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Get Alaska statewide news from the stations of the Alaska Public Radio Network (APRN). With a central news room in Anchorage and contributing reporters spread across the state, we capture news in the Voices of Alaska and share it with the world. Tune in to your local APRN station in Alaska, visit us online at APRN.ORG or subscribe to the Alaska News podcast right here. These are individual news stories, most of which appear in Alaska News Nightly (available as a separate podcast).
Updated: 20 min 57 sec ago

Alaska News Nightly: September 25, 2014

Thu, 2014-09-25 17:37

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

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Seismologist: Quake’s Depth Helped Minimize Damage

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

A magnitude 6.2 earthquake hit Southcentral Alaska at 9:51 this morning. Michael West directs the Alaska Earthquake Center in Fairbanks. He says the epicenter was about 60 miles Northwest of Anchorage and 60 miles underground.

Quake Shakes Anchorage-ites and Visitors Alike

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

This morning in downtown Anchorage it was hard to find someone who didn’t have a story to tell about their earthquake experience.

US Chamber of Commerce Pledges ‘Full Weight’ To Sullivan

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, D.C.

A new Dittman Research poll shows Republican Dan Sullivan is six points ahead of Democrat Mark Begich in the U.S. Senate race. The research was funded by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. It ran a pro-Sullivan ad in April and today officially announced it’s endorsement of Sullivan.

State To Defend Merged Gubernatorial Ticket

The Associated Press

The state says a lawsuit challenging the mechanism that allowed two Alaska gubernatorial candidates to merge their campaigns would derail the November election and potentially disenfranchise voters if it succeeds.

US Jets Scramble to Meet Russian Aircraft Near Alaska Airspace

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

U.S. and Canadian air forces have scrambled jets twice over the past week to intercept Russian aircraft that have buzzed the Alaskan and Canadian coastlines twice in the past week.

Landslide Destroys Restoration Projects Near Sitka

Robert Woolsey, KCAW – Sitka

High rainfall this month is being blamed for a major lanslide near Sitka. The U.S. Forest Service reports that a 100-acre slide came down in the Starrigavan Valley, about ten miles from town. Although there was no structural damage in the event, hundreds of thousands of dollars of watershed restoration projects in the valley have been wiped out.

College Student Wants To Make Voting Easier For Cellphone-Using Peers

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Anchorage

Alaskans 18 to 24 are the age group least likely to vote. About a third of them aren’t registered – and of those who are, fewer than half actually come out on Election Day. But a college freshman from Juneau would like to change that by making the whole process a little more convenient for those in school.

Juneau Police Officer Takes on Justice Reform

Jennifer Canfield, KTOO – Juneau

Juneau Police Lt. Kris Sell has been appointed by Gov. Sean Parnell to serve on the Alaska Criminal Justice Commission. Sell is the only active police officer to serve on the commission, which was created by a bill that passed the legislature earlier this year.

Categories: Alaska News

Near Quake’s Epicenter, Businesses Escape Relatively Unscathed

Thu, 2014-09-25 14:17

On Thursday morning, a magnitude 6.2 earthquake centered sixty miles from Talkeetna was felt from Anchorage to Fairbanks.

In the Talkeetna area, damage from Thursday morning’s earthquake was fairly minor. Some residents and businesses reported that items had fallen off of shelves and broken, but no serious structural damage was reported as of Thursday afternoon. That includes Skwenta, which was much closer to the magnitude 6.2 earthquake than Talkeetna. Natalia Ruppert, Chief Seismologist for the Alaska Earthquake Center, says the reason that the earthquake did not cause much damage is because it occurred deep in Earth’s crust.

“It was almost sixty miles deep, so that made the difference…The energy dissipated a bit before it reached the surface.”

There was still plenty of energy left in the earthquake to shake things up in Talkeetna for the better part of a minute, however. Lauri Stec, who manages Nagley’s General Store on Main Street, says that the only casualty in the store was a single bottle of wine. Nagley’s was open during the earthquake, and Lauri says that out-of-state visitors weren’t quite sure what to do when the building started to shake.

“I had some tourists in here. They were looking at us. We’re trying to tell them, ‘Please get away from the shelves. You need to walk outside. We’re having an earthquake.’ So, we ran everyone out the door. Everyone was just starting at the shelves, and we were like, ‘No, you don’t want to be near the shelves.’”

A short distance away, Michelle and Jonathan Davis were in their rented room over the Talkeetna Historical Society. They are visiting Alaska from Missouri, and had never experienced an earthquake before. Michelle Davis says the experience is one they won’t likely forget.

“Actually, my first thought was that they had decided to demo the building and forgot that we were up here. The whole building was sort of swaying, and it felt like it was going to implode. It was shaking really bad, and we had some things fall off in the kitchen and in the bathroom. It was that momentary shock of, ‘What is this,’ then, ‘Ok, what do we do?’”

By early afternoon, life was largely back to business as usual in Talkeetna. All of the area schools report no injuries or significant damage, and people are going about their day. The question people are asking now is, “Is the shaking over?” Natalia Ruppert says that the depth of the earthquake will probably significantly dampen any aftershocks.

“Normally, we don’t see that many aftershocks from deep earthquakes…It’s been a few hours, already, and we’ve only seen half-a-dozen aftershocks, and they were all really small.”

September is emergency preparedness month. Information regarding how to prepare for the next big earthquake can be found online at www.ready.gov/earthquakes.

Categories: Alaska News

US Chamber of Commerce Backs Sullivan

Thu, 2014-09-25 13:00

A new Dittman Research poll shows Republican Dan Sullivan is six points ahead of Democrat Mark Begich in the U.S. Senate race.

The research was funded by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. It ran a pro-Sullivan ad in April and today officially announced it’s endorsement of Sullivan. The poll shows Sullivan at 49 percent, and Begich at 43 percent.

The phone survey of 800 voters was conducted last week. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percent.

The U.S. Chamber has already spent more than $23 million to promote Republican congressional candidates around the country. In response to today’s announcement, Begich campaign spokesman Max Croes said the Koch Brothers and Sullivan’s parents are spending millions to buy the Alaska Senate seat.

The Kochs are wealthy industrialists who, according to news reports, have given the U.S. Chamber at least $2 million.

Sullivan’s parents and his brother have contributed at least $680,000 to independent groups running ads to promote Sullivan’s candidacy. Sullivan’s brother also sits on the board of the U.S. Chamber.

Categories: Alaska News

6.24 Quake Hits Southwest of Talkeetna

Thu, 2014-09-25 10:06

Check out @FredMeyerStores mayhem in #Anchorage after our #earthquake this morning. pic.twitter.com/bbluHwFJcC

— Apokrisis LLC (@apokrisis) September 25, 2014


 

Richard Rash with the National Tsunami Warning Center in Palmer says information is still coming in.

Rash: “We are experiencing a [6.24] earthquake approximately 60 miles southwest of Talkeetna, Alaska.”

Lockyer: “Do you know how deep it was, because our building was rocking right here.”

Rash: “Yeah, it was pretty intense being close and local, but I don’t have that information right now, the scientists are still working that up”

Lockyer: “Are you expecting aftershocks?”

Rash: “Most likely.”

There are reports of it being felt as far north as Fairbanks and as far south as Homer.

In Anchorage, UAA bookstore manager Kristi Michels says the quake knocked over some of the store’s displays and school supplies.

“We did have a customer come in right at the register and she was not liking it at all,” Michels says. “She comes in saying, ‘This is a big one. This is a big one,’ but the cashier just kept her cool and talked her down.”

The novelty of a 6.2-earthquake gave UAA student Cecil Brown a thrill.

“I’m like, ‘this is an earthquake,’ but I’m from the desert, where there is no such thing as an earthquake and I’ve lived here for two years and slept through every single one of them,” Brown says. “So this was the first one where I was cognizantly aware that ‘m in an earthquake. It was pretty exciting.”

A couple of students, like Natalie Tierny, didn’t even notice.

“I didn’t feel it,” she laughs. “I was walking outside and I was listening to the radio on my phone and they kept saying like, ‘oh it’s still going!’ But I was not sure what they were talking about.”

John Bellini, with the National Earthquake Reporting Center in Golden, Colorado, says the duration of the quake lengthens the further from the epicenter the tremor is felt.

“Dependent, at least as far as how people feel it, depends on how far away they are,” Bellini said. “An actual earthquake of this size at the epicenter would last 5-10 seconds or so, maybe as long as 15 seconds.”

So far, there are no reports of significant damage coming in, though it seems some downtown Anchorage buildings were evacuated.

 

Guess we need to secure the shelves better. pic.twitter.com/PJy0XWIpEh

— Alaska Snob (@AlaskaSnob) September 25, 2014


 

A few schools sustained minor damage, mostly to ceiling tiles. All students are safe. #akquake pic.twitter.com/TfTjBlAnLP

— ASD Information (@ASD_Info) September 25, 2014


 

Earthquake preparedness tips from Anchorage’s Office of Emergency Management:

Before an earthquake:

  • Lower your risk of injury and property damage by making your home earthquake safe.
  • The number one cause of injury and death during an earthquake is falling debris. Go to  www.ready.gov/earthquakes for specific recommendations.

During an earthquake:

  • Drop down where you are; do not try to move from one location to another. If you are outside, stay outside. If you are inside, stay in the room you are in.
  • Take cover underneath a sturdy piece of furniture to keep falling debris from hitting you.
  • If there is nothing for you to get underneath, move away from large objects and glass and drop to the floor, covering your head and neck.

After an earthquake:

  • Check on your family and neighbors to make sure everyone is okay. Provide first aid as needed.
  • Check your home for damage to determine if it is safe to shelter in place. If you aren’t sure, evacuate.

For more information on personal preparedness contact the Office of Emergency Management at 343-1401 with any questions.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Categories: Alaska News

Group Behind Pebble Project Sues Over EPA Study

Thu, 2014-09-25 08:49

The group behind the Pebble Mine project has sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over an agency study that concluded large-scale mining posed significant risk to salmon in Alaska’s Bristol Bay region.

The lawsuit alleges EPA violated the Federal Advisory Committee Act and held secret meetings with de facto advisory committees in drafting the report. It seeks to bar EPA from relying on the study, which provided the basis for EPA invoking a process under which it could restrict or prohibit development of the mine.

EPA hasn’t responded to the lawsuit’s merits but agreed not to take another step in that process before Jan. 2.

A federal judge plans to decide by Dec. 3 whether to grant Pebble’s request to prevent EPA from moving further, pending resolution of the case.

Categories: Alaska News

Lab Results Pending for ‘Oily’ Seals Harvested Off St. Lawrence Island

Thu, 2014-09-25 08:46

Sheffield and Ahmasuk are asking anyone who sees potentially oiled wildlife to contact them immediately. (Photo: Jenn Ruckel, KNOM. Flier courtesy of Gay Sheffield)

Two seals recently harvested off Gambell were found coated with a dark oily substance. While the hunters on St. Lawrence Island believe it was oil on the animals’ coats, testing done by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation has not confirmed that.

“They tested the flipper samples that were sent in from each seal—a front flipper. And there was no petroleum product on the flippers that were tested,” said Gay Sheffield, Marine Advisory Program agent at UAF. “There are some other skim samples that were sent in from the jaw and face area, and I have not heard the results of those.”

Sheffield is a member of the local team searching for the source of the oily substance—and she said it’s reminding her of the oiled seals harvested in 2012. Laboratory tests found that two seals that were taken from near St. Lawrence Island two years ago were, in fact, oiled. That’s why Sheffield was nervous when two more stained seals were found this year.

This is not a common occurrence for our region, and Kawerak Subsistence Director Brandon Ahmasuk says it’s challenging to pinpoint the source due to the small number of oiled animals found in the wide area. Still, he said, he’s frustrated by the lack of answers and the shortage of help from larger agencies like the U.S. Coast Guard.

“It’s a food security for the inhabitants of the region. You know, this is their food—they don’t take it lightly,” said Ahmasuk. “But outside agencies don’t seem to take that into consideration that this is a people’s food source. They can’t simply go to Walmart Supercenter or Fred Meyer’s. Their supercenter…it’s the sea. It’s just that plain and simple. But more often than not it’s just overlooked.”

In order to not get overlooked, Ahmasuk said, he and Sheffield, through local organizations, have emphasized their concerns to state and federal agencies.

“Because they are so far away from us, a lot of stuff we have to do ourselves,” said Ahmasuk. “When one of the residents from the surrounding villages come across something… I mean, for the past three years, now? Me and Gay, we’ve been sending out the word for sick seals, oiled wildlife, anything out of the ordinary to give us a call.”

While local responders are closer in case of a crisis, the Coast Guard has much-needed resources—however, those resources are based out of Kodiak, and Ahmasuk said they’re not guaranteed to be close by in case of an emergency.

The Coast Guard is the lead response agency for oil pollution and is required to test potential oil samples, like the ones Sheffield submitted from the two seals, in order to determine the source—sort of like an oil fingerprint. That’s while DEC runs tests to see if the substance is actually oil. Sheffield also sent tissue samples to the North Slope Borough Department of Wildlife Management, which she said assisted with testing back in 2012.

Meanwhile, a local pilot reported seeing an oil-like substance in the water between Shishmareff and Wales about two weeks ago. Sheffield filed a report with the National Response Center and says the Coast Guard was scheduled to do a C-130 reconnaissance flight over St. Lawrence Island and the Bering Strait area late last week. The two incidents are thus far unconnected, but Sheffield and Ahmasuk say they’re waiting for more information, and they’re asking anyone who sees oiled wildlife to take a picture, and contact them immediately.

Categories: Alaska News

Monofil Project On Hold, Again

Wed, 2014-09-24 18:38

Eklunta, Inc. wants to use land it owns within the bounds of the Municipality of Anchorage for what the Alaska Native corporation calls an “inert monofil.” or a non-toxic waste dump. In April of 2013, Eklutna had filed a two part application with the Muni’s community development department: a master plan for a rezone of 68 acres, and a conditional use permit for 17  acres, which would be used for the monofil.

http://www.alaskapublic.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/24eklutna-monofil-with-edit.mp3

But Maria Rentz, president of Chugiak’s Community Council, says the community is fighting the plan, because the land Ekluna wants for the project is adjacent to a park, and close to residences.

 Amost a year ago, the Anchorage planning commission voted down the master plan, and recommended that the Assembly reject the plan, as well.  But Eklutna appealed that decision,  triggering a long series of postponements that has kept an Assembly vote on the Planning commission’s resolution of rejection off the Anchorage Municipal Assembly agenda. Finally, it was scheduled for a public hearing next month, but, just as Tuesday night’s meeting began, Rentz got a message:

“There is an official request, I’m looking at it, that was sent from Eklutna today, asking for a minimum sic month postponement.”

 The issue was to have come up for an opening vote on the public hearing, at the request of Assemblyman Dick Traini, who moved it forward, he says, because ” the issue of a monofil site affects not just one part of our community, but the entire municipality.”

Rentz says she got  early word of the change last week, late on Friday. But it came with more disturbing information:

“Eklutna will be asking for a postponement on the opening of the public hearing, because there has been substantial contamination found”   Rentz says she’s been told the contamination is from a “municipal source.”

 Rentz say, if there actually is pollution, the issue will drag on. She says she wants Eklutna’s plan killed, entirely, and to postpone it again and again, thereby postponing a final vote, is not fair to the community.

The item was pulled from Tuesday night’s Municipal Assembly meeting agenda  at the request of Assemblymembers Bill Starr, who represents Eagle River and Amy Demboski, who represents Chugiak.   Assemblymember Demboski said she’s concerned about the turn of events.

“I do have serious concens about how we got here today… Because this has been such a delicate issue in our community, and because the Community Council has been very engaged, and they have a very specific timeline, I think it would be more prudent to give the municipality thirty days to evaluate the new informatin , and then we can always come back in a month and potpone it, if need be. “

 But  Assemblyman  Starr held out for another six month postponement.  Starr said
“Some information was brought to light based on water sampling which involved a municipal landfill that we closed some time ago. It adjoins the 85 acres (of Eklutna’s project).”

Starr says the new information is so new, that it will take at least six months to get all parties together to evaluate it.

“Nothing wrong with how we got here, I think it’s where do we go from here. “

Starr’s move prevailed, with a nine to two vote. Maria Rentz says she’s disappointed

 ”This case has been dragging for two years, and now this significant postponement, of six month minimum, I think that significant postponement is very troublesome. I think if the site has been bound to be contaminated, I think that puts a whole different perspective on the entire project. “

So the public hearing is off, at least for another six months, while the source, and the type, of the contamination is determined.

Categories: Alaska News

Forrest Dunbar: The Millennial Who Aims to Unseat Don Young

Wed, 2014-09-24 17:43

Forrest Dunbar is barely out of his 20s. He’s never run for elected office before. And yet he’s running for Congress, against 21-term incumbent Don Young. You might think Dunbar isn’t a serious candidate. Until you meet him. Dunbar is earnest. Focused. He speaks at warp speed. He turned 30 just this month and he’s well prepared for questions about his relative youth.

Listen now:

Democratic challenger Forrest Dunbar is running against 21-term House Rep. Don Young in the November election.

“So Aaron Schock was elected at 26, Paul Ryan was elected at 28,” he says, from memory. “Joe Biden was first elected to the U.S. Senate at 29, then he turned 30 before the swearing in — under the Constitution you have to be 30 — and I’m going to be older than all those people.”

Dunbar’s early life is … well, if Hollywood were writing a screenplay about an Alaskan Congressman, they might choose Dunbar’s bio. (Actually, a TV producer wanted to make a reality TV show of his campaign but he rejected the idea.) He spent his pre-school years in the Yukon River town of Eagle, cutting his teeth on caribou while his father worked as a Fish and Game biologist.  After the Exxon Valdez oil spill, the family moved to Cordova, where Dunbar says they had running water for the first time.

Zachariah Kopchak, a former Marine now living in Anchorage, has been Dunbar’s friend since they were in elementary school in Cordova. As a kid, Dunbar was “a fun-loving little nerd,” Kopchak says. “We all were.”

They shared an interest in video games and “Star Wars,” but Kopchak says Dunbar was more athletic.

He was actually willing to go and play basketball and be physical and hang out with all the jocks and stuff. He was really kind of comfortable doing anything and being with any crowd, it seemed,” Kopchak recalls.

Dunbar spent summers working on a commercial fishing boat and was an exchange student in Japan. A high school teacher, Tim Walters, remembers him as determined.

“Forrest was intense. And he was serious,” Walters says.

He says it was obvious, even then, that Dunbar was going places.

“In a teacher’s career, there’s usually a handful of students that really kind of stand out, that ‘Some day,’ you say to yourself, ‘they’re going to be on the cover of Time magazine.’ And Forrest was one of those kids,” Walters says.

Dunbar went on to an East Coast education:  Undergrad at American University in Washington. Harvard for a Master’s in public policy, Yale for law school. He fought wildfires out of Fairbanks for a summer and served in the Peace Corps in Kazakhstan. He was an intern for then-Sen. Frank Murkowski in Washington. He worked for Guam’s delegate to Congress. He worked in the Alaska Office of Public Advocacy. Last year, he joined the Alaska National Guard, as an officer and an attorney — a JAG.

But a first-time candidate challenging Don Young? Congressman Young has vanquished far more experienced candidates, some with piles of money, starting a decade before Dunbar was born.  Dunbar, though, alleges Young is past his prime.

“So it’s true that there was a time when he was very powerful and effective. He chaired the Transportation Committee, chaired the Natural Resources Committee. But he was stripped of his ability to do so in 2008. And that power is never coming back. He’s no longer influential for the state,” Dunbar says.

Young had to give up his committee gavels because of Republican term limits for chairmen. Young points out that he still is a chairman – not of a full committee but of the subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs. Young says Dunbar, as a freshman Democrat, wouldn’t be chairman of anything.

Among his priorities, Dunbar lists gay marriage equality, reducing the cost of college and resource development.

“I disagree with the National Democratic Party on a lot of things, but when it comes to some big issues like Medicare, like Social Security, like women’s rights, I’m more aligned with them than I am with the National Republican Party,” he says

Like the current Alaska delegation, Dunbar supports oil development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and favors a road for King Cove. He also says the Alaska exception to the Violence Against Women Act should be removed to empower tribes and combat abuse.

Ethan Berkowitz, a Democrat who lost to Young in 2008, has known Dunbar since he volunteered on that congressional campaign. He describes Dunbar as highly intelligent with an ability to distill complicated information to a perfect nugget. But Berkowitz says Young is formidable opponent.

“There will come a time where he’s just not the answer for Alaska’s representative in Washington, D.C.,” Berkowitz says.  ”For someone like Forrest,  the more he can make his case, whether it happens this cycle or the next election cycle or the one after that, I think it’s an important stage for Forrest to be on.”

Rep. Young has raised more than $600,000. When the current reporting period started in August, Dunbar hadn’t yet reached $100,000. He says he won’t have enough for TV spots but is making the most of online ads and social media.

Categories: Alaska News

Studies Predict Peril for Alaska’s Feathered Migrants

Wed, 2014-09-24 17:42

America’s birds are in trouble, according to two reports out earlier this month from the National Audubon Society and the Department of Interior.  Both documents suggest climate change could have dire effects for many of the birds that migrate to Alaska each year.

Listen now:

The Boreal owl lives in boreal forests and muskegs across Alaska and the northern parts of he continent. According to a new report, it could lose all of its winter habitat by 2080.
Credit John Grahame Holmes/VIREO / National Audobon Society, http://birds.audubon.org/birds/boreal-owl

The North American Bird Conservation Initiative’s U.S. committee calls their report for the Department of the Interior a “collective call for action.” It came out alongside a second report from the National Audubon Society that looks at the effect of climate change on the ranges of nearly 600 bird species in North America.  Models used in that study show that more than half those birds could lose up to 50 percent of their habitat as a result of climate change by 2080.

“You know all models are wrong but some models are useful,” says Nils Warnock, executive director of Audubon Alaska.

“If the models are good based on good data, then the trends that we’re seeing should reflect reality to a certain degree.”

Scientists at Audubon used 30 years worth of data collected by citizens from Christmas Bird Count Surveys and a survey of breeding birds in North America too look at various climate factors that impact bird survival. The models include temperature range, precipitation and seasonal changes as well as internationally recognized predicted scenarios for future greenhouse gases.

“There’s different things that could happen,” Warnock explains. “I’ve always loved the analogy that you’re flying on a plane and you see a rivet pop out and are you so worried, well maybe not, but eventually enough of those rivets pop out that’s going to be holding together something pretty critical on that airplane and that’s going to cause that airplane to crash and that’s of course what everybody worries about.  We don’t know exactly what’s going to happen if we lost the Boreal owl.”

According to the Audobon report, the Boreal owl could lose 100 percent of its winter habitat in the next 66 years.  The Bohemian Waxwing stands to lose all of its summer habitat.  Other well-known Alaskan birds that could be affected by a changing climate include those that rely on sea ice, like the spectacled Eider and long-distance migrant shorebirds, like the Bar-tailed godwit.

“They show us and tell us that even though we may have a lot of really fantastic wild habitat in Alaska, our bird populations can easily decrease because of things going on elsewhere in the flyway,” Warnock says.

But the Audubon report also leaves out information about Alaska.

Warnock says that’s because the state lacks a standardized monitoring program mostly due to logistics.

“We have a long history of Christmas bird counts in Alaska, but a lot of our state has no towns, it has no villages,” Warnock says, “and so doesn’t have Christmas bird counts.  The same with breeding bird surveys. They are based on roads and people go out and drive these roads, but Alaska has holes in coverage.”

Warnock says it’s not too late for Alaska’s birds and the larger ecosystem, but he agrees the reports are both “calls to action.”

Categories: Alaska News

Pilot Program Helps Bethel Farm Ship Produce to Cordova Schools

Wed, 2014-09-24 17:41

Meyers Farm in Bethel recently shipped about 500 pounds of vegetables to the Cordova School District. The order was made possible through a program that reimburses Alaska school districts that buy food grown in state.

Download Audio:

Freshly harvested Potatoes at Meyers Farm in Bethel. Photo by Daysha Eaton/KYUK.

The potato harvest is underway at Meyers Farm in Bethel. Farmer, Tim Meyers uses a machine to dig up the big, golden tubers, and now he’s dropping them into totes. He loads the totes equaling about 800 pounds of potatoes onto a tractor and drives them over to a machine he built to wash them.

The organic farm has been operating in Bethel since 2002. They sell hundreds of pounds of vegetables that they grow on the 15-acre farm at a stand along with organic produce that can’t be grown in Bethel,

that’s flown in from a Seattle supplier. Large orders have not taken off because of pricey shipping costs. But a state of Alaska program aimed at providing Alaska-grown produce to schoolchildren is changing that. Meyer just got his first big order of the year.

Meyers Farm sells vegetables at a small roadside shop in Bethel. Photo by Daysha Eaton/KYUK.

“Got a big order going to Cordova: 100 pounds of cabbage, 100 pounds of carrots, 100 pounds of onions, 50 pounds of beats and 50 pounds of cauliflower,” said Meyers.

The order is from the Cordova School District. And it’s happening because of a state program called Nutritional Alaskan Foods in Schools, a pilot program that reimburses districts for buying locally grown food and pays to ship it. Through the program, schools can purchase Alaskan fish, shellfish, livestock, poultry, grains, milk, fruits and vegetables as well as Native Produce and berries. Debi Kruse administers the grant program for the state.

“This is a 3-million dollar appropriation that the legislature has made. Each school district, the 54 school districts of the state are allocated a percentage of those 3-million dollars and then awarded a grant agreement for that amount of money. So it varies by size and region,” said Kruse.

 The program has a dual purpose, Kruse says.

“First of all, it’s to help school districts fund their food programs and it’s one way the state can contribute to the funding for healthy nutrition for students in the state. The other aspect of it I think is equally as important, it allows for the commerce side for producers to have somebody new to be able to sell to,” said Kruse.

The Cordova School District gets about $26,000. Sandie Ponte runs the meal program for the District. She says she orders about 20 percent of the food she serves students from around the state.

“I get a lot of lettuce from Chena hot springs. We get beef, chicken, pork and then we get all our fish here local – but we get halibut and salmon here from Cordova. And it’s just now starting to come in,” said Ponte.

Produce for sale at Meyers Farm stand in Bethel. Photo by Daysha Eaton/KYUK.

It’s about 500 air miles from Bethel to Cordova, but that beats the nearly 1,300 air miles to Seattle, where a lot of the produce used in the Cordova District cafeterias originates, says Pontie. She says something about using fresh, local foods feels good.

“I love it. I don’t know of any school district that doesn’t. It’s just been so nice to give our kids fresh Alaska-grown foods,” said Ponte.

Back at the farm stand, Meyers says he hopes the program spurs more orders from school districts and he’s prepared.

“We’ve got at lease 5-6-thousand pounds of cabbage in storage now. We’ve got about 4-5-thousand pounds of carrots, a couple thousand pounds of turnips, at least a thousand pounds of rutabagas; there should be a thousand or two of beets. And we’ll have 15-20-thousand pounds of potatoes that we’ll be able to keep and sell ‘til next year at this time,” said Meyers.

The Nutritional Alaskan Foods in Schools pilot program is in its third year. And Meyers says he hopes it continues because it took schools districts and farmers a while to form partnerships, and they’re just getting started.

Categories: Alaska News

Petersburg Considers Changes to Senior Sales Tax Exemption

Wed, 2014-09-24 17:40

If you’re 65 or older, you don’t have to pay Petersburg’s 6 percent sales tax.

Municipal Finance Director Jody Tow says that means local government is losing out on a lot of money.

“We’re estimating, conservatively, $270,000 in lost tax revenue for senior exemptions,” she says.

Listen now:

Petersburg voters face seven ballot measures in the Oct. 7 municipal election. Four propose changes to the senior citizen sales tax exemption. (Photo illustration, CoastAlaska News)

The borough’s annual sales-tax take is about $3 million. So eliminating the exemption would boost revenues by about 10 percent.

Borough figures show seniors make up a little more than 15 percent of the population. Sue Flint, who chaired the committee examining the exemptions, says it could almost double by 2020.

“And that just leaves young families to bear the burden of running the fire department, the snowplows, the roads [and] the police. So mostly, we just wanted to see if there was a more fair way to do this,” she says.

Not everyone believes the senior population boom will come. Lee Corrao, who also served on sales tax committee, questions the prediction.

And even if it’s right, he says it’s way too early to make such changes.

“So the justification for doing this at this time seems at best premature and possibly ill-advised all together,” he says.

Four ballot measures before Petersburg voters in the Oct. 7 municipal election detail different ways to cut back on the exemption.

The one with the most impact calls for sunsetting, or phasing out, the tax break, starting in about five years. Those eligible would have to apply for and get an exemption card by the end of 2019. After that, no one could apply.

Borough Clerk Kathy O’Rear wants to make sure seniors know if they already have the exemption, they won’t lose it.

“This five-year period would give people time to adjust to it. And ones who are getting close to that age of 65, to still have opportunity to obtain that exemption,” she says.

Two other ballot measures would tighten the rules.

One would make seniors just passing through Petersburg ineligible. Another measure requires seniors to be in town at least 185 days a year.

Flint says that’s the same as for Alaska’s Permanent Fund dividend.

“We really want it for our year-round residents, who support the community in many other ways,” she says.

Yet another ballot measure would continue the tax exemption, but limit how it could be used.

“We have estimated that senior citizen exemptions are 50 percent comprised of all fuel and groceries,” she says.

“Not all needs are groceries and oil,” says tax committee member Corrao.

“I believe the end result would be to drive people more to the internet, where the city can’t tax them. … Six percent is a big deal right now,” he says.

Petersburg is not alone in its search for new revenues.

Alaska Municipal League Executive Director Kathie Wasserman says communities want local control of the state-mandated property tax break for seniors.

“Residents, as they should, want services for the taxes that they do pay. So, with payroll going up and fuel going up, many municipalities feel they don’t have many options,” she says.

Wasserman says senior sales tax exemptions are not getting much scrutiny elsewhere, though Juneau is considering that option.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Power & Telephone Buys Gustavus Electric Co.

Wed, 2014-09-24 17:39

Alaska Power and Telephone has purchased the Gustavus Electric Co. The 32-year-old homespun utility is the life’s work of Gustavus local Dick Levitt and his wife Linda.

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The hydroelectric plant at Falls Creek. (Photo courtesy of Alaska Energy Authority.)

AP&T President Bob Grimm says he has no plans to significantly change how the utility is operated. The one change Grimm mentions is that soon customers will be able to pay their bill with a credit card.

Regarding the sale of the utility, Grimm says he was first approached by Dick Levitt over a year ago.

“Eventually we came to an agreement and it included the hydro. Then we had to get all the regulatory approvals,” Grimm said. “We just finalized things up in July.”

Dick and his wife Linda made the choice to sell the utility because of Dick’s health. He suffered a stroke two years ago and hasn’t been able to manage the utility the same since.

“When the sale closed it was definitely mixed emotions for me,” Levitt said. “It was like giving up a child that I had raised. On the one hand I knew I had to give it up and get out of the business because of my health. And on the other hand I was still giving up something that was my life’s work. In that respect it was hard to see it go.”

Levitt is a trained electrical engineer, so when he saw an opportunity in Gustavus to start an electric utility, he went for it. The utility was created in 1982 and was diesel-based at first, but Levitt says he knew from the beginning that wasn’t going to be sustainable. Leavitt needed access to Falls Creek to bring hydropower to Gustavus and to do that he needed and act of Congress.

“Of course it was in Glacier Bay National Park which made it difficult,” Levitt said. “Probably in the mid-80s I started approaching the congressional delegation about legislation that would allow that to happen and it took close to 20 years to get that to come together. It was a long arduous process but we eventually got it done.”

Congress’s stamp of approval allowed the State of Alaska and the National Park Service to swap land, giving Leavitt access he needed to Falls Creek. Levitt prevailed when the Sierra Club protested the hydroplant during the Federal Energy Regulatory Commision’s approval process. The 800 kW hydroplant was finally completed in 2009.

Levitt says he hired AP&T as consultants on the design of the hydroplant, so he feels confident about their ability to maintain the facility.

The next hurdle for Gustavus Electric is to get the National Park Service in Glacier Bay as a customer. The park service still runs its facilities on diesel, despite efforts by Levitt to get them to switch. Grimm says convincing the park service to step away from fossil fuels is a priority.

Categories: Alaska News

Downtown Stores Called Upon to Keep Juneau Attractive

Wed, 2014-09-24 17:38

The last cruise ship to visit the capital city pulls out of Juneau at 9 p.m. Thursday.

As stores in the tourist district pack up and shut down for the fall and winter season, the Juneau Economic Development Council wants to make sure downtown remains an inviting place to be.

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As the cruise ship season ends, tourist shops are asked to keep their window displays attractive throughout the winter. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

 If you walked by the clothing store Alpaca International on Admiral Way last winter, what you would have seen in the store windows was black curtains “and a sign that said, ‘Thank you, Juneau,’” says owner Zia Boccacio.

When the business reduces its hours this fall and eventually closes this winter, she says the main window display will remain looking “nice, bright and lively.”

“We’re going to leave, like, an alpaca image in the window surrounded with beautiful wraps and capes and we’re going to leave the lights on,” Boccaccio says.

Throughout the winter, Boccaccio says an employee will be in charge of checking on the window display every few weeks.

Her change of off-season plans is a result of a Juneau Economic Development Council initiative, Winter Windows. Executive Director Brian Holst says it’s an effort to address how Juneau’s downtown looks, “especially in the wintertime when many of our stores in the far end of town are closed.”

Roughly 40 retail stores that thrive during the summer tourist season shut down after the cruise ships leave at the end of September. Many of these businesses are located in Juneau’s Downtown Historic District and are required by city code to “provide window displays that offer year-round interest.”

Alpaca International owner Zia Boccaccio says, unlike previous winters, she’ll keep her store window display “nice, bright and lively.” (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

“Some businesses just put up a piece of dark paper to cover their window,” Holst says.

This common practice does not meet the city’s standard.

Holst says it’s also just not attractive.

“What we want to see is a bright window, so there’s some light on the streets and people feel comfortable walking by, and a pleasantly decorated window,” Holst says.

Window suggestions include scenes of Juneau’s natural beauty or historic past. Holst says JEDC can connect seasonal businesses with local artists.

Winter Windows is part of JEDC’s downtown revitalization effort supported by the Alaska Committee, Downtown Business Association, Tourism Best Management Practices, Princess Cruises and the City and Borough of Juneau. Volunteers with these organizations went door to door and talked to business owners and managers about their window displays during the off-season. They did this once in July and then again earlier this week.

“It’s really to encourage them to do something positive for Juneau this winter,” Holst says.

Boccaccio says she’s on board with the idea and thinks it’s the least summer businesses can do.

“It’s a moral obligation as a business owner that we should cooperate and support this initiative,” Boccaccio says.

JEDC plans to visit areas of downtown this winter, take pictures and highlight the best winter windows.

Categories: Alaska News

Rethinking The Asphalt Parking Spot

Wed, 2014-09-24 17:37

Imagine a parking spot. Typically a slab of asphalt waiting for the next vehicle to roll on by. Now imagine that spot transformed into a green oasis among the urban jungle for an entire day. That’s what happened recently when the national event, Parking Day, came to Anchorage. The event was hosted by the Anchorage park Foundation, the Anchorage Economic Development Corporation, and Anchorage Downtown Partnership. 

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Add some marshmellows, coffee and some tunes and you get an asphalt makeover. Photo by Ashley Snyder/APRN.

Instead of cars, parking spaces all over town were occupied by tents, turf, volunteers, and booths offering a variety of activities for people passing by to participate in. Smoke rolled out from the fire pits and barbeques, music floated down the sidewalks, and the green of plants and trees strategically placed in each location added some color to the otherwise gray backdrop.

Beth Norland, executive director of the Anchorage Park Foundation, led the effort to bring the project to Anchorage.

“I don’t know when parking day was originated, but we have someone who used to live in New York City and has seen it really done up and wanted to see if we could be the most northern site in the country for parking day, and I think we are. We’ve been thinking about it and dreaming about it for a few years and this year someone decided to make it happen.”

Companies from around Anchorage set up and sponsored the parking lots. SPAWN Ideas and Snow Goose Cafe teamed up to provide hotdogs and live music. Intrinsic Landscapes built a 20 foot long wooden structure with stairs and benches for people to relax and enjoy. Some, like Anna Brawley, an associate with Agnew Beck Consulting, took a warm camp-style approach on the damp and slightly chilly day.

“You guys want a s’more? Yeah, we thought we’d have a real homey camping set up. We have a fire pit and a tent if it starts raining again and just kind of inviting people in from the street.”

Many people walking by couldn’t help but stop and see what was going on. As the rain lightened up and lunch time rolled around more people ventured outside to the booths. Groups stopped by to grab a snack and others huddled under the tents close to the fire pits to warm up. Bree Kessler, who visited all of the booths downtown, enjoyed the change in scenery.

“I thought it was a really great way for people to think about how might we use parking spaces in a different way.”

While the parking spots are now back to serving their original purpose, the idea that a dull space can be temporarily transformed into something exciting, could stick around for a while. In Anchorage, I’m Ashley Snyder.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: September 24, 2014

Wed, 2014-09-24 17:34

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

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Forrest Dunbar: The Millennial Who Aims to Unseat Don Young

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, D.C.

Alaska Congressman Don Young is running for re-election. He is 81 and his Democratic challenger is a Yale-educated attorney, an adult of the Millennial-generation who is young enough to be the Congressman’s grandchild.

Studies Predict Peril for Alaska’s Feathered Migrants

Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks

America’s birds are in trouble, according to two reports out earlier this month from the National Audubon Society and the Department of Interior. Both documents suggest climate change could have dire effects for many of the birds that migrate to Alaska each year.

Pilot Program Helps Bethel Farm Ship Produce to Cordova Schools

Daysha Eaton, KYUK – Bethel

Meyers Farm in Bethel recently shipped about 500 pounds of vegetables to the Cordova School District. The order was made possible through a program that reimburses Alaska school districts that buy food grown in state.

Petersburg Considers Changes to Senior Sales Tax Exemption

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

Senior citizens in the Southeast Alaska city of Petersburg may see significant changes to their local sales-tax exemption. Four measures on the Oct. 7th local ballot would reduce the age-based tax break.

Alaska Power & Telephone Buys Gustavus Electric Co.

Jennifer Canfield, KTOO – Juneau

Alaska Power and Telephone has purchased the Gustavus Electric Company. The 32-year-old homespun utility is the life’s work of Gustavus local Dick Levitt and his wife Linda.

Downtown Stores Called Upon to Keep Juneau Attractive Year-Round

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

The last cruise ship to visit the capital city pulls out of Juneau on Thursday night. As stores in the tourist district pack up and shut down for the fall and winter season, the Juneau Economic Development Council wants to make sure downtown remains an inviting place to be.

Rethinking The Asphalt Parking Spot

Ashley Snyder, APRN – Anchorage

Imagine a parking spot. Typically a slab of asphalt waiting for the next vehicle to roll on by. Now imagine that spot transformed into a green oasis among the urban jungle for an entire day. That’s what happened recently when the national event, Parking Day, came to Anchorage.

Categories: Alaska News

Five Arrested in Connection With Medication Theft from Shishmaref Clinic

Wed, 2014-09-24 08:13

Shishmaref. (Photo: KNOM file)

Five people, including two adults, have been arrested in connection to a break-in at the Shishmaref clinic and the theft of more than 100 painkillers—a theft Alaska State Troopers say was accomplished using tools the group stole earlier from the community school.

The theft was discovered by the Shishmaref Village Public Safety Officer just before 9 a.m. on Friday, Sept. 12.

Court documents allege 18-year-old man Ned Ahgupuk and three 15 year-old boys used a crowbar to pry open a door to the medication room, and then used the crowbar to pry open a locker containing the painkilling medication. Community health aides reported 101 tablets of Tylenol with Codeine, as well as five syringes of morphine, missing from the locker.

Investigators say the group of four first slipped the lock to the clinic with a butter knife, but found the door quickly closed behind them. In a sworn affidavit, Alaska State Trooper Tim Smith writes Ahgupuk and the three minors then went to the Shishmaref school “to find a tool to break in.”

Trooper Smith writes that Ahgupuk and two of the minors climbed through a window into the school as one of the minors and another man, 18-year-old Ryan Nayokpuk, waited outside. The three returned with a crowbar and several propane torches.

Court records say the original group of four returned to the clinic with the crowbar, as “[Nayokpuk] remained outside the school,” and smashed the window with the crowbar before breaking into the medication locker.

With the medication in tow, Trooper Smith writes the group “reunited with [Nayokpuk] … and ‘did lines’ of crushed … pills.” Smith writes the Nayokpuk took the crowbar because, “according to the other boys … he wanted to throw it away.”

Troopers responded that day and arrested the three minors, as well as Ahgupuk and Nayokpuk. Smith’s affidavit states “[Nayokpuk] and the [three] juveniles admitted to the burglaries of both the school and the clinic” and that “[Ahgupuk] returned a bag of Tylenol … pills and a single morphine syringe” which he said came from the clinic. Nayokpuk admitted to “consuming” the pills.

Troopers say two morphine syringes and “a majority” of the pills remain unaccounted for. Smith writes in his affidavit that “investigation is continuing into the whereabouts of the remaining drugs” and that the community “is concerned for their children due to the dangerous nature of Opioids.”

The minors were taken to the Nome Youth Facility and are being held on charges related to burglary, theft, and misuse of a controlled substance.

Ahgupuk faces six charges—including four felony charges of burglary, misuse of a controlled substance, and criminal mischief for property damage. He also faces two misdemeanor theft charges.

Nayokpuk faces fewer charges—three in all—including felony charges of burglary and distribution of a controlled substance. He also faces one misdemeanor theft charge.

Both men were taken to Nome’s Anvil Mountain Correctional Center and arraigned in mid-September. They’re now awaiting preliminary hearings at the end of the month.

Categories: Alaska News

Assembly delays decision on Chugach Access Plan

Wed, 2014-09-24 00:36

After more than 40 people testified before the Anchorage Assembly, the body voted to postpone making a decision on the Chugach State Park Access Plan.

Most of the people spoke overwhelmingly in support of the Access Plan saying that the park enhances the quality of life in the city. Resident Gary Snyder said it’s a public resource that people have the right to easily access, just like other parts of the city.

“I own a home in midtown. It’s also near some public resources, such as libraries, sports arenas, the university, as well as hospitals and publicly zoned business areas,” he told the Assembly. “While I don’t appreciate traffic, parking noise, and garbage from visitors to my part of town from outlying areas, I understand that people have a right to access these areas that I choose to live near.”

Most of the dissenting voices came from property owners and community councils that could be required to provide access in the future. They said the access points could reduce property values and increase crime in the area, like vandalism and fires.

Chugach superintendent Tom Harrison said the plan gives recommendations for access points but that not all of them would necessarily be developed.

“All that’s really being asked is that the public lands be afforded the same access that would be afforded to any other private developer that would be adjacent. And that’s kind of the guts of it.”

Assembly member Bill Starr asked to delay the decision because he wants more time to research. He plans to request to remove some of the suggested access points. Assembly members agreed that they needed more time to review the 40 possible amendments to the ordinance.

The plan has already been adopted by the state. If the municipality incorporates it into their comprehensive plan, then the suggested access points would have to be considered when developing new subdivisions or diving up certain plots.

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage Assembly says no to legalizing marijuana

Wed, 2014-09-24 00:31

The state’s largest city is publicly speaking out against Ballot Measure 2, which aims to legalize marijuana. But the Anchorage Assembly’s vote was not unanimous.

The Assembly resolution argues that part of the problem of locally legalizing marijuana is that banks can’t accept money from pot-related businesses. It’s considered money laundering because selling the drug is illegal according to federal law. The resolution cites an increase in robberies in Colorado because so many businesses now have cash sitting around.

But the opposition was not supported unanimously. Chairman Patrick Flynn said the municipality should not weigh in on state issues.

“I don’t think, frankly, the voters care what we think,” he told the rest of the Assembly. “And to the extent that we take actions like this, I think it’s more of an irritant than an attractant for the position we take.”

Most others voted in favor saying they were urged by their constituents and the ballot measure endangers public safety.

Categories: Alaska News

Murkowski Backs Sullivan in TV Spot

Tue, 2014-09-23 17:45

U.S. Senate candidate Dan Sullivan has a new campaign ad featuring the person he hopes to call a colleague: Sen. Lisa Murkowski.

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On the one hand, the 30-second spot is just a classic endorsement, with Murkowski indoors, looking straight at the camera:

“I need a partner in the senate who will work to advance Alaska’s interest, not the Obama agenda,” she says.

Anchorage pollster Marc Hellenthal says endorsements usually don’t move voters, but this one is different because s Lisa Murkowski is the most popular person in Alaska.

“She has the highest positive and the lowest negative of any public figure or politician in the state,” Hellenthal says.

Hellenthal also thinks the ad will also be effective because Sullivan was a relative unknown in Alaska as recently as a year ago*.*

“So people rather than just get their information from Sullivan’s TV ads, Sullivan has now been sponsored by someone they have a long history with – Lisa Murkowski.”

Hellenthal says it could tip the scales, because even among Democrats, Murkowski ranks just a hair below Begich in popularity.

“We’ve got basically a dead heat between Sullivan and Begich, so one or two percent could be the difference in an election.”

The Begich campaign responded that, despite what Murkowski says, she and Begich voted the same way 80 percent of the time in the first half of the year, and 60 percent of the time during the years they’ve served together. Begich campaign spokesman Max Croes sent a long list of issues where Begich and Murkowski are aligned. Both senators, for instance, support legal access to abortion, raising the federal minimum wage and legalizing gay marriage. Sullivan has opposed all three.

But whatever their differences, Murkowski is standing with Sullivan …

“Alaska needs Dan Sullivan,” she says.

… While she told Begich earlier this summer to stop using her picture in his campaign ads.

Categories: Alaska News

Tribes Advance Self-Governance Initiative With Tax Bill

Tue, 2014-09-23 17:44

A bill that will exempt tribes from taxation on social welfare programs has made its way through Congress and is awaiting the president’s signature. The bill was introduced in response to the Internal Revenue Service’s increased auditing of tribes over the last few years and is part of a national initiative to give tribes the same tax status as local and state governments.

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Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C. (Creative Commons photo by KP Tripathi)

John Dossett, an attorney for the National Congress of American Indians, says this whole thing started in 2005 when the IRS Tax Exempt and Government Entities Division went to the National Indian Gaming Commission and got a list of its tribal members.

“They started at the top with the most wealthy tribes and they started auditing them around 2005,” Dossett says. “And then they started working their way down the list.”

While some of the larger tribes complained about the audits, it wasn’t until smaller, less wealthy tribes started getting audited that NCAI started looking into the issue. Dossett notes one of the most egregious examples was when the IRS went after the Oglala Sioux tribe. The IRS expected families to claim charity – such as $200 vouchers to buy their children new school clothes – as income on their individual tax forms.

“It’s ridiculous. It’s absolutely off-the-Richter-scale ridiculous,” Dossett says. “And then when they started doing that kind of stuff, that’s when it just lit the tribes up. “
To be clear, the IRS was targeting tribal general funds. So if a tribe was operating a social welfare program with its own money, the IRS wanted those benefits to be taxed. If a tribe was operating a program funded by the federal government, that was OK.

In Alaska, Native interests in oil, timber or other business investments are most often held by the corporations. In turn, most tribes have little if any general funds and instead operate most of their services with federal funding.

Still, Dossett brought a warning to last year’s Alaska Federation of Natives convention in Fairbanks. He told delegates that the same IRS division that had been under fire for targeting Tea Party and conservative groups was also targeting tribes. While the IRS does not disclose who it audits, there haven’t been any publicized reports of Alaska tribes subjected to the targeted audits.

Despite that, tribes like the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes have become involved in the NCAI’s Inter-Tribal Organization Tax Initiative, which seeks to put Alaska Native and American Indian tribes on a level playing field with local and state governments.

“We need to, one, be on par with state and local government,” says Will Micklin, a vice president with Tlingit and Haida. “And, two, we need access to capital to monetize tax credits that would allow us to operate those economic ventures that would generate those general funds or enterprise funds that we could use for our own purposes to supplement the decreasing federal funding.”

Micklin is also the CEO for the Ewiiaapaayp Band of Kumeyaay Indians in San Diego and the executive director of the California Association of Tribal Governments. He says numerous tribes in California were subjected to the IRS audits.

“It was burdensome. It was unproductive and resulted in hardship on the tribes and the tribal citizens,” Micklin says.
In June the IRS issued formal instructions on how to deal with tribal welfare programs. It essentially gave tribes the benefit of the General Welfare Doctrine, which allows federal, state and local governments to operate tax-exempt social programs. Despite the change in IRS regulation, the Tribal General Welfare Exclusion Act of 2013 passed both the House and Senate last week with strong bipartisan support and numerous cosponsors, including all of Alaska’s congressional delegation.

Dossett says key elements of the legislation include the temporary suspension of the targeted audits and a mandate for IRS field officers to receive training in federal Indian law, but he hopes that training includes tribal representatives.

“That’s one of the things we’re really advocating for: that it isn’t just a bunch of IRS agents going in a room and talking to themselves, but that the tribes are involved and they bring in key people who know what’s going on and that there’s really more consultation with the IRS so they can better understand what the tribes are doing,” Dossett says.

The bill also establishes a Tribal Advisory Committee within the Treasury that will advise the Secretary on Indian tax policy and authorizes the Secretary to waive any penalties or interest imposed on tribal governments or members. The bill allows tribes to file claims for any taxes or fines imposed on its social programs in the last three years and directs the Secretary to resolve any ambiguities in the act in favor of tribal governments.

Another bill that NCAI advocated for through its initiative- the Tribal Tax and Investment Reform Act of 2013- would have allowed tribes to issue tax-exempt bonds for community infrastructure. The bill is in a House committee and has no companion bill in the Senate. With Congress in recess until November, it’s unlikely to advance.

Categories: Alaska News
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