Juneau officials are keeping an eye on legislation making its way through Congress that would allow states to collect sales tax on online purchases.
The U.S. Senate this week voted 69-27 in favor of the Marketplace Fairness Act.
While Alaska does not have a statewide sales tax, the City and Borough of Juneau is one of many municipalities with a local tax on the sale of goods and services.
CBJ Finance Director Bob Bartholomew says he’s still studying the Senate bill. But he thinks there might be a way for municipalities to collect local taxes if the Alaska Legislature passes enabling legislation.
“I think we could do it without the state having a sales tax,” Bartholomew says. “But they may have to be involved as far as state legislation helping us standardize things.”
Bartholomew says it’s too soon to speculate what that state legislation might look like. But the types of things that would need to be standardized include the tax rate and exemptions.
He also says it’s too soon to say what, if any, affect the federal or state legislation would have on the amount of sales tax collected by the city.
“The next step for us, especially if it starts making progress in the House, is to get in touch with the State of Alaska and the Alaska Municipal League to see what the next steps are for trying to share the information and get the coordination across the state that we’ll need for implementation,” he says.
Bartholomew says the CBJ’s lobbyists in Washington, D.C. – Chambers, Conlon and Hartwell – will keep track of the Marketplace Fairness Act’s progress in the House.
The City and Borough of Juneau has a five percent sales tax that includes three components: A permanent one-percent tax, a temporary three-percent tax that largely funds essential city services, and a temporary one-percent tax dedicated to capital projects.
An Anchorage based Community Development Quota group wants a greater share of Alaska’s deep sea fisheries. The Coastal Villages Region Fund, which represents 20 villages in Western Alaska, has asked the state’s Congressional delegation to make changes in how the fisheries quotas are allocated, but critics call the plan “reckless” and say it could endanger the entire CDQ program.
The Coastal Villages Region Fund is the largest of the six Community Development Quota groups. CDQs were set up under the Magnuson – Stevens act in the early nineteen nineties to increase economic opportunities in Western Alaska. Of the six, CVRF represents the greatest number of Alaska Natives – 9300 people spread out over the Lower Kuskokwim area. Yet CVRF has the smallest fisheries quota share of all of the CDQ groups, according to communications director Dawson Hoover
Hoover points to a colorful bar graph showing the amounts of Bering Sea fish allotted to each CDQ group’s individual residents compared with CVRF’s share. A red bar representing Pacific cod shoots skyward for some CDQ groups, while it is practically a flat line for CVRF.
”We need our fair share of CDQ fish, not just for right now but for future generations. “
In an April letter to Alaska’s Congressional delegation, CVRF’s board has asked for an amendment to the Magnuson – Stevens Act to allocate an equal share of CDQ fish to each CDQ resident within 50 miles of the Bering Sea coast.
The current CDQ allocations were set up under a 2006 federal Coast Guard and Maritime Act. Hoover says, the quotas were not based on population, which is a sore point with CVRF because it’s member village population is growing, in contrast to shrinking populations in other CDQ groups. He says quota shares should be more like Permanent Fund dividends — the same amount for each person.
Nome’s Norton Sound Economic Development Corporation represents about 9,000 residents as well. Communications director Tyler Rhodes says the corporation’s board doesn’t want to get involved in an allocation battle.
“But I would add that is not to say that we feel the allocations are perfect, but, since they were set in 2006, NSEDC has been able to realize really a great deal of success. And we believe that we can continue to work and thrive under this current scenario. “
But Larry Cotter, CEO of the Aleutian Pribiloff Islands Community Development Association [APICDA] says CVRF’s bid to reopen old allocation fights at this time is [quote] “inexplicable and reckless “.
”The world is good for the CDQ groups right now, and reallocation is going to cause very significant problems for at least three of the CDQ groups. Two of them probably, will not survive, and a third group, Yukon Delta, will suffer severely. “
Cotter says the argument that qouta share should be based on population is overly simplistic and there is no support for it in statute or program history.
”They [CVRF] think that someday, this is going to happen. And I think they are oblivious to the fact that it’s a bad idea, that it is mean, it’s greedy, and it is not supported by our delegation. Coastal Villages has the largest amount of pollock among the six groups, and that is the most valuable of the CDQ species, and they have used that allocation very successfully to become the wealthiest of the six groups. “
Conversely, Dawson Hoover states that CVRF is in it for the long haul.
”Our nine thousand residents are learning how imbalanced the allocations are. And it’s the people that are going to speak the loudest and it’s the people that are going to take up the issue. And they are taking up the issue, they are sending letters to our delegation. What’s beautiful about that is that they all want to be treated equally. And that’s really all we are asking for. “
He says the overall CDQ imbalance is not in keeping with the tradition of sharing among Alaska Natives, and as the idea spreads up and down the Coast, the people of Western Alaska will support the proposal.
A flock of eagles descended on the Safeway parking lot last week, prompting police intervention.
Public Safety Director Jamie Sunderland says several people called in short succession on Thursday afternoon to report the melee.
“One of our officers went over there and there were 40 eagles sitting on, in and around several vehicles in the area,” Sunderland said.
Sunderland says the eagles were feasting on garbage bags of fish product in the bed of a pickup truck. Public Safety contacted the truck owner:
“Who confirmed they did have a bunch of fillets in the car, and they were trying to get rid of it, but there were so many eagles that they were, I think, somewhat alarmed to go near the vehicle, because it was just being swarmed by eagles,” Sunderland said.
Jessica Earnshaw’s car was parked next to the truck, and she says she was afraid of getting attacked if she got too close.
“I put my car alarm on so maybe that would let the eagles go away, but they still didn’t,” Earnshaw said.
When Officer Bill Simms arrived, Earnshaw says he put on his sirens, which scared off some of the eagles, and then he went into the fray.
“He’s like, ‘okay, you two, just get your keys ready and then when I shoo them away, run into your cars.’ And we did,” Earnshaw said.
No one got hurt, and Sunderland says the truck owner wasn’t cited for the incident because the fish didn’t make a mess in the parking lot:
“It was just making a giant gathering of eagles, so the answer was to get the waste out of there, and that’s what they did,” Sunderland said.
For nearly a decade, the Fairbanks North Star Borough and Chena Hot Springs Resort have been working on a land exchange sale. The Resort would buy 1480 acres in exchange for a series of easements that allow access to neighboring Borough property, which includes access to land popular for recreation. Last fall, the Assembly passed an ordinance to approve the sale. The deal is at an impasse, because neither side can agree to the value of the property.
Chena Hot Springs Resort Owner Bernie Karl is known for his ideas.
“Some people are doers. I’m a doer,” he says.
For years, he’s envisioned expanding his resort to add a wildlife viewing area and a ski hill. Karl has been working with the Fairbanks North Star Borough to buy land adjacent to his own.
“I’ve been trying to purchase this piece of land for ten years,” he says. “I think I’ve gone beyond the call of duty. I haven’t ever changed my stance on my agreement to purchase the land.”
Karl already has a five-year temporary use permit from the Borough for winter activities on the land.
Last August, he signed a deal to pay fair market value for it. He also agreed to a series of easements across resort property.
He says that includes building a bridge and road with a $250,000 price tag. Karl also agreed to pay $15,000 in earnest money, but that deal has hit a roadblock.
Paul Costello is the Director of the Borough’s Department of Land Management.
“It’s sort of like hitting yourself in the head with a hammer,” he laughs. “It feels so good when you stop!”
He says both sides disagree on what “fair market value” means.
“We have done everything by the book. We were working with the resort quite diligently and I think they were too,” explains Costello. “But they just never disclosed that their definition of fair market value was different.”
As part of the purchase agreement, the Borough hired an independent appraiser last fall. A two-day visit included a tour by four-wheeler and an aerial inspection of the land. It was valued at $390 per acre. Karl says that’s much too high.
“I refuse to pay an inflated price. I want to pay fair market value!”
Karl argues that the appraisal didn’t fairly compare the property to other surrounding land. So, the Borough had the original appraisal reviewed. Paul Costello says the review concludes the valuation are appropriate.
“That’s a good deal. It’s a good appraisal,” says Costello. “It’s got a lot of potential. I don’t understand, other than the fact that they don’t want to pay the price.”
Bernie Karl says neither appraiser is familiar with the land.
“The second party that reviewed it doesn’t even live in Alaska, never even seen the property,” he says. “What they did was not moral!”
In a letter dated March 26, Karl offered to hire a local appraiser of his own. He asked Borough Mayor Luke Hopkins to agree that the valuation from that appraisal be binding on both parties.
In a March 29th response, Mayor Hopkins wrote that “there are no provisions in the approving [exchange sale] ordinance for hiring a second appraiser.”
Paul Costello offers three possible solutions to move forward: The assembly can repeal the approving ordinance. They can authorize continued negotiations with Karl. Or they can authorize the sale of the property at public auction, with a starting bid at $390 dollars per acre.
“The resort could bid on it,” says Costello. “If they choose to. I would expect that they would.”
Bernie Karl says he’s considering the option. If the land is sold at auction, all easement agreements will be lost.
The Borough can still seek Karl’s $15-thousand dollars in earnest money. According to Paul Costello, the Borough has spent more than $260 thousand dollars on the land sale since negotiations first began.
It’s been more than 50 years since there were year-round permanent residents on King Island. And today, most King Island community members who now live in Nome, Fairbanks or Anchorage have never been to their homeland. But one person is raising money to bring members of her community to the island in the Bering Sea.
A polar bear cub rescued on the North Slope in March has been cleared for flight and will head to the Buffalo Zoo in Buffalo, New York on Tuesday next week.
The orphaned cub, Kali, has been at the Alaska Zoo in Anchorage since his rescue.
The final day to see Kali at the Alaska Zoo will be Monday, May 13, where he can be found out and about in his yard between 11 a.m. and noon and 3-4 p.m. each day until then.
Thursday, a committee of the Polar Research Board deliberates in a closed session in Anchorage on what they heard from Arctic researchers from many different fields about emerging issues involving climate warming.
Committee co-chair, Alaska anthropologist Henry Huntington, characterizes emerging issues as those that scientists did not anticipate when they began asking questions about the way climate warming is hitting the Arctic harder and faster than lower latitudes.
“But many of the important questions are things we’ve been asking for quite some time and are continuing to answer and to refine our answers for,” Huntington said. “The emerging questions are what are the things that are new that we haven’t really been thinking about or anticipating?”
Among those emerging issues are the releases of large amounts of methane off the coast of Russia, unexpected behavior of sea ice, and the way Arctic temperature differences might be related to big weather swings in the Lower 48 and elsewhere.
A man accused in a cold-case Utah murder was arrested in Haines on Wednesday.
Haines police and Alaska State Troopers assisted Ogden, Utah police in apprehending Stephen Ellenwood after he eluded law enforcement on a foot pursuit through a wooded Haines neighborhood.
The 40-year-old man is wanted in the 1993 murder of an elderly Ogden woman. According to charging documents filed in Utah and a cold-case report, Ellenwood is accused of climbing through a window of a retirement home, sexually assaulting and beating a 92-year-old woman. An employee of the retirement home walked in the room and the suspect, now identified as Ellenwood, fled through the window. The woman died from her injuries six days later.
About three hours later, at a bus stop only two blocks from the retirement home, a suspect also matching Ellenwood’s description sexually assaulted a 57-year-old woman. Authorities have not yet charged Ellenwood in that case.
An arrest warrant and aggravated murder charge were filed against Ellenwood on April 26 in Utah. Weber County Attorney Dee Smith on Wednesday told The Salt Lake Tribune that Ellenwood’s DNA matched evidence found in the slain woman’s room, although details of how authorities tracked him to Haines are still unclear.
Acquaintances and former co-workers of Ellenwood told station KHNS in Haines that he moved to Haines from Idaho less than a year ago. He worked at a Haines liquor store up until a few months ago.
According to Haines Police, Ellenwood was transported to Lemon Creek Correctional Facility in Juneau where he will be held without bail while awaiting extradition to Utah.
A former Bethel police officer is being charged with being intoxicated while on the scene of a police shooting last fall.
Last October, a Bethel police officer shot and killed a man in a neighborhood near Brown’s Slough. The man, 24-year-old Sam Alexie Jr., was intoxicated and pointed a rifle at the officer who then shot him.
Now, the situation has grown more complicated as one of the officers on the scene was allegedly drunk.
Charges have been filed against Samuel Symmes, also known as Colin. He’s no longer a police officer but was the night of Oct. 2, and he wasn’t the shooting officer, but was assisting at the scene. The state is charging him with three misdemeanors: two counts of DUI and one count of misconduct involving a weapon.
Symmes now works for the city as a dispatcher and City Manager, Lee Foley, says they’re going to keep him on the job.
“Until a decision is reached, whether it’s for an employee or against, the city supports that employee through that process,” Foley said.
According to the District Attorney’s charging documents, this is what happened that night: Symmes was off duty when he responded to a call to assist. He arrived to the scene in his police car, wearing a firearm.
Initially, his behavior seemed normal to other officers and he was tasked with securing the scene.
However, he fell down a couple of times before becoming unconscious. The first time he fell on his knees and said he was fine. The second time he hit his head and again said he was fine, but was later found in his car, slumped over the driver’s seat. He was taken to the Bethel hospital by ambulance.
Police said it was slippery that night. In a press release following the incident, police did not identify the officers present, but said one of them had fallen on slippery stairs at the home and was treated at the hospital for a severe concussion.
At the hospital, Symmes was also given a blood test which showed alcohol present. The state crime lab analysis showed his alcohol level was three times the legal limit.
Symmes does not believe the test was accurate and neither does his attorney, Myron Angstman of Bethel. The State has requested DNA sampling from Symmes to prove the accuracy but the defense is trying to suppress that request. In court documents, the defense argues that it’s the state’s responsibility to prove Symmes guilt and to get a sample done now—months later–would go against his right to privacy.
That’s where the case stands now, as the judge, Dan Ogg, has yet to decide on the DNA issue.
Symmes worked as a police officer for nearly 3 years before voluntarily resigning 6 days after the shooting. A few months later, he was hired back as a dispatcher.
Meanwhile, City Manager, Lee Foley implores the community to not jump to conclusions. He says Symmes did not contribute to what happened that night.
“And he shouldn’t be judged in the community. If we’re going to judge somebody, let it be done in an official capacity and then let’s see how everything falls out,” Foley said.
The next court procedure in the case is a calendar call May 14 at the Bethel Court House.
The state of Alaska leased nearly 150,000 acres to oil and gas developers in a sale on Wednesday. The sale represents a continued interest in development in Cook Inlet that could focus on oil drilling in the coming years.
Across the North Slope, there are over a hundred oil wells drilled by the federal government that are no longer operational. At some sites, there are abandoned drums sunk in oil seeps; other wells have gas leaking from them. On Wednesday, the Bureau of Land Management released a draft plan identifying 50 of these so-called “legacy wells” for clean up.
Bud Cribley directs the BLM’s Alaska office. He says the plan is to start with the 16 wells in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska that pose the greatest risk to human and environmental health.
“It’s going to take time, but we are committed to accomplishing that clean-up.”
Cribley says that the timeline and the budget for the well clean-up are still being figured out, and that sequestration may affect the pace. Still, it’s possible that work on wells near Barrow could start as early as next year.
Of the remaining NPR-A wells, BLM has determined that 68 do not pose any risk to humans or the environment and that 18 are still in use.
Environmental groups like the Wilderness Society described the draft plan as a positive step forward, but a number of Alaska lawmakers say it doesn’t go far enough. Rep. Charisse Millette, a Republican from Anchorage, says she’s happy that the federal government wants to clean up some of the wells but that more should be targeted. She also has concerns about a recent proposal to use some of the revenue-sharing payments that Alaska gets for NPR-A oil to help pay for remediation.
“The BLM has not really come out with anything other than what they’ve been doing, patting the state on the head and then pulling our revenues away from us.”
Alaska’s congressional delegation also opposes the idea of making Alaska pay for remediation, since the wells were drilled by the federal government on federal land. Sen. Lisa Murkowski describing such a plan as “dead on arrival.”
The clean-up plan is expected to be finalized in the coming weeks, after key stakeholders get a chance to comment.
The high cost of travel for extracurricular activities in Sitka’s schools has been an ongoing debate for years. Now, the school board is going to take a hard look at whether travel costs students and parents more than just money.
At its regular meeting Monday night, the board officially opened the question of whether Sitka’s students — and the teachers who coach them — spend too much time away from class.
For some kids, it’s a trip here and a trip there. For junior Ryan Apathy, who participates in Cross Country in the fall, and then in Drama, Debate, and Forensics through early spring, it can be consecutive weekends of competition. If those events are out of town, Apathy and his teammates will likely miss Thursday and Friday of school for travel.
And Apathy is also in Music, which accounts for three out of a total of:
“Ten trips this year, and missed 22 days.”
Nevertheless Apathy is succeeding in school, and excelling in the activities he’s involved in. Sitka’s school board is concerned that Apathy, and kids like him, are the exception, rather than the rule.
“We had a math audit that said that by the time a high school student is a junior, they’re already a year behind in Math. In terms of the amount of time they have been in class if they’re involved in activities,” said board president Lon Garrison, who’s interested in exploring a policy implemented recently in the Unalaska School District. The policy limits students to twenty absences from school per year for activities.
“It’s not a policy coming from a district that is just kind of doing ho-hum. It’s a policy coming from a very remote district that deals with logistical issues like we do, but is also very high-performing.”
The Sitka School District doesn’t have a policy in place that specifically limits absences like this. It covers only excused and unexcused absences. Setting a hard cap is new.
Speaking from the audience, Sitka High activities director Mike Vieira wondered if it would have any impact. “I would be shocked,” he said, “if we had more than a handful of students who had missed twenty days.”
Student board member Jesse Bartelds, in her final meeting, wondered if the policy was missing the point.
“We already have a policy where if you have a certain grade in a class, then you can’t go on a trip. And I think it’s the student’s job to maintain that.”
Bartelds is also in a lot of activities, in which she excels. And she keeps up her grades. She and Ryan Apathy get that they’re not necessarily the kids the board is worried about. But they both have insight into the problem.
KCAW – Is it true that for some kids, being in class is a make-or-break thing for their grades?
Apathy – Absolutely. If you’re not there to hear what the content of the class is, you’re not going to do well on the test, or whatever it is you’re required to know to get the credit for the class.
Bartelds – I know that at the beginning of the year a lot of teachers were gone due to coaching activities, and it was tough not having them there, and needing them. The sub couldn’t really answer questions. I don’t want to be unfair in saying that there should be more restricted days for teachers than for students, but it is a detriment to the student body as a whole if teachers are gone as much as the students are.
Schools superintendent Steve Bradshaw agreed to collect data on how many students are gone, for how long, and for what reasons, before the board reopened the question of a hard cap on absences at a June work session.
Bradshaw has always expressed a belief in whole-student education. He has reservations about boxing students — and educators — into limits that may somehow backfire.
“I’m real concerned when we go down that path of setting hard policy, because normally it ends up trapping the school board, superintendent, and principals more so than the students. So you’ve got to be cautious with it.”
The Sitka School Board will hold a work session on attendance on Tuesday June 4, 7 PM in the district office board room.
Former Alaska Governor and U.S. Senator Frank Murkowski is laying blame on environmentalists for a range of U.S. problems.
In an address to the Fairbanks Chamber of commerce on Tuesday, Murkowski said green leaning liberals driving federal policy are out of line with economic reality.
“They have the belief that they can create an ideal society and still support the government that tries to create it,” Murkowski said. ”Wealthy, liberal environmentalists simply ignore the reality of the soaring price of gasoline, if you’re working in Los Angeles and have to drive a hundred miles back and forth every day.”
Murkowski attributed everything from U.S. national debt to terrorism on environmentalists. He said they’re blocking resource development on federal lands that could break U.S. dependence on mid east oil that he said indirectly funds terrorists.
“Why don’t we prioritize the responsible development here at home? We’re sending our men and women over there in the military to protect the oil flow to the western world. Well, I’ve given you a few good reasons to move ahead in Alaska, in the arctic, ANWR, NPRA, OCS and so forth,” Murkowski said.
Murkowski said the three Alaska areas could fill the Trans Alaska Pipeline, but a government influenced by a powerful environmental lobby is preventing their development. He says the same thing is happening with logging in the Tongass National Forest, construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, and development of the Pebble Mine. Murkowksi said he’s devoting a portion of the summer to travel and speak on the issue.
A Southeast village Native corporation wants to export its cultural tourism expertise. It’s opened a consulting business to build on more than a dozen years in the business.
Wrangell’s Shakes Island Clan House was rededicated over the weekend. Hundreds of visitors from across Alaska, Canada, and the Lower 48 poured into the small island town to witness the historic event.
The Interior Department says a test of an offshore well capping system in the Gulf of Mexico was successful.
The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement says Noble Energy and the Helix Well Containment Group have shown the device could contain a deep-water blowout.
The unannounced test began April 30. It involved waters about a mile deep and pressures of 8,400 pounds per square inch. The device is 20 feet tall and weighs 146,000 pounds. It was not announced so that it would test the full mobilization capability of the system.
There is a state oil and gas lease sale for tracts in the Cook Inlet area on Wednesday. The state Oil and Gas division opens bids at the Convention Center at 9 this morning.
Early Tuesday, a woman flipped her four wheeler in Alakanuk and died in the crash. State Troopers say it looks like alcohol was involved. Lois Chikigak was 30. The crash was reported at 1:43 Tuesday morning.
The Anchorage Assembly heard from the public on an ordinance that would change the way public testimony conducted, last night. Despite the issue being placed at the end of the agenda and testimony beginning after 9 p.m., many lined up to speak.
Ernie Hall made the proposal after a controversial ordinance that sought to limit unions resulted in what he perceived as several endless nights of public testimony. Eventually the Assembly voted to close testimony before everyone had a chance to speak. Sabrina Martino said she liked the way testimony was conducted during the consideration of AO37 and that she felt the new ordinance would discourage public participation in city politics.
“I kind of think that this is almost like a rebuttal for the attendance shown for Anchorage Ordinance 37 as if maybe you are trying to maybe discourage people from actually coming and speaking your two sense,” Martino said. ”And that is almost like you guys are making up your own rules and don’t want to hear what anybody has to say and I don’t agree with that.”
The ordinance would require people to sign up in person on the first night of the hearing in order to testify. Tom Stenson from the ACLU of Alaska said, what’s important is that the Assembly come up with firm, objective standards to make sure that testimony is conducted fairly and legally.
“I’m not claiming to read anybody’s minds, but I think one of the problems that has arisen is that the public fears that when testimony is cut off on an ad hoc basis that it may be influenced by the chair’s view of whether the speech that’s being made is good or not,” Stenson said. ”And that kind of viewpoint discrimination is clearly not permitted. And so what we need are clear standards.”
Hall worked with the ACLU to craft the ordinance. He expressed surprise at Stenson’s criticisms. Public Testimony is expected to be continued at the next regular Assembly meeting on May 21.
With two big studies out on the proposed Pebble Mine, there’s been a fight over whether work by the Pebble Partnership or the Environmental Protection Agency is more credible. Now, members of a science panel sponsored by the Pebble Partnership are criticizing the Partnership’s own research.
The Keystone Center’s science panel met in Anchorage this week to review the Pebble Partnership’s baseline environmental studies for the mine it hopes to build in Southwest Alaska. The studies are meant to serve as a reference for what the region looks like now, without any major development.
On Tuesday, panelist Falk Huettman, a professor of wildlife ecology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, expressed concern that the baseline reports hadn’t fully considered the issue of biodiversity in the region. He also suggested that the work done on habitat use in the area was “insufficient.”
Ecologist Robert McFarlane had the harshest words, and he focused his criticisms primarily on the study of birds.
“I can say the documents is adequate as a list of species that are present,” said McFarlane. “It is not adequate for any type of study that you might want to come back to from some years in the future to ask, ‘Have there been any changes?”
McFarlane acknowledged that when it comes to building a mine, it will be more important to look at the impact on fish than on birds. But he still slammed the methodology used to study the birds, calling the research presented “backwards,” “frustrating,” and “disturbing.”
Terry Schick is the environmental consultant who handled the bird studies for the Pebble Partnership. He said they were limited in the field in how much data they were able to collect. And, he added, their team wasn’t given enough money to use a more current methods.
“We were not given the budget to produce those for this report,” said Schick.
Pebble Partnership’s study isn’t the only big piece of research on the mine out there. In April, the Environmental Protection Agency released its revised assessment of the project, which concluded that a mine in the Bristol Bay region could affect major salmon streams. The Pebble Partnership has called that work “deeply flawed,” because the EPA based its studies on a hypothetical mine plan instead of waiting for the partnership to file the plan they intend to use.