The federal co chair of Alaska’s Denali Commission was taken by surprise early this morning when a Washington Post reporter called for reaction to a letter sent to Congress that advocated for dissolving the commission. It was surprising because the letter came from an employee, Mike Marsh – the commission’s Inspector General.
I spoke with commission co-chair Joel Niemeyer is his office in downtown Anchorage this afternoon. He said Marsh’s letter is damaging to the organization.
Alaska occasionally gets caught in federal rules that may work in Ohio, but not in Ozinkie. One such national policy that has been confounding airport managers and pilots may be close to at least a temporary fix for Alaska.
The Federal Aviation Administration has begun enforcing a 37-year-old policy that defines the clearance area for airport approaches. Obstacles in that glide path entering or leaving an airport must be dealt with, or the FAA says those airports will be closed to night or instrument flying.
Alaska Air Carriers Association executive director Joy Journay says that’s a big problem for Alaska.
“So you can come in when the weather is good, when it’s clear. You cannot fly with instruments which automatically means for these closures, they’re all down at night. That’s a very grave concern when you talk about medical evacuations because effectively, the closure at Haines, the closure for two weeks at Sitka, it basically meant if you needed to be airlifted out of there at night, an operator couldn’t come in,” Journay said.
The obstacles may be trees, a new building, cell tower or in the case of one of Homer’s approaches, a dirt pile.
Journay says Association members have been frustrated by a lack of clarity as to which airports have problems and what the fix will be.
FAA Alaska region head Bob Lewis says about five of the more than 100 that originally had obstacle concerns are still being worked on, but he didn’t have a list.
Steve Hatter is the Deputy commissioner of aviation for the state department of Transportation. Hatter would only say the list is a moving target that changes daily.
“We’ve got a bunch of rural airports up in our Northern region and so that’s, we’re concentrating there right now,” he said.
Hatter says the state operates more than 250 airports and all have come up for review by the FAA. Hatter says they have whittled down the list of concern to a “hand full.”
“That said, they’re still going to continue reviewing approaches out into the future and that’s where we’re trying to get some help from them on when they schedule those reviews. So we’d like to push as many as we can out toward the spring time frame so that if we do discover that there is an obstruction problem, we’ve got reaction time and we can go address it in the spring and in the summer months,” Hatter said.
Hatter says the one size fits all national policy doesn’t work well in a state where 82 percent of the airports are not accessible by road. He says DOT is aggressively working on the issue with FAA.
“We simply can’t shut off access to our rural villages over the application of a safety standard that just doesn’t make sense and we need to make sure we can do medivac 24-7. We need to make sure people have the right ability to get in and out of those villages for whatever function they need,” Hatter said.
The Air Carriers Association’s Journay says Alaska’s congressional delegation has gotten involved and she’s hopeful there will be more clarity in coming days.
More areas of the Chukchi Sea may open up for oil and gas exploration in 2016, but the decision has not been made yet. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is calling for comments on a proposed lease sale in the area. But this time they are doing things differently.
BOEM Regional Director James Kendall says they are only proposing to open small, targeted areas for leasing, not the whole region.
The current call for comments lets stakeholders say which areas they want included and excluded.
“This way we see where industry is really interested in the resources and we can focus our other stakeholders on areas they’re concerned about and try to de-conflict the two,” Kendall said.
In order to do that, they are asking for very specific comments from the public and from industry. Kendall says they want to know exactly what areas are used for specific purposes or for animal migration and when.
“We’re looking for substantive pieces of information that will help us make this decision,” Kendall said. “This is an opportunity for everyone to roll up their sleeves and go through this very meticulous process.”
Kendall says they are keeping in mind Shell’s current activities in the region and the challenges they have faced. They will be considered during this process.
He emphasizes that the new lease sale is only proposed and no definite decision has been made. People have 45 days, until Nov. 10, to submit comments. Then the comments will be reviewed before the bureau prepares a draft environmental impact statement about the suggested areas.
The State Department of law says it’s just beginning to review post conviction relief applications filed on behalf of the “Fairbanks 4.” The applications center on sworn statements from two individuals tying the 1997 murder of John Hartman to people other than the men jailed for the crime. The state and local criminal justice officials are proceeding cautiously.
Congress has passed a one-year extension of a program that pays out millions of dollars to communities in Alaska near national forest land, like Petersburg. The extension of the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act of 2000 was approved by the house and senate this week.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska is raising concerns about health information exchanges online in Alaska. The regional data bases allow doctors to access medical records, but ACLU of Alaska interim executive director Joshua Decker says people have no choice about whether their information is included.
This week, we’re heading to the Interior community of Venetie on the Chandalar River. Eddie Frank is the Tribal Administrator in Venetie.
As in many small towns in Alaska, there are no babies delivered in Wrangell’s hospital. Expectant mothers have to leave town to give birth. When they return, there aren’t many services to help them adjust to life with a new baby.
Hannah’s Place is a non-profit that provides free courses for expecting couples and new parents. In exchange for taking these classes, parents have access to a “free” store that has nearly everything an infant needs. KSTK’s Shady Grove Oliver has the story.
I walk across a neat lawn bordered with flowers to get to the small yellow and white house that’s called Hannah’s Place.
Nedra Shoultz is the director of Hannah’s Place and the matron of this house. When I arrive, she invites me into a cozy living room.
“One of the first things I do, I sort of go through, open everything up,” Shoultz said. “I like to turn the lights on and usually light a candle, get the doors open and things, just so it will seem homey and welcoming. Turn on a little background music.”
It doesn’t feel like a business; it feels like a home.
Hannah’s Place is a non-profit that started about two years ago to help new moms adjust to life with a baby. While anyone is welcome—dads, too—many of the women who come here are struggling a bit, either financially or as a single parent.
It’s volunteers like Shoultz that keep the place running and it’s stocked with donated maternity and baby supplies.
Schoultz says a new mom could, in theory, get everything she needs from a first pregnancy test through the birth of a child and all the way until the kid is a toddler without spending a dime.
“This is one of our client’s little ones,” Shoultz said. “Most of them do bring their little ones with them which is fun because then we get to see them and watch them grow. He’s actually a little serious right now isn’t he? Whatcha thinkin’ little buddy?”
His mom is one of the many young women that frequent Hannah’s Place.
“I’m Nika Mork and this is Jonah Hirst. And he is almost eight months old now. I’ve been coming here for three or four months now. Twice a week we come here and get to visit. Oh are you gonna say something bubba?”
Mork says she’s taken several of the video-based classes Hannah’s Place offers. They range from workshops on quick and healthy meal preparation to finding a cheap used car and affordable insurance.
She says one of the videos told her Jonah would start sleeping through the night, eventually. But they’re still working on that.
When parents take the classes they earn mommy bucks. And that brings us upstairs, to the mommy store.
The second-floor bedrooms are set up like a children’s boutique. Parents can redeem their bucks for anything inside.
Shoultz says this system of earning bucks for learning life skills gives these moms a sense of pride.
That’s why she says it’s important that all of the donated items look new and are not outdated.
“We have nothing that has a spot on it – nothing at all,” Shoultz said. “We put those completely away.”
“If someone were to come and ask me and say I want to look at those, I would let them just have those, but I don’t put out anything that has a spot.”
Along with access to the store, every mom in town with a newborn gets what Shoultz calls a ‘Celebrate Life’ basket. She delivers them to new parents as soon as possible after the birth.
Marlo Ellsworth is a 27-year-old mother of three. Days before the birth of her second boy, her daughter was badly injured. Her husband flew to Seattle with their daughter for emergency care, which ultimately took over a month and cost him his job.
After giving birth, Ellsworth and the two boys returned to Wrangell. She couldn’t afford baby supplies and didn’t know what to do.
“We had zero money at that point. When we got back, I stressed because my husband was out of work, I was out of work, and even with help, it’s rough,” Ellsworth said. “And there was a knock at my door; I thought, ‘Oh , no, I wasn’t ready for visitors yet.’”
She found a Hannah’s Place volunteer with one of those baskets outside.
It was stuffed with diapers, burp rags, and bottles.
“It didn’t feel like, ‘oh, she’s poor let’s give her a basket of stuff.’ It was very friendly. I felt like they’re there for everyone who could use the stuff,” Ellsworth said. “And everyone can, because no matter how much money you have babies are expensive. It was so awesome”
And director Nedra Shoultz says that’s what it’s all about, helping people when they need it the most.
A 4,000-mile trek by two people just out of college is one thing. Repeating that kind of adventure with two kids is something else altogether. Hig and Erin of Ground Truth Trekking have finished their Cook Inlet expedition and they have a new book out.
HOST: Steve Heimel, APRN
- Erin McKittrick, author, “Small Feet, Big Land: Adventure, Home and Family on the Edge of Alaska” and “A Long Trek Home: 4000 Miles by Boot, Raft and Ski”
- Bretwood Higman, co-founder, Ground Truth Trekking
- Post your comment before, during or after the live broadcast (comments may be read on air).
- Send e-mail to talk [at] alaskapublic [dot] org (comments may be read on air)
- Call 550-8422 in Anchorage or 1-800-478-8255 if you’re outside Anchorage during the live broadcast
LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, October 1, 2013 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.
The Matanuska Susitna Borough’s District One presents a unique set of challenges. It stretches from the outskirts of Palmer east along the Matanuska River and Glenn Highway as far as Lake Louise, then North to the Denali Borough border. It encompasses wild and rural land, although many industrial development projects are slated for it’s as yet undisturbed fields. Incumbent District 1 Assemblyman Warren Kehoe announced that he would not run for another term of office. Now long time political agitator Jim Sykes is eyeing the upcoming vacancy. Sykes says the Boro economy is doing okay, and growth can be found in health care, travel, energy efficiency and other ways
“And we need to grow a lot of sectors that are going to complement our life here in the Valley. “
Skyes has been active in Alaska’s political scene for a couple of decades. He once ran for governor, and can point to dozens of community and state issues that he has taken part in
“I’ve been open to a lot of different ideas across my journey of trying to do something good for communities. What I have really tried to do is to make sure that people have a voice and that’s a strong voice, and that they can participate in an open, and honest, process of government.”
Sykes says it’s the contentious problems that give people the chance to come together and forge solutions. He points to his record. He has run non profits, worked for the Alaska Native Review Commission, served on the Railbelt Energy Advisory Board and as the Lazy Mt. CC president. He advocates for alternative energy, lives in a house made of straw bales, and helped establish radio stations in Talkeetna and Palmer. He says he’s got an innovative idea to monitor Borough spending, too.
“We need to put the Borough check book online, so everyone can see exactly how our taxpayer dollars are spent. And when things are put into a fund, people can see if they are transferred out and where. And I think this level of transperancy is easy to do, the taxpayers deserve it. “
But aviator, and challenger, Doug Glenn says he’ll bring new energy to the Assembly. He built up his Glenn Air business in Palmer the old fashioned way
“In high school throwing bags for Woods Air Service, just moving freight. And worked for them for quite a few years and they got me sucked into the aviation business and here I’m stuck. And I’ve been doing my thing with airplanes ever since. “
First time candidate Glenn, grew up in Palmer and is a grad of Palmer High. He has three children, two now in Borough schools. He says he’s worried about their future
“My reason for doing this is more for my kids than anything. I realize there are no decent family wage jobs around here and I know that everybody’s getting sick and tired of hearing that, no family wage job deal, but it’s a fact. You know, there’s WalMart jobs, and I’m not knocking anybody that works for a living, but these12 dollar an hour jobs just don’t cut it. It’s hard to buy a 250, thousand dollar house making twelve bucks an hour. “
Glenn’s taking a strong pro-development stance, is in favor of the Susitna dam project, the transportation initiative and a bridge across Knik Arm.
”And the traffic on Knik Goose Bay road is truly unbelievable. And anybody that says that bridge isn’t necessary needs to take a cruise out there. You know, during the morning or afternoon. Actually, any time of the day. The development’s happening out there, whether people believe it or not. They need to drive to Port MacKenzie, and take a look around, because stuff is happening. “
District one is the site of proposed coal mining projects within the Borough, projects that have divided communities and created a backlash of opposition among some Borough residents. Sykes says he’s taking a long range view
” You know, the coal industry is in a deep, economic slump, that has dramatically slowed exploration and development all over the world. And, while there are still exploration activities going on, I don’t think that anything is likely to happen for a long time, so there may be a good opportunity for more dialogue in the communities. “
Glenn , who does aerial reclamation work for Usibelli coal, says Sutton locals he’s talked to support coal mining
“Ninety percent of the people I’ve talked to, a strong ninety percent, are in favor of that mine opening up.”
Sykes doesn’t deny that development needs to happen, but, he says, representation is all about getting people involved in their own government.
”Cause I am part of this Valley. And I really will work with anybody, and that is my reputation, and I think that’s what we need more of, rather than just trying to see any problem that comes up through the lens of some particular agenda.”
On October first, it’ll be up the Valley voters to decide.
The Senate passed a measure advancing a government funding bill yesterday that zeroes out money for the Affordable Care Act.
Both Senators Murkowski and Begich supported the measure. And Congressman Don Young supported it in the House last week.
Joining us to explain what’s happening – and how this relates to a pending government shutdown, is APRN’s Washington correspondent Peter Granitz. He says Begich supported the measure to make sure Congress maintains funding for the health care law.
An effort is underway to allow Village Public Safety Officers in Alaska to carry guns. VPSO’s are currently precluded from being armed but the shooting death of a VPSO officer in the Bristol Bay region earlier this year has resulted in an effort to change the rules.
Legislation that passed Congress today will allocate $50 million to clean up the 130 oil and gas wells that were drilled and abandoned by the federal government in the National Petroleum Reserve – Alaska.
Senator Lisa Murkowski helped negotiate the Responsible Helium Administration and Stewardship Act, which is expected to generate around $500 million in revenue over the next 10 years. Within the measure, she was able to insert language that guaranteed a portion of the money from the helium reserve sale would go toward the clean up.
Murkowski says it’s an important step toward closing up the legacy wells.
“That’s huge for us; that is absolutely huge because you can assign priorities and say it’s important that we clean it up, but until you have the dollars to make it happen, it doesn’t happen,” Murkowski said. ”The administration has been tough to deal with on this, so I worked very, very hard to make sure that with the revenues from the helium sale, we could address this blight on our environment up north.”
The $50 million will be distributed over the next six years.
Because many federal priorities are competing for a decreasing amount of funds, Murkowski says previously, she was only able to find small amounts of money for the clean up.
“When you just ran the numbers from a very general perspective, it was gonna be 100+ years to get through this, which was absolutely not an acceptable approach,” she said.
Even though the $50 million won’t be enough to clean up all the wells, Murkowski says it should be enough to start making a dent.
President Obama is expected to sign the measure into law.
A state Department of Environmental Conservation official says proposed new fine particulate pollution regulations are designed more to meet federal requirements, than clamp down on Fairbanks area residents who depend on wood for heat.
An iPhone map that led drivers across the Fairbanks International Airport runway has been deactivated. Airport spokeswoman Angie Spear says the map errantly directed users to the east side of the facility.
Athletes at East High in Anchorage highlighted some positive statistics about teens earlier today at the homecoming pep rally. Like the fact that 89 percent of Anchorage high school students don’t smoke. The campaign is called “Strength of our Youth.” The idea is to debunk the myths that “everyone” in high school is making bad choices.
Astrid Williams is a senior at East High School and has been organizing the project. She says the pep rally seemed like a great way to get the message out.
A citizens’ task force charged with reviewing the Anchorage Assembly’s public hearing process has released a draft of their recommendations.
One of their conclusions is that the Assembly erred in cutting off public testimony about a controversial labor law.
The task force was formed after the Assembly voted to end public testimony before everyone had a chance to testify on a controversial labor ordinance last spring.
Jane Angvik chairs the panel, which released a draft of its findings Sept. 20. The task force made nine specific recommendations, including one having to do with the interpretation of the municipal charter.
“The charter says that under the bill of rights that citizens have the right to be heard at public hearings prior to the adoption of an ordinance,” Angvik said. “So we concluded that if you started with a signup sheet and you’ve got people who are signed up and ready to testify, that the Assembly has to listen to everyone; they can’t cut it off.”
That’s exactly what the Assembly did last March when hundreds of people flooded a public hearing on a controversial labor ordinance also known as AO-37.
A ballot measure to repeal that ordinance is awaiting a court test.
Angvik says the task force also recommended limiting the Assembly’s dinner break to 15 minutes, better visual aids during hearings, and finding a way for citizens to weigh in online during public hearings.
The Task Force is composed of 11 residents who met and reviewed the charter, ordinances and the policies and procedures regarding Assembly public hearings.
It had a public hearing of its own about the process on Sept. 3.
Angvik says the recommendations are based on public testimony given at that hearing.
A final public hearing is set for 6 p.m. at the Loussac Library Assembly Chambers on Tuesday, Oct. 1.
A 58-year-old Hoonah man mauled by a brown bear Wednesday night has been medevac’d to Sitka with non-life threatening injuries.
Hoonah Police Chief Corey Rowley says the man was attacked about 9:45 p.m. as he was walking near downtown. He says the man suffered bites and scratches on his legs and back.
“Bites to his lower body and injuries to his back from the claws,” Rowley said.
He declined to identify the man. The bear was a sow with a cub, but Rowley says the man apparently had not come between them.
Coast Guard Search and Rescue Controller Adam DeRocher says their medical staff monitored the case. But a commercial medevac service was scheduled to take the injured man to Sitka for treatment Thursday morning.
Rowley says police searched most of the night for the bear. They were able to locate it in a deep canyon using thermal imaging equipment, but officers were unable to reach the animal and by morning it was gone.
He says his number one concern right now is for the safety of children walking to and from school.
“Absolutely. The initial report we received was that she was trying to drag him off into the hemlock,” Rowley says. “So, that’s a concern.”
Rowley says Alaska Wildlife Troopers are sending resources to Hoonah to help with the search, which continues.
Matt Miller contributed to this report.
A ballot initiative to lower Wrangell’s city sales tax by 1.5 percent is up for a vote of the public in the Oct. 1 general elections.
Alaska is one of only five states in the U.S. that doesn’t have a statewide sales tax. That means its communities are free to establish their own, or not.
Many towns in the state have opted for none.
But Wrangell does have one and right now, it’s at 7 percent. That means every time you buy a taxable item in town, you pay an additional 7 percent of the item’s cost in tax.
Wrangell’s rate stands alongside Kodiak’s as the highest sales tax in the state.
But where does that 7 percent go?
That money the city pulls in from the tax helps fund many of its public services.
That’s anything from the police department and public schools to the spring health fair and Fourth of July fireworks.
Former mayor Don McConachie explains that these tax-funded services are divided into necessary and optional categories.
“The city, through their tax dollars, are obligated to have water, sewer, police protection and all the rest of that type of entity for the public,” McConachie said. “They are not required to have the amenities; the amenities being funding for the radio station, X amount of dollars it is giving to the fireworks, X amount of dollars it has given to other outside interests.”
That means, when money is tight, it’s often those amenities that are cut first.
This initiative would lower the city sales tax to 5.5 percent.
It would save customers one and a half pennies per dollar spent, or $1.50 on a $100 purchase.
Ernie Christian currently sits on the borough assembly. He is also one of the people who drafted the sales tax initiative. He says more money in people’s pockets now means more money for them to spend later.
Tim Rooney doesn’t work for the city of Wrangell anymore, but he was the borough manager when initiative was first brought to the table.
He says the money the community will lose as a whole outweighs the individual benefits.
“My question would be for a citizen, what will that $1.50 buy you in Wrangell?” Rooney said. “However, collectively, what does that $1.50 collected from everyone buy for Wrangell and all of that would go away.”
All of those buck fifties add up to about $503,000 a year.
And that brings us to the proposed cuts.
Jeff Jabusch is the interim borough manager. However, he was the finance director who drafted the proposed cuts with Rooney.
With half a million dollars in annual revenue gone, Jabusch says the city would need to make some substantial changes.
First would be the end of the two annual tax-free shopping days. That would save the city a total of $30,000.
Second, the mill rate would go up and by association, property taxes would be higher.
Both of these changes would increase the city’s revenue to help offset its losses.
Next, there would be a series of funding cuts.
The general fund, which helps support the library and public works, would lose about $100,000. That’s not good news for snowy streets in winter.
“We are used to certain things happening all year round,” McConachie said. “I think you will find people will not enjoy not having snow plowed on a regular basis—where they’re going to wait until there’s two inches of snow out before they send a plow out and different things like that.”
In addition, the senior citizen program would lose $15,000. The health fair would lose $3,000 and $4,000 would be gone from the Fourth of July fireworks budget.
And there is one hot-button issue up for nearly $200,000 in cuts: public school funding.
The state government requires that the city give the schools a certain amount of money every year. It used to be in the neighborhood of $600,000. A few years ago, it was lowered to the $400,000 range.
But, Wrangell decided to keep funding the schools at the higher level.
The borough is also required to pass along certain federal funding to the schools…
“So the total we give them is like $1.5 million,” Jabusch said. “But from taxes—sales tax and property taxes—the amount has been somewhere around $600,000.”
So, the approximately $200,000 proposed cut would be Wrangell going to the local funding level it’s actually required to give.
Jabusch says the schools wouldn’t necessarily be hurt right now, but there is concern about the future.
“As the federal money dries up, and we’re anticipating that, it’s going to be more difficult, if we go back to the $400,000, to come up with some additional money for them down the road,” Jabusch said. “Whereas, if you leave it where it’s at, you’re in a better position down the road.”
The city is keeping that financial buffer in place in case federal funding is cut in the future.
Ernie Christian says he doesn’t think the proposed cuts would be good for the city.
“I want to make sure everybody knows, these proposed cuts were developed by the borough manager and the finance director, and I think they were political cuts and I voted against them,” Christian said. “You know, I would never support any cuts to the schools, but that’s what they came up with.”
“So these were developed by staff, not by the assembly; so if the proposition goes through, I think they need to come back in front of the assembly to determine if you really need to cut anything.”
Tim Rooney says while things like the library, health fair, and chamber of commerce are important to the community as a whole, they are still considered amenities when it comes to budgeting.
“I think Mr. Christian is misinformed; any time that you cut $500,000 from a budget, you’re going to have to make painful cuts, and cut unnecessary programs,” Rooney said. “Some of those unnecessary programs were listed on a page in the budget and that budget was approved by the entire borough assembly.”
“So I would think that if he felt, or if they collectively felt that was a political move, they wouldn’t have approved it.”
Don McConachie says while it’s up to personal opinion how much responsibility the government should have, everyone would feel the consequences of a cut like this.
“I think that if the tax does get reduced approved by the voters, that it will be a detrimental effect to all of the people residing in this community as a whole,” McConachie said.
This initiative will go before the voters on Oct. 1.
In the spirit of full disclosure, the local public radio station, KSTK, faces a cut of $9,200 if the initiative passes.
The Talkeetna Ranger Station has a new name.
President Obama has signed the Denali National Park Improvement Act, which officially renames the Park Service building to the Walter Harper Talkeetna Ranger Station in honor of the Athabascan climber who was the first person to set foot on the summit of Denali in 1913.
Preparations for the name change are underway at the ranger station, and a new sign could be ready by next spring.
The Act also approves a land exchange between the National Park Service and Doyon Limited for the construction of a small hydroelectric project and the permitting of a natural gas pipeline along the Parks Highway inside the Park.
The legislation was strongly supported by Congressman Don Young and Senator Lisa Murkowski.