Alaska House Finance Committee Hearing Public Input On Budget
Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau
With the state facing a deficit of more than $4 billion, the budget is arguably the most important issue facing the Alaska Legislature this session. The House Finance Committee is now hearing from the public on its cuts, in preparation for any changes it might make to the spending proposal.
Murkowski Seeks Lease Extensions for Shell
Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC
Last summer, Shell asked the government to extend its offshore drilling leases in the Arctic. Today, U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski pressed Shell’s case to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell in a Senate hearing.
Sullivan Jousts with EPA’s McCarthy
Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC
U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan today engaged the head of the EPA, Gina McCarthy, in a testy exchange. Sullivan’s focus was the EPA’s proposed rule for the Clean Water Act. But first the senator extracted some crow from McCarthy for dissing gifts given to her when she visited Alaska last year.
Medicaid Expansion Event Brings Out Lawmakers, Davidson
The Associated Press
Legislators, aides and others heard an alternate viewpoint on Medicaid expansion from a senior fellow with an organization that has referred to the “dangers” expansion poses in states that opt for it.
Budget Cuts Would Eliminate Health Care Commission
Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage
The Alaska Health Care Commission would be eliminated in proposed funding cuts from the House finance committee. The Commission makes policy recommendations to the legislature and the Governor to improve the health of Alaskans and control health care costs.
P/V Stimson Likely to Move From Unalaska to Kodiak
Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska
The state is once again looking to move the Wildlife Trooper patrol vessel Stimson from Unalaska to Kodiak. And this year, the change seems poised to go through.
Researcher Investigating Alaska’s Sexual Assault Issues
Matt Martin, KDLG – Dillingham
A researcher from University of California Irvine is in Dillingham to hear from sexual assault victims about their experiences. The idea is to figure out the cause of the disproportionately high number of sexual crimes in rural Alaska.
Mayor, Chief Pitch ‘Community Policing’ At South Fairbanks Meeting
Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks
The City of Fairbanks is rolling out a new approach to law enforcement. The mayor and police chief introduced the Community Policing Program at a public meeting in Fairbanks crime plagued south side Tuesday night.
‘Iditarod Adventures, Tales from Mushers Along the Trail’ Documents Race Stories
Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage
A new book, out just in time for this year’s race, documents stories of the Iditarod. Lew Freedman, a former Anchorage Daily News reporter and author of numerous other books on Iditarod legends, gets people who race or love and support the race, to tell their own stories. The book is called Iditarod Adventures, Tales from Mushers Along the Trail. Freedman starts with Martin Buser. He says he’s had a question he’s wanted to ask Buser since 1991.
U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan today engaged the head of the EPA, Gina McCarthy, in a testy exchange. Sullivan’s focus was the EPA’s proposed rule for the Clean Water Act. But first the senator extracted some crow from McCarthy for dissing gifts given to her when she visited Alaska last year. Sullivan says her reference to a jar of moose meat that could “gag a maggot” was disrespectful to Alaskans.
“It doesn’t show that you’re focused on serving the people that you’re required to do,” Sullivan said. “Have you had the opportunity to make a comment on that, apologize? If you’d like to apologize here publicly, that would be fine.”
McCarthy didn’t hesitate.
“I’m happy to apologize for those remarks,” she said. “I will tell you that they were taken out of context but it doesn’t matter because they hurt individuals whose lives I care about.”
“They sure did,” Sullivan said.
McCarthy has repeatedly apologized for the gift gaffes, beginning days after the remarks were published in a Wall Street Journal profile of her.
Sullivan moved on to the Clean Water Act rule. Sullivan says a lot of Americans think the rule is an unconstitutional expansion of the Clean Water Act, beyond what Congress has approved.
“I asked for the legal analysis that you said your agency undertook that says the Waters of the U.S., the regulation you have, is a legitimate agency function because it’s based in statute. You said you were going to provide that. We have not seen that,” he said.
McCarthy pledged to give Sullivan a copy of the rule, which she says includes legal analysis.
The rule is highly controversial, with some opponents saying it will regulate ditches and puddles. More than a million people have submitted comments on it.
McCarthy says the rule is a clarification to comply with Supreme Court rulings and, compared to current regulation, shrinks the acreage covered by the Clean Water Act.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski says she’s forming an Arctic caucus — a group of senators that will meet to advance discussion among senators and staff about issues important to the Arctic and its people, including defense, science and trade.
“It’s about what the vision is, the long-term vision, for the United State’s role in an emerging part of the globe that’s as dynamic as any place out there,” Murkowski said in a speech on the Senate floor today.
She says the Arctic is relevant to all senators, no matter what state they represent. The caucus already has its first non-Alaskan member: Sen. Angus King, an Independent from Maine.
President Obama infuriated Alaska’s political leaders when he announced in January he would ask Congress to protect more land within the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as wilderness, forever off-limits to oil drilling. Some, including Sen. Lisa Murkowski, predict Obama will act on his own to bar development, by using the Antiquities Act to declare ANWR a national monument. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said today that’s not in the works.
“There’s no discussions in the Administration right now about monument status for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge,” she said. She then repeated it in response to a reporter’s question: “There are no plans the Administration has for using the national monument designation or the Antiquities Act for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.”
Jewell, though, does not agree that the “no more” clause of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act would prohibit the president from declaring new national monuments in Alaska.
“I’m not an expert on the legal status but I believe we could use the Antiquities Act,” Jewell said. “But there are no plans to do so in Alaska at this time.”
Last summer, Shell asked the government to extend its offshore drilling leases in the Arctic. Today, U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski pressed Shell’s case to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell in a Senate hearing. Murkowski says Shell needs certainty to continue to invest billions of dollars in its Arctic operations.
“Because of this very short window, a 75-day Arctic drilling season, and the difficulties and the delays and the legal challenges that are all out there, that Shell has endured for the past decade, there really are not enough drilling seasons remaining for Shell to complete more than a handful of exploration wells before the Chukchi lease portfolio expires,” Murkowski said.
Jewell says the clock on Shell’s 10-year leases in the Chukchi Sea was stopped for a period when a court ruled the government had to redo its environmental impact statement. Jewell says her department is still considering Shell’s request for a five-year suspension of the lease clock.
“We took our resources and focused them, as we were requested to do, on helping Shell move forward for this drilling season. I also know that we are actively working with them on suspensions and I think they can expect any answer in the relatively near future,” Jewell said.
Oceana and other environmental groups oppose giving Shell more time on their leases. They say the reasons for Shell’s lack of progress were known from outset, like the harsh conditions and the Native whaling season, or were of Shell’s own making.
The Alaska Health Care Commission would be eliminated in proposed funding cuts from the House Finance Committee. The commission makes policy recommendations to the legislature and the governor to improve the health of Alaskans and control health care costs.
Representative Dan Saddler, a Republican from Eagle River chairs the subcommittee that is recommending the cut. He says the commission has done good work, but health department staff can provide the same expertise:
“I think every department would love to have it’s own policy think tank, but in our fiscal challenge these days we simply can’t afford it in this department and probably couldn’t afford it in other departments either.”
The Health Care Commission costs the state $350,000 a year. The committee decided to keep funding for the Commission on Aging, which is also under the Health Department and costs $400,000.
The legislature established the Health Care Commission in 2010 and voted unanimously to fund it for another three years during the last legislative session.
Representative Les Gara, an Anchorage Democrat, thinks cutting the Health Care Commission is short sighted:
“We have the highest medical costs in the country in this state. We have the highest annual increase in medical costs in the country in this state. Their job is to help come up with policies to stem that increase. That will save money for the budget. It will save money for individuals in their insurance premiums. Cutting them is just not a smart thing to do.”
The state is responsible for over $2.5 billion in health care spending each year. That includes employee and retiree health plans, health care for prisoners, Medicaid and workers compensation. Overall, health care spending in Alaska amounts to an estimated $10 billion annually.
This story is part of a reporting partnership between APRN, NPR and Kaiser Health News.
The Calista Corporation announced a record dividend Tuesday, totaling just over $5 million. The dividend amount is $3.80 per share, which works out to about $380 for the average shareholder with 100 shares.
The Alaska Native Regional Corporation has issued dividends eleven times over the past eight years for a total of $31.3 million paid out. The company has about 12,900 shareholders, of which about 60 percent live in the YK Delta. Checks are expected to be mailed out by April 15th.
A bill that would eliminate daylight saving time in Alaska is now one step away from the Senate floor. But as the legislation has advanced, it has also changed in a way that could divide the state — literally. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports.
Time is a social construct. Its movement is the subject of perennial debate in science, and some physicists have gone so far as to call it an illusion.
That has not stopped Alaska lawmakers from trying to tinker with it.
“In order will be [Senate Bill] 6, the elimination of daylight saving time,” opened bill sponsor Anna MacKinnon, when presenting the legislation to the Senate Finance Committee.
MacKinnon, a Republican state senator from Eagle River, points to negative health effects and the loss of productivity that comes from adjusting clocks twice a year. The bill would have Alaska join Arizona in exempting itself from daylight saving. In the winter, nothing would change when it comes to timing. But in the spring, when other states switch their clocks to get more evening light, Alaska would lag an extra hour. That would put it further behind the east coast.
“It would alternate between four and five under the current bill,” said MacKinnon.
That concept raised some hackles during public testimony on Tuesday morning, particularly from Southeast Alaska.
Pilots complained it would cut back the amount of flying time, since they would offer fewer evening flights. Dan Corson, of the Juneau-based Wings Airways, testified the change would hit them hard during tourist season.
“If this went into effect today, for this summer, we would lose up to 15 percent of business due to the loss of the one hour,” said Corson.
Stores that make money off of cruise ship passengers worried the change would mean less shopping time, while some testifiers said they simply did not like the potential loss of evening recreation time. Money managers, like Jim Parise with the Alaska Permanent Fund, feel the exemption would make it harder to do business with the rest of the country.
“If we are five hours away from New York, personally I will be going to bed around 7 o’clock,” said Parise.
While testimony skewed against the bill during the hearing, Sen. MacKinnon pointed to an online survey showing support for the elimination of daylight saving time. And Sen. Lyman Hoffman, a Bethel Democrat who caucuses with the majority, said communities in the western portion of the state could see their timing situation somewhat normalized by the bill.
“If you’ve ever been into Dutch Harbor-Unalaska, you are closer to Tokyo than Washington, DC,” said Hoffman. “There are other parts of the state that are going to see great benefit because of this legislation.”
Because of Alaska’s sprawling size and its distance from the contiguous United States, its place in time has been a regular source of disagreement. Until 1983, the state was split into four time zones, with Southeast on the same schedule as the West Coast and the Aleutians zoned with Hawaii. Now, Alaska is almost entirely in the same time zone, with only a few places — like Adak to the West and Metlakatla to the east — off of it.
With all the consternation about the loss of evening light in Southeast, the Senate Finance Committee added a provision that could allow Alaska to partially revert to that timezone map. Sen. MacKinnon explained the new version of the bill would allow the state to request a time zone change from the United States Department of Transportation to put all or part of Alaska in sync with the West Coast.
“We would petition the federal government to advance — at least some people have suggested — that we should advance to Pacific Time, but Alaska would stop flipping,” said MacKinnon.
That version of the bill advanced without opposition.
After discussing the nature of time, and how it affects Alaska, the Senate Finance Committee then continued on an agenda that felt pulled straight from a college dorm room: The next item was marijuana.
Proposed cuts by Alaska lawmakers to early education programs could cost the state a lot more in the future. Program proponents say supporting parents and children from birth to age 5 is crucial to a child’s and the state’s development.
Juneau resident Sabrina Nelson says she was a mess when she had her first child.
“You’ve just given birth, you’re dealing with postpartum depression. You don’t know what resources you have for you even though you’ve been given a bunch of handouts at the hospital or the birth center, and do you have time to read those things when you have a newborn? No. You’re just trying to keep up with sleep,” Nelson says.
Her doula told her about the free program Parents as Teachers. New parents get support and guidance from an educator who visits the home once a month.
Nelson joined the program when her son was two months old. She says it helped her profoundly. She learned activities catering to different aspects of her son’s development that she wouldn’t have known on her own. The program connected her with other families.
“Networking with the other families, I can say, ‘Hey, my child is having trouble with this. Have you gone through something similar?’ I wouldn’t have had the confidence to approach someone and ask those questions or go on playdates and things like that. I don’t think I would’ve been as actively participating in his development,” Nelson says.
Parents as Teachers is just one of the programs the state could eliminate funding for completely. A House Finance subcommittee also proposes cutting pre-kindergarten grants and money forBest Beginnings. The Anchorage-based organization supports early learning groups around the state and leverages private funds to help bring free books to thousands of Alaska children through the Dolly Parton Imagination Library.
Joy Lyon is the executive director of the Association for the Education of Young Children in Southeast. She says the proposed cuts come as a total shock and will affect families that rely of these programs.
“All indications that I’ve seen previous to this are that there are more and more people that understand the importance of early childhood, that by supporting children when they’re young, they’re going to be a stronger workforce in the future, we’re going to have a stronger economy. So having a strong stable family will lead to a stronger, more stable state,” Lyon says.
Retired Juneau pediatrician Dr. George Brown says a child’s brain develops the interconnections that have to do with memory and language learning early on.
“When children are in situations where their parents play with them, they talk to them, they hold them, they touch them, particularly during the first year or year and a half, they are increasing those connections amazingly fast,” he says.
Programs like the Imagination Library and Parents as Teachers encourage and provide support for parents to do these things and create safe environments during that early time period, Brown says.
Conversely, children who spend those years in unhealthy homes don’t develop those brain functions as successfully. Brown says that will likely lead to disadvantages later in life.
“If we invest as much as we can during the first three or four years of a child’s life, supporting those families, you are going to be saving a huge amount of money later in life in criminal cost, in court cost, in medical cost and in death cost. So it’s a no-brainer investment,” Brown says.
Economic analyst Jim Calvin with the McDowell Group agrees. The research and consulting firm has looked at the economic impact of early education and child care services in Alaska for the last 10 years.
“It’s better from an economic perspective for the state to maintain funding as much as possible than to cut it at this point,” he says.
With the state suffering from declining oil prices, Calvin says parents of young children need support more than ever.
Juneau residents can weigh in on the state’s operating budget, including cuts to early education programs, today at 1 p.m. at the State Capitol Building.
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter affirmed on Tuesday the need for a U.S. military strategy for the Arctic as Russia builds its military in the north.
In response to a question from Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan in the Senate Armed Services Committee, Secretary Carter said the Arctic should be part of the nation’s investment in defense.
“The Arctic is going to be a place of growing strategic importance,” Carter said. “The Russians are active there.”
“We are, as your state is right on the point of, an Arctic power, and that needs to be part of our strategy.”
Sullivan asked Carter and Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey what they thought of possibly removing combat brigades from Alaska’s Army bases. Dempsey answered indirectly.
“I won’t speak to the number of Army BCTs, brigade combat teams,” Dempsey said. “But I will say the Russians have just taken a decision to activate six new brigades and four of them will be in the Arctic.”
Carter and Dempsey’s main message was that Congress needs to lift the budget sequestration limits to adequately defend the country.
Clean-up crews are still working on an oil spill at Milne Point, about 25 miles northwest of Deadhorse. Milne Point is operated by Hilcorp.
Company spokesperson Lori Nelson says poor weather conditions delayed work on the spill, which was first reported Saturday morning.
“We were able to dispatch more personnel both from Anchorage on Hilcorp’s side and the regulator’s side, to get those boots on the ground to do a full evaluation of the site,” Nelson said. “We have been able to mobilize clean up and response equipment to the site and work is ongoing.”
Crude and water sprayed onto the tundra from a quarter-inch hole in a 10-inch production line. The line was shut down and a bypass was installed on Sunday. Some of the wells on the site have already been brought back online. Nelson says oil production at Milne is about 20,000 barrels per day.
The Department of Environmental Conservation reports that nearly an acre of tundra and well pads were affected. Response crews have cleaned up nearly 100 barrels of oil and other liquids.
DEC Environmental Program Specialist Brad Dunker says 15 to 20 people are onsite removing the contaminated snow and ice.
“Basically what they’re doing is putting the snow and ice that they scoop from the impacted area into containers,” Dunker said. “And those containers will be hauled off by a dump truck and disposed of properly.”
Dunker says they are focusing efforts on containing the spill so it doesn’t spread any further. The area is fenced off to prevent impacts on wildlife. DEC will inspect the damaged pipe and investigate the cause.
The Iditarod has changed its plan for the Fairbanks re-start. This winter’s warm weather that forced the re-start north from Anchorage is also causing problems in Fairbanks.
Another record has been broken in the Iditarod Trail Invitational, the race from Knik to Nome. Anchorage fatbiker John Lackey pulled in to McGrath at 8:30 this morning after just 1 day, 18 hours, and 32 minutes, shattering the previous 350-mile record by more than 10 hours. Lackey says the win feels awesome.
“Every single section of the trail was about as fast as it’s ever gonna be. The rivers were just glare ice. There was a tail wind coming out of Rohn,” Lackey said. “You could essentially ride the whole pass, so by the time we got over the pass you could tell that it was definitely possible that we could break that record. So I kept goin’, and here I am.”
Lackey didn’t sleep during the race and says he’s ready for a nap.
Fatbikers Kevin Breitenbach and Andrew Kulmatiski followed just hours behind Lackey for second and third place finishes. A dozen of the 53 competitors in the ITI are headed the 1,000 miles to Nome following the Iditarod Trail’s southern route.
National Geographic photographer Annie Griffiths will be speaking tonight in Anchorage about her more than three decades of work capturing the lives and cultures of people across the planet. Griffiths has worked in more than 150 countries. She raised her children on the road and says they loved the Middle East where they rode camels, milked goats and were warmly welcomed by people who prioritized family.
Griffiths first came to Alaska in the 90s to photograph grizzly bears in the Brooks Range with biologists from Barrow. Ten years ago she returned to shoot in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge. She says of all the places she’s worked, Alaska tops her list.
Legislation Eliminating Daylight Savings In Alaska Advances
Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau
A bill that would eliminate daylight saving time in Alaska is now one step away from the Senate floor. But as the legislation has advanced, it’s also changed in a way that could divide the state – figuratively and literally.
Developing State Regulations on Marijuana Mirror Alcohol, Cap Personal-Use Plants at 12
Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage
A week after a major step towards full marijuana legalization, Alaska’s legislators are working on the regulatory foundation for legal commercial growth and retail sales a year from now.
Cuts To Early Education Now Could Cost The State Later
Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau
Proposed cuts by Alaska lawmakers to early education programs could cost the state a lot more in the future. Program proponents say supporting parents and children from birth to age five is crucial to a child’s and the state’s development.
Secretary of Defense Affirms Need For Arctic Emphasis
Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter today affirmed the need for a U.S. military strategy for the Arctic as Russia builds its military in the north.
BOEM collecting comments on proposed OCS lease sale in Arctic, Cook Inlet
Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage
The national Bureau of Ocean Energy Management held an open house in Anchorage Monday seeking comments on the proposed off-shore lease sales for 2017 to 2022. The draft covers the entire nation and includes sales in northern Cook Inlet, the Beaufort and the Chukchi Seas.
Crews Work To Clean Up Milne Point Oil Spill
Shaylon Cochran, KDLL – Kenai
Clean-up crews are still working on an oil spill at Milne Point, about 25 miles northwest of Deadhorse. Milne Point is operated by Hilcorp.
Iditarod Restart Route Moves Off Chena River
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
The Iditarod has changed its plan for the Fairbanks re-start.
Iditarod Trail Invitational Racers Set Record Times Into McGrath
Evan Erickson, KSKA – Anchorage
Another record has been broken in the Iditarod Trail Invitational, the race from Knik to Nome. Anchorage fatbiker John Lackey pulled in to McGrath at 8:30 this morning after just 1 day, 18 hours, and 32 minutes, shattering the previous 350-mile record by more than 10 hours.
National Geographic Photographer Reflects On Three Decades Of Work
Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage
National Geographic photographer Annie Griffiths will be speaking tonight in Anchorage about her more than three decades of work capturing the lives and cultures of people across the planet. Griffiths has worked in more than 150 countries. She raised her children on the road and says they loved the middle east where they rode camels, milked goats and were warmly welcomed by people who prioritized family.
Anchorage is celebrating it’s centennial this year, but the area has been inhabited for centuries longer by the Dena’ina, who still live in the area today. KSKA’s Anne Hillman spoke with Dena’ina historian Aaron Leggett about the area’s past and its future.
For centuries the Dena’ina of Eklutna started their fishing season in the spring at what’s now the heavily industrialized area of Ship Creek near modern-day downtown Anchorage.
“If times were getting tough in the spring when you’re in that kind of transitional period and your winter supply of salmon didn’t last, then you could go to Dgheyaytnu.” That’s the Dena’ina name for the area, says tribal member and historian Aaron Leggett. There they would catch the three spine stickleback. “So not a very big fish. So they must have been catching them by the tens of thousands and making a soup or a broth from that.”
But in 1915, a group of settlers built a tent city right where the Dena’ina fished. Leggett says his people adapted. They found work on the railroad and focused their efforts on other traditional fishing sites, like Point Woronzof.
Leggett creeps down the ice-encrusted trail to the beach and looks out over the water.
“100 years ago, when Dena’ina was the predominant language spoken here, this was Nuch’ishtunt, “Place Protected from the Wind.”
Dena’ina came to the area every spring and early summer to fish in the silty waters for king and silver salmon. They fished across Knik Arm, too, and off of Fire Island. North of Ship Creek they set up a type of wooden scaffolding over the mudflats so they could harvest salmon even when the tides went out.
But the local Dena’ina were forced to give up another favored fishing spot when the U.S. military took over Point Woronzof during the Cold War. So what remains of the fish camps? Leggett says not much, and what is there, he wants left alone.
“We do know of some, some things that were left behind,” he says hesitantly. “But we don’t like to talk specifically about what they were because of concerns of looting. But nothing really that I could say specifically.”
So is the area still important for the Dena’ina people?
“I guess to me, the connection is that despite airplanes flying over head,” he says as an airplane drowns him out as if on cue.
And despite the parking lot and the windmills and the lack of trees… the ocean is still the same. Leggett says that many people more often visit other places, like Eklutna Lake, to find spiritual connections but all of the Anchorage Bowl is part of their homeland. It’s where they hunted caribou and gathered berries in the summer. He says it’s something that many people, even other Alaska Natives, used to forget.
“Today, now if I say I’m Dena’ina, most people or a lot of people, will say ‘Oh, you guys are the Indians that used to live here.’ And I say, ‘Well, we’re still here but at least you recognize that we used to be here.’ Because I don’t know, for some reason, maybe because Anchorage is always looking toward the future, it’s like an empty cultural vacuum.”
But Leggett says that’s starting to change in Anchorage as the Dena’ina themselves continue to reawaken to their own culture and educate others.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management held an open house in Anchorage Monday seeking comments on the draft proposed off-shore lease sales for 2017 to 2022. The draft proposal includes sales in the northern Cook Inlet, the Beaufort and the Chukchi Seas.
The three lease sales in Alaska are planned for the end of the five-year period, in 2020 to 2022. Regional BOEM director James Kendall says the scheduling is intentional.
“We want to make sure we get as much relevant scientific information as we can, as much socioeconomic information as we can. There’s also traditional knowledge. So it gives us more time to plan and focus what we’re really considering.”
The agency is currently collecting public comments for a draft environmental impact statement. They’re looking for substantive input like maps of important areas or new studies.
The current proposal already excludes some areas from the potential sale to protect wildlife habitat and subsistence uses in the Chukchi Sea and a small area for whaling in the Beaufort Sea.
Kendall says the final proposal won’t be completed until 2017, and the lease sales are not definite.
“Even if they’re in the final program, that doesn’t mean they’re going to happen. They could be cancelled at any time,” Kendall explains. “We want people to understand that this is a very iterative process, and it intentionally takes a long time so that decision are made very thoughtfully with the best information available…The way the process is set up, we can cancel any of these lease sales right up to the very end based on new information, if necessary.”
Environmental groups and some northern Alaskan residents are hoping the Arctic lease sales will not go forward, in part because there’s no infrastructure in place to clean up a major spill. BOEM’s environmental analysis for Chukchi Lease Sale 193 says there’s a 75% chance for one or more large oil spills to occur in the region if there’s drilling.
Kotzebue resident John Chase spoke during a press conference hosted by the Wilderness Society before the open house. He says his family relies 90 percent on subsistence foods and drilling in the Arctic is not a risk he wants to take.
“You can’t give me enough money to take seal oil away from my home, to feed my children.”
Pro-industry groups say development in the Arctic is necessary for the state and national economies. According to a 2011 study by ISER and Northern Economics, development in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas could bring the state $19 billion over a 50-year period. It could create an annual average of nearly 55 thousand jobs nationwide.
Alaska AFL-CIO President Vince Beltrami spoke during the Consumer Energy Alliance’s press conference.
“I got two little grandsons and I’m looking at them, hoping that when they’re old enough to get into the workforce that OCS is going to be cranking along and that we’re going to be having jobs to put them to work, to earn money, to raise their families.”
BOEM is collecting comments until March 30.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game held its annual “Hide and Horn” auction Sunday, selling off all the leftover animal products the state comes to possess while managing Alaska’s wildlife. The auction is not only a Fur Rondy tradition, but part of how the state manages its wildlife resources.
This year, an unprecedented number of caribou antlers went to bid, the result of a trafficking case stretching from Juneau to the Northwest Arctic community of Selawik.
Just past the fairgrounds in downtown Anchorage, crowds of people strolled between dozens of bear hides, sheep capes, and bundles of caribou antlers duck-taped together, resembling thigh-high tumbleweeds. On stage, helpers hoisted spindly, branch-like antlers high overhead while the auctioneer coaxed patrons towards $150 or $175 a set.
“I’m owner of Knight’s Taxidermy here in Anchorage, Alaska,” said Russell Knight, “and I’m down here to buy bear hides, horns and antlers, and anything else I can get.”
Knight and many of the more aggressively bidders are professional buyers, loading up on supplies for taxidermy, handicrafts, and fine arts at relatively low prices. This is the state’s largest auction of wildlife products, and is part of Anchorage’s annual Fur Rondy celebration.
Richard Person is the head of the Southcentral Chapter of the Alaska Trappers Association, and explained the origins of Fur Rondy—short for ‘fur rendezvous.’ “Traditionally a rendezvous would be where the hunters and trappers would come together, drink a lot of whiskey, and sell their pelts.”
The Trappers Association has won the contract to put on the auction for the state the last few years, and Person believes it is one of the few ways the state is able to share some of its rarest resources with residents.
“It gives a chance for regular folks who don’t have an opportunity maybe to take one of these animals in a hunting situation to come and still participate and own a piece of Alaska…that is unique,” Person said.
This year’s auction is especially unique. The state had 3,000 pounds of caribou antlers for sale, about five times the usual.
Most are from just one criminal case.
Nome-based Wildlife Trooper Brian Miller was stationed flew to Kotzebue in 2011 to investigate reports of an outside buyer shipping huge quantities of antlers to the road system on a commercial freight plane.
“It had been sent from the village of Selawik,” Miller recalled. “Prior to the shipping from the village it had been wrapped up on pallets. Stacks of antlers wrapped in plastic, probably about four to five feet high.”
It is illegal to buy or sell raw antlers that were not naturally shed in the Northwest Arctic Borough, where caribou are a key subsistence stock. That regulation came after pressure from antler merchants in the ‘80s and ‘90s led to a troubling wave of wanton waste cases along the banks of the Kobuk and Noatak rivers.
In the 2011 case, the state brought 22 misdemeanor charges against Harbor Stanton of Copper Center, whose trip, according to charging documents, was financed for $10,5000 by Ivory Jack’s Trading company in Juneau.
“I’ve not come across that before or since,” said Miller of the several pallets recovered both in Kotzebue and Selawik. Many of the antlers had been split into pieces by a band-saw to make them easier to transport.
Stanton settled the case in July of 2014. He was fined $500 dollars and forfeited the antlers.
Which begs the question: what is the state to do when it suddenly acquires 2,000 pounds of illegal caribou antlers?
Since they do not need to be fleshed or sealed like hides, they head straight to a warehouse until they find a new home.
Wildlife Technician Jim Holmes is with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. It is his job to wrangle the full force of the state’s bureaucracy when it comes to sharing wildlife resources–even the ones obtained in unfortunate circumstances.
“Typically, throughout the year I get requests from schools, museums, educational facilities, visitor centers–places like that–who are requesting these items for educational purposes,” Holmes said, sitting in his office near to the many mounts and skulls decorating the ADF&G building in Anchorage.
Holmes estimates the annual auction is just one percent of his total workload. Most of the time he arranges for road-kill, animals taken out of season, or in Defense of Life and Property, to be taxidermied or tanned, then redistributed to public areas where residents can view them.
The auction usually brings between $40,000 and $60,000 in revenue, which covers the costs of handling all the horns and hides the department manages in the course of a year.
Since Gov. Bill Walker was inaugurated, he and the Legislature’s Republican leadership have traded reams of angry letters and testy press releases. Now, their paper battle has transformed into outright hostility in dueling press conferences. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez is on the line to talk about the disagreements over a proposed natural gas line.
Members of the Legislative Bush Caucus were told last week in a “Lunch and Learn” session on rural sanitation almost a billion dollars is needed to build, replace, and maintain rural sanitation systems. But, the gap between the level of need and funding is widening.
State and tribal representatives told members of the Bush Caucus it would take about $900 million to do what’s needed to bring modern sanitation to all Alaskans.
Last year the state put about $9 million and federal agencies put $51 million toward rural sanitation in Alaska. The combined $60 million is less than half of allocations 10 years ago.
David Beveridge, the director of project management at the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, or ANTHC, says Alaska is competing with other states for its share of a shrinking pool of federal funding.
“If you look through the village safe water program, it gets matched with federal dollars on a 25-75 percent ratio,” Beveridge said. “So for any 25 dollars the federal government will kick in the 75 dollars. So that’s been a big component of the funding in Alaska and that’s gone down.”
The issue is one of public health, according to Bill Griffith, the Facility Program Manager for Village Safe Water with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation. He told Legislators recent studies show Alaskans without clean water and flush toilets experience dramatically higher rates of hospitalization for respiratory diseases such as pneumonia.
“Those rates were anywhere from 5 times greater to 11 times greater in villages in Alaska with less than 10 percent of homes served,” Griffith said.
And Griffith says, a significant number of Alaskan communities are un-served or under-served.
“There’s about 30 villages around the state that don’t have running water and sewer to any homes, coupled with about a dozen or so communities that have what we call small haul systems where they use trailers to bring water to homes and then they use different trailers to pick up sewage,” he said.
Climate change is adding to the magnitude of the issue.
“We’re at Noatak right now where part of the ground under the water plant is frozen and part of it is becoming unfrozen,” Gavin Dixon, who manages a Rural Energy Initiative for ANTHC, said. “There’s 15-inches of differential in the facility. So the building is cracking, and falling apart. So it’s an issue that’s happening now and it’s happening in a lot of different communities.”
Dixon says energy audits show that investments of an average of $80,000 per community for little fixes would return much more in energy cost savings in just four or five years. He says those savings in energy costs would boost local economies and cut state spending for power cost equalization subsidies.
Rep. Neal Foster, of Nome, says improving rural sanitation would boost the state’s economy. And he says Legislators would create an uproar if they experienced the same conditions.
“Boy, if we ever took every toilet out of this building, you know it would be a revolution we wouldn’t stand for, people, essentially living in a third-world type situation,” Foster said. “So I think it’s something that needs to be made a priority. I think that we have to bring people at the lowest rungs up before we can move forward as a state.”
Agencies and tribes are collaborating to improve operator training and reduce operation costs. And they working with the private sector to create innovative designs well suited to Arctic conditions.