This year’s permanent fund dividend is $900.
While expectations were low, but this year’s dividend check is slightly higher than the $878 amount paid out last year. Acting Revenue Commissioner Angela Roddell says next year’s check will be even bigger.
“The permanent fund balance has continued to grow. It was $40 billion a year ago; it’s $45 billion this year,” Roddell said at a press conference on Wednesday. “They continue to do a really good job at the corporation. So, I would expect next year’s number to be even higher.”
The dividend is calculated using the average income earned by the Permanent Fund Corporation over the past five years. Because the past few checks included 2009 earnings, when the global economy bottomed out, they’ve been a lot lower than the amounts paid out in the previous decade.
This year, 640,436 Alaskans are eligible for a PFD. That’s nearly a 7,000-person drop over last year, even though Alaska’s population is growing.
“We’ve looked into a number of different reasons as to why that might be the case, whether it’s because a smaller dividend amount maybe incentivizes people to not apply,” said Rodell. “But the PFD and the Department of Revenue had worked really hard on pursuing the fraud tips that have come in on PFD. So, I think people are on notice that we are going to take the application very seriously and confirm information that is presented. And so people might be thinking twice before they put in a fraudulent application.”
Of the Alaskans getting checks, about 26,000 recipients donated part or all of their dividend to non-profit groups through “Pick.Click.Give.” It was a record year for the program, with 471 organizations splitting $2.5 million in donations.
Alaskans who have been collecting dividends since the program began will now have received $36,343 from the state.
Dividends will be paid out on October 3.
The Alaska Board of Fish has a work session planned for October 9-11 in Girdwood. And although it’s not on the agenda to talk about Kuskokwim Chinook salmon, that’s just what several local groups want the board to do.
The Bering Sea Fisherman’s Association and local tribes want the Board of Fish to take up the Kuskokwim King salmon run out of cycle.
The fisherman’s association submitted an agenda change request out of a conservation concern for the run. In it, the association questions the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the new model they used for this year’s escapement goals.
The new model lowered those goals.
Karen Gillis is the Executive Director of the association.
“It’s really kind of a cart before the horse decision as far as we were concerned,” Gillis says.
Even with the lower escapement goals, the numbers were not met. In fact, escapements were the lowest in history. Biologists were taken by surprise having thought they’d have enough fish for both subsistence and escapement needs.
Gillis says the fisherman’s association wants the Board of Fish to re-evaluate the change.
“And the model that they used hasn’t really been reviewed by anyone outside of the department,” Gillis says. “And we really had worked pretty hard along with the Association of Village Council Presidents to at least have a chance at reviewing the data and the model development itself and that still hasn’t been done.”
The Association of Village Council Presidents represents 56 villages in the region and most villages along the Kuskokwim River.
Some tribes have come forward supporting an agenda change for the Board to take up the issue. Lisa Feyereisen is the Tribal Administrator in Chuathbaluk located on the middle Kuskokwim River.
“There’s no fish,” Feyereisen says. “There’s no fish escaping.”
She says the tribal administration conducted several surveys of residents this summer to check how their subsistence fishing season was going. They found out that it wasn’t going well. Residents were sometimes drifting dozens of times for just a few Kings.
“And so as a voluntary conservation effort, we in Chuathbaluk, we realized there was no Chinook escaping,” Feyereisen says. “We all asked them to voluntarily not fish for Chinook and just put up Reds and Dogs because there just wasn’t any Chinook coming up here.”
Feyereisen and Gillis say this year was not the first poor King run on the Kuskokwim. The 2012 year saw so many restrictions on the lower river that subsistence fishermen harvested salmon out of protest to feed their families. They both stress that the problem isn’t an upriver-downriver one and they don’t want that kind of conflict to come out of this.
Feyereisen says conservation measures need to be implemented before the start of next year’s fishing season so that residents can get used to them. She hopes that the Board of Fish, when it meets next month, will take one step closer to making that happen.
The comment deadline for the board’s work session is Sept. 25. Comments can be submitted at the BOF website.
The fossil of a Thalattosaur discovered near Kake two years ago is a complete specimen, the first to be found in the western hemisphere. Scientists speculate it could be a new species of the prehistoric marine reptile.
The fossil was found along the shores of Keku Island near Kake the summer of 2011. It was excavated in two rock slabs from an outcrop with the hope they would reveal a complete Thalattosaur, a marine reptile that inhabited the seas 210 million years ago. The rocks were stored at the University of Alaska Museum of the North in Fairbanks.
It wasn’t until earlier this year that earth sciences curator Pat Druckenmiller got a fossil preparator to work on them.
“We knew that we had sort of the tail end of the animal and it was going into the rock but we didn’t know how far in it went or if we had all of it. When he came up, we said, ‘Well, let’s just start cleaning in this area where we think roughly the skull might be,’ and bingo, it was right on top of the skull,” Druckenmiller says.
In the next week, fossil preparator J.P. Cavigelli from Wyoming worked to uncover about half of the skull from the tip of the nose to the eye socket.
All under a microscope, Cavigelli used handheld jackhammers and a small hand blaster to do his work.
“It’s fairly tricky because the rock and the bone are almost the same colors. It’s a very subtle change which is why you have to do it all under the microscope. By the time you get the last layer of rock off with the sandblasting outfit, it’s hard to see unless you know what to look for,” explains Cavigelli.
Cavigelli has prepared various fossils but this one is unlike any he’s encountered before.
“I’ve never done anything Triassic. I’ve never done such a complete small animal like that. I should say I’ve done some fishes but fishes – bah – a fish is a fish. This is a reptile, much more exciting,” Cavigelli says.
“It was like an iguana. It basically had the ability more than likely to come in and out of the surf and feed. And it was about three feet in length,” says Tongass National Forest geologist Jim Baichtal, who was part of a group that discovered the Thalattosaur fossil more than two years ago.
“From anything outside of China, this is the only full specimen that exists, which is really exciting for us. It’s a key thing in the evolution of this branch of marine reptile,” Baichtal says.
Baichtal says pieces of fossilized Thalattosaur bones had been discovered in Southeast Alaska before, but never a complete specimen. “The Thalattosaur that we just recently discovered must have floated down quietly to the bottom of the ocean and laid there. It didn’t come tumbling down and disarticulated and break apart.”
Museum of the North curator Druckenmiller says having a complete skeleton this well preserved allows more to be discovered about the Thalattosaur.
“First impressions from what can we see of the parts that we have cleaned suggest that this is unlike any other Thalattosaur that’s known from, say, Europe or China. It’s very likely we may have a new species.”
Baichtal describes further, “All of the thalattosaurs that have been discovered have teeth all the way out to the end of their rostrum or their nose or their jaws, and the one that we have actually has no teeth out to the end at all.”
Druckenmiller says Cavigelli will be back this winter to uncover the rest of the fossil. He hopes there’s evidence of where the skin or body outline used to be.
“The other thing that would be entirely possible on a skeleton this well preserved is actually to preserve stomach contents and to get direct evidence of diet, and for an animal like this that we know really very little about and that has such strange skull and teeth, that would be really, really important information,” says Druckenmiller.
Once the specimen is cleaned up, Druckenmiller will start comparing it to other Thalattosaurs.
If it is indeed a new species, Druckenmiller, Baichtal, and others involved will get to come up with a new name for it. Druckenmiller says the fossil will be displayed at the Museum of the North.
Baichtal hopes a cast of the Thalattosaur will make its way back to Southeast Alaska where residents can enjoy a fossil that came out of rocks from their own backyard.
Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson has paid a $21,000 fine to the EPA for a series of hazardous waste management violations in 2010 and 2011.
According to EPA enforcement and compliance officer Xiangyu Chu, the violations included: failure to conduct weekly inspections of hazardous waste facilities and containers for leakage or deterioration; failure to ensure staff participated in annual hazardous waste management training; and failure to submit a hazardous waste tracking report.
She says JBER’s settlement with the EPA addresses each of those issues:.
“They have agreed to ensure that the weekly inspections are performed and they also provided documentation which certified that their staff are up-to-date on their hazardous waste training, as well as they submitted the hazardous waste tracking report that was missing from the inspection,” Chu said.
The facility cited in the violations generates and stores hazardous waste from vehicles, aircraft and other facility maintenance.
This year’s University of Alaska Anchorage Journalism department’s Atwood chair is a man who has covered Alaska stories in the past. A member of the Shoshone Bannock tribe of Idaho, Mark Trahant is the first Native journalist to hold the position. Trahant has been covering federal budget cuts, the Affordable Care Act and the impact of both on tribes. He says he wants to encourage more native people to become reporters.
Fort Wainwright’s garrison commander is retiring from the Army, after 28 years in uniform. A base spokesperson says Col. Ron Johnson’s decision is not related to a statement he made in July that Army training sparked this summer’s Stuart Creek 2 wild fire near Fairbanks.
Another fishing tender vessel got in trouble in Alaska waters Tuesday, but was towed to safety by the Coast Guard.
The Chignik-based Express reported it had lost power and was adrift 70 miles west of Hoonah.
The 110-foot cutter Anacapa was dispatched to help, and was able to bring the 125-foot vessel in to the Hoonah port.
The 2013 Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend will be $900, according to acting Revenue Commissioner Angela Rodell.
Checks will be distributed Oct. 3.
Southeast Alaska has more residents – and more jobs – than ever.
That’s according to a report released Tuesday during the Southeast Conference’s annual meeting in Sitka.
Meilani Schijvens of Juneau-based Sheinberg Associates assembled the report, called Southeast Alaska by the Numbers.
She says Southeast has finally come back from the 1990s timber-industry crash. It’s also largely recovered from the more recent global economic recession.
“Nearly every single economic indicator in the region is up and continuing to rise,” Schijvens said. “[Southeast] is now in a cycle of growth and is stronger than ever.
The report says the region added 2,800 residents from 2010 to 2012, the period studied. The total population hit almost 75,000, topping the previous record, a little below 74,000, set a decade and a half ago.
Schijvens says Juneau grew the most. Ketchikan, Sitka and Haines attracted many of the other new residents.
“The largest group moving here are the 20-somethings,” Schijvens said. “They move here for jobs in the summer in the visitor industry and they stay because they have no jobs to go to.
She says Southeast’s payroll topped $2 billion for the first time in 2012, a 10 percent increase over two years.
Those wages went to 46,000 people, which is also a record.
“Leading the way were gains in mining, professional and business services, the visitor industry, construction and the Coast Guard,” Schijvens said.
The report projects the tourism, mining and health-care industries will continue to grow in future years. It says the seafood sector will remain about the same. And government and timber will shrink.
We have a link to the full Southeast economic and population study with more numbers and explanations on our website. It’s posted with this report.
The major remaining partner in the proposed Pebble Mine said Monday that so much has already been spent on the project that it could get by with a much smaller budget next year.
Although Northern Dynasty officials say the company will continue to develop plans for the mine in Southwest Alaska, the state’s senators are skeptical.
While Governor Parnell did declare an economic disaster for the communities on St. Lawrence Island due to a record low walrus harvest this spring, no immediate relief is available from state resources for struggling families. Unlike natural disasters, there is no pot of money available to assist in an economic disaster. And because of this, an organization is spearheading a fundraising effort for the two communities.
Two school bond propositions go before Fairbanks borough voters in the Oct. 1 municipal election.
The Municipality of Anchorage has rejected a referendum petition that was aimed at stopping the city from collecting union dues directly from employee paychecks.
The application was rejected for two reasons. One is procedural. The main sponsor modified the application at the counter, after sponsors had signed it, crossing out a section and hand writing something else in. But even if that wouldn’t have happened, Deputy Municipal Attorney Dee Ennis says the application would have been rejected anyway because the method of collection of dues is an administrative issue not a larger policy issue.
“This initiative is about whether or not dues should be collected by payroll deduction,” Ennis said. “That is just too small of a matter to put on a ballot. The larger policy issue here is what’s called the right to work, and that is whether employees have the right to decide for themselves whether or not to join a union or pay dues to get a job.”
“The question for these sponsors is whether they want to change the initiative to get a large policy question on the ballot.”
Michael Chambers is the vice-chair of the Alaska Libertarian Party and a spokesperson for the Anchorage Tea Party. He signed onto the application for the referendum and says the group plans to revise their application.
“If the city is rejecting is only because it is too narrow then I would suggest that we should have some recourse in that regard to find out how broad the measure needs to be,” Chambers said.
The Municipality employs about 3,000 workers. About 2,000 hold union positions and are required to pay union dues.
The Alaska Supreme Court is scheduled to hear an appeal of a Healy area natural gas license. The high court will consider the appeal filed by the Denali Citizens Council on Wednesday, Sept. 18.
It’s the latest volley in a long running dispute between the local group and the state Department of Natural Resources over licensing Usibelli Coal to look for and potentially develop gas in the area around Denali National Park.
A license was first applied for in 2003. A state best interest finding in favor of the license was issued in 2010.
Minnesotan Bob Vollhaber has just accomplished what many Alaskans said wasn’t possible. He paddled a canoe, 5000 in 5 months, alone, through Alaska. He left the Washington coast in March and arrived in West Chester Lagoon in Anchorage on Sunday.
The giant mining company Anglo American has pulled its support for the proposed Pebble Mine but the other company in the partnership pledges to continue moving the project toward permitting and development.
The financial markets reacted to the news that Anglo American had left the Pebble Partnership by driving the price of the sole remaining partner’s stock to an all-time low.
At the close of trading today, Northern Dynasty Minerals was selling for about a $1.50 a share. A year ago it was at $5. At the close of trading last week it was at $2.22.
On an average day, about 173,000 shares of Northern Dynasty are traded. Today it was 4 million.
Northern Dynasty is owned by the Vancouver mining firm Hunter Dickinson, Incorporated, which has a number of mineral projects around the world.
A high school diploma is supposed to be a sign of readiness for the next step, whether that’s getting a job or going to college. But in Alaska, it turns out that most of the high school graduates who enter the state university system aren’t ready for the work. Not only are the latest remediation numbers getting attention from lawmakers seeking education reform — they’re already shaping state policy. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports.
If you’re a recent high school graduate attending the University of Alaska, odds are you’re in the limbo known as “developmental education.” Last fall, a full 52 percent of students were placed in classes that don’t count toward their degrees and are simply meant to catch them up and cover material they should have mastered by the end of 12th grade. If these students were already prepared for undergraduate work, they would be in a much better spot.
“They’re going to typically take at least a year longer to complete their program, so the cost of their education is higher,” says Dana Thomas, the University of Alaska’s vice president of academic affairs. Thomas recently did an analysis of the cost of developmental education.
The financial burden isn’t really on the university. About $2 million is spent getting those kids up to speed, and that’s pretty much covered by tuition. Thomas says it’s mostly hurting the students. On top of paying for extra coursework, they’re losing a year’s salary by not being in the workforce.
“Between those two costs, that’s a substantial amount of money.”
Drilling down into the numbers from the past five years, Thomas found that students who were coming into the university system with their GEDs were the least prepared, with 60 percent of them needing some sort of developmental coursework. On the opposite end were privately home-schooled students. About a third of them had to do remedial work, but Thomas says that percentage is highly variable and based on only a small number of enrolled students.
In the middle were public and private school kids. Fifty-two percent of public school students take developmental education courses, while 47 percent of private school students do.
“[Private schools] do a bit better. Some of that is simply size of operation, I’m sure, and individual personal contact teacher-to-student.”
Sen. Mike Dunleavy has been holding hearings on the cost of education, and he requested the breakdown of which students needed remediation most. He says the public school numbers don’t surprise him, but they’re higher than he’d like.
“If you look at the rates — again, coming from the University and the Department of Education itself — and feedback from businesses and blue collar entities, we still have a ways to go.”
Dunleavy is the former president of the Matanuska Susitna School Board, and he worked as a school superintendent before being elected to the state Senate last year. All the legislation he’s sponsored concerns education, with the most significant item being a constitutional amendment that would allow public money to go to private schools in the form of tax credits or vouchers.
Dunleavy says that while he expects the debate over his amendment to continue next legislative session, he doesn’t anticipate the remediation rates being used in that discussion — even though it’s some of the only hard data that compares public school and private school outcomes in the state.
“There’s both a merit in looking at the numbers in that manner, but there’s also a little bit of a danger.”
Dunleavy adds that he doesn’t think the numbers give a perfect comparison of public schools to private schools. They don’t tell us anything about the students who go out of state for college, or the more than half of Alaska graduates who put off college until later in life or don’t go at all.
On top of that, the public and private school numbers might be dealing with pretty different student populations.
“In the 52 percent that need remediation coming out of the K-12 public schools, we may be including figures that have folks that have special needs. We don’t know if that’s the case with the private schools or the home schools.”
Whether or not the remediation rates factor into lawmakers’ decisions over education funding next session, the numbers are already having an impact on the University of Alaska and the state Department of Education. Officials from both have been in talks about how new state education standards can be tailored to bring those numbers down. The Department has also recently moved to make college preparedness a larger part of its mission.
A man in the village of Tununak has been charged in the shooting death of his 2-year-old son.
Twenty-four-year-old Edward Moses was arrested Friday for first degree murder of Kyle Moses. He was arraigned Saturday and is being held on half a million dollars bail.
Alaska State Troopers first responded to the village early Friday morning after receiving a report that a child had died. They found Moses barricaded in his house and negotiated with him for hours until he surrendered.
According to witnesses in court documents, Edward Moses shot his son, Kyle, late Thursday night. He later admitted to the shooting to troopers and said he did it because he was upset with his wife, the boy’s mother.
Late Thursday night, Moses entered his wife’s house and told everyone to leave the house except for his son and told everyone to leave their cell phones behind. He allegedly racked the shotgun and pointed it at one person he thought wasn’t moving fast enough.
He later allegedly called someone on the phone asking for his wife and said he would kill his child in 15 minutes if he didn’t talk to her. He called back and the person heard a gunshot over the phone.
Moses has a preliminary hearing scheduled for Sept. 24 at the Bethel Court House.
Tununak is located on Nelson Island on the Bering Sea coast. There are about 325 residents there.