Alaska News

Admiral Ostebo Discusses Future of Port Clarence

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-01-27 18:19

The U.S. Coast Guard owns Port Clarence, and many entities want a piece of the property, but the Coast Guard intends to hold on to at least some of the real estate.

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As marine traffic escalates through the Bering Strait, the passage is gaining global prominence. And nearby on the Seward Peninsula sits Port Clarence, one of Alaska’s few naturally deep water ports.

The Coast Guard owns the real estate—around 2,500 acres— and was set to divest the property after the site’s LORAN station shutdown in 2010. However, Coast Guard Admiral Thomas Ostebo visited Nome recently and said with the port’s strategic proximity to the Arctic and Bering Strait, the branch is keeping some of the land.

“The Coast Guard would like to retain a portion of that property as a hedge for you all, for the federal government, for the people of the U.S. to have a piece of property that’s right adjacent to what could become the most important international strait north of the Panama Canal,” Ostebo said.

The Coast Guard isn’t the only entity interested in Port Clarence. Ostebo says federal agencies, the state, corporations, and industries all want a piece of the property. One of those parties is the Bering Straits Native Corporation. Matt Ganley, BSNC Vice President of Resources and External Affairs, says the Corporation claimed the land in 1977 under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, and the property is one of the final pieces to the Corporation receiving full entitlement.

Ostebo says the Coast Guard will be divesting an undetermined amount of Port Clarence, but couldn’t provide a timeline. He is encouraging interested parties to negotiate agreements amongst themselves before approaching the Coast Guard with an offer.

“My number one objective is that at the end of the day, everybody wins. And I think there’s an everybody wins solution here with the Coast Guard retaining a piece, the state getting a piece, industry maybe getting a piece, other federal agencies getting a piece,” Ostebo said. “And it’s going to take a while.”

In the mean time, Ostebo says the site is well preserved and in working order.

This summer the Coast Guard will station a patrol boat at the port to monitor Bering Sea waters, respond to offshore incidents, and assist with local vessel boardings.

Categories: Alaska News

PILT: Local Municipal Officials Hope Congress Will Fund Federal-Aid Program

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-01-27 18:18

The Army has 657,000 acres of training ranges around Fort Greely, next door to Delta Junction. Because Delta is not located within a borough, the feds gives PILT funds to the state to distribute.

City and borough government officials here in Alaska are a bit on edge about Congress’s failure to provide funding for the PILT program, which helps local governments with a lot of federal land in their areas. The program is especially critical to smaller communities like Delta Junction.

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Local governments can’t impose property taxes on federal land. So, since the late 1970s, the federal government has been paying counties around the country – or boroughs here in Alaska – to compensate them for revenues that they otherwise could’ve generated through property taxes on that land.

That’s the PILT program – it stands forPayments in Lieu of Taxes. It’s not a big program, by federal standards – it totals about $400 million this fiscal year, of which Alaska would get about $27 million.

But Delta Junction Mayor Pete Hallgren says it’s very important for small communities like his, which gets most of its revenue from PILT.

“We’re looking at somewhere close to two-thirds of our income is from the federal PILT,” Hallgren said. “So you can see that the PILT is extremely important to the city.”

But Delta, which is flanked on the south and west by Fort Greely and Army trainingranges, may not receive the $930,000 or so that it’s slated to get from PILT this year. Because, Congress did not include funding for the program in the big omnibus spending package it passed last week.

That’s worries local government officials around the state, including Denali BoroughMayor Clay Walker. He says his borough will lose about a tenth of its revenues if it doesn’t receive the $300,000 that it was scheduled to get through PILT this year.

“Boy, the idea of 10 percent of your budget just getting whacked with no advance notice or planning is just a tough one to swallow,” Walker said.

Walker says the Denali Borough Assembly passed a resolution earlier this month calling on Congress to fund the program. He says the borough counts on PILT to supplement emergency services and solid-waste disposal. It provides those services to both the borough and facilities in the adjacent 6-million-acre Denali National Park.

The Fairbanks North Star Borough stands to lose only about $400,000 if Congress fails to fund PILT. But Mayor Luke Hopkins says the borough is already making painful budget cuts. And borough officials don’t want to ask borough taxpayers to fill a gap created by the lack of PILT revenue.

“Payment in Lieu of Taxes is certainly an important program,” he said, “And we don’t want to see it expire.”

Hopkins says this isn’t the first time that Congress has been slow in funding PILT. The degree of partisan budget battling of the past few years, however, makes this delay disconcerting.

“But this is – this one is getting down really close to the wire,” he said.

The uncertainty is especially worrisome because local governments must soon begin working in earnest on the next fiscal year’s budget.

U.S. Sen. Mark Begich says he’s optimistic about the chances of Congress restoring funding for PILT, because it appears to have bipartisan support.

“This is not a partisan issue,” Begich said. “This is about fairness, when the federal government has possession of so much acreage within Alaska, they need to pay for some of these services.”

Begich says members of a House-Senate conference committee that’re working on the Farm Bill have resolved almost all of their differences, and will send the bill back to each house soon. He expects the Senate will then act quickly to work out remaining differences and approve the measure when lawmakers return to Washington next week.

“We have and I have advocated to get this up on the floor of the Senate in short order, because I think we’re close enough that we can resolve these issues,” he said.

Begich says the Farm Bill will also, of course, help Alaska’s agricultural industry. And he says there’s funding for water and sewer systems, as well.

Categories: Alaska News

Western Alaska Residents Await Disaster Relief Money

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-01-27 18:17

President Obama has declared November’s storms in Western Alaska a natural disaster.

The storms inflicted heavy damage on Kotlik and Stebbins, and created problems in other Bering Straits communities.

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Jeremy Zidek with the state Department of Homeland Security says the announcement is significant because it means the U.S. government will foot 75 percent of the bill for public repairs.

“Damages to roads, boardwalks, utilities, other public infrastructure, critical facilities – perhaps like a clinic or school that was damaged, so it’s really to help the community to recover,” Zidek said.

The state provides assistance to individuals and households to help re-coop lost property. Those funds have not yet made it to people in Stebbins. Part of the reason is that the state extended the deadline for applying for assistance until last Friday.

Leaders in Stebbins are finalizing a list of funding priorities for public assistance money. that list includes building a new mitigating seawall, plotting a second evacuation route and accelerating air-strip and water system updates.

Categories: Alaska News

Program Could Loosen Water Pollution Regulations

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-01-27 18:16

The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the federal Environmental Protection Agency are joining in a new program that allows water polluters to gain clean water credits without reducing the amount of effluent they produce. The deal is not used in Alaska yet, but it allows a permitted facility to purchase pollutant reduction credits from other users within the same watershed. And clean water advocates in the state say the arrangement is missing the point of the Clean Water Act.

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Categories: Alaska News

Chythlook-Sifsof Left Off Olympic Roster

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-01-27 18:15

A snowboarder with deep ties to the Bristol Bay region will miss out on a return trip to the Olympics.

Girdwood’s Callan Chythlook-Sifsof had hoped to make the U.S. snowboardcross team but when the team was announced on Saturday she was left off.

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Chythlook-Sifsof is now 24-years old and she grew up in Aleknagik and Dillingham before moving with her mother to Girdwood to be closer to the Aleyeska Resort. She was in the running for one of the 3 spots on the women’s snowboardcross team but was edged out by two snowboarders from Vermont and a snowboarder from Utah.

Chythlook-Sifsof was hoping for a return trip to the Olympics. She made the snowboardcross team in 2010 and became the first Alaska Native to compete in the Olympic Winter Games.

Via Facebook, Chythlook-Sifsof issued a statement about missing the Olympics. In that statement she noted that she has been struggling through two consecutive seasons of injury and recovery and she labeled this as one of the toughest seasons yet. She stressed that she’s looking forward to cheering on her teammates in Sochi.

Chythlook-Sifsof suffered a season ending knee injury in February of last year and she battled other injuries this season.

While Chythlook Sifsof will miss the Olympics, she was able to compete in the just-completed X-Games in Aspen. She placed 10 in the women’s snowboardcross competition.

The members of the snowboard cross team that will head to the Olympics were selected based on their World Cut results and Chythlook-Sifsof had finishes of 15th, 19th, 23rd, and 24th.

There are 4 members of the men’s snowboardcross team. Two of the riders are from California, one is from Vermont and the final rider is from Maine.

The head coach of the Olympic Snowboardcross team is Peter Foley who said the U.S. will have a strong team with a mix of seasoned veterans plus some new athletes who are riding very fast.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: January 27, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-01-27 18:11

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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State, Valdez Officials Assess Richardson Highway Avalanches

Tony Gorman, KCHU – Valdez

The Alaska Department of Transportation says highway access to Valdez has been cut off indefinitely by avalanches. The community may not have road access, but progress has been made to provide transportation to its residents.

Hearings Begin For LNG Pipeline

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

It took Governor Sean Parnell three years to get his oil tax overhaul through the Legislature. Now, the goal is to pass a bill setting the terms for a massive natural gas pipeline in 90 days. Hearings on the project started today, and a half dozen more are scheduled for this week alone.

Sullivan, Treadwell Address Variety of Topics At Anchorage Chamber of Commerce

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

Two of the Republican candidates vying for U.S. Senator Mark Begich’s job, presented their records and thoughts on a range of issues for the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce lunch crowd today.

Researchers Explore Polar Vortex

Steve Heimel, APRN – Anchorage

With unseasonably warm weather reaching all the way up into the Brooks Range in Alaska and bitterly cold weather dipping deep into the Lower 48 states, everybody wants to know more about the Polar Vortex – the jet stream that wobbles around the Arctic. Last month in San Francisco a team of scientists with the Byrd Polar Research Center came out with a study that takes one more step toward better understanding that wobble by putting a lot more detail into high-latitude weather records of the past.

Admiral Ostebo Discusses Future of Port Clarence

Anna Rose MacArthur, KNOM – Nome

The U.S. Coast Guard owns Port Clarence, and many entities want a piece of the property. But the Coast Guard intends to hold on to at least some of the real estate.

PILT: Local Municipal Officials Hope Congress Will Fund Federal-Aid Program

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

Local government officials are getting nervous about Congress’s failure to continue funding for a program that helps municipalities with a lot of federal land. Money for the so-called payment in lieu of taxes or PILT program wasn’t included in the trillion-dollar spending bill Congress passed this month. But it is reportedly part of the Farm bill that lawmakers unveiled late today. The program is especially critical for smaller communities like Delta Junction.

Western Alaska Residents Await Disaster Relief Money

Zachariah Hughes, KNOM – Nome

President Obama has declared November’s storms in Western Alaska a natural disaster. The storms inflicted heavy damage on Kotlik and Stebbins, and created problems in other Bering Straits communities.

Program Could Loosen Water Pollution Regulations

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchroage

The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the federal Environmental Protection Agency are joining in a new program that allows water polluters to gain clean water credits without reducing the amount of effluent they produce. The deal is not used in Alaska yet, but it allows a permitted facility to purchase pollutant reduction credits from other users within the same watershed.  And clean water advocates in the state say the arrangement is missing the point of the Clean Water Act.

Chythlook-Sifsof Left Off Olympic Roster

Mike Mason, KDLG – Dillingham

A snowboarder with deep ties to the Bristol Bay region will miss out on a return trip to the Olympics.

Categories: Alaska News

2014 Yukon Quest Set to Start Despite Warm Weather

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-01-27 16:29

Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race Officials are keeping a close eye on the weather and trail conditions as they prepare for the starts of the 1000 mile race this Saturday.

With temperatures well above normal and not much snow in the forecast, there’s been plenty of speculation about trail conditions for the upcoming Yukon Quest.

“There have been absolutely no discussions to cancel or delay the race. Nor are any planned. The race will start on February 1st,” Race Marshal Doug Grilliot said in a statement on the race organization’s website.

Temperatures are forecasted to drop slightly by the end of the week.  Race Manager Alex Olesen says trail breakers are still working on both the Alaska and Canadian sides of the trail.

“It’s soupy, it’s soupy everywhere right now,” Olesen said.  “We’re just hoping it locks up enough with this cold weather coming that it isn’t soaking wet the whole way. But it’s going to be a lot of wet or hard ice.  It will be just trenches through slush.”

Olesen says the trail isn’t the only concern.  The organization is dealing with drop bags filled with perishable meat and food as well. “We had all of our food drops in a conex [trailer].  It actually went well,” he says.  “The warmest they got was 28 degrees and then we put them in a refrigerated unit and set it to 15 below to keep them as cold as we could.”

Officials say the race could be re-routed.  That has happened in the past, most recently last year when a lack of snow and icy conditions kept teams off of American summit outside of Eagle.

Categories: Alaska News

Parnell Proposes Slight Bump To Base Student Allocation

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-01-24 18:49

Gov. Sean Parnell introduced his education package Friday, and inside is a small increase to the school funding formula.
That increase would come through the “base student allocation,” which is the amount of money a school gets for each child enrolled.

For four years, the BSA has sat at $5,680. Parnell’s bill would raise it about one percent a year for three years. For the upcoming academic year, it would be raised to $5,765. The year after that, it would go to $5,823. Finally, during the 2016-2017 academic year, the BSA would be set at $5,881. There isn’t any language that would inflation-proof the formula beyond that point.

In a statement, the National Education Association’s Alaska affiliate said they appreciated the increase, but that they didn’t think at $200 boost over three years went far enough. This year alone, the Anchorage School District requires a $251-increase to the BSA to cover their shortfall. The Fairbanks North Star Borough School District needs $300, while the Juneau School District needs $425.

At current student enrollment levels, the BSA increase would cost $11 million this year. In addition to the BSA increase, Parnell has already included $25 million to offset school energy costs in his budget.

Categories: Alaska News

Avalanches Close Richardson Highway

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-01-24 18:40

The only highway to Valdez has been closed by avalanches. The Anchorage Daily News reports one avalanche nearly struck a truck today on the Richardson Highway.

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he Alaska Department of Transportation says the driver did not have time to stop and struck a snow berm. The driver was not injured.

Valdez police called Alaska State Troopers at 8 a.m. Friday morning to report the highway through Thompson Pass was completely blocked by avalanches,

The Transportation Department says it has closed the highway from Mile 12 to Mile 69.

Crews have been unable to clear the road because of fears of unstable snow. The highway could be closed for 24 hours as crews wait for conditions to improve.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Salmon To Remain On Walmart’s Shelves

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-01-24 18:40

Walmart announced Friday that they will continue to stock salmon products from most of the large seafood processors that operate in Alaska.

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Categories: Alaska News

300 Villages: Hollis

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-01-24 18:40

This week we’re heading to Hollis, a small community on Prince of Wales Island in Southeast Alaska. Bill Sharpes is the fire chief in Hollis on Prince of Wales Island.

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Categories: Alaska News

Educators, Lawmakers Rally Around Repeal of High School Exit Exam

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-01-24 18:30

With school districts working on their budgets and teacher layoffs looming, the potential change in the base student allocation is the most talked about portion of the governor’s education package. But part of the bill that has the most political momentum is a section that would repeal the high school exit exam that students need to graduate.

Separate pieces of the legislation that would do just that have already been introduced in both legislative chamber, and the first hearing of the policy was held Friday morning. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports.

To make sure schools are doing their job of educating students and preparing them for college or the workforce, you need some sort of metric. But what if that metric isn’t actually measuring anything anymore?

On Wednesday, Gov. Sean Parnell said the exit exam every high schooler must pass to get their diploma is “obsolete” and unnecessary given that the state has new standards. Now, lawmakers like Charlie Huggins, a Republican senator from Wasilla, are questioning whether the test ever had any value.

“I don’t think it affected any change,” says Huggins.

That seems to be a popular opinion. A chorus of school board members, superintendents, and parents called in to a Friday hearing of the Senate Education Committee to support Senate Bill 111. They also voiced their complaints over the high school graduation qualifying exam. Among the most frequent : It takes time away from classroom learning; it’s expensive to administer; and it doesn’t really capture how much a student has learned.

The exit exam also has a real “human cost,” as Larry Talley put it. Talley came to the meeting in person to testify about the experience of having a special needs child who couldn’t pass the exam.

“He took the test six times. And five times of course was while he was in school, starting his sophomore year,” says Talley. “Again and again, he failed.”

Talley says his son maintained a 3.25 GPA and was accepted into a college that teaches students with learning disabilities. But he couldn’t attend until he passed the exit exam and got his diploma. That meant putting off college for a year, and getting removed from his parents’ health insurance because he was no longer a full-time student.

“The stress, the humiliation, the pain – it’s very hard to describe, but we went through that,” says Talley. “My family lived that.”

Not all of the testimony hammered the exit exam. Deputy Commissioner Les Morse with the Department of Education said that while the test may now be obsolete, it did have a point when it was first introduced.

“My belief is that for our student who are struggling the most and have been the least successful, maybe the exam brought higher instructional programs to them over time so that they were achieving at least at the basic level before they left.”

Even so, the Department of Education is supportive of retiring the test now.

“So the assessment played a role, but may not need to continue to play that role anymore,” says Morse.

The bills introduced by state legislators don’t offer a replacement for the exit exam. However, the governor has proposed using college placement or job skill assessment tests as a substitute for the exit exam as part of his omnibus education bill. The state would pay for the first test, and there would be no minimum score a student needs to beat to get a diploma.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: January 24, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-01-24 18:06

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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ASD Budget Cutting Process Begins as Legislature Mulls Increasing Education Funding

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau & Daysha Eaton, KSKA – Anchorage

Governor Sean Parnell introduced his education package Friday, and inside is a small increase to the school funding formula.

That increase would come through the “base student allocation,” which is the amount of money a school gets for each child enrolled. For four years, the BSA has been $5,680 dollars. Parnell’s bill would raise it about one percent a year for three years. There isn’t any language that would inflation-proof the formula beyond that point.

And that isn’t enough of an increase to please Anchorage School district officials, who presented the 2014-2015 budget to the Anchorage School Board last night. The district is facing cuts of $23 million this year.

Bill Could Eliminate High School Exit Exam

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

With school districts working on their budgets and teacher layoffs looming, the potential change in the base student allocation is the most talked about portion of the governor’s education package.

The part of the bill that has the most political momentum is a section that would repeal the high school exit exam that students need to graduate. Separate pieces of the legislation that would do just that have already been introduced in both legislative chamber, and the first hearing of the policy was held Friday morning.

Legislation Introduced To Repeal State Funds For U-Med/Northern Access Road

Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage

Two Anchorage Democrats introduced legislation Friday to repeal $20 million dollars in state funds allocated to the planned U-Med/Northern Access Road.

Avalanches Close Richardson Highway

The Associated Press

The only highway to Valdez has been closed by avalanches. The Anchorage Daily News reports one avalanche nearly struck a truck today on the Richardson Highway.

Alaska Salmon To Remain On Walmart’s Shelves

Mike Mason, KDLG – Dillingham

Walmart announced Friday that they will continue to stock salmon products from most of the large seafood processors that operate in Alaska.

Cantwell Urges White House To Stop Alaska Pebble Mine Project, Protect Fishermen

Ed Ronco, KPLU – Seattle

A U.S. senator from the Lower 48 is asking the White House to stop the Pebble Mine. Democrat Maria Cantwell, of Washington, says the proposed mine in Western Alaska threatens fishing jobs in her state.

AK: Spoken Word

David Waldron, APRN – Anchorage

For the fourth consecutive year, the group Brave New Alaskan Voices is assembling a squad of teen spoken word artists to compete in the International Spoken Word & Poetry festival. This year the competition will be held in Philadelphia, but first these Alaskan artists have to face each other for a chance to represent their state.

300 Villages: Hollis

This week we’re heading to Hollis, a small community on Prince of Wales Island in Southeast Alaska. Bill Sharpes is the fire chief in Hollis on Prince of Wales Island.

Categories: Alaska News

Legislation Introduced To Repeal State Funds For U-Med/Northern Access Road

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-01-24 17:44

Two Anchorage Democrats introduced legislation Friday to repeal $20 million in state funds allocated to the planned U-Med/Northern Access Road.

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The road would slice through the center of the congested University district in Anchorage.

Representative Andy Josephson, of Anchorage, says this is the second time he has pushed this issue. The first time was on the day the Legislature adjourned last year.

“And nothing about my feelings or my constituents’ feelings have changed since then,” Josephson said.

Since the money was given out last year, though, some factors regarding the project have changed. One factor is an increased price tag going as high as $42 million. Josephson says the second is the state’s changing strategy for spending money.

“Under the guise, or the theme, of the governor’s is that we should finish what we’ve started,” Josephson said. ”This program, or this project, is essentially not started. It’s in its engineering phase, its development phase, but there is no road yet.”

Josephson says though some of the money has already been spent on planning, he believes most of the appropriated money is still available and could be returned to the state.

The Municipality of Anchorage remains in favor of the project.

In a statement issued by Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan, he says the project is a priority for the city. And he says it would help relieve traffic congestion in the U-Med District.

Sullivan also says the project has been taken through the proper planning processes. Lindsey Whitt, the spokesperson for the City of Anchorage, read the statement on behalf of Mayor Sullivan.

“The Department of Transportation with DOWL engineers went through the very public process, holding meetings with the community councils, public hearings, and received public comment,” Whitt said. “The project is supported by the university and the hospitals in the area. The project will greatly improve the safety for both motorists and pedestrians.”

Representative Josephson says all five of the community councils in the area unanimously oppose the road.

Senator Berta Gardner, of Anchorage, filed similar legislation in the Senate.

Categories: Alaska News

Cantwell Urges White House To Stop Alaska Pebble Mine Project, Protect Fishermen

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-01-24 14:09

People pray at Fisherman’s Terminal in Seattle, before the start of a rally opposing a mining project in western Alaska. Fishermen in Washington say the project threatens salmon in Bristol Bay, where about 1,000 Washingtonians have permits to fish. Photo by Ed Ronco, KPLU – Seattle.

A U.S. senator from the Lower 48 is asking the White House to stop the Pebble Mine. Democrat Maria Cantwell, of Washington, says the proposed mine in Western Alaska threatens fishing jobs in her state.

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Fishermen’s Terminal in Seattle feels less like a slice of this big city and more like a coastal community in Alaska. Fishing boats are moored to floating docks. They ask what you’re up to in the nearby restaurants – and actually wait for you to answer. And around here, you’re more likely to see someone in Grundens than Gucci. But the connections between Washington and the 49th state run much deeper.

“Well, I’ve been fishing in Bristol Bay for the last few years,” Billie Delaney, from Port Townsend, north of Seattle, said.

And she’s among some 1,000 Washington residents who earn at least part of their living in Bristol Bay. Today, she’s part of a rally at Fishermen’s Terminal. A couple hundred people have turned out to oppose the Pebble Mine – a proposed project that would sit not far from the bay and its productive salmon habitat.

“The commercial fishery there is a renewable resource we’ll have forever if we manage it correctly,” Delaney said. “The mine would last about 80 years and completely destroy the culture and economy of that area.”

Senator Maria Cantwell agrees. On a stage in front of the crowd, the Washington Democrat calls the Pebble Mine a, quote, “giant cauldron of toxic waste.”

“I say that because the science shows this material would take hundreds of thousands of years to get rid of if it reached the watershed,” Cantwell said. “One mistake and that cauldron starts to seep into our water, into the fish, killing these important jobs.”

An EPA assessment says the mine would pose a danger to salmon and destroy miles of spawning grounds. Cantwell sent a letter to the White House asking President Obama to follow up on that EPA report, and use his authority to stop the project.

“Senator Cantwell’s request is unprecedented in the history of the EPA for a major resource project before it’s even had an opportunity to file for permits,” Mike Heatwole, spokesman for the Pebble Partnership, which wants to build the mine, said.

He says the project isn’t being given due process, and that it hasn’t even filed for permits yet. As for that damning EPA report?

“The EPA’s document is not conclusive science, but rather a political report intended to harm our project’s ability to apply for permits and frankly receive an objective review under the laws of our country,” he said.

Heatwole says the permitting process will be rigorous, and that the mine will have to comply with thick volumes of regulation to operate. He also says Pebble would be an important economic booster in a part of Alaska where the work is sorely needed. He says the fishing industry isn’t enough.

“Not to cast aspersion to the industry – it is an important economic engine – but if it was a healthy economic engine it would provide greater economic opportunities,” Heatwole said. “Our premise is that we want to have a project that co-exists with that fishery so that we can provide year-round job opportunities where right now there are simply none.”

Robert Masonis, the vice president for western conservation at Trout Unlimited, a nonprofit that opposes the mine, disagrees.

“That’s a very limited view of the economic benefits of the Bristol Bay fishery,” he said.

Masonis says year-round jobs are supported by the fishery, both in commercial fishing and sport fishing. He looks around at the 200 or so people who have gathered at the rally.

“It makes me hopeful,” Masonis said. “I think a lot of people are realizing just how special this place is, and how fragile it is. I think what we’re seeing is an outpouring of public support for the Obama administration to do the right thing and protect this area.”

Cantwell says the EPA’s report is new enough that it’s not surprising the Obama administration hasn’t acted. She’s hoping the people at this rally, and the letters she and others will send, change that.

Categories: Alaska News

Are Alaska’s Legislative Districts Getting Too Big?

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-01-24 13:30

The final 2010 redistricting map for Southeast Alaska.

The chairman of the Alaska Redistricting Board says state residents need to have a conversation about the growing number of people who live in each legislative district.

In 2010, when the current Redistricting Board started working on new political boundaries, Alaska’s population was about 714,000. Divided by 40 House districts, that’s nearly 18,000 people for each member of the Alaska House of Representatives and about 35,500 for each member of the Senate.

Board Chair John Torgerson says the state’s population is expected to grow to at least 820,000 within the decade – even more if some industry or project, such as a major natural gas pipeline, brings people to the state.

“The districts are going to go from over 17,000 to over 20,000 in 2020,” said Torgerson.

His estimate is backed by the Alaska Department of Labor, which projects the state population could be nearly a million people by 2030.

In 2010, voters rejected a proposed constitutional amendment that would have added six seats to the Alaska Legislature – four new House members and two new Senators – reducing the size of legislative districts.

“The question is certainly not mine to answer as to whether or not we should add more folks to the legislature, look at a unicameral legislature, make everybody Senators,” Torgerson said. “So you’d have 60 people, you would take that mass, divide it by 60, whatever it is. But we need to have that conversation.”

Last month, a Fairbanks Superior Court judge approved the Redistricting Board’s final plan, which was developed over three years and numerous court challenges. The only thing left to determine is whether the board or the plaintiffs in the case are the prevailing party for purposes of winning legal fees.

“The good news is it’s done,” said Torgerson.

Petersburg challenged the temporary redistricting plan used in 2012, which put the community with downtown Juneau and Douglas Island. Mayor Mark Jensen says the borough is satisfied with the final map, which pairs it with Sitka, Prince of Wales Island, and other smaller Southeast communities. He says those are a better socio-economic fit than the Capital City.

“We’re a little different, I think. We’re totally a fishing community with some government here too, state and federal,” said Jensen. “But a little bit different than Juneau being mainly a government type town.”

The final map, which takes effect for this year’s elections, puts downtown Juneau and Douglas in a district with Haines, Skagway, Tenakee Springs, and Gustavus.

Torgerson blamed the court system for delaying the plan by taking too long to issue opinions. He said the next redistricting process in 2020 should go more smoothly, after the U.S. Supreme Court last year struck down a section of the federal Voting Rights Act that determined whether or not Alaska needed to get preclearance for Native voting districts.

“I personally think it will be substantially easier, just using the Alaska Constitution as the only guideline, and not having a lot of overlapping federal laws there,” Torgerson said.

He spoke Thursday to a lunch gathering of lawmakers and business leaders during the Alaska State Chamber of Commerce’s annual legislative fly-in. The event was co-sponsored by the Juneau Chamber of Commerce.

Categories: Alaska News

Bill Thomas Considers Kerttula’s House Seat

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-01-24 13:27

Former Haines Representative Bill Thomas is considering a run for the House seat being vacated by Juneau’s Beth Kerttula. But he’s more likely to take on Juneau Senator Dennis Egan.

Republican Thomas served eight years in the House. He lost a close 2012 race to Sitka’s Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins after new boundaries put that city inside his district.

Rep. Bill Thomas answers a question as Rep. Beth Kerttula listens during a 2011 form at Juneau’s Centennial Hall. Photo by Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska News.

He hoped for a rematch, but an updated redistricting plan put Haines in with Juneau and a few smaller communities, not Sitka.

Thomas says he’s considering a run for Kerttula’s seat, which has been held by a Democrat for at least two decades. But he probably won’t do it.

“I think it would be an uphill battle, from what I’ve seen through the years, depending on who they put in there,” Thomas says.

District Democrats will nominate up to three replacements, with the governor making the choice. Thomas can’t apply for that, since he’s a Republican — and living outside the current district.

He can run for the seat later this year, when election boundaries change.

He says he’ll decide once he knows whether the new representative is a place-holder, or someone who would run as an incumbent.

“I’d rather right now wait to see what happens this next week or so with the appointment,” Thomas says.

Kerttula has held the seat for 15 years.

She says she hopes Thomas won’t run – because he’d lose.

“Bill Thomas is a friend, so I’m hoping he’ll think twice before he gets himself into this any further. But, the math alone means this will stay a Democratic seat – and a strong one,” Kerttula says.

Thomas says he’s more inclined to run against Juneau Democratic Senator Dennis Egan, who’s up for re-election this year.

“I’ll be the first one to admit, my chances of beating Dennis Egan straight up are nil,” Thomas says.

Egan was appointed to the post in 2009 when Senator Kim Elton resigned for an Obama administration job. The Juneau Democrat was unopposed in his 2010 reelection bid.

Thomas points to Egan’s recent hospitalization and wonders whether the Juneau Democrat will be able to complete another four-year term.

“I just want to have a debate with him saying are you going to spend your four years? And if not, will you step down within a year or six months after the election?” Thomas asked.

“There’s no way in heck I would quit serving in another term,” Egan says.

He says he’s fully recovered from what he calls routine heart surgery about three years ago. He also says leg surgery last year was successful.

He says he’s also getting back to full speed after an infection he caught in the hospital attacked his foot.

“I’ve filed a letter of intent and I have money and I plan on running,” Egan says.

Kerttula, who’s been House Minority leader, is leaving for a one-year fellowship at Stanford University’s Center for Ocean Solutions.

She could return and run again for her House seat, or Egan’s. But she’s not making any plans.

“We’ll just see what the future brings. But I can’t really see that far ahead right now. But I know somebody’s going to be in this seat for a long, long time,” Kerttula says.

Kerttula and Egan’s current districts include Petersburg, Skagway, Gustavus and Tenakee.

For the next election, they’ll drop Petersburg and add Haines.

Juneau’s other representative is Republican Cathy Munoz. Her district is – and will be – all within the capital city’s boundaries.

Categories: Alaska News

Radiation from Fukushima

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-01-24 13:00

They’re having trouble sealing up the leaking nuclear power plants in Japan and they’re also having trouble disclosing what is going on there. Is this a reason to distrust Alaska seafood?

HOST: Steve HeimelAlaska Public Radio Network

GUESTS:

  • Professor Doug Dasher, Environmental Oceanographer, University of Alaska Fairbanks School of Fisheries and Ocean Science
  • Dr. John Kelley, Professor Emeritus, University of Alaska Fairbanks, former Director, Naval Arctic Research Laboratory
  • Callers Statewide

PARTICIPATE:

  • 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, January 28, 2014 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.

SUBSCRIBE: Get Talk of Alaska updates automatically by e-mailRSS or podcast.

TALK OF ALASKA ARCHIVE

Categories: Alaska News

ASD Budget Cutting Process Begins as Legislature Mulls Increasing Education Funding

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-01-24 12:49

(From left) Allison Haynes, Margaret Clark, and Laura Gordon, all West High School Students, testified before the Anchorage School Board on Thursday night about the proposed 2014-15 budget. All opposed the cuts. Photo by Daysha Eaton, KSKA – Anchorage.

Anchorage School District officials presented the 2014-15 budget to the Anchorage School Board Thursday evening.

The district faces cutting $23 million this year unless the legislature increases the per student funding.

Public testimony was passionate and officials discussed calculations for how much legislators would have to increase funding to stop cuts.

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Tina Bernoski, an English Language Learner Counselor at Bartlett High School said she couldn’t believe that the Board was considering cutting school counselors again. She says she worries about what will happen if some of the most vulnerable students in the district lose support and warned school board members that things could get bad.

“Many of my students do not speak English, do not have a parent that speaks English,” Bernoski said. “We are the case managers, the refugee liaisons, the immigration collectors and the parent to communicate with. I will tell you that dropout rates will increase and graduation rates will dramatically reduce.”

ASD officials rolled out the proposed 2014-2015 budget Tuesday. Under the plan, the district will cut more than 200 positions, more than half of them teaching positions. Administration and support positions will also be eliminated. In addition, high school schedules will now have seven periods, instead of six to save money.

Allison Haynes, a sophomore at West High School, says she’s concerned that the change will compromise her education.

“A seven-period day will not allow for the kind of time that is needed for intense, higher-level classes, or any class for that matter, to be taught effectively,” Haynes said. “I am currently in calculus, AP U.S. History and HG English. I see no way that my wonderful, dedicated teachers could possibly deliver the same quality of instruction in a 42 minute period.”

Officials say cost drivers include: group medical coverage, the Affordable Care Act, new state technology requirements for online testing and teacher evaluations, liability and self-insurance and natural gas prices.

Governor Sean Parnell is recommending a base student allocation increase of $200 over three years, an increase of about one percent per year. School Board President Tam Agosti-Gisler says that’s not enough.

“We’ve been asked, what would we need in order to stop our budget gap this year, in terms of dollar increase to the base student allocation and that is estimated at about $250 increase. To catch up with inflation for the last three years and this year, it’s about $400.”

Agosti-Gisler says a long-term solution is needed in the form of an inflation-proof formula for funding Schools.

The next opportunity for the public to testify on the ASD budget will be Feb. 3. They’ll be one more chance on Feb. 20, when the board will take their final vote.

Categories: Alaska News

Warm Temperatures Causing Issues Around State

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-01-24 12:46

The big thaw that has hit much of the state continues to make life complicated.

The Northern Lights 300 Sled Dog Race from Big Lake to Finger Lake has been cancelled, and the north part of Denali National Park has been put off limits for snowmachines due to wet conditions and lack of snow. Skiing has been off and on at Alyeska Resort in Girdwood. Temperatures are well above freezing deep into the Interior past Fairbanks.

Categories: Alaska News

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