Alaska News

Green Business: Alaska’s First Cannabis Career Fair Held in Anchorage

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-06-01 18:53

The state’s first job fair comes just two weeks after a large convention in Anchorage, further proving to many that the commercial industry is bringing an opportunity for large financial profits. (Photo: Zachariah Hughes, KSKA)

This weekend, Alaska saw its first-ever job fair for careers in commercial cannabis, offering a glimpse of how the semi-legal marijuana industry is taking tentative steps towards professionalism and profits.

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Theresa Collins shuffled between prospective employers and job-seekers inside the enormous, high-ceiling room that serves as the venue for Pot Luck Events, the marijuana-friendly company she runs at 420 West 3rd Avenue in downtown Anchorage. And yes, that is the actual address. Collins worked with the newly-formed Alaska Cannabis Growers Association to organize an event matching would-be workers with jobs that don’t yet exist.

“Growers, trimmers, bud-tenders,” Collins rattles off. And then there are all the clerical jobs she expects trained employees from other sectors to bring into the offices accompanying future dispensaries and green-houses, “Accounting, admin–there’s going be all kinds of different, new jobs in this industry.”

Collins wants Alaska’s new commercial pot sector to be legit–law-abiding and mature, in part because it makes for good business.

To that end, though the club has a distinct aroma of pot smoke, no one was visibly consuming. Collins banished dues-paying club members who wanted to imbibe to the VIP section in the back. The rest of the venue was all business.

“If you’re going to sit down and smoke a joint before you sit down for an interview,” Collins said, shaking her head, “I don’t think it really shows that you’re very professional.”

Collins was impressed with the turnout–more than a hundred people stopped by and registered information for jobs.

But was not the case for one attendee, who asked to be called Morgan, was hunched over a table filling out a form with questions like “What is your relationship with cannabis?” and “What experience do you have working with cannabis, and in what capacity?”

Morgan was at the fair because she knows a lot about pot and thinks the business environment will likely be more laid back than regular retail or office work. But she was disappointed by the event.

“It’s a little bit skinnier than I guess I thought it would be,” said Morgan, who anticipated a more traditional job fair set-up, with booths, hand-outs, and way more prospective employers. “It seems a little bit more like a cattle-call.”

The forms could be dropped off with any of the three businesses present, including Alaska Cannabis Staffing. Owner Kyle Houghton is setting up a data-base of employees he hopes to sell to companies needing both permanent and seasonal laborers.

“I gotta build a data-base first, before I have any value to offer employers,” Houghton said, standing next to the laptops used to help patrons set up login credentials. After that they were free to upload resumes whenever they wanted.

Houghton explained that it was still a bit early in the commercialization process to hold an event like Saturday’s. “Most of the jobs are gonna come next year,” he said.

Alaska Cannabis Staffing’s business model isn’t new–a cross between a temp agency and a job site–but it depends on a robust industry that does not yet exist. Much like insurance brokers and equipment suppliers, Houghton’s is an ancillary business that stands to profit from what many expect to be a green gold rush.

Which is exactly why Houghton chose the business he did: “I want to be involved without being involved, I don’t want to be heavily regulated.”

Similar to a water-pipe, Justin’s battery-powered oil rig heats small amount of concentrated cannabis product to the point of combustion. (Photo: Zachariah Hughes, KSKA)

In the VIP lounge, I talk with a business owner who will be very involved–Justin of Green Dream Farms (he asked that I not use his last name). We’re in the smoking area because Justin is showing me one of the products he hopes to eventually sell: dab, an essential oil extracted from large quantities of cannabis. Concentrated products like dab have been a bit of a boogey-man in municipal and state-level conversations over how to regulate marijuana.

But Justin believes this is a misunderstanding.

“I think it’s a healthier, safer, faster product,” he tells me. Justin hasn’t smoked “flower” (budding marijuana) in five years, partly because his pulmonary health was suffering from all the tar that came from ingesting so much plant matter. He loads a small daub of dab into a battery-powered pipe called an oil rig that heats the substance to the point of combustion at 700 to 850 degrees. “It’s almost an instant heat,” he adds, demonstrating.

Justin’s business doesn’t officially exist. There is no store-front or commercial processing facility, and lawmakers have yet to finalize rules about permits or controversial products like concentrates.

While many variables are still unknown, recruiting early has crucial benefits to Justin’s business strategy.

“It’s all future marketing and branding,” he said, matter-of-factly, “we just kinda wanna get our name out there.”

As for coming to the job fair in particular, “We want a team assembled before licensure,” Justin explained, “to make sure that when we are licensed we can hit the ground running.”

For job-seeking Morgan, it was a good event for networking, but didn’t yield many tangible job prospects.

“I think that there’s a lot of work to be had, it’s just not readily available yet,” she said.

The state anticipates the first commercial marijuana operations to open for business in May of 2016.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Monday, June 1, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-06-01 17:49

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

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Walker Hires Mediator to Help Lawmakers Pass A Budget

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

Governor Bill Walker has hired a mediator to help lawmakers reach a deal on the budget.

Permanent Fund CEO Abruptly Retires

Matt Miller, KTOO – Juneau

The Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation has announced the abrupt retirement of its chief executive officer Mike Burns.

Premera Alaska Files For Another Large Rate Increase

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

Premera Alaska is asking the federal government to approve an average rate increase of 39 percent for its Affordable Care Act health insurance plans in the state for 2016. That follows a 37 percent increase the federal government approved for 2015.

Rep. Young’s Fisheries Bill Passes the House

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, D.C.

A bill to reauthorize the Magnuson-Stevens Act passed the U.S. House this evening, largely on party lines.

North Pacific Council to Vote on Halibut Bycatch Limits

Rachel Waldholz, KCAW – Sitka

Of the thirty million pounds of halibut caught last year by commercial fishermen statewide, nearly a third was thrown back into the ocean, dead. It were netted accidentally by boats targeting other fish.

U.S. House Votes to Sell Midtown Lot to Muni

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, D.C.

The U.S. House today voted to sell a 9-acre lot in Anchorage to the Municipality, at fair market value. The property at 40th and Denali Street is one of the largest undeveloped lots in Midtown.

City Holds Job Fair for Marijuana Industry

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

The state’s first ever job fair for careers in commercial cannabis was held in Anchorage over the weekend.

Medicaid Denials May Boot Some Seniors From Assisted Living

Quinton Chandler, KBBI – Homer

Many of Alaska’s seniors are in danger of losing their only means of paying for disability services. The state and the federal government partner in funding in-home and assisted living services for the seniors who qualify. Caregivers say the problem is individuals who met the state’s criteria for years are now being let go from the system.

Categories: Alaska News

Walker Hires Mediator to Help Lawmakers Pass A Budget

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-06-01 17:46

Gov. Bill Walker has hired a mediator to help lawmakers reach a deal on the budget. Walker made the announcement at an Anchorage news conference this afternoon. He also said state agencies began sending layoff notices to 10,000 workers who could lose their jobs if the legislature doesn’t pass a budget by July 1st, when the new fiscal year begins.

Listen now:

Walker says lawmakers are arguing over a relatively small piece of the budget:

“The amount of difference being argued in the legislature is really approximately 1 percent of the problem. We have $3.5 or $4 billion deficit this year and next year as well. We want to focus on the 99 percent opportunity we have to solve this going forward, and we are.”

The Senate Finance Committee yesterday rejected a compromise between the House majority and minority.

The Governor says he can’t force the various parties to try mediation to resolve their differences, but he thinks it could help. He retained the services of Anchorage lawyer and mediator Matt Peterson.

Peterson says he got a call from Walker early this morning. He says he usually mediates complex litigation involving business disputes, and he thinks the situation in the legislature isn’t so different:

“And in my experience if you can get everyone talking, identify the areas that are agreed upon, and then focus on fair negotiations for the remaining part, as I sit here right now, I’m optimistic this can be mediated.”

Peterson says he’s cleared his schedule for the rest of the week.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Democratic-led House minority says negotiations were occurring between the House minority leader and Senate president this afternoon.

Christopher Clark is a former reporter and legislative aid who has been watching the action unfold. He identifies one of the biggest sticking points.

Categories: Alaska News

North Pacific Council to Vote on Halibut Bycatch Limits

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-06-01 17:42

Of the 30 million pounds of halibut caught last year by commercial fishermen statewide, nearly a third was thrown back into the ocean, dead. It were netted accidentally by boats targeting other fish.
Now, that may change. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council, which oversees the federal waters off Alaska, is considering major new limits on wasted halibut — or bycatch — at its meeting in Sitka the week of June 1.  The decision will have impacts from Southeast to the Bering Sea.

Listen now:

Critics argue that too many fish are dying in the nets of big Bering Sea trawlers — and that means less halibut for everyone else.

“Halibut’s one of the two most important species, along with salmon, to the coastal communities of Alaska. The bycatch threatens all of that.”

That’s Linda Behnken. She’s the head of ALFA, the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, which represents mostly small-boat commercial fishermen.

She calls the Bering Sea Alaska’s halibut “nursery ground.” Studies have found that young fish migrate from there into the Gulf of Alaska and Southeast. And that means…

“What happens in the Bering Sea doesn’t stay in the Bering Sea. What happens in the Bering Sea, happens to all of us.”

And what happens in the Bering Sea is this: trawlers targeting flatfish like yellowfin sole drag their nets through the same deepwater habitat where halibut live — and invariably catch some. The law requires trawlers to discard that halibut, and most fish don’t make it back into the water alive. Last year alone, trawlers scooped up — and discarded — about five million pounds of halibut in the Bering Sea.

This has been the case as long as there’s been trawling. But the issue has become more urgent in recent years, as halibut abundance has dropped.

In the last ten years, the exploitable biomass – that is, the population of fish big enough to catch – has declined by half. And halibut fishermen have seen their catch limits drop with it. But the caps on bycatch have remained essentially the same.

In the Central Bering Sea, halibut fishermen initially faced a 60 percent cut this year. That cut was avoided, but only on the condition that bycatch in the region declines this year. The impacts would be huge, Behnken says.

“The Bering Sea communities, especially communities like St. Paul in the Pribilof Islands. They don’t have salmon. They don’t have musk ox. They don’t have caribou. They don’t have moose. Halibut is the most important species for them for subsistence and for their commercial fisheries… They’re looking at something that I think threatens cultural extinction if they lose the halibut stock.”

ALFA has asked the Council to reduce the trawl bycatch cap by 50 percent.

Woodley: A 50 percent bycatch reduction would be absolutely devastating to the Amendment 80 sector.

Chris Woodley is head of the Groundfish Forum, which represents most of what’s called the “Amendment 80” fleet. That fleet is made up of six companies, most based in Seattle, with about 18 catcher-processors targeting flatfish in the Bering Sea.

Woodley: Essentially our boats would be tying up five to six months early. And it would also significant downstream impacts to the maritime economies of remote communities in Alaska, primarily Unalaska, Adak, Kodiak and Sand Point.

Woodley says the fleet has already made voluntary efforts to reduce bycatch. And they’re asking the Council to let them adopt other measures, like deck sorting, which would allow them to return more halibut to the water alive.

“There may be some more things that we can do. But all of that comes at a cost…And we’re concerned that people don’t appreciate that we’ve already made significant improvements, and it’s not so simple as just flipping a switch and everything gets better. Any additional improvements are going to have potentially huge costs to our fleet. And what we don’t want is a strict regulatory solution to this.”

For Behnken, the big issue is what kind of fisheries Alaska wants. The commercial halibut fleet is made up of about a thousand small boats, most of them family-owned.

“So I would say the way fisheries are changing, it’s the way our country’s changing. It’s what small farmers have faced. It’s the industrialization of the food system…To me, this decision the council is facing, it’s really a landmark decision. They are deciding between a fishery that has a hundred-year tradition of being commercially exploited by small boats, community based, this is a really important fishery to Alaska, and this fish being taken as bycatch, wasted in the industrial, Seattle-based fleet.”

But whether the Council sees it that way is up in the air. The Council is expected to vote on bycatch caps this weekend.

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council is meeting in Sitka’s Harrigan Centennial Hall through Tuesday, June 9. There are opportunities for public comment throughout the week. You can find a link to the council’s full schedule and livestream, along with instructions for those who wish to comment, on kcaw.org.

Categories: Alaska News

Medicaid Denials May Boot Some Seniors From Assisted Living

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-06-01 17:39

First, picture a nursing home. Main Street Assisted Living in Homer is the polar opposite of that. It’s a house. In the center is a living room and directly behind it a full kitchen. Hallways to the left and right lead to bedrooms and a downstairs office. Seventy-five-year-old Lily Mann says she came to the center seven or eight years ago.

Listen now:

“I was rescued by Adult Protective Services at the request of my doctor who said I was no longer safe to live at home. Now they want to throw me out. The state rescued me and now they want to get rid of me. It’s mind-boggling,” says Mann.

Mann says before, she was “falling and breaking things.” She still has balance issues. She recently fell and hurt her foot. She also needs help with basic hygiene. These are things so personal she’s embarrassed to discuss some of them.

“I get help with bathing. I get help with treating my recurrent yeast infections which I’m physically incapable of reaching. I get help with cleaning my sleep [apnea] machine. They do the usual stuff. They carry away all the wet diapers,” says Mann.

Now she might lose it all.

“I was just told I was denied,” Mann says.

When Mann says denied, she’s talking about her Medicaid waiver. Presently the state uses four types of waivers. The one we’re interested in is titled 1915-C or just the “C option.” Seniors who use the C option choose to live in their own home with a personal nurse, or in an assisted living home. But they must be eligible for institutional level of care. Simply put, they have to be able to gain admittance into a nursing home even though they are choosing not to live in one. Brian Richardson is CEO of Immediate Care. It’s a company that provides assisted living services to clients across the state:

“In 2013 there was a change in the Alaska State Regulations. The industry believes the interpretation of a certain two sentences in those regulations has led to people being declared ineligible for nursing home supports and therefore ineligible for these kinds of Home and Community Based Services,” says Richardson.

Senior Disabilities Services, or SDS, Director Duane Mayes disputes Richardson’s claims. He says the Department is controlling the Medicaid waiver programs just as it was always meant to; but one key development gives the impression that more denials are being mailed than should be.

“There were lawsuits from a long time ago specific to our Personal Care Attendant program and our Medicaid Waiver program,” says Mayes.

According to Mayes those lawsuits challenged SDS’ methods for assessing individuals’ eligibility for these programs. The appeal process the department provided people who didn’t agree with their assessment was also under scrutiny.

“And so we resolved those lawsuits. So literally for a period of seven to eight years we were unable to remove anybody that no longer met level of care from our waiver system,” explains Mayes.

Mayes says it was about three years ago that those lawsuits were settled. That’s around the same time Richardson says there was a jump in the number of people found ineligible.

“I think that’s probably the impact people are feeling is now when we do our job and we determine if a person continues to meet eligibility for the waiver program. If there’s a senior who can change for the better, and they no longer meet eligibility, then we need to address other types of services for those individuals,” Mayes explains.

Waiver recipients go through an initial assessment when they first apply and they are reassessed annually. Caregivers and residents at Main Street Assisted Living think the assessments don’t go far enough. They say they only focus on physical abilities like; can a resident feed themselves, can they turn over in bed, or go to the bathroom alone. Mayes defends the assessment. He says it’s the same process the department has always used. And the department’s findings are reviewed by a third party contractor.

There’s one more check on the process. People deemed ineligible are guaranteed an appeal. Right now Lily Mann is in the middle of appealing her denial. She’s gotten help from an attorney with the Office of Public Advocacy. The owner of Main Street Assisted Living says 9 out her 15 residents are at risk of losing their waiver.

“They’re going to be dumping a lot of people out. I can’t go back to where I was living. I guess I’d just be competing with everybody else for a senior apartment or something like that,” says Mann.

Even if Mann finds a place it’s unclear how she’ll pay for it let alone get the care she needs.

This is the first report in a three-part series. Next we’ll explore the state’s assessment process and options available to seniors in danger of losing their waiver.

Categories: Alaska News

Permanent Fund CEO Abruptly Retires

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-06-01 15:56

The Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation has announced the abrupt retirement of its chief executive officer Mike Burns.

Burns’ immediate departure is due to unspecified health concerns, according to a short statement issued on Monday.

Chief Financial Officer Valerie Mertz has been named as acting CEO as the search gets underway for interim and permanent replacements.

The Corporation’s Board of Trustees convened a special meeting by teleconference on Monday morning to accept Burns’ retirement.

Board Chair Bill Moran said that they appreciate the many years of service and outstanding performance that Burns brought to his role as CEO.

According to state figures, Burns made $346,000 in salary in 2014. He also received 120-thousand dollars in additional compensation and benefits such as health insurance and retirement.

The Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation is a state-owned corporation responsible for managing the state’s oil wealth savings account. It’s different than the Permanent Fund Dividend Division which is the state division responsible for vetting applicants for the dividend and disbursing checks every October.

Burns was president of KeyBank, National Association Alaska before he was named CEO of the permanent fund corporation in August 2004. He also served as president of Alaska Pacific Bank before it combined with First National Bank of Fairbanks to become KeyBank of Alaska.

The market value of the Alaska Permanent Fund is now up to nearly $54.5 billion dollars.

Categories: Alaska News

Rep. Young’s Fisheries Bill Passes House

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-06-01 15:47

A bill to reauthorize the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the nation’s primary fishing law, passed the U.S. House this evening, largely on party lines. The sponsor, Alaska Congressman Don Young, says the bill makes practical revisions to continue a law that has restored the health of America’s fisheries.

“The opposition is coming from –  you know, not the fishing community. It’s coming from very frankly from the environmental community, and why they’re opposing it I don’t really know. Other than the fact that they think I’m weakening NEPA. I’m not. The Endangered Species (Act), I am not,” Young said. “This bill is originally and it always should be a sustainable yield fisheries bill for the fish and for the communities.”

Much of the debate on the House floor did concern NEPA, the National Environmental Protection Act. Democrats, like Rep. Debbie Dingell of Michigan, say Young’s bill would gut the public process required under NEPA.

“Stakeholders, including businesses and individuals, would get less consideration in the council process and would not have a way of voicing their concerns and influencing the directions of plans or projects that threaten the environment or the livelihoods of these people,” she said.

Young says the same environmental review required by NEPA would still take place, but it would be part of the Council process, to avoid duplication.

Young’s bill also introduces a controversial element of flexibility in fisheries management. It would eliminate the mandatory 10-year planning period for rebuilding depleted stocks. Opponents says that allows for commercial interests to pressure managers to set harvest levels too high. Young, though, says the rebuilding time frame should vary, depending on the needs of the species.

The White House has already threatened to veto the bill. Young says the veto threat is premature, since the bill will be revised once the Senate passes its version and the two bills are renegotiated in a conference committee.

 

Categories: Alaska News

U.S. House Votes to Sell Midtown Lot to Muni

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-06-01 15:35

The U.S. House today voted to sell a 9-acre lot in Anchorage to the Municipality, at fair market value. The property at 40th and Denali Street is one of the largest undeveloped lots in Midtown. The late Sen. Ted Stevens intended the site to be the Alaska location of the National Archives. With his support, the government bought the land in 2004 from real estate developers John Rubini and Leonard Hyde for $3.5 million. But when Stevens lost his Senate seat, the project had no champion and was never constructed. Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan wanted the land as a transit hub. The transition manager for Ethan Berkowitz says the mayor-elect is still considering the best use for the land. The bill next moves to the Senate.

Categories: Alaska News

Premera Alaska Files For Another Large Rate Increase

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-06-01 15:32

Premera Alaska is asking the state and federal government to approve an average rate increase of 39 percent for its Affordable Care Act health insurance plans in the state for 2016. That follows a 37 percent that was approved for 2015.

The company says a small number of customers with complex medical problems are filing millions of dollars in claims that can’t be absorbed by the small size of the insurance pool in Alaska. Premera has about 8,000 members on Affordable Care Act plans in the state.

The company is working with the state of Alaska to develop a program that would help spread the risk of expensive claims and stabilize the market.

Many Premera members who buy insurance on Healthcare.gov qualify for subsidies that will help lesson the impact of any increase.

Moda Health, the other insurer who offers health plans on the federal exchange in Alaska, has filed for an average rate increase of about 22 percent.

The state will make its decision by August 25th.

This story is part of a reporting partnership between APRN, NPR and Kaiser Health News.

Categories: Alaska News

Cold Front Sweeps in From the North

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-06-01 15:09

June has ushered in a dramatic change in the weather as a cold front from the high arctic dips into Alaska. National Weather Service meteorologist Chris Cox in Fairbanks says the system is packing an un-summery punch.

“We’ve had some strong winds reported up on the Dalton Highway where we’ve had some trees knocked down near the highway up there, and here in the interior, we’ve had temperatures drop substantially, and we’ve had reports of snow in the Delta Junction and Salcha areas, and we’ve actually had some reported power outages, as some of the snow has accumulated in the trees.”

Cox says the weather system is tracking south, and as Interior skies clear and winds calm overnight, there’s the potential for frost.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Friday, May 29, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-06-01 14:58

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

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As Marijuana Rules Take Shape, Focus is On Control

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

The state has a year until it begins issuing licenses for businesses selling recreational marijuana.

Supreme Court: DNR Wrongfully Issued Pebble Permits

David Bendinger, KDLG – Dillingham

Just a day after two federal lawsuits involving the Pebble Mine were in the news, mine opponents Friday are hailing the Alaska Supreme Court’s decisions on two state cases.

AIDEA Holds Off On F.N.G. Decision

Dan Bross, KUAC –Fairbanks

The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority has delayed action on the state agency’s proposed purchase of Fairbanks Natural Gas parent company Pentex.

Earthquake Rattles Southwest Alaska

David Bendinger, KDLG – Dillingham

There were no tsunami warnings, but last night’s 6.4 magnitude earthquake northeast of the Chigniks rattled residents all over Southwest Alaska.

State Reacts To Study Linking Childhood Obesity to Domestic Violence

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

A recent study linked obesity in children to domestic violence. Now, evidence indicates that childhood trauma can spur physical disease later on, when an abused child reaches adulthood.

UAS Chancellor John Pugh Leaves Behind a Legacy of Caring for Students

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

Friday is John Pugh’s last day as Chancellor of the University of Alaska Southeast. He’s retiring after almost three decades with the college.

AK: A Teenager And His Past

Elizabeth Jenkins, KTOO – Juneau

It’s graduation season for Alaska’s high school seniors. Earning a diploma marks a milestone in a person’s life. And for one Juneau student, that milestone is especially sweet after his high school experience was interrupted with several trips to juvenile detention.

49 Voices: Amanda Cash and ‘The Magpie’

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

This week, we’re talking with chef Amanda Cash, who owns a new food trailer in Anchorage called ‘The Magpie’ that specializes in making breakfast- and lunch- with local ingredients.

Categories: Alaska News

1 hospitalized after mid-air crash over Talkeetna airport

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-06-01 11:23

On Sunday evening, an airborne collision between two airplanes hospitalized an Eagle River man.

At 5:15 pm, the Alaska State Troopers responded to a report of the collision at the Talkeetna State Airport.

According to reports from Troopers and other witnesses, a Cessna 185 belonging to Talkeetna Air Taxi was piloted by Antonio Benavides and carrying four passengers when it collided with a Cessna 172 piloted by Cole Hagge of Eagle River.  Both planes suffered significant damage.  Hague was transported to Mat-Su Regional Medical Center with what Troopers are calling non-life threatening injuries.  The passengers and pilot aboard the Cessna 185 were uninjured.

Shaun Williams, who is investigating the incident for the National Transportation Safety Board, says that both aircraft were descending to land at the Talkeetna Airport when the incident occurred.  He says a preliminary report will likely be issued in the next five-to-ten days, but that the full report could take up to a year to be released.

Categories: Alaska News

Wreckage of Yute Air Plane Found

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-06-01 11:18

This is a developing story.

Searchers have found the wreckage of the Yute Air plane that’s been missing since Saturday morning. A team Sunday evening spotted the Cessna 207 in the Kwethluk River, about 40 miles southeast of Bethel.

According to the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center, a Yute pilot first spotted the downed airplane in the river at about 6:45 Sunday evening. A civil air patrol pilot confirmed the wreck moments later. Crews on a jet boat and helicopter left early today to go to the scene.

Megan Peters is a spokesperson for the Alaska State Troopers.

“We have our troopers as well as other agencies, including the National Transportation Safety Board, going to the site to look at the wreckage, to look at the circumstances, to hopefully recover the pilot,” said Peters.

The plane left Bethel at about 8:30 Saturday morning after a maintenance check and should have been back in three hours. It never returned.

Yute Air offices in Bethel were closed yesterday and remain closed today. Yute Air serves the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, providing flights for passengers and freight to more than 20 surrounding villages as well as charters around the state.

Original Story:

A search is on for a Yute Air pilot who did not return from a flight out of Bethel Saturday. The Alaska Rescue Coordination Center is in charge of the search and rescue operation. Troopers and others are assisting in the search.

Searchers say the missing plane is a Cessna 207. According to National Transportation Safety Board officials the flight left Bethel Saturday morning after maintenance and never returned.

The Alaska Department of Public Safety is providing aircraft to assist in coordination with the civil air patrol and military assets.

Yute Air offices in Bethel were closed yesterday and remain closed this morning. Yute Air serves the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, providing flights for passengers and freight to more than 20 surrounding villages as well as charters around the state.

Daysha Eaton contributed to this story.

Categories: Alaska News

Court Recordings Highlight Nome Judge Tim Dooley’s Alleged Conduct Violations

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-06-01 11:17

Picture and brief résumé of Nome Superior Court Judge Timothy Dooley. Image, text: Alaska Department of Law.

Nome Superior Court Judge Timothy Dooley is facing a host of allegations from a judicial oversight commission for alleged violations of professional conduct, as well as violating sections of state law that the charges allege call his integrity into question.

In all, the Alaska Commission on Judicial Conduct cites six incidents—brought to their attention through anonymous complaints—beginning the first month Dooley was on the job in May of 2013 and running through September of last year.

Courtroom recordings, made available through the commission, highlight a series of statements by Dooley the commission said violates state law and the state’s code of conduct for judges, by showing “insensitivity” to victims, witnesses, and others in both criminal and civil cases.

In a May 2013 hearing, Judge Dooley asked a man facing a misdemeanor charge of resisting arrest:

“You don’t have to answer this question, but has anything good ever come out of drinking other than sex with a pretty girl?”

In a November 2013 sentencing hearing—after a guilty conviction for sexual abuse of a 14-year-old girl—Dooley said to the man being sentenced:

“From what I’ve read this was not someone who was, I hate to use the phrase asking for it, there are girls out there who seem to be temptresses, and this does not appear to be anything like that.”

In August 2014 Judge Dooley said during a domestic violence case, when a juror could not hear the victim on the stand: “I’m not allowed to slap her around, I can just say something.”

A civil trial that same month showcased Dooley’s self-described “medieval Christianity;” statements the commission said are “inappropriate to the dignity of judicial office.”

“I’m going to enforce those oaths, and they’re enforceable with a two year sentence for perjury. And I’d be the sentencing judge,” Dooley began. “I also have a medieval Christianity that says if you violate an oath, you’re going to hell. You all may not share that, but I’m planning to populate hell.”

A final violation alleges Judge Dooley essentially bargained a specific sentence in exchange for a defendant’s “no contest” plea. In addition, the commission states the defendant didn’t have a lawyer, all of which the commission claims is conduct that harms “the administration of justice” and brings the judicial office “into disrepute.”

Marla Greenstein is the executive director of the commission. She said the complaint was built on review of court transcripts and interviews with people working in the Nome legal system. (The names of those interviewed, Greenstein added, remains confidential at this time.) She said the case has been building for months.

“The commission evaluates the conduct in the investigation at various stages and gave notice to [Judge Dooley] several times in the process,” Greenstein said. “The point where they made the determination it was serious enough to warrant public charges was at a meeting on May 12.”

Judge Dooley has 20 days to respond to the complaint. He said Wednesday he has no comment on the alleged violations.

Greenstein said Judge Dooley could face a hearing before the nine members of the commission (she estimates as early as November). He could also reach a settlement before a hearing. Either outcome will ultimately go before the state Supreme Court, which will rule on one of three possible outcomes.

“A public censure, basically a public statement that the conduct was wrong and violated the Code of Judicial Conduct,” Greenstein said. Judge Dooley could also face “suspension from office for a certain period of time; and then, the most severe, is a removal from office.”

Only one judge has faced that “most severe” punishment, former Bethel Judge Dennis Cummings, who was removed from his position as judge in January 2013.

An Alaska resident for nearly 40 years, Judge Dooley has lived all over the state, from urban hubs like Anchorage and Fairbanks to rural communities like Bethel and the North Slope. He opened an Anchorage-based private law practice in 1993. He assumed his current position in Nome in March of 2013 by appointment from former governor Sean Parnell.

Categories: Alaska News

Tribal leaders and fishermen protest Alaska military plans

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-06-01 11:12

Tribal leaders and commercial fishermen are protesting against military exercises planned for the Gulf of Alaska.

Dozens of fishing boats and kayaks set out on the Port of Kodiak Saturday while supporters set off smoke bombs and flares.

Alaska’s largest military exercise this year is scheduled to begin in June on land and at sea.

Sunaq (Pronounced SHU-Nak) tribal chairwoman Sophie Frets says she’s concerned about damage to salmon, crab and other marine life. She says fish have been a part of her ancestors’ diet for generations and she doesn’t want to lose cultural traditions.

Alaska Command Spokeswoman Anastasia Wasem says damage mitigation is a major part of the exercise. She says the military wouldn’t do the drills if it thought the exercises would harm the environment.

Categories: Alaska News

Healy power plant back online after 16 years

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-06-01 11:12

A Healy power plant is back online after sitting inoperative for more than a decade.

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports that crews from Golden Valley Electric Association started up the Healy Unit 2 power plant on Thursday.

Workers spent more than a year updating the $300 million facility. GVEA Vice President of Power Supply Lynn Thompson says they evaluated each valve, rung and pipe, completing checklist that included thousands of items.

The plant was supposed to burn low-grade oil using an experimental technique to significantly cut pollutants. But it went dormant in 1999 after two years of sporadic use plagued by reliability and safety problems.

GVEA officials say the facility will help replace expensive oil-fired power generation. They say the more predictable price of coal will stabilize the utility’s rates.

Categories: Alaska News

Senate Finance rolls out proposal meant to spur talks

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-06-01 11:11

The Senate Finance Committee has proposed a version of the budget similar to what lawmakers passed in late April as a way to force negotiations between the House and Senate on a spending plan.

The proposal was rolled out Sunday, one day before notices are scheduled to be sent to state workers warning of possible layoffs if a fully funded budget is not passed by July 1.

Committee co-chair Pete Kelly called the panel’s proposal part of a strategy to get the budget into a conference committee where House and Senate negotiators can try to come to terms. To reach a conference committee, the House would have to reject the Senate plan.

The House passed a compromise between the majority and minority but senators balked at some of the terms.

Categories: Alaska News

City of Bethel Settles For $175,000 Over Violent Arrest

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-06-01 11:09

The City of Bethel has settled with Wassillie Gregory, a man who was violently arrested by a Bethel Police Officer in 2014. Bill Ingaldson, an attorney hired by the City says the settlement was dispersed last week.

“The settlement amount was $175,000, that includes his medical expenses which he had a dislocated shoulder and ended up having surgery on his shoulder so those were pretty expensive around $80,000. The settlement was agreed to about three or four weeks ago and consummated last week,” said Ingaldson.

The arrest took place in the parking lot of the Bethel Alaska Commercial Store on July 12th, 2014. The officer, Andrew Reid, was fired from the Bethel Police Department in March.

Gregory was originally charged with harassing the officer and pleaded guilty without the assistance of an attorney in a deal to drop two other charges. His conviction was overturned by a Bethel judge in May after surveillance video of the incident surfaced showing the officer repeatedly slamming Gregory to the ground.

The Bethel District Attorney’s office has turned the case over to the FBI. The City of Bethel was contacted for this story but did not want to go on tape and said only their lawyer could comment on the matter.

Categories: Alaska News

Haines wants to waive dock fees to lure more cruise ships. But will it work?

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-06-01 11:07

Haines has the lowest cruise ship docking fee of any Southeast port. The Haines Borough thinks waiving that fee could lure even more ships here. Economists say it’s hard to know if that strategy will work. But industry officials say it could open the door for more ships to take a look at Haines as a destination.

Haines Tourism Director Leslie Ross wants a hook when she talks to cruise lines. She wants something that will entice the companies to bring their ships to Haines and tie up at the Port Chilkoot Dock.

“What I would like to do, and what we’re working on, is to have a good strong proposal to go forward with the ships.”

Ross and borough economic development director Bill Mandeville have been working on a waiver proposal along with the Tourism Advisory Board.

There are 42 port calls planned for Haines this summer for a total of about 43,000 passengers. By borough estimates, each passenger that walks off the ships will generate around $5 in sales tax revenue for the town.

By comparison, Skagway which is just 13 miles away will see about 800,000 cruise passengers this summer.

Ross, Mandeville and the tourism advisory board suggest waiving dock fees in Haines would entice more ships to come here. They developed two options for waiving the whole fee, or a percentage of fees for cruise lines that commit to Haines.

But at least two Alaska economists say it’s not that simple.

“I think the situation you’re talking about is governed by larger principals. In the big picture I think things like port fees are relatively minor factors,” said Ginny Fay an assistant professor of economics with the Institute of Social and Economic Research University of Alaska Anchorage. She used to serve as director of the Alaska office of tourism and economic development in the Alaska Department of Commerce. She says a waiver might make cruise lines look more seriously at Haines, but there are many other factors that play into their decision about whether to come here. For example, if there’s enough infrastructure, shore excursions and money-making opportunities for the ships.

“It might be that if you waive the port fees that you might be able to convince the cruise companies that you want to have an open dialogue with them and do planning, but I think in order to have favorable investment and worthwhile investment it would be good to get the Northwest cruise folks and the companies to sit down with people in Haines and make some kind of plan.”

One of Fay’s colleagues at the university agrees that an incentive program to waive dock fees is no guarantee that cruise lines will come. Economics professor Steve Colt writes in an email that the question of whether a waiver would draw more cruise ships is almost impossible to answer objectively. He says it’s like asking if subsidizing a sports stadium will attract and a team and then if a team will attract fans.

Fay says part of the uncertainty is that cruise lines are notoriously private about how they go about choosing ports. That was illustrated when we tried to ask the cruise companies about it. One company declined to comment and three did not return emails or phone calls. But the Cruise Lines International Association of Alaska did respond.

“It sends a very positive and power message to the industry that Haines wants their business and I think that makes a big determination in how they make their ports of call,” said John Binkley, president of the association.

He says waiving dock fees would not guarantee cruise lines would come to Haines. But it could open the door for discussion.

“You’re going into those meetings with something positive to offer them rather than just telling them what a great destination Haines is,” Binkley said.

In Haines, supporters of the idea say there’s not much risk in trying a waiver program. With such low docking fees anyway, the borough would lose little by trying the idea. Most ships have enough passengers that, on average, they will provide more sales tax revenue than is lost in docking fees.

“We need an excellent incentive to bring the ships here to see what we have,” said Haines assembly member Diana Lapham. “I think once they see what we have, it’s a hand glove then their visitors are going to want to want, there will be a heightened awareness of Haines.”

But Haines resident Carol Tuynman takes a bigger view. She says that having the lowest dock fees in Southeast hasn’t lured more ships here already, so why would waiving the fees altogether make a difference? She also says that if Haines were to get an influx of visitors, does Haines have the capacity and resources to serve them and keep them coming back?

“The real question is ‘why weren’t they coming?’” Tuynam said. “We need to know why they weren’t coming not how we can lure them with zero fees. We may lure them but we make be taking a big risk that doesn’t solve the problem of how to serve them.”

The Haines Borough commerce committee will discuss the waiver proposal again on June 4th before making a recommendation to the assembly.

Categories: Alaska News

KIYU-Galena GM Rigs His Home for Temporary Broadcast

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-06-01 09:09

This is a story about dedication to public radio.

KIYU-Galena serves middle Yukon River area communities; it’s making do while the station’s building is being elevated. KIYU-Galena general manager Brian Landrum says the facility is being raised above the high water level as a precaution in case of floods like the one that inundated the village two years ago this month.

KIYU-Galena is broadcasting from the general manager’s home until the station’s ‘face lift’ is complete. Photo: KIYU.

“We’re goin’ up about 3 feet higher,” Landrum says.

Rather than go off the air while the multiday operation is completed, Landrum says he’s continuing to broadcast the station from his home.

That’s not an echo… it’s ‘Olive’ the bird, who tries to repeat what reporter Tim Bodony says over the air. Photo: KIYU.

“We have a backup transmitter and back up console, and we moved it into the downstairs room. I’m using my son’s room, and so we’ve got wires strung all over the place and we’ve got a box that sends the signal to our other villages and — knock on wood — we’ve been able to stay on, and be able to broadcast. We’re hoping to be able to stay on a few more days while they move the building back into place.”

Landrum says things are going fairly smoothly, but there are challenges to broadcasting out of his family’s home.

“We have five kids, and a dog, and a cat, and a parrot, and so yeah, you never know what kind of noise can get on the air, especially when the younger ones decide to fight over Legos or something like that,” Landrum says.

Transmitter: check. Photo: KIYU.

Landrum expects he’ll be able to return to the station facility by the middle of next week. He says the project has provided an opportunity to clear old abandoned wiring from the building, as well as do other clean-up work. All of that is expected to improve KIYU’s sound and operational efficiency. A mix of federal, state and local funds will pay to elevate the station, which serves as a primary information conduit in the region.

Categories: Alaska News

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