APRN Alaska News
West Anchorage High Senior Maeva Ordaz won the national Poetry Out Loud competition this week in Washington DC. It’s the first time an Alaskan has both reached the finals and won. Ordaz won $20,000 for recitation of “Zacuanpapalotls” by Brenda Cárdenas. She also recited “Ode on a Grecian Urn” by John Keats.
The 18-year-old already has a full scholarship to Columbia University next year.
The program started ten years ago by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation and is run statewide by the Alaska State Council on the Arts.
“Poetry helps us sense and think differently about the world around us,” said Council on the Arts Executive Director Shannon Daut. “It encourages more abstract and creative thought, which is really crucial for kids to develop to help them be competitive in the workforce that is increasingly relying on creative thought and problem solving.”
You can watch Ordaz’s other recitation on here. Videos and photo courtesy of the National Endowment for the Arts.
A theater production coming to Anchorage this week honors the accomplishments of a little – known character in Alaska’s history.
Back around the turn of the twentieth century, one of the foremost dog drivers in Alaska was Jujiro Wada, a Japanese national who helped to blaze Alaska’s most famous trail
If you mention the word Iditarod, images of racing huskies, dogsleds and the last of the Alaska mountain men come to mind.
Swenson, Buser, Seavey, Mackey are names that carved Iditarod history. But Jujiro Wada? Who’s he? Well, he’s the man who built the Iditarod Trail.
University of Alaska professor and Seward native Edgar Blatchford, says Wada faced incredible odds.
“It wasn’t like he had GPS or any food along the way. He carried a rifle, bullets and an empty sled, except for something to sleep in.”
Blatchford is helping the Asian American Cultural Center bring the musical, “Samurai Musher” to Alaska. Back in 1909. Wada was renowned in what was to become the Alaska Territory, and his exploits were covered in newspapers of the time.
“The Seward Chamber of Commerce, it was called the Board of Trade at that time, hired him to find a way to connect Seward to the gold camps in the Interior and eventually Nome. Jujiro Wada was hired at a dollar a day and he hired what we like to think of as an international crew and they set forward to blaze the trial from Seward to Nome
Why Wada? Because he was considered the foremost musher in Alaska at the time. University of Alaska professor Tony Nakazawa takes up the tale.
“Wada was credited from mushing forty to fifty thousand miles across Alaska.”
Nakazawa says Wada came from Hinodemachi in Ehime Prefecture. He was born in 1875 into a samurai family down on its luck, and left home early to seek his fortune in the U.S. He first arrived in San Francisco.
“One of the stories that is more prominent is that he was shanghaid by this Captain Norwood on the ship Ballena, and they were up in the Arctic waters, and their ship became icebound. And so Captain Norwood had Wada and a small group go on to shore and there he befriended the Brower family who mobilized the village and they came out and saved the people on the ship.”
Wada first worked at the Cape Smyth Trading post, with the legendary Charles Brower. It is was there, no doubt, that he learned his dog mushing skills. Later, he traveled with E.T. Barnette, the man who founded Fairbanks, and did his share of gold prospecting.
He was a man of many talents, sailor, prospector, dog driver — and quite the adventurer. And he was driven by the desire to make his fortune and send money back to his widowed mother in Japan.
A 1995 book published in Japan, “The Samurai Dog Musher Under the Northern Lights”, is credited with spurring interest in Wada in that country.
The book was later translated into English by a Canadian who was documenting Wada’s travels for the Canadian Park Service.
Now the Mikan Ichiza Playgroup, from Wada’s hometown in Ehime Prefecture, has produced a musical based on Wada’s story
Nakazawa says the story captures public imagination, in part because of it’s theme of mother and son devotion.
“And there is a following among historians here in Alaska on Wada, but in terms of the communities, I don’t think it’s very well known. But one of the things that’s interesting about the Wada story is it was actually that he had written to his mother, sent money back to his mother from a distance, and this relation ship between a son and his mother.”
Wada’s fortunes did not always run smoothly. Nakazawa says Wada was once almost lynched because of a misunderstanding.
“So one of the (newspaper ) articles that we looked at, had said that Wada was sent to much to Circle and Dawson City to build up Felix Pedro’s gold strike, and up to one thousand prospectors came to the Goldstream Valley area, and unfortunately, they didn’t find gold, as promised. And Wada almost met his demise, but fortunately, Mr. Barnett prevailed and Wada was spared.”
And, as World War 1 loomed, Wada was faced with discrimination because of mistrust of the Japanese in the US.
The stage production covers the triumphs and disappointments of Wada’s life from childhood in Japan to his adventures in Alaska, and through his declining years.
Edgar Blatchford says Wada’s story is exactly the kind of thing that fascinates tourists who are looking for something beyond the usual attractions.
“This is a major production, they are excited about it, they’ve put a lot of time into it. They are serious performers and they recognize the connection between Japan and Alaska which gives Alaska great avenue for more and more people from Japan coming to visit Alaska and getting off the beaten path.”
Wada eventually left Alaska. His later life is obscure, but we know he died in San Diego, without ever having struck it rich. But the growing interest in his life is sure to enrich his memory in Japan and Alaska.
The Alaska Public Offices Commission is looking into a complaint against an Anchorage mayoral candidate over an improper corporate donation.
The complaint was filed against Ethan Berkowitz by David Nees, who has run unsuccessful campaigns for seats in the House and on the Anchorage School Board.
In the documents submitted to APOC Nees says that Berkowitz used images from a KTUU newscast in a campaign ad, but failed to disclose a corporate donation from the private company.
The Berkowitz campaign has not yet responded to a call for comment.
APOC is holding an expedited hearing on the issue today at 5:15pm.
Unalaska is preparing to spend tens of millions of dollars to upgrade the aging Port of Dutch Harbor. The hope is to serve bigger ships and more of them — but the companies that use the dock right now aren’t so sure that big changes are needed.
On Wednesday night, Unalaska’s city council chambers were full of the dock workers, fuelers and cargo companies that have worked in Dutch Harbor for 25 years, exporting seafood and importing freight.
They were there to weigh in as the city gets ready to remodel the port for the future. The $44 million plan involves replacing rotten pilings under the dock that serves container ships, barges and catcher-processors — and adding anything new that those companies want to see.
That might include a setup for a bigger cargo crane — one to reach further across wider ships. The current crane is on 50-gauge rails, meaning spaced 50 feet apart. Some ports, including Anchorage, have upped that to 100 feet.
Marion Davis is a vice president for Horizon Lines, the main domestic shipper in Dutch Harbor. They own the current crane, and Davis called into Wednesday’s meeting to say the 50-foot spacing works just fine.
“A lot of ports are huge ports. So they might have six, eight, ten lanes of trucks underneath the crane. Therefore, you need the room underneath the crane. Dutch will never have that,” he said. “So a 50-gage crane should be sufficient no matter what you do.”
He did suggest bringing in a new 50-gage crane built for a wider reach. But that’s not part of the city’s project — any new cranes would have to come from the users, like Horizon.
They were the city’s official shipping partner when the dock was first built. But that contract fell apart a few years ago. In March, the city council voted not to seek a new one — from Horizon, or anyone else.
Horizon still gets a guaranteed spot for their weekly mail and grocery delivery, according to a recent letter from the city. But otherwise, the dock space is up for grabs.
That means power is an open question, too. Right now, the port runs mostly on diesel — but Doug Leggett, the president of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union in Unalaska, asked if the city’s electrical grid could handle more ships or cranes plugging in.
“I’ve spent plenty of time watching and breathing that exhaust, and I think most of us don’t realize how much pollution they pump into town when they’re sitting there,” he said. “The wind’s blowing, and you don’t see it, but it’s a lot.”
Other dock workers brought up cosmetic issues — like bad drainage, bumpy concrete and safety issues that need repairing. And they talked about the best spot for a new warehouse that barges and seafood companies could share.
All that helps the companies at the dock right now — but much of the plan still centers on the idea that more, bigger traffic is on the way. Longshoremen like Jeff Hancock were skeptical.
“I mean, you’ve got an outline of a gigantic, large, 1,200-foot vessel there at the dock,” he said, indicating a concept drawing showing different sizes of ships. “In what realistic thinking would we ever have a vessel of that size here, that we needed … to work the number of containers that that would be? … In what reality would we ever need that much capacity at this port?”
“No ice in the Arctic,” answered Dennis Robinson, a longshoreman and former city councilor.
Robinson is talking about the biggest unknown in upgrading Dutch Harbor: Will melting Arctic ice — and more Arctic infrastructure — really create that much demand from new shipping companies?
If it will, they didn’t show up on Wednesday to say so. But city ports director Peggy McLaughlin says she heard enough to move the designs forward — and to keep working on a funding plan. She needs to break ground by 2017 for permitting reasons.
“We’re building and replacing a deteriorating facility for the current users,” she said after Wednesday’s meeting. “And there certainly are users that are being turned away because of timing issues and dock schedules that will be able to utilize this proposed design.”
For now, the port’s oldest tenants will drive that design — and McLaughlin hopes it’ll leave room for those waiting in the wings.
The city and PND Engineers are taking public comment on the preliminary designs through May 29, and will hold a follow-up public meeting later this summer. You can catch a rebroadcast of Wednesday’s planning meeting on Channel 8 this Sunday, May 3 at 5 p.m.
Matanuska Susitana Borough officials got an early look at the Borough’s FY 2016 spending plan Thursday. Borough manager John Moosey opened the discussion, saying the budget would be “very conservative”, compared with previous years. The Borough’s mil rate has remained relatively flat since 2010, but indications are that changes are coming, Moosey said.
“We can’t continue this for this budget. If you look back at 2009 and what we were charging to taxpayers and where we are now, what other organization, business, can say we are doing more things, we’re growing and we’re still charging you less, charging taxpayers less, seven years later. My message today is, ‘we need to make some changes, especially revenue changes because some of the revenue that we are counting on and some of the things we have created are really making at a pinch point.'”
No individual department heads presented figures to the Assembly at Thursday’s worksession. The Assembly prioritizes spending and will deliberate the plan after a series of public hearings starting on May 4.
Moosey said, along with the budget debate, there needs to be further discussion regarding deficits in the funds that pay for select Borough operations.. namely, Port MacKenzie, Borough solid waste services, and the unused ferry Sustina.
Those so-called enterprise funds are supposedly supported by fees charged for services, but there wide gaps between costs and charges, Moosey said. Borough Finance director Tammy Clayton reviewed the latest figures on the enterprise funds:
“With regards to the Port, the budgeted deficit for June 30, 2015 is estimated at 6.8 million ($), the budgeted deficit for June 30, 2016 is estimated at 6.35 million ($). The ferry, or what is approved to be transferred in for fiscal year 2016 is 460 thousand ($). “
Deficits in enterprise funds are covered by transfers from the Borough’s areawide fund.
The Borough’s Public Works director, Terry Dolan, told the panel that the solid waste enterprise fund is running a 1.6 million dollar deficit. He said increases in rates could close the gap.
State fiscal woes also are affecting the Borough’s budget for the next fiscal year. Moosey said a drop in revenue sharing, increases in school infrastructure needs and a drop in Borough revenue due to senior and disabled veteran tax exemptions are all contributing to the lean fiscal outlook.
Two forester jobs in Haines and two in Ketchikan are wiped out in the state budget approved by the legislature earlier this week. Gov. Bill Walker’s proposed changes to that budget would add some money back into the Department of Natural Resources, but they wouldn’t bring back Southeast forester jobs. However, the two-person Haines State Forest office won’t be completely lost.
Budget reductions will likely force Director of Forestry Chris Maisch to cut 25 jobs and 10 internships around the state.
“It’s been probably my biggest professional challenge as a manager and as a forester,” Maisch said. “And I’ve been doing this type of work for over 33 years.”
In Haines, the two foresters make up the entire local office. They manage timber sales, maintain access roads, take charge of fire prevention. Losing both of those jobs would leave Haines State Forest management to someone in Juneau or Ketchikan.
“We know the community depends on a lot on the access, the firewood and the opportunity to have some economic development associated with the forest,” Maisch said. “We felt it was important to support residents in the community of Haines.”
Maisch says, out of all the towns and cities that are losing forestry staff, Haines has been the most outspoken.
“I want people to know that we were listening and paying attention to that,” he said. “It does mean that we dug a little deeper to try and improve the situation.”
Maisch didn’t want to leave Haines completely unmanned. So, DNR Forestry reallocated $106,000 to fund a seasonal, 9-month forester job in Haines. That money pays for salary and benefits as well as the office, utilities, fuel and a vehicle.
Along with losing about one and a third employees in Haines, starting in July, Ketchikan will lose two foresters. That downsizes their office to four – three foresters and one administrator.
“So we will obviously not have as much manpower as we once had to do forest management activity across Southeast Alaska,” Maisch said. “We will have enough to continue the program, but the remaining staff will be stretched thinner and have to travel more to do the work that needs to be completed across Southeast.”
It’s too soon to say whether one of the current Haines foresters will move into the seasonal job come July. Roy Josephson and Greg Palmieri more than 30 years of experience combined managing the forest in Haines.
Maisch thinks the seasonal position in Haines is sustainable. He says revenue from big timber sales like the 800-acre proposed Baby Brown sale would help, but it’s not necessary to keep the position.
However, if the state makes more cuts to DNR Forestry in coming years, Maisch says there are no guarantees.
Communities could opt-out or limit commercial and retail marijuana sales much the same way they do alcohol under proposed regulations put forth by the state alcohol control board.
The board reviewed the first of three sets of marijuana regulations on Thursday, which included a system for community regulations.
When voters in November approved a ballot issue legalizing limited recreational marijuana, they directed the board to develop regulations for the commercial industry. A new marijuana board is expected to take over that work eventually.
The board directed the state Department of Law to open a public comment period on those regulations. The next meeting on the new regulations likely will be held in July.
The board also made permanent a temporary regulation that defines the public places where marijuana is prohibited.
University of Alaska Fairbanks scientists provided critical satellite observations following this past weekend’s big earthquake in Nepal. It took quick action to get out information vital to assessment and disaster response.
Outgoing University of Alaska Fairbanks Chancellor Brian Rogers is dispelling rumors that illness forced his recent decision to retire this summer. Chancellor Rogers, who was also a candidate to become the new president of the University of Alaska system, spoke during a wide ranging campus forum Tuesday.
With just a few days left before Anchorage voters head to the polls Tuesday for a runoff election to pick a new mayor the race is intensifying. On April 7th, Ethan Berkowitz and Amy Demboski took the most votes in the city-wide election. For the most part the campaigns were cordial, with the candidates sparing on policy disagreements, but respectful of one another. But in the last week or so new issues have been quickly popping up—both personal and policy related. Today we’ll be sorting through the mayor’s race stories appearing online and in the news , getting a handle on what coverage is substantial, and what’s superficial.
HOST: Zachariah Hughes
KSKA (FM 91.1) BROADCAST: Friday, May 1 at 2:00 p.m. and Saturday, May 2 at 6:00 p.m.
Alaska Public Television BROADCAST: Friday, May 1 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, May 2 at 4:30 p.m.
Legislature Votes To Allow Hearings Outside Of Juneau
Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau
While Gov. Bill Walker has ordered the Legislature hold its special session in Juneau, lawmakers may have found a workaround: He can’t control where they hold their committee meetings, or how often they have their floor session.
Mat-Su Gets First Look at Borough’s FY16 Budget
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Palmer
Matanuska Susitana Borough officials got an early look at the Borough’s FY 2016 spending plan Thursday. Borough manager John Moosey opened the discussion, saying the budget would be “very conservative”, compared with previous years.
ASD’s revised budget cuts 57 filled positions
Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage
The Anchorage School District plans to cut 57 currently-filled positions next year because of a $16.7 million dollar budget cut from the state legislature. That includes 37 classroom teachers and 12 literacy coaches.
Death Toll Now at 2 in Shooting Near Talkeetna
Phillip Manning, KTNA – Talkeetna
Alaska State Troopers say that both men involved in a shooting on April 18th have died. Troopers say that 57-year-old Billy Kidd of Willow died of his injuries in an Anchorage hospital. Previously, Kidd had been listed in critical condition. The other man, 33-year-old Andre Lafrance died at the scene of the incident, and was identified shortly thereafter.
U.S. House Panel Advances Fisheries Law
Liz Ruskin, APRN – Anchorage
In Congress Thursday the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee moved a bill to renew the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the nation’s bedrock fisheries law. The sponsor, Alaska Congressman Don Young, says the law has kept foreign fishing fleets off America’s shores and sustained healthy fisheries.
UAF Steps Into Spotlight Amid Arctic Council Transfer
Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks
Now that the United States has assumed chairmanship of the Arctic Council, UAF’s top two administrators say the University of Alaska Fairbanks will play a central role in carrying out the U.S. agenda in the region.
Kick The Bucket: With Fleeting Funding, Projects Die
Joaqlin Estus, KNBA – Anchorage
Even rural communities that have raised the money to build modern sanitation systems face the threat of their ultimate failure due to the lack of funding for operations and maintenance, wiping away whatever health gains were achieved.
Campaign Silent On Revelations Of Military Service, Divorce
Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage
New documents are coming to light that complicate the biography of Anchorage mayoral candidate Amy Demboski.
Red Chris Mine Inches Forward After Settlement
Katarina Sostaric, KSTK – Wrangell
A British Columbia mine upriver from Wrangell and Petersburg is one step closer to full production after reaching a benefits agreement with a First Nation group.
YWCA Alaska Holds Summit On Gender Pay Gap
Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage
YWCA Alaska is holding a Gender Pay Equity Summit Friday in Anchorage to focus attention on the wage disparity between men and women in Alaska.
The U.S. House Natural Resources Committee today passed a bill to renew the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the nation’s fundamental fisheries law. The sponsor, Alaska Congressman Don Young, says the law has kept foreign fishing fleets off America’s shores and sustained healthy fisheries.
“And we’re trying to maintain the integrity of the original act by adding some smaller changes, and (among) the smaller changes are flexibility,” he told the committee.
The bill has alarmed some fishermen and conservationists. They say the bill undercuts a key element of Magnuson-Stevens: That fisheries managers act on science. Several Democrats on the committee voiced that argument, too.
“H.R. 1335 would take us back to the dark ages by gutting science-based requirements to rebuild overfished stocks and to set annual catch limits,” said Rep. Raul Grijalva of New Mexico, the committee’s top Democrat.
Among the new flexibilities, the bill removes the requirement of a 10-year stock assessment period for rebuilding depleted fisheries. Young says some regions of the country lack enough scientific data to adhere to rigid rules, and he says management councils should be able to respond more quickly to dynamic situations.
Another controversial measure Young added to the bill says the regional fisheries management councils are responsible for reviewing environmental impacts and no separate agency review is required. Critics say that would weaken a bedrock environmental law known as NEPA, the National Environmental Policy Act. Young says he’s trying to avoid duplicate reviews, and remove opportunities for lawsuits.
“I’m trying to keep the legal beagles out of the fishing industry, where they’ve used the legal beagles for the environmental community to impede the fishing process and the proper harvesting of the fish and healthy stocks. And they’ve done that,” Young said.
That provision is likely to disappoint tribal advocates in Alaska who claim federally managed fisheries are damaging salmon runs important to subsistence. Last year, the Association of Village Council Presidents, Kawarek, Tanana Chiefs Conference, and the Yukon River Drainage Fisheries Association wrote a letter asking Young to leave the NEPA process as it is because it gives tribes a stronger voice in fisheries management.
Chris Oliver, executive director of the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council in Anchorage, says he doesn’t think the bill would erode the fundamentals of the Magnuson Stevens Act, although he says his council is fine with the existing law.
“We don’t think the changes they put in the act are really likely to have any effect on how we manage fisheries in the North Pacific,” Oliver said. “I think it could allow for some legitimate flexibility in other regions — and even perhaps in future situations in the North Pacific — without eroding the basic underlying conservation measures” of the law.
Young says he’s still working on additions to the bills concerning subsistence and the Community Development Quota program, so the bill is likely to be revised before the full House votes on it.
The Anchorage School District plans to cut 57 currently-filled positions next year because of a $16.7 million funding cut from the state legislature.
Superintendent Ed Graff presented the cuts to the media Thursday afternoon. They include 37 classroom teachers, 12 literacy coaches, and all of the pilot programs focused on early learning and updating science teaching tools.
Graff says they didn’t want to eliminate anything. “But when you get to this point of $17 million that you have to cut on top of the reductions that we already had to address the prior years, there’s no way around it. It’s going to have an impact on everything we do.” Especially students.
The school board must vote on the cuts on Monday even though the state’s budget has not been signed by the governor. They are required to inform tenured teachers about layoffs by May 15 and other staff by the end of the school year.
The revised budget also eliminates the 20 new positions the board added into next year’s budget to reinstate middle school elective teacher team planning time as well as three maintenance positions, supplies, and technology upgrades.
“So we’re going to have to reverse all of those things we planned for, and prepared for, and the students expected, and the community expected. We need to figure all of that out. We’re moving in the wrong direction.”
They will maintain the sports programs and instructional support for English Language Learners and Special Education.
ASD also plans to go forward with the school renovations funded by the recently approved school bonds, despite confusion over whether or not it will be partially reimbursed by the state. State Attorney General Craig Richards recently wrote a letter to the governor saying the bill passed by the legislature that ends school bond reimbursement is retroactive. That means no bonds passed after January 1, 2015 will be reimbursed even though the law doesn’t take effect until 90 days after it’s signed.
Graff says the district does not interpret the law that way and is still seeking reimbursement.
The U.S. House today passed a military construction bill that includes $37 million for buildings at Eielson Air Force Base to support two squadrons of F-35s. They include an F-35 flight simulator and alterations to an operations and maintenance unit. A final basing decision for the F35 squadrons is expected next year.
Also included in the spending bill, according to Congressman Don Young, is $34 million to demolish and replace a boiler at Eielson’s heat and power plant. In addition, the bill has $7.8 million to improve the fitness center at Fort Greely, a building that Young’s office says dates to 1956. The bill next moves to the U.S. Senate.
New documents are coming to light that complicate the biography of Anchorage mayoral candidate Amy Demboski.
Court records show Demboski was enlisted in the Air Force shortly after high school, which she did not previously mention in detailed interviews about her resume. The documents, included in a post on the blog Mudflats Thursday, reveal she was involved in divorce proceedings that ended in 1997. The documents include an order invalidating an earlier proceeding because of a forged signature.
The campaign does not have a statement regarding the documents, according to spokesman David Boyle.
Demboski has publicly referred to military values and family as part of her campaign and approach to policy.
While Gov. Bill Walker has ordered the Legislature hold its special session in Juneau, lawmakers may have found a workaround: He can’t control where they hold their committee meetings, or how often they have their floor session. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports that the Republican majorities have moved to take a recess, while continuing their committee work on the road system.
Since the special session went into effect on Tuesday, the issue of where and when the session is held has taken up about as much time as anything on the session agenda. On Wednesday, the governor denied a request from legislative leadership to relocate the session to Anchorage. And now, on Thursday, the House and Senate voted to stop holding floor sessions in Juneau for the next two weeks.
“As the governor, he can call us in here,” said House Speaker Mike Chenault, in an interview. “But he can’t tell us where our committees are going to meet.”
House Speaker Mike Chenault says the resolution allows the finance committees to hold hearings in Anchorage, something they could not do without a recess. Under the Legislature’s rules, they must meet in the main House and Senate chambers and hold floor sessions as a whole body every three days at minimum. That basically chains the Legislature to Juneau.
House Majority Leader Charisse Millett carried the resolution to waive that rule.
“What it means is we won’t have House floor sessions until the 12th — that’s all this means,” said Millett. “Every other business will continue on, but we won’t come to this floor and push buttons when we don’t have a budget bill in front of us.”
The budget is one of three items on the special session agenda, with Medicaid expansion and a bill establishing a sexual abuse prevention program in schools making up the rest of the call.
Millett noted that negotiations on a budget have been at a stalemate. Right now, the legislature was only able to reach an agreement to pay for government operations through the fall. The Republican Majority needs some Democratic support to get access to the state’s rainy day fund, but the House Democratic Minority has made Medicaid expansion a condition of their vote.
“It’s an impasse,” said Millett. “A lot of times, when you’re negotiating contracts, what do you do, Mr. Speaker? You take a break, right? Take a break. Cool off. And so, what we’re asking to do is not take a break, but we’re asking to change the conversation from here to Anchorage, or on the road system somewhere where we can all talk about what’s happening.”
The divide on the recess resolution broke on caucus lines. Some Republicans noted that construction was being done on the Capitol building, making for less than ideal working conditions. With heavy machinery beeping in the background, Juneau Democrat Sam Kito said that the city had other venues available if needed. He added that lawmakers should be able to reach an agreement on a budget if they just stick around a little longer.
“I think we are down to the last couple of items in negotiations for the operating budget,” said Kito. “I don’t think that we need to take any kind of a roadshow out there right now.”
But Rep. Bennie Nageak, a Barrow Democrat who caucuses with the Republican majority, emphatically disputed that. Since Nageak is not in leadership or on the finance committee, he says he’s had to miss part of whaling season all to sit on the sidelines.
“We’ve been here for a few days. Nobody’s budging, and nothing is being done,” said Nageak. “And right now, in my hometown, and all along the coast, from Barrow to Point Hope, they’re doing a thing that we’ve been doing generation upon generation. And I’m missing that.
The resolution passed 24 to 13 in the House, and 15 to 5 in the Senate.
In a press conference, Gov. Bill Walker said he would not take further action on the session’s location. He did, however, say he was disappointed.
“I’m disappointed so many are leaving at a time I think we are so close to a resolution,” said Walker
Walker noted that if the state does not manage to pass a fully funded budget that pays for government for the whole year, Alaska’s credit rating could be at risk.
Even rural communities that have raised the money to build modern sanitation systems face the threat of their ultimate failure due to the lack of funding for operations and maintenance, wiping away whatever health gains were achieved.
The Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation Environmental Health and Engineering Department provides technical assistance to water treatment plant operators in the region. Here’s a bit of the conversation during a recent teleconference.
“I don’t know if any of them are working,” said one of the operators. A YKHC employee replied, “Yeah, it’s just that temperature sensor on … “
One of the issues that comes up is the lack of funding for minor repairs.
“If we could spend a thousand dollars to save 24, that’d be great,” the conversation continued.
Big savings could be achieved by cutting energy use – 40 percent of operating costs.
Kwethluk, also in southwest Alaska, is getting a new piped water and sewer system. At the new Kwethluk water plant, YKHC Remote Maintenance Worker Bob White says new boilers used to heat water there use about half as much fuel as older ones, but he says they’re out of reach for many villages.
“Sometimes they just don’t have the cash to make the jump to buy into the new equipment, to buy the new controls,” said White. “This thing has a little computerized control that automatically has turned the boiler temperature down because it’s warmer out today.”
Back in 1995 the southwest Alaska village of Tuntutuliak got a new water and sewer system too. Villagers saw dozens of homes fitted with tanks to store water and waste. Workers could deliver water and pick up sewage in tanks hauled by snow-machines or ATVs.
But resident Robert Enoch says water delivery stopped a few years ago.
“The water delivery vehicles, the haul tanks, don’t work anymore. The only thing that works is the sewer haul, the pump-out systems.”
That leaves villagers hauling water or ice for household use… and cutting back to less water use than needed for the frequent hand washing needed to prevent the spread of viruses and bacteria.
Labor makes up 44 percent of operating costs so the village hired only part-time workers. It charged people about five percent of the median household income. In some villages fees are as much as seven percent. Urban Alaskans pay less than one percent. But without the economies of scale that come with larger populations, the village couldn’t replace equipment.
And rural systems are aging out. Gavin Dixon is Rural Energy Project Manager for the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. Speaking to legislators from rural Alaska, he said the average age of rural water plants is 23 years, more than their expected design life of 20 years.
“A lot of these systems are already at the end of their useful life,” said Dixon. “There’s some of these plant operators that don’t even want to open or close a valve because of the fear it could result in a catastrophic issue there.”
YKHC Environmental Health and Engineering Director Brian Lefferts says the state government already supports energy, communications, and infrastructure. The only public utility, he says, that isn’t subsidized is water and sewer.
“If we had something like power cost equalization for sanitation,” said Lefferts, “where people could pay rates similar to what they pay on the road system or in the rail belt communities. We’d have a lot more systems that are online and not struggling with the problems that they have now.”
The state has long shared oil revenues with municipalities, and in many small towns and villages, those revenues make up the lion’s share of local budgets. But with the price of oil half what it was a year ago, legislators have taken steps to end the municipal revenue sharing program that got its start in 1970, further reducing available funds for water and sewer operations and maintenance.
There’s got to be a better way. We’ll hear about some proposed alternatives in the next segment of “Kick the Bucket.”
The Alaska State Troopers say that both men involved in an overnight shooting on April 18 have died.
Troopers say that 57-year-old Billy Kidd of Willow died of his injuries in an Anchorage hospital. Previously, Kidd had been listed in critical condition. The other man, 33-year-old Andre Lafrance died at the scene of the incident, and was identified shortly thereafter.
According to the Trooper report, Kidd called 911 shortly before 1:00 am on Saturday, April 18, and reported that he had just killed someone.
It took Troopers hours to find the scene in the Montana Creek area by using information from Kidd’s cell provider. When they arrived, Lafrance was deceased, and Kidd was in critical condition. Based on the investigation so far, Troopers believe that Kidd shot and killed Lafrance, then shot himself.
No information on events leading up to the shooting has been released as of Thursday morning.
Troopers say that the next of kin for both Billy Kidd and Andre Lafrance have been notified.
It’s been four decades since Bethel had a liquor store, and for now that status will continue. The Bethel City Council voted Tuesday to protest two liquor store license applications from the Bethel Native Corporation’s Bethel Spirits and the Alaska Commercial Company. The debate now leaves city hall as citizens gear up for a new advisory vote.
Council members cited the loud public outcry against having easier access to alcohol, a five-year-old public vote, as well as violations or possible violations of rules against being too close to churches and schools. When the debate entered the weeds, Council member Chuck Herman added a line to the resolution saying the exact distance not the issue.
“I just want to make it very clear our protest stands based us as a community being opposed to it, and not based on any technical violations,” said Herman.
The vote was 4 to 3. Herman, along with council members Fansler, Albertson, and Springer voted to protest the BNC application. All but mayor Rick Robb voted to protest the AC store, which is located across the street from two churches.
The state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control board will take up applications this July. They are required to honor protests from governing bodies unless they are found to be arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable.
Bethel Native Corporation President and CEO Ana Hoffman insisted the proposed store is legally situated, and argued that what Bethel has now is not working.
“The presence of illegal sales is undeniable and not a cent of the sales is taxed. We have quite possibly created the most unhealthy environment imaginable. Unlimited importation and no mechanism for legal sales. Allowing for the issuance of a liquor license enhances control and regulation over the current system of chaos,” said Hoffman.
As Bethel is wet, any business can apply for a license and people can import as much as they want. More than five years since the last advisory vote on liquor sales the council will ask again in October. That’s the guidance that council member Zach Fansler wants.
“I think the proper form for the pulse is what we have before us, the democracy we have is a vote. I think it’s important that we go forth right now with the information we have now and protest, and let the people empower themselves, make their decision as a community and move forward from that point when we find out what the people want,” said Fansler.
Last time, in 2010, citizens rejected the idea of five types of liquor licenses, with 63 percent opposed and 37 percent in favor of a liquor store. The most popular option was a city-run store, which is not feasibly with Bethel’s current status. The vote this fall will not ask that question, but it will ask citizens to approve a 12 percent alcohol tax.
Mayor Rick Robb supports local sales and said the recent widespread vocal opposition may not be fully representative.
“Whatever happens, I think a lot more people are going to vote for some form of legal sales than they did five years ago,” said Robb.
Robb and the council will have their answer when the public votes on October 6th.
Alaska’s public broadcasters dodged a bullet when the legislature’s regular session ended Monday.
House and Senate negotiators decided on a 23.5 percent budget reduction. A proposed cut more than twice that size could have forced at least five stations off the air. It also would have dramatically reduced programming at other outlets.
Officials say cutting almost a quarter of stations’ state appropriations will have significant impacts.
Tom Abbott, general manager of Petersburg’s KFSK-FM, says he expects to maintain local staff and programming.
“We’re going to stick with our mission, [and] that first and foremost is our local service. That will direct us toward loss of network programing. And that, of course, will be noticeable, it will be significant, it will be some favorite programs,” he says.
Other stations throughout Alaska face similar challenges. The state helps fund about 25 radio and three TV operations.
Stations also receive financial support through memberships, underwriting, fund-raisers and grants.
KFSK’s Abbott says he hopes to raise more money locally. But he worries that could be difficult when popular shows are cut.
“I would hope that that is minimal. And that people will understand the situation that we’re in and that keeping the local system intact is our priority. Network programming can come back. Personnel can’t, necessarily,” he says.
Abbott says his station will hold community meetings to discuss its budget plans.
At one point, the Senate proposed a 60 percent funding cut, which would have ended local service at some smaller stations.
Alaska Public Broadcasting Commission member Brenda Hewitt, in an earlier interview, said those stations provide an essential service.
“We could listen to national news and we could know what was happening in the nation. But you wouldn’t know what’s happening locally. Or if you cut out state broadcasting you don’t know what’s happening in the state,” she said.
The legislature’s final budget eliminated earlier language directing state money toward smaller, rural stations