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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: 10 min 24 sec ago

Republican Lawmakers Send Support Letter To Northern Dynasty

Thu, 2014-02-13 18:46

Several members of the Alaska Legislature sent a letter of support earlier this month to the head of the company looking at developing the controversial Pebble Mine in the Bristol Bay region. The letter was signed by 8 lawmakers including the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House.

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All of the lawmakers are Republicans. In the letter they stressed that Alaska is a resource development state and they claim Alaska has a history of using its natural resources in a responsible manner. Mike Chenault is the Speaker of the House. He’s from Nikiski, which features a lot of oil and gas infrastructure.

“I think a number of us don’t know if we support Pebble until we see a project plan but I think all of us support the notion that we have a process to develop mines in Alaska. Corporations such as Northern Dynasty should have the opportunity to go through that process. At the end of the day if the project doesn’t meet the criteria of the permitting process we have the ability to say no.”

In the letter the Republican lawmakers assert that they support Northern Dynasty Minerals efforts to advance the Pebble Project and they stress that the Pebble deposit is a state asset that sits on state land. Speaker Chenault maintains that the proposed Pebble Mine has the potential to have a huge positive impact on the state’s economy.

“I look at the jobs that it could possibly be created that would be long-term, well-paying jobs that would be a boom to the economy.”

Northern Dynasty Minerals is currently the only entity in the partnership that was created to develop the Pebble Mine. The giant mining company Anglo American pulled out the Pebble Limited Partnership last year and Northern Dynasty Minerals is looking for another mining company to join the partnership. The 8 lawmakers ended their recent letter to Northern Dynasty Minerals by asserting that Alaska is open to investment from those who seek to develop the state’s natural resources in a safe and responsible manner that respects and benefits its citizens. Speaker Chenault notes that while he supports Northern Dynasty being able to apply for permits for the Pebble Mine project, he won’t support the project if the developers can’t address his concerns.

“I don’t thing that anyone wants to see the Bristol Bay salmon go away. At the end of the day if they can’t prove to me that they can do it environmentally safe then I won’t support it. I can’t support it.”

The Pebble Limited Partnership recently hired a new CEO with experience in the federal permitting system and the company reiterated that the goal for this year is to advance the project and to initiate permitting. However, many observers believe the Partnership won’t go forward with permitting until another company is found to join the Partnership.

Categories: Alaska News

State Picks Direct Route For U-Med Road

Thu, 2014-02-13 18:44

State transportation officials have selected a preferred route for a mid-town Anchorage road connecting the University of Alaska and two city hospitals with major traffic arteries. The municipality and the state are partners in the project, along with landholders in what is called the U-Med district.

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Stuart Osgood, a consultant with the engineering firm Dowl HKM, says the new road will serve a major employment center for Anchorage

“About 11 percent of Anchorage’s workforce works in the U-Med district, which is really shocking. 1 in 9 jobs coming from there. When we went through our analysis, we discovered that about 43% percent of all of the trips into and out of the U-Med area were headed to destinations north and east – to Eagle River, to north east Anchorage, maybe to the Valley. Yet we have very poor access north and east of the U-Med district.”

Osgood says the new road takes pressure off high – crash routes leading to and from two universities within the district.
A 2009 study identified fifteen potential routes, but only four were selected for study. Of those, two were not supported by UAA, because they would route five to seven thousand cars a day through the university campus, causing potential conflict with pedestrians. A third route was considered too expensive.

The preferred route connects Elmore to Bragaw, allowing vehicles to flow South through UAA lands. A good portion of those lands are wetlands, according to the state Department of Transportation’s chief highway design group’s Jim Amundsen. Amundsen says wetlands permits required by the US Army Corps of Engineers will be applied for, now that a route has been selected. One million dollars has been budgeted for wetlands environmental concerns.   Steward Osgood says  the Corps

“ They first looked to us to avoid, and then to minimize and then to mitigate, and we’ll be doing all of those things. And at the end will pay fee in leiu of mitigation, so the project actually pays into a bank that is used to buy conservation lands elsewhere that are valuable in the eyes of the Corps of Engineers. So that million dollars is set aside for the fee in leiu of mitigation.”

The mitigation program requires a developer to pay into a bank that buys alternate wetlands to compensate for those damaged by construction.


The legislature has provided 22 million dollars so far for the road project. Dowl’s Osgood says the preferred route is expected to cost 19 point 4 million dollars for point seven miles of road. It is designed to be a two lane road, with a bicycle lane and pedestrian walkways. Osgood says work on the new road could begin in about a year, and a 2015 opening date is expected.

An open house on the U-Med road is set for next week at East High School in Anchorage.


Categories: Alaska News

U.S. Senate Considers Law Enforcement Gaps in Native Alaska

Thu, 2014-02-13 18:11

In Washington, D.C.  the Senate Indian Affairs Committee yesterday reviewed a controversial report on Native American law-and-order that portrays the high rates of violence in rural Alaska, particularly against Native women and children, as a national disgrace. While Alaska’s senators agreed the gaps in law enforcement are deplorable, the long-standing dispute over tribal jurisdiction in the state hangs over the search for solutions.

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One of the witnesses, Anvik resident Tami Truett Jerue, told the Senate panel she has the routine concerns every working parent has, though as a resident of a Native village off the road system, she has more to contend with.

“But I also worry about whether my children, my nieces, nephews or relatives are going to be hurt today. And in Anvik I consider us to be a fairly safe community,” she said. But she says it’s a sign something is wrong “when I have to have a conversation with my 14-year-old son when he gets out his snowmachine and goes to school in the morning, ‘Hey I want you to come home early today, the booze came in on the plane.’”

Jerue works for the Anvik Tribal Council, and came to Washington representing Tanana Chiefs Conference, an association of  Interior tribes. She endorsed the findings in the report of the Indian Law and Order Commission – including the controversial conclusion that Congress should amend federal law to clearly recognize Indian Country throughout Alaska. Without full self-government, she says communities like hers will continue to suffer, even though tribal courts are doing the best they can.

“They’ve come up with some excellent ideas, but we were then hindered by state intervention and/or lack of.”

The congressionally-chartered Indian Law and Order Commission produced its report in November. It catalogues the high crime rate Indian communities in the Lower 48 endure, but says the dangers are more severe in Alaska. Commission Chairman Troy Eid told the Senate committee the state is clinging to a colonial model that should give way to greater tribal self-governance and the kind of Indian Country powers that tribes have on reservations in the Lower 48.

“The system in Alaska is not serving the people there, because the state can never police it from afar,” Eid said. “When we were up there last time in December, the leaders came to us and said, ‘We just had a 12 year old girl raped, it took them four days to come out to our village.’ That’s not acceptable in our country.”

The Parnell Administration raised objections to the commission last year, saying the state and Alaska Natives themselves rejected the reservation concept with the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act in 1971. State Attorney General Michael Geraghty wrote that Alaska recognizes tribal authority over certain civil matters but maintains that, absent reservations, tribes don’t have criminal jurisdiction, even over their own members.

Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski asked Eid why the report recommends that Alaska essentially recreate the reservation model when there’s a constant stream of news stories suggesting law enforcement isn’t working well on reservations either.

“I’m not suggesting that the Alaska situation is acceptable. It is absolutely not,” she said. “But do we want to take what many would acknowledge is a failed or a failing system and then just say that’s the Alaska answer?”

Eid says Alaska doesn’t need reservations for tribes to govern themselves in their own territories. And the report argues tribal law enforcement would be more effective and less costly than what the state is doing now.

Murkowski says the report’s chapter on Alaska focuses too much on the Indian Country question. While that remains a hot-button issue, Murkowski says tribes are working with the state to construct public safety buildings in villages, and tribal courts are issuing domestic violence protective orders that the state is enforcing. She says all sides should work harder for that kind of co-operation.


Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Could Soon Supply Its Own Donor Human Breast Milk

Thu, 2014-02-13 18:10

Alaska could soon have a Human Breast Milk Bank. The Milk Bank would operate under the Alaska Blood Bank and supply the state with donor milk. The Blood Bank has submitted a proposal to their board and is awaiting a decision. KNOM’s Anna Rose MacArthur reports.

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Across the U.S., 13 milk banks supply all 50 states with donor milk. And Dr. Norman Means, Chief Medical Officer for the Alaska Blood Bank, says supply is not meeting demand. Means says the nation requires nine-and-a-half-million ounces of milk per year. Only about one-third of that is met.

“So as you can see, there’s a big gap in what the need is and what’s available.”

Kim Updegrove, President of the Human Milk Banking Association of North America, says with stocks limited, donor milk goes to level-three neonatal intensive care infants. The standard of care for these preterm babies weighing 53 ounces or less is a breast milk only diet.

Alaska’s only level-three NICU is in Providence Hospital in Anchorage. Providence sources the majority of its donor milk from Colorado— about 700 ounces per week for 42-hundred dollars. A milk bank in Alaska would not only cut shipping costs but also increase the state’s milk security and bolster national supplies of what Updegrove calls a “scarce resource.”

“Currently, the Alaskan NICUs are getting that milk from other states. So they are feeding donor human milk to their babies, which is great but they are missing out on the opportunity to say to the Alaskans, you can take care of the babies born in this state and your milk is optimal for your baby and lifesaving for pre-term babies.”

If the proposal passes, it will be the first combined blood and milk bank in the country. Dr. Means says the combination makes sense. Both banks require similar operations, and the consolidation reduces redundancies in infrastructure and staffing. And the proposal, Means says, has already received widespread support, often unsolicited, from the medical community, state and local governments, and moms.

“Everywhere we turn, we have the support of anybody who’s involved in the care of mothers and babies.”

The Bank is waiting on the board’s decision. The Blood Bank should break ground on a new building in May, and the facility includes space for a milk center. Means says after receiving approval, the Milk Bank could begin operating in six months.

Categories: Alaska News

New proposal surfaces to develop Juneau subport property

Thu, 2014-02-13 18:04

Two local businessmen have come up with an early design concept for a prime piece of real estate in the Capital City. The so-called subport property, near the corner of Egan Dr. and Whittier St., has been vacant for more than a decade. The Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority owns the bulk of the proposed development site. The question remains: Is the authority ready to let it go?

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The subport lot looks out at Gastineau Channel. Across the water are the snow covered mountains of Douglas Island. Look left, and on clear day, you can see down the channel for miles. It’s easy to see why the property is so desirable to developers, like Paul Voelckers.

“The majority of use, if this project turns out to be real, would likely be small, but high quality condominium housing,” said Voelckers, president of Juneau-based MRV Architects.
Together with local businessman Reed Stoops, he’s come up with what he calls “a first series of sketches” for possible development of the subport lot, which is currently the staging area for construction crews working on the new State Library Archives and Museum building, scheduled for completion in 2016.

Voelckers says the idea for high end housing on the lot came out of frequent conversations he and Stoops find themselves having with Juneau residents of a certain demographic.

“They’re 60, or 65, or something,” he said. “And they don’t need a big place anymore, and they’d like the opportunity to travel, but they’d like to maintain a base in Juneau.”
Inevitably, he says, they hear the same things.

“It would be great if there was additional housing opportunities downtown that took advantage of the great view, the walking proximity to an art district, walking proximity to a grocery store, and health club,” Voelckers said. “Just all the things that part of town might potentially offer, but is you know still sort of sitting there unrealized.”
The proposed condo building would be 3-5 stories and include retail and office space on the ground floor. The overall concept includes an extension of the seawalk – already a prominent feature of the downtown waterfront south of Marine Park. Voelckers and Stoops envision a small marina for yachts near the uplands development.

It’s also being pitched as an alternate site for a proposed bronze whale statue, though the city is already working to place the sculpture at a new park near the Douglas Bridge.

“At this stage we continue to look at the bridge park site as our preferred alternative,” said former Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho, a spokesman for the Whale Project. “But any proposals that come through that will materially advance the timeline of the project, we’re prepared to look at.”
Voelckers says it’s important to recognize, this is all very preliminary. Five years ago, a proposal to build a new state office building in the subport area fell through when Juneau’s legislative delegation failed to convince other lawmakers the deal was worth it.

“We’d be getting ahead of ourselves to say there was a timeline or even what the exact pieces were,” he said.
Voelckers says the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority has indicated a willingness to entertain proposals for the subport property. John Morrison is Chief Administrative Officer of the Trust Land Office. He declined an on-tape interview for this story, but says he had one meeting with Stoops and Voelckers. Morrison says the land office is not actively pursuing any deals at this point, but is always interested in maximizing the value of the trust.

Voelckers and Stoops have also met with city officials, including Juneau Mayor Merrill Sanford. Housing is one of the Juneau Assembly’s top priorities. Sanford says he thinks its fine that the proposal is for high end condos, rather than more affordable housing.

“No. We need housing in Juneau, Alaska,” said Sanford. “So whenever I see anybody from the private sector, who will break their dollars free to build, then I see it as a good thing.”
The Assembly in December appointed Voelckers to the Juneau Planning Commission. He’d have to recuse himself if he were still on the panel and the project made it to the permitting stage. Voelckers says the timing of the appointment and his work on the subport proposal is entirely coincidental.

Categories: Alaska News

New Fairbanks Nonprofit Would Make Mushing Accessible

Thu, 2014-02-13 18:00

Dog mushing is Alaska’s official state sport, but not everyone can just jump on a sled and go. KUAC’s Dan Bross reports on a new Fairbanks non-profit organization aimed at getting people with disabilities out mushing.

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Categories: Alaska News

Senate Considers Treaties to Go After Fish Piracy

Wed, 2014-02-12 18:46

The U.S. Senate is considering two international treaties that Sen. Lisa Murkowski says would help crack down on pirate fishing in the North Pacific. Murkowski today told the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee that illegal high seas fishing is an economic threat to the crab industry. The senator says it lowers the market price, costing legitimate harvesters more than half a billion dollars since the year 2000.

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“As recently as 2011, NOAA Law Enforcement seized 112 metric tons of illegally harvested Russian king crab that was being shipped to U.S. markets through the Port of Seattle,” she told the committee.

Murkowski says the illegal crab catch has also deprived Alaska of millions in landing fees. One of the treaties aims to require countries to better police their ports to keep pirate shipping vessels from unloading. The senator has a special interest in the Bering Sea crab fishery, made famous by the “Deadliest Catch” TV show. Murkowski says her son just finished a season working as a crab fisherman.

“He’s heading back home and he’s probably going to have some Bering Sea crab stories that I’m not sure his mother is really ready to hear yet, but I’m bracing myself,” she said.

Both treaties had broad support at today’s Senate hearing.

Categories: Alaska News

Record Run Leads To Glut Of Pink Salmon

Wed, 2014-02-12 18:45

The record setting pink salmon catch in Alaska last year has left seafood processing companies with several year’s worth of inventory of canned product, although not all of the pink salmon winds up in a can. In fact, industry in recent years has been freezing and reprocessing around half of Alaska’s pink catch. Analysts say that move has helped weather the boom and bust cycles of salmon returns.

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“The 2013 pink harvest was the largest on record,” said Joe Jacobson, director of the state’s division of Economic Development, testifying before the House fisheries committee this month. “It’s led to a glut of supply and it will probably, there will be downward pressure on prices because of it. And it’s really been a pretty tremendous impact.”

Fishing fleets caught 219 million pink salmon in Alaska last year. That helped fill up an estimated four million cases of tall pink cans and its left companies with almost five million cases in inventory.

“Even though the catch was big, we’re not having any real problems moving through it,” said Tom Sunderlund, vice president of marketing for Ocean Beauty Seafoods, one of the companies that processes pinks in Alaska. He says the demand for Alaska salmon seems to keep growing. “That isn’t to say we don’t have a lot of inventory, we do. We’re in a heavy inventory position right now and that’s always a little worrisome when you’re holding more inventory than you want but it is selling well. That’s what I’ve heard from other processors as well. No one’s in any kind of panic mode. Nobody feels the need to start dropping prices or taking any kind of drastic action. So at this point even despite the heavy catch it looks like it’s going OK.”

Companies say a can of salmon has a shelf life about six years so processors don’t need to sell all of the 2013 catch right away. Andy Wink is a seafood analyst for the McDowell Group, a consulting firm that works with the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. “Given where sales have been the last several years, we’re looking at inventory of about 2.6 years, in terms of how much supply do we have and how much inventory do we have. So that would take us beyond 2015 even if we did not can another salmon for the next couple years.”

Wink says a chronic oversupply depressed prices in the early 2000s. “That made it very difficult obviously to sell new production, but through a lot of hard work, through lot of marketing and actually through just shifting a lot of that product out of the can, we were able to bring that inventory down and price has improved as a result. So I think we’ve probably in this area before but it has been some time.”

Pinks that don’t end up in cans are often headed and gutted, then frozen and shipped overseas for more processing. That’s become an increasing portion of the catch, according to the Institute of Social and Economic Research’s Gunnar Knapp. “Processors have increasingly started freezing salmon and shipping it to the far east to countries like China, Vietnam and Thailand for reprocessing into value added products.”

That fish is processed into many different kinds of products, including pouched pink salmon and then sent back to the US or elsewhere around the globe. “I think that what is going to make things somewhat easier with this year than compared to other years is that not as large a share is going into cans. And so they’ve got a big inventory but it would have been a lot bigger if it was all going into cans,” Knapp says.

Analysts say that product diversification has helped drive down inventory and improve prices for Alaska’s pinks. Wholesale prices for cases of tall pink salmon cans topped 100 dollars in 2012 and 2013, more than double what they were a decade ago. There’s some expectation that those high prices will start dropping. But there’s also help on the way for the big inventory of cans.

The Department of Agriculture will be buying 20 million dollars of canned pink salmon for food assistance programs across the country. That’s an expanded purchase over past years and the decision was hailed by Alaska’s Senators in January.

Analyst with the McDowell Group, Wink says it will be a process to move through the big catch. “But I think there is the capacity for the market to absorb it. And again one other thing for canned salmon, especially with this buy by the federal government, the hope is we can introduce new people to the product. Because it’s really hard to double production, or triple it and then assume you’re gonna move that into the same number of consumers. When that happens you’ve gotta get new people buying the product.”

That’s where marketing comes in.

“Well it certainly presents a marketing challenge when you have such a huge catch and trying to maintain the value,” says Tyson Fick, Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute’s communications director. “But it’s very much a good problem to have.”

Fick says ASMI will be spending an additional one point five million dollars to move pink salmon and notes companies don’t want to hold a big can inventory for too long. “And at the same time we don’t wanna be dumping product on the market and crashing the price because that’s not good for anybody either. So that’s where the marketing effort comes in is to try and maintain the value, while at the same time incentivizing product moving.”
That means recipe and coupon campaigns to bolster sales in traditional domestic markets for canned pinks, places like the southeastern United States. Fick says they also hope to market some of the Alaska product to canned food companies in the United Kingdom. “Looking to partner in the UK with places like John West and Princes, where the UK is a very big traditional canned salmon market, currently more focused on sockeyes but again this is an opportunity to come in at a little bit lower cost with our largest canned salmon export market.”

Fick says canned salmon’s biggest competitor is probably canned tuna fish and other proteins that customers reach for in the supermarket. Traditional customers are the baby boomer generation and their parents but ASMI also wants to promote canned fish to new potential customers in the younger generations.

Categories: Alaska News

Mat-Su Sport Fishermen Applaud Board Action

Wed, 2014-02-12 18:42

Sports fishermen in the Mat-Su Borough are thrilled with a change the Alaska Board of Fisheries made this week to the Cook Inlet drift-net fisheries.

KTNA’s Phillip Manning reports:

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Categories: Alaska News

Fabe Addresses Cost Of Delivering Justice

Wed, 2014-02-12 18:37

The State of the Judiciary address can sometimes be a lofty affair, where the head of the State Supreme Court sets out a vision for what justice in Alaska should look like. This year, Alaska Supreme Chief Justice Dana Fabe delved into more pragmatic concerns, like the effect of declining revenues on the state legal system.

It’s means working smart and doing more with less, so that we continue to operate in the manner the constitution requires of us even in the face of of budget constraints.”

Fabe highlighted the work of retired justices who fill in to help manage case loads and the money the state is saving by filing documents electronically. State lawmakers rapped their knuckles on their desks as a form of applause when Fabe noted the court system had found other ways to pay for a sobriety program and was returning a $40,000 legislative appropriation.

This was Fabe’s eighth address to the Alaska Legislature.

Categories: Alaska News

5,000 Alaskans Sign Up On Healthcare.gov

Wed, 2014-02-12 18:30

More than five thousand Alaskans have signed up for health insurance on the federal marketplace. The new numbers released today include enrollments through the beginning of the month and show a 30% jump since the end of the December.

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Tyann Boling is CFO of Enroll Alaska. She says she’s seeing at least a small increase in enrollments, even in the last week. Still, Boling is not impressed:

“You know I think it’s a far cry from what we were hoping for for the state of Alaska.”

Boling hoped the state would sign up 20 thousand people for health insurance by the end of the year. She thinks the troubled roll out of healthcare.gov made that difficult, if not impossible, to accomplish. Boling also says there are still a lot of Alaskans who don’t know about the Affordable Care Act:

“That’s always been our greatest challenge. I think we’ve done okay with getting the message out about us in the Anchorage area and some of our lager communities. But truly the challenge is to get people to understand what it means to them, what the benefit is for them and just to have them call to get a consultation.”

The federal report on enrollment includes figures for Medicaid. Alaska Governor Sean Parnell decided not to expand Medicaid in the state. But healthcare.gov has determined about 2,500 Alaskans are eligible for existing Medicaid coverage.

Ron Kreher directs the Division of Public Assistance. He says the number of Alaskans discovering they qualify for Medicaid is in line with what the department was anticipating. He’s pleased more low income Alaskans are going to get the healthcare they need:

“It matters a great deal. It means there’s roughly another 2,500 Alaskans that are going to receive healthcare service and access to healthcare that they many well not have had previously.”

Kreher says about 150,000 Alaskans are covered through Medicaid.

The open enrollment period for signing up for insurance on healthcare.gov lasts through March 31st. It’s a deadline Alaskans should know well, since it’s also the date Permanent Fund Dividend Applications are due.



Categories: Alaska News

Construction Spending Expected To Increase

Wed, 2014-02-12 18:29

Spending on construction projects in Alaska is expected to increase this year according to the University of Alaska’s Institute of Social and Economic Research. The 2014 construction spending forecast was put together by the ISER researchers for the Associated General Contractors of Alaska.

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The researchers believe that construction spending in both the public and private sector will top $9.2-billion dollars this year. That’s up 18-percent compared to last year’s spending level. The number of those employed in the construction industry is expected to remain stable this year at around 16.3-thousand. ISER notes that most of the growth in private construction spending will come from the oil and gas industry. The forecast is that the private sector will spend over $4.2-billion dollars this year on construction projects. That’s up 33-percent compared to 2013. According to the forecast…. ConocoPhillips is scheduled to do quite a bit of exploratory drilling this year including developing the large CD-5 satellite, while BP has announced an expanded capital program this year that includes well work-overs in the Prudhoe Bay field. The other major oil company, Exxon Mobile, is expected to continue the work developing the Point Thomson field. The forecast also outlines the exploratory and development work planned for this year by several smaller oil and gas companies including ENI, Pioneer, Brooks Range Petroleum, Repsol, and Linc Petroleum. The recent uptick in activity in Cook Inlet is expected to continue this year. The forecast notes that Hilcorp, which recently purchased the assets of Chevron and Unocal, plans to drill around 10-new well this year. Other companies expected to be active this year in Cook Inlet include Buccaneer, Furie and Cook Inlet Energy.

While construction spending by oil and gas companies is expected to be up this year, spending by mining companies is expected to be down with a forecasted total of $205-million dollars. The researchers with ISER suggest that the drop in the price of gold is one of the reasons for the drop in spending. The forecast notes that spending for drilling and other site work will be down at the Donlin Creek, Pebble and Livengood projects. The forecast anticipates that spending by seafood processing companies will be significant with about $60-million dollars in expected spending this year on 2 seafood processing plants in Naknek. Construction spending on hospitals and health-care infrastructure is expected to be similar to last year’s level with the largest planned project at the Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage. That project will include a residential housing facility and a new parking garage.

Public spending on highways and roads is forecasted to be about $765-million dollars this year. That includes the Wood River Bridge to connect the North and South shores of Aleknagek. Public spending on airports, ports and harbors is forecasted to be about $425-million dollars. Spending on construction projects associated with education is forecasted at $477-million dollars this year. That includes the construction of a new school in Koliganak, which is expected to be largely completed this year. Construction will also get underway this year for the school in Quinhagak. The 2014 construction forecast also points out that the Coast Guard will be building a new hangar at Cold Bay along with new housing on Kodiak Island.

The construction industry in Alaska is a major player in the overall economy with well over 16-thousand official employees. However, the recently released forecast notes that there are an unknown number of “hidden” construction workers that work in other industries like oil and gas, mining, utilities and government. There are also an estimated 9-thousand self-employed construction workers in Alaska. The 2014 construction spending forecast for Alaska can be found on the website of the University of Alaska’s Institute of Social and Economic Research.

Categories: Alaska News

The ‘Kiwi Musher’ is a Rookie, But He’s No Stranger to Mushing

Wed, 2014-02-12 18:25

Not only is he the Kiwi Musher, but Curt Perano may also be the frostiest musher on this year’s Yukon Quest trail. Credit Julian Schroder / Yukon Quest

The Yukon Quest has once again proven itself as one of the toughest races in the Far North. Of the 18 mushers who signed up for this year’s race, only eleven may finish. The race has claimed rookies, and seasoned veterans alike, but there are still a handful of teams plugging along toward the finish line outside of Whitehorse. KUAC’s Emily Schwing caught up with the “Kiwi Musher” and has this profile.

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The Yukon Quest trail can be a lonely, solitary route. And with the way this year’s field spread out early, it was even more so, but Rookie Curt Perano says that’s how he like to travel. “I like to just do my own thing and not be influenced by what other people do or say,” says Perano. “If do bump into other people, no problem, but I will probably try to adjust my schedule to break away.”

Perano hasn’t spent much time near other teams. He did break trail with Dave Dalton on a run between Eagle and Dawson City after high winds and falling snow drifted in the trail. “And you do that when the time is right, but I’m not one to travel in big groups.” Because he’s running his team alone, he does find ways to pass the time. “I just work. I get my ski pole out or something like that,” he says. “I find if I just stand there, my eyes are open, but I’m not seeing what’s in front of me, I’m just thinking very random stuff, so I know when I really need to focus, I’ll get my ski pole out and work with the dogs.”

He also plugs in his iPod every now and again. “It’s random. I like the heavier stuff, and rock… a bit of everything.”

He and wife Fleur moved to the United States in 2007 and then to Alaska two years ago, because he wanted to start running his dogs for much longer distances. He’s run two Iditarods. He’s planning a third run to Nome this year.

When he was back at the Circle checkpoint he said he chose the Quest this year for a change of pace. “It’s another trail to run with the dogs really,” he sasys. “I’ve never run up this part of the country so why not.”

And he’s not the only rookie on his team. He says he’s impressed with a three-year-old dog named Croc.
“This was his first race and I was a bit unsure, but he’s he’s happy and having fun and he hasn’t made a mistake yet and he’s done a great job, so that’s rewarding.”

But Croc and the rest of Perano’s team didn’t seem to come together until the back half of the race. Veterinarians were impressed when his team came into Carmacks, but he says that wasn’t the case early on. “I left the start line with something missing, and they were really lacking something for a long way into the race,” says Perano. “So, I really took a step back, so I could get them happy and working and they started to kick into gear maybe 70 miles before Dawson. I guess the last hundred or so, they’ve started to look nice and their attitudes are really good.”

He thinks they may have had to work through some illness. Regardless, he says he was eager for his team to gain some experience on what he had heard was a challenging trail. “I’m not a big one and it may work against me – but I’m not a big one for doing a lot of research on what’s around every corner before a race, because I kind of feel it’s there and you’re going to have to deal with it in one way or another, so I go into it not totally blind, but some of it. But I’ve learned a lot from it.”

Perano says his predominantly solo run has built his confidence. “I think the more you can expose yourself and your dogs to, the better you’re going to be, because they get the confidence that they can work through it and you get the confidence that you can drive them through it, and next time you face it, you know well ‘hey I got the dogs that can deal with that!’

And he says there will definitely be a next time. “Oh yeah definitely, it’s a good race!” he smiles.

With five teams in front and five teams behind him, Perano is likely to finish solo right in the middle of the pack.

Categories: Alaska News

Late Performer Leaves Seven Decades of Archive Treasures

Wed, 2014-02-12 16:54

When someone dies, it can take months to sort out legal and personal matters, but what if that life encompassed more than 70 years of international stage performances? Russ Reno is a long time family friend of the late performer Percy ‘Mike’ Madill.

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Reno points to stacks of boxes: ”This is a few of the three or four thousand photos and newspaper clippings and memorabilia that Mike left in my care.”

Russ Reno’s decades of friendship with the dancer, acrobat and long time Anchorage resident ended when Madill died last September, leaving boxes full of memories from his life as a dancer and singer. As Reno pecks at his keyboard and pulls up some of the hours of video he has, it’s clear that he truly admires Madill’s skill. He points to the tremendous back flip in the grainy, old video of a young Mike Madill on stage. Reno says Madill was a consummate performer:

” The thing about Mike that you can tell right away when he’s performing, is because of his classical background, he would go to point, everything was spot on.”

Madill started as a child performer and had a career that scanned decades, Reno says.

“From the early 1930s clear up till, recent, 2013. And I thought I knew him, I mean I’ve known him for, most my life, but I thought I knew him and I was just shocked how much I didn’t know about him.”

Reno runs a tourism business from a cramped office across the street from the Hilton Hotel in downtown Anchorage. He called Madill ‘uncle’ and says his favorite expression was, ‘you’re only as good as what you do tomorrow’, which may explain why Reno learned so much after the modest performer died. As he digs through memorabilia, Reno says Madill never bragged, but he could have:

“That was just amazing when he would talk about it, he would be so matter of fact about things, you know we’re looking through this pile here, this is an NBC original script. This one here I think is from the 1950s, here is Paramount studios, this is when he was in For Whom The Bell Tolls.”

Madill also could have dropped well known names. Reno holds up a yellowed piece of paper.

“We’ve got old telegrams from, that is Sammy Davis junior. Wishing him well on his first night at Radio City Music Hall. He and Gil Johnson were headlining Radio City.”

Mike Madill started in television on The Milton Burl and Patty Paige shows. Learning how to direct during his stint on the Milton Burl program and going on to direct himself, on the Patty Paige show. Madill had a twin sister he performed with in the early years. His legal name was Percy, hers Gertrude. Reno says they didn’t care for those, so on stage they went with Rusty and Rita:

“And they’re named the Sunshine Twins as they had used many times on stage. Rusty and Rita went on and toured, they even took an airplane flight with Amelia Earhart when she was coming through California.”

If you’re not retirement age you may not know the Lucky Strike Hit Parade, Nat King Cole or Eartha Kitt but you get the point- Mike Madill was well known and well traveled.

A vaudeville performer, Madill developed curriculum for Chico State University in California and taught dance to students like Morgan Freeman. For rehearsals he hired a young man for two bucks an hour named Liberace.

Reno’s task is daunting given the number of boxes of fragile documents, but he’s determined. He holds up paper that crackles with the brittleness of age to illustrate why mounting the articles and clippings to a sturdy backing is crucial to saving them for the future:

“It seems to work great, you can tell by the ones we haven’t done already. They’re curling up like crazy and you can see here that they’re just…if we don’t do them soon, they’re starting to crack and everything else so we’re trying our best to get them all preserved as quickly as possible.”

He says Mike Madill never stopped embracing new ideas.

“Mike also had two doctorates. He found time to go to school at the same time. He also had a third honorary doctorate degree from the President of Mexico.”

Madill signed up to fight in World War two after a heckler ridiculed his astounding, on stage acrobatics, saying he should put his talent to work defending the country. He was 17 but looked older. Embarrassed by the encounter, he forged his parent’s signature and went to war, resuming his dance career after his service ended in 1946. By his early 20s, he’d traveled to 30 different countries.

In Alaska, he taught dance at UAA and UAF. Reno says even after a severe injury in his seventies, he didn’t slow down.

“72 I think he was, when he broke his neck in six places doing a back flip on stage. As soon as he got out of his body cast he started working out, getting in his garden, taking walks, soon went back to work. That’s when he went to work on the North Slope, started cooking and then like a year later, he went to work for Holland America and Princess and started touring.”

Madill went back to college at 76 and became a probation officer for the State. Even though Russ Reno has cross referenced thousands of articles to verify Madill’s prolific performance life, incredibly, he’s still looking:

“The only thing I wish we had more of was them as the Sunshine Twins, that’s been the hardest thing to prove. If anybody knows out there knows, Aunt Polly’s Radio Hour, 1937, possibly that one also sponsored by Wonder Bread. Still not sure on that though. The verdict’s still out.”

Russ Reno misses his Uncle Mike Madill. He says Madill worked until a week before he died at 88, even though he liked to pretend he was 10 years younger. Reno says Madill’s sister Gertrude or ‘Rita’, was asked once at a UAF picnic if she was 55. Her response? “Mike may be 55 but I’m 65 and we’re twins.”


Categories: Alaska News

Fabe Addresses Cost of Delivering Justice

Wed, 2014-02-12 15:41

The State of the Judiciary address can sometimes be a lofty affair, where the head of the State Supreme Court sets out a vision for what justice in Alaska should look like. This year, Alaska Supreme Chief Justice Dana Fabe delved into more pragmatic concerns, like the effect of declining revenues on the state legal system.

“It means working smart and doing more with less, so we can continue to operate in the manner the Constitution requires of us even in the face of budget constraints,” said Fabe.

Fabe highlighted the work of retired justices who fill in to help manage case loads and the money the state is saving by filing documents electronically. State lawmakers rapped their knuckles on their desks as a form of applause when Fabe noted that court system had found other ways to pay for a sobriety program and was returning a $40,000 legislative appropriation.

Fabe also touched on the need to improve judicial services in rural areas, an issue she stressed during her State of the Judiciary speech last year.

This was Fabe’s eighth address to the Alaska Legislature.

Categories: Alaska News

Congress Moves Ahead On Bill To Restore Veteran’s Benefits

Tue, 2014-02-11 18:24

Congress is working this week to protect military pensions from inflation. The U.S. House voted today (Tuesday) to restore a cut to the cost-of-living-allowance for retirees, and the Senate last night (Monday) voted to move forward with a bill to do the same. The Senate bill was sponsored by Alaska Sen. Mark Begich, and, on the procedural vote, it passed 94-0. Still, as APRN’s Liz Ruskin reports, the bill’s fate is uncertain.

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When Congress passed its budget blueprint in December, the most controversial element was a $6 billion savings in military pensions. The idea was to dip the Cost of Living Allowance for veterans of working age, then restore full inflation-proofing once a veteran reaches age 62. Even before word of it stirred outrage among veterans, lawmakers of both parties were pledging to roll back the cut. At least a dozen bills were filed. The only one Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid decided to move forward was sponsored by Begich and three other Democrats.

On the Senate floor, Begich urged colleagues to just pass the bill, with no amendments.

“Very, very simple. You vote yes, you’re for our vets. You vote no, you’re against are vets. That’s it.”

Some Republicans, though, are insisting on an offset – $6 billion from somewhere else to avoid adding to the deficit. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina is among them.

“The good news is everyone in the body wants to undo the damage done to our military retirees. That’s good news. The bad news is we’re doing it in a fashion that would break the budget agreement, and I just don’t think that should be our choice.”

Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski has previously backed a plan to pay for the COLA restoration by not allowing illegal immigrants to claim the child credit on their taxes. The House version extends a cut to Medicare for an extra year.

Begich says some Republicans are trying to sink the bill because of the senators sponsoring it: himself, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Kay Hagan of North Carolina. All four are Democrats up for re election this year in some of the tightest races in the country. The leadership’s decision to bring this particular bill to the floor gives them a chance to save the day for veterans. The Senate fight continues this week.

Categories: Alaska News

Measure To Elect Attorney General Moves Ahead

Tue, 2014-02-11 18:15

Alaska is just one of seven states in the country that does not elect its attorney general. A constitutional amendment that’s moving through the Legislature would change that.

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During every Legislature of the past decade, someone has introduced a measure that would put the office of attorney general up to a vote. It’s been offered by Republicans. It’s been pushed by Democrats. And every time, the idea hasn’t gone anywhere.

That is, until now. Rep. Bill Stoltze, a Chugiak Republican, is carrying the measure this time, and he’s actually getting hearings on it. On Tuesday, he told the House State Affairs Committee that it’s an issue of accountability. If the attorney general is elected instead of appointed …

STOLTZE: It would certainly sanctify that that is the people’s lawyer. The attorney generals call themselves that, but really, in de facto, it is the governor’s lawyer.

The attorney general is one of the most powerful offices in Alaska state government. As head of the Department of Law, the attorney general defends the state in court and makes recommendations on what statutes, regulations, and even citizens initiatives are constitutional.

Stoltze can think of a recent example of the attorney general exerting considerable influence over state policy. Last month, the current attorney general signed off on an opinion that an initiative to ban commercial setnetting operations in the state’s urban waters would be unconstitutional.

“That bothers me a little bit – not the content of the initiative, but [that] an assistant attorney general has more power than the people of Alaska,” said Stoltze.

While some members of the state affairs committee expressed support for the measure, there were reservations. A couple of members of the committee wondered if electing an attorney general could lead to conflict between that office and the governor. Some would like to see it amended so that the attorney general is required to be the same party as the governor, and so that there’s a removal mechanism. One Democrat noted that potential for friction could be a risk as the state pursues a complex natural gas megaproject.

But mostly, members of the committee wondered if electing the attorney general would make the office overly political. Shelley Hughes, a Palmer Republican, couched her support for the measure with that caveat.

“I value the intelligence of the citizens of Alaska and would hope and pray that it wouldn’t become a beauty contest and a public speaking contest, which sometimes elections can be,” said Hughes.

Stoltze argued that putting the office of attorney general to a vote wouldn’t make the position more political. It would just change who’s playing politics.

“Anybody who has watched attorney generals in this State of Alaska knows they already are political by nature,” said Stoltze.

Now that it’s been heard by the state affairs committee, the measure advances to the judiciary committee. Because it’s a constitutional amendment, the measure needs two-thirds approval from the Legislature and a majority vote of Alaska citizens.

Categories: Alaska News

Kikkan Randall Finishes Out Of Medals In Olympic Skate Sprint

Tue, 2014-02-11 18:12

Kikkan Randall talks with her husband Jeff Ellis after the race. Photo courtesy of fasterskier.com

It was a disappointing day for Kikkan Randall and her fans. The Anchorage skier failed to medal in the Olympic skate sprint in Sochi- an event many thought she would win. Randall missed advancing to the semifinals by a tiny margin: seven-hundredths of a second. She was gracious with the heartbreaking result saying she was, “happy to be in the fight” and “gave it everything she had.”

Nathaniel Herz is covering the Olympics for fasterskier.com and the Anchorage Daily News. He watched the race and talked with APRN’s Lori Townsend.

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Lori Townsend: What do you think happened today?

Nathaniel Herz: It was an interesting day here. It was not super warm but it was just warm enough overnight that it didn’t freeze up and it ended up being soft and sloppy day out on the course. Kikkan had a slower preliminary round of racing than she usually does. And then in her quarterfinal heat… she was facing two of the toughest competitors on the circuit. One was this woman Marit Bjoergen from Norway. And the other was a German woman named Denise Herman who’s leading the sprint standings. And the heat started and Kikkan ended up at the front heading up the hill. And I didn’t actually talk to Kikkan today, my colleagues did.

I talked to Kikkan’s coach (Erik Flora) and he said their plan was to have her lead into the corner after the downhill, because it was a tight corner, and had the potential to be a dangerous spot. So she led through that corner and then they sort of turned, after that corner there’s a straight stretch and then they turned back into the home stretch. On that first straight stretch, Kikkan had been leading and that let her opponents sit behind and build up momentum because they’re not in the wind. And they sort of came around her heading into the home stretch and basically just left her behind there.

The top two advance out of each of these heats. It was super close, I think there was the tactical move to be in the front and then it sounded like on the home stretch she didn’t quite have enough energy to be able to keep up when it really mattered. Her coach, Erik Flora said when it comes to fitness, it’s hard to tell, he thinks it will become more clear if she’s having more problems there during the rest of the races here in Russia. Certainly those are some preliminary explanations. But it’s not totally clear.

LT: Kikkan worked eight years toward this goal. How does she seem to be handling the disappointment?

NH: I have seen Kikkan after a lot of races. Some that have gone really well and some that have not gone well. Her last big sprint race before the Olympics was at the World Championships in Norway a couple of years ago.  A similar thing happened there. She was in a preliminary heat and she got tripped up by a Swedish woman. It was a split second and that was it, she was out. She was clearly disappointed and a few minutes later she comes to this area where you do interviews with the media and she was totally put together, she was composed, she was patient with us, answering our questions.

Today, I saw her talking with her husband right after her finish and she just looked a little shocked. One of my colleagues said they saw her in tears and clearly distraught, but then she went through the whole media rigmarole. I did talk to her briefly she said she had to give the same answers about ten times. Then she actually stuck around all the way through the end of the race even though she wasn’t competing because one of her teammates made it all the way through the final round and was actually kind of in medal contention, although she ended up getting caught in a crash. And yeah, Kikkan was out there smiling, talking to her teammates.

I think there’s no doubt that this is totally devastating but she’s a professional. One of the things her coach said [was that] she spent a huge amount of time preparing to win this race and also part of that was preparing if she didn’t win this race. And we talked yesterday and Kikkan said if I don’t win there are a lot of things in my career I can still look back on.

LT:  Kikkan’s Olympics aren’t over. What will she compete in next?

NH: Well, there are a couple other events in which the U.S. has a shot at a medal. This was the event where Kikkan was among the favorites. But the team sprint is another event where the Americans will be pretty strong. The coaches still have to pick that team sprint team. There may be a couple of Americans who finished ahead of Kikkan today. There was another American who came in 6th place (Sophie Caldwell). And so it depends who they pick for that team. But someone paired with Kikkan could be in medal contention.

And one of the last events is the relay where you have four women who each ski a leg of five kilometers and the American women, right now, they’re extremely deep and could really be in contention. Norway has a pretty strong lock on that gold medal and then silver and bronze are more up in the air. It’s not a sure thing by any means, but there’s the potential for those guys [the Americans] to be in contention for sure.

LT: Kikkan’s 31. The skate style sprint won’t be back (in the Olympics) for another eight years. Do you think this is it for her?

NH: I haven’t talked to Kikkan about that. I talked to her coach a little bit about that today and he was a little cagey. I think Kikkan talked with Beth Bragg with the Anchorage Daily News earlier and she may have mentioned something about racing on the circuit while starting a family, so what Erik Flora told me today is that she wants to keep racing in some form, what that’s going to look like, whether it’s going to be full time, 100% committed, maybe that will change.

She’s 31, seeing her race another eight years, that’s a lot of time traveling around Europe, but… she’s improved a lot in the other disciplines over the last four years and it’s not unreasonable to see her at the Olympics in four more years, she could be a good enough classic sprinter by then. So that remains to be seen.





Categories: Alaska News

Fairbanks Chamber Works To Keep Flint Hills Open

Tue, 2014-02-11 18:10

The Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce isn’t giving up on the Flint Hills refinery. Flint Hills announced last week that it plans to cease crude oil processing at the North Pole Plant, and turn the facility into a distribution depot for fuel shipped in from other facilities. Fairbanks chamber board chair Steve Lundgren says the organization will work with the state to try to find a new owner-operator for the refinery.

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Categories: Alaska News

Tok Biomass Boiler Heats School, Funds Music Teacher

Tue, 2014-02-11 17:40
In late 2010 the Tok School fired up its new biomass boiler to heat the school.  By 2013 it was providing electricity as well and saving the school district about $350,000 per year. Now, those same scrubby trees will help grow fresh vegetables for the district’s students. Listen Now It all starts with a massive pile of wood chips made from trees cut to reduce wild fire risks near the community of Tok, which is surrounded by thick stands of spruce. The chips feed onto a thin conveyor belt that slowly dumps them into a giant boiler. “We put three pounds of wood into the boiler,” said Scott MacManus over the sound of running turbines and compressors. MacManus is the school district’s assistant superintendent, and one of the major forces behind this innovative project. He explains the efficient wood boiler produces steam for a turbine that powers the school. Then, the steam warms up glycol that heats the school. The combined heat and power system saves the school district enough money to employ a counselor and a music teacher. Tok’s 5th graders tinker with their instruments, testing the sounds as they blow into  the mouth pieces and bang on the drums. Music teacher Ruth Fastenau tries to pull  in their attention so they can play “Merrily We Roll Along.” High school senior Claire Burnham hoists her trombones and helps them out. “It’s amazing,” Burnham said about the music program. “We used to have one but it  ended my third grade year and so when we found out it was coming back, a lot of us were really excited to have music again.” Burnham will study music at UAF in the fall.  Meanwhile, back at the power plant, Macmanus said that even after the new facility heated the entire school, “We have all this extra heat. You see how we have the  doors open? We’re just blowing heat out into the air right now.” Initially the school district wanted to build a heat loop to provide warmth to other community buildings, but they couldn’t find funding for the project. So while they refine that idea, some of the heat is being pumped into a commercial greenhouse. “The floor is made of woodchips, as insulation. Better than foam, we can lay the beds right on it,” MacManus said as he walked into the plastic high tunnel greenhouse, fans and heaters whirring from the ceiling. “I’m not sure what the temperature is, maybe 70 degrees?” In front of MacManus, rows of old highway guardrails are filled with soil. As soon as there’s enough daylight, they’ll be planted with vegetables to feed the district’s students. “What did I say – spinach, kale, regular lettuce. Probably not too much head lettuce.  And then that’s what we’re gonna do right now because we’re wanting to get the  salad bar going this spring. So we’ll actually have food on the kids’ plates this spring.  So I’ll send you a picture of a plate full of lettuce. That would be awesome.” In the summer they’ll plant things like tomatoes and onions that can be processed into sauces and salsas and preserved for winter. Food services coordinator Danni Rutledge said there’s a practical reason for the school to grow vegetables. “The stuff might last longer because a lot of times by the time we finally get  something it’s already a week or two or a month old. So the preservation time will be longer,” she said. “And one of our goals is to have less preservatives in our food.” The school district is considering cooking and freezing hundreds of pounds of lasagna using the summer vegetables instead of buying it pre-made. Rutledge said they also want the kids to be able to connect to their foods, even  though it’s primarily a commercial enterprise. “We want to bring the kids out there. We want them to see the process of growing their own vegetables and processing  their own vegetables.” Part of the process is caring for the soil and adding nutrients, which takes us back to the biomass plant and a barrel of ash cleaned from the boiler. MacManus said they will use the ash as fertilizer in the greenhouse. Local gardeners already collect it. Sometimes, though, it’s not only ash at the bottom of the boiler. MacManus says they briefly had a problem with dirty wood. The silica-heavy pine needles melted in the boiler and left chunks of glass. Though they’ve had to work through some kinks in the system, he says for the most part the project has gone smoothly. “There’s nothing in here that’s not been tried and proven. We had a little bit of tweaking to do related to an artic environment.” The school plans to begin planting vegetable starts in mid-February.
Categories: Alaska News

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