The Sitka Tribe of Alaska’s general manager is leaving for a similar job in Washington state.
Ted Wright announced his resignation in a press release.
Wright has been general manager of Sitka’s tribal government for about two years. He held the same position from 1992 to 1995
He says he loves the community, but it’s time to move on. And he says he’s leaving for personal reasons, not pressure from inside the organization.
“A close friend passed away recently and several others have over the years. My grandmother and mother both passed away years ago. I have close friends here, but I feel like I can visit them. Other than that, (in) Sitka, I don’t feel happy in the ways I need to in the next part of my life,” he says.
Wright’s last day on the job is Nov. 4th.
He starts later that month as general manager of the Stillaguamish Tribe in Arlington, Washington, about 50 miles north of Seattle.
The Sitka tribe has had financial problems in recent years.
“There’s some debt that’s accumulated. It’s rolled over from one year into the next. And it was really hard to see that because of the financial accounting software and the reports we were getting from that,” he says.
Wright says spending cutbacks and a new accounting system have put the tribe on the road to paying off its debts.
“The good news is we know what the problem is. We’re fixing it. We’re keeping everyone employed for the most part and we’ll going on a much more solid foundation,” he says.
The tribe announced this (last) week that the debt, federal cutbacks and the government shutdown have led to a spending freeze in some areas.
He also says some tribal employees may have to be furloughed.
Tribal Council Chairman Michael Baines says Wright came on board “at a very challenging time and had many difficult situations to resolve.”
In a press release, Baines says Wright began the process leading to construction of new tribal office space. He also oversaw refurbishment of the Sheet’ka Kwáan Naa Kahídi Community House and redesigned its goals.
Baines says Wright also developed new leadership within the STA, and leaves behind “a capable management team with new directors in almost every department.”
The 16-day federal government shutdown appears to be nearing an end, and Alaska’s Republican Senator, Lisa Murkowski, is getting a good deal of the credit.
She was one of the first to join a group of senators who began crafting an agreement that led to the measure the Senate passed tonight and the House is expected to approve.
The agreement temporarily reopens the government and lifts the debt ceiling while making only a minor change to the Affordable Care Act.
Murkowski says she’s still against the President’s health reform law, as are the majority of constituents who’ve called her office, but she says the effort to defund the law by shutting down the government was doomed from the start.
“If there’s anything we’ve learned over the past couple months is that we need to make sure that the expectations that we set are somewhat achievable,” Murkowski said. “I think it’s important that we do what we can to reign in aspects of this law that I don’t think are workable.
Three of the Senate’s female Republicans, led by Susan Collins of Maine, started working on solutions the first weekend of the shutdown. Ultimately they grew to a group of 14, six of them women.
Murkowski says she’s not sure their gender played a role, but suggests maybe they had a lower tolerance for nonsense, or they just had cooler heads.
“At one point I said OK, everybody put your coffee down because everyone was just a little too high strung and tempers were flaring,” Murkowski said. “And I think there was a calming effort that some of the women brought which I think allowed us to continue.”
Murkowski says the right-wing may try to make her pay for her moderation come election time, but she says she can’t let fear of a future attack ad keep her up at night.
The agreement only extends government spending until mid-January and the debt ceiling until early February.
Murkowski says the real work begins now to reach agreements on spending bills and avoid a replay of the standoff.
State Senator Hollis French has announced his plans to run for lieutenant governor.
The Anchorage Democrat had been considering jumping into the gubernatorial race, but set aside those plans after former Juneau mayor and Permanent Fund Corporation Director Byron Mallott announced he would seek the Democratic nomination. French says he wanted to avoid expending resources on a competitive primary race.
“I came to a place where I could see that he was going to be a stronger general election candidate than I would be, and since I’m really interested in winning, I thought the best way I could help him win is to run for lieutenant governor,” French said.
As the incumbent, Gov. Sean Parnell is not expected to face any competition in the Republican primary. Bill Walker, who has filed as an independent, just needs to collect signatures to get on the general election ballot.
French has served in the state legislature since 2002, and he’s run for governor before. He says that even though the candidates for governor and lieutenant governor don’t have to run on the same ticket until next August, he and Mallott already plan to support each other.
“You will see us working together on the campaign trail,” French said. “You will see us articulating and emphasizing different issues.”
“But you know, once we come together as a team, that’s when the two platforms have to merge.”
Bob Williams, a teacher from the Mat-Su region, filed to run for lieutenant governor as a Democrat earlier this year.
The Anchorage Police Department will soon be using new mapping software to track crime around the city in nearly real-time.
The announcement comes in the wake of an annual FBI report that says serious crime was up last year in Anchorage in nearly every category.
In a few weeks, Anchorage police officers will flip open their dashboard laptops and use a Wi-Fi connection to access a map showing where crimes took place around the city during the past 24 hours.
APD Chief Mark Mew says he hopes the new crime mapping system will bring the APD up to date technologically and help the department to be more agile at a time when crime is up and the department is short-staffed.
“It’s going to give us real time tactical, within hours old or day-old data hotspots, geographic places and times,” Mew said. “We can diagnose this data; we can make assignments; we can make patrol assignments, detective assignments and keep on with the crime patterns as they actually develop.”
The department’s current mapping system doesn’t provide real-time data to officers in their cars. Chief Mew says the strategic crime analysis provided by the FBI’s annual report helps the APD make long-term decisions, but the new mapping system will help first responders make better tactical decisions.
Mew says he’s been looking for a better way to track crime around the city, especially since the FBI report was released highlighting a spike in serious crimes in Anchorage in 2012. Violent crimes like murder, rape, robbery and assault were all up. The only categories that went down were vehicle theft and arson.
Chief Mew is quick to note that the overall trend is still down.
“We are up across the boards compared to last year,” he said. “Last year was a near historic low for us.”
“If you compare the numbers against the recent past over the last eight or nine years, we are still low in most of these categories.”
According to an analysis by researchers at the University of Alaska Justice Center, rape and theft are not only up over last year’s numbers but higher than the 10 year average.
Crime is increasing at a time when the number of officers is down. Dozens of officers are set to retire in January due to incentives put in place several years ago.
“If you retired by a certain date, you would get a lump sum that would make up for the fact that you missed all your raises, and that date is January 4th of 2014,” Mew said. “We normally have about 20 people leave a year.”
“We’ve already surpassed that and I expect we’ll probably have 40 go this year.”
The department is simultaneously having recruiting problems. Mew says they’re trying to increase recruiting by modernizing the test recruits take. In the meantime, he hopes the new crime mapping system will help the department cope.
Mayor Dan Sullivan, who has filed to run for lieutenant governor in 2014, has touted the decline in crime under his watch. He contends the spike is an anomaly.
“Over the last four years if you look at the average, we’ve got good statistics,” Sullivan said. “We have one year with an uptick, which 2012 appears to be, but if you look at the last four years compared to the previous four years’ you know average it’s a good story.”
“If over the next couple of years those statistics continue to go the wrong way, then you’ve got a trend.”
That’s something Derek Hsieh, a Sergeant with the APD and a member of the police union, is worried about.
Hsieh is leading a battle to repeal a new union-busting law supported by the Sullivan administration. He says that putting union benefits on the chopping block could be hurting recruiting numbers.
He also notes that the Anchorage Police Department does not offer a pension plan like most cities of its size.
Hseih is cautious to draw conclusions from just one year of data, but he says the increase in crime combined with the anticipated decrease in officers is very concerning.
“The number of police officers in Anchorage is dropping and it’s dropping at a rapid rate,” Hseih said. “We had just a number of years ago a high of over 400 officers and the Chief of police is now reporting that by next year we’ll have fewer than 335.”
“Simultaneously we’re having an increase in serious and violent crime in our community, and those two things together generally lead to some serious trouble.”
Hseih says he thinks the new mapping software is a step in the right direction, but he’s certain it will not make up for such a large reduction in staff.
APD spokesperson Jennifer Castro says the department plans to have the new mapping system in place by mid-November. It will also be available for the public to track crime in their neighborhoods.
Castro says APD will be the first law enforcement agency in Alaska to use the new system.
- Anchorage Crime Rates (PDF)
GCI and KTUU Channel 2 came to a temporary agreement Tuesday to keep the NBC-affiliate carriage in Bethel and eight other areas outside of Anchorage, at least for the next few weeks.
It’s a temporary solution to an on-going contractual dispute between GCI and Schurz Communications, the Indiana-based parent company of KTUU. The conflict surfaced when an old agreement expired at the end of September.
The rest of the agreement would end in December of 2014. If the two companies can’t reach a deal by then Rural Alaska would get hit first.
Brad Hillwig is the Marketing Director for KTUU.
“Cable subscribers in virtually all rural areas outside of Anchorage could turn on their TVs and not have access to KTUU-TV programming on GCI cable,” Hillwig said.
With Tuesday’s temporary agreement, that hasn’t happened yet. The details of that agreement are unclear and what each party wants long term is also being worked out.
David Morris, GCI’s Vice President, says KTUU has other options for carrying their service.
“They don’t have to use GCI to get out to rural Alaska,” Morris said. “There are a number of other providers that they could use. They are simply using GCI right now.”
Morris says KTUU wants the same free coverage on GCI’s cables and satellites as they’ve had in the past as well as guaranteed ad revenue from GCI.
“And on top of that, they are asking for about $2.5 million in cash for the right to carry their signal,” Morris said.
Right now, KTUU gets no payment from GCI.
KTUU’s Hillwig says the $2.5 million figure is premature and is unsubstantiated. He says GCI is putting customers in the middle of the negotiations.
“What should be happening right now is free carriage of KTUU continuing on GCI and these rural areas so that good faith negotiations for that 2015 and beyond time period can really begin in earnest,” Hillwig said.
Even if no long-term agreement is reached, some cable and non-cable viewers would still be able to access Channel 2 coverage using ARCS, the Alaska Rural Communication Service. On a regular day, ARCS carries between 5 and 16 hours of Channel 2 programming.
The temporary arrangement will keep KTUU carriage in Bethel as well as Barrow, Cordova, Kodiak, Kotzebue, Kuparuk, Nome, North Slope, and Valdez until November 8.
It’s been four months since the nation’s biggest wireless carrier began doing business in Alaska. And despite predictions that Verizon would shake up the state’s wireless market, its role has so far been limited to providing high-speed data service in urban areas. The company plans to enter the Alaska market in a bigger way next year.
Unconventional oil and gas development will be part of the discussion on Friday when energy advisory consultant David Goldwyn speaks at an Alaska World Affairs Council event. Goldwyn is co-author and editor of Energy and Security: Strategies for a World in Transition. The revised 2nd edition addresses new energy frontiers, rising safety concerns for energy complexes and energy poverty. Goldwyn says the revolution in shale development in the Lower 48 has changed the future of domestic energy development.
Unconventional oil and gas development will be part of the discussion on Friday when energy advisory consultant David Goldwyn speaks at an Alaska World Affairs counsel event. Goldwyn is co-author and editor of Energy and Security: Strategies for a World in Transition. The revised 2nd edition addresses new energy frontiers, rising safety concerns for energy complexes and energy poverty. Goldwyn says the revolution in shale development in the lower 48 has changed the future of domestic energy development.
Goldwyn : “I think we are looking at a significant supply growth for the foreseeable future, probably peaking at 8 million barrels a day for oil and 100 year supply for gas. So I think the supply side is pretty secure. I think on the safety and environmental side, I think there were some significant missteps by industry with a lack of disclosure, which I think was a huge mistake and now the conversation has evolved to concerns about wellbore safety and methane emissions, and water safety, making the air and water safe. So I think there are technological answers to be sure it can be safe. The question is whether state regulations are requiring best practices are used and enforced to make sure the low cost producers do the right thing and if they’re not, they are punished.”
Townsend: YOU MENTIONED A 100 YEAR SUPPLY, WHAT DO YOU THINK THAT MEANS FOR THE VIABILITY OF ALASKA’S GAS?
Goldwyn: “Well I think the future of Alaska gas is for export not consumption in continental United States. That said, the opportunities for export of natural gas are robust on a worldwide basis, from a climate change perspective, there is an enormous opportunity to substitute gas for coal and in parts of the world for biomass. So there’s a lot of demand, but the challenge is there’s a lot of stranded gas in the world and Alaska is going to have to compete with Australia and Qatar and others.“
Townsend: ALL OF THIS FOSSIL FUEL DEVELOPMENT IS UP AGAINST THE BACKDROP OF A CHANGING CLIMATE, ESPECIALLY IN ALASKA WHERE IT’S HAPPENING MUCH FASTER. DO YOU ADDRESS THIS IN YOUR BOOK AND WHAT DO YOU THINK NEEDS TO HAPPEN TO MITIGATE CLIMATE CONCERNS?
Goldwyn: “It’s really addressed throughout the book. I think we have an opportunity from the gas boom to get some short and medium term greenhouse gas reductions. And that’s because in the next 10 years we can get some more greenhouse gas reductions by substituting gas for coal and biomass and in the Middle East for oil, than we can from any other technology on the market. So I think we really need to secure those gains and embrace natural gas for now. But, we’re never going to get to 50 percent reductions by 2050 until we have some technological breakthroughs and those are on carbon sequestration and utility scale battery storage.”
David Goldwyn is a co-author of Energy and Security: Strategies for a World in Transition. He’ll be speaking in Anchorage on Friday.
Students from central and southern Kenai Peninsula schools gathered at the Anchor River Friday to learn about the salmon life cycle. This was the kick-off to the Salmon in the Classroom program. The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District partners with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to teach kids about one of the state’s most valuable resources.
The Juneau Assembly wants the city’s Docks and Harbors Department to reconsider its decision not to use a Project Labor Agreement for a major rebuild of the city’s downtown cruise ship docks scheduled to get underway next year.
Docks and Harbors last month bid the project without a PLA, breaking from a longstanding city policy to use the agreements to the fullest extent of the law. The Assembly on Monday unanimously confirmed that policy.
Randy Wanamaker was in his first stint on the Juneau Assembly in 2008 when the original policy statement supporting Project Labor Agreements was adopted. In fact, he offered the motion then, and says it was meant to apply to all city departments and enterprise boards.
“It comes from the Assembly. It’s not up to them to choose whether or not they wish to follow it,” Wanamaker said at this week’s Juneau Assembly meeting, where Assembly member Karen Crane introduced a motion confirming the PLA policy.
While a Project Labor Agreement does not require the city to hire a union contractor, it does set basic terms for wages, benefits and working conditions. Assemblyman Jesse Kiehl says PLA’s offer certain advantages.
“When you look at our very large projects – our projects over $10 million – the on-time performance of projects with a PLA is dramatically better, it’s night-and-day better than those without,” Kiehl said.
Crane’s motion also requested the Docks and Harbors Department engage with the Juneau Building and Trades Council to resolve any issues that would prevent a PLA on the cruise ship dock project.
Construction of two floating berths on the downtown waterfront is expected to take two years, and cost the city $54 million. Kiehl says it’s important for it to be done on time.
“We saw this year the impact – and we’ll see it in the budget – of missing cruise ships,” Kiehl noted. “They missed for mechanical reasons; some skipped Southeast communities for weather reasons. And with these dock projects we run the risk, if they are not delivered on time, of self-inflicted financial wounds.”
CBJ Port Director Carl Uchytil previously said a labor agreement was not needed for the cruise ship dock project, because the work is fairly simple and straightforward. He declined to comment Tuesday, saying he was still trying to understand the motion adopted by the Assembly.
Juneau Building and Trades Council President Tom Brice says the message he takes away, is that while CBJ enterprise boards have a lot of autonomy, they still have to follow city policy.
“Just because you’re an enterprise board, doesn’t mean that you don’t have to abide by the rules,” said Brice.
He says other CBJ enterprises, such as Bartlett Regional Hospital and the Juneau Airport, have always included PLAs in major construction projects. He says Docks and Harbors initial decision not to have an agreement for the cruise ship docks doesn’t concern him moving forward.
“No, not at all. I think the folks over at Docks and Harbors haven’t had a lot of major projects come through their store,” said Brice. “So, as they use it, it will be something that they’ll see a great deal of benefit from.”
Wanamaker, who chairs the Assembly’s Public Works and Facilities Committee, says he’ll soon begin work to standardize the city’s PLA review process. Right now it’s up to individual department heads to decide whether a project needs a labor agreement. Wanamaker believes a committee should do that analysis instead.
“So that we provide a group reviewing, rather than one person, where arbitrariness or misunderstanding may occur,” Wanamaker said.
The Assembly has asked City Attorney Amy Mead to come up with a draft review process. Courts have upheld the use of Project Labor Agreements by government entities, as long as they can justify a strong public interest.
University of Alaska Fairbanks Vice Chancellor Pat Pitney is participating in the Olympic torch relay to the February 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
She’s running in an exotic leg of the relay, being staged at the geographic North Pole.
Pat Pitney is familiar with Olympic festivities. She won gold in shooting at the 1984 Summer Games, but her torch relay run will be on the wild side.
Pitney is one of eight representatives from Arctic nations riding a Russian icebreaker this week to the North Pole, where Pitney says they will carry the torch on the frozen sea.
“They’ll let the torch runners off the ship and then do symbolic run around the North Pole,” she said.
Pitney says participants will each run about 200 meters with the Olympic torch. The 3,000 mile trip to and from the Pole will take two weeks, and Pitney anticipates an amazing experience.
“Carrying the torch and representing the U.S. and this Arctic collaboration, literally on the North Pole and the experience getting to the North Pole will be unforgettable,” she said.
Additional to her primary job as a vice chancellor at University of Alaska Fairbanks, Pitney also serves as vice president of the University of the Arctic, a network of 160 learning and research institutions, including UAF, dedicated to strengthening higher education across the region
The State of Alaska has completed a two-year project archiving documents from the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill and its legal aftermath.
In the end, according to state senior archivist Larry Hibpshman, the project staff waded through 3,500 standard file boxes located in Juneau and Anchorage and whittled them down to 918 that will go in to permanent storage at the state archives.
“People around the world are going to want to know for a very long time what happened. You know, it will include people like scholars who want to write books on the events, and it might include legal scholars who might want to review the material if a similar situation comes up. And there are many others, but here also ordinary citizens who want to know what really happened, and of course ‘what really happened’ is a relative term, but our records will reflect that, as well,” Hibpshman said.
There are another 2,600 boxes in the possession of the Department of Law, which will be added to the archive once they are no longer needed by that agency.
Hibpshman said the number of boxes could be reduced by such an extent because of the tremendous amount duplication associated with legal documents. The total document count was 18,500,000 pages. The 918 boxes weigh about 13-tons.
But sorting the documents was just the first step. Then they had to be cataloged.
“So we created a database that includes acronyms dictionary of about 2,400 terms, and also lists of everybody we could identify who was involved with Exxon Valdez, either with the spill or the remediation or the litigation. And also a list of other resources, and when we tried we did that not merely to list other archives and libraries. Legal activities were like the spill itself; they just spread out deep and wide, and so we included government agencies around the country that had material, and some industry resources we know about and also some public affairs things,” he said.
Hibpshman says the cataloged archives are already proving its value, as two University of Alaska Students working on a project about the news coverage of the spill and aftermath have already used it for research.
“Records are important because they document people’s lives. Archives are about people. The Exxon Valdez was an event of world significance,” Hibpshman said.
One full-time archivist position was funded by the National Archive and was part of a three-person staff that went through the documents. Hibpshman also credited a public advisory board for its input and guidance.
Here in Alaska, a dispute between television station KTUU and cable provider GCI is partially resolved.
GCI’s carriage agreement with KTUU expired Tuesday, but GCI announced Wednesday that the two parties have come to an interim arrangement to keep KTUU carriage in nine rural communities until Nov. 8.
During this interim period, GCI remains committed to working and resolving this matter of reaching a fair and long-term agreement with KTUU.
Anchorage police have located the mother of a newborn baby that was found dead in a park Tuesday.
The police are not releasing any more details on the woman.
The baby was discovered in Eagle River’s Turner Park by a passerby on Tuesday morning. Authorities declared the baby dead at the scene.
An APD spokeswoman says the mother is receiving medical treatment.
No charges have been filed.
Today was the official opening of Alaska’s king crab season. About a half a dozen boats catching community development quota, issued by the state, got to head out and start fishing.
But as KUCB’s Lauren Rosenthal reports, hundreds of other fishermen were stuck in port, waiting for the federal government to reopen and issue their crab permits.
Instead of plying the Bering Sea, Chris Simpson spent the day up to his elbows in hot soapy water.
Simpson: “Just scrubbing bait jars. That’s it. Keeping them clean. You’ve got to keep them clean before you start the season.”
Simpson’s a crew member on the Handler, based out of Kodiak. They’re one of at least 70 boats that can’t legally fish until the National Marine Fisheries Service reopens and divides up this year’s king crab limit into individual permits.
Simpson says he’s managed to find the bright side in that.
Simpson: “It was a lot easier this year. Instead of coming in and slamming everything on in 24 hours, it was, ‘Do a few today, do a few tomorrow.’ Now we’re running out of stuff to do though.”
He takes me down to the galley to meet the rest of the crew. They’re eating lunch and watching a movie. Captain Joshua Songstad says it’s been tough to really relax, though.
Songstad: “We tend to be people that take control of our own lives and our own situations. For the government to tell us that we can’t go fishing based on some paperwork is very frustrating.”
Songstad says he’s fished his whole life, and many of his crew members have too.
Songstad: “We’ve been held up for strikes, we’ve been held up for price negotiations. I can’t recall ever being held up for permits.”
The fleet is under a serious time crunch. Every year, they catch as much king crab as they can before November 20. That’s when the crab has to be loaded up and shipped off to Japan for New Year’s.
Songstad: “If our crab cannot make it there for the New Year, our demand drops dramatically and our price will drop.”
That means less profit. Songstad estimates the fleet can wait about two more weeks before they run the risk of missing Japan’s deadline.
To speed things up, the industry’s has been lobbying for help. A captain from one of the “Deadliest Catch” boats, flew to Washington D.C. to testify before Congress about the closure. They got Alaska’s lawmakers to come up with their own financial plan for issuing permits.
Songstad says there haven’t been any signs of progress.
Songstad: “There’s so many different groups complaining about their needs. I think we’re kind of being lumped into that category. Everybody’s needing and wanting right now.”
No one on the Handler – or any other boat that’s stuck in port – is going to get paid until they start catching crab.
The six crew members have 17 kids among them. Daniel White says they were able to plan ahead, so their families wouldn’t be hit too hard.
White: “We’ve done this forever and we know we only get two big checks a year. So we’re usually pretty prepared for the small things. But if this thing stays shut down for a while, it could screw a lot of people.”
White says he has a backup plan if the shutdown goes on too much longer.
DW: “I said, I’m gonna need an EBT [electronic benefit transfer] card here soon.”
LR: “Welfare, essentially?”
DW: “Yeah. I’m gonna sign up here in Dutch.”
The crew of the Handler laughs, and all agree – that’s probably not what Congress had in mind when the government shut down in the first place.
Alaska’s Joint Board of Fisheries and Game is meeting in Anchorage. Today, they decided to create a Fish and Game advisory committee just for the community of Bethel. With over 6,000 residents, Bethel continues to grow as the hub of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. The community currently has one seat on the Lower Kuskokwim Advisory Committee but local groups approached the joint board about getting their own.
Several letters of support were submitted from the Central Kuskokwim Advisory Committee, Bethel Native Corporation, and Orutsararmuit Native Council, Bethel’s Native Tribe.
Board of Game member, Pete Pobrasco of Palmer spoke in favor.
“Bethel is over 6,000 people. I think they deserve more representation,” Pobrasco says.
Board of Game member Robert Mumford of Anchorage was the only dissenting vote.
Sue Jeffrey of Kodiak with the Board of Fish said it was the right move.
“I think creating an advisory committee will help facilitate communication throughout the region. And to me it makes sense for all kinds of reasons,” Jeffrey says.
There will be costs associated with the state running another advisory committee and some board members had concerns about that but the Board of Fish’s John Jensen of Petersburg said he believed the extra cost to the state would be manageable.
“I think there’s ways we could make up for that,” Jensen says. “Especially down in Southeast where there’s some inactive ones and there’s some committees that are connected by the road system that are close together and we could make a single one out of three that I could think of right now down there so I think there are ways. This will work. I don’t think it’s going to be a huge extra cost.”
Board of Game member, Stosh Hoffman of Bethel, abstained from the vote.
The Alaska Joint Board of Fisheries and Game has been meeting in Anchorage since Saturday.
Alaska has become a nationwide leader in healthy births. KRBD’s Sean Carlson explores how Ketchikan Medical Center plays a part in that trend.
Back in July, the Alaska Supreme Court ruled that the state was inappropriately granting permits for ATV usage on park land. The decision affected about 200 families who use their four wheelers to cross park lands to get to their property. Last week, the Court reissued their decision, and the way they handled the case could offer a clue on how they’ll handle other questions of land management, including one involving the proposed Pebble Mine. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports.
The Nancy Lake State Recreation Area covers a broad swath of land along the Parks Highway. It’s mostly a quiet spot for hiking, camping, and fishing. And for the most part, you need to travel out there on foot.
“The general rule is no ATVs,” says Patrick Gilmore. He’s an attorney who represents SOP Inc. –which stands for “save our parks” — and he recently fought against an exception to that rule.
Since the 1970s, the Department of Natural Resources has been issuing permits to people who own property near the park, so they could drive along an old pioneer trail to get to their land.
According to the Supreme Court opinion issued on the case, land that was supposed to be fly-in only was suddenly being advertised as ATV accessible. The Division of Parks tried to limit ATV access about a decade ago, but Gilmore says it became an access rights controversy.
“So the people that were being ticketed went to their legislators, who then started threatening the Division of Parks that they were going to cut their budget if they kept enforcing the law here.”
In 2002, the Division set up a system where they would give out permits to private land owners if they agreed to maintain the ATV trail at their own expense. A couple hundred permits were issued. That system was supposed to limit damage to the area. But Gilmore says it didn’t quite work out that way.
“Last time I was out there, the beavers had gotten into one of the ruts and were damming the drainage to it and were trying to make pond out of this road. So they just kind of made a mess of the area.”
So, SOP Inc. decided to sue, arguing that by allowing ATVs on a stretch of park terrain, you’re basically handing over the rights to the land. The Supreme Court agreed with that argument in an opinion this summer. Neither Gilmore nor the Division of Parks think the Supreme Court ruling should have an impact on ATV use in other parks.
But there was one part of the decision that wasn’t exactly narrow. In a footnote toward the end of the opinion, the Court said that because the ATV usage was having “long-term and harmful” consequences on the environment and because no permits have ever been revoked despite the damage to land, the permits in the Nancy Lake situation fail a major judicial test — a test that could come up in some other important land management cases that go way beyond parks. Again, Gilmore.
“I think the state has a real concern that this is going to impact them in some of these other cases. The biggest one that I’m aware of involves Pebble Mine.”
The lawsuit he’s referring to was filed by Nunamta Aulukestai, a group of Bristol Bay Native groups. Nunamta Aulukestai believes the state permits issued to the Pebble Limited Partnership for exploratory work are unconstitutional because they have resulted in long-term and harmful consequences to the land and can’t be revoked at will. A party close to the Pebble lawsuit said they eyed the footnote with interest, because it could impact how the court may rule in their own case.
So, with a major question of land management in play, the State applied for a rehearing. They wanted a new version of the opinion that took the footnote out. John Baker, the state attorney who handled the case, says that yes, the expansiveness of that footnote could have had legal consequences.
“The concern was in the state’s view, it suggested a much broader application of the test in that earlier case — the Northern Alaska Environmental Center case — than we believed was originally intended by the court’s decision there.”
Baker says that the state didn’t have a specific case in mind. And he’s not sure how the language would have affected the Pebble case.
In the end, the Supreme Court got rid of the footnote. So the Nancy Lake case probably won’t go down in Alaska legal history as a precedent-setting permitting decision. But it may give a hint of how this court feels about land management and how the state is handling it. And if they apply the same logic to the Pebble case, it could affect more than just a group of ATV users.
In Washington, the government shutdown continues with no resolution in sight.
Alaska Congressman Don Young says the latest House proposal is going nowhere. It would have funded the government and raised the debt ceiling but included changes to Obamacare.
Young believes a solution will come from the Senate. He predicts House Speaker John Boehner will put it up for a vote, and if that happens, Young says he’ll support it, despite objections from the right flank of the House Republicans.
“It’s not Boehner’s fault,” Young said. “I mean a lot of people blame the speaker but this is more than that.”
“This is a very large group of individuals who very frankly don’t want anything to pass and that’s what you have to deal with.”
Young also says the minute-by-minute news reporting makes this impasse tougher to resolve than budget battles in decades past.
“This is a case where we’re overexposed and it’s hard for people to back down,” he said. “Egos are involved in this, and yet they know there’s a problem.”
Among the casualties of the shutdown is the Bering Sea crab fishery. It was supposed to open today, but the federal workers who issue the annual permits were on furlough.
Young says he wants to change U.S. fisheries law to take that office out of the process in future years.
Former Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Dan Sullivan announced he’s running for U.S. Senate this morning in Anchorage.
Sullivan is joining a crowded field of Republicans trying to unseat Democrat Mark Begich next November.
In his speech, Sullivan wore jeans and work boots with a jacket and tie. With his wife and three daughters standing beside him, he said one focus of his campaign will be to fight against federal overreach.
“Now many people talk about this idea, but I am proud to have been on the front lines over the past four years actually fighting the fight, in the arena every day on this very critical issue,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan says he resigned as DNR commissioner in September to focus “110%” on the Senate campaign. He also served as Alaska’s Attorney General and is a lieutenant colonel in the Marine Corp Reserves. He will campaign against Lieutenant Governor Mead Treadwell and Joe Miller to win the Republican primary in August.
Sullivan says he will start his campaign across the state today with stops in Wasilla and Fairbanks.
With cold temperatures right around the corner, Anchorage’s main homeless shelter is reviving a former time limit rule.
After 30 days Brother Francis Shelter will make people leave for another 30 if they have not complied with shelter rules.
Ellen Krsnak is a spokesperson for Brother Francis Shelter. She says there are simply too many people using the shelter as a residence.
“The 30-day-in-30-day-out policy acknowledges that the shelter is an emergency shelter not intended as a long-term residence,” Krsnak said. “We’re encouraging people to move on to permanent housing.”
“We are a safety net, and the idea that we are there for them for 30 days in an emergency situations.”
Brother Francis Shelter is located near downtown.
Krsnak says the policy actually dates back to 1993, but the shelter lifted it in early 2012 when the municipality raised the temperature at which shelters could take in the homeless from 32 to 45 degrees.
Since then, Krsnak says they’ve been operating at capacity and there have been increasing problems with security.
People staying at the shelter can get an extension to stay beyond 30 days, Krsnak says, but they must be working on a plan to get permanent housing.
“They need to meet with a case manager and follow a guide, a housing guide for a permanent housing,” she said. “Part of that is employment, it may be treatment.”
“What do they need to do to overcome whatever those barriers are to get into permanent housing.”
The municipality raised the temperature limit and Brother Francis lifted the 30-day-in-30-day-out policy back in 2012 to prevent outdoor deaths. Krsnak says shelter officials have held two “town halls” to let people know about the new rules.
“We want people to be safe; we want people to be warm, but we also want them to look at Brother Francis as an emergency shelter as its intention,” she said. “But again we have to have some way to move forward with a permanent housing plan.”
Krsnak says Brother Francis Shelter has increased case management hours and is allowing drop-in appointments to help residents find permanent housing.
A town hall about the 30-day-in-30-day-out policy is scheduled for 10 a.m. Thursday at Beans Cafe.