Ever since voters decided to shorten the legislative session to 90 days, there’s been an expectation that lawmakers will call special sessions to add more time to the clock. This year, they didn’t. It was only the second time that’s happened since the initiative passed. But even though legislators met the deadline this year, not all of them are convinced it’s a good system. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports.
If you want to find an issue that everyone in the Capitol can disagree upon, regardless of party, it’s the length of the legislative session. You might not even find consensus within a single office, as Sen. Mike Dunleavy, a Mat-Su Republican, learned.
DUNLEAVY: “How do you guys feel about the length of the session? Should it be longer or shorter?”
STAFFER #1: “Thirty days!”
STAFFER #2: “120 was good.”
DUNLEAVY: “You’re the worst staff. One said thirty, one said 120, and one said nothing at all.”
Dunleavy has his own opinion.
“If you’re asking if it should be longer or shorter, I think it should be shorter to be honest with you. I think the committee meetings, um, we should probably hold them throughout the year. Throughout the summer, spring, fall, and condense the session even more, and just hear bills on the floor.”
The 90-day session came about in 2006, when voters narrowly passed an initiative to cut the amount of time lawmakers spend in Juneau down by a month. The idea was that it would force the legislature to save money, enable people with families and outside jobs to run for office, and get work done faster. There isn’t evidence that the initiative has succeeded in the first two things, but it’s definitely put the legislature on hyperdrive.
Rep. Lynn Gattis, a Wasilla Republican, is okay with that.
“You had to get up early in the morning. You had to work late in the evening. You definitely had to work on weekends. But 90 days is enough.”
As a freshman legislator, Gattis says she’s had to cram to get caught up on all of the policy debates going on in the building. It’s been tough, but she thinks that if she can do it, then lawmakers who have been there for years should be able to handle it, too. For example, she points out that an overhaul of the state’s oil tax structure isn’t just something the legislature took up in January — it’s been going on for years. She says you can also do work in the interim.
But even though Gattis is a fan of the 90-day rule, she was kind of amused by all of the speculation that comes with the prospect of a special session.
“So, I’m walking down the hallway, ‘You guys, are we going to have a special session?’ Some of the people who had been here twenty, thirty years: ‘Yeah, we’re going to have a special session!’ I said, ‘Well, for how long?’ Some said 10, some said 20, some said 30. Even had kind of miniature bets in regard to it. Clearly, even the folks who had been here forever were unable to determine what it is.”
Because the legislature has gone into special session more often than not, a lot of legislators from both sides of the aisle have come to a different conclusion than Gattis. They think the 90-day limit just isn’t working.
In 2011, Sen. Gary Stevens, a Republican from Kodiak, introduced a bill that would allow for a 90-day session one year and then a 120-day session the next. While the bill died in the House, it passed in the Senate with bipartisan support. And the handful of senators who opposed it? Well, they were a mix of liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans.
Sen. Johnny Ellis, an Anchorage Democrat who has held office since the 1980s, was among those who supported that bill.
“My perspective as a long-time serving legislator — and seeing the ups and downs, the vagaries and the process — the 90 days does not serve the public well.”
Ellis has a lot of issues with the shorter session: it means less time for constituents and more power for the governor’s office. Smaller issues that are still important are more likely to be tossed by the wayside. Ellis also says that shrinking the session allows — and may even encourage — bad process, like limiting time for public testimony and holding committee hearings and floor votes long past midnight.
“Things were rammed through that deserved more time and attention.”
But even though he has a lot of problems with the shorter session, and even though he’s not alone in that, Ellis doesn’t see much will to override the voter initiative. He thinks it’ll take a few more years before voters or lawmakers will want to reconsider how long politicians should be in Juneau. For now at least, the 90-day session looks like it’s here to stay.
Scientists at the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy (ACCAP) discussed new regional projections for snowfall in Alaska during a webinar presentation Tuesday. Climate change could significantly change the amount of snow that hits the ground and sticks throughout the state.
Climate change in Alaska is likely to bring warm temperatures over the next 50 to 100 years. With the heat wave, patterns of precipitation are also likely to change.
Stephanie McAfee is a researcher at Scenarios Network for Alaska and Arctic Planning (SNAP). She gathered more than 30 years-worth of climate data from weather stations across the state.
Using five different well-known climate models, she came up with different scenarios to explain potential effects on both snowfall and snow accumulation in the future.
“The fact that we can do this for multiple models and multiple scenarios is actually one key benefit,” she told fellow researchers. “We can look at the diversity of future potentials and see how much diversity there is from model to model.”
McAfee used models that ranged in severity of predicted climate change effects in Alaska. One of the more aggressive models could mean big changes for Southeast Alaska.
“Southeast might as early as the 2040′s start looking a lot like Washington,” she explained. “Where there’s very little snow along the coast on any sort of regular basis, but up in the mountains, quite frequently, quite a lot of snow.”
McAfee says that same model predicts significant changes in the middle of winter for the Southwest region and Alaska’s West Coast.
“As early as the 2040s in some places and certainly by the 2090s large portions of this region are going to receiving almost exclusively rain, including Anchorage and even as far north as Nome and Kotzebue a significant proportion of the precipitation could be coming as rain,” says McAffee.
North of the Brooks Range Range McAfee says models show temperatures will stay cold enough that precipitation will fall predominantly as snow, but the same region could also see more rain-on-snow events during the spring and fall shoulder seasons.
McAfee’s data are now available through the SNAP website for use among members of the research community.
An impulse of sympathy by a Sitka couple in Boston has gone viral on the Internet as a symbol of people pulling together in the face of violent tragedy. Monday after the bombs exploded at the Boston Marathon, police stopped the race. Those who could not finish didn’t know if their families waiting at the finish were okay.
Laura Wellington was one such runner. She was sitting in tears when a woman put a space blanket around her and a man who had finished the race gave her his medal. Later she reached out through Facebook, and was soon in touch with Brent Cunningham of Sitka, who had finished the race, and his wife Karin.
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A new book out this month tells the incredible story of bear attack survivor Dan Bigley. In “Beyond the Bear” Bigley and co-author Debra McKinney recount the horrific mauling 10 years ago near the Russian River, which blinded Dan and changed his life forever.
Dan and a friend were fishing on the Russian River. Returning to their car at the parking lot, they encountered an angry brown bear, who huffed at them, hair raised on end. Dan says they slowly backed away and decided to take a longer way back to their car.
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The U.S. Senate voted down a host of new gun regulations, including a new assault weapons ban. Senators bucked public opinion and voted against expanding background checks to online sales and gun shows. And it nixed a plan to limit the size of ammunition magazines.
Alaska Senators Mark Begich and Lisa Murkowski voted against those three provisions.
Immediately following the vote, a liberal group, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, blasted an email saying it will run ads opposing Senator Begich in his reelection campaign next year.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid canceled the vote on the overall bill, a maneuver that technically keeps it alive. But today’s vote effectively killed any attempt to reform the nation’s gun laws, 124 days after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook elementary school.
Deputy Secretary of the Interior David Hayes told an Arctic energy conference the federal government has been explicit in its demands of companies planning to drill in the Arctic Ocean.
He said every company will need a capping stack and containment system in case of a spill.
“There really is not much of a question about what our expectations are folks drilling in the Arctic. We’ve laid it out with Shell. We’ve told the rest of the industry these are our expectations,” he said Wednesday at the Brookings Institution “They’re common sense expectations. Number two, we learned last summer, it’s hard to pull this off in the Arctic.”
Secretary Hayes was referencing Shell’s bungled summer. The company hoped to drill to oil producing depths, but repeated errors, and government punishments, prevented that from happening.
Instead, Shell drilled two pilot wells, then grounded its drilling rig Kulluk on the way home to Seattle.The Department of Interior followed with a report mapping guidelines for all future Arctic drilling. Companies must now oversee subcontractors and every aspect of the drilling operation, from marine transit, to drilling, to closing the well down for the season.
Secretary Hayes made clear to the international audience that the United States should lead in sensible standards on Arctic operators.
“We are setting together a menu of expectations that can provide the blueprint for what other companies should do, or what other countries should expect their companies to do throughout the Arctic,” he said.
Lieutenant Governor Mead Treadwell disagreed with Hayes’s assessment, saying every plan is unique.
“There are big prospects in the Arctic, and there are small prospects in the Arctic,” he said.
Treadwell said he met with Conoco executives who say the federal government’s rules are too unclear to decipher.
He’s advocating for a case-by-case set of regulations for each operator not an Arctic wide policy.
“If two companies can’t say ‘hey we’re going to go about this in a different way’ you’ve got a problem,” he complained.
Treadwell says he’s worried undue federal regulations will force oil companies out of Alaska, leaving the Trans Alaska Pipeline in peril. To Treadwell, that’s just one reason the recently passed tax cuts make the state more enticing.
Treadwell said Governor Sean Parnell will soon sign the bill into law; welcome news to Secretary Hayes.
“That’d be great. That in the near term is the way to continue that pipeline,” Hayes said.
For the foreseeable future, the oil filling that pipeline will come from land, not the Arctic Ocean.
State narcotics officials say unsuspecting travelers are being used as drug mules to carry illegal pills to rural Alaska. Earlier this month, authorities intercepted a package of oxycodone pills at the Anchorage airport. They were inside a bag a traveler agreed to take to Dillingham for another woman.
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The summer drilling season is getting closer and operators in Cook Inlet have big plans for 2013.
Hilcorp has submitted a request to amend its operations plan for its projects in the Ninilchik unit, onshore about 40 miles north of Homer. The amended plan calls for the drilling of up to two oil wells. Currently, Hilcorp is permitted to do gas drilling work at this site. The first would be a 12,000 foot exploratory well, with the possibility of a second if it proves successful.
In its plan submitted to the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, Hilcorp says it may need to expand the existing drilling pad to accommodate a new drill rig and will determine in the next month if gravel will have to come from nearby wetlands, which would need a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers.
The plan calls for 24-hour a day drilling as soon as the drill rig can be located on site, possibly as early as next month. The company anticipates completion of the well in 60 days, with testing going on for an additional 90 days. Hilcorp will construct a temporary truck loading facility to transport the oil from the six 400-barrel storage tanks it will have onsite, with two to four loads being transported daily.
Another company, Aurora Gas LLC, has filed for permits to drill on the West side of Cook Inlet at Nicolai Creek, about 10 miles south of Tyonek. Aurora is another independent exploration and production company and has been in Cook Inlet since 2011.
Their plans for Nicolai Creek include both new and old wells and updating infrastructure in the area including 700 feet of gravel road and a 60,000 square foot well pad. Updating that infrastructure will take about 3 weeks, according to Aurora’s plan filed with the DNR and another four weeks to drill its well. Aurora also intends to build a gathering line to transport gas to the Cook Inlet Gas Gathering System Pipeline for sales to Kenai or Anchorage.
Representatives for both Hilcorp and Aurora did not immediately return phone calls for this story.
It’s a brisk, sunny early spring day in Seward. Scudding clouds barely break the relentless blue of the sky beyond the chilly, cobalt waters of Resurrection Bay. Inside the city administration building on Adams Street, assistant city manager Ron Long looks at a detail of a map of Seward’s harbors.
“Here’s the existing infrastructure here. So there’s one central portion of the basin that would need to be dredged to accommodate the largest of the vessels in the proposed fleet. “
Long says the new harbor is already built. It’s around the other side of the Bay from the city’s small boat harbor and cruise ship dock, but it needs a lot more work.
“That’s the harbor as it exists now. That’s our Seward Marine Industrial Center. As you can see, sort of an open basin. There’s a small breakwater down at the southern end of the harbor. So it’s somewhat exposed to weather, and that poses some operational challenges.”
The idea to use it for the CDQ fleet came up a couple of years ago, when Western Alaska’s Coastal Villages Region Fund, approached the city. CVRF is the largest of the CDQ groups, and it brings in an estimated 175 million pounds of groundfish and crab annually. Currently, the group’s fleet docks in Seattle.
“And they’ve managed to leverage those initial shares into majority or outright ownership interest in twenty large vessels — crabbers, catcher processors trawlers, and over a quarter billion dollars in assets that they would like to bring home to Alaska.”
But the new harbor needs a jetty, to protect the large vessels from wave action. Long says when the CDQ group looked at Seward
“We had almost all of the things that they needed, except sufficient moorage capacity in all weathers at all times. And so that’s what started the conversation about finding a way to complete that basin that’s over on the East side of the Bay. “
Seward’s year round ice free port, and rail access to points North, also make the project attractive. CVRF’s seafood general manager Nick Souza says the group initially was not sure Seward was the right place.
“Not quite big enough and not quite what we were thinking. And then, they reworked it a few times, and came back with something that would work. It was pretty big. It would fit all our fleet in there, the factory trawler as well as the cod boats and the crab boats. ”
Souza says having the fleet close to corporate offices in Anchorage is another plus — it eliminates the three and a half hour flight to Seattle.
He says it won’t be cheaper to keep the boats in Seward, but that’s not a drawback. He emphasizes more development has to be done regarding support services the fleet needs, and that could take time
“Two years, ten years. The whole infrastructure needs to be built up. Not just, boom, the harbors here. You know, fuel vendors they need to be able to fill up our ship. The factory trawler actually probably takes up as much fuel as the whole city of Seward does. So things like that need to be addressed.”
The CDQ group already has five large vessels with long term moorage contracts at the city’s existing harbor. Seward is working slowly but doggedly toward getting the new harbor finished. The city received a 400 thousand dollar appropriation from the state in 2010 to do a feasibility study and concept design. An additional 10 million dollars from last year’s transportation bond was invested in the project as well.
Long says there is a need to find other users that would balance out the seasonal nature of the fishing fleet. The plan is to lease city owned adjacent uplands to private developers and entrepreneurs, and to attract more vessels to the new harbor.
“We’ve had some recent activity over the last year or so with some of the oil and gas exploration and support fleet that’s being deployed to the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas. And we expect that to continue as more companies are interested and more lease acres are opened up. We’ve also had renewed interest from existing customers, from tug and barge companies. “
Permitting for water work, a rock quarry source for stone, and federal and state permits and fees have eaten up four million dollars of last year’s transportation money. The remainder will be used to build the breakwater, he says.
The city is now waiting to see if the ten million dollars in this year’s capitol budget survives the Governor’s veto. That money will allow Seward to begin constructing the breakwater this fall.
With cruise ship landings down, Seward is looking to boost city revenues. In time, an uptick in marine support and fish processing could fill the gap. But CVRF communications coordinator Dawson Hoover says, the project is bound to benefit the whole state by creating jobs and by helping to “Alaskanize” the Bering Sea fisheries
Sitka Community Hospital — like most hospitals — delivers babies. But that hasn’t always been the case. For about two years, from 2009 to 2011, a lack of properly qualified physicians shutdown its obstetrics program. KCAW’s Anne Brice looks at how the return of obstetrics has made a difference for expectant moms.
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The Tlingit-Haida Central Council holds its 78th Annual Tribal Assembly in Juneau this week.
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A Metlakatla woman is gearing up for the upcoming Miss Indian World competition, next week during the annual Gathering of Nations in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
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An antique ski has been donated to the Fairbanks North Star Borough for display at the Birch Hill Recreation Area. The ski is thought to be a gold rush era relic.
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The ‘Write-in Nick Moe’ campaign has announced they will not challenge the results of the Anchorage Municipal Election in West Anchorage’s District 3. Thousands of voters wrote-in Moe’s name on the ballot, but even after a hand-count election, election officials say Moe lost by more than 500 votes. Also today, Anchorage attorneys today denied an application to hold a referendum repealing the controversial ordinance that limits unions and inspired Moe to jump into the race.
Union leaders applied to hold a referendum on the controversial ordinance, called AO37, on April 3. Municipal Attorney Dennis Wheeler explains the application didn’t meet the technical requirements. But he says there was a bigger issue too:
“You cannot address administrative matters by referendum,” Wheeler said.
Wheeler argues the matter is ‘administrative’ because it deals with issues like where certain employees are located during work, the number of health benefit programs that employees can choose from and the time frame in which the collective bargaining process should take place. Union leaders applied to hold the referendum the day after municipal elections, when voters turned out in numbers to protest the ordinance at the ballot box.
Several thousand filled in the name of write-in candidate, Nick Moe instead of voting for Ernie Hall, who was running unopposed in West Anchorage’s District 3. Hall chairs the Assembly and oversaw passage of the ordinance. Under his leadership, a public hearing was closed before everyone who showed up had a chance to testify. Andy Holeman is the President of the Anchorage Education Association. He was the primary sponsor of the application for a referendum. He does not agree with Wheeler’s analysis.
“The charter suggests that citizens can reverse an ordinance enacted by the Assembly and that’s what we want to do. We think it’s about that straight forward. If you have to go to court to get the right to do that, then we’re prepared to take that action,” Holeman said.
Holeman says before filing a lawsuit he and other union leaders plan to submit a new application to hold a referendum, in an effort to remedy technical problems with their previous application.
- Anchorage Municipal Elections
- Clerk’s Office Response (PDF)
- Municipal Attorneys Office Memorandum (PDF)
- Assembly Seat D Hand Count Summary (PDF)
The Legislature adjourned Sunday without acting on a bill adding new voter identification requirements. But the measure is poised for action when lawmakers return to the Capitol next January.
Now that a bill lowering taxes on oil companies has passed, the big question is: Will it work?
At a press conference on Monday, Gov. Sean Parnell named a few indicators that might suggest whether his bill is succeeding. He says he expects to see changes to Alaska’s level of oil production within the next three years, and that his administration is basing its budget outlook on the idea that oil companies will add a handful of rigs to legacy fields. Parnell says his administration will also be watching the amount of money that producers put toward capital expenditures.
“The major companies have invested approximately $2 billion a year on average to kind of maintain where they are. I think that’s a good base-level starting point to say, ‘What are you going to jump up to? What are you going to bump up to?’”
But beyond that, Parnell didn’t provide much in the way of concrete metrics for judging his oil tax policy. He stayed away from defining success in specific terms, and he also avoided offering a hard timeline for evaluating his bill. Parnell also tried to temper expectations for his legislation, saying he didn’t expect to see dramatic growth in oil production immediately.
Democratic legislators have criticized Parnell for not offering clearer benchmarks. Sen. Hollis French, of Anchorage, says they also worry the administration might count projects that are already scheduled to go online as new investment.
“When they start having those ribbon cuttings, and the brass bands, and the big hullabaloos over new things happening on the North Slope, we’re going to remind the public these were already planned.”
The new tax structure is scheduled to go into effect in 2014.
An Army MP has been sentenced to 16 years in prison for espionage. 24- year-old William Colton Millay had pleaded guilty in March of this year to charges of attempted espionage, issuing false statements and communicating national defense information with intent to harm the US.
Former Juneau Mayor Bill Overstreet is being remembered as a persuasive and successful spokesman for Alaska’s capital city during the capital move fights of the 1970s and 80s.
Overstreet died last week in Sun City West, Arizona, where he and his wife Jean have spent their winters in recent years. He was 86-years-old.
Bill moved his family from Oklahoma in 1952. Over the years he was a teacher, school administrator, and became the first director of the statewide Alaska School Board Association.
Alaska author Dana Stabenow has big plans – and they have nothing to do with the plot of her next crime fiction novel. Stabenow hopes to turn her 10-acre property outside of Homer into a writers retreat dedicated to fostering the skills of female writers.
A dog took the stage during this year’s Alaska Folk Festival. So did a drum-and-pipe band and some Middle-Eastern-style singers and dancers. CoastAlaska’s Ed Schoenfeld assembled this audio post card.
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