Alaska News

Design Challenge encourages innovative solutions for Cabin Fever

APRN Alaska News - 57 min 46 sec ago

As the state is cloaked in darkness and cold, cabin fever starts to set in. But some Alaskans think they can fight winter’s scourge by reinventing the spaces we inhabit. The Alaska Design Forum is hosting a challenge to get community members and designers to reconsider the cabin of the future.

http://www.alaskapublic.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/25-Cabin-Design.mp3

Rachelle Dowdy is the project manager for the Cabin Fever Design Challenge, and she lives in a cabin that’s a bit more of the past than the future. Part of it’s made from a manufactured housing unit from the pipeline days.

“The other part of my cabin is made of broken down snow machine pallets that I reclaimed the two by sixes for,” she explains.  ”And it has hidden framed in doors and windows for future add-ons. It’s that very Alaska style architecture…”

Dowdy lives in Ester near Fairbanks. She doesn’t have plumbing, electricity, or internet access. When she thinks of a cabin of the future, it would have those practical amenities.

Alaska Design Forum director Holly McQuinn says the idea of the cabin design challenge is to get artists, architects, cabin dwellers and everyone else to think about a cabin that fits into the state’s unique environment. It could even help solve some of the state’s challenges, like the sadness brought on by winter.

“I was thinking, ‘what are those things that are challenging to me?’ Ok, well, it’s cold and it’s dark. Well, how do we play with those things? How do we turn that around and how do we think ‘Wow! I’m going to use this darkness and maybe do a light show in my living room.’ Or use some kind of manipulation of light so my perspective shifts so I’m suddenly saying ‘Oh I can’t wait for that darkness to happen!’”

McQuinn dreams about cabins with robots doing housework as well.

Up to 40 design teams from around the state can sign up for the contest. No design experience is necessary. McQuinn says it’s a professional development exercise as well. Participants will display models and drawings of their entries at an art gallery and receive professional photos for their portfolios.

“Possibly some of these could actually be built or developed. Future projects. You know, who knows. The sky’s the limit,” she says.

Anchorage Architect Roy Roundtree says that’s why he’s participating in the contest — to let his mind explore in ways normal work doesn’t allow.

“You never got a chance to really spread your wings as a designer, to really think outside of the box because there’s always a client there to hold you back and say, ‘Hey wait, where’s that deadline? Where are those drawings? I wanted five bathrooms not four!’”

As he starts preparing for the contest, Roundtree says he’s thinking about what a cabin really is. Why do people live in them? Do they want to be part of the wilderness? To harvest from the wild? Is a cabin social or solitary?

“How does your mind change when you journey to a cabin?”

So what will Roundtree’s cabin of the future be? He says he’s not sure, but he has until the contest closes on January 29 to decide. Participants need to sign up by December 8.

Categories: Alaska News

EPA Regs Hit Fishing Industry, Unless Congress Meets Deadline

APRN Alaska News - 2 hours 37 min ago

Federal lawmakers return to Washington next week for the final days of the 113th Congress.  They have to pass a budget or a “continuing resolution” by December 11 to avoid a government shutdown. Alaska’s fishing industry is watching another deadline approach: Dec. 18. That’s the date tough new EPA regulations apply to commercial fishing boats, unless Congress intervenes.

United Fishermen of Alaska and other industry groups have been trying for years to get a permanent exemption from part of the Clean Water Act that regulates what vessels discharge. UFA Executive Director Julianne Curry says the pending new regulations would apply to just about any liquid emitted from a boat shorter than 79 feet.

“Some of the components that are in this regulation are – they really don’t make any sense,” Curry says.

If the rule goes into effect, the EPA estimates it would apply to as many as 138,000 smaller vessels around the country, and about half them are commercial fishing boats. The rules would apply to, among other liquids, fish-hold effluent, bilge water, grey water, and, Curry points out, deckwash. Even runoff.

“It includes onerous regulations such as making fishermen catalog and make sure their permit is covering rainwater that falls onto the deck and therefore falls overboard,” she said.

A study by the EPA found some of these discharges may be harmful to the aquatic environment or to human health, particularly in  enclosed waters. Curry says UFA embraces appropriate regulation and doesn’t object to reasonable pollution controls.

“The fishing industry is already covered under discharge regulations that just aren’t as overly onerous as the ones that are potentially going to be implemented in December,” she said.

EPA wasn’t eager to adopt these regulations in the first place. It used to have an exemption for discharges that occur in the normal operation of a vessel. But an environmental lawsuit, aimed at keeping invasive species from hitching a ride in a ship’s ballast water, forced the EPA to act. Congress has passed temporary measures to keep the regulation at bay since 2008.

The U.S. House has already passed a bill calling for a permanent exemption for vessels under 79 feet. Several bills are pending in the Senate that would halt the regulation, for a year or permanently. They’re sponsored by Alaska’s senators, and senators as divergent as California Democrat Barbara Boxer and Florida Republican Marco Rubio. In Washington, I’m Liz Ruskin.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Regional Committee Votes to Hold Governance Convention

APRN Alaska News - 6 hours 43 min ago

The Calista-sponsored Regional Committee voted Monday to hold a Governance Convention next year to pursue the possibility of a creating a regional tribal government or making changes to the Association of Village Council Presidents.

A press release from Calista says there was unanimous support for making changes to regional governance. They say 76 percent of delegates agreed to look at establishing a constitutional government, while 58 percent voted to consider changing the role of a regional non-profit, such as AVCP.

The resolution put forward ideas such as changing the name to Association of Sovereign Yupiit Villages,” providing for direct election of the President, and modifying the charter to allow the President to take executive action to carry out directives from the board.

What the committee is calling a governance convention is tentatively scheduled for March 2015. There, delegates will make a decision on what direction to pursue.

The committee looked at four options, including the regional tribal government, changes to AVCP, establishing a borough government, and finally, disbanding the regional committee. There was evidently a lack of support for creating a borough government under state law.

Efforts to establish a regional tribal government have come up several times in past decades, and with pushback. AVCP supplied a list of 16 groups that in the past several months opposed an AVCP resolution promoting a regional government or the latest Calista-sponsored version.

A YKHC resolution says a regional tribal government would usurp the power of the 58 individual tribes they serve. AVCP President Myron Naneng told KYUK last week that tribal governments have rejected the idea in the past.

The Regional Committee formed this February after the Calista board of directors voted to create the group to study problems with current legislation affecting Alaska Native people, tribal government, and corporations, and come up with a strategic plan. A 16-person steering committee has met several times since the spring. The November and February meetings were closed to the public and the media, but open to Calista shareholders and descendants.

A delegate from Napaimute, Devron Hellings, said in the press release that the goal was to let the native people of the region vote on establishing a regional tribal government by the end of next year.

Some 80 percent of the region’s tribes–45 of 56–were at the meeting, and 40 of 45 village corporations.

Categories: Alaska News

Sterling Highway Crash Leaves 1 Dead, Several Injured

APRN Alaska News - 6 hours 44 min ago

A crash Tuesday on the Sterling Highway has left one motorist dead and several others injured.

Alaska State Troopers report the crash occurred at Mile 146, near Happy Valley, at 5:40 p.m.

Two vehicles were involved in the collision. None of the victims have been identified. The Sterling Highway was closed while first responders were on scene.

The cause of the accident has not yet been determined and an investigation is underway.

Categories: Alaska News

Iditarod musher hurt in crash with vehicle

APRN Alaska News - 6 hours 46 min ago

A veteran Iditarod musher was struck and injured Tuesday night by a driver who left the roadway and crashed into her team near Willow.

Karin Hendrickson is recovering from a broken back and broken leg.

Hendrickson is a four-time Iditarod finisher. She was preparing for the 2015 race in March.

A spokeswoman for the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, Patty Sullivan, says Hendrickson just before 8 p.m. was running her team along the Parks Highway near Mile 91 when it was struck.

Sullivan says Hendrickson was in serious condition. A helicopter was dispatched to transport her to a hospital but was unable to land because of poor weather.

Sullivan says the crash scattered Hendrickson’s sled dogs and one was missing Tuesday night.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Gov.-elect Walker names 4 to positions

APRN Alaska News - 6 hours 47 min ago

Alaska Gov.-elect Bill Walker on Tuesday announced four new staff members, including an attorney general.

Walker said in a release that Craig Richards will serve as attorney general. Richards said he’ll be reviewing the status of the National Guard investigation and the state’s lawsuit that is trying to reinstate the ban on same-sex marriage.

Walker also announced that he will retain Gary Folger as the public safety commissioner.

He said a former University of Alaska-Fairbanks vice chancellor, Pat Pitney, will be his budget director. She replaces Karen Rehfeld, who retired last Friday after 35 years with the state.

He also announced that Guy Bell will be retained as director of administrative services for the governor’s office.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: November 25, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-11-25 17:33

Stories are posted on the APRN news page. You can subscribe to APRN’s newsfeeds via emailpodcast and RSS. Follow us on Facebook at alaskapublic.org and on Twitter @aprn

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Anti-Begich Ad in Voter Guide Prompts Bill to Ban Parties From Booklet

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

The state Division of Elections took some heat this year for publishing an attack ad against Sen. Mark Begich within the pages of the official voter guide. Now, Rep. Les Gara, an Anchorage Democrat, wants to ban partisan ads in the guide, a booklet that’s mailed to every voting household.

Lobbyist: State budget shortfall will affect Juneau

Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau

The City and Borough of Juneau’s lobbyist for state issues says Alaska’s budget woes may lead to conversations during the upcoming legislative session about tapping the Alaska Permanent Fund.

Kevin Jardell also says it’s likely to mean fewer state-funded capital projects for communities, though he thinks Gov.-elect Bill Walker will be favorable to local governments.

Ketchikan Assembly Responds to Education Lawsuit Ruling

Leila Khiery, KRBD – Ketchikan

A Superior Court Judge has ruled in favor of the Ketchikan Gateway Borough in its lawsuit against the State of Alaska over the state’s education funding mandate. The Borough Assembly talked about Friday’s ruling during this week’s regular meeting, and Borough Manager Dan Bockhorst calls it a “big win” for Ketchikan.

NMFS Expands Fishing Near Steller Sea Lion Habitat

Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska

The National Marine Fisheries Service will re-open fishing grounds in the Western Aleutian Islands that have been closed for years to protect a population of Steller sea lions.

Sitka herring forecast lowest in a decade

Rachel Waldholz, KCAW – Sitka

Sitka’s commercial herring fleet should expect to catch significantly fewer fish this spring.

Calista Shareholders Reconsider Enrolling Descendants

Charles Enoch, KYUK – Bethel

Representatives from Calista Corporation met at the Cultural Center in Bethel earlier this month with shareholders and descendants, to discuss the details of an upcoming vote on whether to issue shares to “afterborns,” those born after December 1971 when newly formed Alaska Native Corporations enrolled their shareholders.

ANSEP tripling enrollment in middle school program

Sarah Yu, KTOO – Juneau

The Alaska Native Science & Engineering Program is tripling enrollment in its Middle School Academies, after receiving a $6 million state grant.

The program hopes to get middle school students—especially Alaska Natives—interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Nome Churches, Nonprofits Keep Sales Tax Exemption

Matthew Smith, KNOM – Nome

Nome’s nonprofits and churches will continue to be spared from paying local sales tax after last night’s City Council meeting saw proposals to strip the exemptions die without a vote.

Orphaned Bear Cub Finds Temporary Home At Alaska Zoo

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

An orphaned bear cub from the Eagle area is at the Alaska Zoo. The young black bear will be kept at the facility in Anchorage, while a search is conducted for a permanent home.

When missing person isn’t found, Juneau SEADOGS search for happy ending

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

At least once a week, 10 handlers and their dogs muck through the mountains, muskegs and forests on and off the beaten paths of Juneau in search of volunteer hiders. It’s practice for the SEADOGS, or Southeast Alaska Dogs Organized for Ground Search. Local authorities call on the volunteer group several times a year to help out when people go missing.

Categories: Alaska News

Lobbyist: State budget shortfall will affect Juneau

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-11-25 16:59

Kevin Jardell is entering his second legislative session as the City and Borough of Juneau’s lobbyist for state issues. (Photo by Casey Kelly/KTOO)

The City and Borough of Juneau’s lobbyist for state issues says Alaska’s budget woes may lead to conversations during the upcoming legislative session about tapping the Alaska Permanent Fund.

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Kevin Jardell also says it’s likely to mean fewer state-funded capital projects for communities, though he thinks Gov.-elect Bill Walker will be favorable to local governments.

About 90 percent of state revenue comes from oil taxes, and the price of Alaska’s oil is trending down.

“The reality of going into this next year, and the new administration: If oil averages $85, the deficit for the state is about $3 billion,” Jardell told the Juneau Assembly on Monday.

Alaska North Slope crude oil needs to be about $117 a barrel for the state to balance its budget, he said. It was about $77 a barrel at the end of last week.

During the campaign, outgoing Gov. Sean Parnell and Gov.-elect Bill Walker sparred over how much to cut spending to deal with the budget shortfall. In January, Jardell expects lawmakers and the Walker administration to shift the conversation to ways to increase revenue. He says that includes using the state’s $51 billion permanent fund.

“And I think communities are going to have to sit and think about where they stand on the issue, and whether they’re going to weigh in,” Jardell said.

As for cuts, Jardell says the state capital budget will be hit the hardest, with most of the funding going to projects that require a match to secure federal dollars for infrastructure like roads.

“I think the capital budget will be strictly what they call a bare bones capital budget,” he said.

On the bright side, Jardell says the incoming Walker administration is talking a lot about meeting the needs of municipalities.

“They’re really focused on hearing from local governments and ensuring that the state is aligned with the priorities of local governments,” he said. “That’s been one of Gov.-elect Walker’s priorities. It comes from his history, and his being in local government.”

Walker is a former mayor of Valdez. Incoming Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott is a former mayor of Yakutat and Juneau.

Jardell’s comments came at the Assembly’s annual retreat. Assembly member Kate Troll called his predictions “a new reality check.” City Manager Kim Kiefer said the Assembly Finance Committee will revisit the city’s state funding requests on Dec. 17.

Jardell’s contract with the city pays him nearly $4,600 a month, according to state’s 2014 lobbyist directory. He’s entering his second year as Juneau’s state lobbyist.

Categories: Alaska News

Ketchikan Assembly Responds to Education Lawsuit Ruling

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-11-25 16:58

A Superior Court Judge has ruled in favor of the Ketchikan Gateway Borough in its lawsuit against the State of Alaska over the state’s education funding mandate. The Borough Assembly talked about Friday’s ruling during Monday night’s regular meeting, and Borough Manager Dan Bockhorst calls it a “big win” for Ketchikan.

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Superior Court Judge William Carey said boroughs are not required to help pay for public education. In his ruling, he said that the contribution is, essentially, a tax earmarked for a special purpose, which violates the state Constitution.

This is a big deal for the Ketchikan Gateway Borough, which filed the lawsuit in January after years of talking about whether to take that step. The borough argued that the mandatory local contribution was unfair to organized boroughs and first-class cities, because it didn’t apply to smaller communities in unorganized boroughs.

Ketchikan Borough Manager Dan Bockhorst has led the charge on this issue. Considering the efforts he’s put into it, his announcement of the court ruling was calm.

He simply noted that the judge ruled in the borough’s favor, but didn’t grant the borough’s request for a refund of this year’s local contribution for schools. Despite that small loss, “the major principal involved in that case, the borough was successful on that issue.”

Later, Assembly Member Glenn Thompson chided Bockhorst for his presentation.

“Mr. Bockhorst has to be the most subdued person I’ve ever met,” he said. “When he announces that this landmark decision of the Superior Court in favor of the borough — you’ve got to have some fist-bumps going on here. You should stand up, take a bow, do a jig, do something rather than just calmly report that ‘Yeah, we won.’”

Thompson noted that the added cost to the state that could result from this ruling is nothing compared to the projected drop in oil-tax revenue.

“Putting it in perspective, with the 30 percent drop in revenue at the state level, which I think equates to around $3 billion, the $300,000 problem we’ve handed them with the unconstitutionality of the required local contribution is merely a drop in the bucket,” he said. “It’ll just get lost in the trees. It shouldn’t be that big a problem for them.”

The state Department of Education’s budget for the 2013-2014 academic year was $1.4 billion, and $222 million of that came from required local contributions provided by boroughs and first-class cities.

How the state will respond to Judge Carey’s ruling is up in the air. Lawyers representing the state government are evaluating the decision and any options available.

What newly elected Gov. Bill Walker might do also is unknown. During an October campaign stop in Ketchikan, though, he told KRBD that he understood the borough’s frustration.

“And there’s some technical issues in that litigation that they’ve got some good points about, as far as dedication of revenue and those kinds of things,” he said.

Walker said the problem stems from the state pushing obligations onto local governments, and he would open lines of communication in hopes of resolving those disagreements.

In the meantime, Borough Manager Bockhorst said he will confer with the borough’s attorneys regarding what’s next, and will place an executive session on the Assembly’s next meeting agenda to talk about strategies.

Categories: Alaska News

NMFS Expands Fishing Near Steller Sea Lion Habitat

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-11-25 16:57

The National Marine Fisheries Service will re-open fisheries in the Western Aleutian Islands that have been restricted for years to protect a population of Steller sea lions.

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The new federal rules were issued Tuesday. They say some fishing, spread out over more space and time, won’t deplete the sea lions’ food source too much. It upholds recommendations that have taken shape this year.

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Steller sea lions eat Atka mackerel, Pacific cod and pollock — which were harvested commercially in the Western Aleutians in the past. The fisheries were shut down in 2011, when NMFS first ruled that fishing posed too much of a threat to the endangered mammals.

Now, after a long biological re-evaluation, they’re officially relaxing those restrictions.

Under the new rules, NMFS will re-open 35 percent more pollock fishing grounds compared to what was closed in 2011. And they’ll re-open 8 percent more for Atka mackerel and 23 percent more for Pacific cod in both the trawl and non-trawl sectors. Closures around sea lion haulouts and rookeries will still apply.

The new regulations also extend the fishing seasons for those species. But they keep harvesting limited during times of year when the sea lions appear to be eating more fish — such as pollock, in the winter.

The management plan takes effect in 30 days.

You can read the full text of the rule and see NMFS responses to public comments here.

Categories: Alaska News

Sitka herring forecast lowest in a decade

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-11-25 16:56

Aerial view of the Starrigavan boat launch, looking south. (ADF&G photo)

Sitka’s commercial herring fleet should expect to catch significantly fewer fish this spring.

That’s the news from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, which released its preliminary harvest level for the 2015 Sitka Sound sac roe herring fishery on Friday (11-21-14).

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The preliminary quota is 8,712 tons. That’s low by recent standards — it would be the lowest level since 2003. And it’s about half of last year’s target, which was 16,333 tons.

The herring fleet exceeded that target last year. The 2014 harvest, at 16,957 tons, was one of the largest ever.

Fish and Game biologist Dave Gordon said the lower forecast is driven by the number of three-year-old fish joining the mature, spawning population in Sitka Sound.

“And very few, I mean, almost none, showed up in the fishery last year,” Gordon said. “So, it’s really the lack of recruitment that’s causing the population to contract at this time.”

The department is expecting  44,237 tons of herring to spawn in and around Sitka Sound. That’s the lowest forecast in a decade, and well below the past several years, when forecasts have consistently been above 70,000 tons.

Last year, the department forecast a biomass of 81,663 tons. Later sampling and aerial surveys suggested the actual population was 68,399 tons.

Gordon said the contraction this year could be caused by a wide range of environmental factors.

The herring that turned three in 2014 came out of the 2011 brood year, which was a good one for herring in Sitka Sound.

“That was actually a year of very high spawn deposition,” Gordon said. “We had 78 nautical miles of spawn in Sitka Sound that year. It was the second highest spawn deposition estimate since the department began conducting spawn depositions in the late ’70s. [But] we saw very, very little survival of young herring from that large spawning event.”

That is likely due to ocean conditions, including food availability and water temperatures, he said. But it’s impossible for ADF&G to know the exact cause.

“What exact environmental factors led to the poor survivals, you know, we really can’t put our finger on,” he said.

Critics of the sac roe herring fishery, including the Sitka Tribe of Alaska, worry that the commercial harvest is depleting the herring population.

The sac roe fishery has taken, on average, about 14% of the mature herring in Sitka Sound each year. Gordon said  that’s not enough to affect population size. He stressed that this year’s forecast is well within the range of natural variation.

“You know, it’s really not the fishery that’s driving the population down at this time,” he said. “It’s basically getting down to just, poor recruitment trend over the last several years.”

The department will take samples again in late January or early February, and announce the final harvest level in late February or early March.

The sac roe herring fishery usually opens in March.

Categories: Alaska News

Calista Shareholders Reconsider Enrolling Descendants

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-11-25 16:55

Calista representatives Willie Kasayulie on the left and President Andrew Guy on the right. (Photo by Charles Enoch)

Representatives from the Calista Corporation met at the Cultural Center in Bethel earlier this month with shareholders and descendants, to discuss the details of an upcoming vote on whether to issue shares to “afterborns,” those born after December 1971 when newly formed Alaska Native Corporations enrolled their shareholders.

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Calista President and CEO Andrew Guy, and Chairman Willie Kasayulie shared information about what shareholders can expect if Calista’s shareholders triple in number. One of the shareholders’ main concerns focused on how much the annual dividend would decrease.

Bethel resident and shareholder, Stanely Hoffman says he would rather not have his annual dividend diluted. He compared Calista to the other Alaska Native regional corporations who issue dividends that are in the tens of thousands.

“I can see them doing that (enrolling afterborns) and getting a healthy dividend. If this passes we’ll never see another dividend. The way I look at it my kids will benefit more too cause they’ll get my shares after I die, the way it is now they’re not benefiting at all,” said Hoffman.

For example, if Calista gave out dividends to its 12,900 shareholders at $3.50 per share like it did earlier this year, a shareholder with a hundred shares would receive $350. But if the number of shareholders triples to as much as over forty thousand, Calista would have to reduce the dividends to as much as a third of the original worth. That would bring the dividend down $1.08 per share, and the average shareholder would receive around $108.

Calista said enrolling afterborns would also increase administrative costs and make it difficult to reach a quorum during future shareholder meetings. Also, shareholders would not be able to gift or transfer these new shares so these proposed shares would die with the shareholder.

Bethel resident Connie Sankwich is a Calista shareholder, she said the meeting included information she believes many have not considered.

“This presentation was really good it was very well outlined. I think that when the vote was initially passed in 2011 where shareholders, the majority of shareholders wanted to see a vote to enroll descendants, that the majority of the shareholders were not informed on what would happen,” said Sankwich.

Calista shareholders voted on an advisory proposal in 2011 to look at the possibility of issuing shares to descendants. Representatives from Calista will meet with shareholders from different communities in the near future to answer questions. Sometime next year, possibly during the summer months at the annual meeting, shareholders will vote on whether descendants will be issued shares.

The date and location for the annual meeting will be decided during the next Calista quarterly meeting in the first week of December.

Categories: Alaska News

ANSEP tripling enrollment in middle school program

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-11-25 16:54

Students and staff at a 2013 ANSEP Middle School Academy (Photo courtesy ANSEP)

The Alaska Native Science & Engineering Program is tripling enrollment in its Middle School Academies after receiving a $6 million state grant.

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The free academies were founded in 2010 and last 10 to 12 days. The program hopes to get middle school students—especially Alaska Natives—interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The curriculum includes experiments and engineering challenges. Students live on the University of Alaska Anchorage campus to get a feel for college.

Seventy-seven percent of academy students take Algebra I by the end of eighth grade; the national average in 2011 was 47 percent, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Last year, there were four Middle School Academies in the spring and summer, each with 54 students between grades six and eight. Next year, they will have 12 sessions held all year round.

The grant money will be split over three years. Michael Bourdukofsky is ANSEP’s chief operations officer. He says the grant will go toward housing for students at UAA, travel, academic materials and staff support, among other things.

Bourdukofsky was a participant in ANSEP’s university program, but feels that students coming out of the Middle School Academies have an early advantage.

“With the exposure that we’re providing students with now to college life, to campus life, to the expectations of students once they get to college, I didn’t have any of that and I kind of went in blind,” Bourdukofsky says.

He graduated with an engineering degree from UAA and says ANSEP was critical in keeping him on track.

Bourdukofsky says ANSEP accepts about half of academy applicants and there are never enough slots for interested students. Students can only go to the program once, but are encouraged to participate in other ANSEP initiatives afterward.

Jules Mermelstein is only 15 but is set to graduate next year from West Valley High School in Fairbanks. He says that ANSEP encouraged him to set his goals higher and graduate early.

“I definitely wouldn’t have been doing a three-year track, had it not been for ANSEP’s initial push to get me interested,” he says.

Mermelstein originally wanted to be an archaeologist, but became fascinated with mechanical engineering when he attended an academy in sixth grade.

“We built a balsa wood bridge and while my group may not have done the best ‘cause there were many, many different groups competing, it was still really interesting and fun to learn how to build stuff, because that’s like nothing that’s really introduced in school other than like, a candy cane house,” Mermelstein says.

He hopes to continue along the ANSEP track in college, going to either UAA or University of Alaska Fairbanks. When he graduates, he says he would like to work on in-state renewable energy projects.

The grant to expand the Middle School Academies came through House Bill 278 championed by Gov. Sean Parnell.

Categories: Alaska News

Nome Churches, Nonprofits Keep Sales Tax Exemption

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-11-25 16:53

Business owners, nonprofit workers, and residents (including Rep. Neal Foster, left) made for a full house in Nome City Council chambers Monday as the council debated contentious tax issues. (Photo: Matthew F. Smith, KNOM)

Nome’s nonprofits and churches will remain exempt from city sales tax—and retailers won’t have their unsold inventories taxed—but at Monday night’s City Council meeting, efforts to charge property tax on airplanes moved forward.

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The rejection of the proposals are just the latest in the city’s months-long struggle to find more revenue after disappearing state and federal funding left a roughly $800,000 dollar hole in the city’s budget.

A packed house gathered in City Council chambers to hear the introduction, or “first reading,” of three ordinances meant to bring in more revenue for the city. The council wasn’t able to debate the issues—that debate is only allowed on “second reading”—but that didn’t stop small businesses owners, nonprofits directors, and residents from telling the council their thoughts. And those thoughts were a chorus of rejection for all three proposals.

On the sales tax exemption issue, Danielle Slingsby with the Nome Community Center—which runs the town food bank, the Nome Children’s Home providing transitional youth housing, the XYZ Senior Center, and more—said ending the exemption would have a direct impact on services.

“All of our purchases are direct program purchases, so anything we purchase, we try to support local business as much as we can,” she said, addressing the council as well as the more than two dozen members of the public. “I think if you take [the sales tax exemption] away from nonprofits, you’re basically just taking away services from the people of Nome.”

Kawerak president Melanie Bahnke said services the regional nonprofit provides are usually performed by government agencies; agencies that she noted would remain exempt from sales tax with the proposal under consideration.

“Many of these programs exist because Kawerak assumed the functions of the federal government to deliver these services,” Bahnke said. “The federal government enjoys the benefit of the exemption. It would seem to penalize the tribal governments in this region for exerting self-governance by taxing these programs because they are not operated by the federal government.”

Though the sales tax exemption issue would have impacts on faith-based organizations like churches, no one from the roughly dozen churches in Nome spoke on the issue.

Levying tax on business inventories was characterized by many business owners as a “double tax” that would be collected both when items sit on the shelf and again when they are sold and subject to Nome’s 5 percent sales tax. Barb Nichols with the Nome Chamber of Commerce received a round of applause from members of the public after she spoke against taxing inventories.

“This additional cost can’t be shown on receipts, such as a retail sales tax,” Nichols argued. “The impact of these non-transparent taxes are hidden to most consumers, and an invisible issue to most voters.”

Nichols also spoke to the timing of the new tax, which would have gone in to effect Jan. 1, 2015. “Our business community has already ordered and received their goods to last through our long winters, to ensure the community has what it needs. Now, without any notice, this exemption could be removed this year.”

“This is not about business profit,” Nichols summarized. “Removing this exemption will dig even further into the ever-slimming wallets of all of our community members. These businesses should be celebrated, not double taxed.”

While dislike for the proposals was nearly unanimous, Rolland Trowbridge of Trinity Sails and Repair (and KNOM Chief Engineer) took the podium—without expressing support or opposition to any particular ordinance—to emphasize the need for organizations and individuals to be more willing to support a city that allows their nonprofits and businesses to exist.

“There’s a lot of business going on in Nome where sales tax isn’t being collected. A lot of people doing business on the side, repairs, the kind of stuff where they’re just taking cash money. And for those people doing that, you’re not helping yourself, you’re not helping anybody, because that is what it costs to run this town,” Trowbridge said.

“The reality is, I depend on this city to function correctly for my business to operate, and so do the nonprofits,” he added. “We all need to start saying, OK, where do we want the money to come from?”

Many speakers called on the city to get its own financial house in order before raising taxes, but City Manager Josie Bahnke said it wasn’t a ballooning city budget—but rather roughly $800,000 in shortfalls in state and federal funding—that has led to the current deficit. She said the new tax proposals were not considered on a whim.

“We did make cuts, we did get down to a bare-bones budget.This year our operating budget has gone down, we all continue to deal with healthcare costs rising … The discussion was around how we could make up for that approximately $800,000,” Bahnke said. “I think the idea of [sales tax] exemptions [as well as] meetings with the city attorney led us down that road.”

But fresh from attending last week’s Alaska Municipal League—a gathering of city administers from around the state—Bahnke said other Alaska cities, large and small, are facing similar budget shortfalls and identical scrambles for revenue, raising questions of just what jobs people expect their city to do.

“Some of the challenges, I think, are … the disconnect in what residents see, what they want, and what they’re willing to pay for. I think this is going to continue on here through the next several months … sometimes there’s disagreement on what the core functions of the city are, of what they should be.”

The room became quiet as the ordinance for the sales tax exemption went before the council, which required just one other council member to second the motion to move it forward. But the ordinance died on the table; not a single council member voted to even consider it for a first reading. The proposal to tax business inventories also failed to pass muster for first reading, failing in a vote of two in favor to three against.

That left just one proposal passing for a second reading, one that would assess property tax on aircraft. That brought Paul Costo, the Nome station manager for Alaska Airlines, to the podium to tell the council that taxing airplanes could send businesses to other hubs like Bethel, Kotzebue, or Unalakleet.

“There’s some real-life ramifications for the airline industry if you were to start taxing aircraft. Nome would lose not only aircraft, they would lose services and they would lose jobs.” Costo requested more information on how the city would assess any tax, “a formula, a tax plan, and quite frankly, what the aircraft owner is going to get in return for paying their tax dollars.”

Costo added that few other Alaska cities collect property tax on planes, and when they do, it’s usually on city-owned airports, whereas Nome’s airport is state-owned. Council member Jerald Brown said there are enough city services at the airport to merit the tax.

“I’ve see the fire trucks responding to issues at the airport, I’ve seen police responding to issues at the airport. I know there’s water and sewer provided out there, probably for a fee, so services are being provided,” he said.

Brown called for a list of other cities that assess property tax on airplanes—and a list of what entity owns the airport in those communities—when the proposal comes up for a second reading (and formal public comment) at the council’s next meeting on Dec. 8.

The only other item before the council was handled quickly, approving a $7 million bid for the port’s Middle Dock project to Orion Marine Contractors.

Categories: Alaska News

Orphaned Bear Cub Finds Temporary Home At Alaska Zoo

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-11-25 16:52

An orphaned bear cub from the Eagle area is at the Alaska Zoo. The young black bear will be kept at the facility in Anchorage, while a search is conducted for a permanent home.

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Categories: Alaska News

Anti-Begich Ad in Voter Guide Prompts Bill to Ban Parties From Booklet

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-11-25 14:43

The state Division of Elections took some heat this year for publishing an attack ad against Sen. Mark Begich within the pages of the official voter guide. Now, Rep. Les Gara, an Anchorage Democrat, wants to ban partisan ads in the guide, a booklet that’s mailed to every voting household.

“People hear enough in the form of political attack ads during an election. I don’t think it’s appropriate for attack ads to find their way into a state funded voter guide,” Gara said.

By statute, political parties are allowed to buy up to two full-page ads, for $600 apiece, and the Division of Elections has no say over the content. Until this year, the parties mostly used the space to list their party platforms. But now that the Republican Party of Alaska has used the space for a more aggressive message, Gara says other parties are likely to do the same.

Republican Party Chairman Peter Goldberg says he got a few angry complaints about the anti-Begich ad, but he’s not convinced it had much impact, since a lot of voters don’t read the guide. Goldberg says he just wanted to make sure the party used its ad space effectively.

“When someone suggested a negative ad, why not? The objective of a political party is to win an election. And you take advantage of every opportunity you can to look for opportunities to sway voters,” Goldberg said.

Gara says he plans to pre-file the bill and will be looking for co-sponsors from both parties.

Categories: Alaska News

Hilcorp To Purchase Port MacKenzie LNG Plant

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-11-25 10:21

Cook Inlet oil and gas producer Hilcorp has announced purchase of an LNG plant at Port MacKenzie. The plant, now owned by Titan Alaska LNG, supplies Fairbanks Natural Gas.

Fairbanks Natural Gas President Dan Britton says the sale grew from discussions between Fairbanks Natural Gas and Hilcorp about a longer-term gas supply.

Hilcorp spokeswoman Lori Nelson says the Regulatory Commission of Alaska must approve the sale.

“The transaction is definitely dependent on all the necessary and regulatory approvals, so this just marks the agreement for and desire for Hilcorp to purchase that facility.”

Nelson says Hilcorp supplies gas to Titan’s plant and has a contract through 2018. She says Hilcorp plans to expand the facility in the future, and to expand its capacity for transmission of gas to Interior markets. Fairbanks Natural Gas serves about 1,100 mixed residential and commercial customers in the core of Fairbanks.

“It actually opens up great opportunity for us to expand the market here in Alaska. As you know, we have been investing hundreds of millions in Cook Inlet to up that production, and with a closed market and limited availability for export, growing our market within Alaska is a natural step for us, and one that also serves the Interior residents as well.”

Nelson says she has no details on the agreed upon price of the purchase. Hilcorp recently purchased four North Slope fields formerly owned by BP. Nelson says the two transactions are not related.  

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

New Activity Seen At Mount Shishaldin

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-11-24 17:24

Shishaldin Volcano with a typical steam plume, pictured on Sept. 14, 2013. Photo by Joseph Korpiewski, U.S. Coast Guard.

There has been some new activity at Mount Shishaldin. The Alaska Volcano Observatory upgraded the volcano to an orange status several months ago, but as geologist at AVO Chris Waythomas says Shishaldin started acting differently Sunday night.
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“We detected an escalation in seismic activity that suggested the volcano had increased its level on unrest.”

Waythomas says there has been no ash emission thus far from Shishaldin but that volcano is known for producing huge ash plumes as high as 20,000 feet.

“But there are some very strong thermal signals detected at the summit, suggesting that there may have been some emission of hot material blocks or flows on the upper flanks.”

Shishaldin is one of the most active volcanoes in Alaska.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: November 24, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-11-24 17:23

Stories are posted on the APRN news page. You can subscribe to APRN’s newsfeeds via emailpodcast and RSS. Follow us on Facebook at alaskapublic.org and on Twitter @aprn

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Judge Temporarily Halts EPA’s 404(c) Process on Pebble Mine

Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage

U.S. District Court Judge H. Russel Holland issued a preliminary injunction Monday, temporarily halting the EPA’s 404(c) process regarding the Pebble Mine.

Walker Transition Team Brings 250 Delegates to Shape Policy

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

Gov.-elect Bill Walker and his transition team held meetings in Anchorage over the weekend to hammer out a list of priorities for the incoming administration. The 250 committee members- stakeholders from across the state- discussed topics ranging from fiscal policy to subsistence. It was a rare attempt for an incoming administration to shape its future so openly.

Details Sketchy on Expanded Deferred Action for Illegal Immigrants

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

It is estimated that 1,800 undocumented Mexicans are living in Alaska, although there is no account of how many undocumented immigrants of other nationalities may be in the state.  Now, some undocumented immigrants may be eligible for an expanded deferred action program announced last week by President Barack Obama.

New Activity Seen At Mount Shishaldin

Thea Card, KDLG – Dillingham

There has been some new activity at Mount Shishaldin. The Alaska Volcano Observatory upgraded the volcano to an orange status several months ago, but as AVO geologist at is Waythomas says, Shishaldin started acting differently Sunday night.

BBAHC Testing All Expectant Mothers For Opioid Use

Dave Bendinger, KDLG – Dillingham

A few weeks ago, police were called to the Kanakanak Hospital in Dillingham when a woman six months pregnant and a mother who had just given birth that day were caught smoking an oxycodone pill in the bathroom of the maternity room. The disturbing incident highlighted just how severe the use of opioids like heroin and oxycodone has become in Bristol Bay. Now the hospital has made the testing for opioids routine for all pregnancies.

For Better Storm Warnings, NWS Goes Local

Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska

Predicting storms in a fast-changing environment isn’t easy. But the National Weather Service is slowly working on a plan to improve their forecasts in Alaska – and across the country – by adding in the view from the ground.

Interior’s Dry Weather To Continue

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The interior is forecast to get a little snow over the next couple days, but the trend is for continued dry weather.

Report: Subsidized logging costs feds millions

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

A new report says the Forest Service is wasting millions of dollars by propping up a failing Southeast Alaska timber industry. It says the Tongass National Forest should instead invest in projects supporting tourism and fishing, which are growing segments of the economy.

“Frost” Brings Art Seekers into Anchorage Parks

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

Frost is one of Anchorage’s newest public art projects. It’s a scavenger hunt with photo clues that lead you to a place where the artists have mixed lights and film into a temporary art piece. It’s called “creative placemaking” and aims to get people out into the city’s parks and help them see the space in a different way.

Categories: Alaska News

BBAHC testing all expectant mothers for opioid use

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-11-24 17:23

A few weeks ago, police were called to the Kanakanak Hospital in Dillingham when a woman six months pregnant and a mother who had just given birth that day were caught smoking an oxycodone pill in the bathroom of the maternity room. The disturbing incident highlighted just how severe the use of opioids like heroin and oxycodone has become in Bristol Bay. Now the hospital has made the testing for opioids routine for all pregnancies.

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Categories: Alaska News

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