Municipalities across the state held elections Tuesday.
Matanuska-Susitna Borough defeated a 5 percent alcohol tax. The Mat-Su Assembly in mid-July proposed the tax on alcohol sales in bars, restaurants and liquor stores. Assembly members estimated it could have brought in $1 million annually.
A measure to lower the sales tax in the Wrangell was also soundly defeated yesterday, by about 75 percent of voters.
The measure would have dropped sales tax from 7 percent to 5.5 percent. If it had passed, the city would have faced a shortage of about $500,000, which is used for services such as police and public schools.
And Homer retailers will apparently again be allowed to use plastic bags. The City’s ban on lightweight plastic shopping bags went into effect January 1st but nine months later, the ban appears to be history. As KBBI’s Aaron Selbig reports, Homer residents voted to repeal the ban in yesterday’s municipal election.
Circle has made progress rebuilding after this past spring’s break up flood. Yukon River water and ice damaged homes, other buildings and roads in May. The state reports that sink holes have been filled. Village corporation president Charles John says the clinic is being operated out of trailers brought in this summer, and he’s one of three who’ve had new homes put up.
An Alaska based non-profit that does international aid work is running a school for Syrian refugees in Lebanon. Nate York is Executive Director of Solace International. He founded the small organization after the September 11th attacks and started building girls schools in Afghanistan. Now the non-profit works on a wide range of small projects in South and Central America, Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
York says as he watched the civil war in Syria evolve he decided Solace could make a difference.
A day after the launch of Alaska’s health insurance marketplace, it’s still impossible to sign up for plans on the website. The federal government says higher than expected web traffic has hampered all of the federally run marketplace sites, like the one in Alaska. They are working to add more server capacity to address the problem.
A network of universities and research groups from nations bordering the Arctic Ocean have banded together to form the University of the Arctic, the North’s only circumpolar higher education institution. It’s researchers work to promote the welfare of indigenous peoples by finding local solutions to problems posed by a changing world. Presentations at the university’s eighth annual conference in Girdwood focused on food: its security, storage, and safety.
Norma Kassi, director of the Yukon Territory’s Indigenous Collaboration Arctic Institute, stressed the importance of local programs for food storage and sharing in her Vuntut Gwitch’in village of Old Crow. Kassi says a road shutdown in July, 2012, was a real eye opener
”There was huge washouts that took out the Alaska highway on both sides of Whitehorse, and this was a real awakening for people in the Yukon. We had to get together and start working on our own food security. And most of the fresh produce in the stores was gone in two days, and it was people with money who would get all that, and the outlying communities didn’t have access to the big stores in Whitehorse, of course. “
She says helicopters had to fly food into the village that time. Villagers have since instituted strategies of storage, gardening, youth education and local animal farming to cope with shortages that are increasing with climate change. Kassi said that changing weather does not allow for meat to dry outdoors anymore, and high water on the river tears nets so badly that salmon harvests dwindle.
Closer to home, Bryce Wrigley, is a 30 year barley farmer from Delta Junction. He says he recognize the same threat during the Hurricane Katrina disaster.
“It took two weeks to get food into those people. How could that possibly happen? The thought just keep going over and over in my mind, how, with all those resources and so close to food supply, how could it take two weeks to get food in to those people stranded in New Orleans. And the next logical extension of that thought was, what if it happened here? What would we do?”
Wrigley says a disruption in the transportation chain is a real possibility, and although it is sometimes cheaper to import goods into Alaska, the cost of depending on imports is high, because importing does not create jobs. He decided to help by starting up a flour mill in Delta Junction. The Alaska Flour Company is a home grown operation, milling barley from the Wrigley family farm. Wrigley says from a food security standpoint, it is important to help local farmers while producing a needed product in Alaska.
During their talks, both Wrigley and Kassi stressed the importance of local action first. Kassi calls it the “pebble approach”: toss a pebble into a creek, and see where the ripples spread. Another presenter at the conference, Carol Lewis, directs UAF’s school of natural resources and agricultural sciences.
“Unfortunately, people have forgotten the fragility of the North, and that is what we are trying to point out here. “
Lewis says UAF participates in the conference to bring current information back to Alaska through the cooperative extension service. Lewis says Alaska already imports ninety percent of it’s food, and with more people moving to Alaska, the state should be concerned.
“I think we need to get the message that we need infrastructure, we need community getting together and providing for themselves. But we also need to think that we have cities in the North, and in Hawaii for that matter, of a million people, and you can’t feed them with a community greenhouse. So, something has to be done. “
Lewis says, in Alaska, as in other areas of the US, the farm population is aging, causing a drop in the number of people who can keep land in production. The Circumpolar Agricultural Conference continues through Thursday in Girdwood.
Even though the federal government is shut down, poor women and children can still get food vouchers through the State of Alaska. The Women, Infants, and Children Supplement Nutrition — or “WIC” — program should be able to operate until the end of the month, according to the Alaska Department of Health.
WIC is federally funded but administered by the states, and the effect the shutdown will have on its 9 million users varies across the country. Utah has already closed its rolls to new clients.
Voter turnout in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough was thin on Tuesday, but the handful of voters that did show up at the polls upset the status quo for what has been until now a pro-development Borough Assembly.
Unofficial results are showing that Matanuska-Susitna Borough voters have put a political novice and a long time political activist in the two available Borough Assembly seats.
Jim Sykes has the edge on challenger Doug Glenn in the District 1 race. Only 45 votes separate the two in what is sure to be a squeaker before all the absentee and questioned ballots come in. Reached at his home Tuesday night, Sykes said about 260 – 300 ballots are still out in the precincts in his district
“I knew it would be close and I’m just grateful to all the people who voted, first of all, and to the many volunteers that came to help in the campaign; and it’s always been better to be ahead than behind, of course we don’t know the results,” Sykes said. “I hope it holds up, the trend is good, and we’ll know when they get to counting the absentee ballots.”
Sykes said during his campaign that he has a long standing record of being able to work with all kinds of groups, while helping to ensure that people have a strong voice in government.
In the Borough’s District 2 race, newcomer Matthew Beck trounced incumbent Noel Woods in a surprise upset. Beck ran on a solidly pro-agricultural lands protection platform, as opposed to former farmer Woods, who favors strong industrial development in the Valley. Results Tuesday night indicate Beck took 835 votes over Woods’ 712.
Just over 16 percent of the Borough’s registered voters turned out at the polls on Tuesday.
They shot down a proposed 5 percent sales tax on alcohol, but approved a 50 percent state match for road and transportation bonds.
One thousand, eight hundred and ninety five absentee and questioned ballots remain to be counted in the Borough’s 39 precincts. The Matanuska Susitna Borough election will be certified on Oct. 15.
Three write-in campaigns slowed the ballot counting in the Haines Borough on Tuesday. But when results did come in, just after midnight, it was clear Haines voters do not support so called corporate-personhood.
Proposition 1 passed by a margin of 130 votes. That means the Haines Borough charter preamble and bill of rights will be amended to say the rights in the charter do not apply to “artificial entities” like corporations.
Two new faces were elected to the Haines Borough Assembly. George Campbell and write in candidates Diana Lapham were elected to the assembly. Mario Benassi another write in candidates is just 46 votes behind Lapham, with a maximum of 49 absentee votes outstanding.
The absentee ballots will decide one of the three seats for the Haines Borough School Board. Incumbent Sarah Swinton was reelected and Lisa Schwartz will be a new member on the board. The winner of the third seat is too close to call. Scott Doddridge is only four votes ahead of incumbent Ardy Miller for that seat.
And in Skagway, Assemblyman Mark Schaefer was elected mayor in that uncontested race. And former assemblyman Tim Cochran received the majority of the votes for one of the two open assembly seats. He’ll be joined at the table by Spencer Morgan. Darren Belise retained his School Board seat.
Unalaska mayor Shirley Marquardt ran unopposed and secured a fourth term in office.
That was the first time in over 20 years that a mayoral election has been uncontested in Unalaska.
Dave Gregory and Alejandro “Bong” Tungul were also elected to city council without any opposition.
But the race for one city council seat is still too close to call. Incumbent Roger Rowland is currently holding onto his seat by just 25 votes. Behind him: The write-in category.
A handful of contested and absentee ballots will be counted on Friday by Unalaska’s canvass committee, which could sway Rowland’s race.
Three seats on Unalaska’s school board were up for election. Fernando Barrera beat out Denise Rankin by 57 votes, while Tammy Fowler Pound and Abner Hoage won their uncontested races for school board.
Preliminary results from Tuesday’s election are in, with 2,204 people casting their votes at Kodiak’s nine precincts.
The ballot only featured one major contested race with three folks running for two Kodiak Island Borough Assembly seats. Frank Peterson Jr. garnered the most votes with 830; and he’ll join incumbent Carol Austerman who was re-elected with 727 votes. Dennis Symmons came up short with 629 votes, but he will join the Service Area No. 1 Board, which was an uncontested race. Natasha Hayden will take that board’s other seat.
The other contested race this year was for the Monashka Bay Road Service Area Board. Three candidates were vying for a pair of three-year seats. Tom Lance and Randy Spivey tied with 44 votes each to join that board. Darlene Turner received 14 votes.
Proposition One was approved by the voters with 848 people voting yes, 462 voting no. The proposition prevents those in public office from being employed by the borough, or entering into personal service contracts with the borough. Borough Clerk Nova Javier said she needs to work with the borough attorney to figure out how the proposition will be implemented.
Other than that, most races were determined before election day.
Jerrol Friend will take the office of Borough Mayor and Pat Branson was re-elected as City Mayor. Neither had any challengers for office.
It was the same in the Kodiak City Council election, with Charlie Davidson and John Whiddon running unopposed. They were re-elected with 377 and 343 votes respectively.
Javier said those elected to office will be sworn in during the next meetings for the respective governing bodies. She said they will then take office officially the Monday after that meeting.
In Juneau, there was really only one race to pay attention to on Election Day. Out of three Assembly seats and two School Board seats on the ballot, only one was contested.
In that race for an area-wide Assembly seat, Kate Troll leads Bill Peters by almost 300 votes – 1,866 to 1,571.
With about 1,000 absentee and questioned ballots left to be counted, Troll is the presumptive winner. She says she hopes to focus on creating jobs in Juneau and advocating for more school funding.
In other races, Mary Becker and Karen Crane were reelected to Assembly seats after running unopposed. Both have served one term on the Assembly already.
Barbara Thurston and Lisa Worl were elected to the two school board seats. Thurston will be serving her second term. Worl was elected for the first time, after being appointed to a vacant seat on the board in December.
Preliminary turnout was a mediocre 14.5 percent.
Borough voters handily passed both school bond propositions on Tuesday’s ballot.
Proposition 1 asked voters to OK the sale of about $37.2 million in bonds to replace Ryan Middle School. According to unofficial results, 60 percent of voters said yes, passing the measure by nearly 2,000 votes.
Prop 2 passed by an even wider margin, with 65 percent of votes cast in favor, unofficially. That measure will raise $19.4 million to repair and renovate five other district schools.
Dave Ferree served as co-chaired of the Yes on School Bonds Committee, and he says the vote outcome shows that borough residents understand the importance of investing in schools – even during these economically challenging times.
“Y’know Fairbanks is facing some fairly unique challenges, and I think we all want our schools to be one of our strong points,” he said.
Ferree worked for some 30 years as a school district administrator in charge of facilities maintenance before he retired last year. He says Tuesday’s vote of confidence shows borough residents have confidence in the district to maintain its schools to last as long as possible
“Despite what you sometimes hear, it’s not a frilly operation,” he said. “I think it shows in the support, which has been pretty overwhelming for quite a while.”
Ferree says the state will reimburse the borough for 60 percent of the Ryan Middle School construction costs, and about 70 percent of the cost of the other five projects.
The Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly will welcome only one new member to chambers this year. Janice Golub won Seat C, over Larry Morris.
Both Karl Kassel and Presiding Officer Diane Hutchison will return to serve second terms on the Assembly.
Former Parks and Recreation director and long-time Fairbanks resident Karl Kassel says he’d like to see the Assembly focus on affordable energy during his second term.
“That’s huge; that’s the biggest thing in our community and I think that we’re going to make significant progress on that in the next three years,” Kassel said. “ I think we have to and it’s a necessity really.”
Kassel is the General Manager of a renewable energy system company in Fairbanks. He ran against Brandon Meston, who was not present Tuesday night as election results came in.
Kassel says he’s looking forward to working with Army National Guard Officer Janice Golub, who narrowly edged out opponent Larry Morris. Golub says it was a friendly campaign.
“We agreed early on that there wouldn’t be any kind of animosity during the race, so it’s always nice when you have a campaign like that,” Golub said.
Golub agrees that bringing affordable energy to borough area residents should be the main focus of her first term on the Assembly.
“I think the only thing that Fairbanks is really concerned about right now is energy especially with winter coming and it’s been getting colder out, so that’s our main issue in front of us right now,” Golub said.
Presiding Officer Diane Hutchison’s was the only other open Assembly seat this year. Hutchison will return for a second term, having run uncontested.
About 600 voters took to the polls in Tuesday’s elections.
Incumbent mayor David Jack will keep his position for another year after receiving three-quarters of the vote.
There was a controversial ballot initiative to lower the city and borough sales tax by 1.5 percent. That would have cost the city about $500,000 in lost annual revenue.
That proposition was defeated by 75 percent of the vote.
These results are unofficial until the canvass board meets on Thursday.
In Valdez, only one of five incumbents survived Tuesday’s Municipal Election. Three seats on the City Council and two on the School Board were up for grabs.
Incumbent Mike Wells easily won the most votes in the City Council race with 399 to retain his seat. Ruth E. Knight garnered the second-most votes with 319. Dennis Fleming won the third and final seat on the City Council with 310 votes.
Joe Prax and Alan Sorum were on the city council this time last year. Now, they are on the School Board. Prax gathered the most votes with 435. Sorum was second with 296 votes.
There are 71 absentee and 29 question ballots to be counted. The rest of the ballots will be counted Wednesday at the Valdez City Council Chambers.
Much of the federal government is now shutdown because of Congress’s failure to pass a funding bill.
Huge sections of the government – the costliest ones, like Social Security, Medicare, veterans’ benefits and war-fighting efforts – remain open.
But the shutdown could have huge affects in Alaska, the state with the third highest percentage of federal employees.
It’s unclear how long it will last.
The Senate convened early this morning and promptly dismissed the latest attempts from House Republicans to slash key elements of the Affordable Care Act.
Some federal employees are reporting to work for half days, others have been told to not come in, and some are working, hoping they’ll be back-paid.
Senator Tom Coburn, a conservative Republican from Oklahoma, says he thinks many people’s fears will come true – that the shutdown will drag on for days, possibly weeks.
“And now that you’ve got the government shut down, I think you’ll see the debt ceiling and this merge together,” Coburn said.
Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has warned Congressional leaders the government will no longer be able to pay its bills as of October seventeenth.
Congress needs to raise the debt ceiling by that date or face bedlam in the global economy.
Senator Lisa Murkowski says the shutdown cannot last into the debt ceiling debate.
“I can’t imagine the economic chaos that will be created,” Murkowski said.
Both chambers of Congress could pass bills raising the debt ceiling before the deadline. But if there’s one near certainty in Washington, it’s don’t bank on Congress to give itself breathing room.
This morning, hundreds of workers trickled out of Juneau’s federal office carrying boxes of personal items, plants, and even pet fish — basically, any personal items they might want during their furlough. They won’t be allowed back to their desk until Congress agrees to fund the federal government. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez caught up with some of these workers Tuesday and brings us their voices on dealing with the shutdown.
A 38-unit apartment complex burned down in the Anchorage neighborhood of Mountain View last month, leaving dozens of people homeless.
So far this year, there have been 20 fire calls to multifamily dwellings where the fire spread beyond the room where it started and at least five of them did major damage. All the fires burned older buildings that don’t have to meet modern fire code standards.
Fire investigator, Brian Balega stands outside the charred remains of Glynwood Manor, the apartment complex that recently burned in Mountain View.
“We had an apartment fire back here in this courtyard in the center in the top floor that was extending left and right,” Balega said. ”And by the time we had units – the secondary units start showing up we had fire spreading into these east west branches, so that was pretty quick.”
He’s investigating the cause while cleanup crews sweep debris out of the way. Balega says even though fire fighters responded in just three to five minutes, they couldn’t stop the blaze. The building was a total loss.
This year there have been 20 fire calls to multi-family dwellings where the fire spread beyond the room of origin. That’s nearly double last year’s number and more than any other year in the past decade.
So far, nobody has died in the fires, but seven people were injured. Loss to property and contents combined is estimated at more than $8 million.
Balega thinks some simple things could help prevent big fires, like sprinkler systems, building-wide fire alarms and attic fire breaks – also known as draft stops. They’re plywood walls covered with sheet rock, treated with fire retardant that stop the flow of fire laterally above a ceiling.
“If we would have had a draft stop, in, halfway in this structure to our left, your left, my right, we probably would have had fire stopping halfway on that building and the other half would be saved,” Balega said. ”Yeah, they work, if they’re there.”
So why aren’t they there?
Anchorage fire code grandfathers in older apartment complexes. There have been at least four similar fires to the one at 221 Meyer street in Anchorage this year. The buildings that burned were built from the 50s to the 80s.
Fire Marshal James Gray says Anchorage fire code as it stands, is a collaborative process that involves lots of different stakeholders, and there are limits to what the public and the building community will tolerate.
“Correction of construction deficiencies, correction of fire sprinkler, lack of fire sprinkler, or lack of fire alarm are fairly onerous requirements to put on building owners,” Grays said. ”So they try to give credit for as many existing provisions that you have in the building and they don’t make you put in those retroactive requirements until you hit a certain level.”
Glynwood Manor had been inspected last year and it passed. But sometimes, Gray says he’s understaffed and his department can’t inspect buildings every three years like it’s supposed to.
Anchorage fire code is based on the International Fire Code. It’s updated every three years and approved by the Anchorage Assembly. Jonathan Steele helps write it. He’s an architect with the firm Bettisworth North and a member of the Municipal Building Board. Of the 47 chapters in the Anchorage fire code, he says one chapter is devoted to upgrades to older apartment buildings. It works like this.
“Once a building has been designed and permitted, as long as it’s use doesn’t change they don’t have to do anything other than these mandatory upgrades that are in a very small section of the code,” Steele said.
In the case of the Glynwood Manor fire, even though it had 38 units, which would normally require some safety upgrades – each unit had an exit to the outside. And, according to the code, that exempted the building from the upgrades that could have likely stopped the huge fire. Steele says, with all the big apartment fires lately in older buildings, things might need to change.
“Maybe it needs more inspection; maybe it needs more resources put to the fire department to be on the streets taking a look at existing facilities,” Steele said. ”That might be a solution – the community needs to get behind it, and that would be the community with the Assembly’s support and the Mayor with funding.”
But without making the code more strict, more inspections wouldn’t help much. Fire officials say four out of five of the apartment building fires that KSKA investigated for this story had building-wide fire alarms. None, including Glynwood Manor in Mountain View, had draft stops or sprinkler systems.
Fire Inspector Balega says that could have made a difference.
“If those were in here the potential for us only to have damaged a portion of this building would have been a lot better for us,” Balega said.
The cause of the Glynwood Manor fire is still under investigation.
The Red Cross shelter that housed residents left homeless by the fire closed this past Saturday. A few families are still trying to find housing.
The Institute of Real Estate Management, which represents owners and managers of apartment complexes, in Anchorage was contacted for this story and did not return repeated phone calls. Neither did Victor and Rhonda Smith, the owners of Glynwood Manor. The Smiths own several other older rental properties in Anchorage.
Alaska’s federally run health insurance Marketplace officially launched on Oct. 1 as part of the Affordable Care Act.
Starting Jan. 1, most people in the country will be required to have insurance and the Marketplace will allow them to shop for insurance and qualify for subsidies to help pay for it.
Large amounts of website traffic and other glitches have made it impossible to sign up for insurance on the site so far today, but community advocates for the law are urging patience.
Samantha Longacre sat down with three people early this morning at the Anchorage Neighborhood Health Clinic. They were all interested in learning more about their options for buying coverage on Alaska’s Marketplace. But Longacre – a Marketplace enrollment specialist – says none of the potential applicants got very far beyond logging into healthcare.gov.
“And then the first part is to set up an account, just like any other online resource, we could get through step one and step two and kind of ran into glitches,” Longacre said.
Anchorage Neighborhood Health Clinic has a lot to gain from the marketplace. According to development director Jon Zasada, nearly half of the clinic’s patients are uninsured. He’s hoping to sign up 20 percent of those uninsured patients, about 1,000 people, by March 31, when the open enrollment period closes. Zasada says the marketplace is a huge opportunity for community health centers.
“Anyone that we can add to our patient ranks with insurance just makes our job of ensuring care to everyone in the community a whole lot easier,” he said.
Zasada and Longacre were attending a news conference celebrating the marketplace launch at the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. It attracted a glass-half-full kind of crowd. ANTHC’s Valerie Davidson said a few hiccups on the first day were to be expected.
“I remember the very first day the Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend program started online enrollment, and let me tell you, there were a few glitches that day,” Davidson said. “But as the system rolled out and people became more comfortable, folks were able to navigate that system and were able to apply for their permanent fund dividends in time to meet the deadline.”
Enroll Alaska, a company that has two dozen insurance agents ready to help people enroll, had a backlog by the afternoon of about 400 Alaskans who wanted help but couldn’t get it because of the website problems. The federal government estimates about 140,000 Alaskans are uninsured, with nearly half qualifying for subsidies to purchase insurance in the Marketplace. Susan Johnson is the Regional Director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. She says there will be plenty of time to sign up.
“We want people to relax into all this newness because change is hard, this is a new language for most don’t hurry up and get it over with like a shot or something, enjoy the shopping,” Johnson said. “Come in, take a look, make sure you get the help you need, talk to people, get informed, think about it, weigh your decisions, don’t rush today, plenty of time.”
When I logged into to healthcare.gov around 1 in the afternoon and clicked “apply now” a banner appeared across the page that read, “We have a lot of visitors on our site right now and we’re working to make your experience here better. Thanks for your patience!”
That’s the same message Joan Fisher found when she signed onto the site this morning. Fisher is the United Way’s lead navigator for the marketplace.
“I think this is history making. I think it’s pretty cool,” Fisher said.
Fisher is setting up a small office on the first floor of Providence Hospital in Anchorage where she’ll be able to help sign people up for insurance, but with the healthcare.gov website not working properly and several media interviews, things were off to a slow start.
“I haven’t even gotten on my computer yet because I haven’t been authorized by Providence,” Fisher said.
Fisher and her fellow navigators would like to sign up thousands of Alaskans for insurance in the next six months, but she’s content to settle in for the long haul rather than sprint out of the Oct. 1 starting gate.
Fisher says anyone who wants the process to go smoothly should make an appointment with her in a few weeks.
This story is part of a reporting partnership between APRN, NPR and Kaiser Health News.
Many Alaskans live their lives by the weather. But how will the government shutdown affect the organizations that provide weather information to the state?