Friday will be the first Vietnam Veterans Day in Alaska.
Gov. Sean Parnell has signed legislation designating March 29 of each year as a day to honor those who served in Vietnam. The law takes effect immediately.
The House Speaker’s chamber was packed Wednesday when the governor signed House Bill 67. He was joined by veterans of the Vietnam War, some of whom serve in the Legislature, including Senate President Charlie Huggins, whose voiced cracked when he said the bill was a way to welcome veterans home.
Fairbanks Rep. Steve Thompson introduced the bill and soon had the majority of legislators signing on. He explained the significance of March 29 at the bill signing.
“On March 29, 1973, all U.S. troops withdrew from Vietnam, marking an end of the 10 years of United States military involvement. Upon their return, Vietnam veterans were not greeted with parades and triumph and speeches, such as the ones delivered at the end of the world wars. Instead, Vietnam veterans returned home to silence and in some cases abuse for having served their country during a controversial war.”
Nearly 60,000 Americans died in the Vietnam War.
Thompson said he carried the bill at the request of former state Rep. Bill Thomas of Haines, also a Vietnam vet. Thomas tried unsuccessfully to get a similar bill passed last year, then lost his bid for election to Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins of Sitka. Kreiss-Tomkins joined his House colleagues in sponsoring the bill.
Thomas was at Wednesday’s bill signing.
As part of Women’s history month, Alaska Public Media brings you the voices of influential Alaskan women who have helped shape and define the social, cultural and political discourse in Alaska. 15 women were recently inducted into the Alaska women’s hall of fame at a ceremony in Anchorage. Former lt governor Fran Ulmer was inducted herself in 2009. She introduced one of this year’s inductees-the late Thelma Langdon who was honored for her work in education, mental health and elder care. Her daughter Mel Langdon accepted the award.
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Federal regulators said today that ConocoPhillips will need to meet the same standards they set for Shell for drilling in the Chukchi and Beaufort Sea. At an Anchorage field hearing of Senator Mark Begich’s Oceans Subcommittee today, Tommy Boudreau, head of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, was asked if that means a containment dome for blowouts, such as the one BP used at the Macondo Spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Speaking by teleconference due to federal budget constraints, Boudreau told Begich the same standard would be used.
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The National Snow and Ice Data center based in Colorado report Arctic sea ice reached its maximum extent for the winter on March 15.
This year’s winter-time sea ice extent is the sixth lowest since the National Snow and Ice Data Center started keeping satellite records in 1979. Walt Meier is a research scientist at NSIDC. “In winter, we used to be about 16 million square kilometers, which is about double the lower 48 United States,” says Meier.
Based on this year’s satellite records, Meier says winter sea ice covered roughly 15.13 million square kilometers of the Arctic this year. That’s roughly ten times the size of the state of Alaska. It’s also equivalent to more than 337 billion football fields. “We’ve kind of lost about a couple million square kilometers,” he explains. “On the order of about 10 to 15 percent, so that’s kind of like the eastern sea board of the United states in terms of the ice loss.”
Meier says recent Arctic sea ice records show a more pronounced seasonal cycle. Data show more of the winter time sea ice that does exist is first-year ice, meaning it develops each winter but melts as temperatures warm in the spring and summer. “It used to be for example from Barrow Alaska, you’d see things open up, but you could take a boat out and reach the ice edge, but nowadays, the ice edge is much farther from the coast and the ocean is more exposed during the during the summer time.”
Sea ice acts as the Earth’s air conditioner. When it reflects sunlight, it cools the planet. “But now when we lose the ice cover,” says Meier. “The ocean is much darker than the ice. That absorbs all that solar energy that’s coming and that heats up the ocean. It’s like your air conditioning is running out of coolant. It’s not as efficient in terms of cooling the rest of the planet.”
NSIDC has measured the ten lowest winter sea ice extents in each of the last ten years, with the lowest ever measured in 2011. At the beginning of April, NSIDC scientists will release a detailed analysis of this year’s winter sea ice conditions in the Arctic.
Senator Lisa Murkowski says her opinion on gay marriage is still evolving. Murkowski addressed the topic today at a chamber of commerce luncheon in the Anchorage suburb of Eagle River.
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The major oil companies in Alaska testified last night to the state House Resources Committee about the latest version of Governor Sean Parnell’s oil tax reform legislation. The bill passed the Senate last week. It represents a major tax break for the oil companies. The state estimates it will cost Alaska $6 billion in tax revenue over the next five years.
Dan Seckers, a tax expert with Exxon Mobil, says the company is especially happy with the provision of the bill that gets rid of the state’s windfall profits tax:
“To us, this single step represents significant improvement. And this change alone, if you did nothing else to ACES, that change alone would significantly improve Alaska’s global competitiveness,” Seckers said.
But Seckers went on to say the base tax rate under the new tax plan – 35 percent – is too high. Damian Bilboa, head of finance for BP Alaska, agreed the tax breaks under the new plan don’t go far enough.
“While it is a step forward in making Alaska more attractive to investment. Alaska’s geographic, technical and cost challenges are such that Alaska may not want to be satisfied with settling on the upper end of average on the competitive scale,” Bilboa said.
Democrats who fought the new tax plan in the Senate say it gives away billions of dollars to the oil companies, with no guarantee they will invest more in oil production in Alaska to make up for the loss.
Committee co-chair Eric Feige hopes to advance the bill sometime next week. It would then go to the House Finance Committee.
Education advocates have long promoted pre-school as a way of closing the achievement gap between rich and poor students, and this year the president named expanding early education programs as one of his top priorities in his State of the Union address. But here in Alaska, fewer kids could have access to pre-school due to budget cuts.
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It’s Girl Scout cookie time. The troops sell the cookies to raise money for all kinds of activities. APRN’s Dave Waldron found a troop in Anchorage that uses the funds for a unique and futuristic purpose.
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The Sitka Sound sac roe herring fishery is scheduled for a 3 p.m. opening Wednesday. It is the first opening of the season as fishermen try to catch more than 11,500 tons of the small silverfish. Herring eggs are valued on the Japenese market.
State fishery managers like to see 10 percent mature roe before calling an opening. A sample taken Wednesday was at 12.9.
The fishery area is between Bieli Rock and Makhnati Island. No word on how long the fishery will be open.
The Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium, or SEARHC, is closing down its residential drug and alcohol treatment program. The closure was announced Tuesday and comes after massive reductions in federal funding, also known as sequestration.
The Bill Brady Healing Center has existed in its current form since 1996. About 50 patients graduate from the 40-day program every year.
“I know that April 30 is our last day,” said Dave Johnson, who has been a residential manager at the Healing Center for about four-and-a-half years.
When Johnson clocked out at 2 o’clock Monday afternoon, he was told to return at 4 for a mandatory meeting. That’s when SEARHC officials broke the news that the center would close in about a month’s time.
“When it was first told to us, I was bitter, and I was angry,” he said. “Last night I couldn’t sleep. And today, I woke up and I feel a lot better. There’s two ways to look at it. You can look at it as a total negative, but there’s another way to look at it as, another door is going to open.”
Johnson is one of about 22 people who work at the Healing Center. In a statement released Wednesday, SEARHC says some of the employees will be reassigned. Others will be furloughed — a temporary, unpaid leave, basically — and others will be let go completely.
The closure will save SEARHC about $1.5 million every year. The money will chip away at a funding cut of more than $3.5 million, imposed by sequestration — the name given to cuts that automatically kicked in on March 1, when Congress failed to agree on a federal budget.
SEARHC CEO Charles Clement says the organization has dealt with short-term funding problems before. But he calls sequestration “the new normal.”
“For all intents and purposes, it looks like the sequestration is going to be a permanent reality,” Clement said.
He says that means the organization can’t tighten the belt for six months and ride out the storm. At Bill Brady, SEARHC is still figuring out who will lose their job outright, and who will be moved to other parts of SEARHC.
Clement says the dozen or so patients currently in the program will be seen through to completion in mid-April, and then staff will have two weeks to wrap up loose ends and close the doors.
This latest round of budget cuts comes after SEARHC spent a year digging out from a $4 million deficit. Clement says the organization just got back to breaking even when sequestration hit.
And with the new $3.5 million hit, conversations continue among upper management on how to continue digging out of the hole.
“They’re a combination between these sort of financial conversations and these subjective value conversations,” he said. “We’re sort of working it through the best we can, considering that for all intents and purposes, we’re being held over a barrel that we have to make these decisions on a very short time frame.”
Back to Dave Johnson, the residential manager at Bill Brady Healing Center.
“My heart is telling me to go back to Angoon,” Johnson said.
The 32-year-old grew up in the Admiralty Island community. For nearly five years, he says he’s been part of a team that helps complete strangers heal. And as he tries to heal from the sudden end to all of that, he says it’s a good reason to be close to his family.
“I wouldn’t say I’m at peace. You’re seeing the cover. There’s a lot … I’m really in shock, mainly,” he said. “This was the best job I’ve ever had. I can honestly say that.”
As part of Women’s history month, Alaska Public Media brings you the voices of influential Alaskan women who have helped shape and define the social, cultural and political discourse in Alaska. 15 women were recently inducted into the Alaska women’s hall of fame at a ceremony in Anchorage. Former Anchorage Assembly chair and hall of fame steering committee member Jane Angvik tells us more about the late, Mary Joyce who was honored for her achievements in Business and adventure! Mary Lou Gerby accepted the award on her behalf.
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Only one amendment was passed for AO37. It states, “No municipal employee will suffer a loss of base pay or benefits as a result of changes to this chapter.”
The Anchorage Assembly passed a rewrite of municipal labor law by a vote of 6-5 at their regular meeting Tuesday night.
Early in the meeting, Assembly Member Paul Honeman introduced a resolution that could have postponed action on the controversial rewrite of Anchorage municipal labor law until October.
“I just, I can’t implore each of you on this body strongly enough to fully get behind taking the time and making sure we make the changes – I’m not opposed to making changes to 3.70, I’m not. So I would urge approval,” Honeman said.
Honeman’s resolution was shot down 6-5. When Assembly Chair Ernie Hall moved to take action on the ordinance, Honeman moved to override the chair. That motion failed 7-4, with Assembly members Dick Traini, Elvi Gray-Jackson and Patrick Flynn as Honeman’s only supporters. Honeman then moved to postpone the ordinance indefinitely. That motion also failed 7-4. The ordinance was announced on Feb. 8 by Mayor Dan Sullivan. It will limit union longevity and performance pay, benefits, and eliminate binding arbitration along with strikes. It will also allow some municipal jobs to be contracted out. Chairman Hall ended the public hearing on the ordinance after listening to four five-hour evenings of public testimony from 285 people. Before the vote Assembly member Patrick Flynn told his colleagues that they had failed.
“We have a larger responsibility, not just to the people we represent, although that’s the most important one, but also to the integrity of this body, this Assembly, as an institution, and we have failed badly. The decision to close public testimony has irrevocably harmed our public process,” Flynn said.
Assembly members attempted to pass some amendments. Assembly member Honeman introduced an amendment that would protect base-pay. During deliberation Mayor Dan Sullivan chimed in arguing against that.
“You don’t want to put in an ordinance that you’re never going to change a wage rate. It could change, in exchange for something else. And it could be to the employees benefit. So anyway, that’s why I think it’s very, very dangerous to put specifically in code that you’ll never change a base rate because that’s what negotiation is about,” Sullivan said.
Honeman’s amendment was the sole amendment passed. Assembly members Traini and Gray-Jackson warned that the ordinance would bring lawsuits upon the Municipality because it was poorly written. Gray-Jackson asked her colleagues to remember what they heard from citizens during public testimony on the ordinance.
“Much of the testimony was simply asking the Assembly to take a deep breath and don’t rush the ordinance just to get it done before the election. If we put this on hold, we can avoid costly litigation, work with the unions, with the public and produce a document that makes changes to the code but with consensus from all parties,” Gray-Jackson said.
The ordinance passed 6-5, with Assembly Members Honeman, Traini, Gray-Jackson, Flynn and Debbie Ossiander the no votes. Chair Hall, Cheryl Frasca, Jennifer Johnston, Adam Trombley and Bill Starr voted for the ordinance. Cheryl Frasca, Jennifer Johnston, Ernie Hall, Chris Birch, Bill Starr and Adam Trombley in favor of the ordinance. Jillanne Inglis is Vice President of the Anchorage Municipal Employees Association. She says the ordinance was too rushed.
“We’re feeling really disheartened. We’re really upset about it. The process was way too fast,” Inglis said.
Sergeant Gerard Asselin, who represents the Anchorage Police Department Employee Association said he was also disappointed.
“The Mayor said from day one, he had the votes. We tried. We did everything we could. We tried providing facts, we tried providing information, we tried providing evidence – and they, frankly, just didn’t want to hear it,” Asselin said.
Collective bargaining agreements will be negotiated under the new law as old agreements expire. The first union negotiations under the new law are set to begin in the coming weeks. The Sullivan administration has 180 days to present a managed competition program to the Assembly for approval.
A reward is being offered for information in the death of two Golden Eagles, whose bodies were recently found near a hiking trail near Chickaloon. According to Bruce Woods, with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the eagles, a female and an immature male, were found on top of a pile of bait meat and surrounded by snares.
”The Eagles were not in the snares at the time they were found, they were dead, they had not been shot, and they were on top of the bait pile. “
Woods says the eagles were not in the snares when their bodies were discovered, however, and it appears that the bodies were tossed on top of the pile after they had died. He says the bodies were not decomposed, and that the birds had not been shot, although authorities are not releasing more information about the condition of the bodies at this time. Woods says he does not know if there will be a necropsy on the birds.
“There was sufficient evidence on site to indicate what caused the mortality. I do know that our agents are not really saying more information about the cause of mortality as that might be pertinent to the investigation. “
The site of the eagle deaths is Anthracite Ridge, North of the Chickaloon -Knik -Nelchina Trail near Chickaloon.
Fish and Wildlife is offering 2500 dollars for information leading to a conviction in the case. Eagles are protected under the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. Violations of the Migratory Bird Treaty could result in a 100 thousand dollar fine and/ or a year in federal prison. Woods says more than one violation of the Bald and Golden Eagle Act adds up to a serious crime.
“Two violations under that act would raise the status of the crime to a felony. “
Woods says American Indians and Alaska Natives are allowed to use eagle parts and feathers in spiritual ceremonies, although the feathers and parts are kept by the national Eagle Repository near Denver and there is an application for their use. Woods says it is likely the eagles bodies will be sent to the repository.
Anyone with information concerning these eagles is asked to call the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Law Enforcement in Anchorage at (907)271-2828.
A report released Tuesday offers stark findings on the status of Alaskan women. Women in the state earn much less than their male counterparts, have been imprisoned at a higher rate during the last decade and are committing suicide at a rate twice as high as the rest of the United States.
Senator Lesil McGuire asked the non-partisan legislative research services to prepare the report last year. She says the biggest surprise for her in the data was how little women earn compared to men in Alaska.
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The more than 30 speakers at Monday’s Save Our Schools hearing were preaching to the choir; that is, the Alaska House and Senate Democrats who called it to bolster their fight for increased public school funding.
Minority members say they’ve been getting hundreds of emails and other comments from frustrated parents, teachers, school administrators and education boards asking for the same.
They want money for pre-kindergarten programs, inflation proofing for the Base Student Allocation, and no constitutional amendment to allow public dollars to flow to religious and private schools.
Anchorage parent Matt Johnson spoke at the end, summing up two hours of testimony:
“We really need to fully fund our public schools and our pre-K early learning programs. I don’t think money’s always the bottom line, but I think it’s a proven fact that early education saves everybody money. Saves our state money, saves our society money. I strongly oppose any voucher system for our public schools, and strongly oppose any tinkering with out Alaska constitution. And finally I would say that I believe we are one of the wealthiest states in the union if not the wealthiest. What kind of a people can’t fund their public education system but can hand over billions to the oil companies.”
Johnson was alluding to the bill moving through the legislature that would reduce taxes on Alaska’s oil producers. The latest fiscal note indicates the state would lose between $4.5 billion and $5.8 billion dollars in revenue through 2019.
Only two speakers at yesterday’s hearing took the opposite stance, including
John Thomas, of the Mat-Su region. He agrees with many in the Republican-led legislature who say public schools aren’t wisely using the money they get.
“The answer is ‘throw money at it, throw money at it. The children; education is untouchable, this is our primary responsibility.’ We’ve tried it that way for decades, people. Now it’s time to tighten our belts and get with the program.”
Democrats are a small caucus in the legislature and their Republican colleagues were not at yesterday’s hearing.
And, the Democrat’s legislation to inflation-proof the Base Student Allocation (HB 95) is not moving. The BSA is the formula used to calculate the per-student cost of education. It’s remained $5,680 dollars since FY 2011. According to the Legislative Finance Division, the BSA would be worth $5,569 dollars in the upcoming fiscal year, due to inflation.
Republican chairs of the House and Senate Education Committees say proposed increases in education funding are not likely to gain traction in these last three weeks of the session.
There’s been a major shake-up at the top of Koniag Incorporated, the regional Native Corporation for the Kodiak Islands area. In a release Tuesday, it was announced that Will Anderson has agreed to step down as the president and chief executive officer, positions he has held for the past seven years.
No reason was given for the departure.
Tom Panamaroff will serve as interim president, while board chair Ron Unger will serve as interim CEO.
A new interactive map lays out the earthquake potential across Alaska. The online map uses a color coded system to identify locations that have experienced earthquakes.
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A school group from earthquake and tsunami ravaged cities in Japan visited Fairbanks over the weekend. The Japanese government sponsored cultural exchange includes 26 high school students and their teachers.
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A Seldovia family that has made a habit of taking on long journeys around some of the wildest parts of Alaska is at it again. Later this month, they’ll be taking off from their yurt on the south side of Kachemak bay for an 800-mile walk along the entire coast of Cook Inlet.
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The newest piece of art for the new Ketchikan Public Library building is an installation called “A Trip to the Library.” Artists Evon Zerbertz and Rich Stage were at the library after hours last weekend, working out the logistics of hanging the complex piece.
As Zerbetz watches, getting a crick in her neck from looking up, Stage noisily elevates the lift 25 feet into the air, to bolt the sculpture, swathed in bubble wrap, into place.
Art isn’t usually that loud. Neither are libraries, for that matter. But once it’s in place, the newly installed artwork will be quiet, albeit full of movement, both real and implied.
The name of the piece, “A Trip to the Library,” is a play on words. It portrays a young man who has stumbled on his way out.
“He has found so many books in this library that he wants to read, that he has amassed this huge stack of books,” Zerbetz said. “As he leaves, they are just flying through the air.”
Zerbetz and Stage knew they wanted a young man for the main sculpture. Zerbetz says she loves the “guys read” campaign that encourages reading among boys.
The sculpture was modeled after a real person, who agreed to endure, well, here’s Zerbetz again to explain the process.
“We used Andy Pankow for the head cast,” she said. “He was incredible. He had rubber – I don’t know how many pounds – like five or six pounds of rubber and plaster on his head for two to three hours. I don’t think very many people can do that.”
Stage then sculpted the resin head cast, so it doesn’t really look like the model anymore. Stage, who was reluctant but not completely opposed to talking on the record, also created the metal-frame skeleton for the piece, which isn’t as heavy as it looks.
“It’s under a ton,” he said. “It’s all wire frame. It probably weighs 70 pounds. So he’s all hollow inside.”
The main steel rod goes from the sculpture’s foot to wrist, and those two points are bolted to either side of the library’s main glassed-in entrance area. They built a replica of that entrance in Zerbetz’s driveway, to plan the piece out and make sure they had the dimensions right.
The idea for the installation came out of a brainstorming session.
We were going through the ubiquitous fish and birds, but we already did that,” Zerbetz said. “We wanted to do something really different, and Rich is always full of puns.”
Zerbetz and Stage have collaborated before. One of those projects is an installation piece at Fawn Mountain Elementary School that involves all kinds of flying creatures bursting out of pillars in the school’s main corridor. That piece also had lots of parts, and required some interesting engineering to install.
“We like it complicated,” she said, laughing. “Actually we don’t really like it complicated, we
just specialize in complicated.”
Other art pieces already installed at the library include metal sculptures by the Salvage Divas, Rhonda Green and Anne Fitzgerald, depicting Alaska wildlife; and a colorful, whimsical fabric tree in the children’s section. The tree was created by Ann Carlson, Sherry Henrickson, Jackie Keizer and Deb Turnbull.
Another piece still to be installed is a carved Northwest Coast –style medallion by master carver Nathan Jackson.
As of Monday, the entryway art installation wasn’t quite done. It should be completed early this week.