Alaska News

Winds Whipping Up Dust, Gravel in the Mat-Su

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-02-07 19:07

Schools stayed open in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough on Friday, despite high winds raking the area late Thursday night and were expected to continue through Friday afternoon.

A low pressure center moving into the Northern Gulf of Alaska, in combination with a high pressure area over the Interior, caused the winds. Palmer, Wasilla, Chickaloon and Sutton were affected by the winds, which reached 60 mph with gusts of up to 80 mph.

Casey Cook, the Mat- Su Borough’s emergency services director, said the wind was blowing up gravel from the roadways, and was kicking up a lot of dust. Schools were open, but other facilities were not

Cook said intermittent power outages were caused by the wind damage and that there was at least one injury blamed on the wind event.

Matanuska Electric Association reported that about 3,500 people were affected by power outages Thursday night and Friday morning, according to company spokeswoman Julie Estey.

Crews worked between Willow and Talkeetna to take down lines that needed repair. Additional crews had been called to help restore power to 500 MEA customers still without electricity noon on Friday.

An air quality advisory was in effect throughout the Mat-Su Borough,  because of the dry air and the lack of snowfall in the area. The wind was kicking up dust and silt, and children, the elderly and persons with existing lung or heart disease were encouraged to stay indoors for the duration of the windy period.

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Categories: Alaska News

Parnell Warns Ketchikan of Lawsuit Repercussions

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-02-07 19:06

In a visit to Ketchikan Thursday, Governor Sean Parnell said there could be “unintended consequences” to the Ketchikan Gateway Borough’s lawsuit against the state. Photo by KRBD.

Governor Sean Parnell is warning that Ketchikan’s lawsuit against the state over school funding might make him and lawmakers reluctant to fund Ketchikan projects.

In a visit to the community Thursday, Parnell discussed the Ketchikan Gateway Borough’s lawsuit, which argues that municipalities in Alaska should not have to pay a local contribution for public education. If the suit is successful, it could hold the state accountable for hundreds of millions more in education spending and Parnell predicted potential repercussions.

Parnell confirmed some people’s worries here in Ketchikan. He said the lawsuit filed in January could jade his and other lawmakers perspective toward Ketchikan funding.

“When Ketchikan asks for money but yet the state might be on the hook in the lawsuit for more money, there’s kind of a reluctance or a reticence to step forward for other projects.,” Parnell said.

Parnell said he understands the frustration behind the lawsuit. But he thinks a local contribution for education is a good thing.

“I actually think a local contribution is important, I think it helps keep people connected to the school district and helps really make people interested and invested in the school district and the system that is here for our kids.”

- Emily Files – KRBD, Ketchikan

 

Categories: Alaska News

Parnell’s Ketchikan Comments Draw Response

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-02-07 19:05

Governor Sean Parnell’s candid comments regarding Ketchikan’s lawsuit against the state over school funding drew some response. Sen. Bert Stedman, a Republican from Sitka, listened to the interview and said he believes it’s the right of every citizen to petition the government.

Stedman added he didn’t believe there will be any backlash against Ketchikan in the Legislature. He said a House bill submitted by North Pole Republican Tammie Wilson would do what the Ketchikan lawsuit is asking for, and he doesn’t believe North Pole will be discriminated against, either.

Ketchikan Assembly Member Agnes Moran, speaking for herself, said it would be unfortunate if there were repercussions. She said the lawsuit is the borough’s legal right, and Ketchikan isn’t the first municipality to sue the state.

Moran noted that the point of the lawsuit is not to avoid paying for schools, it’s to find a solution that’s fair to everyone. She said she was surprised to hear Parnell’s comments.

Moran said that if the community wasn’t obligated to pay a certain amount for local schools, Ketchikan wouldn’t need as much help with capital projects.

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Categories: Alaska News

Fairbanks School District Planning for Funding Shortfall

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-02-07 19:04

The Fairbanks North Star Borough School District Fairbanks district is planning for a major funding shortfall. The district is anticipating cuts even if requested state and local funding increases come through.

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Categories: Alaska News

Partnership To Combat Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-02-07 19:03

A new public health campaign to eradicate fetal alcohol syndrome is in the works.

For nearly a year, a group made up of lawmakers, mental health advocates, and Native leaders have been working on a strategy to bring down the number of babies born with the disorder. The syndrome can cause birth defects, nervous system damage, and psychological problems.

The public-private partnership is called “Empowering Hope,” and on Friday, Sen. Pete Kelly called on his fellow lawmakers to support the initiative.

“As we’ve seen with seatbelts, smoking, drunk driving – so many things – that the hearts and minds of Americans and Alaskans can be changed if we focus, and if we identify a problem and we agree as a people that this problem needs to be dealt with.”

One of the key ideas the group has for preventing the syndrome is identifying “natural responders” in the community who can assist pregnant woman who might be likely to consume alcohol. The group also wants to help women identify their pregnancies as early as possible, as a way of stopping drinking early.

About two out of everyone hundred children born in Alaska are believed to have fetal alcohol syndrome, according the state Division of Public Health. Kelly says that many of the state’s social ills like suicide, domestic violence, and substance abuse are associated with that high rate of fetal alcohol syndrome. In his speech on the Senate floor, Kelly said that each case of the syndrome costs the state millions of dollars in care and treatment. The Fairbanks Republican says the number is even higher when you factor incarceration costs for people with the syndrome who then go on to commit crimes.

“If we took a woman who we knew was going to give birth to a fetal alcohol syndrome child, and we flew them first class to Aruba and gave them a seaside five-star hotel, gave them 24-hour care and lavished them with luxuries, then flew them back and gave them a car as a prize — if we did that, we would be so far ahead in this state financially,” says Kelly.

Kelly filed two resolutions in support of the initiative, but has not asked for state funding for the project as of this time.

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Categories: Alaska News

Hydroelectric Project Focus of Energy Hearing

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-02-07 19:02

The Alaska House Energy Committee heard testimony this week from the Alaska Energy Authority. While the meeting was not initially intended to focus on the Susitna-Watana Hydroelectric Project, a multitude of questions from legislators, as well as the presence of members of the Susitna River Coalition, prompted a shift that saw about half the meeting center around the proposed dam.

The first half of Wednesday’s Alaska House Energy Committee meeting was largely a combination of updates on AEA’s various projects as well as an information session for representatives trying to learn more about how the organization operates.

About half way through, however, questions and discussion shifted heavily toward one project in particular, the proposed multi-billion dollar hydroelectric project which would be built on the Susitna River.

In response to a question from Rep. Shelley Hughes (R-Wasilla), AEA Executive Director Sara Fisher-Goad said that the land-access issues that led Gov. Sean Parnell to cut more than 90 percent of the project’s budget may be resolved soon.

“We are targeted to receive permit approval or land access approval this month, sometime,” Fisher-Goad said. “The issue is open to be able to revisit the budget issue with respect to where we’re at to be able to complete the studies.”

Wayne Dyok, Project Manager for Susitna-Watana, was asked by Rep. Andy Josephson (D-Anchorage) about the safety of the ongoing field work, specifically concerning the death of bulldozer operator Donald Kiehl last May. Dyok said he believes that the layers of separation between AEA and Donald Kiehl’s company mean that the accident is not a reflection on what he described as a safe and successful field season.

“To me, it was like a supplier to a Hilton providing information,” Dyok said. “These days, what we’ve tried to do–I mean, anything where someone gets hurt is unacceptable–so we actually, after that, implemented safety procedures for even our consultants, our subcontractors, making sure they had safety plans all the way down.”

Both Fisher-Goad and Dyok expressed belief that the Susitna-Watana Project and gas-line projects are not in competition for energy, but are actually compatible, with the proposed dam providing energy, freeing natural gas to be used as a heating resource.

In a time when the governor is very clear about the state needing to “tighten its belt,” however, there are only so many dollars to spread around. At a press conference later in the day, the governor was noncommittal regarding whether he would recommend funding be restored to the Susitna-Watana Project if AEA is able to secure land access agreements this month.

“Once we’re to that point, I can make a determination of what is necessary to ask the legislature for’” he said. “Until that time, I don’t have a basis to go ask legislators for more money.”

Whether or not the governor recommends funding the $110 million that AEA says is needed to complete the dam’s pre-licensing process, there is indication that tight purse strings could stop legislators from signing off on the increase.

Senators Pete Kelley (R-Fairbanks) and Mike Dunleavy (R-Wasilla) have both said that there may simply not be room to start adding zeroes to the project’s budget for this year.

Currently, the budget constraints have led AEA to delay the overall timeline for the dam by one year. If the current schedule holds, they plan to apply for a license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission near the end of 2016.

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Categories: Alaska News

Arctic Port Project Delayed Indeterminably

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-02-07 19:01

The release of the Arctic Deep Draft Port feasibility study has been put on hold, indeterminably. The Alaska U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had said the study would be issued for public review the first week of March.

However, in a recent Joint Transportation Committee meeting, Lorraine Cordova, Project Technical Lead, said the entire port project is being pushed back a “few months.”

The delay stems from port options multiplying rather than diminishing. The corps began with eight possible port configurations. That number has jumped to 23 possible configurations. The increase derives, Cordova said, from D.C. corps headquarters asking for more information and iterations on the sites rather than narrowing options.

These sites include Nome, Port Spencer, and Cape Riley. The port would be built as a combination plan at two or even three of these locations. However, the most likely result, Cordova said, will include Nome and Point Spencer.

“It looks like there is going to be a combination plan of Nome and Point Spencer that will probably bubble up to the top,” Cordova said.

Cordova said, the corps will select the port design with the greatest national net benefit. Nome and Point Spencer’s infrastructure, naturally deep water, and proximity to mining deposits elevate them as best options. In lieu of a feasibility report, the Alaska corps will release a “tentatively selected plan” for the port in early March.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Yukon Quest: Race Stories Abound

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-02-07 19:00

Despite the effort of trailbreakers, Mother Nature has thrown plenty at mushers during the race. Almost every team has arrived with a story about a mishap on the trail.

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Categories: Alaska News

Shishaldin Volcano Emits Ash Cloud; Scientists Keeping Watch

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-02-07 15:01

An AVO webcam shows Shishaldin Volcano steaming on Jan. 28,
2014. Photo by Janet Schaefer, AVO/USGS

Scientists at the Alaska Volcano Observatory are going to be keeping a close eye on Shishaldin Volcano over the weekend.

The volcano emitted a small ash cloud that was identified early Friday morning. AVO geologist Chris Waythomas said the cloud drifted south of the volcano and dissipated.

“However, Shishaldin is a very frequently active volcano, and this could mean that we’re heading into an eruptive period,” Waythomas said. “But it may not necessarily, but it wouldn’t surprise us if the volcano started getting more — more active.”

Shishaldin was upgraded to a yellow alert level last week after abnormal behavior began. Waythomas said this ash cloud seems to have come from a combination of magma close to the surface, and increased steaming and temperatures in the crater.

Waythomas said some of the seismic monitoring stations that track Shishaldin are still out of order. He said they are relying on two functioning stations to look for earthquakes inside the volcano and other changes that could foretell an eruption.

“It can be explosive, and it could put ash clouds up to flight levels,” he said. “That would not be unusual for this volcano to do that.”

Shishaldin’s eruption in 1999 sent ash plumes as high as 45,000 feet above sealevel. It last erupted in 2004, and the last time it showed unrest like this current period was in 2009.

Shishaldin is the highest peak in the Aleutians. It’s also the world’s most symmetrical glacier-covered, conical volcano.

Waythomas said the two other yellow-alert volcanoes in the Aleutians –Cleveland and Veniaminoff — are mostly quiet right now.

Categories: Alaska News

Y-K Delta Regional Committee to Develop Strategic Plan

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-02-07 10:45

The Y-K Delta Regional Committee has selected a small steering committee and charged them with drafting strategic plan for the YK-Delta. The 16-person panel is tasked with coming up with a strategic plan by the end of the year.

Robert Beans will be a co-chair of that steering committee.

“We need to develop a region-wide strategic plan that’s very comprehensive in that it takes up subsistence, economics, governance issues, and bring this to the region, work with an emphasis on bringing up the young people, our young generation,” Beans said. “Because they’re going to be taking over.”

Beans said the scope of the plan is still up in the air –there are no hard goals, timelines, or benchmarks at this point. On the committee, there are seats for each of Calista’s 11 administrative units, plus three non-profits and Calista leadership.

Elias Kelly is a member of the Pilot Station Traditional Council and the steering committee.

“Now the next step is what’s next, and that’s where this steering committee that they’ve created will be able to address that, what’s the next steps. They can hopefully come back and give us some sort of guidance, what to address,” Kelly said.

Kelly said the meeting has allowed for the sharing of common challenges, ideas, and ways to creatively solve problems.

“For me coming to an open meeting this this, it’s like I’m information-rich for what I can bring back to my community. For what can we use to help our community develop economically and especially how we can address our social issues,” Kelly said.

The meeting wrapped up Thursday afternoon after a hard look at ANCSA and tribal governance issues. After two days and an evening, the long-awaited committee finished its first order of business to make the steering group. Robert Beans says the meeting set a solid foundation for the group’s work going forward.

“In all the years the years I’ve been involved efforts with the politics within the region, I’ve never seen an effort like this before,” Beans said. “Never.”

The first ever-regional committee meeting featured over 130 attendees from all around the Y-K Delta.

Categories: Alaska News

AK: Connecting

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-02-07 10:00

Rural Alaska communities are not known for having good internet connections, cell phone reception or, really, many good ways of connecting to people and programs outside their area. But rural public libraries do now have those types of connections, thanks to a program through the Alaska State Library that connects libraries all over the state – and country – for a variety of programs and purposes.

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William Shakespeare probably didn’t have this mind when he imagined his plays being performed.

On a cold and dreary evening in Southeast Alaska, library patrons gather to read Shakespeare’s Hamlet. *The catch? They aren’t in the same room:*

“The news is brought that Hamlet has returned to Denmark….

If it sounds like Craig Librarian Amy Marshal is on a Skype-like connection, that’s because she is. Marshall was physically in Craig, but joined online by people at the Haines and Kenai libraries using the Online With Libraries program, called OWL for short.

Owl connects more than 100 public libraries in Alaska and is used for a variety of programs. People from Nome to St. Paul and Ketchikan can join a clean energy presentation being hosted in Fairbanks. A seminar at the Smithsonian can be simultaneous beamed to any library that wants to join.

The recent Shakespeare series was a little different. This event epitomized the program by taking full advantage of the interactivity OWL offers, allowing library patrons across the state to be online and interactive together. Haines library aide Jedediah Blum-Evitts helped coordinate the Haines group for the Reader’s Theater.

“It’s super interactive. Usually we’ve been doing some sort of presentation where so-and-so teaches everybody else, but this is like, ‘OK we’re going start and everybody’s going to be talking and we’re going to go back and forth,” Blum-Evitts said. “It’s just super fun, it’s like playing games with each other and reach out community to community.”

Using OWL for a reader’s theater event is sort of like Skype-ing with participants in Craig and Kenai, except without that occasional annoying delay or garbled speech you can get with a less than ideal internet connection in many parts of rural Alaska. That’s because the OWL program uses its own internet connection, as Haines library director Patty Brown explains.

“Basically, what people are looking at is a very large TV screen,” Brown said. “But that is connected by one line to the internet so we have uninterrupted speed so we can connect to libraries anywhere actually.”

During the reading of Hamlet, and the next week, A Winter’s Tale, the participants from Craig and Kenai were projected on the 60 inch screen in Haines. Blum-Evitts put the script on another nearby screen and moved the camera around so the other libraries could see all the Haines participants. And the dramatic – or comedic – interpretation of Shakespeare’s prose came across clear.

While the reader’s theater is one of the more interactive uses of OWL, Brown says the Haines Library has taken part in several programs, like an Anchorage Symphony orchestra program. And other libraries have joined to take part in annual Culture Days at the Haines Library. Once, Brown said, the Homer Library wanted to host a talk with Haines author Heather Lende. Instead of trying to get Lende to travel by ferry and plane all the way to Homer – usually a two or three day trip– she drove five minutes from her Haines home, sat in front of the OWL camera and screen and had an interactive chat with patrons in Homer.

Funding for the OWL program comes from the U.S. State Department, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Rasmuson Foundation and the Alaska State Library. The dedicated internet connection is provided through a statewide network just for the libraries, which makes it more affordable.

Brown says the program has limitless possibilities for what it can offer patrons and residents now.

“We are able to offer things that we absolutely did not have the resources before,” Brown said. “To me it’s just exciting and the more people realize we have the equipment, I just hope it gets used more and more.”

As for the reader’s theater, OWL provided a connection for small town Shakespeare lovers that helped ward off the winter blues.

Categories: Alaska News

Postal Service Agrees to Rate Rollback for Rural Alaska

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-02-06 19:14

The U.S. Postal Service has agreed to rollback its parcel post rate hike for shipments to rural Alaska, according to Senator Mark Begich. In a Senate committee hearing today he added an amendment to a postal reform bill to undo the increase imposed last week for in-state mail to communities not linked by road. But he said he secured a separate commitment from the postmaster general to lower rates immediately, or as soon as the post office can change its machines.

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At the hearing on Thursday, Begich said the increase had unintended consequences for Alaska.

Rural Alaskans rely on parcel post to receive all kinds of goods and merchandise. Begich said Alaskans have been complaining to him that new rates had them paying as much as 50 percent more for delivery.

For large freight deliveries, rural Alaskans benefit from Bypass Mail, an Alaska-only subsidy that costs the Postal Service more than $70 million a year. Nothing in the Postal Reform bill that cleared the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee on Thursday would change that program.

Still, Begich is claiming credit for saving it. Begich told reporters he has been able to persuade budget hawks like Republican Senators Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, and John McCain of Arizona, who two years ago tried to kill it.

A spokesman for Senator John McCain said the Arizona senator still doesn’t support Bypass Mail. Begich warned the program may face stiff opposition in the House.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: February 6, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-02-06 19:11

Individual news stories are posted on the APRN news page. You can subscribe to APRN’s newsfeeds via emailpodcast and RSS. Follow us on Facebook at alaskapublic.org and on Twitter @aprn.

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Postal Service Agrees to Rate Rollback for Rural Alaska
Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, DC

The U.S. Postal Service has agreed to rollback its parcel post rate hike for shipments to rural Alaska, according to Senator Mark Begich. In a Senate committee hearing today he added an amendment to a postal reform bill to undo the increase imposed last week for in-state mail to communities not linked by road. But he said he secured a separate commitment from the postmaster general to lower rates immediately, or as soon as the post office can change its machines.

Parnell: Don’t Blame State for Refinery Shutdown

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Governor Sean Parnell said the state is not to blame for Flint hills decision to close its North Pole refinery. Costs related to the cleanup of sulfolane groundwater contamination, from historic spills of the industrial solvent at the refinery, are indentified by Flint Hills as a factor that went into the decision to stop production. The state recently set a strict sulfolane contamination threshold for ground water cleanup. Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Parnell downplayed the significance of state regulation in the refinery’s shutdown.

Democrats Want PFD Guarantee Put In Constitution

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

A group of Democratic lawmakers is pushing an amendment that enshrine the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend in the state Constitution. Rep. Les Gara of Anchorage is carrying the legislation for his caucus, and he presented it to the House State Affairs Committee on Thursday. He said that because the state is looking at budget deficits for the foreseeable future, it’s important to lock in the dividend as a right.

Goodwill Job Center Opens, Thrift Store Planned

Daysha Eaton, KSKA – Anchorage

Goodwill industries is opening a job center in downtown Anchorage today (Thursday). The non-profit center aims to help those with barriers to employment overcome them. At the corner of C and 6th in downtown Anchorage Lauren Stuart points to a big white board on the wall near a row of computers.

NBC Affiliate to Air Olympics in Rural Alaska
The Associated Press

An NBC affiliate says it has reached an agreement with Alaska’s largest telecommunications company that will return its programming to rural communities just in time for the Winter Olympics. Anchorage station KTUU says its rural programming was resuming on Thursday after it reached a multiyear contract with General Communication Inc.

Alaskans Among Medal Hopefuls in Sochi
Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

The winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia began today with qualifying rounds in some sports. Seven athletes competing in the games call Alaska home or have roots in the state. The most talked about are the cross country skiers from Alaska Pacific University, Kikkan Randall, Holly Brooks, Sadie Bjornsen and her brother Erik. The winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia began Thursday with qualifying rounds in some sports. Randall is expected to compete for a gold medal.

Managers Give Updates on Cleanup Projects
Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

The annual Alaska Forum on the Environment is underway at the Dena’ina Convention center in Anchorage. On Thursday, federal project managers gave updates on cleanup projects across the state within national parks, on Federal Aviation property and at defense sites. The Defense Department has 537 formerly used defense sites or FUDS. Of those 70, remain active for cleanup.

VPSOs Face Recruiting Challenges, Turnover
Zachariah Hughes, KNOM – Nome

The senate subcommittee on public safety got on update earlier this week on the overall status of the Village Public Safety Officer program. Captain Steve Arlow oversees the program. He presented senators with information on recruitment problems, annual turnover rates above 30%, and initiatives to foster healthy relationships between VPSOs and the communities they serve. Arlow said turnover is highest in communities with the most crime.

Hooper Bay to Pay Nearly $1 Million for Death in Jail
Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

A Bethel jury has ordered that the city of Hooper Bay pay close to $1 million to the family of a man that died at the Hooper Bay jail.

Sudanese Violence Hits Home for Unalaska Resident
Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska

A civil war being fought on the other side of the world has hit home for one Unalaska resident. Mayak Bilkuei is from South Sudan, where ethnic and political violence have claimed up to 10,000 lives — including some of his own family.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Democrats Want PFD Guarantee Put In Constitution

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-02-06 19:10

A group of Democratic lawmakers is pushing an amendment to enshrine the Permanent Fund dividend in the Alaska Constitution.

Rep. Les Gara of Anchorage is carrying the legislation for his caucus, and he presented it to the House State Affairs Committee on Thursday. He says because the state is looking at budget deficits for the foreseeable future, it’s important to lock in the dividend as a right.

“As fiscal pressures start mounting in the state, there are some – and it’s happened in the past – who the first place they’re going to go is to the Permanent Fund dividend,” says Gara.

Gara also frames it as an issue of income equality.

“We’ve had the least differential growth between rich and poor in the state of any other state in the country because of the Permanent Fund dividend,” says Gara.

While all but one member of the House’s Democratic minority has signed off on the amendment, members of the Republican majority are a little cool on it.

Rep. Alan Austerman of Kodiak says that while he’s willing to entertain the amendment, he believes it could end up putting the Legislature in a difficult financial position.

“The Permanent Fund and the dividend program itself were to look at future needs of the State of Alaska. Not necessarily the future needs of each individual, but the future of the state,” says Austerman.

House Speaker Mike Chenault says if the Legislature were prohibited from tapping the Permanent Fund, they would just have to find other ways to collect revenue should the state run out of savings.

“When we talk about that type of long-term planning, it means one thing: taxes,” says Chenault.

He says the most likely forms would be an income tax or state sales tax.

As of this year, state savings were valued at $17 billion. The State’s Legislative Finance Division projects that reserves may last until fiscal year 2024 if state agencies are kept at zero growth.

The Alaska Permanent Fund is worth nearly $50 billion.

The amendment needs the approval from two-thirds of the Legislature to advance, and minority Democrats make up just one quarter of the body. If it passes, it would then go on the ballot for voters to decide.

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Categories: Alaska News

Parnell: Don’t Blame State for Refinery Shutdown

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-02-06 19:09

Governor Sean Parnell said the state is not to blame for Flint Hills decision to close its North Pole refinery. Costs related to the cleanup of sulfolane  groundwater contamination, from historic spills of the industrial solvent at the refinery, are identified by Flint Hills as a factor that went into the decision to stop production. The state recently set a strict sulfolane contamination threshold for ground water cleanup, but speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Parnell downplayed the significance of state regulation in the refinery’s shutdown.

Parnell likened the Flint Hills decision to shut down the refinery to Agrium’s 2007 closure of it’s fertilizer plant on the Kenai, attributing both on decreased oil and gas production that resulted in increasingly expensive feed stock and operating costs. Parnell said he is focused on finding opportunities for refinery employees who will lose their jobs because the closure scheduled for this spring.

The shutdown of the refinery will take away a ready source of heat for crude oil shipped down the Trans Alaska Pipeline. Portions of oil unused by Flint Hills to produce fuel are returned to the mainline, and Alyeska Pipeline Service Company spokewoman Michelle Egan said the heat added at the refinery has become increasing important to ensure oil keeps flowing during the winter.

Egan said Alyeska pays Flint Hills for the heat, and will spend the money on alternative methods to keep crude flowing safely.

Adjustments to pipeline interface infrastructure at North Pole may be required when he Flint Hills refinery stops taking crude oil, Egan said.

 

Categories: Alaska News

NBC Affiliate to Air Olympics in Rural Alaska

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-02-06 19:05

An NBC affiliate says it has reached an agreement with Alaska’s largest telecommunications company that will return its programming to rural communities just in time for the Winter Olympics. Anchorage station KTUU says its rural programming was resuming on Thursday after it reached a multiyear contract with General Communication Inc.

GCI dropped KTUU from its rural broadcasts in November following a breakdown in contract negotiations.

KTUU announced the contract agreement in a statement on Thursday. It said KTUU and GCI had earlier agreed on rates, but disagreed on “final contract language”

KTUU was among companies that unsuccessfully challenged GCI’s purchase of three television stations in Anchorage, Juneau and Sitka.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaskans Among Medal Hopefuls in Sochi

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-02-06 19:04

APU’s Kikkan Randall is one of the gold medal favorites in Sochi.

The winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia began today with qualifying rounds in some sports. Six athletes competing in the games call Alaska home or have roots in the state. The most talked about are the cross country skiers from Alaska Pacific University, Kikkan Randall, Holly Brooks, Sadie Bjornsen and her brother Erik. The winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia began Thursday with qualifying rounds in some sports. Randall is expected to compete for a gold medal.

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Categories: Alaska News

Managers Give Updates on DOD Cleanup Projects

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-02-06 19:02

The annual Alaska Forum on the Environment is underway at the Dena’ina Convention center in Anchorage. On Thursday, federal project managers gave updates on cleanup projects across the state within national parks, on Federal Aviation property and at defense sites. The Defense Department has 537 formerly used defense sites or FUDS. Of those 70, remain active for cleanup. Ken Andrascko is the Alaska region Army Corp of Engineers chief of the FUDS program here.

He said two sites in Alaska are currently getting the most funding. The Northeast Cape on St. Lawrence Island and the Umiat area near the Colville river in the National Petroleum reserve. He said this year’s ongoing PCB cleanup on test well No. 9 at Umiat is getting underway.

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US Army Corps of Engineers – Alaska District

Formerly Used Defense Sites

 

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

Hooper Bay to Pay Nearly $1 Million for Death in Jail

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-02-06 19:01

A Bethel jury has ordered that the city of Hooper Bay pay close a $1 million to the family of a man that died at the Hooper Bay jail.

The jury found that the City of Hooper Bay was negligent in the death of 22-year-old Louis Bunyan. Judge Charles Ray read the next portion of the jury’s verdict, which came in after 8 pm Tuesday.

“Was the defendant, City of Hooper bay’s negligence a significant factor in causing harm to the plaintiffs? Answer yes or no, Answer: yes.”

The judge polled the jury individually after the verdict and found 11 in agreement, and one juror who was not. The jury said that Bunyan was contributing to his family at the time of his death and they awarded some $960,000 to family members.

Louis Bunyan was found dead in his jail cell early in the morning on July 28, 2011. He was brought into the jail cell only 40 minutes before he was found hanged by the drawstring from his shorts.

Bunyan was first taken to jail after a report that he was intoxicated at his home and trying to fight with his family. The family requested that police take him into Title 47 protective custody while intoxicated.

The events early that morning in holding cell number one led Bunyan’s Mother, Judy Bunyan to file a lawsuit against the city of Hooper Bay seeking damages. Her attorney charged that the city has a duty to screen detainees for the potential of suicide, ensure that they have no items to harm themselves, and to regularly monitor their condition. They say police had a database listing three prior calls in which Bunyan threatened suicide.

Interviews with the police officer in the jail that night revealed they were using Facebook and online poker. The plaintiffs charged that officers did not check on Mr. Bunyan at regular intervals. The cell had no lights and had a mesh screen that allowed a string to be fastened. Bunyan then used that string to hang himself.

The city of Hooper Bay’s attorney in a trial brief argued that the police qualify for immunity and that Title 47 care also immunize the police. The attorney says they would only owe a duty of care to prevent suicide if they were on reasonable notice that Bunyan was a suicide risk. They say neither police nor family members indicated that Bunyan was at risk for suicide. The city’s attorney told the Alaska Dispatch that they plan to appeal.

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Categories: Alaska News

Sudanese Violence Hits Home for Unalaska Resident

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-02-06 19:00

Mayak Bilkuei

A civil war being fought on the other side of the world has hit home for one Unalaska resident. Mayak Bilkuei is from South Sudan, where ethnic and political violence have claimed up to 10,000 lives — including some of his own family.

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Categories: Alaska News

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