President Obama today sent letters to Congressional leaders formally requesting wilderness protection for parts of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, including the coastal plain.
The letters follow through on a plan the White House announced in late January, enraging Alaska’s governor and congressional delegation, who want the area opened to oil exploration.
Obama’s action today changes nothing on the ground. Only Congress can declare an area “wilderness,” resulting in the highest level of resource protection.
Despite decades of pressure from environmentalists, Congress has refused to confer wilderness status on the coastal plain of the refuge, and the president’s request is unlikely to change that.
The Fish and Wildlife Service says that unless Congress acts, it will continue the current management regime for the coastal plain, known as “minimal management.”
Residents of the small Southeast Alaska town of Hyder no longer have nighttime access to emergency medical care.
Canadian officials began closing the road linking Hyder with nearby Stewart, British Columbia, on April 1. Hyder residents depend on Stewart for health care and mainland road access.
The cost-cutting measure locks the border gate from midnight to 8 a.m.
Ketchikan Representative Dan Ortiz, whose district includes Hyder, says it’s an unsafe situation.
“It’s the established emergency evacuation route,” Ortiz said. It’s the only evacuation route if you have a tsunami or a flood. And then, or course, in the middle of the night if you have an emergency medical issue you don’t have access to a hospital because the hospital they use is in Stewart.”
The Alaska city of fewer than 100 residents is about 75 miles northeast of Ketchikan. Stewart, a few miles away, has about 500 people.
The closure comes at the start of the area’s tourist season. Business-owners say it will scare away bear-viewers, photographers and anglers who head out in the early morning hours.
Ortiz protested the closure to the Canadian Border Services Agency.
“While I haven’t had any direct evidence of a commitment of change, I do think there’s room there for a solution that will meet the concerns of the folks in Stewart and in Hyder,” Ortiz said.
He says a remote-access system for unlocking the border gate could solve the problem.
U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski also contacted Canadian officials to argue against thee closure.
Clean air advocates say they’re disappointing that local and state regulators haven’t made more progress in getting the Fairbanks North Star Borough’s air-quality program up and going. Citizens for Clean Air members are worried the slow-moving process could jeopardize the local program, because opponents are already working to get an initiative before voters in the fall.
Citizens for Clean Air coordinator Patrice Lee told the regulators and two top Assembly members at a meeting Tuesday that the slow process of establishing the local program may give the public a perception that it’s not going to improve the area’s air quality. She cites the example of the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s review of the ordinance adopted by the borough Assembly on Feb. 27 that established the program.
“We found out that it takes more time than what has happened for ADEC to go through the ordinance and decide which parts would actually strengthen the SIP,” Lee said.
The state implementation plan, or SIP, spells out how the DEC intends to improve the Fairbanks area’s air quality enough to bring it into compliance with federal law.
Cindy Heil, with the DEC’s Air-Quality Division, says her agency intends to complete its review of the ordinance soon, then add portions of it to an amended version of the state plan.
“We’re hoping to do that this summer,” Heil said. “That’s still our intent.”
Heil says it takes time to conduct a thorough review and the followup public comment period.
Borough Air Quality Manager Ron Lovell says his agency can’t do much yet because it’s still awaiting funding.
“We don’t have the resources at this point,” Lovell said. “I mean, I’m barely getting by with what I’ve got.”
Lovell says the borough administration will propose funding for the program at the April 9th Assembly meeting, and that he hopes to have a budget by the end of the month.
Lee says the clean-air advocates also were disappointed to learn that five months after voters defeated a measure that would’ve kept the state in charge of local air quality, the borough still has only one operator for its one vehicle equipped with a mobile device that measures air quality. And that the borough air-quality staff lacks training to determine the opacity of smoke – a measure of how dark it is coming out of the stack.
“We defeated Prop 2 in October. And it’s now April,” Lee said. “And no one has been to opacity training. That’s been something that’s integral to any kind of an air-quality plan.”
No opponents of borough air-quality management were at Tuesday’s meeting at the DEC office in Fairbanks. Assembly Presiding Officer Karl Kassel and Deputy Presiding Officer John Davies both were present. Davies agrees it’s important to show progress on the air-quality program as quickly as possible. He says the work that’s been done since the Assembly adopted the ordinance on Feb. 27th has come at the bureaucratic equivalent of the speed of light.
“A lot of what we heard was frustration and it doesn’t appear that we’re moving fast enough,” Davies said. “And I think that most of us on the Assembly share that concern – that it takes a long time to get these wheels moving.”
But Citizens for Clean Air member Joan Franz says advocates are worried that without solid progress on the local air-quality effort, would-be supporters might not vote to keep the borough in charge of the program if opponents again succeed in placing it on an upcoming ballot.
“We may lose those people to – ‘Well what difference does it make? What difference did it make?’ And I’m afraid of losing some of those people,” Franz said.
Davies agrees that the support of who he calls the “middle-of-the-road” voters will be essential if the issue again ends up on the ballot. He says he’s been assured that opponents are determined to get a citizens initiative before voters in the fall.
A weekend incident in the Anchorage neighborhood of Spenard has left a group of refugees from the Darfur region of Sudan unsure over their safety. It also brought neighbors and police out to show support.
Muhammad Hano Abdullai, who goes by Hano for short, is one of five men living together in the building, along with other tenants. After taking our shoes off just past the door of the second story apartment, Hano grabs two cans of Mountain Dew for me and another guest before taking a seat on the couch. He woke up Sunday morning after his roommate returned from work to find deflated tires and malicious messages scrawled across two of their vehicles.
“All of our cars are written a message that threatening us to go out, to leave Alaska, go home,” Hano said. “And we felt kind of a little bit frightened.”
The incident left the roommates scared not just over what happened, but for their physical safety.
“We don’t know what will happen for the next time,” he said.
That sense of insecurity was compounded by the police response. The other person sitting on the couch is Debby Bock, who for years has helped members of Anchorage’s Darfurian community navigate resources like housing applications that can be tricky even if English is your first language. Bock came over Sunday after a tenant called asking for help, and was surprised that in a driveway full of vehicles the vandal knew exactly which ones belonged to Hano and his roommates.
“Someone had to go to quite a bit of effort to come up with that many negative messages,” Bock said. “They were spelled correctly. And it was, I think, one person’s handwriting. This was something that was planned, and very precise.”
Bock was upset to learn that police had taken a report over the phone from Hano, but couldn’t spare an officer to come to the scene to investigate or reassure the tenants. She even spoke with a Dispatcher herself.
“She said, ‘Do you feel like there’s been a misunderstanding? That they feel like no report has been filed because no one has appeared in person?’ And I said, ‘I don’t know but that’s how I feel, like this is not being taken seriously,'” Bock said.
The Anchorage Police Department did eventually send an officer over Sunday afternoon, after responding to a possible suspect in the area. However, Hano had gone to work by then, and the officers spoke briefly with another roommate. The message got lost. But on Tuesday the Department reached out to Hano to say things should have gone differently.
“Looking in retrospect it would have been in the benefit to have sent an officer just to go over there and meet with the complainant, and be able to explain to them what the next steps or processes were,” Jennifer Castro, a spokesperson for the police department, said.
Castro says over the phone the incident came across like a vandalism case with minimal damage. In the days after the incident many in Anchorage asked why the department wasn’t calling this a hate crime. Castro says federal hate crime laws are part of sentencing, but you first need to show a suspect committed the act.
“But at this time we don’t have a suspect, we don’t have that confirmation that this ultimately was a hate crime,” Castro said. “I think there’s some clear indications from what the phrases that were that were written on the vehicle that could suggest that this is possibly a hate crime. But we still have to do that legwork in the investigation.”
Police are looking for leads in the case. Catholic Social Services has also gotten in touch with the Federal Bureau of Investigation about whether or not the incident merits Bureau attention.
Retelling the incident Hano looks hurt. He’s been in Anchorage for half a decade since leaving Darfur, after spending four years in a refugee camp in Ghana. There, he met two of the men that are now his roommates. Hano’s mother is in a refugee camp in Chad, and phone contact is difficult. That sentiment of ‘go home’ stings because Hano has made this his home.
“For now I’m working and studying. And I want to go get my education qualifications. And work to save some money. Also to live [a] better life, and to be happy, and to live secure and peaceful,” Hano said.
The roommates are planning on moving out of the Spenard building. They are grateful for the support neighbors and community members have shown, but they don’t feel secure anymore. A church donated money to help them relocate. And they even got a new set of tires from the neighbors next door at the Hell’s Angels Club House.
Picture Alaska 100 years ago – the open tundra, the dense forests – and the gardens. We’re looking at the state’s horticultural past with guests from the Alaska Botanical Gardens. We’ll talkabout historical planting methods and how they can still be used today.
HOST: Anne Hillman
- Ginger Hudson, Horticultural Project Manager
- Ayse Gilbert, Landscape Designer and Garden Historian
- Callers statewide
- 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, April 7, 2015 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.
With Anchorage’s local election just around the corner, KSKA and Alaska Public media are bringing you a look at those running for mayor. As KSKA’s Zachariah Hughes reports, Ethan Berkowitz hopes to draw on his political background from Juneau to improve local government in Anchorage.
Berkowitz was in the Legislature for a decade, serving as the Democratic minority whip for 8 of those years. On the campaign trail he often quips that Juneau is “broke and broken,” and the biggest impact on the lives of Alaskans happens at the municipal level. As diminishing capital budgets and revenue sharing from the state are changing the fiscal landscape, Berkowitz favors local solutions for budget trimming.
“First there’s a procurement program called ARIBA that we did away with, and that saved about $10 million in its infancy. And if we were to resurrect it and bring it back again the projections are, from people who have run it, that it would save $15-20 million annually,” Berkowitz said. “Secondly, I’d look at the energy efficiencies that we could get out of the municipal buildings. If we go through and make those energy efficient that’s a $5 million savings. We could put LED’s in 15,000 light-poles, save another $4 million.”
Since leaving state politics, Berkowitz helped start a broadband company and has worked on a geothermal energy project near Nome. His policy proposals for issues like affordable housing follow a similar tendency to look at new solutions.
“We need to build about 900 units a year, and we’re building 400. And in order for us to accommodate the growth in this community we need to acknowledge that we’re gonna have to have denser housing, perhaps mixed retail and residential structures,” he said. “I think the more we can do to build neighborhoods like they’re doing out in Mountain View right now where there’s a little bit of a renaissance going on, we’ll be better off.”
Though he wasn’t in office at the time of the contentious debate over AO-37, Berkowitz has received endorsements from many unions who see his record as supporting the interests of organized labor. Like most candidates in the race, Berkowitz is advocating public safety approaches that begin with hiring more police officers.
“I’d like to see us return to a time where we had the drug unit back in place, the gang unit, the theft unit,” Berkowitz said. “I also want to see us be able to do more community policing. Community policing is really a way of leveraging the resources we have, of multiplying the force that we have, which ultimately reduces recidivism, reduces cost, and makes our streets, and homes, safer.”
Berkowitz has a broader donor roll than any other candidate. And though he was one of the last candidates to file to run he has the second highest amount of campaign contributions.
With Anchorage’s local election just around the corner, KSKA and Alaska Public media are bringing you a look at those running for mayor. As KSKA’s Zachariah Hughes reports, Andrew Halcro wants to use ideas from the private sector to upgrade Anchorage government.
Halcro has lived in Anchorage for 50 years, and says his family’s prosperity running a rental car business mirrors the city’s own expansion and growth. Much of Halcro’s approach to public policy draws on the same financial pragmatism he says he learned taking over the family business. And at a time when politicians leap on one another over “raiding the permanent fund” or hiking up taxes, Halcro has been frank that it’s not a viable fiscal policy to continue cutting budgets indefinitely.
“So when you talk about funding government you have to start to talk about alternative revenue sources,” Halcro said. “And while a sales tax discussion is premature, I think in the next 3 or 4 years the city will have to start to have that dialogue.”
Halcro spent four years as a Republican legislator in the House from 98 to 2002. More recently he was president of the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce, and has worked with many of the non-profits and businesses he hopes to better leverage in drafting policy. On issues like land use, for example, Halcro wants to pursue emerging trends like developing housing downtown.
“You have to get engaged win tax incentives and tax deferrals. There are several areas: East Downtwon, Fairview, Mountain View, this is where the millennials want to live, 82,000 between the ages of 18 and 34, that’s where they want to live,” Halcro said. “That’s where seniors want to live. So we need to get aggressive. And the challenge is, it’s not just affordable housing, we have housing gridlock and we really need to address the older stock of housing.”
Halcro also looks to downtown for improving public safety. He insists crime data shows Anchorage is becoming a safer place overall, but he worries about the misconceptions created from high-profile violence.
“The violence downtown is suffering a decline in sales simply because of the perception of downtown—and downtown is very safe. But there is a significant problem, for instance, at bar-break,” Halcro said. “And we are spending an incredible amount of resources downtown due to a number of bad bar owners, because the alcohol industry has basically been writing the rules in this community. And the first thing the next mayor needs to do is really rebuild the trust between city hall, the fire, and the police department.”
Though he’s one of the top fundraisers in the mayor’s race, Halcro contributed a significant amount of his own money to the campaign – $85,000 – more than any other candidate.
With Anchorage’s local election just around the corner, KSKA and Alaska Public media are bringing you a look at those running for mayor. As KSKA’s Zachariah Hughes reports, Lance Ahern aims to use his experiences in the tech sector to reduce costs and improve local government.
Ahern made his way to Alaska in the 80s, and later on founded one of the first businesses to offer Internet access to residents. He sold that business, and for the last 10 years has been a IT manager for state and municipal government. With more city services moving online, Ahern says familiarity with IT systems gives him insight into where there are inefficiencies.
“We need to reduce the structural cost of public safety. We need to have less administrative overhead, not just in government overall, but also specifically in public safety,” Ahern said. “So today we run two different 911 dispatch centers—one for police, one for fire. In many places in the Lower-48 they’ve been able to combine those, and there’s no reason why we can’t. We can take that excessive spending and re-invest that into officers on the street.”
Ahern currently works as the Chief Information Officer for the municipality, and has been careful to distance himself from the decisions-making processes that have led to costly delays implementing the SAP software system.
On fiscal policy, Ahern believes the city needs to trim operating costs more than it needs to generate additional revenue. He wants to renovate, not rebuild, the way non-profits and city departments deliver services. Housing and development is one example.
“The rules seem to be a little bit shifted so that the Return on Investment is much better for commercial property development,” Ahern said. “So one of the things I’d be doing immediately in starting as mayor is to sit down with the director of the community development department, to look at the policies we have in place and see how the city deals with that issue from a policy perspective.”
“And see if we can make some changes that help balance the playing field.”
Ahern is running an unconventional campaign. He’s not held public office before, filed to run for mayor on the day of the deadline, and of the $7,856.82 he’s raised, much of it has been spent on digital resources instead of traditional things like signs. He’s also been critical of what he sees as a two-tiered electoral system treating candidates differently based on their fundraising abilities rather than ideas.
He challenged one candidate for not pushing for more inclusion at a forum hosted by the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce.
“So, the question is, do you believe that the Chamber was right to exclude me, or do you think I’m a viable candidate with important messages that the people of Anchorage should hear?” he said.
In the past, Ahern served on the board overseeing KSKA and KAKM.
With Anchorage’s local election just around the corner, KSKA and Alaska Public media are bringing you a look at those running for mayor. As KSKA’s Zachariah Hughes reports, Dustin Darden is bringing his past as a tradesman and strong religious beliefs to the campaign.
Darden caught the attention of many residents with his hand-painted signs set up at busy intersections around town. Two dots over the ‘u’s resemble a smiley face.
“I’m in this thing to win it, baby,” he said.
Darden is a lifelong Anchorage resident with a background as a carpenter. Now he’s employed with city as a maintenance worker. Darden says he’ll take advice from other municipal employees and department heads for reducing costs.
“It’s gonna be finding ways to save money by the employees, by the department heads, and to reward those things,” Darden said. “It’s not a magic bullet to save money, it’s engaging what exists, and encouraging that kind of development.”
One of Darden’s goals is increasing tourism in Anchorage to ensure economic growth. His plan for city revenues is phasing out property taxes.
“I’ve got an idea that I’m throwing out there for the city, if they’re down with it. If we cut property taxes out entirely and replace it with a 5.5-6% sales tax and just replace those, the rent is gonna go down,” he said. “And as a whole it’s gonna make us less reliant on revenues generated from property taxes, and it would also, I believe, boost the morale as a whole because it will give people a more sense of ownership on their property.”
Darden is a devout Christian, and regularly brings up his strong opposition to abortion at candidate forums and during public testimony before the Assembly. His religious views inform how he plans to address issues like public safety and schooling. Asked what constitutes success in Anchorage’s public schools, Darden replied, “back to the basics, back to the Bible. It’s not complicated. It’s simple. But as far as success goes, there’s no more successful way to live than alive in Jesus Christ.”
This is Darden’s first run at elected office.
With Anchorage’s local election just around the corner, KSKA and Alaska Public media are bringing you a look at those running for mayor. As KSKA’s Zachariah Hughes reports, Amy Demboski is running on her conservative record over the last two years on the Anchorage Assembly.
Demboski says her priorities as mayor will be public safety, infrastructure and education. But all of those, she believes, begin with fiscal policy. Demboski says she got into the race, matching donors dollar for dollar with her own money, because she didn’t think there was a true conservative in the field.
“I don’t think we have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem,” she said. “So when we start looking at revenues: yes, we want to diversify the tax base, and that means we want more property on the tax roles, so redevelopment credits for development – I think that’s a great opportunity. Make more land available, I think that’s a great opportunity. But it doesn’t mean we have to tax people more.”
Demboski represents Eagle River and Chugiak in the Assembly, and sits on several different subcommittees on a wide array of topics. She’s been a vocal critic of the city’s SAP implementation during subcommittee meetings about its audit. She’s also on the Title 21 Committee that rewrote Anchorage’s land use code, which informs her views on development.
“When it takes a builder who wants to build a building complex 8 months to get it his permit, there’s a reason we have a shortage. And we have to make it easier for these people to be able to get through the bureaucratic process so they can build these affordable houses for people to live on,” Demboski said. “But, ya know, when we look at it, too, we have to have to have the discussion of the Knik-Arm Bridge. That has to be part of the discussion.”
Demboski’s background is on the business side of managing dentistry practices. And many of her proposals for local government look to the private and non-profit sectors for service improvements.
During debates over AO-37, Demboski opposed a repeal of the controversial labor law. She wants to cut the overtime budget for the police department because she feels its a symptom of inadequate staffing that ultimately costs taxpayers more than a larger force. But Demboski is skeptical of public safety plans that simply hire more police officers.
“We have to invest in the right things, so we have to make sure we have adequate staffing, too, at AFD,” she said. “And that’s something that I put forward: we have 8 more paramedics on the street today, we’re not pulling ambulances out of South Anchorage and West Anchorage to service the downtown area. So we have to be holistic in this, and we can’t look at just APD or AFD, it’s all about public safety.”
In addition to her fiscal approach, Demboski is a strong social conservative, and has garnered an endorsement from former senate candidate Joe Miller among other prominent state Republicans. She is on record as promising to vote against a potential reintroduction of proposition 5, believing the equal protection measure infringes on speech and religious rights.
With Anchorage’s local election just around the corner, KSKA and Alaska Public media are bringing you a look at those running for mayor. As KSKA’s Zachariah Hughes reports, candidate Paul Bauer plans on bringing fiscal prudence to the office.
Bauer retired from the Army after more than two decades of service, and for the last 14 years has been in the private sector as a branch manager for a company working with airlines at Ted Stevens International Airport. When it comes to city finances, Bauer doesn’t think new sources of revenue should be on the table. He expects the state’s current financial difficulties to improve. For now, he think it’s important right now to find existing budget items to trim.
“My view is that if elected mayor the first thing I’m gonna do is set up citizen committees and pose that question to the people,” Bauer said. “Of course privatization is an option. There could be some areas where we could privatize businesses instead of government handling it.”
Bauer’s past political experience includes one term on the Anchorage Assembly from 2005 to 2008. The experience informs his understanding of what a mayor realistically can and cannot do in city politics. On community-level issues like affordable housing, Bauer sees the mayor’s office as a position of influence, but he says solutions need to come from the Assembly and residents.
“It’s gonna take time the housing that we [en]vision developing. And that means helping developers, there’s less buildable land out there, that means the price of housing is gonna cost,” Bauer said. “So I don’t see how we’re really gonna get affordable housing unless the city does come into some tax incentive breaks somewhere. Again, it’s back to the community people to bring it all up and propose it to them to come to a possible solution.”
Another on-the-ground proposal from Bauer is increasing the number of Community Service Officers to handle lower lever public safety issues, freeing up officers for more dangerous incidents.
“Policing today is mainly a reactive force, and I would like to move towards a more proactive department in certain areas, especially in specialized units like gang units, drug units, street crime,” Bauer said. “And that goes along with community policing as well.”
With Anchorage’s local election just around the corner, KSKA and Alaska Public media are bringing you a look at those running for mayor. As KSKA’s Zachariah Hughes reports, Timothy Huit is hoping to bring his background in small business and social work to the office.
Huit hasn’t held elected office before, but as the owner of a roofing business for the last 17 years in Anchorage, he says he understands the difficulties in issues like building new housing units.
“I’d like to have affordable housing zones for private contractors with tax breaks to try to get them motivated,” Huit said. “And I don’t think there’s going to be any easy solutions. I see this as a major problem, you know we’re all struggling to make it.”
Huit has lived in Anchorage since the early ’90s. When it comes to fiscal policies, he thinks the local outlook is much healthier than it is for the state. He doesn’t favor new taxes, and thinks finding efficiencies is a better way to balance the budget for now. Plus, Huit sees some bright spots.
“We also had a record tourism year, we had 1 million visitors to Alaska and Anchorage, and collected $30 million in bed and vehicle tax, and we expect a better year next year,” he said. “So we may not be in as much trouble as we think. We also have the marijuana issue coming on board, and that’s gonna bring us some new revenue.”
Huit has not received much in the way of donations or endorsements. But he’s critical of groups that have left candidates like him out of debates and forums for that reason. He sees his campaign as serious, and raising issues that ought to be part of the election, even if he doesn’t have a sizable war chest.
When it comes to public safety, Huit believes his experience doing street outreach with the Brother Francis shelter is valuable. He thinks the city not only needs more police, but a better strategy for deploying them.
“Geographic policing is one way we’re gonna do that. We’re gonna have officers that may be in an area of town for several years,” Huit said. “I think a critical thing we need to do now is intercede in the academies, and make sure that the ongoing academies focus on that kind of training.”
With Anchorage’s local election just around the corner, KSKA and Alaska Public media are bringing you a look at those running for mayor. As KSKA’s Zachariah Hughes reports, Dan Coffey brings years of experience in local government and business to his campaign, which is both an asset and a liability.
Coffey has lived in Anchorage for almost his entire life. He’s a lawyer by trade, and has represented clients as diverse as the taxi cab industry to commercial developers. He served on the Planning and Zoning Commission, and was hired by the Sullivan administration to consult on a re-write of the city’s land use code.
Coffey says his familiarity with the laws on the books informs his plans for new development in Anchorage.
“First thing, we have a lot of city land and we need to bring that into the private sector–with restrictions and zoning requirements so that they build housing. And mainly high density housing, we need to do that,” he said. “Secondly, we’ve got to fix the regulatory scheme.”
“And then the third thing: the processes of getting permits and development need to be addressed.”
Coffey believes Anchorage’s large tax-base is a buffer against the revenue declines hitting the state, but says he has no intention of changing the existing tax code. As for reducing existing costs, he sees a need, but says two terms on the Assembly, including as chairman, taught him there’s little use speculating on future spending.
“The problem is, until you actually get there you don’t have the depth of knowledge and understanding about all of the ins and outs of what you might actually cut,” Coffey said.
“So the way I look at is as a set of guidelines, and when we get to transition period that’s the time to really dig in and find out those answers with real budgets in front of you and real information from real city employees.”
In addition to his civic and business careers, Coffey served on the board of the United Way until January of this year. He thinks the city needs to better leverage resources in the non-profit sector to deliver services.
“Breaking down the silos, collaborative efforts, so that we don’t have four entities doing something when, if you worked together, you could certainly be more efficient in the use of your resources,” Coffey said. “The second thing is you gotta have standards and metrics to determine if you’re actually accomplishing something.”
Coffey has raised more money than every other candidate in the race – in part, because he filed to run for mayor in 2013, and has been able to appeal to donors multiple times. He addressed criticisms of his past business and political dealings by trying to run an open campaign, putting recent tax returns and other documents online for the public to see.
When it comes to public safety, Coffey has been clear he wants to see the police force grow to 400 officers. At that staffing level he says the city can focus on preventative community policing.
Today we’ll be checking in with the Legislative session in Juneau, and the impacts the latest school funding developments on schools statewide and how it may affect school bonds in Anchorage’s upcoming Municipal Election. And, we’ll take a look at how a group of Sudanese refugees are moving forward after a recent vandalism incident in Anchorage.
HOST: Ellen Lockyer
KSKA (FM 91.1) BROADCAST: Friday, April 3 at 2:00 p.m. and Saturday, April 4 at 6:00 p.m.
Alaska Public Television BROADCAST: Friday, April 3 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, April 4 at 4:30 p.m.
Alaska’s Attorney General has signed on to an amicus brief to the US Supreme Court that says same-sex marriage bans should be upheld. Fifteen states, including eight that currently allow same-sex marriages, signed the brief. It says allowing the federal government to force all states to recognize same-sex marriages would demean the democratic process and cause “incalculable damage to our civic life.”
The attorney general’s office issued a statement saying they signed the brief because “the Attorney General has a duty to defend Alaska’s Constitution.” The Supreme Court will hear arguments on the case in late April and make a final ruling on the issue later this year.
Same-sex marriage was legalized in Alaska in October when a federal court judge overturned the ban. He cited previous decisions by the 9th Circuit Court.
More than 50 fishermen have died after a Russian factory trawler sank in the Sea of Okhotsk on Wednesday.
The Dalny Vostok was hauling in a load of pollock when it started to capsize,according to maritime and government officials. Within 15 minutes, the vessel was totally submerged.
Good Samaritans and rescue teams managed to save about half of the ship’s crew. There were 132 fishermen on board at the time of accident — almost twice as many as the vessel had when it left port in Russia.
A provincial governor told Agence France Presse that many of the crew members were foreign and not wearing life jackets or wetsuits when the ship sank.
Russian officials have started interviewing some of those survivors and the vessel’s owner. According to a state-run news agency, they’re investigating whether the 338-foot trawler was overloaded — and whether it hit a patch of sea ice, damaging the hull.
Russia’s pollock industry has seen big changes in the last few years. The Sea of Okhotsk was named a sustainable fishery by the Marine Stewardship Council — putting it in the same category as pollock from the Bering Sea.
That used to be a popular import into Russia. But it’s been banned ever since the government ordered an embargo on foreign seafood last summer. As a result, Russians have been seeking out more pollock fished off the coast of their country.
The Associated Press is reporting Alaska has signed on to an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court that says same-sex marriage bans should be upheld.
Fifteen states, including 8 that currently allow same-sex marriages signed the brief. It says forcing states to allow the marriages and recognize marriages from other states will cause “incalculable damage to our civic life.”
The court plans to make a final ruling on the issue later this year.
Alaska lawmakers took a step toward clarifying who will regulate the budding marijuana industry.
The House passed a bill on Thursday that would help define a municipality’s role in regulating marijuana businesses, add marijuana clubs to the list of regulated marijuana businesses, and allow a municipality to develop some criminal penalties for marijuana.
The bill would also enable established villages to prohibit marijuana businesses through an election or ordinance.
The bill also clarifies some components of personal use: it would reiterate the ban on public consumption, and set a maximum household limit of 24 marijuana plants if there are three or more residents.
An amendment proposed by Rep. Bob Lynn that would have lowered the household limit failed.
The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.
Middle school and high school students all over the state are participating in the Alaska Measures Progress tests this week. This is the first year the test are being completed completely online. The cuts by the state legislature to broadband services could limit rural schools ability to administer these mandated state tests.
Last year, the state legislature passed the Broadband Assistance Grant. The grant provided 5 million dollars for rural schools per year for next three years to up their broadband capabilities.
The Southwest Region School District is composed of schools in 7 western Bristol Bay villages. Before the grant allowed them to up the bandwidth last year, the small schools in the district were at 2 Mbps (megabits per second) and 4 Mbps in large schools.
“Which is nothing. That hardly qualifies as household bandwidth in the lower 48 or even here these days,” says Lester Parks.
Lester Parks is the Technology Coordinator for the Southwest Region School District. The goal of the Southwest district is to get the internet to 10 Mbps.
He says the lack of high-speed broadband has not only restricted use of teacher resources and student learning opportunities, but will also negatively impact the district’s capacity to implement new state required AMP test.
Parks says when the broadband is saturated, students are unable to load the login page for the test.
“And we’ve also found that kids that were already in and testing when the bandwidth become maxed out, were kicked out of the test and sent back to the login page, right in the middle of taking the test,” says Parks.
The Southwest schools are in the middle of the state testing right now, and Parks says things are going much better.
“We have had some small glitches even with the broadband upgrade we have in place now,” says Parks.
But if the legislature’s cuts go into effect, the district will lose those upgrades. Parks says the district will then be right back to having major testing issues again.
“Unless we can come up with 171,000 dollars somewhere and we have no place for it to come from other then the broadband assistance for schools we were told to count on for the next three years,” says Parks.
On top of losing the money, Park says the cuts will have meant all the staff time and effort put into implementing the grant was a waste.
On Tuesday, Parks testified before the Senate Finance Committee, saying the Broadband Assistance Grant is a sound investment in Alaskan schools, and requested the funding be reinstated.
For the first time in 30 years, hunting restrictions are planned for Northwest Alaska caribou.
The Western Arctic and Teshekpuk herds lost half their numbers in the past decade. But this caribou crisis has spurred a unique collaboration, where user groups across the state chose to share the burden of hunting reductions.
The Alaska Board of Game recently considered a proposal to actively manage Western Arctic and Teshekpuk caribou herds. And in a surprising turn, Northwest Alaska hunters pushed for greater restrictions, which were ultimately adopted by the Board.
Caribou biologist Jim Dau with the Alaska Department of Fish & Game says it was a highlight of his career.
“That’s the way resource management is supposed to work,” Dau said. “Not having government force things down the public’s throat to conserve a resource—it’s the public stepping up and saying ‘we care enough about this resource that we’re willing to take a hit.’ I think that’s really impressive.”
And it is a serious hit. The Western Arctic Herd, in particular, spans from Barrow south to the Yukon River, cutting from the Koyukuk River westward onto the Seward Peninsula. It’s the state’s largest herd — 235,000 animals as of July 2013, less than half its peak of 490,000 in 2003 — and caribou is a primary food source for over 40 villages that fall within its range.
The new regulations will go into effect July 1, and will impact resident and non-resident hunters by lowering bag limits and reducing the length of the hunting season. Charlie Lean is chair of Fish & Game’s Northern Norton Sound Advisory Committee. He says it wasn’t an easy decision.
“This is a hard pill to swallow but it’s a matter of sharing the burden of conservation between all areas and being proactive before it reaches a real crisis,” Lean said.
That willingness to share the pain is what Dau says sets this scenario apart from the last caribou crash in the 70s.
“That 1970s Western Arctic Herd population crash may have been one of the most serious wildlife management debacles in the history of the state,” Dau said.
Dau says the state responded by completely closing caribou hunting for everyone, with little input from local users. Here’s Jacob Ivanoff with the Southern Norton Sound Advisory Committee.
“The Board of Game at that time just said, ‘you guys gotta quit.’ That’s basically what they said,” Jacob Ivanoff, with the Southern Norton Sound Advisory Committee, said. “They did not give them the opportunity to express their opinions as we were able to at this last meeting.”
For the past 10 months, regional advisory committees have been assessing the population data and deciding how to react, ultimately opting to restrict their own opportunity for the good of the herd. The Western Arctic Herd traverses a variety of state, federal, and private land holdings, and overlapping state and federal regulations often confuse hunters. Ken Adkisson, with the National Park Service in Nome, says it would be ideal for the state and feds to pass similar regulations.
“Especially as it reduces confusion in the hunters’ minds where they don’t have to worry about whose land they’re on and whether the harvest limit changes,” Adkisson said. “I mean, the caribou don’t really care much where those boundary lines go and when you’re migrating all the way from the North Slope maybe almost to the Yukon, you’ve got a lot of boundary lines to cross.”
The question still on everyone’s mind is what’s causing the population decline. Data points in part to low calf-survival rate, and users almost unanimously blame predation. But Dau says implementing an effective predator control program will be complicated by land ownership boundaries. And while state and local groups lean toward supporting intensive management, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the National Park Service remain opposed.
“There are several guarantees with predator control: it’s always controversial, it’s always expensive, and it’s never guaranteed,” Dau said. “And all those things are going to be considered before the state does anything.”
The adopted state regulations are likely just step one in addressing the caribou decline.
The Department of Fish & Game will be conducting another population survey this year. The full text of new regulations can be found online.