist John Sutter heads the projectChange the List on CNN.com. “This summer we had our audience vote on the issues that they feel like are the biggest social justice issues of our time,” he says. “It was sort of putting readers in the assignment editor’s seat and then getting to choose what they think are really the most important topics.”
Twenty ideas were put forward and more than 32,000 votes were cast. Sutter will write on the top five.
The first issue Sutter tackled was income inequality. He focused on East Carroll Parish, Louisiana, the county with the highest level of income inequality in the U.S.
“Another one of the topics was rape in the United States that was selected by our readers and Alaska has the highest rate of rape, according to the FBI Crime Statistics, so that’s what brought me up here to the state,” Sutter says.
FBI statistics indicate the rate of forcible rape in Alaska for 2012 was about 80 for every 100,000 people, compared tothe national rate of 27. Sutter says he wants to explore the complex factors that contribute to the state’s high rate and find out what people are doing to fix it.
His first stop was Juneau, which recently hosted the second annual domestic violence and sexual assault Prevention Summit. Sutter says he’s gotten some interesting answers to why the rate of rape and sexual violence is so high in Alaska. “One is the incredible isolation. I’ve heard from people that live in remote villages that are only accessible by plane much of the year that people are hesitant to come forward to report rape or sexual abuse in part because it’s difficult for law enforcement to respond and the response times are often very, very long.”
Sutter also heard that talking about rape and sexual violence is taboo in many parts of the state. But he says the Prevention Summit where people were dedicated to talking about and stopping it was encouraging.
“This conference is very focused on prevention and positive work that is being done and can be done, and it seems very intentional to me. I kind of like that focus, to be honest, instead of dwelling on the violence and the victimization and sort of these things that you actually often see featured in the news,” Sutter says. “Here, everyone is talking about what can be done to prevent those things from happening at all.”
The ultimate goal of Change the List is to help bring about change by highlighting the issues for CNN.com readers.
“I don’t claim to think that us doing a few stories on sexual violence and rape in Alaska can change things in and of itself, but I think we can be part of a conversation that’s clearly already happening here at the summit and is already happening in Alaska and around the country and sort of amplify some of the voices in that conversation and, in that way, try to be part of the solution,” explains Sutter.
Sutter interviewed Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell whose Choose Respect campaign has seen increasing community participation over the last four years. Parnell says he welcomes the attention that CNN will bring to what he calls Alaska’s epidemic of domestic violence and sexual assault.
“This is America’s problem, too. This is a worldwide problem. It’s not just Alaska’s issue,” he says. “It’s been covered up here too long. We’ve been afraid to address it as friends of each other, as family members for each other, and to stand up for each other. But it’s not unique to Alaska.”
Lauree Morton is executive director of theCouncil on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, which sponsored the Prevention Summit. She invited Sutter to attend.
“While we do have a horrendous problem with domestic violence and sexual assault, we’re not just staying stuck in the problem,” Morton says. “People are actively working to move us away from that and call us into peace. It’s not just sadness, there is hope involved.”
After Juneau, Sutter traveled to Bethel. Sutter’s reporting in Alaska will result in a series of columns, videos, and suggestions for how to keep moving forward, which will all be featured on CNN.com.
The new Southeast Radiation Oncology Center in Juneau celebrated its grand opening last week.
The clinic near Bartlett Regional Hospital will treat cancer patients from Juneau and Southeast Alaska, who previously had to travel to Anchorage, Seattle or another large city to get radiation treatment.
Here are five things you should know about treating cancer with radiation and the new clinic:
1. What is radiation therapy?
Radiation therapy uses high-energy radiation from X-rays, gamma rays, or protons to shrink tumors and kill cancer cells. According to the National Cancer Institute, about half of all cancer patients receive some type of radiation therapy treatment. It can be the only form of treatment or used with other treatments like chemotherapy and surgery.
Dr. Eugene Huang is medical director of the Southeast Radiation Oncology Center. The clinic uses a machine called a linear accelerator to deliver radiation.
“Basically all the patient has to do is just lie down, and try to hold still, and try to relax – just like getting an X-ray or a CT scan,” Huang says. “And it’s typically delivered in several different beam angles that are custom designed for every single patient in order to maximize our targeting of the tumor and to avoid any excess radiation to the other normal tissue structures.”
2. How does it work?
Tumor cells grow uncontrollably. Radiation kills them by damaging their DNA.
“The cell undergoes what we call a mitotic cell death, which means as it’s trying to divide, go through mitosis, it will figure out that it cannot, because the DNA is damaged and then it will die,” Huang says.
3. Is it safe?
Radiation also kills normal tissue cells. Huang says the team at Southeast Radiation Oncology Center will use the latest software and medical imaging equipment to deliver it as precisely as possible for each patient.
“We know from basically many, many decades of doing radiation and many different ways of delivering radiation that your normal tissues can tolerate a certain amount of radiation, whereas tumor cells are much more sensitive,” he says. “So if you deliver the right amount, you can deliver just enough radiation to kill the tumor cell, but hopefully spare the normal tissue.”
4. Who performs the treatments?
The staff at the center includes Dr. Huang, a radiation oncologist who practiced at the Cleveland Clinic before moving to Juneau. He will work with a medical physicist and dosimetrist to come up with the right dose and treatment plan for each patient. The treatment itself usually lasts about an hour.
“And different patients will have a different amount of treatment,” says Huang. “Sometimes it’s as short as a week or two. Often it’s as long as 8 to 9 weeks. It depends on what kind of cancer, what stage, and a lot of other factors.”
5. Who owns the clinic?
Southeast Radiation Oncology Center is a partnership between two companies: Anchorage Associates of Radiation Medicine and RBS Evolution. Huang says the companies are owned by practicing radiation oncologists.
Filling the hole in Juneau’s cancer treatment options
Japan Airlines has announced a full schedule of flights to Fairbanks this winter. In its10th year offering winter service to Fairbanks, the carrier is planning 18 round trips beginning this Sunday, and running through April 3rd.
The Ketchikan Police Department announced multiple drug-related arrests Tuesday, with four arrests the result of one investigation into a group of Oregon residents who were suspected of selling methamphetamine and heroin in Ketchikan.
According to police, a search warrant served Friday at a Madison Avenue residence belonging to Jonathon R. Hart and Desaray D. Ancheta, both 28 years old and both from Oregon, allegedly resulted in the seizure of about 20 grams of heroin, 40 grams of meth and a small amount of Oxycodone.
Also allegedly seized at the residence were items related to drug use distribution, along with more than $3,000 cash.
Hart was arrested and charged with second-, third- and fourth-degree controlled-substance misconduct. He also had extraditable felony warrants out of the State of Oregon and was charged as a fugitive from justice.
Ancheta was charged with two counts of fourth-degree controlled-substance misconduct.
A related search took place later on Friday at a downtown hotel room belonging to 30-year-old Jace T. Nosack of Washington. Police say they seized about 31 grams of heroin, seven grams of meth, and about $5,000 cash.
The investigation continued through Tuesday, when officers contacted Nosack in a West End hotel. He was arrested on outstanding warrants, and a search at the hotel room allegedly revealed about two grams of meth, digital scales, about $2,000 cash, and paraphernalia.
Nosack was charged with third- and fourth-degree controlled-substance misconduct and tampering with evidence.
According to police, the investigation also led to the arrest of 24-year-old Samantha R. Turley of Ketchikan, she was charged with third- and fourth-degree controlled-substance misconduct, tampering with evidence, hindering prosecution and resisting arrest.
In an unrelated drug case, Ketchikan Police Department officers on Saturday completed a heroin importation investigation, which resulted in the alleged seizure of about 8.5 grams of heroin.
Arrested in the case was 26-year-old Chayna F. Herby of Ketchikan. She was charged with second- and fifth-degree controlled-substance misconduct.
The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District school board is fine-tuning the concussion policy for all student athletes. Members have been discussing the slight changes since August and action from the board is expected next month.
The district goes to great lengths to make sure student athletes and their parents are aware of the potential dangers. The rules in place for the athletic departments require training for coaches, refresher courses every three years and ensuring all equipment is in good condition.
The district educates its own staff as well and that includes the school board. Board Vice President Liz Downing said in a previous interview that component came from the state level a few years ago and brought a more defined policy with it.
“If a student has any possibility of having a concussion, they’re off the field. They are tested. I also serve on the wellness committee for the district and it is critical that we have safety measures in place with the padding and equipment. And then also with follow up, and making sure that students have adequate medical care if something should happen,” Downing said.
She said this is a policy the district is always looking at because new examples and research come out all the time. Board President Joe Arness said the members are always willing to listen to people with concerns to make sure the policy protects students while not hindering play.
“You do hear these conversations from time to time and there is concern. Any kind of sport, basketball, soccer, football, hockey, any of them, kids can get injured. To some extent that’s just part of life. To some extent we have a responsibility to do our best to see to it that injuries don’t happen just out of carelessness,” Arness said.
The main change deals with what happens after it’s suspected a student has a concussion. The district and state of Alaska will both require a student to be given permission to come back and play by a “qualified person.” A doctor has always been under that umbrella, but now the legislature will allow athletic trainers to determine when a student comes back to competition after a concussion. And the district requires a doctor’s release as well in each case.
Concerns about concussions have become a major part of the conversation in the last few years; for football especially. Downing said that concern will likely remain unless there’s a change in the culture of sports.
“One of the areas I would love to see us move towards is more non-competitive, intramural play…. That’s not to take something away from sport. There’s so much that is valuable about being part of a team, by making that extra effort to help your team win. So this is a balancing point,” she said.
The board will finish refining the policy at its meeting in January when members are expected to approve the measure.
GCI is in the process of transitioning to 3G data service for smart phones in the Bethel area. But as many users know, the internet isn’t always the fastest or in some cases, available at all.
GCI admits it has had problems with tower installations in Bethel, and had hoped to have 3G in place by now. It will not be deployed until February of next year. Ten nearby villages will not get it until next summer, according to David Morris, a spokesman for GCI.
“These things aren’t as simple as going to a store and buying something and turning it on. There’s a lot of grooming that takes place to get the signal overlap in the right way and modulate in the right way and a few other things,” Morris said. “We had some similar challenges in Dillingham this summer when we were converting Dillingham to 3G. It’s unfortunately part of the process of continuing to advance the technology.”
Shawna Divelbliss is a Bethel resident and GCI customer. She pays for cable, internet, and three phone bills. But she says her phone data doesn’t work. To connect, she has to log on to wifi- which she also gets through GCI.
“The real issue with me is they charge me $19.99 for data on my phone and then I come home and pay them again for wi-fi service at my house. I had a $600 bill to access the internet for my business,” Divelbliss said.. “So I’m paying twice.”
Divelbliss calls GCI every month and has gotten her 60 dollars in data fees returned along with some extra internet service. GCI’s David Morris confirms that the company has been issuing credits.
“Customers, if they believe they are not getting the type of speeds they should be getting should call into customer service and do them on a case by case basis, that’s really the best way to handle things,” Morris said.
Divelbliss posted on facebook’s Bethel Bargains page and started a chain reaction of people chiming in with their own GCI data stories. Over 114 comments had been added since her first post, which she wrote after months of frustration.
“..Just laid it all out there and I am so thrilled that so many people have gone on there and have not only called and kept with it, but have and documented all the different things that GCI has told them and all the different lies. It’s all documented on that feed right now,” Divelbliss said.
GCI’s contact information is available here.
Fort Greely’s missile-defense base could get a big boost in spending this year if the U.S. Senate approves a measure worked out last week by a bipartisan group of lawmakers.
The Senate this week will consider approving a federal-budget bill and National Defense Authorization Act, which calls for $80 million in construction at the missile base. That’s in addition to upgrades at the base that will increase the number of interceptor missiles there from the current 26 to 40.
Belt-tightening fever in Washington has been putting a lot of pressure on the Pentagon budget over the past couple of years. But Matt Felling, a spokesman for Senator Lisa Murkowski, says the bipartisan deals lawmakers cut last week favor a buildup at Fort Greely’s missile-defense base.
“Greely will benefit, and that will be good for our ground-based missile support up in Alaska,” Felling said.
But, those benefits depend on the Senate approving missile-defense funding in two measures. Those are the federal-budget bill passed by the House on Friday. The other is the Defense authorization measure, which sets Pentagon spending policy. That measure calls for construction of an 80-million-dollar mechanical engineering building at Greely’s missile field 1.
That’s one of three missile fields at the base, and it’s been shut down for more than four years because of water damage in its underground corridors.
Missile Defense Agency spokesman Richard Lehner says that damage was cleaned over the summer and fall in preparation for upgrades at missile field 1 that’ll take place over the next three years. When that’s done, six interceptor missiles will be placed in silos there, and another eight will go to missile field 2.
Felling says Murkowski and others believe Greely’s missile base should be expanded even more. He says the senator sees that as more practical than a competing proposal to build another missile-defense base in the northeastern United States at an estimated cost of $3.6 billion.
“It would be far cheaper to add or make some upgrades at Greely than it would to buy real estate in New England and build something brand new, from scratch,” Felling said.
But the performance of the ground-based interceptor system remain unproven. The interceptors have failed to knock out dummy enemy missiles in 8 of 16 tests, most recently in July.
The 2014 defense budget would invest nearly $190 million for missile and radar upgrades to improve the ground-based system.
Murkowski says further expansion at Greely may well hinge on the Pentagon’s ability to demonstrate the ground-based system works. So she says there’s a lot riding on the next test, scheduled for March.
A state board has fined Greenpeace $15,000 for traveling through Alaskan waters without a marine pilot.
The violation occurred during Greenpeace’s “Save the Arctic” tour to protest Shell’s oil exploration in July 2012.
Greenpeace had sent the Esperanza, their 237-foot, Dutch-flagged research vessel. The Esperanza were supposed to study corals and sealife in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas.
Along the way, the vessel stopped into a few Alaskan towns. That’s where it ran into trouble.
Crystal Dooley is a coordinator for the Alaska Board of Marine Pilots. She says that for large, foreign vessels, “pilotage is compulsory at all entrances from seaward to Alaska’s bays, sounds, rivers, straits, inlets, harbors, ports, or other estuaries or passages within three nautical miles of the state’s coastline.”
Dooley says the Board of Marine Pilots got an anonymous tip that the Esperanza may have broken that rule at Point Hope.
Dooley says they looked up data from the vessel’s Automatic Identification System receiver. It showed that the Esperanza anchored inside the mandatory pilotage zone.
The Board of Marine Pilots voted to fine Greenpeace in October.
Greenpeace attorney Deepa Isac says the organization is still sorting through the violation. They have retained a lawyer in Alaska, and they may file an appeal.
Isac says the Esperanza crew is experienced in traveling through Arctic and near-shore environments.
“They always look into what is required locally in all the areas that they go,” she says.
The Alaska Board of Marine Pilots is not investigating any other violations from Greenpeace’s trip to Alaska.
Tuesday night the Anchorage Assembly finally decided the issue of a state-funded recreation center with tennis courts.
Assembly members approved $4.4 million for the project. The Alaska Tennis Association had originally requested $7.2 million to build the recreation center which would include a public tennis facility in West Anchorage near the existing ice arena.
The Tennis Association did its own lobbying for the money and says $4.4 million won’t be enough.
Allen Clendaniel, President of the Tennis Association says supporters have mixed feelings.
“The Tennis Association is disappointed but also relieved that it’s over,” Clendaniel said. ”We were hoping that the Assembly would approve the $7.2 million or at least he $6.2 million. However, we’re happy the Assembly supported funding for this project, it shows they support it. And the question now is, we need to do further work to get it fully funded.”
The Assembly has been debating whether it could or should use a state capital line item to fund the controversial project since early October. Assembly members did not request money for it and some legislators said they did not know they had approved it.
The money for the rec center was buried in a package meant for infrastructure maintenance.
During the meeting, Assembly member Amy Demboski tried to put the issue before voters as bond measure but that was voted down.
Mayor Dan Sullivan came to the meeting with some legal opinions that he said contradicted a Legislative Affairs opinion that a new facility was not within the legislative intent of the capital budget item for maintaining existing facilities.
Clendaniel says supporters hope a 2014 legislative request will provide the additional funds needed to complete the project.
Mayor Sullivan has seven days to veto the item.
Is AGIA being put to bed? When the Alaska Gasline Inducement Act was first introduced in 2007, it was sold as the state’s best hope of getting work started on a natural gas pipeline. It gave TransCanada a license to develop a project for Alaska, and it granted the energy company up to half a billion dollars in state subsidies for design and engineering costs.
But six years after the bill’s passage, the Parnell administration thinks it’s ready to go beyond that framework in an effort to get a LNG project built. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports.
Last week, the Department of Natural Resources issued their budget book. It’s a long, dry document that lays out how the agency wants to spend its money over the next year. Most of the language is pretty routine, and addresses work that’s planned or has already been done.
But this year, there was something of a bombshell in the first few pages. In a few lines, the Parnell administration suggests that they expect to be done with the AGIA framework by next year.
“Our expectation is that that statute will no longer be operative,” says Natural Resources Commissioner Joe Balash.
Balash says not to worry — the state isn’t walking away from a gasline project. They’re not planning on calling the project uneconomic, or going into arbitration with TransCanada to get out of their deal. Instead, this is “good news.” Balash says that DNR is operating on the expectation that some sort of commercial agreement will be achieved in the next year.
If there’s a new contract in place between the state and energy companies, that would make AGIA moot. There would be no reason to keep the Gas Pipeline Project Office open, or continue with AGIA’s financial requirements.
“With that expectation, there’s no longer a need for the AGIA reimbursements, or the AGIA license monitoring — the functions really that the Gas Pipeline Project Office has been carrying out under the AGIA statute,” says Balash.
The FY2015 budget that Gov. Sean Parnell proposed last week doesn’t have any money pegged to AGIA. Parnell has said that there’s money from previous appropriations that should cover any reimbursement billings from TransCanada.
Parnell’s budget also zeros out the $4 million that funds the Gas Pipeline Project Office, shutting it down altogether. Balash says that its five employees could be transferred into other government work, and that they will keep on fulfilling AGIA’s requirements until there’s a full wind-down.
“In truth, AGIA has served a very useful purpose, and it even today continues to do so,” says Balash. “But at the end of the day, it was really just a means to an end — you know, getting a project that was structured in such a way that the state’s best interests could be realized.”
Larry Persily is the federal pipeline coordinator, and he sees why the state might want to move away from AGIA at this point.
“Politically, AGIA is not really popular with Alaskans, because they see the state paying for reimbursement for something that hasn’t happened,” says Persily. “People are getting cranky because it’s been six years since Sarah Palin said this was the path forward, and we may be closer to a pipeline but people don’t see steel.”
Persily says that people forget that AGIA was more about a getting a building permit than developing a complete framework for constructing a pipeline. He says for that to happen, the state needs a solid gas tax structure, so that producers know they’re committing to a project that makes economic sense. Parnell has listed that as priority of his administration.
As far as where TransCanada fits into this, Persily thinks they would be comfortable moving ahead with a contract to replace AGIA, even if they don’t max out their state subsidies. He adds that TransCanada has also put plenty of their own money on the line as well — their goal shouldn’t be to derive the most benefit possible from AGIA, but to get a multi-billion-dollar pipeline built.
“If there’s a path forward now that gets to there, that’s the prize — not the last bit of reimbursement for engineering and design work,” says Persily.
According to the annual AGIA fund disbursement report, the state has paid out $223 million to TransCanada through FY2012. That report forecasted that the state would supply $89 million in reimbursements over the next two fiscal years. If that forecast is right and if the state does move away from AGIA by FY2015, that would leave close to $200 million in state subsidies left in the pot.
At this time, TransCanada doesn’t have a public position on the Parnell administration’s desire to shift away from AGIA. In an e-mail, spokesperson Shawn Howard wrote that the company is “continuing to work diligently with Alaska North Slope producers and the State to advance the Alaska LNG project.”