Congressman Don Young says he’s not worried about an investigation into whether he violated ethics rules.
The House Ethics Committee announced this month that they’re looking into whether Young misused campaign funds, failed to report gifts, and lied to federal officials. During a visit to Juneau, Young told reporters that he is cooperating with the investigation. He also accused the committee of playing politics in targeting him alongside New Jersey Democrat Rob Andrews.
“Reality is that I truly believe that they had to have a Republican as well as a Democrat,” said Young. “As you know, Andrews is under the scrutiny, too. And we’ll see what happens. I’m confident where I’ve been and I always have been. If I wasn’t that confident, I couldn’t continue to run and look Alaskans in eye.”
Young said that the new investigation should not affect his work in Washington.
“I’ve been under a cloud all my life,” said Young. “I’m sort of like living in Juneau. It rains on you all the time, and you don’t even notice it.”
Young had previously been under investigation by the FBI for similar charges, but the agency concluded that there was not enough evidence to convict him beyond reasonable doubt. In a 2010 memo, the FBI said they had instead “forwarded a letter outlining certain actions taken by Congressman Young and will leave punishment to the discretion of the Ethics Commission.”
A panel of experts met last night at the University of Alaska Justice Center to discuss Tribal Courts in Alaska.
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In the early 1960’s, engineers dug a tunnel into permafrost roughly 16 miles north of Fairbanks. They were testing underground excavation methods. The US Bureau of Mines also used part of the original tunnel to test mining techniques in permafrost. On March 15th, personnel with the Army Corps of Engineer’s Cold Climate Research and Engineering laboratory, or CRREL, wrapped up a months’ worth of digging as part of a project to build a new tunnel that will eventually join the older one.
Roughly 50 feet underground, an enormous yellow excavator fitted with a special digging apparatus turns from left to right slowly, scraping at a wall of light brown frozen earth. Kevin Bjela mans the excavator. He’s a Research Civil Engineer with the CRREL. He studies at the impact of permafrost on engineering projects in places like Fairbanks. He’s doing some of that research as he digs. “Every time we do a cycle, we then survey the face, look for bones, look at paleosols and see if we need to take any samples for carbon dating and so we don’t want to go too fast,” he explains. “We never want to go too fast. It would be great to get the project done, but at the the same time we want to do science too.”
This particular project will eventually connect to an older tunnel, which has been used for research for five decades. “There’s a lot of great research that was done in the old tunnel and we wanted to expand upon that,” says Bjela. “Not that everything has been done in the old tunnel, but having a whole new exposure and expanding to it can expand the story. Really what we see in the walls here is a lot of climate records.”
Those climate records look like thick dark stripes in the tunnel walls. These are old soil layers that indicate when the climate was warmer and wetter, anywhere between seven and 30,000 years ago. They can explain what might happen as climate changes in the future. Bjela says the new tunnel will also be used as a geophysical test bed. “So, we actually know where all the ice is on a three dimensional scale and when we apply geophysics to it, we’ll be able to apply different geophysical techniques that are looking forground ice.” he says. “So, there’s a couple different reasons, but in the end we’ll have a whole overarching group of people in here from paleo-scientists, geologists, microbiologists, researchers even extraterrestrial. We have had NASA projects in the old tunnel.”
But to connect the old tunnel, with this newer one, Bjela and his colleagues will have to dig about a thousand feet into a hillside. And they have to find a way to do it without melting any permafrost. “It is challenging,” he admits. “The original tunnel was built with all equipment that was electrically powered, so there was very little heat generation. We’re obviously dealing with this diesel powered excavator that does have a lot of heat generation, so in addition to getting the diesel fumes out for the operator, we need to keep the temperature down and so we are having to blow in copious amounts of cold air and the colder the better.”
The crew can only dig in the winter, and because it’s so slow going, they only dig about 100 feet per year. The project could take up to a decade. Funding for the project isn’t available on a regular basis, which also slows progress. “This is internally funded through CRREL,” explains Bjela. “We didn’t take any congressional appropriation for this. It’s driven from internally that we see that there’s a great benefit to expanding the facility.”
In addition to expanding the tunnel, CRREL has laid the foundation and purchased logs to build a new visitor center. It will replace a small trailer that currently houses the office for the permafrost tunnel. The Army Corps is looking to improve an education and outreach program associated with the tunnel and ongoing research at the site.
On Fridays on Alaska’s Capitol Hill, many female legislators are wearing Kuspuks – the traditional and comfortable Eskimo garment not often seen in boardrooms. It’s also being adopted by some men in the capitol.
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Governor Sean Parnell has signed legislation designating tomorrow, March 29th, Vietnam Veteran’s Day in honor of those who served more than 40 years ago in that conflict. Anchorage resident Ric Davidge is the national chairman for government affairs for Vietnam veterans in America. He is a veteran of the U.S. Army. He went to Vietnam in 1965 as a 19 year old medic.
Hey says many Vietnam Veterans did well after the war, at least at first.
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The bond propositions on the Anchorage ballot would pay for education, emergency services, public safety, public transportation and road and park projects. Mike Abbott is the chief operating officer for the Anchorage School District. He is advocating for Proposition 1, the education infrastructure bond.
“Proposition 1 will fund 55 million dollars of educational improvements that will address deficiencies in structures that can’t currently perform educational services, fire alarms, roof, boiler systems, etc.,” Abbott said.
Abbott says the bonds will help the district maintain their 93 buildings. He says the bonds won’t drive the district any further into debt because they’re paying off old bonds. Lance Wilbur is the Director of Public Transportation for the Municipality of Anchorage. He is advocating for Proposition 2, the emergency service, public safety & public transportation bond. The three services are combined because the services are area-wide. Wilbur says the transit part of the bond is critical to public transportation in Anchorage.
“For the transit element, that 525,000. We use that to match our federal program that we receive every year, with basically a 4:1 return. So that 500,000 dollars will get us over 2 million dollars in federal funds,” Wilbur said.
Wilbur says the funds help the Municipality pay for a variety transportation projects, including building bus stops and replacing busses. In addition to the transportation element, Proposition 2 includes upgrades to the 911 service. The total amount of the bonds is just over 2.5 million dollars. Jacques Boutet is an engineer who could benefit from the passage of the roads and parks bonds and is a volunteer with Anchorage Tomorrow, a political action committee advocating for the bonds. Proposition 3, the Anchorage roads and service area bond asks for about 20.5 million dollars to preserve existing infrastructure. If funded, Boutet says Proposition 3 would pay for drainage and road projects.
“We’re faced with degradation of our pavement, which we all recognize of course as the potholes and cracks in the pavement that make our driving experience a little bit more miserable. But moreover we also have our underground system — the storm water system that carries, that pipes the water from the streets and properties out to treatment and on into the inlet, or our creeks anyway, and that area is also in desperate need of rehabilitation,” Boutet said.
Boutet says the projects will help eliminate road flooding, oversized puddles and sink holes. The municipality has requested about 29 million dollars in matching grants from the state legislature for the drainage and road projects. Proposition 4 is the parks bond. It asks voters to approve 2.5 million dollars. Boutet says that, if passed, Prop 4 would fund three major projects.
“The first one is a rehabilitation, a long overdue restoration of the Chester creek bike trail. We want to finish our restoration of the Anchorage veterans memorial in the Park Strip. And then finally, is a group of neighborhood park improvements, going into these neighborhood parks, replacing playground equipment, adding trails, adding lighting where it’s appropriate,” Boutet said.
Boutet says Proposition 3 park bond monies would be matched by almost 3 million dollars in public and private funds from state grants and other funders such as The Parks Foundation. Both Proposition 3 and 4 are requesting smaller amounts of money than in recent years. All four Propositions will appear on the April 2 Municipal Election ballot.
- Notice of Election 2013 (PDF)
- Anchorage Municipal Elections website
- League of Women Voters ballot review (PDF)
- Prop. 3 and 4 Language (PDF)
- Prop. 4 Fact Sheet (PDF)
- Prop. 3 Project Information (PDF)
The herring fleet gathered about 2,100 tons of fish during Wednesday’s first opening of the Sitka Sound sac roe herring fishery.
Those are the preliminary numbers from the Alaska Department of Fish & Game. Wednesday’s opening lasted just over three hours, from 3 p.m. to 6:05 p.m.
Aerial surveys have shown herring are starting to move from offshore areas into the island groups just north of Sitka. Aerial and vessel surveys continued Thursday, but as of 10:30 a.m., an opening had NOT been announced.
The fleet is ultimately working toward a harvest limit of 11,549 tons. Last year’s catch was worth about $640 a ton, making the total ex-vessel value of the fishery around $8.5 million.
Friday will be the first Vietnam Veterans Day in Alaska.
Gov. Sean Parnell has signed legislation designating March 29 of each year as a day to honor those who served in Vietnam. The law takes effect immediately.
The House Speaker’s chamber was packed Wednesday when the governor signed House Bill 67. He was joined by veterans of the Vietnam War, some of whom serve in the Legislature, including Senate President Charlie Huggins, whose voiced cracked when he said the bill was a way to welcome veterans home.
Fairbanks Rep. Steve Thompson introduced the bill and soon had the majority of legislators signing on. He explained the significance of March 29 at the bill signing.
“On March 29, 1973, all U.S. troops withdrew from Vietnam, marking an end of the 10 years of United States military involvement. Upon their return, Vietnam veterans were not greeted with parades and triumph and speeches, such as the ones delivered at the end of the world wars. Instead, Vietnam veterans returned home to silence and in some cases abuse for having served their country during a controversial war.”
Nearly 60,000 Americans died in the Vietnam War.
Thompson said he carried the bill at the request of former state Rep. Bill Thomas of Haines, also a Vietnam vet. Thomas tried unsuccessfully to get a similar bill passed last year, then lost his bid for election to Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins of Sitka. Kreiss-Tomkins joined his House colleagues in sponsoring the bill.
Thomas was at Wednesday’s bill signing.
As part of Women’s history month, Alaska Public Media brings you the voices of influential Alaskan women who have helped shape and define the social, cultural and political discourse in Alaska. 15 women were recently inducted into the Alaska women’s hall of fame at a ceremony in Anchorage. Former lt governor Fran Ulmer was inducted herself in 2009. She introduced one of this year’s inductees-the late Thelma Langdon who was honored for her work in education, mental health and elder care. Her daughter Mel Langdon accepted the award.
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Federal regulators said today that ConocoPhillips will need to meet the same standards they set for Shell for drilling in the Chukchi and Beaufort Sea. At an Anchorage field hearing of Senator Mark Begich’s Oceans Subcommittee today, Tommy Boudreau, head of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, was asked if that means a containment dome for blowouts, such as the one BP used at the Macondo Spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Speaking by teleconference due to federal budget constraints, Boudreau told Begich the same standard would be used.
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The National Snow and Ice Data center based in Colorado report Arctic sea ice reached its maximum extent for the winter on March 15.
This year’s winter-time sea ice extent is the sixth lowest since the National Snow and Ice Data Center started keeping satellite records in 1979. Walt Meier is a research scientist at NSIDC. “In winter, we used to be about 16 million square kilometers, which is about double the lower 48 United States,” says Meier.
Based on this year’s satellite records, Meier says winter sea ice covered roughly 15.13 million square kilometers of the Arctic this year. That’s roughly ten times the size of the state of Alaska. It’s also equivalent to more than 337 billion football fields. “We’ve kind of lost about a couple million square kilometers,” he explains. “On the order of about 10 to 15 percent, so that’s kind of like the eastern sea board of the United states in terms of the ice loss.”
Meier says recent Arctic sea ice records show a more pronounced seasonal cycle. Data show more of the winter time sea ice that does exist is first-year ice, meaning it develops each winter but melts as temperatures warm in the spring and summer. “It used to be for example from Barrow Alaska, you’d see things open up, but you could take a boat out and reach the ice edge, but nowadays, the ice edge is much farther from the coast and the ocean is more exposed during the during the summer time.”
Sea ice acts as the Earth’s air conditioner. When it reflects sunlight, it cools the planet. “But now when we lose the ice cover,” says Meier. “The ocean is much darker than the ice. That absorbs all that solar energy that’s coming and that heats up the ocean. It’s like your air conditioning is running out of coolant. It’s not as efficient in terms of cooling the rest of the planet.”
NSIDC has measured the ten lowest winter sea ice extents in each of the last ten years, with the lowest ever measured in 2011. At the beginning of April, NSIDC scientists will release a detailed analysis of this year’s winter sea ice conditions in the Arctic.
Senator Lisa Murkowski says her opinion on gay marriage is still evolving. Murkowski addressed the topic today at a chamber of commerce luncheon in the Anchorage suburb of Eagle River.
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The major oil companies in Alaska testified last night to the state House Resources Committee about the latest version of Governor Sean Parnell’s oil tax reform legislation. The bill passed the Senate last week. It represents a major tax break for the oil companies. The state estimates it will cost Alaska $6 billion in tax revenue over the next five years.
Dan Seckers, a tax expert with Exxon Mobil, says the company is especially happy with the provision of the bill that gets rid of the state’s windfall profits tax:
“To us, this single step represents significant improvement. And this change alone, if you did nothing else to ACES, that change alone would significantly improve Alaska’s global competitiveness,” Seckers said.
But Seckers went on to say the base tax rate under the new tax plan – 35 percent – is too high. Damian Bilboa, head of finance for BP Alaska, agreed the tax breaks under the new plan don’t go far enough.
“While it is a step forward in making Alaska more attractive to investment. Alaska’s geographic, technical and cost challenges are such that Alaska may not want to be satisfied with settling on the upper end of average on the competitive scale,” Bilboa said.
Democrats who fought the new tax plan in the Senate say it gives away billions of dollars to the oil companies, with no guarantee they will invest more in oil production in Alaska to make up for the loss.
Committee co-chair Eric Feige hopes to advance the bill sometime next week. It would then go to the House Finance Committee.
Education advocates have long promoted pre-school as a way of closing the achievement gap between rich and poor students, and this year the president named expanding early education programs as one of his top priorities in his State of the Union address. But here in Alaska, fewer kids could have access to pre-school due to budget cuts.
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It’s Girl Scout cookie time. The troops sell the cookies to raise money for all kinds of activities. APRN’s Dave Waldron found a troop in Anchorage that uses the funds for a unique and futuristic purpose.
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The Sitka Sound sac roe herring fishery is scheduled for a 3 p.m. opening Wednesday. It is the first opening of the season as fishermen try to catch more than 11,500 tons of the small silverfish. Herring eggs are valued on the Japenese market.
State fishery managers like to see 10 percent mature roe before calling an opening. A sample taken Wednesday was at 12.9.
The fishery area is between Bieli Rock and Makhnati Island. No word on how long the fishery will be open.
The Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium, or SEARHC, is closing down its residential drug and alcohol treatment program. The closure was announced Tuesday and comes after massive reductions in federal funding, also known as sequestration.
The Bill Brady Healing Center has existed in its current form since 1996. About 50 patients graduate from the 40-day program every year.
“I know that April 30 is our last day,” said Dave Johnson, who has been a residential manager at the Healing Center for about four-and-a-half years.
When Johnson clocked out at 2 o’clock Monday afternoon, he was told to return at 4 for a mandatory meeting. That’s when SEARHC officials broke the news that the center would close in about a month’s time.
“When it was first told to us, I was bitter, and I was angry,” he said. “Last night I couldn’t sleep. And today, I woke up and I feel a lot better. There’s two ways to look at it. You can look at it as a total negative, but there’s another way to look at it as, another door is going to open.”
Johnson is one of about 22 people who work at the Healing Center. In a statement released Wednesday, SEARHC says some of the employees will be reassigned. Others will be furloughed — a temporary, unpaid leave, basically — and others will be let go completely.
The closure will save SEARHC about $1.5 million every year. The money will chip away at a funding cut of more than $3.5 million, imposed by sequestration — the name given to cuts that automatically kicked in on March 1, when Congress failed to agree on a federal budget.
SEARHC CEO Charles Clement says the organization has dealt with short-term funding problems before. But he calls sequestration “the new normal.”
“For all intents and purposes, it looks like the sequestration is going to be a permanent reality,” Clement said.
He says that means the organization can’t tighten the belt for six months and ride out the storm. At Bill Brady, SEARHC is still figuring out who will lose their job outright, and who will be moved to other parts of SEARHC.
Clement says the dozen or so patients currently in the program will be seen through to completion in mid-April, and then staff will have two weeks to wrap up loose ends and close the doors.
This latest round of budget cuts comes after SEARHC spent a year digging out from a $4 million deficit. Clement says the organization just got back to breaking even when sequestration hit.
And with the new $3.5 million hit, conversations continue among upper management on how to continue digging out of the hole.
“They’re a combination between these sort of financial conversations and these subjective value conversations,” he said. “We’re sort of working it through the best we can, considering that for all intents and purposes, we’re being held over a barrel that we have to make these decisions on a very short time frame.”
Back to Dave Johnson, the residential manager at Bill Brady Healing Center.
“My heart is telling me to go back to Angoon,” Johnson said.
The 32-year-old grew up in the Admiralty Island community. For nearly five years, he says he’s been part of a team that helps complete strangers heal. And as he tries to heal from the sudden end to all of that, he says it’s a good reason to be close to his family.
“I wouldn’t say I’m at peace. You’re seeing the cover. There’s a lot … I’m really in shock, mainly,” he said. “This was the best job I’ve ever had. I can honestly say that.”
As part of Women’s history month, Alaska Public Media brings you the voices of influential Alaskan women who have helped shape and define the social, cultural and political discourse in Alaska. 15 women were recently inducted into the Alaska women’s hall of fame at a ceremony in Anchorage. Former Anchorage Assembly chair and hall of fame steering committee member Jane Angvik tells us more about the late, Mary Joyce who was honored for her achievements in Business and adventure! Mary Lou Gerby accepted the award on her behalf.
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Only one amendment was passed for AO37. It states, “No municipal employee will suffer a loss of base pay or benefits as a result of changes to this chapter.”
The Anchorage Assembly passed a rewrite of municipal labor law by a vote of 6-5 at their regular meeting Tuesday night.
Early in the meeting, Assembly Member Paul Honeman introduced a resolution that could have postponed action on the controversial rewrite of Anchorage municipal labor law until October.
“I just, I can’t implore each of you on this body strongly enough to fully get behind taking the time and making sure we make the changes – I’m not opposed to making changes to 3.70, I’m not. So I would urge approval,” Honeman said.
Honeman’s resolution was shot down 6-5. When Assembly Chair Ernie Hall moved to take action on the ordinance, Honeman moved to override the chair. That motion failed 7-4, with Assembly members Dick Traini, Elvi Gray-Jackson and Patrick Flynn as Honeman’s only supporters. Honeman then moved to postpone the ordinance indefinitely. That motion also failed 7-4. The ordinance was announced on Feb. 8 by Mayor Dan Sullivan. It will limit union longevity and performance pay, benefits, and eliminate binding arbitration along with strikes. It will also allow some municipal jobs to be contracted out. Chairman Hall ended the public hearing on the ordinance after listening to four five-hour evenings of public testimony from 285 people. Before the vote Assembly member Patrick Flynn told his colleagues that they had failed.
“We have a larger responsibility, not just to the people we represent, although that’s the most important one, but also to the integrity of this body, this Assembly, as an institution, and we have failed badly. The decision to close public testimony has irrevocably harmed our public process,” Flynn said.
Assembly members attempted to pass some amendments. Assembly member Honeman introduced an amendment that would protect base-pay. During deliberation Mayor Dan Sullivan chimed in arguing against that.
“You don’t want to put in an ordinance that you’re never going to change a wage rate. It could change, in exchange for something else. And it could be to the employees benefit. So anyway, that’s why I think it’s very, very dangerous to put specifically in code that you’ll never change a base rate because that’s what negotiation is about,” Sullivan said.
Honeman’s amendment was the sole amendment passed. Assembly members Traini and Gray-Jackson warned that the ordinance would bring lawsuits upon the Municipality because it was poorly written. Gray-Jackson asked her colleagues to remember what they heard from citizens during public testimony on the ordinance.
“Much of the testimony was simply asking the Assembly to take a deep breath and don’t rush the ordinance just to get it done before the election. If we put this on hold, we can avoid costly litigation, work with the unions, with the public and produce a document that makes changes to the code but with consensus from all parties,” Gray-Jackson said.
The ordinance passed 6-5, with Assembly Members Honeman, Traini, Gray-Jackson, Flynn and Debbie Ossiander the no votes. Chair Hall, Cheryl Frasca, Jennifer Johnston, Adam Trombley and Bill Starr voted for the ordinance. Cheryl Frasca, Jennifer Johnston, Ernie Hall, Chris Birch, Bill Starr and Adam Trombley in favor of the ordinance. Jillanne Inglis is Vice President of the Anchorage Municipal Employees Association. She says the ordinance was too rushed.
“We’re feeling really disheartened. We’re really upset about it. The process was way too fast,” Inglis said.
Sergeant Gerard Asselin, who represents the Anchorage Police Department Employee Association said he was also disappointed.
“The Mayor said from day one, he had the votes. We tried. We did everything we could. We tried providing facts, we tried providing information, we tried providing evidence – and they, frankly, just didn’t want to hear it,” Asselin said.
Collective bargaining agreements will be negotiated under the new law as old agreements expire. The first union negotiations under the new law are set to begin in the coming weeks. The Sullivan administration has 180 days to present a managed competition program to the Assembly for approval.
A reward is being offered for information in the death of two Golden Eagles, whose bodies were recently found near a hiking trail near Chickaloon. According to Bruce Woods, with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the eagles, a female and an immature male, were found on top of a pile of bait meat and surrounded by snares.
”The Eagles were not in the snares at the time they were found, they were dead, they had not been shot, and they were on top of the bait pile. “
Woods says the eagles were not in the snares when their bodies were discovered, however, and it appears that the bodies were tossed on top of the pile after they had died. He says the bodies were not decomposed, and that the birds had not been shot, although authorities are not releasing more information about the condition of the bodies at this time. Woods says he does not know if there will be a necropsy on the birds.
“There was sufficient evidence on site to indicate what caused the mortality. I do know that our agents are not really saying more information about the cause of mortality as that might be pertinent to the investigation. “
The site of the eagle deaths is Anthracite Ridge, North of the Chickaloon -Knik -Nelchina Trail near Chickaloon.
Fish and Wildlife is offering 2500 dollars for information leading to a conviction in the case. Eagles are protected under the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. Violations of the Migratory Bird Treaty could result in a 100 thousand dollar fine and/ or a year in federal prison. Woods says more than one violation of the Bald and Golden Eagle Act adds up to a serious crime.
“Two violations under that act would raise the status of the crime to a felony. “
Woods says American Indians and Alaska Natives are allowed to use eagle parts and feathers in spiritual ceremonies, although the feathers and parts are kept by the national Eagle Repository near Denver and there is an application for their use. Woods says it is likely the eagles bodies will be sent to the repository.
Anyone with information concerning these eagles is asked to call the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Law Enforcement in Anchorage at (907)271-2828.