The Division of Elections has rejected a petition calling for the recall of Anchorage Rep. Lindsey Holmes.
While the recall group exceeded the number of signatures required by the state, state attorneys weren’t compelled by their legal reasoning for removing Holmes from office. The group needed to prove that Holmes showed a “lack of fitness” for office, and they argued that Holmes violated a compact with voters when she changed her party affiliation to Republican not long after her election.
The recall group plans to file an appeal of the decision. There has never been a successful recall of an Alaska legislator.
Representative Bob Herron is being cited for ethics violations, dating back to when he was first elected to the Legislature in 2009.
The House ethics committee found that Herron knowingly withheld “sufficient detail” on his business ventures with another legislator – Senator Lyman Hoffman.
Herron and Hoffman both represent Western Alaska, and they co-own a school bus company in the Bethel area. Golden Eagle Unlimited has a $930,000 contract with the Lower Kuskokwim School District to transport students.
According to ethics law, any time a legislator has a contract with the state that’s worth more than $5,000, they have to report it. The school district is considered a unit of the state.
The ethics board ruled that Herron knowingly left the contract out of his financial disclosures. The Senate ethics committee made a similar ruling on Herron’s business partner, Senator Hoffman, in November.
The House ethics board spent the past year digging through Herron’s financial filings and conducting interviews. They found that Herron also failed to report the seats he held on the boards of corporations since he was elected. And the board dismissed two other complaints against him.
Herron was in Unalaska this week to attend a community event and hold a public listening session at his legislative office. He declined to comment on the ethics violations. But he did hand off a written statement to KUCB.
It read, “I have never knowingly filed a false, misleading or incomplete disclosure statement.”It went on to say that Herron will comply with the corrective actions the committee laid out and follow the filing requirements. The House ethics committee isn’t going to fine Herron at this point. But the Alaska Public Offices Commission has levied a $7,500 penalty against Herron.
A national commission blames the state of Alaska for the epidemic of violence afflicting Alaska Natives, and has come up with a series of recommendations to strengthen tribal jurisdiction. The state Attorney General agrees there’s a public safety problem, but says the Commission’s solutions aren’t suited to Alaska.
The final piece of steel in the University of Alaska Anchorage’s new engineering building was put into place today. It marks the beginning of the end for a decade of vast expansion at the university.
A light drizzle fell on the audience as a crane lifted the final piece to the top of the four-story structure.
The Christmas tree-clad beam, adorned with signatures of most of the onlookers slid smoothly into place with the help of a couple iron workers.
The new Engineering and Industry Building will provide some much needed space for a program that has expanded by 1,000 students since the year 2000.
According to Chris Turletes, the Associate Chancellor for Facilities and Campus Services at UAA, the $78 million building’s new labs and classrooms will be unusual.
“We['re] building the building with a theme of engineering on display,” Turletes said. “So, you’ll be able to see from other parts of the building what’s going on in the labs and what’s going on in some of the classrooms.”
The building is a piece of a three-part project which also includes renovating and updating the current engineering building and adding a parking garage.
This project is the latest – and likely last – in a busy decade of expansion at UAA, which has seen the expansion of the school’s library, the construction of the new Health Sciences Building, ConocoPhillips Science Building, the Alaska Airlines Sports Center and a few other projects.
But, with the school anticipating decreasing state funding in the future, the trend of expansion isn’t likely to continue.
“In general, I think it’s safe to say that we’re not going to be in a robust budget environment over the next few years,” UAA Chancellor Tom Case said. “So, right not the emphasis is on finishing up those things that have gotten started; do the deferred maintenance that we can because delaying deferred maintenance just adds to the problem in future years.”
Also on the docket are upgrades for the older buildings on campus – some of which are approaching the half century mark.
The Engineering and Industry building is expected to be complete before the start of the Fall 2015 semester.
Late last month, residents of Savoonga and Gambell on St. Lawrence Island began finding hundreds of dead seabirds as they washed ashore.
This week, state officials said the event was from a common disease, and is no cause for concern.
On Wednesday, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game said in a press release that tests showed the birds died from Avian Cholera – which is a lot less terrifying than it sounds.
“Avian Cholera is not related to the disease Cholera that affects humans,” Cathie Harms, a wildlife biologist with ADF&G, said. “It is only a disease of birds; it’s relatively common around the rest of the world.”
“The unusual thing is that Avian Cholera had not been detected in Alaska before; it had been found in Canada, but this is the first time we’ve found it in Alaska.”
She says even with a large die-off like the one recently seen off St. Lawrence Island, it’s a relatively natural event.
“We had heard that people had concerns of why birds were dying and appearing on the beach,” Harms said. “The good news is although birds died, it’s not something that can hurt people and it isn’t related to the environment or other issues – it is just an outbreak.”
“These outbreaks tend to run their course in a relatively short period of time and in fact we are hearing fewer reports of dead birds as the days go on.”
The Department of Fish and Game recommends putting the carcasses in vented metal oil drums. That way the carcasses can decompose without causing any more illness to spread to scavengers or other animals.
A deadly virus transmitted by ticks is on the rise, and researchers are studying its prevalence in Alaska. The Center for Disease Control recently published a study on the Powassan virus in the Western United States and Siberia.
The controversial Ambler Road was the focus of the Western Arctic Caribou Herd Working Group meeting in Anchorage on Thursday.
This week, we’re heading to Whale Pass, a small community on Prince of Wales Island. Bob Meyer lives in Whale Pass.
In 2003, a Sitka couple proposed creating a bear rescue center from the remains of the town’s decommissioned pulp mill – a plan that raised some local hackles.
Ten years later, the Fortress of the Bear is home to five brown bears and two new black bear cubs – and it has converted some skeptics, including a local biologist.
Les Kinnear may sound like he’s talking to a toddler
“Put your foot here. Huh? Baloo, foot! Foot! No? Ok,” he said.
But Baloo is an 800 pound brown bear
“You’re not listening, huh. Ok,” Kinnear laughs.
Kinnear runs Sitka’s Fortress of the Bear with his wife, Evy. He’s standing nose to snout with Baloo, a 4-year-old, 7-foot-tall brown bear, separated by only a couple inches and a metal grate door.
Kinnear was a hunting guide for years, hunting bears along with other big game. Now, he and his wife take care of seven bears in the remains of Sitka’s old pulp mill. All of the bears arrived as orphaned cubs that would otherwise have been euthanized.
“All you gotta do is have one of those little bears sit there and lick your hand, and you know the answer to that, that’s simple,” Kinnear said when asked why he started the Fortress.
The old pulp mill’s two giant clarifying tanks have been converted into bear pens, with high concrete walls.
Waldholz: It has kind of a post-apocalyptic feel in here.
Kinnear: Yes, it does.
It’s not just the bear pens. All the facility’s buildings were salvaged from the pulp mill or hauled over second-hand. Everything is rusty. There are piles of tires, sacks of supplies. A flock of assorted poultry roams around.
It’s a scrappy operation.
When the Fortress was first proposed in 2003, a lot of Sitkans weren’t thrilled.
“We have one of the highest known density of brown bears in the world – in the world!” Phil Mooney, the regional wildlife biologist for the Department of Fish and Game said. “So people were saying, why would you put a zoo here. “
He was skeptical at first. And he wasn’t the only one.
“Letters went to the governor; it was pretty divisive in the beginning,” Mooney said. “There was a big campaign to keep our bears wild, that people come here to see wild bears, not zoo bears.”
“There was a lot of really strong emotional response.”
But Mooney has since changed his mind. He remembers a delegation visiting from the Bronx Zoo. One of the women kept saying how impressed she was with the facility.
“And she turned to me and said, ‘you’re missing it because you’re thinking about this facility as a person. You have issues with the aesthetics of it. The bears don’t care about the aesthetics. They care that they have ¾ of an acre in there and they can dig, and do anything they want, like a real bear would,’” Mooney said.
But what really made Mooney a believer was when the Kinnears invited Sitka’s 3rd through 5th graders out to the Fortress. The Kinnears pitched two tents in the bear enclosure. Inside each was a sleeping bag with a hot dog in the bottom.
“And I’m standing in the back, just watching. And the bear ran straight over to the tents, slit the fabric, pull out the hotdogs and held them up…and the kids were like, I’m never taking food in my tent again,” Mooney said.
Mooney was impressed. He spends a lot of his time on bear education, trying to train people to avoid the kinds of interactions that lead to dead bears and orphaned cubs – trying to avoid, in fact, the kind of situation that brought these bears to the Fortress in the first place.
“This is Kilsnoo If you hold the mic up here you can probably hear them breathe,” Kinnear said.
Kilsnoo was the Fortress’s first bear. Mooney captured him in the summer of 2007, after the cub’s mother was shot trying to enter a lodge near Angoon.
“He was malnourished, dehydrated, terrified, traumatized, he had all the hair burned off his front paws clear to the shoulders, a belly full of tapeworms, a mouth full of broken teeth,” Kinnear said.
Kinnear says he understands why some folks object to the idea of the Fortress – in an ideal world brown bears shouldn’t live in old clarifying tanks.
His grand vision for the Fortress is much more ambitious. He wants to expand the habitats and eventually start rehabilitating bear cubs to return to the wild. This has been done in British Columbia and the Lower 48, but isn’t permitted in Alaska.
“We aren’t going to save a lot of bears,” Kinnear said. “We’ve only done a dozen in the last 10 years.”
“Some of the other places around the country where they process and release, they’re into the hundreds.”
Mooney says releasing bears isn’t likely any time soon, but he says the Fortress has a role even without that. He thinks these bears in captivity might turn out to be some of his best tools for keeping the rest of Sitka’s bears wild
Robin Gattis, the 20 year old son of state legislator Lynne Gattis, faced federal judge Ralph Biestline in court, in a sentencing hearing that stretched for hours, as a packed court-room listened to often tearful impact statements from Deborah Hurd and Dan Scott, the parents of Matt Scott, who died of a methylone overdose in April of last year. Matt Scott was the first in the state to die from using the drug. Hurd carried a picture of her son and a box containing his ashes into the courtroom.
Federal prosecutors had pushed for a twenty year sentence and a one million dollar fine. Assistant US Attorney Tom Bradley asked for the maximum, saying Robin Gattis had a lead role in a conspiracy to import methylone from China and distribute it to minors. Tom Bradley:
“I think it was a very fair sentence. In a case like this, you can never really get justice, because there is nothing the court can do to bring back Matt Scott. So, he (Judge Beistline) felt that that was enough time to punish him and deter others without it being too long. Gattis is young, and perhaps when he emerges after his sixteen year prison term, he’ll still be young enough to turn his life around.”
Gattis was arrested by state authorities in early 2012, for dealing the drug, but the case was dismissed because methylone was not illegal under state law at that time. But methylone was illegal under federal law, and Gattis continued to import the drug, catching the attention of customs officials who had tagged at least three packages shipped to Alaska to addresses of friends of Gattis. One of those friends, Shane O’Hare told the court Thursday that he received packages for Gattis at a Meadow Lakes address. Other packages were shipped to the Kenai Peninsula. When Matt Scott died, federal prosecutors stepped in. Gattis was arrested on the Kenai and charged in August, 2012 and on further investigation, a total of seven young men were charged with conspiracy and the death of Matthew Scott. All other defendents have pled guilty.
Debbie Hurd, Matt Scott’s mother, said afterwards that she had to be content with the judge’s decision
“I’m glad everybody was here for my son.. I still go back to the fact that, who does that? The day after my son dies, asks for his money back and then thanks the supplier. Right? Who does that ? And who faces off on their Facebook saying, ‘ just another day in the life of Robin Gattis’. I mean, come on, you can’t get by that fact. I think the judge was pretty good. And I liked how he said ‘ what would Matt do, what would Matt do if this happened?’ So I did think the judge was good. “
Hurd referred to an email Robin Gattis sent to his Chinese supplier the day after Matt Scott’s death, asking for his money back. Prosecutors used the email and Facebook postings Gattis had authored in their case against him. Robin Gattis told the court that he didn’t send the email, that someone who had stolen his password had done it. But there was no denying the fact that Robin Gattis did not call 911 when he realized Matt Scott was dying. Shane O’Hare told the court that Gattis had texted him as Scott went into overdose, asking what to do.
Hurd came to court supported by a group of more than a dozen young people, all friends of Matt Scott. Kyle Huntington is one of them
“It probably could have been more, but it is better than the ten [years] that what they were looking for. And then, at least he’ll have some time in there to think about what all has happened. And then it is good that they want to put him in rehabilitation and therapy and all that. “
Judge Beistline did not impose the fine prosecutors had asked for. The judge said he wanted to issue a sentence that would deter others, and send a message to young people. Robin Gattis will spend sixteen years in federal Sheraton prison in Oregon, and will recieve 500 hours of drug and alcohol counseling.
After the proceedings, Representative Lynn Gattis said that her son had a long history of defiance and family conflict. She said she and her husband had done what the could for him, including homeschooling and a stint at NorthStar Behaviorial Health Care. “We knew we had a kid that wasn’t listening” she told reporters. “There’s a whole bunch of people out there that are going through this.”
Alaskans have always enjoyed and defended their fish. We love our clam beaches, most of us oppose fish farming and many of us have our own special recipes not only for cooking, but preserving salmon and other fish. Alaska’s remoteness has helped to protect its fisheries, but in more populated parts of the world, small-scale local fisheries are threatened by habitat degradation and outside-owned fleets.
HOST: Steve Heimel, Alaska Public Radio Network
- Michele Mesmain, Slow Fish Campaign Director, Slow Food International
- Callers Statewide
- Post your comment before, during or after the live broadcast (comments may be read on air).
- Send e-mail to talk [at] alaskapublic [dot] org (comments may be read on air)
- Call 550-8422 in Anchorage or 1-800-478-8255 if you’re outside Anchorage during the live broadcast
LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, December 10, 2013 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.
A Bethel man is in custody for allegedly beating his two-year-old son.
Police were called to a Bethel home early on a morning last week and found the toddler with visible facial wounds and a broken clavicle that would require medevac to Anchorage.
Police say the child was thrown on the ground and kicked multiple times by Maurice Andrews Sr., 30. A strong odor of alcohol was noticed on Andrews at the time of his arrest.
Andrews was arraigned on a felony charge of assaulting a child under the age of ten. Bail was set at $5,000.
Molly, bath salts – the names refer to the designer drug, methylone. Thursday, methylone dealer Robin Gattis was handed down a 16 year sentence in federal court in Anchorage in what is apparently the first case in the country involving a death from the drug.
The state was already looking at deficit spending even before Wednesday’s revenue forecast came out, but now Alaska is facing a $2 billion budget shortfall. The governor also wants to put $3 billion toward paying off the state’s unfunded pension liabilities. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports that lawmakers plan to cover the gap with a mix of cuts and savings withdrawals.
With Gov. Sean Parnell’s budget due out next week, there’s plenty of speculation over what exactly will be in it. The safest guess seems to be red ink.
“I think that you will see reductions in all components of the budget,” says Karen Rehfeld, director of the Office of Management and Budget.
Rehfeld’s staff is now putting the finishing touches on the document. She says they’ve been scrutinizing agency costs and prioritizing capital projects that are already in the works instead of starting new ones. The goal is to spend less than last year.
But there is one spot where the governor would like to invest a lot of money. He wants to move $3 billion from the state’s budget reserves into the retirement trust funds as a way of shrinking the cost of Alaska’s pension system down the road.
“The unfunded liability and the payment that we make on behalf of governments and school districts really is the single largest operating budget cost driver we have,” says Rehfeld.
So, with a $2 billion shortfall, $3 billion toward unfunded liabilities, and a lot of mega-projects in the works, that doesn’t leave the Legislature with much wiggle room in adjusting the budget.
Fairbanks Republican Pete Kelly co-chairs the Senate’s finance committee, and he says legislators are still figuring out how much of their own cuts they want to make and how much they want to pull from savings. He says some draws on the state’s reserves are inevitable.
“Well, you know, you’re going to have to have some savings withdrawal. There’s no question. You can’t make up that kind of a shortfall in one chunk,” says Kelly. “That would throw the state into a serious mess, and we don’t need to complicate our economic picture right now by just drastic government reductions and layoffs that would come from that.”
Kelly says he would like those withdrawals to come from the state’s $12-billion constitutional budget reserves fund, which requires approval from three-quarters of the Legislature. The Legislature would not need a supermajority if they wanted to pull from the $5 billion in the statutory budget reserve account.
In terms of cuts, Kelly’s preference is to focus on operating costs before scaling back on capital projects. He says the state still has an obligation to put money toward developing a gasline, even if it means voting to use the state’s constitutional budget reserves. But he thinks there are other major projects, like the Susitna Hydro project, that could be dialed back.
“The other projects like Susitna, I don’t know,” says Kelly. “I don’t know how full speed ahead we need to go on that.”
There’s some agreement from Democrats on that front. Anchorage Democrat Les Gara serves on the House Finance Committee, and he says that while the state should keep working toward a gas project, other big-ticket items like the proposed Knik Arm Bridge shouldn’t get funding when the state’s in belt-tightening mode. Instead, Gara thinks state revenue should first be spent on things like schools and staffing the Office of Children’s Services.
Gara thinks the governor is responsible for the current fiscal situation. He says that Parnell committed to too many expensive projects in the past, and that the problem has been compounded by the oil tax overhaul that the administration pushed for.
“He can’t keep spending money on everything in the world,” says Gara. “We need to spend things on core services, like improving education instead of damaging it like he’s done the last three years.”
No matter what, some choices will have to be made on where to pull back. The state has a good cushion — about $17 billion in savings — but that can only last so long unless revenue prospects look better. OMB Director Karen Rehfeld is optimistic that will happen under the new tax law and that oil production will turn around. She thinks that Alaska can improve its budget outlook before lawmakers have to consider other sources of revenue, like an income tax or using the Permanent Fund as a back stop.
“Before we have those conversations, Alaskans really have to be comfortable with what services they expect government to provide and how much state funding they believe should be available to communities and community projects,” says Rehfeld.
And that’s expected to spark some hard conversations in their own right.
In another sign of how climate change is transforming the Arctic, a Toronto-based company is planning to lay a fiber-optic cable through Canada’s Northwest Passage.
The aim is to build a better broadband link between London and Tokyo, but the company says it will also deliver high-speed internet to the Arctic Slope and Western Alaska.
Arctic Fibre says it’s investing more than $600 million in the main line. It will run nearly 10,000 miles, with smaller branches shooting off to communities on Alaska’s coast.
Its Alaska partner is Quintillion Networks. CEO Elizabeth Pierce says the project will bring cheaper, faster internet to places that now connect to the web by satellite or microwave.
“So the spurs into Alaska will go into Prudhoe Bay, Barrow, Wainwright, Point Hope, Kotzebue, Nome, and we’re working on the business case to build into Unalaska,” Pierce said.
Arctic Fibre hopes to finish its marine survey to confirm the exact route next summer. The company says it has most of its financing and some of its permits already in hand. Pierce says the one- or two- inch cable is expected to be placed in 2015.
“In shallow areas, like around the coast of Alaska, the cable will be trenched into or buried into the sea floor, and in the ocean depths it will just lie on the ocean floor,” Pierce said.
Pierce says they’re talking to the Pentagon about serving the radar station at Shemya, which is part of the missile defense network, and they hope the cable will also support the Pentagon’s new Arctic strategy in the years ahead.
It’s the kind of project that was unthinkable a generation ago, Pierce says.
“We’re planning to build through areas that are now ice free for at least part of the season that in past years the ice never went out, or went out of any significance, so definitely climate change and the recession of ice in the north has made this project possible,” Pierce said.
A planned fiber optic line would also run between Prudhoe and Fairbanks, which Pierce says would enhance service for the Railbelt by providing an alternate data route.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management received comments this week on the proposed 2016 lease sale for the Chukchi Sea.
Unlike lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico, new Arctic lease sales are targeted – certain areas may not be up for auction.
In a conference room filled with binders of data and shelves of books, the Audubon Society’s science director, Melanie Smith, flips through a 125-page document.
“So what we have are a set of 36 maps,” she said.
They make up the meat of the organization’s comments to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management regarding the proposed lease sale. It’s a compilation of everything the scientific community knows about the Chukchi Sea.
She goes through the map that shows which areas Audubon, Oceana, and other conservation organizations think should not be sold for oil and gas development.
“When you get to Ledyard Bay,” Smith said, pointing at an area south of Point Lay. “You have, for example, critical habitat for spectacled eiders. You have bowhead and beluga whales migrating through in the spring that cut this corner.”
Other areas offer critical habitat for polar bears. The Hanna Shoal is an essential walrus haul out because the ice melts there last. Audubon’s proposed restricted areas overlap with about one-quarter of the areas the federal agency thinks has the highest resource potential. It also overlaps with areas set aside by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
Smith said her organization does not want to see any drilling in the Arctic, but if BOEM does go ahead with a sale, these areas as the most essential for protection.
“If a spill were to happen, and you were already inside the important place, you’re affecting it as soon as a spill starts,” she explained. “If a spill happens outside of the important place, you do have a little bit of buffer time for a response.”
Smith says that’s why they provided such extensive information to BOEM – so they could make informed decisions.
But Alaska Oil and Gas Association and other industry groups had the opposite reaction to the agency’s Call for Information. The agency had asked the industry to highlight areas they thought were especially promising for development. AOGA’s regulatory and legal affairs manager, Joshua Kindred, said BOEM already has all of the information that’s available to the industry, so they shouldn’t ask for more.
“What they’re asking industry to do is engage in resources from both a financial and temporal standpoint in an area that may not be up for lease,” he said. “And that’s somewhat counter intuitive.”
Kindred said that the industry wants the entire area open for leasing, not just certain blocks.
“By doing this, you’re going to diminish the interest in that area,” he said.
Without providing any benefits, “Targeting leasing doesn’t offer any more protection to the environment than area-wide leasing,” he said.
And on this point, the industry and some environmental groups agree.
“If there’s a spill, you cannot control where it goes,” Charles Clusen, who leads the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Alaska program, said. “It will go where the currents and the wind take it. So simply by keeping the oil drilling out of the most sensitive areas does not ensure that they will be protected.”
Clusen argued the Arctic should not be opened for any drilling, especially after Shell’s mishaps in 2012. He said allowing it would exacerbate climate change.
“A lot of soot is released in the drilling process. It’s also called black carbon. And when that lands on the snow, the ice, or even the water, it makes it darker,” Clusen said. “That means it absorbs more sunlight and that melts more of the ice.”
Environmental groups are not the only ones opposing the sale. Fifty-nine Congressional representatives sent a letter to the Interior Secretary calling to stop all new lease sales and oil and gas exploration in the Arctic. They also want an overhaul of Arctic drilling regulations.
BOEM will now review all 30 comments submitted to the agency before determining which, if any, blocks will be included in a future sale.
A court decision has re-affirmed National Park Service authority to regulate state owned rivers flowing through federal lands. The ruling is in a case that spurred public outcry about park service law enforcement.
Wednesday, three members of the Indian Law and Order Commission spoke at the Bureau of Indian Affairs Providers’ Conference to describe the findings of their report to Congress and the President, a report that singles out Alaska for criticism.
Half the community of Savoonga flocked to the beach Tuesday to help haul a 55-foot bowhead whale ashore. The meat is especially welcome in the village because of an economic crisis after a record low walrus harvest this fall.
Fairbanks educator and former state legislator Niilo Koponen passed away Tuesday of natural causes, according to the family’s website.