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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: 9 min 39 sec ago

Report Highlights Huge Cash Flow Problem at Nome’s Utility

Mon, 2015-04-06 12:30

Photo: Matthew F. Smith, KNOM.

Nome Joint Utility is working on a broken budget—a financial plan that is unbalanced and unrealistic. That’s the takeaway from the Rural Utility Business Advisor report, or RUBA—delivered to the Nome City Council and utility board this week.

The RUBA highlights some good parts of the utility’s operations—noting its accounting is sound and has a well-organized management system. But the report paints a troubling financial picture for the finances at NJUS—which have been in turmoil since November, when the utility first took on a $2.2 million line of credit from the city. But while that money went to pay off loans guaranteed by grants, the RUBA found unpaid debts to vendors and creditors that presents and even bigger financial hole.

“Doesn’t look like there’s enough cash to be covering things right now, from what I can see. If you have $3.5 million in accounts payable out there, you don’t have enough money coming in to pay, you’re just trying to pay the one that screams the loudest, that’s what seems to be going on,” said Fred Broerman, who works for the state’s Division of Community Regional Affairs and wrote the RUBA report.

As recently as March 10, he says that $3.5 million was still owed on debts dating back as far as 2012—with many charging interest. But Broerman says the RUBA review didn’t find any mention of that debt on the utility’s monthly budget.

“We were looking for, you know, the transparency that all the finances are on the table. And that $3.5 million in accounts payable didn’t show up,” said Broerman. “And that’s significant enough to say, hey, the utility board needs to know that and the council needs to know that.”

The RUBA audit also found the utility’s revenue and its expenses are dangerously unbalanced. The money it takes in fails to cover its operating cost, let alone plan for repairs or replacements down the road—and it found the utility board reviewed those finances just once in the last half of 2014. That led to budgets that were unrealistic and projects with funding that was poorly tracked. Council member Jerald Brown asked Broerman for the bottom line.

“In your opinion, is the sky falling? I mean, is there a really big problem here?” saked Brown.

“Well, you’ve got a cash flow problem,” said Broerman. “You know, that accounts payable, that big…that’s a huge problem.”

Utility manager John Handeland took the podium to say that $3.5 million has been chipped away to a number now closer to $2.7 million. And Handeland says new loans are coming from the state Department of Environmental Conservation that would cover the rest.

“That loan comes it, it wipes out accounts payable,” said/asked? Brown.

“It pretty much wipes out accounts payable,” said Handeland.

Beyond finances, the RUBA report noted other areas of concern for the utility—mostly focused on personnel and staffing—but the warning bell on finances rang clear. Council member Brown says when it comes to righting the ship, every option is on the table—but the first step will be looking at a long-overdue rate increase.

“One of the things that is currently being considered and being discussed is the rate increase. That will address a lot of the operational accounting needs, or finance needs, going forward, is to put into place a rate structure that is sustainable,” said Brown.

And though she delivered her comments at the start of the meeting, City Manager Josie Bahnke told the council she and utility manager Handeland have been working to address the financial shortcomings at NJUS since a draft of the RUBA was released in February—and she says they’ve made some progress.

“You know, a lot of work has been done to address some of these issues. I think when this line of credit was approved, a lot of people jumped to conclusions about a lot of things that were going on. But this report, this evening, being presented, it’s in an effort to maintain public trust, and to provide for transparency at the utility. And that’s been our goal,” said Bahnke.

Wednesday’s meeting ended with an executive session closed to the public—where the council and the utility board met with representatives from Nome’s Wells Fargo branch to discuss a multi-million dollar fuel loan for 2015.

Categories: Alaska News

Troopers Investigate Death of Lower Kalskag Woman

Mon, 2015-04-06 11:32

State Troopers are investigating the death of a Lower Kalskag woman. Early saturday morning, troopers received a report that 27-year-old Marcia White was found dead in her home in Lower Kalskag. Megan Peters is a spokesperson for the Alaska State troopers.

“Troopers from Aniak and a roving VPSO responded to the village on snow machine at about 5:30 that morning to begin the investigation. Investigators from the Alaska Bureau of Investigation in Anchorage also travelled to the village to investigate the cause and circumstances surrounding the death,” said Peters.

ABI investigates serious crimes, but Peters wasn’t ready to label the death as suspicious. She says having ABI travel to the villages can be a precaution if the investigation warrants it.

White’s body is being sent to the medical examiners office for an autopsy. Troopers say the investigation is ongoing.

Categories: Alaska News

Former Seafood Processors Accept Plea Deal in Homicide Case

Mon, 2015-04-06 11:31

Two former seafood processors have pleaded guilty to fatally beating their co-worker in Unalaska.

Instead of going through another trial, Denison Soria and Leonardo Bongolto, Jr., will serve 40 to 70 months in prison for the death of Jonathan Adams. He passed away after a fight at the Bering Fisheries bunkhouse in 2012.

Defense attorneys painted Adams’ death as an accident during a trial in Unalaska last fall. The jury acquitted Soria, 43, and Bongolto, 37, of second-degree murder, but they couldn’t reach a verdict on lesser charges of assault, manslaughter, and negligent homicide. A new trial was set for this month.

But on Friday, Soria and Bongolto pleaded guilty to aggravated, criminally negligent homicide. That’s a B felony, which usually carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison.

The defendants could also face probation and suspended jail time under the conditions of their plea agreement.

Superior Court Judge Patricia Douglass said the deal ”sends a message to the community of Unalaska that the court is paying attention to crimes that might occur down there as a result of alcohol.”

Soria and Bongolto were allegedly drinking the night of the fight three years ago. They’ve been incarcerated ever since.

Both men will be brought to Unalaska for formal sentencing on July 9.

Categories: Alaska News

Community potluck shows support for local refugees

Sun, 2015-04-05 22:37

Dancers perform at Northway Mall at community potluck. Hillman/KSKA

More than 200 people crowded into the main hall of Northway Mall in Anchorage on Saturday afternoon to show their support for Anchorage’s refugee community. The event was organized by #WeAreAnchorage in response to vandalism aimed at Sudanese refugees.

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People streamed past tables with Thai food, cotton candy, and even Passover potato pancakes, filling their plates and chatting while performers danced in the center of the mall. Tenth grader LouMei Gutsch decided to attend after hearing that “Go home” and “Leave” were scrawled on the Sudanese men’s cars.

“We should be friendly Americans. We should be welcoming all of the other people from foreign countries and stuff,” she said. “So I thought it was good to come here to welcome and show because actions are louder than words.”

But Gutsch says people need to be welcoming year round. “Well I include everybody, I don’t leave anyone out because that’s not cool. So I invite people who are, like, from a different country who don’t speak English very well. I talk to them and say ‘Hey, sit we me at lunch.’ And we talk and we have fun and I have a new friend.”

Mohamed is a Somali refugee who attended the event with a friend. Like other refugees, he is not willing to give his full name. Mohamed grew up in Kenya, earned a university degree, and arrived in Anchorage two years ago. He says the majority of people treat him fairly but not all, and he’s afraid that speaking up about his past could make it worse.

“They kind of give a different reaction when they hear my accent. They feel like ‘Oh, he should not be doing this kind of stuff. He should not be telling me what to do.’ They feel like they shouldn’t have to listen to what I’m saying.”

But Mohamed says the size of the gathering sends a strong message: acts of intolerance are not acceptable.

“It shows me that they’re bold and they came out and this is not right. Which is a good thing to see. I’m impressed.”

Some community leaders are considering making the potluck a monthly gathering. The event was attended by local and statewide leaders, including Alaska’s First Lady, Donna Walker.

Categories: Alaska News

AK: Resetting The Stage

Fri, 2015-04-03 17:53

Chicago Cam Byrnes: Ricci Adan choreographed “Chicago” for Juneau’s Perseverance Theatre. (Photo by Cam Byrnes/Perseverance Theatre)

Ricci Adan is a performing artist in Juneau. Locals know her as an actor, dance teacher and choreographer, most recently of Perseverance Theatre’s “Chicago.”

What people may not know is that in 1981, her husband Richard Adan was killed – stabbed on the streets of New York City by a released convict who was a protégé of Pulitzer Prize winning writer Norman Mailer.

The murder trial was highly publicized. But, Adan is just beginning to tell her side of the story.

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It’s 10 a.m. at Riverbend Elementary School and Ricci Adan is leading her third dance class of the day. She teaches up to six a day, but she doesn’t get tired.

“How can you get tired with kids smiling at you and saying, ‘Hi Ms. Ricci. I’m enjoying what I’m doing. I did my homework,’” she said.

Ricci Adan works with dancers for Perseverance Theatre’s “Oklahoma.” (Photo courtesy Philip Krauter)

Ricci is no stranger in Juneau schools. During her four years in the city, she’s worked with many classes and choreographed high school productions, like “Kiss Me Kate” and “Pippin.” She’s also worked on professional productions. This past winter she choreographed “Chicago” for Perseverance Theater.

Artistic Director Art Rotch says at first, there was doubt the dance heavy show could be done in the small theater. Ricci said she could make the dancing work, and she delivered.

“It just blew me away,” Ricci said. “It exceeded all expectations how good it was. That team just worked really well together. They were magic.”

Ricci’s work in Juneau over the past four years has given her a strength she didn’t know she had to revisit her painful past.

At age 18, Ricci was the dance captain of the Nat Horne Musical Theatre in New York City. It was 1979, the year she met Richard Adan.

“He was very ambitious. He wanted to be a star. He was a writer. He had dreams and you could see that this guy wanted so much in life,” Ricci said.

Ricci Adan works with students in the JAMM school musical program. (Photo courtesy Karen Allen)

She didn’t like him at first, but they ended up dancing together in the company and fell in love. They married in 1981.

Her parents owned a popular Manhattan restaurant called Binibon. Both she and Richard worked there as servers. He had the graveyard shift.

Ricci says she got a call from Richard early in the morning on July 18, 1981.

“He said, ‘I’m finishing. I’m going home now and I have three people here – a guy and two girls.’ And I said, ‘OK. Come home. What are you doing?’ ‘I’m doing the ketchups right now. So, as soon as I’m done, I’m going home,’” Ricci said.

Richard never came home.

The guy with two girls at the restaurant was 37-year-old Jack Henry Abbott. He was a recently released felon who had spent the better part of his life in jail for crimes like check fraud, killing an inmate and robbing a bank. At that point, he was also a published author. His book, “In the Belly of the Beast,” is a collection of letters he wrote from prison about prison life and sent to Norman Mailer, who composed the book’s introduction. They had struck up a relationship while Mailer was writing “The Executioner’s Song.”

Ricci Adan (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

Mailer described Abbott’s writing as “remarkable,” and called him a “self-made intellectual” and a “potential leader.” Mailer thought he should be released. According to The New York Times, Mailer wrote to the prison and said he’d hire Abbott as a research assistant if he was paroled.

After spending the majority of his life incarcerated, Abbott was released from the Utah State Prison in June. He stabbed and killed Richard Adan less than two months later.

Ricci says it was her father who called to tell her the news.

“And I said, ‘What do you mean? What am I going to do? I just ironed his clothes. I just washed his contacts, so who’s going to use that now? What am I going to do?’” she said.

Richard Adan lies dead in the street the morning he was stabbed. (Image courtesy Ricci Adan)

A day after the stabbing, The New York Times Book Review coincidentally came out with a glowing review of Abbott’s book.

He was arrested and tried for murder in 1982. Ricci was hounded by reporters. At the trial, she saw celebrities in the courtroom like Mailer, Susan Sarandon and Christopher Walken.

“The painful thing is that when the publicity came out, media didn’t even know who my husband was. He was “a waiter.” That was his term,” Ricci said.

Abbott was found guilty of manslaughter, but not murder, and was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison. Years later, in 2002, Abbott hung himself in prison. He was 58.

“He didn’t even face his term. He didn’t even face that. He couldn’t even say that ‘I’m sorry.’ No remorse, nothing. And that to me is cowardly. So I said, ‘There you go, he got away with it again,’” Ricci said.

But over the years, Ricci’s anger has dissipated and she spends her days and nights teaching the performing arts to kids and adults. And now, for the first time, she’s ready to turn her painful   experience into art.

“It’s going to be a rollercoaster, but it’s going to be exciting because now I’m ready for it,” Ricci said.

She’s choreographing and writing a play based on her life. Broadway and film director Charles Randolph-Wright is a co-writer and an old friend. Ricci is also writing an autobiography that is planned to become a screenplay and film.

Categories: Alaska News

49 Voices: Edna Grass and Betty Morehouse of Anchorage

Fri, 2015-04-03 17:53

This week we’ll hear from two Anchorage residents. Edna Grass and Betty Morehouse are neighbors in the Adelaide building downtown. They both live in small, one-person apartments. An unusual common interest brought them together, and Edna Grass says, it saved her life.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: April 3, 2015

Fri, 2015-04-03 17:53

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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Alaska Senate Debates State Operating Budget

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

The Alaska Senate is moving an operating budget that reduces state spending by $220 million over the previous year. Debate on the budget is still happening on the Senate floor, but APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez joins us for this update.

Bill To Reinstate State Income Tax Introduced In Alaska House

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

A pair of lawmakers in the Alaska Househave filed legislation to reinstate an income tax.

Murkowski Optimistic About Eielson’s F-35 Prospects

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Alaska posts are among dozens nationwide being considered for force reductions by the Army, but the Air Force is looking at beefing up its presence at an interior Alaska base. A plan to station the Pacific region’s first F-35 squadrons at Eielson Air Force base near North Pole is under review. Senator Lisa Murkowski, who visited Fairbanks Thursday is optimistic about the prospect.

Obama’s ANWR Wilderness Protection Plea Enrages Alaska Delegation

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

President Obama today sent letters to Congressional leaders formally requesting wilderness protection for parts of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, including the coastal plain. The letters follow through on a plan the White House announced in late January, enraging Alaska’s governor and congressional delegation, who want the area opened to oil exploration.

Hyder Residents Concerned Over Nightly Border Closure

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

Residents of the small Southeast Alaska town of Hyder no longer have nighttime access to emergency medical care.

Fairbanks Clean-Air Advocates: Slow Regulatory Startup Encourages Opponents

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

Clean air advocates say they’re disappointing that local and state regulators haven’t made more progress in getting the Fairbanks North Star Borough’s air-quality program up and going.

Community Support Surges For Sudanese Refugees Targeted By Vandalism

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

A weekend incident in the Anchorage neighborhood of Spenard has left a group of refugees from the Darfur region of Sudan unsure over their safety. It also brought neighbors and police out to show support.

AK: Resetting The Stage

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

Ricci Adan is a performing artist in Juneau. Locals know her as an actor, dance teacher and choreographer, most recently of Perseverance Theatre’s “Chicago.”

What people may not know is that in 1981, her husband Richard Adan was killed, stabbed on the streets of New York City by a released convict who was a protégé of Pulitzer Prize winning writer Norman Mailer.

The murder trial was highly publicized. But, Adan is just beginning to tell her side of the story.

49 Voices: Edna Grass and Betty Morehouse of Anchorage

This week we’ll hear from two Anchorage residents. Edna Grass and Betty Morehouse are neighbors in the Adelaide building downtown. They both live in small, one-person apartments. An unusual common interest brought them together, and Edna Grass says, it saved her life.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Senate Debates State Operating Budget

Fri, 2015-04-03 17:30

The Alaska Senate is moving an operating budget that reduces state spending by $220 million over the previous year.

Debate was ongoing at press time, but APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez joins us for this update.

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Zach: What have been the most significant points of disagreement in the debate?

Alexandra: For the past five hours, Democrats have offered amendment after amendment, but the most meaningful to them have been measures to restore education funding. On Thursday afternoon, less than 24 hours before the budget debate started, the Senate Finance committee cut the base student allocation — the money that schools get for every student in a classroom. This comes after a long fight last year to increase education funding, and basically claws that back.

The change was really last minute, and there’s been no chance for public testimony, but lawmakers are saying they’re already hearing a good deal of opposition. There’s also good reason to think the school money is a bargaining chip. Members of the Senate finance committee have said as much, and the House Speaker has already said his caucus doesn’t like it, and will struggle with it when the budget comes back to the House.

Zach: What other amendments have been offered?

Alexandra: So far, we’ve seen nearly 20, and none have been successful. That’s pretty standard during budget proceedings — it’s really a chance for the minority to voice opposition to what’s in the budget.

Beyond education, we’ve seen attempts to restore funding to the ferry system and public broadcasting. An amendment to get rid of pay freezes for public employees was offered. There was also an attempt to pass Medicaid expansion through the budget. While some measures picked up the odd Republican defector, the votes were basically on caucus lines.

Zach: As the Senate was considering the budget, the Department of Revenue released their annual spring report on taxes. What does their forecast look like?

Alexandra: Basically all the work that the Legislature and the governor have done to cut the budget has been erased. The forecast they offered showed that the state is expecting to get $400 million less in revenue for the current year than previously anticipated. Which kind of goes to show that even though some in the Legislature are approaching this as a spending problem, the baseline issue is that Alaska’s income stream is based almost entirely on one highly volatile, non-renewable resource. We have no control over oil prices, and when they drop, it hits us hard.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Bill To Reinstate State Income Tax Introduced In Alaska House

Fri, 2015-04-03 17:29

A pair of lawmakers in the Alaska House have filed legislation to reinstate an income tax.

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Rep. Paul Seaton, a Homer Republican, and Rep. Bryce Edgmon, a Dillingham Democrat who caucuses with the majority, filed the bill on Friday, with just two weeks left in the session. The bill would tax Alaskans at 15 percent of their federal tax rate. At the very highest bracket, for those making over $400,000, the state income tax would amount to a six percent levy before deductions.

Alaska used to have an income tax, but it was abolished in 1980 because of an influx of oil revenue. Discussion of taxes have largely been avoided since, because they are politically unpopular. While the state currently faces a multi-billion-dollar budget deficit, the governor and the Legislature’s Republican leadership have said they do not plan to consider taxes this session.

Both Seaton and Edgmon are multi-term incumbents, who ran uncontested in the previous election.

The last time an income tax bill was introduced was 2005. It got one hearing before being shelved.

Categories: Alaska News

Murkowski Optimistic About Eielson’s F-35 Prospects

Fri, 2015-04-03 17:28

Alaska posts are among dozens nationwide being considered for force reductions by the Army, but the Air Force is looking at beefing up its presence at an Interior Alaska base. A plan to station the Pacific region’s first F-35 squadrons at Eielson Air Force base near North Pole is under review. Senator Lisa Murkowski, who visited Fairbanks Thursday is optimistic about the prospect.

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Categories: Alaska News

Obama’s ANWR Wilderness Protection Plea Enrages Alaska Delegation

Fri, 2015-04-03 17:27

President Obama today sent letters to Congressional leaders formally requesting wilderness protection for parts of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, including the coastal plain.

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The letters follow through on a plan the White House announced in late January, enraging Alaska’s governor and congressional delegation, who want the area opened to oil exploration.

Obama’s action today changes nothing on the ground. Only Congress can declare an area “wilderness,” resulting in the highest level of resource protection.

Despite decades of pressure from environmentalists, Congress has refused to confer wilderness status on the coastal plain of the refuge, and the president’s request is unlikely to change that.

The Fish and Wildlife Service says that unless Congress acts, it will continue the current management regime for the coastal plain, known as “minimal management.”

Categories: Alaska News

Hyder Residents Concerned Over Nightly Border Closure

Fri, 2015-04-03 17:26

Residents of the small Southeast Alaska town of Hyder no longer have nighttime access to emergency medical care.

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Canadian officials began closing the road linking Hyder with nearby Stewart, British Columbia, on April 1. Hyder residents depend on Stewart for health care and mainland road access.

The cost-cutting measure locks the border gate from midnight to 8 a.m.

Ketchikan Representative Dan Ortiz, whose district includes Hyder, says it’s an unsafe situation.

“It’s the established emergency evacuation route,” Ortiz said. It’s the only evacuation route if you have a tsunami or a flood. And then, or course, in the middle of the night if you have an emergency medical issue you don’t have access to a hospital because the hospital they use is in Stewart.”

The Alaska city of fewer than 100 residents is about 75 miles northeast of Ketchikan. Stewart, a few miles away, has about 500 people.

The closure comes at the start of the area’s tourist season. Business-owners say it will scare away bear-viewers, photographers and anglers who head out in the early morning hours.

Ortiz protested the closure to the Canadian Border Services Agency.

“While I haven’t had any direct evidence of a commitment of change, I do think there’s room there for a solution that will meet the concerns of the folks in Stewart and in Hyder,” Ortiz said.

He says a remote-access system for unlocking the border gate could solve the problem.

U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski also contacted Canadian officials to argue against thee closure.

Categories: Alaska News

Fairbanks Clean-Air Advocates: Slow Regulatory Startup Encourages Opponents

Fri, 2015-04-03 17:25

State and borough air-quality regulators are working to develop programs and staff to help clean up air pollution that sets in on cold winter days in Fairbanks. (Credit KUAC file photo)

Clean air advocates say they’re disappointing that local and state regulators haven’t made more progress in getting the Fairbanks North Star Borough’s air-quality program up and going. Citizens for Clean Air members are worried the slow-moving process could jeopardize the local program, because opponents are already working to get an initiative before voters in the fall.

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Citizens for Clean Air coordinator Patrice Lee told the regulators and two top Assembly members at a meeting Tuesday that the slow process of establishing the local program may give the public a perception that it’s not going to improve the area’s air quality. She cites the example of the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s review of the ordinance adopted by the borough Assembly on Feb. 27 that established the program.

“We found out that it takes more time than what has happened for ADEC to go through the ordinance and decide which parts would actually strengthen the SIP,” Lee said.

The state implementation plan, or SIP, spells out how the DEC intends to improve the Fairbanks area’s air quality enough to bring it into compliance with federal law.

Cindy Heil, with the DEC’s Air-Quality Division, says her agency intends to complete its review of the ordinance soon, then add portions of it to an amended version of the state plan.

“We’re hoping to do that this summer,” Heil said. “That’s still our intent.”

Heil says it takes time to conduct a thorough review and the followup public comment period.

Borough Air Quality Manager Ron Lovell says his agency can’t do much yet because it’s still awaiting funding.

“We don’t have the resources at this point,” Lovell said. “I mean, I’m barely getting by with what I’ve got.”

Lovell says the borough administration will propose funding for the program at the April 9th Assembly meeting, and that he hopes to have a budget by the end of the month.

Lee says the clean-air advocates also were disappointed to learn that five months after voters defeated a measure that would’ve kept the state in charge of local air quality, the borough still has only one operator for its one vehicle equipped with a mobile device that measures air quality. And that the borough air-quality staff lacks training to determine the opacity of smoke – a measure of how dark it is coming out of the stack.

“We defeated Prop 2 in October. And it’s now April,” Lee said. “And no one has been to opacity training. That’s been something that’s integral to any kind of an air-quality plan.”

No opponents of borough air-quality management were at Tuesday’s meeting at the DEC office in Fairbanks. Assembly Presiding Officer Karl Kassel and Deputy Presiding Officer John Davies both were present. Davies agrees it’s important to show progress on the air-quality program as quickly as possible. He says the work that’s been done since the Assembly adopted the ordinance on Feb. 27th  has come at the bureaucratic equivalent of the speed of light.

“A lot of what we heard was frustration and it doesn’t appear that we’re moving fast enough,” Davies said. “And I think that most of us on the Assembly share that concern – that it takes a long time to get these wheels moving.”

But Citizens for Clean Air member Joan Franz says advocates are worried that without solid progress on the local air-quality effort, would-be supporters might not vote to keep the borough in charge of the program if opponents again succeed in placing it on an upcoming ballot.

“We may lose those people to – ‘Well what difference does it make? What difference did it make?’ And I’m afraid of losing some of those people,” Franz said.

Davies agrees that the support of who he calls the “middle-of-the-road” voters will be essential if the issue again ends up on the ballot. He says he’s been assured that opponents are determined to get a citizens initiative before voters in the fall.

Categories: Alaska News

Community Support Surges For Sudanese Refugees Targeted By Vandalism

Fri, 2015-04-03 17:24

A weekend incident in the Anchorage neighborhood of Spenard has left a group of refugees from the Darfur region of Sudan unsure over their safety. It also brought neighbors and police out to show support.

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Muhammad Hano Abdullai, who goes by Hano for short, is one of five men living together in the building, along with other tenants. After taking our shoes off just past the door of the second story apartment, Hano grabs two cans of Mountain Dew for me and another guest before taking a seat on the couch. He woke up Sunday morning after his roommate returned from work to find deflated tires and malicious messages scrawled across two of their vehicles.

Before coming to Alaska, Mohammad Hano Abdullai spent two months crossing seven countries to get from Northern Darfur to a UN refugee camp in Ghana. He’s been in Anchorage since 2010, and has no plans of leaving the city. Photo: Zachariah Hughes, KSKA.

“All of our cars are written a message that threatening us to go out, to leave Alaska, go home,” Hano said. “And we felt kind of a little bit frightened.”

The incident left the roommates scared not just over what happened, but for their physical safety.

“We don’t know what will happen for the next time,” he said.

That sense of insecurity was compounded by the police response. The other person sitting on the couch is Debby Bock, who for years has helped members of Anchorage’s Darfurian community navigate resources like housing applications that can be tricky even if English is your first language. Bock came over Sunday after a tenant called asking for help, and was surprised that in a driveway full of vehicles the vandal knew exactly which ones belonged to Hano and his roommates.

“Someone had to go to quite a bit of effort to come up with that many negative messages,” Bock said. “They were spelled correctly. And it was, I think, one person’s handwriting. This was something that was planned, and very precise.”

Bock was upset to learn that police had taken a report over the phone from Hano, but couldn’t spare an officer to come to the scene to investigate or reassure the tenants. She even spoke with a Dispatcher herself.

“She said, ‘Do you feel like there’s been a misunderstanding? That they feel like no report has been filed because no one has appeared in person?’ And I said, ‘I don’t know but that’s how I feel, like this is not being taken seriously,'” Bock said.

The Anchorage Police Department did eventually send an officer over Sunday afternoon, after responding to a possible suspect in the area. However, Hano had gone to work by then, and the officers spoke briefly with another roommate. The message got lost. But on Tuesday the Department reached out to Hano to say things should have gone differently.

“Looking in retrospect it would have been in the benefit to have sent an officer just to go over there and meet with the complainant, and be able to explain to them what the next steps or processes were,” Jennifer Castro, a spokesperson for the police department, said.

Castro says over the phone the incident came across like a vandalism case with minimal damage. In the days after the incident many in Anchorage asked why the department wasn’t calling this a hate crime. Castro says federal hate crime laws are part of sentencing, but you first need to show a suspect committed the act.

“But at this time we don’t have a suspect, we don’t have that confirmation that this ultimately was a hate crime,” Castro said. “I think there’s some clear indications from what the phrases that were that were written on the vehicle that could suggest that this is possibly a hate crime. But we still have to do that legwork in the investigation.”

Police are looking for leads in the case. Catholic Social Services has also gotten in touch with the Federal Bureau of Investigation about whether or not the incident merits Bureau attention.

Retelling the incident Hano looks hurt. He’s been in Anchorage for half a decade since leaving Darfur, after spending four years in a refugee camp in Ghana. There, he met two of the men that are now his roommates. Hano’s mother is in a refugee camp in Chad, and phone contact is difficult. That sentiment of ‘go home’ stings because Hano has made this his home.

“For now I’m working and studying. And I want to go get my education qualifications. And work to save some money. Also to live [a] better life, and to be happy, and to live secure and peaceful,” Hano said.

The roommates are planning on moving out of the Spenard building. They are grateful for the support neighbors and community members have shown, but they don’t feel secure anymore. A church donated money to help them relocate. And they even got a new set of tires from the neighbors next door at the Hell’s Angels Club House.

Categories: Alaska News

Historical Gardening in Alaska

Fri, 2015-04-03 12:00

Picture Alaska 100 years ago – the open tundra, the dense forests – and the gardens. We’re looking at the state’s horticultural past with guests from the Alaska Botanical Gardens. We’ll talkabout historical planting methods and how they can still be used today.

HOST: Anne Hillman

GUESTS:

  • Ginger Hudson, Horticultural Project Manager
  • Ayse Gilbert, Landscape Designer and Garden  Historian
  • Callers statewide

PARTICIPATE:

  • Post your comment before, during or after the live broadcast (comments may be read on air).
  • Send e-mail to talk [at] alaskapublic [dot] org (comments may be read on air)
  • Call 550-8422 in Anchorage or 1-800-478-8255 if you’re outside Anchorage during the live broadcast

LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, April 7, 2015 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.

SUBSCRIBE: Get Talk of Alaska updates automatically by e-mailRSS or podcast.

TALK OF ALASKA ARCHIVE

 

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage Mayoral Candidate: Ethan Berkowitz

Fri, 2015-04-03 11:45

With Anchorage’s local election just around the corner, KSKA and Alaska Public media are bringing you a look at those running for mayor. As KSKA’s Zachariah Hughes reports, Ethan Berkowitz hopes to draw on his political background from Juneau to improve local government in Anchorage.

Berkowitz was in the Legislature for a decade, serving as the Democratic minority whip for 8 of those years. On the campaign trail he often quips that Juneau is “broke and broken,” and the biggest impact on the lives of Alaskans happens at the municipal level. As diminishing capital budgets and revenue sharing from the state are changing the fiscal landscape, Berkowitz favors local solutions for budget trimming.

Ethan Berkowitz. (Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage)

“First there’s a procurement program called ARIBA that we did away with, and that saved about $10 million in its infancy. And if we were to resurrect it and bring it back again the projections are, from people who have run it, that it would save $15-20 million annually,” Berkowitz said. “Secondly, I’d look at the energy efficiencies that we could get out of the municipal buildings. If we go through and make those energy efficient that’s a $5 million savings. We could put LED’s in 15,000 light-poles, save another $4 million.”

Since leaving state politics, Berkowitz helped start a broadband company and has worked on a geothermal energy project near Nome. His policy proposals for issues like affordable housing follow a similar tendency to look at new solutions.

“We need to build about 900 units a year, and we’re building 400. And in order for us to accommodate the growth in this community we need to acknowledge that we’re gonna have to have denser housing, perhaps mixed retail and residential structures,” he said. “I think the more we can do to build neighborhoods like they’re doing out in Mountain View right now where there’s a little bit of a renaissance going on, we’ll be better off.”

Though he wasn’t in office at the time of the contentious debate over AO-37, Berkowitz has received endorsements from many unions who see his record as supporting the interests of organized labor. Like most candidates in the race, Berkowitz is advocating public safety approaches that begin with hiring more police officers.

“I’d like to see us return to a time where we had the drug unit back in place, the gang unit, the theft unit,” Berkowitz said. “I also want to see us be able to do more community policing. Community policing is really a way of leveraging the resources we have, of multiplying the force that we have, which ultimately reduces recidivism, reduces cost, and makes our streets, and homes, safer.”

Berkowitz has a broader donor roll than any other candidate. And though he was one of the last candidates to file to run he has the second highest amount of campaign contributions.

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage Mayoral Candidate: Andrew Halcro

Fri, 2015-04-03 11:45

With Anchorage’s local election just around the corner, KSKA and Alaska Public media are bringing you a look at those running for mayor. As KSKA’s Zachariah Hughes reports, Andrew Halcro wants to use ideas from the private sector to upgrade Anchorage government.

Halcro has lived in Anchorage for 50 years, and says his family’s prosperity running a rental car business mirrors the city’s own expansion and growth. Much of Halcro’s approach to public policy draws on the same financial pragmatism he says he learned taking over the family business. And at a time when politicians leap on one another over “raiding the permanent fund” or hiking up taxes, Halcro has been frank that it’s not a viable fiscal policy to continue cutting budgets indefinitely.

Andrew Halcro. (Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage)

“So when you talk about funding government you have to start to talk about alternative revenue sources,” Halcro said. “And while a sales tax discussion is premature, I think in the next 3 or 4 years the city will have to start to have that dialogue.”

Halcro spent four years as a Republican legislator in the House from 98 to 2002. More recently he was president of the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce, and has worked with many of the non-profits and businesses he hopes to better leverage in drafting policy. On issues like land use, for example, Halcro wants to pursue emerging trends like developing housing downtown.

“You have to get engaged win tax incentives and tax deferrals. There are several areas: East Downtwon, Fairview, Mountain View, this is where the millennials want to live, 82,000 between the ages of 18 and 34, that’s where they want to live,” Halcro said. “That’s where seniors want to live. So we need to get aggressive. And the challenge is, it’s not just affordable housing, we have housing gridlock and we really need to address the older stock of housing.”

Halcro also looks to downtown for improving public safety. He insists crime data shows Anchorage is becoming a safer place overall, but he worries about the misconceptions created from high-profile violence.

“The violence downtown is suffering a decline in sales simply because of the perception of downtown—and downtown is very safe. But there is a significant problem, for instance, at bar-break,” Halcro said. “And we are spending an incredible amount of resources downtown due to a number of bad bar owners, because the alcohol industry has basically been writing the rules in this community. And the first thing the next mayor needs to do is really rebuild the trust between city hall, the fire, and the police department.”

Though he’s one of the top fundraisers in the mayor’s race, Halcro contributed a significant amount of his own money to the campaign – $85,000 – more than any other candidate.

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage Mayoral Candidate: Lance Ahern

Fri, 2015-04-03 11:45

With Anchorage’s local election just around the corner, KSKA and Alaska Public media are bringing you a look at those running for mayor. As KSKA’s Zachariah Hughes reports, Lance Ahern aims to use his experiences in the tech sector to reduce costs and improve local government.

Ahern made his way to Alaska in the 80s, and later on founded one of the first businesses to offer Internet access to residents. He sold that business, and for the last 10 years has been a IT manager for state and municipal government. With more city services moving online, Ahern says familiarity with IT systems gives him insight into where there are inefficiencies.

Lance Ahern. (Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage)

“We need to reduce the structural cost of public safety. We need to have less administrative overhead, not just in government overall, but also specifically in public safety,” Ahern said. “So today we run two different 911 dispatch centers—one for police, one for fire. In many places in the Lower-48 they’ve been able to combine those, and there’s no reason why we can’t. We can take that excessive spending and re-invest that into officers on the street.”

Ahern currently works as the Chief Information Officer for the municipality, and has been careful to distance himself from the decisions-making processes that have led to costly delays implementing the SAP software system.

On fiscal policy, Ahern believes the city needs to trim operating costs more than it needs to generate additional revenue. He wants to renovate, not rebuild, the way non-profits and city departments deliver services. Housing and development is one example.

“The rules seem to be a little bit shifted so that the Return on Investment is much better for commercial property development,” Ahern said. “So one of the things I’d be doing immediately in starting as mayor is to sit down with the director of the community development department, to look at the policies we have in place and see how the city deals with that issue from a policy perspective.”

“And see if we can make some changes that help balance the playing field.”

Ahern is running an unconventional campaign. He’s not held public office before, filed to run for mayor on the day of the deadline, and of the $7,856.82 he’s raised, much of it has been spent on digital resources instead of traditional things like signs. He’s also been critical of what he sees as a two-tiered electoral system treating candidates differently based on their fundraising abilities rather than ideas.

He challenged one candidate for not pushing for more inclusion at a forum hosted by the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce.

“So, the question is, do you believe that the Chamber was right to exclude me, or do you think I’m a viable candidate with important messages that the people of Anchorage should hear?” he said.

In the past, Ahern served on the board overseeing KSKA and KAKM.

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage Mayoral Candidate: Dustin Darden

Fri, 2015-04-03 11:44

With Anchorage’s local election just around the corner, KSKA and Alaska Public media are bringing you a look at those running for mayor. As KSKA’s Zachariah Hughes reports, Dustin Darden is bringing his past as a tradesman and strong religious beliefs to the campaign.

Darden caught the attention of many residents with his hand-painted signs set up at busy intersections around town. Two dots over the ‘u’s resemble a smiley face.

“I’m in this thing to win it, baby,” he said.

Dustin Darden. (Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage)

Darden is a lifelong Anchorage resident with a background as a carpenter. Now he’s employed with city as a maintenance worker. Darden says he’ll take advice from other municipal employees and department heads for reducing costs.

“It’s gonna be finding ways to save money by the employees, by the department heads, and to reward those things,” Darden said. “It’s not a magic bullet to save money, it’s engaging what exists, and encouraging that kind of development.”

One of Darden’s goals is increasing tourism in Anchorage to ensure economic growth. His plan for city revenues is phasing out property taxes.

“I’ve got an idea that I’m throwing out there for the city, if they’re down with it. If we cut property taxes out entirely and replace it with a 5.5-6% sales tax and just replace those, the rent is gonna go down,” he said. “And as a whole it’s gonna make us less reliant on revenues generated from property taxes, and it would also, I believe, boost the morale as a whole because it will give people a more sense of ownership on their property.”

Darden is a devout Christian, and regularly brings up his strong opposition to abortion at candidate forums and during public testimony before the Assembly. His religious views inform how he plans to address issues like public safety and schooling. Asked what constitutes success in Anchorage’s public schools, Darden replied, “back to the basics, back to the Bible. It’s not complicated. It’s simple. But as far as success goes, there’s no more successful way to live than alive in Jesus Christ.”

This is Darden’s first run at elected office.

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage Mayoral Candidate: Amy Demboski

Fri, 2015-04-03 11:44

With Anchorage’s local election just around the corner, KSKA and Alaska Public media are bringing you a look at those running for mayor. As KSKA’s Zachariah Hughes reports, Amy Demboski is running on her conservative record over the last two years on the Anchorage Assembly.

Demboski says her priorities as mayor will be public safety, infrastructure and education. But all of those, she believes, begin with fiscal policy. Demboski says she got into the race, matching donors dollar for dollar with her own money, because she didn’t think there was a true conservative in the field.

“I don’t think we have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem,” she said. “So when we start looking at revenues: yes, we want to diversify the tax base, and that means we want more property on the tax roles, so redevelopment credits for development – I think that’s a great opportunity. Make more land available, I think that’s a great opportunity. But it doesn’t mean we have to tax people more.”

Amy Demboski. (Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage)

Demboski represents Eagle River and Chugiak in the Assembly, and sits on several different subcommittees on a wide array of topics. She’s been a vocal critic of the city’s SAP implementation during subcommittee meetings about its audit. She’s also on the Title 21 Committee that rewrote Anchorage’s land use code, which informs her views on development.

“When it takes a builder who wants to build a building complex 8 months to get it his permit, there’s a reason we have a shortage. And we have to make it easier for these people to be able to get through the bureaucratic process so they can build these affordable houses for people to live on,” Demboski said. “But, ya know, when we look at it, too, we have to have to have the discussion of the Knik-Arm Bridge. That has to be part of the discussion.”

Demboski’s background is on the business side of managing dentistry practices. And many of her proposals for local government look to the private and non-profit sectors for service improvements.

During debates over AO-37, Demboski opposed a repeal of the controversial labor law. She wants to cut the overtime budget for the police department because she feels its a symptom of inadequate staffing that ultimately costs taxpayers more than a larger force. But Demboski is skeptical of public safety plans that simply hire more police officers.

“We have to invest in the right things, so we have to make sure we have adequate staffing, too, at AFD,” she said. “And that’s something that I put forward: we have 8 more paramedics on the street today, we’re not pulling ambulances out of South Anchorage and West Anchorage to service the downtown area. So we have to be holistic in this, and we can’t look at just APD or AFD, it’s all about public safety.”

In addition to her fiscal approach, Demboski is a strong social conservative, and has garnered an endorsement from former senate candidate Joe Miller among other prominent state Republicans. She is on record as promising to vote against a potential reintroduction of proposition 5, believing the equal protection measure infringes on speech and religious rights.

Categories: Alaska News

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