With the Federal Aviation Administration considering Alaska as a drone test site, lawmakers are drafting a policy for their use in the state.
While the Legislative Task Force on Unmanned Aircraft Systems finds that the FAA’s regulations on privacy and safety cover most of their concerns, the draft report they released Monday lays out the potential for a few Alaska-specific rules. They recommend establishing a public review panel for drone use, and they want drones to be painted in high visibility color schemes.
The panel also reviewed scenarios where drone use could violate a person’s privacy, and concluded that most cases are covered by FAA regulations, the Alaska Constitution’s privacy clause, and existing state law. Trespassing, stalking, and spying are already illegal, whether or not a person is using a drone to do it.
Rep. Shelley Hughes, a Palmer Republican who chairs the task force, says there’s a balance between respecting people’s privacy rights and allowing drones to be used in beneficial ways, like search-and-rescue missions and wildlife research.
“We don’t want to single out the tool. We want to remember that if there’s a problem, it would be with the operator and not the tool,” says Hughes. “We want to be technology neutral.”
The task force also finds that existing rules prohibit the arming of drones and that they require law enforcement to get warrants or approved flight plans before using them in criminal cases.
A bill based on these recommendations is expected to be introduced during the upcoming legislative session.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Anchorage announced last week that four men from Southcentral Alaska had been charged with illegally shooting two bull moose inside Denali National Park in 2012.
Ahtna Incorporated is planning to develop natural gas wells near Glennallen in order to supply local communities.
They recently licensed 44,000 acres of state land about 15 miles west of Glenallen.
They would be the first organization to go beyond exploration all the way to production. Ahtna land and resource manager Joe Bovee says that’s because their goals are different. Unlike like previous explorers, they aren’t looking for oil to export.
“It wouldn’t be a real money maker or lucrative to any company, but for our local demands it would probably offset our fuel costs 30-40 percent,” Bovee said.
The data they have from previous exploration indicates that there is enough gas to provide heat and electricity to the local area for 50 to 100 years at a minimum.
Bovee says the important thing about the project is it would keep people living in the Ahtna region. Ahtna would only earn about $100,000-$200,000 per year, which would go toward operating costs.
The current plan is to distribute gas to local residents and possibly utilities via a small pipeline. Houses and electric generators would have to be retrofitted to use gas instead of oil. Eventually they might build a small LNG plant to get the gas to Valdez or Delta Junction.
Right now, the company is working on refining the 2D seismic data gathered in the 50s, 60s, 70s, and 90s.
“And to compare that it’s like looking at a black and white television from the 50s or 60s,” Bovee said. “Reprocessing it, it’s still 2D seismic data however it will be more of a flat screen, HD-color type. So we can re-evaluate that.”
Then they’ll know where to build a production pad and start drilling. They hope to be done with exploration before the Middle Earth Frontier tax credits expire in mid-2016. The legislature passed the credits in 2012 to encourage oil and gas exploration in areas outside of the North Slope and Cook Inlet. He says the credit makes exploration worthwhile, and ultimately will be a good deal for the state.
“The cost savings at the school district i.e. the state of Alaska would have to be paying to operate the Glennallen school over say 10 or 20 years would save whatever you end up paying in tax credits to a company to explore for oil or natural gas in a Middle Earth Frontiers tax credit area,” Bovee said.
Bovee says they hope to be sending gas into homes by early 2017.
The latest round of Bering Sea storms beat up the Southwest Alaska coastline, including Newtok. The community’s move to the Mertarvik site on Nelson Island may be more pressing than ever, but the long relocation process is in a holding pattern due to a tribal council dispute.
Residents in Newtok have known for years that their community faces serious risks with rapidly advancing erosion. The November storms pushed water up to the community’s essential infrastructure. Stanley Tom describes himself as the tribal administrator for the traditional council. That is for the old council, which does not have support of the BIA or the state.
“It’s really bad, I mean the erosion is really near, the fuel header is being impacted right now, it just around the erosion and the water source is getting there, our last water source will be impacted next summer,” said Tom.
The struggle between the old and new council led to a wasted 2013 construction season at the emergency shelter at the new site. The dispute is built around the idea that the old council did not hold elections for 7 years. In October of last year, elections were held and the old council was voted out.
George Carl is Vice President of the new council. He points to the community being upset with perceived competency issues with the old council.
“Well I’d call it a playhouse, after the expiration of their terms, you know if you understand what’s going on, according to my understanding, these guys were illegally operating all these years without any elections, that kind of stuff,” said Carl.
The old council points to different elections in November in which the members retained their seats. In any case, the agencies that fund projects like relocation can’t have dueling councils.
“There’s not two councils out there, there’s only one council. The dispute is over who are the council members that control the funds, and the action, and the progress.”
Scott Ruby is the director for the state division of community and regional affairs. The agency started working with the new council after the BIA issued its decision in July to work with the new council.
It hasn’t been a smooth transition. The old council has not given the new council access to the offices or the important financial records. They’ve had to set up new bank accounts. Stanley Tom accuses the new council of stealing letterhead and documents.
In the meantime, the community is trying to move. They have about 10 million dollars in grants through the state with 4 million spent, but perhaps not all properly. An audit by the state found some troubling accounting, and they want 302 thousand dollars back, according to Ruby.
“Preliminary findings are that there are some double billings of some of the expenses that were filed for materials and purchases, and there were some inconsistencies with the payroll and so the audit as it is now says that we will consider some of these expenses are not to be valid, and they need to be repaid,” said Ruby.
Stanley Tom says it goes back to accounting mistakes from when the DOT was managing the project, before the local leadership took over. The audit highlights some of the wages that Tom received along with project consultant George Owletuck.
“We did get paid way less than the state agencies were getting paid, they were getting paid 168 and hour and we were way below, like we billed like $80 an hour and they were still complaining,” said Tom.
With or without the longtime leader, the project is inching back to life and the 2014 construction season is not far away. The evacuation shelter is now just an empty concrete foundation and will require new drawings to be able to use the materials that sit on the site. Ruby says the tribe is not yet spending funds, but it’s able to do the background work.
“Coming up next summer: these are the things that need to be done. Let’s work on getting this stuff ready so we can order whatever materials need to ordered for the barges so they can be put on the barges, you know whatever permits need to be done,” said Ruby.
In the meantime, the old council is appealing the BIA’s decision. They say they have proof of elections. The case goes to a national board which could wait a year before it takes up the appeal.
The state has ordered a Seattle-based medevac insurance program to end coverage in Alaska.
Marty Hester of the Alaska Division of Insurance says it’s changed the way it does business. That means it has to follow a different set of rules.
“The exemption they were operating under was as a nonprofit. And with their corporate restructure, they were no longer deemed a nonprofit. Therefore, the exemption no longer applied to them,” Hester says.
The decision will not affect Airlift Northwest’s ability to provide medical evacuation flights in the state.
It and other air ambulance services take seriously ill or injured patients to hospitals with levels of care not locally available. Medevacs can cost $100,000 or more, depending on the distance and route.
Airlift Northwest began more than 30 years ago as part of the University of Washington’s medical system, which also includes hospitals and clinics. It operated for a while as a separate nonprofit group. But it moved back to the university a few years ago.
Executive Director Chris Martin says Airlift Northwest remains a nonprofit agency under Washington state rules. So she’s disappointed Alaska officials decided it isn’t.
“We have a business license with the state of Alaska. We have our Juneau base in the state of Alaska. Nothing has changed and this letter to us came out of the blue,” she says.
Martin says the AirCare program has more than 1,600 Alaska members.
They’ve all been sent a letter saying coverage will end when their year-long memberships run out. The program also will not enroll any new Alaska members.
The state insurance division’s Hester says the issue is not at all related to the Affordable Care Act, also called Obamacare.
He says Airlift Northwest voluntarily complied with the order. And he says it could change its Alaska program and resume business.
“If they decide to become compliant with Alaska insurance statutes, and offer an approved insurance product, then they would be able to offer the membership program,” Hester says.
Airlift Northwest’s Martin says it started the AirCare program to fill a need, not to make money.
So she says that’s not going to happen.
“You know, we are part of the University of Washington and our mission is our medical transports, not insurance. Nor is the university’s,” Martin says.
Most of its Alaska business is in Southeast, but it also serves Anchorage and other parts of the state.
Fairbanks-based Apollo Medi Trans offers medevac insurance in Alaska. The state shut it down for part of this year after it failed to renew its license. State officials say it’s not affected by this decision.
Rain in Interior Alaska is rare, or so it might seem, but the region has seen rain fall in November in seven of the last 12 winters. An explanation remains a mystery.
Rick Thoman is the Climate Science and Services Manager for the National Weather Service in Alaska. After a fierce winter storm brought freezing rain to the Fairbanks area this month, Thoman decided to do some detective work.
“This is part of Forensic climatology,” Thoman said.
While Forensic Climatology isn’t actually a science, Thoman has spent the last few weeks combing through more than a century’s worth of climate data for the region. He says winter-time rain has pelted the Interior before.
“We can see that both in the 1960’s and in the 1920’s and 30’s there was even more winter rains than we’ve had lately,” Thoman said.
Those periods were separated by decades with few if any rain events. Thoman says there isn’t a distinct pattern to rain-laden storms, so he doesn’t really have an explanation.
“Well, we actually have not been able to find the smoking gun in this case,” Thoman said. “It does not appear to be well correlated with the usually things we look at for driving winter climate in Interior Alaska.”
Those are things like sea surfaces temperatures in the North Pacific.
“That perhaps is less surprising than we might think, because these are very specific weather events and those kind of climate drivers like sea surface temperature anomalies tend to operate over longer time scales, whereas these are just one or two or three-day type events,” Thoman said.
So even if his investigation is inconclusive, Thoman say it might be a god idea to keep an umbrella nearby.
“The periods in the 1920’s and 30’s and the 1960’s lasted longer than we’ve had so far, so based on that past record, so we might expect more of these in the relatively near future, but we have to remember that these don’t all have the same mechanisms behind us and it’s certainly a good example of how the past may not be a guide to the future,” Thoman said.
The forecast for this the last week of November calls for clouds over the Interior and maybe a few snowflakes, but no mention of rain.
Juneau’s Filipino community will contribute more than $21,000 to the relief effort for victims of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. That’s the amount raised during Saturday’s fundraising dinner.
The dinner was scheduled to start at 5 pm but by 4:45, there was already a line of people waiting outside the Filipino Community Hall in downtown Juneau.
By 5:15, the building was packed. “It’s pretty busy,” says Mayden Cristobal, who was selling tickets. “We are swamped. There’s a lot of people and we have a lot of donations.”
Tickets cost $15 per plate. “Some were paying $50 and some were giving out $100 bill for a $15 plate dinner,” says Dante Reyes, president of Filipino Community, Incorporated.
Shortly after Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines November 8th, the non-profit decided to cancel its annual free Thanksgiving Day meal and, instead, hold a fundraising dinner and auction.
State legislators and past and present assembly members stood with members of Filipino Community, Inc to help serve food to about 515 people. The evening brought in more than $21,000. Reyes says some of the gifts were very personal, like Gabriel Kelley’s donation. Reyes says Kelley was raising money for his own trip to France and decided to give half of it to the fundraiser.
“I opened the envelope and I was very, very surprised with the amount. It was a $1,000 check,” describes Reyes. “I am not an emotional person but at the time I am holding back something. Somebody – not a Filipino, not related to a Filipino – instead of having that for himself, he shared it to those who need that big amount of money in the Philippines.”
A portion of the total money raised will go to Juneau’s sister city in the Philippines, Kalibo, which is in Aklan province. “Aklan, too, was damaged by Typhoon Haiyan,” explains Reyes. “It is also on the path of Typhoon Haiyan going out of the Philippines. And it also has devastated not only homes and properties but also some human lives.”
Josielind Ferrer is on the Filipino Community, Inc. board of directors. Ferrar is from the Visayas region, one of the areas hardest hit by Haiyan. Almost every Filipino at the fundraiser was affected in some way by the typhoon.
“We are doing okay,” says Ferrer. “As far as mental, emotional, we are hanging in there. We’re all strong, keeping everybody strong for each other, but with the help of the community – the whole Juneau community – this is definitely giving us more of a boost.”
She says she was overwhelmed by how many people were at the dinner, especially since it was such a last minute event, “but it looks like, just like the Filipino community, Filipinos managed to put it all together and hang in there and like they say, rise up Philippines, and we will do that.”
Petersburg’s mayor is pleased with the court decision in favor of the state’s latest redistricting plan. The legislative boundary map will put Petersburg in a district with Sitka and 22 other small Southeast communities, including Kupreanof, Kake, Angoon, Craig, Coffman Cove, Port Protection and Point Baker. Petersburg is in a district with Juneau under the interim plan that’s currently in place.
The new map makes more sense, according to Mayor Mark Jensen. “I just think we’re more alike than we are with downtown Juneau,” Jensen said.
“I think we’re more of a working town, fishing town and they’re more of a government type run city. So I think there’s differences. Not that I have any bad things to say about the representation we had after redistricting happened from Dennis Egan and Beth Kerttula. I just think we’re more on the even grounds having the smaller communities in with us.”
The Alaska Redistricting Board’s latest plan got approval from Superior Court Judge Michael McConahy last week. The Associated Press reported that two of the plaintiffs who challenged that map do not plan to appeal the decision.
The Petersburg borough assembly this summer voted to back the new configuration which was the result of a Supreme Court ruling. That’s after the municipality joined the lawsuit against the interim plan which put Petersburg with Juneau.
That interim map will still be in place for the upcoming legislative session – meaning Petersburg will continue to be represented by Juneau democrats Beth Kerttula in the house and Dennis Egan in the Senate.
Ultimately, Jensen thinks the new district gives Petersburg a better chance of securing state funding for projects. “Instead of trying to get funding competing with the bigger municipalities. But as all of us know that the funding is going to be harder to come by anyway just the state of the, well the conditions of the state’s finances.”
Assuming no other parties to the redistricting lawsuit appeal the judge’s decision, Petersburg and Kupreanof voters will be deciding on representation for the new district for the state primary next August. Sitka democratic state representative Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins plans to run for the new Sitka-Petersburg house district. Petersburg resident and republican Stephen Samuelson plans to challenge him for that seat.
Petersburg’s new house district is 35. Its paired with the Ketchikan-Wrangell house district to make up Senate district “R.” Sitka Republican Bert Stedman does not have to run for re-election in 2014 and will represent the new Southeast Senate district including Petersburg in 2015.
A small Canadian mining company is in the exploratory phases of setting up a graphite mine on the Seward Peninsula. Though years away from being operational, the Graphite Creek deposit could be the nation’s first and only graphite mine.
The National Science Foundation’s new arctic research vessel Sikuliaq will spend the winter undergoing trials in the Great Lakes. The 261 foot ship to be operated by the University of Alaska Fairbanks, was launched in Lake Michigan a year ago, but the Sikuliaq’s original target date for arrival at homeport in Seward has been delayed a year due to technical problems.
A state and federally funded task group has investigated biomass energy potential in 75 communities around the state. Alaska Energy Authority Biomass manager Devany Plentovich is tracking projects that have resulted from a base line analysis that looked at availability of wood and opportunity for turning it into energy.
Health Insurer Premera Alaska will allow 5,200 customers in the state to keep their insurance plans.
The company canceled the plans for 2014 because they didn’t meet requirements of the Affordable Care Act. But earlier this month, after public outcry, President Obama said insurers could offer those canceled plans for another year, as long as states allowed it.
Premera spokesperson Melanie Coon says customers will have to extend their plans by December 31st:
“We’re planning to offer extensions to our members in Alaska. And right now we’re still finalizing the details with the division of insurance,” Coon said. ”So we do have some details to work out, but we do plan on offering those extensions to our members.”
Premera says it will have more details on the insurance plan extensions soon, including whether rates will increase, as they normally would each year. Customers will also have the option of buying new coverage on the healthcare.gov marketplace. That’s the only way to qualify for subsidies to help pay for insurance.
Enroll Alaska reports the healthcare.gov website is slowly improving. The insurance brokerage has enrolled 78 Alaskans on the marketplace so far. Chief Operating Officer Tyann Boling says on a scale of 1-10, the website is functioning at about a four.
“Any type of complexity, the system does not function well at all with. And the challenge is Americans lives are complex,” Boling said.
Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC) decided to cut funding to Juneau’s homeless medical center at the end of September due to budgetary constraints.
Front Street Clinic got a six month reprieve when the community was able to raise more than $120,000.
Now, a coalition of local organizations have joined together to keep the clinic open, hopefully, forever.
Front Street Clinic is in the process of becoming its own non-profit organization with a new name – Front Street Health Center. It will still offer the same services – medical, dental, and behavioral health. And it’ll be run by a board of directors from agencies involved in the care of the homeless population.
“I think that all of these agencies just realized that if the Front Street Clinic disappeared, this huge gap would appear that nobody could fill,” says Mariya Lovishchuk, executive director of The Glory Hole, Juneau’s soup kitchen and shelter.
She’s also the president of the newly formed Front Street Health Center board. Other members come fromAWARE, Bartlett Regional Hospital, Catholic Community Services, Juneau Alliance for Mental Health, REACH, and St. Vincent de Paul. The board also includes a physician, a public health nurse, and an accountant.
“Because so many entities are coming together, the clinic will be able to function really affordably and in a really sensible manner because the burden is now shared across so many caring and competent organizations,” says Lovishchuk.
Board members are providing resources and services to help run Front Street. For example,Catholic Community Services will take care of Medicaid and Medicare billing, REACH is in charge of janitorial services, and an accountant for Elgee Rehfeld Mertz will do Front Street taxes. “I just feel so grateful to live in a community that has so many dedicated and caring individuals and organizations coming together to ensure that people have access to a very, very basic thing which is primary medical care,” says Lovishchuk.
Board vice president Dr. Carlton Heine was one of several emergency room doctors who donated money when Front Street was in danger of shutting down in October. He says they recognized that if the clinic closed, most of its patients would end up in the ER.
”We’re very good at heart attacks and broken bones and lacerations. We’re not very good at chronically managing diabetes or hypertension or chronic health care,” Heine explains. “We’re good at acute care, not at chronic ongoing primary care, and the Front Street Clinic does a much better job of providing that kind of service for these patients.”
Bartlett Regional Hospital will provide laboratory and imaging services for Front Street. If a patient needs an x-ray or blood test, instead of being sent to SEARHC, the patient would go to Bartlett. “Paying a little bit for these appropriate tests ordered through a primary care doctor is certainly a less expensive route for the hospital than having these patients become much sicker, patients in the emergency department with those tests being done through the emergency department, and then potentially sick enough to be admitted to the hospital because they haven’t had the appropriate primary care,” Heine says.
The plan is for Front Street Clinic to become Front Street Health Center when SEARHC gives up management. “Currently SEARHC is operating the clinic through the end of April and we are working very closely with the homeless coalition in Juneau to make – if at all possible – a seamless transition,” explains Dan Neumeister, the organization’s chief financial officer.
Partial funding for Front Street Clinic comes from a $160,000 grant from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration, which ends April 30th.The new Front Street Health Center board hopes to secure the same federal grant, as well as pursue other funding sources.
SEARHC operated Front Street at around $600,000 a year. Lovishchuk says the anticipated budget under the new board is 30 percent lower.
Another difference is that more people will be able to access services. Front Street Health Center will still cater to the homeless, but will also be available to low-income people and others in need of medical care.
A group of Juneau residents are tackling the issue of racism head on.
Their work started earlier this year, and sprang out of the trial of George Zimmerman for killing unarmed Florida teenager Trayvon Martin, as well as a series of local events that had been building up for years.
The group held a panel discussion last Friday at the University of Alaska Southeast called “Deconstructing Racism: Power and Privilege in Our Community.”
UAS Professor Sol Neely started by setting the scene for a short skit by local writer Christy Namee Eriksen: “Act One: “If Racism Was a Burning Kitchen.” An Asian and a Caucasian are standing in a kitchen. The kitchen is on fire.”
Twitchell: “Whoa! Is the kitchen on fire?”
MacNaughton: “Are you calling me an arsonist? I am not an arsonist.”
Twitchell: “I am literally burning up. I’m pretty sure the kitchen is ON FIRE.”
MacNaughton: “I didn’t build this house, I just live here.”
Twitchell: “Let’s leave and build a new house.”
MacNaughton: “I’m not going anywhere, this is my house.”
Twitchell is a Tlingit speaker and a professor of Alaska Native Languages at UAS. MacNaughton is an artist and social justice activist. They were joined by Neely, Alaska Native storytellerIshmael Hope, and Northern Light United Church Pastor Phil Campbell.
Twitchell acknowledged many people prefer to avoid talking about race and racism. He said the panel’s discussion was not the beginning of the conversation, nor should it be the end.
“It’s important that this conversation occurs throughout our community on a regular basis,” he said. “So that we can become more aware of the types of things that create oppression.”
Like the Asian character in Eriksen’s play suggesting they leave the burning house and build a new one, the panelists suggested tearing down social systems that create racism. Hope said too often people of color are marginalized.
“And in fact, often get thrown into jail, targeted, not supported for success, put in the area where they are denied access to success, and to power, and to privilege, and any kind of authority,” Hope said.
He pointed to the Alaska Native dropout rate, which is often cited as an example of inherent racism in the education system. According to the National Indian Education Association, Alaska is one of 14 states where the Native American graduation rate is lower than 60 percent.
“There’s something wrong there,” Hope said.
The panelists said an incident last April during the Alaska Folk Festival sparked them to begin talking about racism locally. A group of revelers at the annual bourbon brunch, which is not officially part of Folk Festival, dressed up in Asian-themed garb. Pictures of the event were posted on social media, leading to questions about whether it was racist.
MacNaughton says she found the photos “mildly to wildly offensive.”
“Mostly focused on really sexually demeaning, stereotypical, female images of Asian women,” MacNaughton said.
She decided to speak out after playwright Eriksen was attacked on Facebook for pointing out how the party was offensive. MacNaughton said it can be difficult for white people to admit that something they have done is racist, or to speak out when they witness racism taking place.
“And I don’t mean to pick on other white people,” she said. “I have said racist things naively. I haven’t spoken up every time I’ve heard or seen something racist. Sometimes people take your breath away. Sometimes you just don’t have the words or know how to respond in the moment.”
The Reverend Phil Campbell has taught social justice classes at universities and theology schools. He says white people have work to do when it comes to talking about race.
“We’re not very skilled at understanding ourselves as ‘raced,’” he said. “And therefore, racism is someone else’s problem that we might help with, when, in fact, I would posit it is primarily, in this society, a white problem.”
Toward the end of the discussion an audience member asked the panelists if they were optimistic about the future. Twitchell said he was cautiously optimistic, noting that Alaska Natives still have higher suicide rates, and higher rates of being victims of violent crime than other races.
“But I am optimistic, because we can have these conversations and they occur on a larger level,” said Twitchell.
Sol Neely responded to the question by quoting African American philosopher and activist Cornel West, who said: “I cannot be an optimist but I am a prisoner of hope.”
The conversation about race and racism continues Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. at Northern Light United Church, which has been hosting similar conversations monthly since September.
Enrolling in healthcare.gov is not easy. But Anchorage hair stylist Lara Imler is one of the few Alaskans who managed to get through the process late last month. Now though, after she discovered problems with her application, Imler wants to cancel her enrollment. And she’s finding that may not be so simple either.
Earlier this month Lara Imler sounded thrilled to finally be enrolled in an affordable insurance plan. Now she sounds more like this:
“I don’t even know how to feel about the whole thing anymore because I can’t even get anyone who has an answer to help. I’m just. It’s just such a lost cause at this point.”
A few things went wrong with Lara Imler’s healthcare.gov application. First, according to the website, she enrolled in a health plan. But her new insurance company, Moda Health, didn’t have her application. When she called the healthcare.gov hotline number, no one could help her figure out what went wrong. Then she found out the website miscalculated her subsidy amount. She was supposed to receive a monthly subsidy of $366, but the website only let her use $315:
“The subsidy issue is weird. If you look at my profile on the website it shows my full subsidy, but it says I’m only using part of it. So they know I’ve got a screwed up subsidy but they don’t know what to do with it. There’s no one directly you can talk to say, ‘hey my subsidy is on there, how do I apply for all of it?”
Getting the subsidy corrected would require filing a paper appeal with the federal government.
So, the technical problems with Imler’s enrollment were adding up. At the same time, she started hearing stories from friends whose insurance plans were being canceled because they didn’t meet the Affordable Care Act requirements. Imler says some of those friends don’t qualify for subsidies and aren’t able to find affordable new insurance:
“I have a moral dilemma with that. Why should I be able to get health insurance when other people are having to lose it?”
Imler needed a break from healthcare.gov.
So on a recent morning, she sat on her living room couch, with a cup of coffee and her laptop. The site actually logs Imler in pretty quickly. And after a few clicks she finds her enrollment information.
Imler scrolls down and eventually sees an ominous red icon that says ‘terminate coverage’:
“So you hit the terminate button. It says you’ve chosen to end the following coverage, …you then have to check I have fully read and understand that I’m choosing to terminate coverage. Then you click terminate again and we’ll see what happens.”
What happens is… nothing. The health plan Imler signed up for is still listed in her profile. She logs out and then back in and it looks exactly the same. She checks her e-mail for a notice of coverage termination and finds nothing there either. Imler leans back on the couch and looks surprisingly calm about the whole thing:
“I’m resigned to the fact that it doesn’t work. No matter what I do, it just doesn’t work. And this is the improved website.”
When she is able to cancel her plan, Imler won’t be quitting healthcare.gov for good. She’s been uninsured for nearly a decade and wants that to change. She plans to log back into the website early next year to start the process all over again.
This story is part of a collaboration between APRN, NPR and Kaiser Health News.
Unmanned Aircraft Systems, or UAS, will soon be flying more often over Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.
Soldiers assigned to the aircraft just tested out a new runway on the base earlier this month. Officials say it will allow more training on the remotely piloted aircraft in Anchorage.
According to Chief Warrant Officer Three, Nicholas Jones you’re not likely to see an Unmanned Aircraft or UA flying around, but you might hear it.
“It sounds like a very angry lawn mower,” Jones said.
That’s sound recorded from a UA flight at JBER earlier this month. Jones’s official title is Unmanned Aircraft Systems Operations Officer with the 4th Airborne Brigade, 25th Infantry Division at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.
The unmanned aircraft are like big remote control airplanes, but really, really smart, Jones says. It takes three people on the ground to operate one. The ones flying over JBER lately are called the Shadow. There are four of them at the base. They weigh about 375 pounds, are about 14 feet long with a 14 foot wingspan, with straight wings. The aircraft are unarmed and used for reconnaissance missions, Jones says.
“We just have a few cameras. We’re flying around for operator proficiency,” Jones said. “In combat we do use if for full motion video. In combat one of the catch phrases is ‘eye in the sky’ for the commander.”
In Afghanistan, Jones says the Shadow was used for scouting areas in front of and behind convoys. Recently, the Federal Aviation Administration approved the military’s request to train on the Shadow at JBER and the 27 person platoon assigned to operate the four aircraft tested them out for about 150 hours including landing it on a new runway. The base needed FAA approval because the flight path for takeoff and landing edges out of military air space.
“The way that that runways was built, means that we have to leave that restricted airspace for about 10 seconds on takeoff and landing,” Jones said.
Jones says the new $750,000 runway was needed because other on-base runways are difficult to land on. The new runway insures regular training at JBER into the future.
Jones says, now that the military is scaling back overseas, more and more training is needed at home so soldiers can maintain proficiency.
In Alaska, most of the UAS training used to take place at Donnelly Training Area near Fort Grealy in the town of Delta about two and half hours south of Fairbanks. But Jones says that’s costly, running around $30,000 several times a year. With the new runway at JBER, training will stay in Anchorage and, Jones says, save money over the long run.
Jones says there are lots of misconceptions about what the aircraft do.
“Well, especially here in Alaska, and near big population centers I think the misunderstanding or the tendency is to think that we are out spying on people,” Jones said. “That is not the case. We are simply out doing operator training.”
He also doesn’t like them being referred to as drones. He says that’s an outdated term with negative connotations that the military is trying to shake. He says drone is a word from the early days of the Air Force – they were remote control airplanes that they actually would use as targets and shoot down. And recently, Jones says it’s been used by the media and the public to refer to all remote controlled aircraft used by the military.
“They do refer to them as drones but I think drone has a bad connotation. That’s not what we are doing. We don’t have armament. We are there trying to find people,” Jones said. “We’ve been asked in the past to do search and rescue missions. We’re not flying around dropping bombs on people. So I think drones kind a harsh term for what we do.”
There are also more than a dozen smaller, handheld UA at the base, called Raven. They’re harder to see from the ground than the larger Shadow.
If you live in Eagle River, Jones says, you may catch a glimpse of the aircraft, or at least hear it, but not likely until spring. The Shadow can’t fly in really cold temperatures.
Governor Sean Parnell today appointed Nathaniel Peters to the Bethel District Court. Peters has experience in the local court system as he served in Bethel with the Alaska Public Defender Agency from 2003 to 2006.
After that he moved to Ireland, where he worked in a civil law practice before returning as an assistant public defender in Palmer. He has served in Palmer since 2008.
Peters is a member of the Alaska Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and volunteers with Mat-Su Youth Court, Fronteras Spanish Immersion School, and Mat-Su Project Homeless Connect. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Truman State University and a law degree with honors from Ohio Northern University.
Bethel’s District Court–as other district courts in Alaska–has jurisdiction over state misdemeanors and violations of city and borough ordinances. As a District Court judge, Peters can hold preliminary hearings in felony cases, try civil cases valued at less than $100,000 and small claims cases valued at less than $10,000. He can hear domestic violence cases, issue summonses, arrest warrants, and search warrants.
State officials were in Unalaska on Friday to talk about a proposal pre-authorizing the use of chemical dispersants on oil spills in Alaska waters.
Officials from the Alaska Regional Response Team spent four hours at City Hall taking public comment on the proposed changes.
They said the update to the state’s 25-year-old spill response plan wouldn’t guarantee that the controversial dispersants would be used — it would just make it easier to deploy them in the event of a crude oil spill from a tanker.
Mark Everett is the Coast Guard’s co-chair on the ARRT. He said they’re drawing on lessons from spills like the Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico and the Exxon Valdez, the only spill in Alaska where dispersants have been used. He said the main lesson is that it’s important to act quickly.
“A crisis is not the time to find the tool that you need,” he said. “The pre-spill environment, the planning environment is the time to do that collaboration and to receive the input you need to be able to make the best possible decision when you absolutely have to.”
The ARRT has been touring the proposed area where dispersants would be pre-authorized. That area stretches from the waters off Prince William Sound to the tip of the Aleutian chain. In the Aleutians, it begins off-shore and extends 100 nautical miles to the north and 200 nautical miles to the south. Officials say that’s where crude oil tankers travel, and where a spill would most likely occur. The zone has anchor points — narrow channels in to shore — at Cape Suckling and Cape Sarichef.
At the meeting, the ARRT officials went through a proposed checklist where officials could evaluate the environmental risks from an active spill and talk to federal, state, tribal and community stakeholders. The proposal also includes a process for identifying parts of the pre-authorization area where dispersants shouldn’t be used, like wildlife habitats or fishing grounds. And it lets officials designate areas outside the pre-authorized zone where they could use dispersants if they needed to — like closer to shore off Unalaska.
Chris Field of the Environmental Protection Agency noted that dispersants are already generally authorized in the state, but are very rarely used anywhere. They’re one of Alaska’s two options if mechanical oil recovery fails during a spill. The other is burning the oil on the surface.
Field said the pre-authorization proposal creates more streamlined checks and balances to put dispersants into action.
“If you have a pre-authorization plan, which we’re proposing as part of these dispersant guidelines, then the federal on-scene coordinator can initiate the use of dispersants without getting EPA and state approval because we’ve already agreed to the pre-authorization plan,” he said.
He also said this proposal could prompt the private companies that own the dispersants to put stocks of them closer to where spills can occur — within six to seven hours, maximum.
The ARRT members took comments from their Unalaska audience to help shape the plan. Some people were concerned about environmental impacts and local involvement in the decision-making process.
Unalaska natural resources analyst Frank Kelty asked if dispersants could seep into the water taken in by processing plants in Dutch Harbor.
Rick Bernhardt, the state’s spill preparedness coordinator, said dispersants could threaten processors, but that spilled oil would already pose a far greater threat.
“So if you’re sucking up dispersants, in reality, the fishery’s gonna be shut down,” he said. “You’re not going to get one without the other.”
Kelty said he recognized that, but he still wanted a way for seafood processors to be involved during a spill.
“I want to make sure the processing industry is part of your stakeholders that would be notified immediately,” he said.
Others wanted to know more about the research behind different brands of dispersants, and how toxic they can be to everything from seafood stocks and wildlife to the phytoplankton some of those animals eat.
Bernhardt said they’re considering those topics. He said they recognize that no dispersant is completely safe, and that dispersing the oil into the water column doesn’t completely solve the problem. But he emphasized that oil is damaging to the environment on its own if left untreated.
“Every decision that we’re going to make in the response community once that oil is in the water … has risks. It has potential to do further harm,” he said. “What we’re really talking about here in the process of decision-making for spill response is, what’s the greatest possible good that we can do and the least possible impact on the environment?”
And he noted that there are safer dispersants available now than there were during the Exxon Valdez spill.
Carl Wassilie represents the Center for Water Advocacy in Homer. He called in to the meeting and said he had concerns that tribal officials hadn’t been given enough time to weigh in. And he said he wants more assurances on toxicity.
“I’d like to see some of that documentation,” he said. “Is that something that’s going to be in the report, that’s part of this plan, that we can insure that we have a balanced approach to the use of dispersants? Decision-making that includes all available science?”
Bernhardt said they’re looking at that kind of research as part of the planning process.
The public can continue to comment on the pre-authorization proposal, which is posted online, until February 14, 2014.
The television station known statewide as Channel 2 will stay on the air in Juneau and Sitka through Dec. 6th, while the station andGCI Cable continue to negotiate carriage terms.
Channel 2 is the Anchorage NBC affiliate,KTUU, seen in Juneau on KATH and in Sitka on KSCT.
It was expected KTUU News would be taken off the Southeast stations Friday night if a deal wasn’t reached.
Now both companies say substantial progress toward a long-term agreement has been made, with the deadline extended to Dec. 6.
The two sides have been negotiating KTUU’s carriage on cable throughout the state since September. On November 8th, GCI pulled KTUU off cable in 21 rural Alaska communities, from Barrow to Skagway.
“We’ve heard from folks from rural Alaska as likely GCI has, who are upset about this, who want their programming back, who really just want to have access to a local news source that they’ve watched for years and years,” says KTUU Marketing Director Brad Hillwig.
He says the rural issue is back on the table as the companies look for a comprehensive agreement.
“The two sides are reporting substantial progress in talks on an overall agreement that would resolve issues in rural Alaska, Southeast Alaska and Anchorage for an extended period of time.”
KATH and KSCT television stations have been purchased by GCI. The Federal Communications Commission last month approved the license transfer to the cable company. At the time, GCI said Sitka and Juneau viewers would not see any changes in the short-term. But Channel 2 was still negotiating to keep its news on the stations.
If a long-term agreement is not reached, GCI Corporate Services Vice President David Morris says only Channel 2 News would be pulled from the Southeast stations.
He says the financial terms of carrying KTUU on the statewide cable has been one of the main sticking points.
“One of the sticking points also that we have is they’re wanting an exclusive arrangement to be the only NBC provider everywhere in Alaska outside of Juneau and Fairbanks,” Morris says.
If the two sides can reach a comprehensive agreement, Channel 2 News would remain on the Southeast stations, and about 7,000 rural cable subscribers would once again receive Channel 2 News and NBC programming.
Alaska fishermen want to broaden the experimental use of cameras and other monitoring devices in the federal government’s fishery observer program. Under the recently-revamped program, many more vessels, including smaller boats, can now be required to carry an observer at times. A new industry proposal is aimed at making electronic monitoring available as an alternative to carrying that extra person on the boat.
The federal government expanded its fishery observer program this past year. For the first time, that meant halibut boats and smaller vessels, 40 to 60 feet long, could be selected to carry an observer.
But according to Alaska Longline Fisherman’s Association Director Linda Behnken, that’s not feasible for many. “There’s a lot of the small boat fleet that simply cannot accommodate another person,” she said.
“They don’t have a bunk. They don’t have the safety equipment. They just don’t have space for that. So, we saw a number of people apply for a release to observer coverage on those grounds. Actually 65 percent of the boats selected in the first three quarters of the year, which is the data I’ve seen so far, those 65 percent of the boats that were selected applied for a release and were granted a release.”
Behnken credits Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner and North Pacific Fishery Management Council member Cora Campbell for helping to make sure that relief was available. Behnken thinks the releases were needed to lessen the burden of the expanded program.
However, she said it also meant that the National Marine Fisheries Service fell short of its goals for observer coverage. “So, to our mind, you’re not getting representative data if you’re not hitting those target coverage levels which can mean some problems with extrapolating that data to the remainder of the fleet,” she said.
Behnken said the situation shifted more of the observer burden to boats that were able to accommodate them. Also, she said some fishermen chose not to use their own small boats and instead opted to fish with other skippers who had bigger vessels. She said a few others chose to sell their fishing quotas because of the new regulations.
So, Behnken said ALFA is working with other fishing groups to pursue electronic monitoring or EM as an alternative to carrying observers on small boats. In October, they applied for a federal permit to broaden the experimental use of cameras and other electronic monitoring equipment.
“We all recognize there will continue to be a need for some,” she said.
“For observers on the water but that there are places, there are times, there is a significant portion of the fleet that is better served by having electronic monitoring to insure you get representative data and you get it in a cost effective way. So, we’re looking to integrate EM, to use it where you can get the data that managers need, and to use it in a way that’s less intrusive and less costly than deploying human observers.”
Federal fishery managers are taking a slower approach to the issue than the industry would like. NMFS has a small-scale EM pilot program that involved just a handful of participants this past year. ALFA wants to incorporate that into the broader, industry-backed project to test technology on more boats. 60 vessels would be the goal for the first year of a five-year effort.
NMFS has been considering the proposal according to Martin Loefflad who is director of the agency’s Fisheries Monitoring and Analysis Division.
While he won’t comment on the industry application while it’s still under review. Loefflad said NMFS is also trying to advance electronic monitoring.
“What we’re trying to do is improve the quality of imagery we are getting from vessels” he said.
“There’s a lot of hype on this EM stuff going on worldwide right now and what we’ve seen is that a lot of work has been done all over the world that has been duplicating the same sorts of things. We want to get out of duplication and actually move this stuff forward. I personally think EM has massive potential and could revolutionize the way we sample, if we do it right.”
Observers record catch data and other information for use in fishery management and research. Loefflad said electronic monitoring will never do exactly what a person does.
“People can do a variety of things,”Loefflad said. “EM can do some things very, very well and we want to figure out what things it does well and then so we can use that potentially as a tool to supplement those areas where putting a person on a boat is not a feasible process.”
Together, NMFS and the industry may be able to make some progress on moving electronic monitoring forward, Loefflad said.
The agency has told the North Pacific Council that it will have the capacity to deploy EM equipment on 14 vessels in its pilot project next year. As an incentive for participation, NMFS proposed that volunteers would avoid the possibility of being selected to carry an observer. That would also be the case for the industry proposal.
National Marine Fisheries Service Staff will be in Petersburg to hold an informational meeting about the fishery observer program in general on Tuesday, December 3rd from 4 to 6 pm in the new Library’s large conference room.