Alaska News

Budget Consideration Sparks Medicaid Debate

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-03-12 18:50

As of 6pm, debate on the state’s operating budget was underway in the Alaska House of Representatives. Democrats have proposed 22 amendments, and discussion of the bill is expected to last into the late hours. The minority opened with an effort to restore Medicaid expansion to the budget. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports.

It’s often said that a budget is a moral document, an exercise where lawmakers literally spend money on the things they value. With that in mind, the House minority caucus traditionally offers a series of changes that promote their platform, but that are rarely adopted. At the top of the current priority list is expanding the state’s Medicaid program.

Rep. Andy Josephson, an Anchorage Democrat, offered language to accept federal dollars for that purpose.

“I think there is a moral imperative,” said Josephson. “So I would ask that we expand Medicaid, and I think this can be done. And I think the economy would be better. People would be better. People would be healthier.”

The amendment, which failed on caucus lines, would have allowed the state to accept $145 million in federal funds so that Alaskans near the poverty line can get health care through Medicaid. Expanding Medicaid has been a major priority of Gov. Bill Walker, and the budget he sent to the Legislature included a line to do just that. But the House Finance Committee removed the language, with some members saying the budget was not the appropriate vehicle for expansion.

The Medicaid debate highlighted some of the fractures on the issue not only in the Legislature, but within the Republican majority caucus. Some Republicans, like Rep. Shelley Hughes of Palmer, categorically oppose Medicaid expansion on ideological grounds.

“In the coming years, it’s time for communities to pull together. It’s time for churches to step up,” said Hughes. “We can be kind as people. It’s not the government’s place to be kind. We need to be kind as people.”

But others, like Rep. Dan Saddler of Eagle River, rejected the amendment on the basis of process. If the Legislature is going to consider expanding its Medicaid program, Saddler said the action should be done through a larger reform bill.

“This amendment, sir, has no cost control provisions. It has no over-utilization control for emergency room visits. It has no provision for health savings accounts,” Saddler listed.

In response, Democrats spent nearly an hour touting the economic and health benefits of expansion. As part of the Affordable Care Act, the federal government pays the entire cost of expansion in the first years, and then covers 90 percent after 2020.

Amendment sponsor Andy Josephson said it was unusual for Alaska to go out of its way to reject federal money, invoking the name of the late Sen. Ted Stevens, who aggressively brought funding to Alaska during his tenure in Congress.

“I think that Sen. Stevens, if he were here would, unless he just turned 180 degrees, he’d say, ‘What are you doing? Why don’t you reap the benefit of $1.1 billion? 4,000 jobs?’” said Josephson.

The amendment failed 11 to 26. Even though it was an up-down vote, the issue of Medicaid expansion may come up again in the Legislature. Members of the House Health and Social Services committee are taking part in a Medicaid working group, and a reform bill is in the works in the Senate.

The operating budget spends $4.1 billion from the state’s unrestricted general fund, and cuts $273 million in agency operating funds compared to the budget passed last year. Even with the cuts, the state is facing a deficit in excess of $3 billion.

Categories: Alaska News

Demboski Draws Mat-Su PAC Support for Anchorage Mayor

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-03-12 18:26

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A conservative Political Action Committee in the Mat-Su valley is wading into the Anchorage mayor’s race. The Palmer-based group is endorsing Amy Demboski’s mayoral campaign, in part because of her stance on a contentious equal rights measure.

Categories: Alaska News

Village Corporation, Tribe at Odds Over Mineral Deposits

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-03-12 18:04

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Interest in a potential gold and copper deposit near Nondalton has put the village’s tribe and corporation at odds. Nondalton’s village corporation, Kijik, has entered into an agreement to explore the Groundhog claims, and that action doesn’t sit well with all shareholders.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: March 12, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-03-12 17:57

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

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U.S. Arctic Rep: Russia’s Arctic Buildup Not Necessarily Martial

Liz Ruskin, APRN-Washington
Robert Papp, the U.S. special representative for the Arctic, says he questions reports that Russia has launched a major military buildup in the Arctic. Papp says he’s asking U.S. intelligence agencies to look beyond Russia’s military swagger for a realistic view of its Arctic activities. Papp says Moscow could be adding infrastructure for general use in the north.

House Begins Debating Operating Budget

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN-Juneau
Debate on the state’s operating budget is now underway  in the Alaska House of Representatives. Democrats have proposed 22 amendments, and discussion of the bill is expected to last into the late hours. The minority opened with an effort to restore Medicaid expansion to the operating budget.

House Speaker Reattempts Agrium Tax Credit

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN-Juneau
The Alaska Department of Revenue expects a proposed tax credit for the Agrium fertilizer plant in Nikiski to cost the state between $3 million and $4 million in foregone revenue annually.

Coast Guard to Train for Shooting at Docks 

Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB-Unalaska
The Coast Guard is teaming up with emergency personnel in Unalaska to practice their response to a mass shooting on the docks — in one of the region’s busiest ports.

Demboski Draws Mat-Su PAC Support for Anchorage Mayor

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA- Anchorage
A conservative Political Action Committee in the Mat-Su valley is wading into the Anchorage mayor’s race. The Palmer-based group is endorsing Amy Demboski’s mayoral campaign, in part because of her conservative stance on a contentious equal rights (bill) *measure* in Anchorage.

Broad Donor Rolls and Deep Pockets in Anchorage Mayor’s Race

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA-Anchorage
Candidates Dan Coffey and Andrew Halcro have raised the most money in the Anchorage mayor’s race.

Swanson’s Employees Embrace for Change

Ben Matheson, KYUK-Bethel
Following the announcement that Swanson’s grocery store would be closing, a rapid response team from the Alaska Department of Labor was dispatched to Bethel Wednesday.

Village Corporation, Tribe at Odds Over Mineral Deposits

Matt Martin, KDLG-Dillingham

Interest in a potential gold and copper deposit near Nondalton has put the village’s tribe and corporation at odds. Nondalton’s village corporation Kijik has entered into an agreement to explore the Groundhog claims, and that doesn’t sit well with all shareholders.

Dogs in Tow More Common This Iditarod

Emily Schwing, APRN Contributor
Whether sled dogs are in need of rest will start to show as teams near the halfway mark in this year’s race.  More mushers than ever are towing trailers behind their sleds to carry dogs as they travel down the trail. The jury is still out on whether the method actually does benefit dogs.

NCAA Rifle Champions Showcase Expert Shooters

Dan Bross, KUAC-Fairbanks
The National Collegiate Athletic Association Division 1 Rifle Championships are being held at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Friday and Saturday. The championships bring together shooters capable of extreme accuracy.


Categories: Alaska News

Coast Guard to Train for Shooting at Unalaska Docks 

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-03-12 17:10

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The Coast Guard is teaming up with emergency personnel in Unalaska to practice their response to a mass shooting on the docks — in one of the region’s busiest ports.

Categories: Alaska News

Dogs in Tow More Common This Iditarod

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-03-12 17:02

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Race Update: 5:45 p.m.  Aaron Burmeister was leading a pack of mushers into Huslia early Thursday evening. He was running ahead of a small group that included Martin Buser, Thomas Waerner, and Dallas Seavey. 

Whether sled dogs are in need of rest will start to show as teams near the halfway mark in this year’s race.  More mushers than ever are towing trailers behind their sleds to carry dogs as they travel down the trail. The jury is still out on whether the method actually does benefit dogs.

Categories: Alaska News

U.S. Arctic Rep: Russia’s Arctic Buildup Not Necessarily Martial

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-03-12 14:27

Robert Papp, the U.S. special representative for the Arctic, says he questions reports that Russia has launched a major military buildup in the Arctic. Papp says he’s asking U.S. intelligence agencies to look beyond Russia’s military swagger for a realistic view of its Arctic activity. Papp says Moscow could be adding infrastructure for general use in the north.

“One person can look at what’s going on in terms of what they call ‘military buildup’ and rightfully say they’ve got an awful long border along the Arctic, and if you’re going to have increased maritime traffic you should have search-and-rescue facilities, you should have modern airports and other things — things I’d like to have built in Alaska as maritime traffic increases,” he said.

Papp says the other Arctic nations have supported the U.S. sanctions against Russia for its incursions in the Ukraine. But he says the Obama Administration and other Arctic countries also agree it’s important not to shut Russia out.

“For the good of the Arctic, for the environment and other important issues, we need to keep Russia in the fold and keep communications open,” he said. “We are all committed to that. ”

Papp, a retired Coast Guard admiral, spoke this morning at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.


Categories: Alaska News

Food Bank Needs More Space to Meet Higher Demand

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-03-12 13:35

Judy Brown volunteers every Saturday at the Southeast Alaska Food Bank. She says they quickly run out of meats and cheeses after opening at 8:30 a.m. (Photo by Kevin Reagan, KTOO-Juneau)


The Southeast Alaska Food Bank  has doubled its inventory in recent years and is lacking the freezer space to preserve it all. The nonprofit hopes to expand its facilities on city-owned land to build additional storage.

It’s 9:15 on a Saturday morning and the shelves at the Southeast Alaska Food Bank are pretty bare. When the facility opened 45 minutes ago there were rows of chicken, cheese, soup and sandwiches — now all that’s mostly left is sour cream and a few loaves of bread.

Volunteer Judy Brown helps a man fill a box with packages of Oreo cookies. She says there’s no limit on how much an individual can take from the food bank.

“I just want to be fair,” Brown says, “I don’t want to see anyone not get anything.”

She says today’s supply is lighter than usual, so she asks visitors to take things sparingly.

The Southeast Alaska Food Bank allows any individual to visit on Saturday morning to take perishable goods such as milk, meat and cheese. The nonprofit gives its canned foods to local charities. (Photo by Kevin Reagan/ KTOO)
About 90 individuals visit the bank this morning and have walked out with roughly 2,700 pounds of food. The majority of it is locally donated from Walmart, Fred Meyer and Rainbow Foods.

Food bank manager Darren Adams says the amount of supply coming in-and-out has doubled in recent years.

“Once upon a time on a busy Saturday we would get 15 or 20 people showing up here to get food. When the economy started getting worse and worse, we started seeing more people and we had to move things around to accommodate that number of people,” Adams says.

The increased demand has led to plans for an expansion of the food bank by a quarter acre on a plot of city-owned land along Crazy Horse Drive.

Adams says the expansion would allow for the installation of walk-in freezers to store more meat — an item always first to go on a Saturday.

The added land would also permit the construction of a 1,840 square foot storage facility on the north side of the existing building.

Adams estimates the cost of the project to be minimal for the organization, but says the process is still very much in the “talking” phase.

Community planner Sarah Bronstein of Scheinberg Associates is helping the food bank navigate the complex process of getting the project off the ground.

“We will be just sort of looking over the shoulder of the city and making sure things are moving forward,” Bronstein says.

The Juneau Assembly needs to approve any changes to the food bank’s lease. Bronstein says it’s usually a three-month process, but does not foresee any hesitation from the Assembly.

“Part of the reason the city leases to the food bank is because it’s such a critical service that the food bank provides to the community,” Bronstein says.

The food bank also distributes nonperishable goods throughout the week to community partners such as The Glory Hole and the Boys and Girls Club of Juneau. Adams says roughly 25 percent of their supply is donated from individuals like the students of Floyd Dryden Middle School, who collected 1,140 pounds of food for the organization this past month.

“We live in a very generous community,” Adams says. “It never ceases to amaze me how willing people are wanting to step up and collect food for us.”

The city’s Planning Commission reviewed and approved the project at their Tuesday meeting. It now goes to the Assembly Lands and Resources Committee, which will decide whether to bring it before the full Juneau Assembly for approval.

Categories: Alaska News

Swanson’s Employees Brace For Change

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-03-12 13:29

State staff assist Swanson’s employees who will lose their jobs Friday. (Photo By Ben Matheson, KYUK-Bethel)

Following the announcement that Swanson’s grocery store would be closing, a rapid response team from the Alaska Department of Labor was dispatched to Bethel Wednesday.

The specialists were sent to assist the 80 employees from Swanson’s grocery store who will lose their jobs when the store closes Friday.

Eileen Henrikson is manager at the YK Delta Jobs Center.

“Hopefully, we’re able to work with employees and be able to find them jobs relatively quickly or at least get them into programs, basically whatever they want to do, we’re here to help them how we can,” said Henrikson.

The store, run by Omni Enterprises, is closing after less than a year in a new building owned by the Bethel Native Corporation. The company is liquidating inventory with a half off sale and customers are still waiting in long lines to buy groceries. Amid the busy week for employees, the team set up shop in the break room and met with small groups. Henrikson says she plans to connect local businesses with the large, newly unemployed group of workers.

Shoppers line up Wednesday to buy half-off groceries before the store closes. Photo by Ben Matheson / KYUK.
“We’re definitely going to be helping them with resumes, job searching, job placement, whatever we can to help them with. I’m looking to hold an open house on Monday at the jobs center. We’ll have local businesses, recruiters, and people from training programs that can give them other options, said Henrikson.

Joe Nevik worked full-time in the electronics department. He was disappointed to hear of the loss, but is now beginning to apply for jobs. After meeting with the team, he was optimistic about new opportunities.

“I thought about getting a CDL, go to training and get a certificate, so I could find a better job,” said Nevik.

Joe Nevik worked in the electronics department. He is looking into getting a CDL certification. Photo by Ben Matheson / KYUK.
Outgoing cashier manager Monica Yako is stressed because she has six kids at home and two days left of work. She spoke with the specialists about getting her GED. She says she will likely have to move out of Bethel and that brings up a lot of emotion.

“I liked being a cashier, I liked working in the store, I’ve been doing it so long. But it’s time to move forward and find something else to do.”

As for her future plans, she says she wants to become a nurse. Anna Tom worked in the clothing department. Her plan was more nebulous.

“A higher power will lead the way,” said Tom. “That’s my goal.”

The rapid response team only had one day scheduled in Bethel. The YK Delta Job Center, however, plans to continue to assist the laid off employees.

Categories: Alaska News

I Am An Iditarod Musher

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-03-12 11:34

Long-time Iditarod racer DeeDee Jonrowe shares her experience of life on the Iditarod Trail, her connection with her dogs, and perseverance through health struggles.

Categories: Alaska News

Iditarod Trail Begins To Soften Up, Slows Down

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-03-12 08:04

Mushers have been travelling this year’ Iditarod trail from Fairbanks with few complains, but after the left Tanana Wednesday, they found a slow, soft trail.

“Mushers seem to like to complain when there is snow and then when there’s no snow,” Bethel musher Pete Kaiser said.

Pete Kaiser in the 2015 Iditarod ceremonial start. (Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage)

He says the trail out of Tanana softened up considerably, which slowed down his team.

“Yeah that’s not the type of trail you’d want to be going fast on,” Kaiser said. “I wouldn’t anyway, just because you’d be prone to injuring dogs if they wanted to go faster, so it’s kind of frustrating watching them go slow, but its’ hard work from them to get through that.”

Jess Royer says she was also frustrated with a slow pace after her dog team left Tanana and dropped onto the Yukon River.

“It’s like you’re running on sand. That’s why it’s so slow,” Royer said. “You have 16 dogs and they’re all working, but you don’t get any power there you know. Even if I walk up to do something with the team, every time you take a step, it’s like you slide back a step. It’s just real granular type of snow, I guess.”

Mitch Seavey says drifting snow and soft trail were tough, but he says there hasn’t been the kid of drama he could “write stories about.”

“Yeah it’s fine, I’d rather not have scares from the trail this year,” Seavey said.

But a slower pace wasn’t factored into Norwegian Joar Ulsom’s race plan.

“I would like to be moving faster,” he said. “Hopefully I’ll give them a good rest and in Galena we’ll get some that speed back if we are lucky.”

Many mushers are starting to consider where they might take a 24 hour mandatory rest.

Race officials expect to see most teams stop for the long rest at one of the next three or four checkpoints, before they leave the Yukon River for good.

Categories: Alaska News

Iditarod Mushers Ponder When To Take 24-Hour Rest

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-03-12 07:50

Mitch Seavey at the 2015 Iditarod ceremonial start in Anchorage. (Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – AnchoragE)

Denali musher Jeff King led the Iditarod front-runners into Galena, with Aliy Zirkle and Aaron Burmeister arriving around an hour and a half later.

The Iditarod saw its first scratch of the race, as Zoya DeNure made the decision in Tanana, citing personal reasons.

Though a handful of mushers are on their way to Galena, close to half the teams are still working on the long run between Tanana and Ruby.

If mushers were traveling the normal southern route this year, they would likely be arriving in Takotna. It’s a popular spot where mushers often take a mandatory 24-hour rest. But this is not a normal year for the Iditarod. As Emily Schwing reports, a new trail combined with cold weather and long, monotonous river miles have mushers scratching their heads.

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Dog teams are roughly a third of the way into this year’s Iditarod. It’s about the time when mushers start to contemplate where they should take a mandatory 24-hour layover.

Mitch Seavey declared his when he arrived first in Ruby, but he says it wasn’t his first choice for a spot to rest long.

“Having seen the past for long enough, I start to predict the future I guess, so here we are taking a nice break,” he said.

Seavey has run 21 previous Iditarods including in 2003 – the only other time the trail was rerouted through Fairbanks. But the two-time champion isn’t relying too much on his experience from that year.

“I think things are a little different than 2003 in terms of what’s successful, what may not be so successful, run rest strategies, things like that,” Seavey said.

The Iditarod trail normally only stops in Ruby in even numbered years. On that trail, the tiny village marks the race’s halfway point. Pete Kaiser has run the northern route three times.

“It’s a little confusing to get used to a new trail and try not to jump the gun thinking you’re in Ruby, but you’re really not in Ruby,” Kaiser said. “It’s confusing. You’re here right now and you’re used to being about 500 miles from the finish, but we’re not. It’s about 700 miles, so yeah, it’s a lot to take in with a tired mind.”

Kaiser says the biggest challenge for him has been the deep cold that’s settled in throughout the Yukon River valley. In some places, mushers have reported overnight temperatures of 40 below. There’s also been a slight breeze, resulting in a wind chill.

“When you’re kicking and ski poling at 3 a.m. trying to keep warm because you’re shivering, it’s harder to eat and stay hydrated, because your face mask is frozen to your face to drink some water or eats something because when you go to put it back on it’s not going to move, so yeah, there’s lots of challenges when you’re dealing with 40 or 50 below,” he said. “It’s a whole different deal.”

Aaron Burmeister says the cold is the reason nearly every musher is exhausted when they pull their dog team into a checkpoint.

“It’s been really flippin’ cold, so people haven’t been talking a whole lot,” Burmeister said. “They’re freezing their butts off. Their legs are sore, arms are sore from moving on the trail from trying to stay warm, so there’s been a lot of work, soft trails, but there hasn’t been much drama.”

Burmeister says he’s struggled most with trying to keep his dog team healthy.

“Pretty much everything that could go wrong on a race you wish never happens has already gone wrong in the last 250 miles, so I’m hoping things pick up from here,” he said. “They’re eating again, they’re’ drinking, I had good stools coming in here, I still have a couple females in heat, but I’m just hoping things clear up and start improving.”

Mushers have reported a mostly smooth trail, but along the Yukon River, it has started to soften up and wind is causing the snow to drift. Jesse Royer doesn’t expect a good trail report to last too long.

“I was hearing some other mushers taking back in Tanana like ‘well if the wind doesn’t get us on the river, it probably will on the coast, because it just can’t not get us somewhere,’” Royer said. “I don’t know the wind on the river can be pretty bad, not that coast is any much better, so I guess it’s still a long ways to Nome, so a lot can happen.”

Teams will continue down the Yukon River toward Galena, where they’ll turn north and make their way for Huslia on an overland trail.

The forecast calls for continued cold, subzero temperatures and wind out of the Northwest throughout the middle Yukon River valley.

Categories: Alaska News

Broad Donor Rolls and Deep Pockets in Anchorage Mayor’s Race

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-03-11 19:09

Candidates Dan Coffey and Andrew Halcro have raised the most money in the Anchorage mayor’s race. However, financial disclosures paint a more nuanced picture of what those numbers mean.

Filings earlier this week with the Alaska Public Office’s Commission earlier this week show that former Assembly member Dan Coffey has raised by far the most money from donors since launching his campaign in 2013: $275,264.07. Donations are capped at $500 a year, and the long timeline means Coffey has been able to appeal to some donors multiple times. He has also spent the most–$124,394.72 in just the last month, most of it on signs, mailers, and radio ads. Coffey has a broad range of support from members of the business community, including many developers and realtors.

The second largest war-chest belongs to Andrew Halcro, former president of the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce, who raised $104,288.95 since announcing his candidacy in January. But most of that money, $85,000, is from Halcro himself, and the number of individual donors is under 100.

Assembly member Amy Demboski has also put a lot of her own money into the race, $45,000 so far, which she says is part of a commitment to match donors dollar for dollar. To date, Demboski’s campaign has raised just under $38,495.82, mostly from fiscal and social conservative donors.

The last major fundraiser in the race is Ethan Berkowitz, who reports bringing in nearly $61,700.72 from about 350 donors, many of whom are public employees and union members. He entered the race in February and raised the most funds during the recent reporting period, and that does not include any large personal donations.

The campaign has kept much of that cash on hand, but Berkowitz would not say whether the reserves will be spent down by the April 7th election or saved for a possible runoff in May. The campaign plans on spending “to win,” Berkowitz said.

The municipality’s chief Information Officer, Lance Ahern, raised $2,399.82 for his campaign, much of it self-financed.

The other candidates in the race either reported raising no funds in the last filing period, or count as exempt filers because they anticipated less than $5,000 in total spending.

Categories: Alaska News

House Speaker Reattempts Agrium Tax Credit

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-03-11 18:56

The Alaska Department of Revenue expects a proposed tax credit for the Agrium fertilizer plant in Nikiski to cost the state between $3 million and $4 million in foregone revenue annually. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports.

The credit legislation would allow ammonia and urea plants to reduce their corporate income tax liability if they use Alaska natural gas in the production process. While the bill does not mention Agrium by name, the purpose is to encourage the plant to resume operations after it shut down in 2007 because of a decline in the natural gas supply. With the supply situation improved, Agrium is now considering spending $200 million to reopen the plant.

House Speaker Mike Chenault is sponsoring the incentive bill, and the plant is in his district. The Nikiski Republican says the bill would bring hundreds of jobs to the Kenai Peninsula. He adds that credit would have a statewide benefit because it would reduce fertilizer costs for farmers along the Railbelt.

“This is about putting more Alaskans to work at good, high-paying jobs that’ll last a long time,” says Chenault. “So, if you want to call it pork, then go ahead, but I’m more interested in putting Alaskans to work.”

The bill received its first hearing on Wednesday, and it is structured in such a way that Agrium could only reduce their tax liability — not receive a direct subsidy payment from the state. The credit also could not be applied until the plant is fully operational, and the incentive would sunset in a decade. The Department of Revenue projects the maximum benefit available to Agrium is $15 million annually, but that a credit of $3 million or $4 million is more likely.

Chenault attempted to establish the tax credit last year as part of a refinery bill, but the language was removed out of concern that the legislation was turning into a “Christmas tree” with too many amendments. But now the tax credit bill comes as the state faces a major deficit.

Anchorage Democrat Les Gara says offering low interest loans might be a more appropriate incentive given the budget climate.

“I’m going to have to be convinced at a time of a $3.5 billion budget deficit, that the state needs to engage in more corporate subsidies,” says Gara.

Chenault says he recognizes the bill comes at a time of budget cutting. Even so, the state will be collecting zero tax revenue from Agrium if the plant does not repoen.

“While I might have wished it happened last year, or might happen five years from now, right now is the opportunity that we have that they’re looking at bringing this facility back online,” says Chenault. “So now’s the time we need to look at it.”

At the time it was operating, the Nikiski Agrium facility was the second largest producer of ammonia and urea in the country.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Senate Passes Bill To End Daylight Saving Time

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-03-11 18:16

The Alaska State Senate has passed a bill that would eliminate daylight saving time. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports.

Fighting over Alaska’s clocks has been a favorite pastime of legislators for decades. So when Sen. Anna MacKinnon, an Eagle River Republican, presented the bill on the floor, she went through the many, many failed attempts to rid Alaska of daylight saving time.

“In the 21st Legislature, then-Rep. Kohring introduced a bill to repeal this. In the 22nd Legislature, Rep. Lancaster introduced a bill to repeal. In the 24th Legislature, Sen. Olson introduced a bill to repeal it,” MacKinnon said, rattling off a list of previous efforts before getting to her own.

MacKinnon described her bill as a health and public safety issue, and said it could even help high schoolers bring up their SAT scores. She pointed to studies linking increased heart attack and suicide rates that come with the disorientation of time changes.

“It’s frustration to some,” said MacKinnon. “But it’s a real health issue to others.”

MacKinnon’s version would eliminate the need to adjust clocks twice a year. In the winter, Alaska would be four hours behind the East Coast, like it is now. But from March to November, Alaskans would be five hours behind, as other states spring forward. Her bill also includes a provision allowing Alaska to petition the United States Department of Transportation for a time zone change. If the federal government approves the request, all or part of Alaska could be moved to Pacific time.

That language was added as a concession to Southeast, where area businesses have complained the bill would affect tourism revenue in Southeast by reducing the number of evening daylight hours in the summer.

The concession was not enough. Sen. Bert Stedman, a Sitka Republican, called the legislation a “commerce-busting” bill.

“This is just another nail, in fact it’s probably a stainless steel wood screw — in our economic coffin,” said Stedman.

Under MacKinnon’s legislation, the sun would set at 9pm in Southeast for the summer solstice, and then daylight would break around 2am. Representatives from the aviation industry have stated their flight numbers would have to be reduced, and the cruise industry has said the change would negatively affect their passengers. On a state level, Alaska would be farther behind the stock market’s opening bell, and NFL games would have earlier kickoff times during the first half of the season.

Stedman was unconvinced the potential benefits outweighed the costs.

“I might get a heart attack here debating this issue, but not from changing the time zone,” said Stedman.

But for the most part, Southeast lawmakers were alone in their opposition. Some senators noted the northern part of the state will always have clock problems, as will the western part.

Some senators, like Chugiak Republican Bill Stoltze simply thought the ritual of changing clocks was unnecessary and even “silly.”

“If you can’t even make up a good answer why we’re doing it, it must be pretty stupid,” said Stoltze on the floor.

The bill passed 16 to 4, with Stedman being joined in opposition by Juneau Democrat Dennis Egan, Anchorage Democrat Berta Gardner, and Anchorage Democrat Johnny Ellis. It will now be considered by the House.

Categories: Alaska News

Lance Mackey on 2014 Iditarod “This Is It For Me”

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-03-11 18:03

Lance Mackey says this is  his last Iditarod. (Photo By Patrick Yack – Alaska Public Media)


The Mackey family has long been known as a mushing dynasty within the Iditarod community. Patriarch Dick Mackey won the race in 1978.  Years later, Lance Mackey claimed four championships in a row. Little brother Jason just might take on the most meaningful race of his life.

When Jason Mackey arrived in Tanana, he was not feeling good about his dog team.

“I mean you can start seeing things unravel in front of you.  We’re 200 miles into the race, we’re going into the unknown part of this race and everybody’s still way under rested.” 00:13

Mackey says he may have pushed his dogs a little too hard, so he decided to stop for his mandatory eight-hour rest. But he didn’t expect to see his older brother’s dog team still parked at the checkpoint.

“It’s really hard for me to see Lance in the situation that he is. There was that one time I thought I was going to have to bury him.  I’m glad that never happened.”

Lance Mackey is a cancer survivor, but the disease and radiation treatment took a toll on the champion musher’s physical health.  He says he accidentally let his fingers get too cold along the trail out of Nenana.

“I can’t feel my fingers at the moment literally.  I feel like my fingernails are being pushed off.”

Mackey holds up two swollen hands.  The skin is red, purple and puffy. His fingernails bulge.  They are black around the edges.

“This is it for me.”

Mackey chocked back tears.  He says this will be his last season of long distance sled dog racing.

But he is still determined to drive his team under the burled arch in Nome one last time. So, he decided to take his mandatory 24-hour layover in Tanana to rest his body and let his hands heal. After reevaluating his own dog team, Jason Mackey opted to do the same.

“I told lance, I’m 24-ing with you.  If I can help you in anyway, booting dogs, whatever the case may be, I’m going to use your knowledge to get us back to the front…I’m going to tell him I don’t want him to mess up his race.”

But little brother Jason is unlikely to change his mind.

“We used to be inseparable at one time and of course everybody changes over time.  These last couple of years we’ve gotten back close again and I think it would be real good for our relationship.”

The Mackey brothers have battled drug and alcohol addiction together.  They’ve seen each other get married, watched as some of those relationships have crumbled and they’ve both travelled the Iditarod trail multiple times, but never side by side.

Jason Mackey says there’s still plenty he has to learn from his older brother.

“There’s not a tougher headed guy out here. I might be a little biased.  Maybe, maybe not, but the guy is insanely tough. But it’s time to pass the torch, let go of the reigns whatever the saying might be but you know lance and I have talked about it in the past year. I will win the race.”

Lance Mackey agrees.

He’s the only boy in the family that hasn’t won this thing. Yeah, it’s time.  I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure my brother wins this thing.”

Both brothers know a winning this year could be a stretch.  But according to Jason, the two have discussed long-term plans for training dogs together in the future to secure a potential sixth Iditarod championship ion the Mackey family.

Categories: Alaska News

Fish and Game Transporting Wood Bison to Interior

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-03-11 18:01

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The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is planning to transport Wood Bison to the village of Shageluk later this month. Wood Bison have been extinct in Alaska for over a century, but animals transplanted here from Canada’s Yukon could re-populate interior Alaska with the species, and offer an alternative subsistence food source.

Categories: Alaska News

Native Nonprofits Want State to Change on Adoption Case

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-03-11 16:17

All the regional Native nonprofits in the state, which represent most of the tribes in Alaska, have issued a joint statement asking Governor Bill Walker to change his position in the court case Tununuk II vs. the state of Alaska. They say Walker’s position will make it very difficult for tribal members to adopt Native children. The state says it’s only arguing for compliance with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

The case involves a Native child called Baby Dawn; her Alaska Native grandmother Elise of the village of Tununuk; and Baby Dawn’s non-Native former foster and now adoptive parents the Smiths of Anchorage. An Alaska Supreme Court ruling in December allowed the Smith’s petition to adopt Baby Dawn  to override Elise’s stated wish to adopt her granddaughter.

Lloyd Miller, a partner with Sonosky, Chambers, Sachse, Miller and Munson, represents Elise in the case. Under the Indian Child Welfare Act, or ICWA, Alaska Native children must be placed for adoption with their relatives or tribal members unless good cause is shown it’s in the child’s interests to do otherwise. Miller says it used to be relatively easy for Native relatives or tribal members to adopt:

“For 30 years, it has been the practice that all an individual had to do, a grandmother, an aunt, was to raise their hand, and tell the Office of Children’s Services, ‘I would like to take care of my niece, I would like to take care of my grand-daughter, my grandson, “” he said. “And that was enough to trigger all the Indian Child Welfare Act’s requirements, which include home studies, determining whether the home will be safe and a good placement for the child.”

But in Tununuk 2 vs. Alaska, the state successfully argued that a 2013 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court requires the formal filing of a petition to adopt to trigger ICWA preferences. A petition to adopt requires legal assistance from attorneys, which tribes say creates a costly obstacle for people in remote communities. The grandmother had not filed a petition to adopt. The Smiths did.

Attorney Kenneth Kirk represents the Smiths. “Our position is the court’s made its decision. The decision is consistent with the Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl case from the U.S. Supreme Court, which, they really have to follow it. There’s not much the Alaska Supreme Court can do about that whether they like it or not.”

That’s not so according to tribal attorney Miller:

“The Adoptive Couple v Baby Girl decision from the United States Supreme Court never said that before these placement preferences apply, a grandmother, or an aunt, has to file a formal adoption petition,” Miller said. “It doesn’t say that. The state is making it up.”

Rather, Miller says, the Adoptive Couple decision from the Supreme Court requires would-be adoptive parents to take formal steps to adopt, which the grandmother did by stating she wanted to adopt in court.

The Alaska Supreme Court does have the authority to reverse its earlier ruling, according to Tanana Chiefs Conference General Counsel Natasha Singh. She says not only do the attorneys on the side of Elise and the Village of Tununuk agree on that count, so does the U.S. Department of Justice, which has joined the suit on their side:

“It is absolutely unheard of that the Department of Justice would file amicus. We met with the Department of Justice two weeks ago and they feel so strongly that the state of Alaska and Alaska Supreme Court got this wrong that they filed amicus.”

Still,  Kirk says Baby Dawn now is almost seven-years old and has been with the Smith’s since she was a year and a half. He says the tribes should find another test case:

“As you can imagine, if you had a case hanging over your head where there was some possibility your child would be taken away from you, it kind of wears you down” Kirk said. “I mean that’s tough on people, it’s tough on any parent. I really wish we could end it and find some other way to resolve this.”

Singh says the case, at this point, is more about the issues than the individual adoption of Baby Dawn. She says if the Alaska Supreme Court decides to reverse its decision, the Baby Dawn case would go back to a lower trial court. There, Singh says, the trial court would decide whether there is just cause to remove Baby Dawn from the Smith family:

“All we’re asking is for the policy that the Alaska Supreme Court came out with in Tununuk Two to be reversed. That does not necessarily mean that the child will be removed from its placement.”

The village of Tununuk requested a rehearing in the case. Briefs to the Alaska Supreme Court on that request are due Monday.


Categories: Alaska News

Supreme Court Grants Stay in Education Funding Case

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-03-11 15:39

The Alaska Supreme Court has granted the state’s motion for a stay pending appeal in the Ketchikan Gateway Borough’s lawsuit regarding education funding.

In a brief one-page ruling, the order simply stated: “The motion is granted. The superior court’s judgment is stayed pending appeal.”

In late February, Superior Court Judge William Carey denied a similar motion for a stay of his January ruling in the borough’s favor. That ruling invalidated the State of Alaska’s longheld practice of requiring municipal governments to contribute a specific amount toward public education.

In his ruling, Carey agreed with the borough’s argument that the required local contribution is a dedicated tax, and therefore violates the Alaska Constitution.

The state argued that a stay of that ruling is needed so that the Legislature and school districts across the state can know what this year’s funding will look like. The borough opposed the stay, arguing that it would be harmed by a delay because the required local contribution cannot be recovered once it’s spent.

Ketchikan’s required local contribution this year is about $4.5 million.

Borough attorneys also argued that the state would try to delay the appeals process once it got a stay.

In its Wednesday order, the Supreme Court also told both parties to work with the clerk of court to arrange an expedited briefing schedule for the appeal.

Borough Manager Dan Bockhorst was in a meeting Wednesday afternoon, an unavailable to comment for this story.

Categories: Alaska News

Skier Injured in Avalanche Near Haines

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-03-11 13:30

A skier who was testing slopes near Haines for an international ski competition this weekend was injured in an avalanche Wednesday morning, according to state troopers.

The person is alive but did not have any information about their identity or condition, according to Trooper spokesperson Megan Peters. The victim was partially buried by the avalanche and was able to be found quickly, she said.  The skier was being treated at the Haines clinic.

The victim was skiing in an area called Tele Bowl near the Kicking Horse Valley north of Haines, Peters said. A 911 call was made at 11:35 a.m.

The Freeride World Tour is one of the largest big mountain ski and snowboard competitions in the world. The competition was scheduled to start in Haines this weekend with 36 international athletes. It would be the first time the competition took place in Alaska.


Categories: Alaska News