Juneau residents took their questions to healthcare experts Monday night and got them answered by Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium navigator Monique Martin, United Way navigator Crystal Bourland, chief operating officer for Enroll Alaska Tyann Boling, and chief administrative officer for Enroll Alaska Chanel Moesh.
1. What is the difference between a healthcare navigator and a healthcare broker?
As a navigator we are really just sort of there to help people navigate healthcare.gov. Brokers can really help people to give them specific direction and suggestions on what plans might best fit their situation, versus a navigator, we’re there to just help them through the process and couldn’t direct them to a plan that might best fits their needs.
2. Will I get the same information about healthcare plans from a navigator and a broker?
Yes. Brokers and navigators are both able to help people on the marketplace. A broker might have more options outside of the marketplace. For instance, I believe Aetna is one that’s really offering a lot of plans. But they don’t offer plans on the marketplace. So a broker would be able to give you more options whereas a navigator just helps you on those plans that are available at healthcare.gov.
3. When will the healthcare.gov website start working?
Currently the federal government has stated that by November 30, they expect to have the website up and functioning. Once we are confident in the subsidy calculation and the functionality of the marketplace, we will deploy in full force to get individuals enrolled.
4. Since the website isn’t working properly, I keep hearing that I can enroll by phone or mail. Is this true?
The bottom line is no. The website, healthcare.gov is the one location where individuals can enroll into the federally facilitated marketplace. If the website is not functioning, individuals cannot enroll over the phone.
5. What’s the difference between enrolling for an insurance plan through healthcare.gov and enrolling straight from a provider?
If you qualify for a government subsidy, the only way to enroll into a health insurance policy and have that subsidy apply to your premium is through healthcare.gov. If you do not qualify a government subsidy, you can go direct to a carrier.
6. How do I qualify for a government subsidy?
You qualify for a subsidy really based on your household income, so for household income, we use the federal poverty guidelines. If you’re somewhere in between 100-400% of the federal poverty line in this state then most likely you’re going to qualify for financial assistant – aka, a subsidy – to help you pay for your health coverage.
7. What is Alaska’s federal poverty line?
For an individual, it would be $14,350 all the way up to around $57,000. So 100% of the federal poverty line in Alaska is that $14,350 and then four times that is at that $57,000. So if you’re an individual and you are somewhere in between that income level, then most likely you’re going to get financial assistance in the marketplace and you should definitely pursue that.
8. If I’m Alaska Native and I use the tribal health options that are available to me in my community, do I have to enroll in a new health plan?
No, if you go to a tribal health facility, you can keep going there just like you’ve been doing, that stays the same, but you do need to sign up for that exemption called the Indian Status Exemption so you aren’t subject to a tax penalty at the end of the year.
9. Do military have to apply for an exemption like Alaska Natives do?
No, if you get benefits, VA benefits or any sort of veteran benefits, then you don’t need to prove or apply for an exemption. And then in addition, if you’re on government programs like Medicaid or you have Medicare then you don’t need to apply for an exemption. You’re considered someone who has health insurance.
10. And finally, I keep hearing about bronze, silver, gold packages. What are they?
All plans have to offer what are called ten essential health benefits. So if they are really offering the same coverage, they’re going to differ in this metallic rating of bronze, silver, gold. If you have a bronze plan you’re probably paying less per month but maybe more in your out-of-pockets expenses when you go to the doctor for your copays or deductibles. Compared to someone who has a gold plan, they’re probably paying more per month for their premium, but then when they go to the doctor, they might have a smaller copay or deductible as part of that plan.
Where can I find prices of different healthcare plans so I can start shopping around by myself?
On the bottom of healthcare.gov, there’s an option to preview plans that are available in your state. You just select Alaska and then you’ll see 36 different plans available on the marketplace, and you can start to see what your monthly payment will be. If you’re just shopping around, it won’t calculate or tell you what your premium subsidy would be to offset your costs, but it will start to give you an idea of what is available out there for Alaskans.
What do the acronyms ACA, FFM, and QHP mean? Are there other healthcare acronyms that I might need to know?
ACA refers to the Affordable Care Act, which is the health reform law, also known as Obamacare.
FFM refers to the Federally Facilitated Marketplace, and that includes Alaska. Alaska chose not to partner as a state with the federal government so we’re what’s called a federally facilitated marketplace and we’re using healthcare.gov as our route to apply for marketplace coverage.
QHP refers to Qualified Health Plans. They are covering essential health benefits, which make them qualified to be sold in the marketplace.
Besides acronyms, there’s a lot of health insurance speak, things like, ‘deductibles,’ ‘copays,’ ‘cost-sharing.’ If you’re not in the world of health insurance or if you haven’t gone through the process of finding a plan on your own before, that’s confusing. There’s a lot of insurance speak and jargon. If you’re someone who needs a breakdown of those, there are resources on Premera and Moda’s website as well as healthcare.gov, but seek out help whether through a navigator, an agent, an in-person assistor and ask those questions. Those are fundamental terms that you want to know to help you make an informed decision on your healthcare needs.
What information should I have prepared for when healthcare.gov does work?
Some things people should get together is – if you’re a family and you may have children – social security numbers, dates of birth, tax forms from the previous years, maybe pay stubs from 2013 to get an idea of what your income might look like for 2014. You might want to have a list if you have any special prescription drugs that you have to take so that we can compare plans and make sure the plan you select covers those prescriptions. Bring your list of doctors as well.
How can I find out what my subsidy might be?
There are different tools available to calculate your subsidy or what you might qualify for. On healthcare.gov, there is the Kaiser Family Foundation subsidy calculator and we’ve found that to be a pretty good guess. However I’d say that navigators, as well as licensed agents and brokers, do have some other tools that are more manual and include percentages, so they’re probably going to be a little more accurate. But if you’re just curious, you can definitely go to Kaiser Family Foundation calculator or go to healthcare.gov, type in subsidy calculator and you will find it. There are ways to get it online, but know that it’s probably not exact; it’s just a rough calculation.
What if I buy insurance in Alaska but move to another state?
You’ll have to change your policy to the state where you reside at that point in time. You’ll have a certain time frame that you can switch over that insurance and it should be a seamless transition of coverage. It ends on the 30th of the month and starts on the 1st of the next month. In your new state exchange or federally facilitated marketplace, they have to recalculate the subsidy based on where you are residing at that time.
Why did my insurance plan get cancelled?
Individuals are getting cancellation notices because those individual insurance policies do not meet the requirements of the Affordable Care Act and, therefore, they are being cancelled. Individuals will then have to go out and purchase new insurance. If they qualify for a subsidy, they need to purchase an insurance plan on the marketplace, which is healthcare.gov. If they do not qualify for a subsidy, they can purchase a plan on the marketplace or outside the marketplace.
So if my insurance plan got cancelled, I have to shop for a new one? My insurance company won’t just automatically enroll me into a new plan?
Insurance carriers will map your coverage over, but they won’t determine if you’re subsidy-eligible or not, so they’re encouraging individuals to see if they are subsidy-eligible when they go pick a new plan. Insurance carriers won’t just outright cancel you. For Moda and Premera – the two insurance carriers we have within the Marketplace – they will map you over to a new plan. They will send out the new plan and tell you at that point in time, ‘This is your time to make a plan choice. Stick with the one we’ve given you and take the premium increase, or go to the marketplace and determine if you’re subsidy-eligible.’
The cost of prep work on a new power plant that Municipal Light and Power is building is now double what it was budgeted at.
Anchorage Assembly grilled the power company’s manager the about increased cost at Tuesday’s meeting of the Anchorage Assembly.
The project, which is part of an overhaul of the city’s power system, was originally supposed to cost around $5 million. It’s now slated to cost nearly $11 million.
Assembly member Amy Demboski gave this overview of the situation to Assembly member Paul Honeman.
“Essentially ML&P had a contract to do dirt work on a site that’s a the pre-curser to a power plant. The initial contract was about 5.2 million. And six weeks into the project, Mr. Honeman, the contractor notified ML&P that there was going to be at least a $3 million overrun. ML&P knew that and did not tell the assembly,” Demboski said.
A memo from Mayor Dan Sullivan dated Nov. 5 asks the assembly for the additional funds.
The contractor is Roger Hickel Contracting. The job was to prepare about five acres of land in the Muldoon area for construction and development of the new power plant. The memo says the cost doubled for several reasons – from removal of excess unusable soils to delays due to migratory birds being in the area.
Assembly members considered suing the contractor, but were advised that could cost between $250,000 – $400,000.
The Assembly wanted to know how the cost for prep work for a new power station in Muldoon ended up doubling and whose fault it was, the contractor’s or ML&P’s?
When questioned ML&P General Manager, Jim Posey, had few specific answers.
“This contractor took absolutely every day of that hundred and some days – whatever the number of days it was allowed under title seven provisions to do that. So, was that an accounting problem for them in coming up with a number? I can’t tell you. But as soon as we had numbers we started negotiating and coming toward you guys with the problem,” Posey said.
Roger Hickel Contracting was contacted for this story. President Michael Shaw sent an email saying that his company has, “acted in good faith with ML&P in constructing the necessary improvements to accommodate the ML&P Power Plant Project in 2014.”
In addition to being over budget the contractor needed a 45-day time extension.
Posey is set to retire at the end of the year. He says the full cost of the new plant will be more than $250 million.
He says the extra cost for the prep work is already figured into the total budget for the project and added that he’s confident the Assembly will go ahead and pay the bill.
The University of Alaska Anchorage is hosting community engagement events this week. The focus is on being urban in Alaska. Bree Kessler is an assistant professor for Health Sciences at the center for community engagement and learning. She says on Saturday a pop up museum will appear for a few hours in a downtown neighborhood.
The idea of UAA engagement has been around for a couple years, this year focused on urban in Alaska and specifically engaging in your neighborhood. The idea is pulling together the university and the greater community, bringing the university into the community and the community in the university.
What is a pop up museum? A pop up museum occurs for a couple of hours.
Ours will be from 11 am to 3 pm in the parking lot of the Fairview rec center and the idea is that people from the community, and we’re working closely with the Fairview community council, they’ve been a great help to us, people in the community will bring pictures and artifacts that are important to them. It will go into these tents, the museum we’re creating and anyone who comes can look at the objects and reflect on them and write about them and the idea is to create more accurate public memory and history of what happening in that neighborhood and what can happen in that neighborhood.
Will you archive the pop up material somewhere or is this meant to be temporary?
It’s both. It’s meant to be temporary in the sense that it will only meant to be there for a few hours, but the overall plan is that we will scan all the objects and once we have some funding, we will archive it on an interactive website, so that people can see what objects and pictures that were brought to the pop up. And ideally this is part of the centennial projects going on around town over the next year and a half.
You mentioned having the community bring these pictures and momentos and also write about them. Are you hoping to have them write about things right on sight and leave that for part of the archive?
Exactly, we’ve created some sheets that have writing prompts on them. They’ll be in front of the objects or pictures and community members or visitors that come to the pop up museum can reflect on the spot what they’re seeing. For instance, if they see a picture they might write, I have this same picture at home or I remember seeing this house when I was little. Things that connect the community together and again create a better collective memory of what’s happening in the neighborhood.
Are there other pop up museums planned for other anchorage neighborhoods?
That’s the idea. That this is somewhat of a pilot project and we would work with other community councils and other courses. This was a project of the civic engagement course that I teach at the University, through the center of community and learning. So next semester perhaps we would work with another community to organize a pop up in their neighborhood.
There’s also some neighborhood walks being planned this weekend. What neighborhoods are on the route?
Most of the walks are taking place downtown and one is in midtown. They were dreamt up by students in my honor’s class and they’re Jane Jacobs walks. Jane Jacobs was a public space advocate who talked about getting to know your neighbors and walkable cities. So there’s walks that look at art and boutiques downtown. There’s one called the urban survivor and that’s in midtown, looking at REI and survivor skills and a gun shop and thinking about how to be a great urban survivor in Anchorage.
Is there a culmination of the walk?
The hope is the students will be leading and talking throughout the walk talking about public space and Anchorage and that the reflection will happen throughout the walk. Some of them do end in a particular place, but the idea is to meet new people and there’s not always great ways in cities for strangers to meet each other for spontaneous things to happen. So one of the walks is going to have a flash mob that will occur during it, so the idea is that people on the walk will get to meet other people who will see the flash mob happening and hopefully join in on the walk spontaneously.
That sounds like a lot of fun.
I think it’s going to be a very wonderful walk. That walk is called the Glow and it’s happening Friday night starting at 7 o’clock. It’s open to anyone, but really for people under 21 to show them some great places that they may not have thought about to spend time downtown. In a way to sort of re-appropriate public places in a way that have been utilized before in hot spots.
Sitka has been named one of the most pedestrian-friendly cities in America.
The city gets about 86 inches of rain each year and nearly half of the city’s incorporated area sits under water – a pair of statistics that, to an outsider, might not suggest a community built for travel by foot. But this year, Sitka became the first city in Alaska to be named a “walk friendly” community.
The designation comes from the University of North Carolina’s Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center, which created the “walk friendly” award in 2010, to highlight communities that are making walking a lifestyle.
Participants in Sitka’s 2012 health summit decided to apply for the “walk friendly” designation, to assess the city’s strengths and weaknesses from a pedestrian’s point of view.
“You have a lot of physical health benefits – fresh air, exercise, heart healthy, that kind of stuff,” says Charles Bingham, who heads up the local group Walk Sitka,which applied on behalf of the city. “[But] there’s also economic health. People seem to want to be in an area that’s more walkable.”
The city received a “walk friendly” report card, which praised in particular the high percentage of Sitkans who walk to work – more than 11%, according to the census bureau. The report also cited Sitka’s extensive trail system, slow speed limits downtown, and low number of pedestrians involved in traffic accidents.
Forty-four cities across the U.S. have been declared “walk friendly.” Sitka received a bronze-level designation. Seattle is the only city to win a platinum designation. Juneau is listed as an honorable mention.
There are some challenges when trying to compare Sitka with other communities. For instance, though most residents live on just 35 miles of paved road, the city’s formal boundaries encompass a much larger, and wilder area.
“Most communities, you’re talking a 30 or 40 square mile area,” Bingham says. “With us, we had to call in and say the city and borough of Sitka is 4o00 square miles!”
That led to some unusual entries in Sitka’s application. In a section designed to assess the percentage of city land devoted to open space, the form asks, area of municipality? Answer: 4,811 square miles.
Area of park land? 4,800 square miles.
But good luck walking most of it.
The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly extended an emergency declaration order at its meeting Tuesday night. The move allows for continued efforts for flood relief around the Peninsula.
While the declaration covers the entire Borough, from Seward to Tyonek, the Assembly was focused on what’s happening around Kalifornsky Beach Road in Kenai.
Melissa Hill, a hydrologist for the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, told the Assembly that the water system in that area is complicated. Any long term solutions need to be carefully considered because of the volume of water that might be manipulated. She urged caution when digging around to try and divert water, because removing the top layer of soil could make groundwater rise even faster.
“There does seem to be some anecdotal evidence that people in some places may be moving that and the water level is rising,” Hill said.
Lots of ideas have been thrown out to try and find an immediate solution to the problem, including digging a giant trench that would take water directly to Cook Inlet.
“The concern is that if somebody did something that grandiose…you could have issues with salt water intrusion and that could cause a whole other set of issues,” Hill said.
As the water has continued to pool up, the Borough has done work to improve the water’s path to Cook Inlet.
“We drilled under [K-Beach] at Karluk with the permission of the Department of Transportation and pumped the basin out at Karluk. We ran some pipe to the beach and pumped about three million gallons out of there,” Borough Mayor Mike Navarre said.
That move was designed to buy some time and breathing room, but Navarre says more will need to be done to prepare for probably-inevitable spring flooding.
Hydrologist Melissa Hill says the state is interested in studying the area more, to get a better understanding of how and where water moves to help plan other improvements in the future.
Senator Lyman Hoffman failed to file complete financial disclosures, according to a decision by the Senate Committee on Legislative Ethics.
The committee found that Senator Hoffman “knowingly” prepared and filed incomplete disclosures, leaving out a “substantial” amount of income.
They say he knew that he consistently did not list the dollar amounts of his income and knew that it was required to do so. The amount of missing income was between $311,000 and $690,000, between 2008 and 2010.
The income related to Senator Hoffman’s partnership in Golden Eagle Unlimited, Inc., along with rental income, dividends, and interest from what the committee calls various sources. Golden Eagle is under contract with the Lower Kuskokwim School District for pupil transportation. The committee says he failed to list joint business ventures he shares with another legislator, although he noted that he had a “close economic association” with the lawmaker.
The investigation dates to November of last year. It involved 10 interviews and reviews of tax records, school board meetings, financial disclosures, and research on the companies Hoffmann is associated with.
Hoffmann appeared before the committee he said that more detail should have been provided. He added that he will be sure that sufficient information is provided in the future and will bring his tax records to Juneau.
The panel dismissed four other allegations against Hoffman.
There are no fines attached to this decision. Hoffman was fined $7,446 by the Alaska Public Offices Commission for incomplete disclosures for the same years. The senate committee supported that decision and suspended any fine that would have come with their finding.
Less than 48 hours after trick or treating, the sugar buzz should be mostly worn off. But there’s still thrills to be had in the form of launching pumpkins through the air.
On a wet Saturday afternoon Ricky Ramos with Bethel Parks and Recreation positions the launch arm of a tall wooden catapult like device.
“I guess it’s a modern trebuchet,” Ramos said.
That is the medieval siege weapon that was used to break down castle walls with flying rock. Or in this case, it’s tossing rotting pumpkins in a skate park.
“They’re shooting off pumpkins,” 9-year-old Kely Twito explained. “They put it in a bag and shoot it off.”
With an old jack-o-lantern in the canvas bag, Ramos begins cranking down on a hand winch. And after a short countdown from the gathered crowd, Ramos pulls the firing pin.
The 15-foot-arm swings an arc and launches the gourd a good 30 yards before it explodes on the concrete with a satisfying splat.
Ramos downloaded instructions online built the trebuchet last year. He says it’s ultimately a simple device.
“The arm helps it goes farther, but the counterweight helps to move the arm faster,” Ramos said. ”We have about 316 pounds in there.”
The physics of the device and the best throw are an approximation for these purposes. The choice of pumpkin is a big part of how it performs.
“For show, they’re the smaller ones, they go a lot farther,” Ramos said. “Last year we used water melons and they ended going the whole length of the skate park and hitting the fence.”
State lawmakers and the Alaska Independent Power Producers Association plan to host a “Competitive Energy Roundtable” in Anchorage next week.
Senator Lesil McGuire will be hosting the discussion on Nov. 12.
The discussion will focus on identifying State statutes and regulations that create barriers to electrical competition while working to develop strategies make changes to those barriers in the public interest.
The panel will seek ways to improve in-state electrical competition, increase private investment into Alaska’s renewable energy sector, and lower electricity costs through open competition.
Participants will include private sector energy developers and Alaska Native corporations
McGuire says state policy advocates generating 50 percent of our electricity from renewables by 2025, but barriers to investment are holding that goal back.
In 2010, Sen. McGuire sponsored the Alaska Sustainable Energy Act, which was designed to encourage private investment and have Alaska Housing Finance Corporation develop and execute an energy efficiency program.
The roundtable will include Alaska’s leading wind, hydrokinetic, and hydropower developers and operators. Registration for the roundtable is free and open to the public.
A group of U.S. senators, including Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, is pressing to strip military commanders of the authority to decide how to handle accusations of rape within their units.
Murkowski said at a press conference on Wednesday that every general who has ever come to her office to discuss the problem says they same thing – that they have zero-tolerance for sexual assault.
“’We have our eyes wide open’ – well, they’ve had their eyes wide open for 20 years!” Murkowski said.
Murkowski says the Pentagon’s time to address the problem has expired. The measure she supports would let military prosecutors decide which cases to pursue.
A former Marine Corps officer who says she was assaulted in 2010 also spoke at the event. Iraq veteran Ariana Klay says when she reported the rape, her commanders blamed and humiliated her.
“The humiliation of the retaliation was worse than the assault because it was sanctioned from the same leaders I would have once risked my life for,” Klay said.
The senators who turned out to support the measure ranged from New York Democrat Kristen Gillibrand to Texas Republican Ted Cruz.
Top Pentagon leaders have come out against the idea, saying it will leave commanders unable to crack down on sexual assault in their ranks.
A University of Alaska Fairbanks administrator has returned from a trip to the North Pole. The journey was sponsored by organizers of the Sochi Winter Olympics.
On Monday, the Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly affirmed that it is moving forward with a lawsuit against the State of Alaska. By voting to hire an Anchorage law firm and appropriate $150,000 toward the effort, the Assembly showed it’s serious about its effort to overturn what some local officials say is an unfair mandate requiring municipalities to fund a minimum level for local schools.
The fairness issue aside, though, what will be the Legislature’s response if Ketchikan wins its argument?
First some background. And bear with me, please. I’ll try to keep this short, and as free from legal jargon as possible.
The borough plans to sue the state because the state requires the borough to help fund local schools. Not everyone in Alaska has to do that, though, and the borough argues that isn’t fair.
There have been previous attempts to overturn that funding mandate, and they failed. But in a report to the Borough Assembly, attorney Robert Hicks writes that those earlier cases had serious flaws. The Mat-Su Borough, for example, in the late 1990s, argued that the mandatory local contribution violated equal protection laws.
In that case, the court ruled that municipalities aren’t people, so they don’t have constitutionally protected equal rights. However, Hicks argues that the court wasn’t asked to consider whether the exemption for many unorganized borough communities violates a requirement for maximum local contribution, and meets the requirement that everyone in the state have somewhat equal public obligations.
All that, though, is something for lawyers to argue about – and they will. But there is one burning question: What happens if Ketchikan wins?
Is it really likely that the Alaska Legislature, after cutting the state budget several years in a row with more cuts expected, will give Ketchikan an extra $4 million or more each year for public schools? And how about those 34 other municipal school districts that also pay their mandatory local contribution?
Senator Bert Stedman was in Ketchikan last month to talk to local Rotarians, and after his presentation, I asked him what he thought might happen.
“If the Legislature steps in and rewrites it, and/or the judiciary branch concludes that something different should be under way that it’s currently structured, we don’t know what the Legislature will come out with,” he said. “It may be worse than what we have now. You just never know.”
Stedman said he is working with other state senators, and a hearing on the issue is likely during the upcoming legislative session. He admitted the political process can be slow, though, and the lawsuit might be a speedier solution.
Borough Manager Dan Bockhorst, who has led the fight to end the mandatory local contribution, said it would be great if the Legislature came up with a solution on its own.
“The KGB has tried for six years to have a less adversarial solution than litigation,” he said. “That would certainly be preferable. What are the chances? When it becomes evident, the strength of the borough’s argument, I think the chances of a legislative solution I hope will increase.”
Both Stedman and State House Rep. Peggy Wilson agreed that the Legislature will have to come up with something if Ketchikan wins its lawsuit. Wilson echoed Stedman’s concern that what that “something” might be is unknown.
“That’s a pretty big question mark,” she said, adding that the unintended consequences of winning the lawsuit could mean, for example, less local control over schools. She wouldn’t vote that way, but can’t speak for other lawmakers.
“They might say, ‘Hey listen, if we’re paying the whole bill,’” she said.
Wilson added that if the state has to foot the whole bill for education, that will lead to cuts elsewhere.
“There will be more money that’s used for the general budget, and there won’t be as much money for the capital budget, so that means everybody’s capital budget would be less,” she said.
Bockhorst, though, said the Legislature is cutting its budget anyway, and that continuing trend is actually a reason to move forward with the challenge.
“As the state faces more and more fiscal pressures, the potential that the state will push more and more of its burden for its responsibilities onto local governments exists,” he said.
Bockhorst argued that even an unknown court-ordered legislative solution is better than what we have now.
“Whatever solution comes out of this, in my opinion, is going to be much more fair, and more palatable, and easier on the students in terms of funding and easier on the taxpayers in Ketchikan than is the current circumstance,” he said.
Another potential, more immediate consequence of the lawsuit was raised by City of Ketchikan officials.
They worry that some Alaska lawmakers will be less inclined to approve capital funding for Ketchikan’s projects, and that those lawmakers will confuse the city government with the borough. The City Council talked recently about officially distancing itself from the borough’s lawsuit.
That’s “just in case there is an impact, and there might not be an impact,” said city Mayor Lew Williams III. “You never know how it’s going to play out. But as a representative of the city, you have to think of the city’s issues and the city’s interests.”
Wilson, though, said retribution is unlikely, and Stedman didn’t anticipate any challenges to Ketchikan projects because of the lawsuit.
“I don’t look at it as suing the state because the state is doing something wrong,” he said. “I look at it more of ‘I have a different opinion of what the Constitution, what the requirements are, and let’s get it sorted out. It’s not like you’re suing your neighbor ‘cause they bashed into your car and you want them to pay you. It’s just the process we live in.”
And that process has begun for the Ketchikan Gateway Borough.
Below are a legal analysis of the education funding issue, and a memo on the topic by the borough attorney.
- Analyses of Legal Issues by Bob Hicks – Approved for Public Release 10-21-2013
- Appendices – Analyses of Legal Issues — Approved for Public Release 10-21-2013
- Dedicated Tax Memo by Scott Brandt-Erichsen – Approved for Public Release 10-21-2013
Scholars and culture-bearers gather in Juneau this week for a clan conference focusing on Tlingit knowledge and traditions. It runs Wednesday night through Sunday morning at the capital city’s Centennial Hall.
The event is called “Sharing Our Knowledge.” It includes dozens of workshops and presentations.
Juneau’s Peter Metcalfe is one of the organizers.
“There’s both academic presentations as well as non-academics who might be Tlingit speakers or might be artists. Otherwards, people who aren’t necessarily credentialed academically but have deep knowledge of the topic or subject and can speak knowledgably about it,” Metcalfe says.
Sessions include linguistics, archaeology, art and music, Alaska Native history, museum studies, indigenous law and traditional ecological knowledge.
The clan conference theme is “Our Language is Our Way of Life.” (Link to the conference website.)
Sitka’s Gerry Hope, the conference’s executive director, says the language is disappearing.
“And it was a concern of one of the organizing committee members that a number of elders are passing away. And we need to be able to talk to them while they’re here,” Hope says.
The theme is also evident in sessions on building a Tlingit library, regional language programs and a Tlingit spelling bee.
Hope points to sessions on gathering Tlingit phrases to use with children and bringing Tlingit into the home.
“I have a strong belief that language in the home is something that is often overlooked,” he says.
The conference charges a registration fee, with a day-pass option. Discounts are available for students and seniors. (Link to the conference’s Facebook event page.)
Metcalfe says it’s for more than just tribal members.
“The best part about it from my point of view is you can walk into or out of a workshop and you’ll feel welcome and understand what’s going on, with the exception perhaps of some of the Tlingit language workshops that are happening,” he says.
The Tlingit clan conferences began about 20 years ago under the leadership of the late Andy Hope III. After a 10-year pause, they resumed in 2007.
The Shrine of St. Therese kicked off a year-long 75th anniversary celebration on Saturday. The cornerstone of the chapel was laid and blessed by Alaska Bishop Joseph Crimont on October 30, 1938.
The Shrine was originally built as a place to inspire devotion to God. At the time, there were no other spiritual retreat houses in Alaska and Father William LeVasseur saw the need to build one.
But throughout its 75 year life, the Shrine has welcomed people of all beliefs. Residents of Juneau, Southeast Alaskans, and visitors go to the Shrine for all kinds of reasons.
As you drive out Glacier Highway from downtown Juneau, you eventually start winding along the coast with intermittent views of the Chilkat Mountains. Past Tee Harbor, you start driving up. Soon, you descend through a hemlock forest.
Turn left at mile 23 and find “a lot of trees, streams. As you walk down, you see log structures, you see the ocean,” describes Thomas Fitterer, director of the Shrine of St. Therese for almost 25 years. “You see a causeway. On the other side of the causeway is an island, Shrine Island. So you walk over to Shrine Island and suddenly you see a church made out of rock.”
Surrounding the church are the Stations of the Cross, each station depicting a scene of Christ’s final hours on earth and the resurrection.
“Then you look out and the ocean waves are hitting against the rocks, so you have God and nature so prevalent there that you cannot help but be influenced – whether you’re a believer or non-believer – somehow or another, one is touched by the peace, by the gift of natural beauty, and by the spirit,” Fitterer says.
From the beginning, the Shrine has been a place where everyone is welcome, even in the 1940s, Fitterer says, when religious groups tended to stay separate.
“Back then even, people of all denominations or no denomination felt comfortable coming to the Shrine and that’s been the flavor ever since and that’s something that I would never want to see lost,” he says.
The Shrine was built as a place to hold religious retreats, escape normal activities and be with God through prayer and reflection. It’s still a place to retreat, but in many different ways.
“The good thing about the Shrine,” Fitterer says, “is you can do everything from have a picnic on the beach to fish to rock climb to rock find to walk the labyrinth. It fulfills the needs of so many people in so many ways.”
The Shrine has always been seen as a place to escape this busy world full of distractions. “You’ve got your iPhone and you’ve got your tweets and you’ve got whatever else, a lot of people just get caught up into that pattern,” says Fitterer.
Over the years, visitors have told Fitterer about how much they enjoy being at the Shrine. People have talked of experiencing miracles and feeling close to God, even when they didn’t have one.
Fitterer recalls one visitor who have traveled all over the world, but felt a special presence at the Shrine, “She just could feel it, and she said I’ve never seen and felt a more beautiful place on earth.”
At the Shrine, volunteer Sam Bertoni walks to the outdoor columbarium where the ashes of his mother and another 200 individuals are laid to rest.
“Some people come and visit all the time,” says Bertoni. “I know people that come out here on a regular basis every week to put flowers or to communicate with their loved ones. Some folks come out here many times a week.”
A semi-circle of six black granite walls, each about seven feet tall and 11 feet long face the ocean.
“And it’s a fantastic view. You know I can’t afford beachfront in this life, but maybe in the next life,” Bertoni laughs.
The Shrine offers church services during the summer and other holidays throughout the year. Bertoni remembers one Easter service. “There must have been 100 people and there must have been 150 sea lions out here yelping because of the killer whales, and there was so much commotion, you couldn’t even talk. It was like a hundred dogs barking. It was really something,” Bertoni says.
Over the decades, the Shrine has grown beyond the original structures of the chapel, lodge, caretaker’s house, and the post office. It now offers five separate rental cabins which are used regularly for day use, overnights, weekends, and longer stays.
Caretakers Jack and Jeanne Jordan are in charge of the daily happenings at the Shrine. Besides being used by the Catholic Diocese of Juneau, the units are rented out by many other groups.
“We have other churches, the state of Alaska, the school district, the Coast Guard, different businesses utilize it, we have yoga groups sometimes, women’s retreats and sewing groups, scrapbooking groups, anniversary celebrations, birthday celebrations, family reunions,” says Jeanne Jordan.
It could be as simple as wanting a quiet place to walk around or as complicated as pondering the meaning of life. Jordan says people in search of something often visit the Shrine of St. Therese and find what they’re looking for.
Fairbanks area residents might be thinking the weather quickly went south.
After months of unseasonably warm temperatures and a lack of snow, the city had its first measurable snowfall on Tuesday.
The National Weather Service says that will be followed Wednesday night with Arctic cold.
Temperatures are forecast to dip to minus 4 degrees. The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports it’s likely the first night this season that people might have to plug their vehicles into engine block heaters.
The service says temperatures should warm up by the weekend, but with it will be “active winter weather” – code for significant snowfall.
A panel has advanced a proposal recommending pay raises for Alaska’s governor, lieutenant governor and principal department heads.
The State Officers Compensation Commission met to finalize preliminary recommendations Wednesday. A public hearing is planned before a final report is submitted to the Legislature.
The director of the state Division of Personnel and Labor Relations has said the increases would be effective July 1, unless a bill disapproving all the recommendations is enacted.
Under the proposal, the governor’s salary would go from $145,000 a year to $150,873. The lieutenant governor’s salary would go from $115,000 to $119,658. Each would get another 2.5 percent beginning July 1, 2015.
Commissioner salaries would go from $136,350 to $146,143, with additional raises for 2014 and 2015 provided through a bill passed during the last legislature.
Between oil taxes, marijuana regulation, mining, and the minimum wage, there’s a mess of ballot issues that Alaskans will have to decide on next summer. But a group of sportfishermen and guides is already looking toward 2016. They’ve introduced an initiative that would ban commercial set-net operations in the state’s urban areas, including Cook Inlet. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports.
Joe Connors operates a charter outfit on the Kenai Peninsula. His Big Sky Fishcamp has lots of amenities. There are cabins with names like “the Hawaiian Hut” and the “Hacienda of Happy Jose.” But the big attraction is obviously the fishing. If you go to Connors’ website, you’ll see photos of massive king salmon caught by proud clients.
There’s just one big snag with his operation. In recent years, he’s had fewer kings to fish. With lower returns, the state has had to put fishing limits on the valuable stock.
“You couldn’t troll out off the mouth of the Deep Creek or Anchor or Ninilchik [Rivers]. That was closed,” says Connors. “In the river, they had us fishing with single hook, no bait, and restricted to the lower 10 miles of the river.”
Now, Connors is heading up a new group called the Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance, and their goal is to shut down the commercial set-net fishery in the area.
That user group catches fish by anchoring nets to the shore. While the set-netters mostly target red salmon, they also take some kings. This year, they ended up with about 5,000 kings in their nets. Sportfishermen got a fraction of that.
Connors thinks the impact on the king run is too much, so the Alliance is pushing an initiative that would ban all commercial set netting in urban regions. He points to bans on the method in other states, and says it’s not an allocation issue but a conservation one. He adds that the state has not been doing its job in preserving the king stock.
“The Board of Fish and Game gets deluded by the need to continue the set-net fishery because it’s a way of life, you know, whatever, whatever,” says Connors. “But the bottom line indicates — all the indicators — we have historically low numbers, and we cannot continue to have this wall of death functioning.”
The Alliance submitted their initiative application to the Alaska Division of Elections today. If the initiative passes legal review, the group would then have to collect signatures from 10 percent of the electorate to get on the ballot.
Set-netters in Bristol Bay, Kodiak, and along the Alaska Peninsula would not be targeted by the proposed ban, and neither would subsistence fisheries. And while the ban would apply to places like Fairbanks and Juneau, the Kenai Peninsula would see the greatest impact.
There are 750 set-net permits issued for the Cook Inlet region, with an estimated value of $10 million. While the initiative has language giving a rationale for the ban, it doesn’t say anything about what would happen to those permits. Connors says that the possibility of a buyback is something that could be worked out later.
“There might be discussion to that effect,” says Connors. That’s something that the public would have to decide if they want to have that discussion in the state also.”
Connors says he wants that discussion to happen over the course of a few years, which is why his group isn’t doing a major signature rush to get on the 2014 primary ballot. They’ve hired a public relations firm, and they plan to run a “voter education” effort. They also want to give the legislature some time to consider their proposal before it would actually go out to a vote.
“You can’t have an initiative process without allowing the Legislature to consider all these options also,” says Connors. “By going through the initiative process, we’re opening all of these other options. Whether the appropriate people step up and deal with it, we’ll see.”
The sportfishing lobby is a serious force in the state, and the Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance includes one of its most powerful players. Bob Penney, a Anchorage developer and major political funder, has already begun sending letters to legislators explaining the reason for this initiative. Earlier this year, a group he founded — the Kenai River Sportfishing Association — ran a successful campaign to unseat one of the governor’s appointees to the Board of Fish.
The initiative caught many set-netters by surprise. A spokesperson for the Kenai Peninsula Fishermen’s Association, which represents many of the area’s commercial fishermen, said they were “looking at the proposal and will have a response in the next day or two.”
Soldotna Sen. Peter Micciche was out of town on personal business Wednesday, but said he’s “going to continue to do what I need to do to protect all the fisheries in Cook Inlet. They’re all extremely important to our economy, to our recreation and to our way of life. I’m going to be active in the struggle to understand the importance of all our fisheries.”
This is the first citizen effort in Alaska to ban a gear-type via ballot. In 1995, an initiative to prioritize personal use over commercial fishing was introduced, but it did not come to a vote.
KDLL’s Shaylon Cochran and APRN’s Lori Townsend contributed reporting to this story.
The University of Alaska Board of Regents could boost tuition rates and approve the next budget Wednesday when they meet at the Anchorage campus.
The university says in a statement that tuition rates are proposed to increase $6 per credit hour for resident undergraduates and $12 for resident graduate students next year.
The next operating budget would be $388 million in state general funds. This would be on top of $547 million the university gets from federal research grants, tuition and fees, donations and other sources.
Regents will also consider a capital budget that includes $319 million in state general funds. Deferred maintenance remains the top priority, along with two engineering buildings under construction in Anchorage and Fairbanks and an upgrade to the UAF combined heat and power plant.
Roadwork continues along K-Beach Road south of Kenai to try and alleviate some of the flooding in residential areas there. The high groundwater is not only making it difficult to navigate several roads, it’s also left people without water in their homes.
The Red Cross has a shelter set up at the Kenai Armory on South Forest. When I stopped by, they had just finished getting some cots and tables set up, and volunteers were still hanging signs. But no one had come seeking relief shortly before noon.
“They’ll have a place to sleep, take a shower. We’ll have meals prepared for them every day and meals for them as they need it. We’re looking at (housing) maybe a dozen, but we’re prepared to handle as many as we need to handle,” said Red Cross district manager Bill Morrow.
The shelter is being made available as more and more residents in the area are without water, as wells and septic systems are out of service for a good chunk of the neighborhood.
I spoke to a few people over the weekend who insisted their neighbors had it worse than they did. Their toilets were still flushing and they hadn’t resorted to paper plates and microwavable dinners just yet. But for other areas, water safety has already been a concern for weeks.
Jamie Bjorkman of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation told residents at a community meeting that well tests would be in order, but that until the water actually recedes, boiling or using bottled water would be the safest way to go.
“Once those flood waters are gone, you might want to go through a disinfection of your water system and test you system for total coliform bacteria. It indicates if there’s any harmful bacteria in your system,” she said.
The presence of coliform bacteria isn’t harmful in and of itself, but does indicate that there’s a pathway for more dangerous bacteria, like E. coli.
Ideally, the improvements made for water drainage and storage along K-Beach will help bring water levels down soon, but a hard winter freeze could be just around the corner which would undoubtedly complicate things. But Bjorkman says you can still test your septic system, even if it does freeze.
“A nitrate test will let you know if your septic system is affecting your drinking water. The reason we recommend the nitrate test at colder temperatures is because when everything freezes up, that bacteria can die if it gets cold enough, but you’ll still see nitrates.”
For residents choosing to stay at home, the Borough has provided clean-up kits and dry-chemical toilet units. Those are available at the Central Emergency Service Fire station on K-Beach.
The Bureau of Land Management is beginning a four year planning process to set a strategy for over 10 million acres of BLM land across a vast section of southwest Alaska. The Bering Sea Western Interior planning area runs from the coast up the Kuskokwim to Nikolai and follows the Yukon River up to Grayling.
The resource management plan lays out management goals, and rules for how people use the lands. BLM staff will be out in communities to hear about current uses of lands. Jorjena Daly is the Resource Management Plan lead for BLM.
“All the issues, concerns, and opportunities that we hear from the public during the scoping period will help set the sideboards essentially or the topics we will eventually address in our land use planning document,” said Daly.
The first meetings are set for in Lower and Upper Kalskag on Friday. Bethel’s meeting will be November 20th. The process also includes a close look at subsistence resources. BLM specifically issues permits for subsistence moose hunts in unit 21E around Anvik and in 22A around the Eastern Norton Sound. Daly says BLM want to hear from residents experiences.
“[For example] what changes are effecting or might effect in the future the way the public fishes and hunts on those lands. What changes people would like to see around them, and how BLM can manage those resources in the future,” said Daly.
Legislation in ANCSA allows the secretary of the Interior to withdraw and reserve lands, in effect closing areas to mining or mineral leasing. Two major sections of so called D-1 lands cover about 6 million acres. The agency is required to exam those withdrawals during the process.
“And when we do this we determine through public involvement if there is a valid need to retain the withdrawals,” said Daly. “And then what we do is essentially make a recommendation on whether to lift the withdrawals and modify them in some way.”
Scoping goes through January 17th. The next two years will include drafting the plan. It will include and Environmental Impact Statement detailing positive and negative impacts of management alternatives. The final plan should be ready in 2017. The planning website can be accessed here.
Six boats are dragging the Kialik River today in efforts to find Nick Cooke and James Napoka.
Teams from another two boats continue the search on land. Two teams of specially trained search dogs are set to arrive tonight. They will head to the scene and spend Wednesday searching for the men.
Bethel Search and Rescue says an incoming Bering Sea storm will bring a surge of water into the Kuskokwim delta where search and recovery operations are based. 1 to 3 feet of storm surge is expected, with winds up to 60 miles per hour.
Cooke and Napoka were last heard from two weeks ago today.