For years, Facebook access has been a vexing issue for the Legislature. Lawmakers have even joked that it’s second only to oil taxes in the amount of controversy it stirs up. On Wednesday, the committee that sets office rules for the Capitol finally approved a policy for staff use of the social networking site.
When an employer decides whether or not to allow Facebook access, the concern is usually over office productivity. But if the employer happens to be the Alaska State Legislature, there are some weightier questions involved, like “Do my Facebook communications count as public records?” and “Under what circumstances would my postings count as politicking?” Lawmakers have been debating Facebook use for years, and Rep. Mike Hawker, an Anchorage Republican who chairs the Legislative Council, wanted to settle on a policy once and for all.
“Frankly, this committee should have taken action in the 27th Legislature to resolve this and it did not,” said Hawker.
Before Wednesday, legislators could access Facebook themselves, under a set of temporary rules. Their staff could use the social networking site on their behalf, and press secretaries also had access.
But the stopgap policy did not include the Legislature’s non-partisan offices — like ethics and auditing staff — who said they wanted access to the site to investigate complaints. For example, the Office of the Ombudsman, which looks into grievances against state government, has needed to use Facebook for child custody cases. Staff was required to do that from personal devices and after hours.
The committee ultimately expanded access to them. But approval of the new policy was not unanimous, and it was cobbled together through multiple votes. A couple of lawmakers simply thought Facebook had no place in the Capitol at all.
But Sen. Peter Micciche, a Republican from Soldotna, argued that seriously restricting Facebook would have been like banning e-mail twenty years ago.
“The world changes, and there’s a whole demographic of folks that I communicate with about legislative affairs and legislative issues and community meetings and committee meetings on Facebook that often don’t communicate in any other way,” said Micciche.
Micciche also joked that his staff “will not be posting pictures of their cats on state time.” Use of Facebook must still comply with the larger rule that any online activity must be for legislative purposes.
No specific policies exist for other social networking sites like Twitter and Instagram.
Anchorage Police are investigating a reported highly suspicious circumstance involving a juvenile in the area of 3433 Commercial Drive.
Police received a report of the incident just before 7:30 a.m. It was reported that the incident occurred between 6:15 a.m. and 7:15 a.m. in the Mountain View neighborhood.
Detectives and officers are working to identify a potential victim and suspect.
If anyone saw any suspicious activity involving a juvenile near Mountain View Car Wash at 3433 Commercial Drive between 6:15 and 7:15 a.m., investigators ask that they call police immediately.
Commercial fishing boats landed 52 million pounds of seafood worth 50 million dollars in Petersburg last year.
Those landings rank the volume of Petersburg’s catch at 24th among fishing ports in the nation for 2012. By value of catch, Petersburg ranked 20th.
Ten other Alaskan fishing ports were ahead of Petersburg on the list of pounds landed, including Ketchikan and Sitka.
Dutch-Harbor continues as the top port in the country for pounds landed for the 16th year running, because of a large catch of walleye Pollock. The highest-value catch was landed in New Bedford, Massachusetts for the 13th consecutive year, primarily because of a valuable scallop fishery.
Petersburg’s 2012 catch was roughly half of the amount landed the year before when fishing fleets brought in 101 million pounds of seafood here.
The port rankings and catch totals are published each year by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA.
In other findings, the agency reports that Americans ate an average of almost 14 and a half pounds of seafood last year, a decrease of 4 percent. The country consumed 4.5 billion pounds of seafood in 2012.
As Alaska’s natural gas prices continue to rise, the Alaska Energy Authority is working on a large-scale project aimed at steadying Railbelt energy costs and moving away from a reliance on fossil fuels.
But critics say the potential environmental impacts of the proposed Susitna-Watana Dam could cost the lifestyles and livelihoods of Alaskans who rely on the river.
“It’s gooey and it jiggles around and it’s really abrasive, but it provides some great habitat for regermination – look, look at that little sculpin!” Mike Wood said, dipping his hand into the gritty silt at the edge of Whiskers Creek, where it connects to the Susitna River.
The sculpin are some of the smaller fish in an ecosystem with grayling, trout and salmon. Wood lives in Chase, just north of Talkeetna and fishes the river year round. He harvests fallen trees for building projects in the area, too.
“These trees that I bring home are huge for our area, they’re like 26 inches on the butt. I always call them salmon fed-trees because – look at that sculpin there—because all this has got to have fish waste in it,” Wood said, pointing to a rotting salmon carcass soon after.
Wood has lived along the Susitna River for nearly a decade, relying on it for food and transportation year round, but he’s afraid that his lifestyle may change because of the proposed Susitna-Watana Dam.
“It’s in a very, very good location for a large hydro project,” Energy Authority Executive Director Sara Fisher-Goad said.
She says the main purpose of the $5 billion project is to meet Alaska’s goal of supplying half of the state’s energy needs from renewable sources by 2025.
“This would be approximately 50 percent of the electrical energy needs of the Railbelt serving over 80 percent of the population,” Fisher-Goad said.
She says the idea for the dam was originally developed in the 1980s but was shelved for purely economic reasons – oil and gas were so cheap, building a dam didn’t make sense. But now, she says the hydroelectric project would stabilize energy prices over time.
But the project’s director, Wayne Dyok, acknowledges that yes, a 735-foot high dam just above Devil’s Canyon would change the Susitna River.
“So you will see some differences in the reach from Talkeetna to the Watana Dam site. I think you can’t avoid that,” Dyok said.
But he doesn’t see all of the changes as necessarily negative. For example, naturally, the river can fluctuate multiple feet per day over the summer. Dyok says stabilizing the river’s flow could help the fish.
“And we do know that some projects, including those in the Lower 48, that have actually improved conditions downstream,” he said.
The dam would make the flows more consistent from season to season as well.
Whitney Wolff with the Coalition for Susitna Dam Alternatives doesn’t see how this could help the fish. She says the salmon need the pulse of water in early spring to send them downstream.
“These seasonal events have a huge, positive impact on the ecosystem, and that would be completely lost,” Wolf said.
Commercial fisherman and Talkeetna resident Steve Harrison says the higher winter levels could cause a problem for the juvenile salmon that normally hole up in little nurseries.
“When they’re young and extremely vulnerable, washing them out to sea would kill them,” Harrison said. “And that could destroy the run.”
It’s not just the fish that Harrison worries about. He and his wife Rachel rely on the frozen river in the winter for transportation. Every year they watch the telltale signs of the frazile ice on the edges of the river.
“It would kind of remind you of white rice, elongated white rice that’s clinking together and sloshing on down,” Rachel said. “It’s a slurry, but it’s elongated.”
That’s their indicator that the world is about to open up. When the Susitna freezes, the Harrisons ski and snow machine alongside bikers, dog mushers and moose. Rachel says the river is busier in the winter than any other time of the year.
The dam would make the winter water higher and warmer and could impact ice formation.
Dyok says he understands the importance of the river ice. That’s why AEA has hired scientists to create ice models based on freeze-up data from the river’s wide fluctuations.
AEA is leading 57 other research projects that look at everything from caribou migration and vegetation mapping to subsistence use. The studies are required as part of the federal licensing process. They’ll be used with thousands of pages of data collected in the 1980s. Dyok says the information is necessary for deciding the best way to run the project, if it’s permitted.
“You try to come up with a operating scenario that’s going to achieve the appropriate balance between the environment and the energy needs that we have in the state,” Dyok said.
Back on Whiskers Creek, Mike Wood takes me to one of the study sites and points to boxes of wires attached to trees and narrow metal pipes covering monitoring equipment by the creek.
Shinny silver bubble wrap once encircled a mammoth cottonwood. It held on sensors monitoring sap movement. But now sections dangle off, ripped to pieces.
“…And here, the bears just love coming and putting their claws right into them,” Wood said, his boots crunching dried ferns as he investigates the decimated piece of equipment. “There’s so much science trash out here. It’s amazing. Just look at them, torn apart…”
But Dyok is confident that their data quality is good, especially the information from over 500 tagged Chinook salmon.
He and his team have four more years to prove it. The state will apply for a federal project permit in 2017.
Story updated at 4:40 p.m.
A Delta flight traveling from Tokyo to San Francisco made an emergency stop in the remote community of Cold Bay on Wednesday.
Delta’s Boeing 767 jet experienced engine problems early in the morning. A Delta spokesman wouldn’t say exactly what went wrong, but a National Transportation Safety Board spokesman told KTUU that the pilots saw a warning on their electronic engine controls.
Cold Bay’s airport is a designated diversion spot for trans-Pacific flights, so the pilots decided to land there.
Catherine Bland works at the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge in Cold Bay. She says that she heard a loud jet engine around 6 a.m, followed by a flurry of activity on the runway.
“I thought, ‘What’s going on out there?’ And I looked and I see the Delta plane sitting on the tarmac,” Bland says. “Then when I came into work, we started getting requests for help,” Bland said.
Deputy refuge manager Leticia Melendez says Izembek’s goal – and the goal of the village — was to put Delta’s 178 passengers and crew at ease.
“Our role is to do as much as we can to minimize their discomfort,” Melendez said. “We’re helping with security and trying to take the edge off what could have been a big disaster.”
The travelers spent six hours on board the plane before Delta let them off to stretch their legs. The airport is only a five- or 10-minute walk from the refuge, but the passengers weren’t allowed to stray that far.
“Let me tell you, the little kid in me got excited and thought, ‘Oh! They get to see the refuge!’” Melendez said. “But that’s just a little reaction because I get excited about these things, just as much as anybody who has a passion for exposing the wonders of nature.”
Instead, passengers spent time at Cold Bay’s community center and gym and other spots around town.
Delta finally sent a replacement jet to Cold Bay Wednesday afternoon with a Transportation Security Administration team and Customs staff on board, to screen passengers. The flight departed around 3 p.m. Alaska time.
But some Delta employees were expected to stick around Cold Bay a little longer.
Mary Martin owns and operates the Cold Bay Lodge, a small hotel. She says Delta reserved rooms for its maintenance and cockpit crews, who are coming to town to fix the disabled jet.
Martin says there’s not much to see in the town of Cold Bay – just a few houses and a school. But the airstrip provides the most intrigue.
“We have an interesting airport,” Martin said. “We go from 60 [people] to quadruple our population in a minute’s notice, depending on the aircraft and what’s on board.”
Exactly what happened on board is still under investigation. The NTSB will be looking into the engine issue, along with Delta Airlines.
The Anchorage School District has long been struggling to get more students to graduate from high school, with only slight improvement.
Last year, the rate of students graduating jumped three and half percentage points overall for ASD. Bartlett High School is leading the way.
Brian Jones was typical of many students at Bartlett, in that he’d switched schools a lot and fallen behind. The lanky 19-year-old with black-rimmed glasses started out at Service, then moved to Fairbanks and ended up back in Anchorage at Bartlett for 12th grade. By then he needed to do all his senior year classes plus make up one and half credits.
“I was behind in English, History and I hadn’t [taken] a gym class yet,” Jones said.
Jones says he was able to graduate because of an online credit recovery program called Apex, which was available to him on demand. He used the program to make up the classes, fitting in online work in between his regular classes.
“It was very helpful because it was like a second chance to make up for mistakes of my freshman and sophomore year,” Jones said.
Bartlett High has struggled with a high dropout rate. In 2011, the percent of students graduating from Bartlett was about 68 percent. The percentage dropping out, basically just disappearing from school, hit nearly 10 percent. The other 22 percent of students either left the district or were staying in high school longer than four years to graduate.
“We had our graduation coaches go out into the community,” Bartlett Principal Dan Gallego said. “Find our dropout kids and then literally bring them back to school.”
He also made two other big changes. One was expanding the Apex online credit recovery program that Jones used, making it available to students all day so that students like him, who had fallen behind could more easily catch up.
They also provided more structure for freshman so, hopefully, they wouldn’t find themselves falling behind in the first place.
“We decided to develop a 9th Grade Academy so we can transition those middle school kids into high school life,” Gallego said.
Gallego says studies show 9th grade truancy is linked to dropping out.
“We identified that we were losing a lot of freshman,” Gallego said. “And they would be truant and they would fail a lot of courses.”
The school now separates 9th graders from the upper classman and they are not allowed to leave campus during school hours.
Last Spring the first class that went all the way through high school, beginning with the Freshman Academy, graduated. The school’s dropout rate fell by more than half – to 4 percent and the graduation rate jumped.
Ed Graff, Superintendent of the Anchorage School District says the improvements at Bartlett are notable.
“So what I think we have there is we really have created a culture or a system of support for students and that’s where I would attribute a lot of the success to their graduation increases,” Graff said.
But Graff says lots of other things are also contributing to school’s success.
They’ve implemented targeted instruction – basically teaching to each student at their learning-level, spearheaded a social and emotional learning initiative and provided experiential learning opportunities for students, among other things. He doesn’t want to take a cookie cutter approach, buy Graff says they are watching Bartlett closely.
“It’s a positive thing,” he said. “We are looking at why they are doing so well there and trying to find those targeted practices that are occurring.”
Principal Gallego says he hopes graduation rates at Bartlett continue to climb, but he’s worried that will be difficult without two graduation coaches, who were let go during the last round of budget cuts.
Graduate Brian Jones says walking across the stage on graduation day last spring is a feeling he won’t forget.
“It’s hard to explain. It’s just you know when they call your name up and you grab your diploma and you’re walking across the stage and you shake Mr. Gallego’s hand and you know all the teachers and stuff like that. It just feels pretty amazing. That four years down the road, you finally did it,” Jones said.
Jones has a retail job at the Dimond Mall. He’s saving for college and plans to enroll in UAA to study journalism.
- Anchorage School District: Destination 2020
- Anchorage School District: Destination 2020 – Assessment (PDF)
The Federal Communications Commission has approved GCI’s purchase of Anchorage television station KTVA.
The approval was made public Wednesday.
GCI Vice President David Morris says the FCC found the purchase to be in the public’s interest.
“We’ve waited for this order for about 11 months,” Morris said. “We’ve invested approximately $20 million into a state-of-the-art facility, and we will start preparing for our first newscast – as yet to be determined when that is.”
The approval provides for the transfer multiple television licenses, two of which will be used for GCI subsidiaries.
“We’re in the process of purchasing a full-power station – which is KTVA in Anchorage – and then two low-power stations – one located in Juneau and one located in Sitka. And, so, they have difference licenses and that’s what the FCC approved in this order. We still need to go through the financial closing of the entities, but we expect that to occur over the next several days.”
The federal commissioners denied objections to the sale filed by Alaska Broadcasters, Fireweed Communications and Northern Lights Media.
Alaska Broadcasters had alleged that GCI “lacks journalistic integrity” and would “distort” the news. However, the FCC decision notes that, “The allegations regarding journalistic independence are speculative and based on hearsay, but, even if true, would be insufficient to make out a prima facie showing that grant of the Applications would be inconsistent with the public interest.”
The Alaska National Guard is responding to allegations of sexual assault within its ranks.
Brigadier General Mike Bridges, the Commander of the Alaska National Guard says there have been nearly more than two dozen alleged cases of sexual assault since 2009.
“There have been 29 cases of alleged sexual assault reported to the Alaska National Guard – and that’s with Army and/or Air National Guard,” Bridges said. “The majority of those were alleged by civilian perpetrators on guard members, whether they were in the guard then or since then.”
This week, the Anchorage Daily News reported that there was an investigation into soldiers, including some in the Alaska Army Guard’s recruiting and retention unit headquartered at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.
Alaska National Guard officials would not confirm but did not deny the report.
Bridges says the Alaska Air National Guard has a new trained sexual assault investigator, as part of a military-wide effort to get a handle on the problem.
“Across the Department of Defense the recent expanded amount of reports that were coming in across the whole Department of Defense indicated a need,” Bridges said. “And Department of Defense has now provided that and we received ours within this last year, back in the springtime.”
A statement released from the Alaska National Guard offices Tuesday said local law enforcement, such as the Anchorage Police Department of the Alaska State Troopers have been contacted in 21 cases.
Bridges says he can’t disclose how many of the cases are under investigation.
U.S. Senator Mark Begich says he still supports the Affordable Care Act but he recently joined nine other Senate Democrats in asking the Obama administration to extend the sign-up period.
Begich says it’s only fair because the government’s online insurance marketplace has been plagued with technical problems.
“My view is the individual shouldn’t be penalized because government can’t get it together here and get on the website,” Begich said. “So my view is for each one of those weeks that’s delayed on the front end we should extend out the enrollment period for people to have enough time to enroll.”
The administration did extend the enrollment deadline for six weeks, until March 31. A letter Begich signed calls for another extension.
The letter, originated by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, doesn’t specify a new date, but Begich says he doesn’t think much – if any – more time would be needed and he doesn’t believe it would weaken the healthcare program.
An insurance industry group, though, has said another extension would add to its costs and possibly increase prices for 2015.
Residents near K-Beach Road in Kenai might finally have some relief as they continue to battle surface and groundwater flooding.
Borough Mayor Mike Navarre issued a local disaster emergency declaration Tuesday.
Between Miles 11 and 16 along K-Beach, it’s a mess. And the approximately three inches of rain that fell late in the weekend didn’t help much. Not at all, really, unless you’re a sickleback, which have found new stomping grounds in some newly created streams.
A day after Governor Sean Parnell took a look at the extent of the damage that property owners face, the Borough took the first step toward getting additional resources to help alleviate what they can by issuing the declaration. Borough spokesperson Brenda Ahlberg says first, the state needs to sign off.
“What would be enacted is the individual assistance program,” Ahlberg said. ”For the affected homeowners that qualify, that program would give some funds to mitigate damages.”
There are some stipulations. Carrying flood insurance, for one.
“The assistance would be specifically for their primary residence, primary mode of transportation,” Ahlberg said.
The official declaration notes damage that includes two to four feet of water in crawl spaces and basements, damaged furnaces, flooded septic systems, inundated wells and flooded driveways and yards.
The Borough anticipates as many as 40 people could be displaced due to road closures. Central Emergency Services has some ATV’s stationed nearby for emergency access.
The declaration doesn’t stop at K-Beach. Tall Tree Road in Anchor Point is impassable due to flooding. The Seward Airport is closed due to flooding, and a portion of the road between Tyonek and Beluga on the other side of the Inlet has been washed out.
The declaration asks the state for continued technical assistance, public assistance for emergency response and safe drinking kits for at least 1,500 residential structures.
Along K-Beach, the problem is that the volume of water is far greater than the drainage capacity of both the natural topography of the land and the installed infrastructure. It’s too flat and there aren’t enough paths straight to Cook Inlet to handle it all. A part of the solution could be to extend a ditch along K-Beach to the south where there is a drain to the Inlet, but that work would first need to be approved by the state.
When we got back to the shop, I asked Pat Malone what’s next.
“I don’t know. That’s the honest answer. We’re going to see what we can do to ameliorate some of the water, hope it [percolates into the ground] before we get a hard freeze. And hoping we don’t get a rain storm like we had over the weekend,” Malone said.
The Borough is keeping tabs on property damage estimates and affected structures and lots at its website along with mitigation tips, like avoiding pumping septic systems and well testing before a freeze.
Unseasonable weather has re-ignited a wildfire near Delta Junction.
BLM Alaska Fire Service manager Kent Slaughter says the Mississippi Fire rekindled Monday due to 60 degree temperatures and warm dry Chinook winds.
“The high winds and warm temperatures dried out the dead grass and other fuels down there and pushed the fire across the control lines on Monday morning,” he said. “We’ve got about 10 people on the fire; it’s about 300 acres.”
The new acreage is additional to the over 67,000 acres the Mississippi Fire burned this summer.
The blaze started May 30 by an unknown cause on military land.
Slaughter says the newly active portion of the fire is in grass and brush on state land in an old burn area, about 2 and a half miles from the Whitestone Farms community, north of Delta.
He says the fire is not currently threatening anything, and anticipates cooler, wetter weather will soon subdue the activity.
“After the winds died down, we were able to get a better handle on things, so we were gonna hold with the personnel we have and not increase the number of personnel staffing,” Slaughter said. “We are already starting to run into some issues with access in terms of ice on the river, so we’re hopeful that as things get cooler we’ll be able to take a handle on this and be able to unstaff it again and just put it back into monitor status.”
Slaughter calls the late season wild fire very unusual. He says no other wildfire activity around the state, but adds the fire service is keeping an eye out given this falls unusual weather.
After eight years of exchanging letters from their homes in rural Alaska and Vermont, two pen pals met each other face to face this month in Eek.
Eight years ago, Lucy Rodgers was 10 years old, living in Vermont. She was pretty interested in bears and wanted a pen pal. She looked for a region in bear country, and wrote a letter to the school in what sounded like a neat place: Eek. The school connected Lucy to 9 year old Florence Moore and they started writing letters.
“Some of our letters would be just information about what was like to live where we live and some of it would be just whatever, like my friend was mean to me,” said Lucy.
Sometimes they would answer letters quickly, other times a year would go by. They sent dozens of letters over the years, but no facebook, no emails, and no phone calls. Just old fashioned letters.
As young teenagers, they had told each other that they would one day visit each other. But life got busy and the letters got less frequent. Until recently they hadn’t talked in two years. In August, Florence did what she always did and sent a letter. And Lucy sped things up, immediately setting up a facebook account to get a hold of Florence and then quickly buy plane tickets.
“It was almost like a day before she came but it was actually three days. Really last minute,” said Florence.
Lucy flew from California to Bethel and was able to meet Florence at her dentist’s appointment.
“I just looked up from my book and she was standing in the doorway kind of looking around, I think she was afraid to say hi in case it wasn’t really me. And we sort of looked at each other for a second to see if we were looking for someone else,” said Lucy.
“And so we stepped out of the office. and hugged,” said Florence.
In Eek, Lucy has spent time with Florence’s family, eaten local foods and even did the wrist carry in NYO practice. But they also had time to talk about things that didn’t make it into the letters. Florence is now a mother.
“I thought that if I told her that she might think different of me and would stop talking to me. But she’s glad I told her because obviously having a child is a huge part of someone’s life and it is a really big part of my life. I’m glad that she’s really accepting,” said Florence.
It’s of course now Florence’s turn to visit. Once she graduates and saves some money, she’s planning on making the trip down to Vermont. But until then, they will stick with what works, and write each other letters.
“We’re not just going to all of sudden stop talking to each other, because it’s been eight years and we already know other so well. I think we’ve gotten a lot closer since we met. Like a lot closer,” said Florence.
Filmmaker and illustrator Pat Race wants to create a satirical news series documenting the 2014 Alaska Legislature, and he hopes crowdsourcing will make it happen.
Pat Race, Lou Logan and Aaron Suring are the guys behind the Alaska Robotics label. In 2007, the trio created the online short Buy Back Alaska to satirize the VECO corruption scandal.
During it, Race explains, “Based on recent ethical violations, our political scientists estimate the cost of renting an Alaska state legislator for a session is about $250,000, although some could be had for much less.”
In the 2007 Frank Murkowski Tribute, Juneau performer Collette Costa sings, “But I’m leaving on my jet plane, don’t think I’ll give it back again, oh the state should make it mine,” to the famous John Denver tune.
In the recent 2013 Legislative Update, Race introduces his newscast, “Good day. This is Pat Race reporting from Juneau, Alaska, where the legislature is in session and out to lunch.”
Since 2004, Alaska Robotics has occasionally produced short satirical web videos. Now they want to create a web series during the 2014 legislative session called Alaska Robotics News.
“We would follow the news, we’d follow what’s going on in the capitol building and we would offer commentary and criticism and humor and create sort of a parody news show along the lines of like Weekend Update or the Daily Show, but more localized,” says Race.
Race says no one would be safe in the upcoming series, “I want to make fun of both sides of the aisle. I don’t want to protect anyone and attack anyone.”
Politically, Race considers himself middle of the road.
“My dad is pretty conservative and my mom is pretty liberal and I feel like I’m in the middle on a lot of issues, though I think that George Bush probably pushed me more in the liberal direction most recently, but Obama is doing a good job of pushing me back,” Race says.
While he may not be able to say definitively what political box he’s in, Race knows what he cares about – personal freedom, everyone having a voice, and political satire. Race says it engages people, keeps them informed, and it can be powerful.
“It’s like the court jester who can say anything to the king and kind of get away with it,” Race explains. “It’s important to have political satire because you can hold this up as a reflection and it’s a little bit of a funhouse circus mirror reflection, but it is a reflection of our society. Humor is a way to offer commentary on issues in kind of a safe environment.”
Race says Alaska Robotics News is targeted to all Alaskans. There’s already a fan base.
“I get a lot of state workers and people that are in the capitol building that aren’t, for whatever reason, allowed to really have a political opinion or express it very well, and they really enjoy seeing our shorts because I think it gives them a chance to sort of decompress or blow off some steam or laugh at the position they’re in,” says Race.
Race says it’s important that politicians know how to laugh at themselves.
“I thought Sarah Palin did a great job when she went on Saturday Night Live. I think that was one of the things that really made her stand out as a human being, more than just a political candidate. And I’m not going down that road of what I think about Sarah Palin, but that was something that really impressed me,” he says.
During the last legislative session, Race had Senator Bill Wielechowski on his program, and he hopes Governor Sean Parnell will make an appearance on Alaska Robotics News this coming session.
If you want to see the 2014 Alaska Legislature reflected in a funhouse mirror, you can find Alaska Robotics News on Kickstarter. The project is now live.
The pledge levels mimic the political hierarchy. If you pledge $5 or more, you’re an intern, $15 or more moves you up to page. Pledging at the $75 or $100 level makes you a representative or senator. $500 makes you a good ole boy. Pledge $4,000 or more and you’re in the corrupt bastards club.
Story updated at 2:10pm
The former maintenance director of the Petersburg School District appeared in a Juneau courtroom Wednesday after being charged with distribution and possession of child pornography.
Forty-five-year-old Tye Leif Petersen has worked for the school district since 2002 and resigned from his job Tuesday. He left town that day and was arrested in Juneau, on his way to Seattle, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Petersen faces federal charges of distribution of child pornography, receipt of child pornography and possession of pornography involving a child under 12-years-old.
In a criminal complaint filed Tuesday, agents with the FBI allege that Petersen exchanged sexually graphic photos and video via email between April and July of this year, with another trafficker of child pornography, named in the complaint only as Tennessee John Doe. The criminal complaint says, “Most of the emails contained video or picture attachments depicting child pornography of very young children being sexually molested.”
The FBI says the internet account involved was registered to Petersen at his home address in Petersburg. Agents executed a federal search warrant there Friday and say they found child pornography on ten CDs there. The FBI also says Petersen admitted to receiving the illegal images and provided agents with access to three email accounts.
The FBI and local law enforcement searched Petersburg’s school buildings and the school computer network Saturday morning. Petersburg’s school superintendent says the district cooperated fully and there’s no evidence any local children were involved.
In a letter sent home to parents Tuesday, Superintendent Rob Thomason wrote, “No downloading of photographs or other inappropriate material took place on site, during work hours, or using district computer equipment.”
Petersen did not yet enter a plea on the charges. The court ordered that he remain in custody through the trial because agents say he was arrested while trying to flee the state and the nature of the charges presents a danger to the community.
Petersen has been appointed a public defender and the case will be tried in Juneau.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jack Schmidt says, if convicted, Petersen could be sentenced to a maximum of 20-years in prison and fined $250,000 for each charge.
Matt Miller, KTOO – Juneau and Matt Lichtenstein, KFSK – Petersburg contributed to this report.
The orphaned black bear cub who recently became famous in the virtual world is settling into her new home in the real world. Over 300,000 people viewed Smokey’s story on Facebook when she was captured two weeks ago in Seward. Now, Sitka’s bear habitat, the Fortress of the Bear, is writing her next chapter.
At the Fortress of the Bear, Les Kinnear leads the way into a dark shipping container. Inside, light shines in through just a few holes. At the back is a metal mesh fence.
Behind that fence is another wire enclosure, with a thick bed of straw and a dog crate in the corner. And poking her head out of the crate is Smokey the bear, the 9-month old bear cub who is the Fortress’s newest, and youngest resident.
Kinnear runs the Fortress of the Bear with his wife, Evy. He settles down in the straw with a bucket of apple bits and dog kibble, and begins feeding the bear cub by hand.
“The fun part is teaching her that there’s enough food for her now, that she does not have to panic and eat everything at once,” Kinnear says. “So we come in here a couple times a day, and sit in here, and work with her.”
Little Smokey takes every bite as fast as he will hand it to her. She’s the size of a spaniel, with a thick coat that makes her look much bigger than her 25 lbs. Her face is all snout. If you shaved her, Kinnear says, she’d look like a chihuahua.
The bear cub arrived at the Fortress of the Bear last Friday. She was captured two weeks ago in Seward, where staff at the Spring Creek Correctional Center found her in the space used for smoking breaks – hence her name, which Kinnear says she’ll be keeping.
“They said she was eating cigarette butts and candy wrappers off the floor, when she was captured,” Kinnear says. “Her mother had been dead several days. And they had scheduled to kill her.”
The cub was a minor internet sensation after an organization called Angels for Animals posted a photo of her on their Facebook page, along with contact information for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Angels for Animals says the post reached 300,000 people, and the Department of Fish and Game was inundated with messages begging them not to euthanize the cub.
The Kinnears volunteered to take Smokey – and it’s a big undertaking. Now that she’s here, she’s here for life – she can’t be released back into the wild, and black bears can live up to 20 years in captivity, Kinnear says. This winter, the Fortress will have to build a new, separate enclosure to house her – the habitat’s existing two structures house five brown bears, and wouldn’t be safe or big enough. Kinnear expects to get a second black bear cub from Fish and Game soon, to keep her company.
For now, the cub seems content in her temporary digs: she has her head entirely inside the bucket, finishing off the apple and kibble.
Can Southeast’s timber industry survive while only logging second-growth forests? An Oregon research group says it can. And it could happen sooner than many expect.
An organization called the Geos Institute just released a study based on new Forest Service data. It takes a look at acreage regrowing after earlier logging.
Dominick DellaSala is president and chief scientist for Geos. The Ashland, Oregon,-based group advocates protecting older forests to reduce climate change.
“The faster we can get the Forest Service to move out of old-grown logging, the better it will be, because the Tongass is such a global resource. And that would help with subsistence values and fisheries and the tourism that takes place on the Tongass,” DellaSala says.
The study, researched by Corvallis, Oregon-based Mater Limited, says trees can be harvested at the age of 55. Forest Service policy considers trees mature and ready to log at about 90.
DellaSala says that change, plus a few others, means the Tongass could switch to cutting second-growth trees within five years.
“That could be harvested over the next six decades at which time, forests that were already harvested that are younger would be available six decades out in to the future. So you can kind of continue this cycle of renewing the forest and going back into the second-growth and harvesting it again and never have to touch another stick of old growth,” DellaSala says.
Its timber subsidiary is one of its largest businesses. Rick Harris, executive vice president, says it’s been cutting and selling 50- to 75-year-old trees.
“We’ve been able to get those trees into the market and the market took them on an experimental basis. But in subsequent years, they’ve actually been asking for it,” Harris says.
Sealaska’s logs were sold in the round to mills in Asia. Most Forest Service sales require milling before export.
Harris says the study’s information is useful. But the Geos Institute underestimates the difficulty.
“They make a simple statement that all we have to do is change a few rules about when second growth can be harvested. Unfortunately, that rule is a federal statute. And our experience with getting federal statutes changed is that it’s very difficult. It can’t be done by the administration or by the Forest Service. It actually requires Congressional approval,” Harris says.
Sealaska has been trying for years to get Congress to change land-selection rules so it can boost its timber base. Despite increased support, it’s unlike that legislation will go anywhere this year.
Forest Service officials said they haven’’t fully reviewed the Geos Institute report.
But the Tongass is already transitioning from old- to second-growth logging. Officials have said it will take 10 to 15 years – maybe longer – before enough younger trees are of marketable size.
Other challenges must be overcome to speed such a transition.
Among them: Retooling Tongass-area mills and repairing old logging roads used during earlier harvests.
Geos Institute’s DellaSala says that cost could be covered by federal funds.
“We’re appropriating logging the old-growth forests, so it would just be a matter of evaluating the appropriations to deal with the infrastructure changes,” DellaSala says.
But it may not be that easy.
Sealaska’s Harris says second-growth timber would have to compete with a long-established supply from Northwest tree farms. Those companies have lower shipping and operational costs.
“This is not an easy just-flip-on-the-switch kind of thing. It’s going to take time to develop the skill to produce the boards and to be able to build the markets and be competitive in those markets,” Harris says.
A 2011 study, by Oregon forest appraiser Ray Granvall, said the Forest Service badly overestimated its harvestable second-growth acreage.
Granvall said such stands won’t have commercial potential for decades. The Forest Service disagreed with his conclusions.
A lawsuit stemming from the murder of two Hoonah police officers may go to trial on September 16, 2014.
A court officer and some of the attorneys in the case tentatively set the date during a brief hearing in Juneau Superior Court on Tuesday.
Haley Tokuoka, widow of Hoonah Officer Matthew Tokuoka, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city alleging negligence by both his co-worker and the city administration.
The civil suit was filed on August 17, 2012 and just a few months before John N. Marvin, Jr.’s trial in the criminal case in which the Hoonah resident was eventually convicted of murder in the deaths of Tokuoka and Sargent Tony Wallace. Jurors believed that Marvin gunned down both officers as they socialized with family members on Hoonah’s Front Street on August 28, 2010. Marvin remained in his house and did not surrender to authorities until over a day after the shooting.
On April 5, 2013, Marvin was sentenced to two consecutive 99-year prison terms for the deaths of both officers.
Haley Tokuoka’s civil lawsuit alleges that Wallace was negligent in breaching his duty of care to the Tokuoka family. She also alleges negligent training and supervision, negligent infliction of emotional stress, and loss of consortium or essentially the loss of Matthew’s companionship and support. She also alleges breach of contract because of benefits like life insurance that allegedly were not provided. Juneau attorney Mark Choate is seeking general damages in excess of $100,000 and special damages for medical and burial expenses, loss of Tokuoka’s earnings, interest, and attorneys’ fees.
A response subsequently filed by the City of Hoonah asserts that Wallace was not negligent and did not cause the damage claimed by Haley Tokuoka. It also asked that Tokuoka’s lawsuit against the city be dismissed, and any fault or award of damages be allocated to Marvin.
Marvin has been named as a third party co-defendant in the case, but he may default out of the case since he has not responded to service.
Superior Court Master Jim Curtain and defendant attorneys Leslie Longenbaugh and Frank Koziol agreed to the mid-September trial date based on a signed planning document and the availability of Superior Court Judge Louis Menendez who will likely be hearing the case. It’s expected that the trial will last five days. Other benchmark pre-trial dates and deadlines will have to be set later as Choate was a no-show at Tuesday’s hearing.
Ketchikan residents be warned: You might need to catch an earlier airport ferry than you used to.
Alaska Airlines announced it is changing its minimum check-in time for most domestic flights from 30 to 40 minutes prior to departure, whether or not the traveler has a bag to check. The exceptions are at airports where the check-in cutoff is already 45 minutes.
Alaska Airlines’ boarding policy remains the same — passengers must be available to board at least 30 minutes before the scheduled departure time for all flights.
According to the airline, the previous policy sent a mixed message with different cutoff times. The airline expects the new policy will make it easier for passengers to remember the cutoff time.
Passengers who are late to check in will continue to be offered a $25 same-day confirmed seat on the next available flight.
Alaska Airlines points out that the new 40-minute requirement does not ensure travelers will make it to their departure gate in time. Busy security lines and heavy passenger traffic may require additional time. The federal Transportation Security Administration recommends that passengers allow at least one hour for domestic flights.
In Ketchikan, the airport ferry leaves the city-side terminal a quarter past and a quarter to the hour. So, for example, if you’re on Flight 64 headed to Seattle, leaving at around 5:30 in the evening, taking the 4:45 ferry would be cutting it close. You’re better off taking the 4:15.
Unalaska police have arrested another person in connection with alleged drug sales, and levied more charges against suspects who are already in custody.
Deputy chief Michael Holman says the newest defendant will appear in court Wednesday morning. This is the 16th arrest that Unalaska police have made in the past month as part of an investigation into heroin and meth sales.
More arrests could be coming as officers obtain and execute more search warrants. Holman says the department is currently working on getting permission to legally access data stored on cell phones, computers, and GPS devices that they’ve already seized as evidence.
Police used some of that evidence Tuesday to file additional charges against Stephen A. Rosa, 50, and his son, 24-year-old Tyson Rosa. The men were arrested last week, along with seven others, and immediately charged with multiple felonies each for allegedly participating in a meth ring.
Tyson Rosa is facing a new class B felony for allegedly possessing meth with the intent to distribute or sell it, and a new class C felony for alleged heroin possession. He now faces a total of four felony charges.
Stephen A. Rosa has been charged with two more class B felonies for allegedly possessing firearms in a residence and in a vehicle where he had stored drugs.
In all, Stephen A. Rosa is facing 16 felony charges. Police allege that Rosa was at the head of a continuing criminal enterprise involving the sale of meth, and that he supplied the meth that was sold to confidential informants on multiple occasions this fall.
Police have used three confidential informants in the course of their investigation. One of them recently testified at an indictment hearing for Eric J. Roach, 45, who is being charged with two felonies for allegedly selling meth to David Milton on two occasions in July.
According to court documents, Milton called in to speak to the grand jury in Anchorage about the case. The grand jury handed down an indictment.
Unalaska’s deputy police chief, Michael Holman, says Milton was a civilian informant. That term is reserved for a person who approaches police and offers to volunteer on an investigation.
Milton has since applied for a job as a police officer at Unalaska’s Department of Public Safety, Holman adds.
For the time being, the department is not releasing the identities of the other confidential informants.
U.S. commercial fishermen landed 9.6 billion pounds of seafood in 2012, valued at $5.1 billion. That averages out across all fisheries to about 53-cents per pound. Those figures were released by NOAA Fisheries on Wednesday.
The figures for 2012 represent a 2.3-percent decrease in poundage and a 3.2-percent decrease in value over 2011, which saw the highest figures ever. However, poundage and value continue to remain higher than the 10-year average.
Alaska led all states in volume of seafood landings, with 5.3-billion pounds, and in dockside value at $1.7-billion.
Louisiana, Virginia, Washington State and California followed in volume, while Massachusetts, Maine, Louisiana and Washington State followed in value.
For the 16th year in a row, Dutch Harbor led the nation in seafood volume, at 752-million pounds landed, with pollock making up 86-percent of that poundage.
Kodiak’s seafood landings, at 393-million pounds, ranked fourth in the nation, behind Dutch Harbor, Empire-Venice, Louisiana, and all of the Aleutian Islands combined.
New Bedford, Massachusetts’ $411-million led the nation in seafood value at the dock, followed by Dutch Harbor’s $214-million and Kodiak’s $170-million.
Other figures in the report show Americans consumed 4.5-billion pounds of seafood in 2012, which averages 14.4-pounds per person. Despite catching twice as much seafood as Americans eat, over 90-percent of the seafood Americans consume is imported.