State narcotics officials say unsuspecting travelers are being used as drug mules to carry illegal pills to rural Alaska. Earlier this month, authorities intercepted a package of oxycodone pills at the Anchorage airport. They were inside a bag a traveler agreed to take to Dillingham for another woman.
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The summer drilling season is getting closer and operators in Cook Inlet have big plans for 2013.
Hilcorp has submitted a request to amend its operations plan for its projects in the Ninilchik unit, onshore about 40 miles north of Homer. The amended plan calls for the drilling of up to two oil wells. Currently, Hilcorp is permitted to do gas drilling work at this site. The first would be a 12,000 foot exploratory well, with the possibility of a second if it proves successful.
In its plan submitted to the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, Hilcorp says it may need to expand the existing drilling pad to accommodate a new drill rig and will determine in the next month if gravel will have to come from nearby wetlands, which would need a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers.
The plan calls for 24-hour a day drilling as soon as the drill rig can be located on site, possibly as early as next month. The company anticipates completion of the well in 60 days, with testing going on for an additional 90 days. Hilcorp will construct a temporary truck loading facility to transport the oil from the six 400-barrel storage tanks it will have onsite, with two to four loads being transported daily.
Another company, Aurora Gas LLC, has filed for permits to drill on the West side of Cook Inlet at Nicolai Creek, about 10 miles south of Tyonek. Aurora is another independent exploration and production company and has been in Cook Inlet since 2011.
Their plans for Nicolai Creek include both new and old wells and updating infrastructure in the area including 700 feet of gravel road and a 60,000 square foot well pad. Updating that infrastructure will take about 3 weeks, according to Aurora’s plan filed with the DNR and another four weeks to drill its well. Aurora also intends to build a gathering line to transport gas to the Cook Inlet Gas Gathering System Pipeline for sales to Kenai or Anchorage.
Representatives for both Hilcorp and Aurora did not immediately return phone calls for this story.
It’s a brisk, sunny early spring day in Seward. Scudding clouds barely break the relentless blue of the sky beyond the chilly, cobalt waters of Resurrection Bay. Inside the city administration building on Adams Street, assistant city manager Ron Long looks at a detail of a map of Seward’s harbors.
“Here’s the existing infrastructure here. So there’s one central portion of the basin that would need to be dredged to accommodate the largest of the vessels in the proposed fleet. “
Long says the new harbor is already built. It’s around the other side of the Bay from the city’s small boat harbor and cruise ship dock, but it needs a lot more work.
“That’s the harbor as it exists now. That’s our Seward Marine Industrial Center. As you can see, sort of an open basin. There’s a small breakwater down at the southern end of the harbor. So it’s somewhat exposed to weather, and that poses some operational challenges.”
The idea to use it for the CDQ fleet came up a couple of years ago, when Western Alaska’s Coastal Villages Region Fund, approached the city. CVRF is the largest of the CDQ groups, and it brings in an estimated 175 million pounds of groundfish and crab annually. Currently, the group’s fleet docks in Seattle.
“And they’ve managed to leverage those initial shares into majority or outright ownership interest in twenty large vessels — crabbers, catcher processors trawlers, and over a quarter billion dollars in assets that they would like to bring home to Alaska.”
But the new harbor needs a jetty, to protect the large vessels from wave action. Long says when the CDQ group looked at Seward
“We had almost all of the things that they needed, except sufficient moorage capacity in all weathers at all times. And so that’s what started the conversation about finding a way to complete that basin that’s over on the East side of the Bay. “
Seward’s year round ice free port, and rail access to points North, also make the project attractive. CVRF’s seafood general manager Nick Souza says the group initially was not sure Seward was the right place.
“Not quite big enough and not quite what we were thinking. And then, they reworked it a few times, and came back with something that would work. It was pretty big. It would fit all our fleet in there, the factory trawler as well as the cod boats and the crab boats. ”
Souza says having the fleet close to corporate offices in Anchorage is another plus — it eliminates the three and a half hour flight to Seattle.
He says it won’t be cheaper to keep the boats in Seward, but that’s not a drawback. He emphasizes more development has to be done regarding support services the fleet needs, and that could take time
“Two years, ten years. The whole infrastructure needs to be built up. Not just, boom, the harbors here. You know, fuel vendors they need to be able to fill up our ship. The factory trawler actually probably takes up as much fuel as the whole city of Seward does. So things like that need to be addressed.”
The CDQ group already has five large vessels with long term moorage contracts at the city’s existing harbor. Seward is working slowly but doggedly toward getting the new harbor finished. The city received a 400 thousand dollar appropriation from the state in 2010 to do a feasibility study and concept design. An additional 10 million dollars from last year’s transportation bond was invested in the project as well.
Long says there is a need to find other users that would balance out the seasonal nature of the fishing fleet. The plan is to lease city owned adjacent uplands to private developers and entrepreneurs, and to attract more vessels to the new harbor.
“We’ve had some recent activity over the last year or so with some of the oil and gas exploration and support fleet that’s being deployed to the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas. And we expect that to continue as more companies are interested and more lease acres are opened up. We’ve also had renewed interest from existing customers, from tug and barge companies. “
Permitting for water work, a rock quarry source for stone, and federal and state permits and fees have eaten up four million dollars of last year’s transportation money. The remainder will be used to build the breakwater, he says.
The city is now waiting to see if the ten million dollars in this year’s capitol budget survives the Governor’s veto. That money will allow Seward to begin constructing the breakwater this fall.
With cruise ship landings down, Seward is looking to boost city revenues. In time, an uptick in marine support and fish processing could fill the gap. But CVRF communications coordinator Dawson Hoover says, the project is bound to benefit the whole state by creating jobs and by helping to “Alaskanize” the Bering Sea fisheries
Sitka Community Hospital — like most hospitals — delivers babies. But that hasn’t always been the case. For about two years, from 2009 to 2011, a lack of properly qualified physicians shutdown its obstetrics program. KCAW’s Anne Brice looks at how the return of obstetrics has made a difference for expectant moms.
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The Tlingit-Haida Central Council holds its 78th Annual Tribal Assembly in Juneau this week.
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A Metlakatla woman is gearing up for the upcoming Miss Indian World competition, next week during the annual Gathering of Nations in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
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An antique ski has been donated to the Fairbanks North Star Borough for display at the Birch Hill Recreation Area. The ski is thought to be a gold rush era relic.
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The ‘Write-in Nick Moe’ campaign has announced they will not challenge the results of the Anchorage Municipal Election in West Anchorage’s District 3. Thousands of voters wrote-in Moe’s name on the ballot, but even after a hand-count election, election officials say Moe lost by more than 500 votes. Also today, Anchorage attorneys today denied an application to hold a referendum repealing the controversial ordinance that limits unions and inspired Moe to jump into the race.
Union leaders applied to hold a referendum on the controversial ordinance, called AO37, on April 3. Municipal Attorney Dennis Wheeler explains the application didn’t meet the technical requirements. But he says there was a bigger issue too:
“You cannot address administrative matters by referendum,” Wheeler said.
Wheeler argues the matter is ‘administrative’ because it deals with issues like where certain employees are located during work, the number of health benefit programs that employees can choose from and the time frame in which the collective bargaining process should take place. Union leaders applied to hold the referendum the day after municipal elections, when voters turned out in numbers to protest the ordinance at the ballot box.
Several thousand filled in the name of write-in candidate, Nick Moe instead of voting for Ernie Hall, who was running unopposed in West Anchorage’s District 3. Hall chairs the Assembly and oversaw passage of the ordinance. Under his leadership, a public hearing was closed before everyone who showed up had a chance to testify. Andy Holeman is the President of the Anchorage Education Association. He was the primary sponsor of the application for a referendum. He does not agree with Wheeler’s analysis.
“The charter suggests that citizens can reverse an ordinance enacted by the Assembly and that’s what we want to do. We think it’s about that straight forward. If you have to go to court to get the right to do that, then we’re prepared to take that action,” Holeman said.
Holeman says before filing a lawsuit he and other union leaders plan to submit a new application to hold a referendum, in an effort to remedy technical problems with their previous application.
- Anchorage Municipal Elections
- Clerk’s Office Response (PDF)
- Municipal Attorneys Office Memorandum (PDF)
- Assembly Seat D Hand Count Summary (PDF)
The Legislature adjourned Sunday without acting on a bill adding new voter identification requirements. But the measure is poised for action when lawmakers return to the Capitol next January.
Now that a bill lowering taxes on oil companies has passed, the big question is: Will it work?
At a press conference on Monday, Gov. Sean Parnell named a few indicators that might suggest whether his bill is succeeding. He says he expects to see changes to Alaska’s level of oil production within the next three years, and that his administration is basing its budget outlook on the idea that oil companies will add a handful of rigs to legacy fields. Parnell says his administration will also be watching the amount of money that producers put toward capital expenditures.
“The major companies have invested approximately $2 billion a year on average to kind of maintain where they are. I think that’s a good base-level starting point to say, ‘What are you going to jump up to? What are you going to bump up to?’”
But beyond that, Parnell didn’t provide much in the way of concrete metrics for judging his oil tax policy. He stayed away from defining success in specific terms, and he also avoided offering a hard timeline for evaluating his bill. Parnell also tried to temper expectations for his legislation, saying he didn’t expect to see dramatic growth in oil production immediately.
Democratic legislators have criticized Parnell for not offering clearer benchmarks. Sen. Hollis French, of Anchorage, says they also worry the administration might count projects that are already scheduled to go online as new investment.
“When they start having those ribbon cuttings, and the brass bands, and the big hullabaloos over new things happening on the North Slope, we’re going to remind the public these were already planned.”
The new tax structure is scheduled to go into effect in 2014.
An Army MP has been sentenced to 16 years in prison for espionage. 24- year-old William Colton Millay had pleaded guilty in March of this year to charges of attempted espionage, issuing false statements and communicating national defense information with intent to harm the US.
Former Juneau Mayor Bill Overstreet is being remembered as a persuasive and successful spokesman for Alaska’s capital city during the capital move fights of the 1970s and 80s.
Overstreet died last week in Sun City West, Arizona, where he and his wife Jean have spent their winters in recent years. He was 86-years-old.
Bill moved his family from Oklahoma in 1952. Over the years he was a teacher, school administrator, and became the first director of the statewide Alaska School Board Association.
Alaska author Dana Stabenow has big plans – and they have nothing to do with the plot of her next crime fiction novel. Stabenow hopes to turn her 10-acre property outside of Homer into a writers retreat dedicated to fostering the skills of female writers.
A dog took the stage during this year’s Alaska Folk Festival. So did a drum-and-pipe band and some Middle-Eastern-style singers and dancers. CoastAlaska’s Ed Schoenfeld assembled this audio post card.
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The Anchorage Municipal Clerk’s Office has released the unofficial results of the hand count for Assembly Seat D, where write-in candidate Nick Moe challenged Assembly Chair Ernie Hall.
In the count, Ernie Hall received 4,298 votes to Nick Moe’s 3,745. Nineteen counted write-in ballots were challenged and 220 write-in votes that were not counted were challenged.
The Municipality of Anchorage has denied a referendum petition to appeal AO37 submitted earlier this month.
The Anchorage Assembly passed the rewrite of municipal labor law by a vote of 6-5 at their March 26 meeting after four 5-hour evenings where 285 people spoke before the assembly.
In a memorandum from the Office of the Municipal Attorney, the brief version of the answer regarding why the request was denied says:
“Subject to the following Background and Discussion below, our Brief Answer is No. The proposed petition does not properly cite the ordinance, the petition narrative may be confusing, and the petition fails to set forth verbatim the ordinance sought to be repealed. In addition, the petition addresses subjects prohibited by Alaska law.”
Several Alaskans were near the finish line of the Boston Marathon when two bombs exploded in the crowded finish area. No Alaskans are known to be among the three people who were killed and the more than 100 others who were injured. Identifications of those victims have not yet been released.
Forty-one Alaskans were registered to run the race today and many had family members there to cheer them on.
Anchorage resident Heather Aften finished the race about 15 minutes before the bombs exploded. She was just a few blocks away when she heard the two explosions.
“And right away I knew something was wrong it was the kind of sound where you knew it was big and I instantly knew something was wrong. I thought of 9-11,” Aften said.
Aften says it was a dream of hers to qualify for the Boston Marathon, which only allows runners with fast marathon times to enter. She says for 15 minutes after she finished, she felt elation. But everything changed the instant the first bomb went off.
“My trip down those 26 miles was just one long party and so many people put everything they had into it today. And it’s just so heartbreaking and I guess because of that, I’m just feeling anger and rage at the whole thing that that was tainted,” Aften said.
Kodiak resident Howard Valley, who is 64-years-old, finished his race roughly 40 minutes before the blasts and said he was walking away from the area when he heard the explosions.
“It wasn’t like a propane tank or anything that go off here in Kodiak sometimes, or anything else; it was quite obviously a large explosion of some type. But I didn’t know what it was until about maybe a half an hour later when I got inside a hotel and was watching the TV,” Valley said.
Valley has safely returned to the bed and breakfast he is staying at in Newton, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston. He said it took him about four hours to get out of the city. He had to use alternate train and bus routes because transportation was shut down near the race course.
Juneau Doctor John Bursell also escaped injury in the Marathon.
After he finished the race, he says he and his wife Jamie had already gone back to their hotel room about five blocks away when she heard the explosions and arriving emergency responders.
“My wife Jamie was watching the race and at one point was real close to where the first explosion went off and at that point says it was crowded with people right at the finish line,” Bursell said.
Another Anchorage resident Hedy Eischeid, didn’t run the race herself. But she was waiting with a friend for her husband at the family meeting area when the explosions happened.
“And I kind of looked at my friend Jonathan and he looked at me and he said, ‘I hope that was thunder.’ and we looked at each other and we knew it wasn’t and we knew it wasn’t. And he said, ‘I don’t think that’s thunder Hedy.’ So we heard it. It was very, very loud. And you could feel it on the ground,” Hedy Eischeid said.
It took Eischeid about 10 minutes to reunite with her husband Ted, who lives in Wisconsin and is planning to relocate to Anchorage in the future. He was looking towards the finish when the explosions happened and he saw smoke. It was his second Boston Marathon and he says it’s a wonderful event:
“Thousands and thousands of Bostonians come out to watch it and you have runners from all around the world here and because Boston is a marathon you have to qualify for, there’s a lot of dreams here, just to be able to qualify for Boston and run it was a long time goal and dream of mine. It’s very emotional. So I’m sad for the marathon because this was 117th running and it puts a damper on really a wonderful tradition,” Ted Eischeid said.
Eischeid says despite the horror of today’s marathon, he would run the race again.
This story was reported with the help of Matt Miller, KTOO – Juneau and Briana Gibbs, KMXT – Kodiak
For the first time since 2010, the Alaska State Legislature has wrapped up in time. With Republican majorities in both chambers, legislators took full advantage of their 90 days in Juneau. They approved 71 bills, a $2.2 billion capital budget, and a 737-mile in-state gasline.
Most importantly, the legislature passed a bill that would give oil companies a tax cut. Gov. Sean Parnell has been fighting to overhaul the state’s tax structure for years, arguing that a lower rate would encourage more investment and more oil production.
On Saturday, the House approved the tax legislation on a 27 to 12 vote. Anchorage Republican Mia Costello had harsh words for the existing tax structure, arguing that the policy of raising tax rates as the price of oil goes up was discouraging investment.
“Progressivity is our enemy,” said Costello. “Progressivity is what is robbing our future of the ability to pay for schools, and roads, and troopers.”
A mix of Democrats and coastal Republicans in both chambers of the legislature didn’t agree with that. Sen. Hollis French, an Anchorage Democrat spoke against the measure, saying that it could hurt the state’s treasury.
“I’m very concerned that this bill will bankrupt the state,” said French. “I know in my heart this will lead to an income tax. I know in my heart this will lead to the loss of our permanent fund dividend, okay? I know for a fact that’s beyond contention that this will lead to greater profits for the oil industry.”
Under forecasted prices and production, the tax cut comes out to at least $3.5 billion over five years. Oil companies have called the bill a “game changer,” but have not made specific commitments to increase production.
The legislature also passed plenty of other big-ticket items this session. They approved a bill advancing an in-state gasline project, and they put together a financing program to get natural gas from the North Slope to the Interior.
They also okayed a $2.2 billion capital budget. That was expected to be a vehicle for a comprehensive education package that was frequently discussed by leadership but never showed up. On the last day of session, the House voted to create a task force to look at how educators should be graded and what can be done to improve school performance. The finance committee also allocated $21 million in grant money to schools for safety and security spending.
Rep. Bill Stoltze, a Chugiak Republican who co-chairs the committee, says the decision to fund schools in that amount was pragmatic.
“That’s out of our capital budget, and that’s about what we had left.”
Education isn’t the only policy that didn’t get completely taken care of this session. The House hit the brakes on a bill that would limit Medicaid funding for abortion, after it passed the Senate. The Senate kept a bill that would advance the Knik Arm bridge project in committee, after it received and damning audit that prompted the House to hand control of the proposal off to the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation.
The Senate also delayed a vote on one of the governor’s bills to limit who can secure water reservations. Members of the fishing industry and residents of the Bristol Bay region have come out against the legislation, saying that the proposed changes could make it easier to permit Pebble Mine.
But overall, this legislature passed nearly twice as many bills as the previous one did over the first session. House and Senate leadership credited that decline in gridlock to having Republican majorities in both chambers.
There will likely be a petition drive to reverse the new oil tax bill passed by the legislature Sunday night. A number of the people who campaigned against Senate Bill 21 had a strategy meeting today at Democratic Party Headquarters.
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Alaskan voters haven’t reelected a Democrat to the Senate since Mike Gravel in 1976.
So the stakes are high for the Democratic Party and Senator Begich. He raised $948 thousand in the first quarter of this year, and he’s sitting on more than $1.5 million dollars in campaign cash.
So whoever wins the Republican primary will face a formidable incumbent.
Miller announced late Sunday in a blog post he’s forming an exploratory committee; that allows him to raise money for the campaign and test the waters. It’s not an official entrance.
“We have to remember that the goal republicans have is replacing Mark Begich,” Lieutenant Governor Mead Treadwell said Monday.
Treadwell, who announced his exploratory committee earlier this year, said Miller called him Sunday to tell him the news.
Treadwell expected Miller to jump into the race, and said while primaries are important to select the strongest candidate, he’s worried a protracted one could leave Senator Begich in a better position.
“Some people sent me notes after Joe made his announcement saying that’s the best gift Mark Begich could have gotten. I don’t know,” he said.
Treadwell said he does not know when he’ll make a final decision. But he said polls have shown him leading Miller and competing well with Begich. He didn’t say who paid for and conducted the polls.
Treadwell will visit D.C. this week. He said he’ll meet with Congressional leaders, but he would not say whether he’s meeting with the National Republican Senatorial Committee; the wing of the GOP tasked with winning more seats in the Senate.
Jennifer Duffy, senior editor with the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, said Miller’s move is no surprise, and she expects a more crowded primary field.
According to Duffy, Miller will soon learn that being a candidate today is much different than in 2010.
“He was a Tea Party candidate in the first cycle that Tea Party candidates really came to the fore in Senate races,” she said. “They had the element of surprise then. And that’s not the case this time.”
That, Duffy said, means Miller’s primary opponents will try and define just who he is. Miller will have to defend his past actions and statements; something he didn’t have to do much of in 2010.
A spokesperson with the NRSC said it’s too soon to support any one candidate. Miller met with the head of that group earlier this year.
Duffy said the NRSC has backed off supporting candidates in primary campaigns. And she expects the same unless Governor Sean Parnell joins the race.
With Miller, Duffy said, the NRSC has learned its lesson.
“My sense is that their experience they had with Joe Miller in 2010 would probably lead them not to embrace his candidacy so quickly,” she said.
In his announcement, Miller wrote the 2014 race is “not just about beating Mark Begich, it’s about saving the country.”
Mainstream Republicans have bristled at Miller’s rhetoric and often incendiary language Neither Miller, nor his 2010 foe, Senator Lisa Murkowski, would comment for this story.
Senator Begich, who styles himself an independent on his campaign site, said he takes any candidate seriously. He didn’t say if he’d prefer to face Miller or Treadwell.
“Whoever,” he said Monday afternoon. “Whoever the Republican party decides to anoint over there is their decision.”
The GOP primary isn’t until August 2014; three months before the winner of that race will face Senator Begich in the general election.