The Thanksgiving season is known in America for its big family meals. For many people in Southcentral, that meal is able to happen because of the generosity of a number of individuals and organizations.
“Green beans, apples, peas, corn, stuffing, butter, potatoes, apples, turkeys, and all kind of little homemade cakes and cookies…anything you’d need for a Thanksgiving dinner.”
That’s Food Pantry Director Shirley Lungaro describing what was on offer at the Upper Susitna Senior Center on Saturday afternoon. The Thanksgiving Blessing event is one of two major holiday food distributions. The second will happen next month in preparation for Christmas. Shirley Lungaro says that hundreds of people will have Thanksiving dinner thanks to the collaborative event.
“We’re expecting at least 150….That’s just us, here. I don’t know how many Trapper Creek is going to serve. I imagine fifty to a hundred up there.”
Distributing that many baskets means a lot of food. Volunteer Dave Ward talked turkey with me. He says that the Upper Susitna Food Pantry was distributing over two tons of food, about half of which was the traditional bird. In order to get that food to the families that needed it, over thirty volunteers turned out, including many students. In addition to volunteers who signed up, Shirley Lungaro said some arrived on the day, ready to help.
“We have been so blessed this year with volunteers. As a matter of fact, I sent some of them home, earlier, because we had so many here. They said they would come back this afternoon and help us break up.”
The Upper Susitna event was just one of half a dozen Thanksgiving Blessing distributions on Saturday. In all, the Food Bank of Alaska says that 1,963 baskets were given out in the Valley. Executive Director Mike Miller was at Talkeetna’s distribution, and says it’s good for him and his staff to attend the local events.
“On a day-to-day basis, we work with twenty-five partner agencies in the Valley, and soup kitchens and food pantries. We’re usually one step removed. we’re helping the people who are helping the people. This is an event where we get to go out and see things going on first-hand and work with the folks who are doing it. It’s really grounding, and it really brings it back to why we’re here; there are people in our communities that are dealing with hunger on a daily basis.”
The Anchorage Thanksgiving Blessing was held Monday, and Mike Miller says the number of families who received baskets is up from last year.
“For this year…we had a total of 8,038, which is right in the range we were expecting. That’s up from 7,497 from the year before, so about a seven percent increase.”
Assuming an average of a fifteen pound turkey per basket, that means over seventy-five tons in poultry alone. Mike Miller says a project of that scale requires a massive undertaking and a lot of help.
“It’s an amazing amount of effort for Food Bank staff, for literally hundreds of volunteers, dozens of agencies, dozens of businesses who donate money, turkey, time. It’s really a huge, community-wide event.”
Listing all of the partner groups would not fit into this story, since Mike Miller says there are over 300 of them. The volunteers both in the Valley and Anchorage are already gearing up for next month’s events.
Gathering ingredients for a Thanksgiving feast may seem simple to folks living along Kodiak’s road system – simply go to the grocery store. But things are not quite as easy if you’re living in Karluk, a village on the west side of Kodiak with less than 50 people.
Karluk has no local store, and all of the residents’ groceries have to be ordered from shops in Kodiak, and then flown in by small planes. This way of getting groceries proves to be more complicated, and a little more expensive around the holidays.
“The dried goods we have mailed out, so it’s just postal rates, but anything that’s cold or frozen we have to get shipped out at 90, I think it’s 92 cents a pound,” said Russ Scotter, a teacher at the Karluk School. He has been living in Karluk for seven years. Scotter celebrates Thanksgiving, and his traditional dinner includes a turkey, albeit an expensive one.
“We have to put in order in, to Safeway, and then they have to fly it out, and because it’s a frozen turkey, usually, it comes on the plane, and then we pay 90 some cents a pound, just to get it out here,” he said.
Ronnie Lind, a long time Karluk resident, also celebrates Thanksgiving with his family.
“The cost of the turkey is probably the price that everybody pays for it in Kodiak,” Lind said. “It’s no less than a total freight cost, it’s probably more than $100.”
Other villages on Kodiak also get turkeys sent out for Thanksgiving. April Carlough, the assistant manager at Island Air, said there are more flights for people going to visit their families for the holiday, and she sees a rise in grocery orders around this time of year. Carlough also said because the turkeys are frozen, the shipping prices would be a little higher than regular prices.
“It just depends you know. If it was just one turkey, then it would be, like $24, to any one of the villages.”
Kodiak Area Native Association, or KANA, used to run a program to send turkeys out to the village elders during Thanksgiving, and Island Air brought them out. The program is not running this year, but a KANA spokesperson said that they hope to bring it back in the future.
Sharon Andrews used to be the Postmaster in Emmonak. Between 2010 and 2012 she stole several registered mail packages that each contained large amounts of cash inside.
In May of 2010, she took three packages that contained $44,000. In September that year, she took another package that included $25,000, and in October of 2012, she took five additional packages, which contained $93,100 inside.
All of the packages were supposed to be forwarded on to the AC Store in the nearby village of Kotlik.
Andrews, 54, pled guilty to four felony charges that she stole mail as an officer or employee of the U.S. Postal Service. Chief U.S. District Court Judge Ralph Beistline sentenced her to four months in prison and three years of supervised release.
She also has to pay most of the money back—$164,700 dollars. She had already paid back the difference, from some of the stolen money that she had kept.
She told the court that she burned most of the money out of anger from people in the village using it on drugs and alcohol. She admitted to spending a little of it on a used car and other items.
Registered mail is tracked and insured. Assistant U.S. Attorney Bryan Schroder says while it wasn’t obvious who had stolen the money there were receipts showing a limited number of people who would have handled the mail.
Billy Strickland of Bethel has been chosen to run the Alaska School Activities Association. He’ll be starting the job as Executive Director next summer. Strickland has been working in the Bethel area for 25 years.
“What I think it gives me is a lot of insight in terms of some of the challenges for running programs in Rural Alaska,” Strickland says.
His Southern drawl is deceiving. He moved to Bethel when he was just 14 and he’s been here ever since except for when he left for college. Upon returning to the area he immediately got involved in coaching. It started with Native Youth Olympics for five years but he says he probably knows basketball better than anything other sport because he’s had a hand in coaching that on and off for 22 years.
“It’s a bug,” Strickland said. “When you coach you coach because you can’t not coach, almost. It’s a mission.”
For the past 12 years Strickland has also been the Dean of Students and Activities Director for Bethel Regional High School. Before that he taught high school social studies and accounting.
As ASAA executive director, he will manage seven staff and be responsible for authorizing 33 activities across Alaska.
Gary Matthews is retiring as ASAA’s director after 21 years.
“I think it’s the best job in the state,” Matthews said..
Matthews said the organization is often linked with sports and for good reason. It sponsors all high school championships throughout the state except for NYO. They certify coaches and license about 1,000 sport officials a year but Matthews said they do a lot more than that.
“We sponsor and oversee the student government association, we have two statewide music festivals,” Matthews said. “We have a debate, drama, and forensics state championship. We have a rural language declamation or people used to call [it] foreign language, which is a contest where kids recite poetry in certain languages and answer questions. We also have the only on-line all-state art competition in the country.”
Strickland was chosen by the organization’s board of directors and Matthews thinks they made the right choice. He says Strickland’s Rural Alaska background will be an asset.
“And the statewide perspective, that’s a big thing,” Matthews said. “Having a broad perspective and an appreciation for what goes on all over the state is very important. I think Billy brings that to the job.”
It won’t be easy for Strickland to leave Bethel. He says he’s leaving behind a job that he loves.
“I’d always kind of envisioned when I retired that I would be the blubbering idiot on the back of the plane leaving Bethel not knowing when I would be coming back,” Strickland said jokingly.
He does know, at least for the next school year, he will be visiting because his daughter and wife will stay here through his daughter’s senior year. He also knows that he will be seeing many local students when they make their way to statewide competitions in Anchorage.
Juneau’s Enroll Alaska agent Mike Clark has so far seen about 24 people, and appointments continue to come in.
After a delayed launch in Juneau, Clark started helping people sign up for health insurance at Bartlett Regional Hospital last week. “We have a backlog of about 75 people that have been wanting to get enrolled and I just see that increasing as we get closer to the December 15th cut off for January 1 starts,” he said.
Clark has seen individuals, families, and a couple small businesses owners – people from across the income spectrum.
“There are people that are eligible for subsidies, there are people that aren’t eligible for subsidies, there are people that are eligible for Medicaid, there are people that are just researching if they can get a better policy than their employer offers – a lot of shopping going on right now,” he said.
Clark said his normal schedule at Bartlett will be Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday afternoons, 1 to 5 .pm. With the holiday this week, Clark will be available for appointments on Friday afternoon.
Enroll Alaska’s Chief Operating Officer Tyann Boling said a second Juneau agent will be located at Walmart, hopefully, within the next two weeks, “Next week is the week that the website is supposed to be functioning better and we are going to be making a trip to Juneau and getting one of our other gents up and on board and then he will be working at the Walmart.”
Boling said healthcare.gov is still experiencing problems, making it difficult to sign people up for an insurance plan.
Clark said he’s had some positive experiences with the website but hasn’t completed an enrollment in Juneau yet.
Forty minutes wasn’t enough time to decide Tuesday’s game between the University of Alaska Anchorage and UC Riverside.
With the score remaining locked at the end of regulation and after the first 5 minutes of overtime, the UAA Seawolves pulled ahead and held on to win 83-75.
After a slow start, where the Seawolves shot 8-38 from the field, and only 2-12 from beyond the three-point line, the Seawolves trailed by 14 points at the halfway point.
UAA Head Coach Ryan McCarthy said going into the second half, the team was focused on remaining positive.
“We locked down defensively, and we just talked about controlling the things that we could control, which are defense and rebounds,” McCarthy said. “Ultimately, that led to fast-break baskets.”
“The game picked up in a faster pace, which is more our style, and that definitely went in our favor to bring the game into overtime.”
UC Riverside Head Coach John Margaritis gave credit to the Seawolves, saying his team was outplayed.
“If you weren’t ready to play, you paid,” he said. “They crashed the boards – they had 21 offensive rebounds; they beat us from point A to point B; they hit threes.”
UC Riverside didn’t make a single three-pointer, which Margaritis says was in large part to a stingy defense from UAA.
UAA junior guard Alli Madison, who finished the game with 17 points and 12 rebounds, said their defense was a major factor in the outcome of the game.
“That’s a lot of game plan,” she said. “We ran a zone that we’re zone that we’re pretty talented at when work hard, and in that second half we were a little motivated to get out and pressure and I think that’s really want did it in for them.”
UAA will face Georgetown University at 5:00 p.m. Wednesday night for the Great Alaska Shootout Championship.
The Seawolf men’s team will open up their tournament against Texas Christian at 10:00 p.m. Wednesday.
With the Federal Aviation Administration considering Alaska as a drone test site, lawmakers are drafting a policy for their use in the state.
While the Legislative Task Force on Unmanned Aircraft Systems finds that the FAA’s regulations on privacy and safety cover most of their concerns, the draft report they released Monday lays out the potential for a few Alaska-specific rules. They recommend establishing a public review panel for drone use, and they want drones to be painted in high visibility color schemes.
The panel also reviewed scenarios where drone use could violate a person’s privacy, and concluded that most cases are covered by FAA regulations, the Alaska Constitution’s privacy clause, and existing state law. Trespassing, stalking, and spying are already illegal, whether or not a person is using a drone to do it.
Rep. Shelley Hughes, a Palmer Republican who chairs the task force, says there’s a balance between respecting people’s privacy rights and allowing drones to be used in beneficial ways, like search-and-rescue missions and wildlife research.
“We don’t want to single out the tool. We want to remember that if there’s a problem, it would be with the operator and not the tool,” says Hughes. “We want to be technology neutral.”
The task force also finds that existing rules prohibit the arming of drones and that they require law enforcement to get warrants or approved flight plans before using them in criminal cases.
A bill based on these recommendations is expected to be introduced during the upcoming legislative session.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Anchorage announced last week that four men from Southcentral Alaska had been charged with illegally shooting two bull moose inside Denali National Park in 2012.
Ahtna Incorporated is planning to develop natural gas wells near Glennallen in order to supply local communities.
They recently licensed 44,000 acres of state land about 15 miles west of Glenallen.
They would be the first organization to go beyond exploration all the way to production. Ahtna land and resource manager Joe Bovee says that’s because their goals are different. Unlike like previous explorers, they aren’t looking for oil to export.
“It wouldn’t be a real money maker or lucrative to any company, but for our local demands it would probably offset our fuel costs 30-40 percent,” Bovee said.
The data they have from previous exploration indicates that there is enough gas to provide heat and electricity to the local area for 50 to 100 years at a minimum.
Bovee says the important thing about the project is it would keep people living in the Ahtna region. Ahtna would only earn about $100,000-$200,000 per year, which would go toward operating costs.
The current plan is to distribute gas to local residents and possibly utilities via a small pipeline. Houses and electric generators would have to be retrofitted to use gas instead of oil. Eventually they might build a small LNG plant to get the gas to Valdez or Delta Junction.
Right now, the company is working on refining the 2D seismic data gathered in the 50s, 60s, 70s, and 90s.
“And to compare that it’s like looking at a black and white television from the 50s or 60s,” Bovee said. “Reprocessing it, it’s still 2D seismic data however it will be more of a flat screen, HD-color type. So we can re-evaluate that.”
Then they’ll know where to build a production pad and start drilling. They hope to be done with exploration before the Middle Earth Frontier tax credits expire in mid-2016. The legislature passed the credits in 2012 to encourage oil and gas exploration in areas outside of the North Slope and Cook Inlet. He says the credit makes exploration worthwhile, and ultimately will be a good deal for the state.
“The cost savings at the school district i.e. the state of Alaska would have to be paying to operate the Glennallen school over say 10 or 20 years would save whatever you end up paying in tax credits to a company to explore for oil or natural gas in a Middle Earth Frontiers tax credit area,” Bovee said.
Bovee says they hope to be sending gas into homes by early 2017.
The latest round of Bering Sea storms beat up the Southwest Alaska coastline, including Newtok. The community’s move to the Mertarvik site on Nelson Island may be more pressing than ever, but the long relocation process is in a holding pattern due to a tribal council dispute.
Residents in Newtok have known for years that their community faces serious risks with rapidly advancing erosion. The November storms pushed water up to the community’s essential infrastructure. Stanley Tom describes himself as the tribal administrator for the traditional council. That is for the old council, which does not have support of the BIA or the state.
“It’s really bad, I mean the erosion is really near, the fuel header is being impacted right now, it just around the erosion and the water source is getting there, our last water source will be impacted next summer,” said Tom.
The struggle between the old and new council led to a wasted 2013 construction season at the emergency shelter at the new site. The dispute is built around the idea that the old council did not hold elections for 7 years. In October of last year, elections were held and the old council was voted out.
George Carl is Vice President of the new council. He points to the community being upset with perceived competency issues with the old council.
“Well I’d call it a playhouse, after the expiration of their terms, you know if you understand what’s going on, according to my understanding, these guys were illegally operating all these years without any elections, that kind of stuff,” said Carl.
The old council points to different elections in November in which the members retained their seats. In any case, the agencies that fund projects like relocation can’t have dueling councils.
“There’s not two councils out there, there’s only one council. The dispute is over who are the council members that control the funds, and the action, and the progress.”
Scott Ruby is the director for the state division of community and regional affairs. The agency started working with the new council after the BIA issued its decision in July to work with the new council.
It hasn’t been a smooth transition. The old council has not given the new council access to the offices or the important financial records. They’ve had to set up new bank accounts. Stanley Tom accuses the new council of stealing letterhead and documents.
In the meantime, the community is trying to move. They have about 10 million dollars in grants through the state with 4 million spent, but perhaps not all properly. An audit by the state found some troubling accounting, and they want 302 thousand dollars back, according to Ruby.
“Preliminary findings are that there are some double billings of some of the expenses that were filed for materials and purchases, and there were some inconsistencies with the payroll and so the audit as it is now says that we will consider some of these expenses are not to be valid, and they need to be repaid,” said Ruby.
Stanley Tom says it goes back to accounting mistakes from when the DOT was managing the project, before the local leadership took over. The audit highlights some of the wages that Tom received along with project consultant George Owletuck.
“We did get paid way less than the state agencies were getting paid, they were getting paid 168 and hour and we were way below, like we billed like $80 an hour and they were still complaining,” said Tom.
With or without the longtime leader, the project is inching back to life and the 2014 construction season is not far away. The evacuation shelter is now just an empty concrete foundation and will require new drawings to be able to use the materials that sit on the site. Ruby says the tribe is not yet spending funds, but it’s able to do the background work.
“Coming up next summer: these are the things that need to be done. Let’s work on getting this stuff ready so we can order whatever materials need to ordered for the barges so they can be put on the barges, you know whatever permits need to be done,” said Ruby.
In the meantime, the old council is appealing the BIA’s decision. They say they have proof of elections. The case goes to a national board which could wait a year before it takes up the appeal.
The state has ordered a Seattle-based medevac insurance program to end coverage in Alaska.
Marty Hester of the Alaska Division of Insurance says it’s changed the way it does business. That means it has to follow a different set of rules.
“The exemption they were operating under was as a nonprofit. And with their corporate restructure, they were no longer deemed a nonprofit. Therefore, the exemption no longer applied to them,” Hester says.
The decision will not affect Airlift Northwest’s ability to provide medical evacuation flights in the state.
It and other air ambulance services take seriously ill or injured patients to hospitals with levels of care not locally available. Medevacs can cost $100,000 or more, depending on the distance and route.
Airlift Northwest began more than 30 years ago as part of the University of Washington’s medical system, which also includes hospitals and clinics. It operated for a while as a separate nonprofit group. But it moved back to the university a few years ago.
Executive Director Chris Martin says Airlift Northwest remains a nonprofit agency under Washington state rules. So she’s disappointed Alaska officials decided it isn’t.
“We have a business license with the state of Alaska. We have our Juneau base in the state of Alaska. Nothing has changed and this letter to us came out of the blue,” she says.
Martin says the AirCare program has more than 1,600 Alaska members.
They’ve all been sent a letter saying coverage will end when their year-long memberships run out. The program also will not enroll any new Alaska members.
The state insurance division’s Hester says the issue is not at all related to the Affordable Care Act, also called Obamacare.
He says Airlift Northwest voluntarily complied with the order. And he says it could change its Alaska program and resume business.
“If they decide to become compliant with Alaska insurance statutes, and offer an approved insurance product, then they would be able to offer the membership program,” Hester says.
Airlift Northwest’s Martin says it started the AirCare program to fill a need, not to make money.
So she says that’s not going to happen.
“You know, we are part of the University of Washington and our mission is our medical transports, not insurance. Nor is the university’s,” Martin says.
Most of its Alaska business is in Southeast, but it also serves Anchorage and other parts of the state.
Fairbanks-based Apollo Medi Trans offers medevac insurance in Alaska. The state shut it down for part of this year after it failed to renew its license. State officials say it’s not affected by this decision.
Rain in Interior Alaska is rare, or so it might seem, but the region has seen rain fall in November in seven of the last 12 winters. An explanation remains a mystery.
Rick Thoman is the Climate Science and Services Manager for the National Weather Service in Alaska. After a fierce winter storm brought freezing rain to the Fairbanks area this month, Thoman decided to do some detective work.
“This is part of Forensic climatology,” Thoman said.
While Forensic Climatology isn’t actually a science, Thoman has spent the last few weeks combing through more than a century’s worth of climate data for the region. He says winter-time rain has pelted the Interior before.
“We can see that both in the 1960’s and in the 1920’s and 30’s there was even more winter rains than we’ve had lately,” Thoman said.
Those periods were separated by decades with few if any rain events. Thoman says there isn’t a distinct pattern to rain-laden storms, so he doesn’t really have an explanation.
“Well, we actually have not been able to find the smoking gun in this case,” Thoman said. “It does not appear to be well correlated with the usually things we look at for driving winter climate in Interior Alaska.”
Those are things like sea surfaces temperatures in the North Pacific.
“That perhaps is less surprising than we might think, because these are very specific weather events and those kind of climate drivers like sea surface temperature anomalies tend to operate over longer time scales, whereas these are just one or two or three-day type events,” Thoman said.
So even if his investigation is inconclusive, Thoman say it might be a god idea to keep an umbrella nearby.
“The periods in the 1920’s and 30’s and the 1960’s lasted longer than we’ve had so far, so based on that past record, so we might expect more of these in the relatively near future, but we have to remember that these don’t all have the same mechanisms behind us and it’s certainly a good example of how the past may not be a guide to the future,” Thoman said.
The forecast for this the last week of November calls for clouds over the Interior and maybe a few snowflakes, but no mention of rain.
Juneau’s Filipino community will contribute more than $21,000 to the relief effort for victims of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. That’s the amount raised during Saturday’s fundraising dinner.
The dinner was scheduled to start at 5 pm but by 4:45, there was already a line of people waiting outside the Filipino Community Hall in downtown Juneau.
By 5:15, the building was packed. “It’s pretty busy,” says Mayden Cristobal, who was selling tickets. “We are swamped. There’s a lot of people and we have a lot of donations.”
Tickets cost $15 per plate. “Some were paying $50 and some were giving out $100 bill for a $15 plate dinner,” says Dante Reyes, president of Filipino Community, Incorporated.
Shortly after Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines November 8th, the non-profit decided to cancel its annual free Thanksgiving Day meal and, instead, hold a fundraising dinner and auction.
State legislators and past and present assembly members stood with members of Filipino Community, Inc to help serve food to about 515 people. The evening brought in more than $21,000. Reyes says some of the gifts were very personal, like Gabriel Kelley’s donation. Reyes says Kelley was raising money for his own trip to France and decided to give half of it to the fundraiser.
“I opened the envelope and I was very, very surprised with the amount. It was a $1,000 check,” describes Reyes. “I am not an emotional person but at the time I am holding back something. Somebody – not a Filipino, not related to a Filipino – instead of having that for himself, he shared it to those who need that big amount of money in the Philippines.”
A portion of the total money raised will go to Juneau’s sister city in the Philippines, Kalibo, which is in Aklan province. “Aklan, too, was damaged by Typhoon Haiyan,” explains Reyes. “It is also on the path of Typhoon Haiyan going out of the Philippines. And it also has devastated not only homes and properties but also some human lives.”
Josielind Ferrer is on the Filipino Community, Inc. board of directors. Ferrar is from the Visayas region, one of the areas hardest hit by Haiyan. Almost every Filipino at the fundraiser was affected in some way by the typhoon.
“We are doing okay,” says Ferrer. “As far as mental, emotional, we are hanging in there. We’re all strong, keeping everybody strong for each other, but with the help of the community – the whole Juneau community – this is definitely giving us more of a boost.”
She says she was overwhelmed by how many people were at the dinner, especially since it was such a last minute event, “but it looks like, just like the Filipino community, Filipinos managed to put it all together and hang in there and like they say, rise up Philippines, and we will do that.”
Petersburg’s mayor is pleased with the court decision in favor of the state’s latest redistricting plan. The legislative boundary map will put Petersburg in a district with Sitka and 22 other small Southeast communities, including Kupreanof, Kake, Angoon, Craig, Coffman Cove, Port Protection and Point Baker. Petersburg is in a district with Juneau under the interim plan that’s currently in place.
The new map makes more sense, according to Mayor Mark Jensen. “I just think we’re more alike than we are with downtown Juneau,” Jensen said.
“I think we’re more of a working town, fishing town and they’re more of a government type run city. So I think there’s differences. Not that I have any bad things to say about the representation we had after redistricting happened from Dennis Egan and Beth Kerttula. I just think we’re more on the even grounds having the smaller communities in with us.”
The Alaska Redistricting Board’s latest plan got approval from Superior Court Judge Michael McConahy last week. The Associated Press reported that two of the plaintiffs who challenged that map do not plan to appeal the decision.
The Petersburg borough assembly this summer voted to back the new configuration which was the result of a Supreme Court ruling. That’s after the municipality joined the lawsuit against the interim plan which put Petersburg with Juneau.
That interim map will still be in place for the upcoming legislative session – meaning Petersburg will continue to be represented by Juneau democrats Beth Kerttula in the house and Dennis Egan in the Senate.
Ultimately, Jensen thinks the new district gives Petersburg a better chance of securing state funding for projects. “Instead of trying to get funding competing with the bigger municipalities. But as all of us know that the funding is going to be harder to come by anyway just the state of the, well the conditions of the state’s finances.”
Assuming no other parties to the redistricting lawsuit appeal the judge’s decision, Petersburg and Kupreanof voters will be deciding on representation for the new district for the state primary next August. Sitka democratic state representative Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins plans to run for the new Sitka-Petersburg house district. Petersburg resident and republican Stephen Samuelson plans to challenge him for that seat.
Petersburg’s new house district is 35. Its paired with the Ketchikan-Wrangell house district to make up Senate district “R.” Sitka Republican Bert Stedman does not have to run for re-election in 2014 and will represent the new Southeast Senate district including Petersburg in 2015.
A small Canadian mining company is in the exploratory phases of setting up a graphite mine on the Seward Peninsula. Though years away from being operational, the Graphite Creek deposit could be the nation’s first and only graphite mine.
The National Science Foundation’s new arctic research vessel Sikuliaq will spend the winter undergoing trials in the Great Lakes. The 261 foot ship to be operated by the University of Alaska Fairbanks, was launched in Lake Michigan a year ago, but the Sikuliaq’s original target date for arrival at homeport in Seward has been delayed a year due to technical problems.
A state and federally funded task group has investigated biomass energy potential in 75 communities around the state. Alaska Energy Authority Biomass manager Devany Plentovich is tracking projects that have resulted from a base line analysis that looked at availability of wood and opportunity for turning it into energy.
Health Insurer Premera Alaska will allow 5,200 customers in the state to keep their insurance plans.
The company canceled the plans for 2014 because they didn’t meet requirements of the Affordable Care Act. But earlier this month, after public outcry, President Obama said insurers could offer those canceled plans for another year, as long as states allowed it.
Premera spokesperson Melanie Coon says customers will have to extend their plans by December 31st:
“We’re planning to offer extensions to our members in Alaska. And right now we’re still finalizing the details with the division of insurance,” Coon said. ”So we do have some details to work out, but we do plan on offering those extensions to our members.”
Premera says it will have more details on the insurance plan extensions soon, including whether rates will increase, as they normally would each year. Customers will also have the option of buying new coverage on the healthcare.gov marketplace. That’s the only way to qualify for subsidies to help pay for insurance.
Enroll Alaska reports the healthcare.gov website is slowly improving. The insurance brokerage has enrolled 78 Alaskans on the marketplace so far. Chief Operating Officer Tyann Boling says on a scale of 1-10, the website is functioning at about a four.
“Any type of complexity, the system does not function well at all with. And the challenge is Americans lives are complex,” Boling said.
Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC) decided to cut funding to Juneau’s homeless medical center at the end of September due to budgetary constraints.
Front Street Clinic got a six month reprieve when the community was able to raise more than $120,000.
Now, a coalition of local organizations have joined together to keep the clinic open, hopefully, forever.
Front Street Clinic is in the process of becoming its own non-profit organization with a new name – Front Street Health Center. It will still offer the same services – medical, dental, and behavioral health. And it’ll be run by a board of directors from agencies involved in the care of the homeless population.
“I think that all of these agencies just realized that if the Front Street Clinic disappeared, this huge gap would appear that nobody could fill,” says Mariya Lovishchuk, executive director of The Glory Hole, Juneau’s soup kitchen and shelter.
She’s also the president of the newly formed Front Street Health Center board. Other members come fromAWARE, Bartlett Regional Hospital, Catholic Community Services, Juneau Alliance for Mental Health, REACH, and St. Vincent de Paul. The board also includes a physician, a public health nurse, and an accountant.
“Because so many entities are coming together, the clinic will be able to function really affordably and in a really sensible manner because the burden is now shared across so many caring and competent organizations,” says Lovishchuk.
Board members are providing resources and services to help run Front Street. For example,Catholic Community Services will take care of Medicaid and Medicare billing, REACH is in charge of janitorial services, and an accountant for Elgee Rehfeld Mertz will do Front Street taxes. “I just feel so grateful to live in a community that has so many dedicated and caring individuals and organizations coming together to ensure that people have access to a very, very basic thing which is primary medical care,” says Lovishchuk.
Board vice president Dr. Carlton Heine was one of several emergency room doctors who donated money when Front Street was in danger of shutting down in October. He says they recognized that if the clinic closed, most of its patients would end up in the ER.
”We’re very good at heart attacks and broken bones and lacerations. We’re not very good at chronically managing diabetes or hypertension or chronic health care,” Heine explains. “We’re good at acute care, not at chronic ongoing primary care, and the Front Street Clinic does a much better job of providing that kind of service for these patients.”
Bartlett Regional Hospital will provide laboratory and imaging services for Front Street. If a patient needs an x-ray or blood test, instead of being sent to SEARHC, the patient would go to Bartlett. “Paying a little bit for these appropriate tests ordered through a primary care doctor is certainly a less expensive route for the hospital than having these patients become much sicker, patients in the emergency department with those tests being done through the emergency department, and then potentially sick enough to be admitted to the hospital because they haven’t had the appropriate primary care,” Heine says.
The plan is for Front Street Clinic to become Front Street Health Center when SEARHC gives up management. “Currently SEARHC is operating the clinic through the end of April and we are working very closely with the homeless coalition in Juneau to make – if at all possible – a seamless transition,” explains Dan Neumeister, the organization’s chief financial officer.
Partial funding for Front Street Clinic comes from a $160,000 grant from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration, which ends April 30th.The new Front Street Health Center board hopes to secure the same federal grant, as well as pursue other funding sources.
SEARHC operated Front Street at around $600,000 a year. Lovishchuk says the anticipated budget under the new board is 30 percent lower.
Another difference is that more people will be able to access services. Front Street Health Center will still cater to the homeless, but will also be available to low-income people and others in need of medical care.
A group of Juneau residents are tackling the issue of racism head on.
Their work started earlier this year, and sprang out of the trial of George Zimmerman for killing unarmed Florida teenager Trayvon Martin, as well as a series of local events that had been building up for years.
The group held a panel discussion last Friday at the University of Alaska Southeast called “Deconstructing Racism: Power and Privilege in Our Community.”
UAS Professor Sol Neely started by setting the scene for a short skit by local writer Christy Namee Eriksen: “Act One: “If Racism Was a Burning Kitchen.” An Asian and a Caucasian are standing in a kitchen. The kitchen is on fire.”
Twitchell: “Whoa! Is the kitchen on fire?”
MacNaughton: “Are you calling me an arsonist? I am not an arsonist.”
Twitchell: “I am literally burning up. I’m pretty sure the kitchen is ON FIRE.”
MacNaughton: “I didn’t build this house, I just live here.”
Twitchell: “Let’s leave and build a new house.”
MacNaughton: “I’m not going anywhere, this is my house.”
Twitchell is a Tlingit speaker and a professor of Alaska Native Languages at UAS. MacNaughton is an artist and social justice activist. They were joined by Neely, Alaska Native storytellerIshmael Hope, and Northern Light United Church Pastor Phil Campbell.
Twitchell acknowledged many people prefer to avoid talking about race and racism. He said the panel’s discussion was not the beginning of the conversation, nor should it be the end.
“It’s important that this conversation occurs throughout our community on a regular basis,” he said. “So that we can become more aware of the types of things that create oppression.”
Like the Asian character in Eriksen’s play suggesting they leave the burning house and build a new one, the panelists suggested tearing down social systems that create racism. Hope said too often people of color are marginalized.
“And in fact, often get thrown into jail, targeted, not supported for success, put in the area where they are denied access to success, and to power, and to privilege, and any kind of authority,” Hope said.
He pointed to the Alaska Native dropout rate, which is often cited as an example of inherent racism in the education system. According to the National Indian Education Association, Alaska is one of 14 states where the Native American graduation rate is lower than 60 percent.
“There’s something wrong there,” Hope said.
The panelists said an incident last April during the Alaska Folk Festival sparked them to begin talking about racism locally. A group of revelers at the annual bourbon brunch, which is not officially part of Folk Festival, dressed up in Asian-themed garb. Pictures of the event were posted on social media, leading to questions about whether it was racist.
MacNaughton says she found the photos “mildly to wildly offensive.”
“Mostly focused on really sexually demeaning, stereotypical, female images of Asian women,” MacNaughton said.
She decided to speak out after playwright Eriksen was attacked on Facebook for pointing out how the party was offensive. MacNaughton said it can be difficult for white people to admit that something they have done is racist, or to speak out when they witness racism taking place.
“And I don’t mean to pick on other white people,” she said. “I have said racist things naively. I haven’t spoken up every time I’ve heard or seen something racist. Sometimes people take your breath away. Sometimes you just don’t have the words or know how to respond in the moment.”
The Reverend Phil Campbell has taught social justice classes at universities and theology schools. He says white people have work to do when it comes to talking about race.
“We’re not very skilled at understanding ourselves as ‘raced,’” he said. “And therefore, racism is someone else’s problem that we might help with, when, in fact, I would posit it is primarily, in this society, a white problem.”
Toward the end of the discussion an audience member asked the panelists if they were optimistic about the future. Twitchell said he was cautiously optimistic, noting that Alaska Natives still have higher suicide rates, and higher rates of being victims of violent crime than other races.
“But I am optimistic, because we can have these conversations and they occur on a larger level,” said Twitchell.
Sol Neely responded to the question by quoting African American philosopher and activist Cornel West, who said: “I cannot be an optimist but I am a prisoner of hope.”
The conversation about race and racism continues Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. at Northern Light United Church, which has been hosting similar conversations monthly since September.