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Get Alaska statewide news from the stations of the Alaska Public Radio Network (APRN). With a central news room in Anchorage and contributing reporters spread across the state, we capture news in the Voices of Alaska and share it with the world. Tune in to your local APRN station in Alaska, visit us online at APRN.ORG or subscribe to the Alaska News podcast right here. These are individual news stories, most of which appear in Alaska News Nightly (available as a separate podcast).
Updated: 1 min 23 sec ago

How Will Legal Marijuana Work In Rural Alaska?

Fri, 2014-11-07 17:06

Early next year, Alaskans will be able to legally buy, transport, and use small amounts of marijuana. The initiative will not be law until three months after the vote is certified, and the state has more time to come up with rules for marijuana sales.

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In the meantime, there are still many questions about how legal marijuana would work in rural Alaska. Municipalities have the option to ban the sale of marijuana, but they can’t restrict transportation or possession. The campaign to oppose marijuana had its base in rural Alaska, and named Akiak’s Mike Williams as its chairman. He says he’s disappointed in the results.

“The villages need to take a look at what they can do, at the local level, the tribal level, and continue to pursue making sure that our communities are healthy,” Williams said.

Many questions remain on the law enforcement aspect of legal marijuana, but it’s clear that Alaska’s large rivers remain under federal law, which prohibits marijuana.

Chief Petty Officer Kip Wadlow, a Coast Guard spokesperson, says his agency’s crews are responsible for federal navigable waterways, including the transportation corridors of the Kuskowkim and Yukon rivers.

“They are federal law enforcement agents so if they encounter people who are in violation of federal drug laws, we do have the authority to seize the illegal drug and possibly take that person into custody depending on the amount and what the situation was,” Wadlow said.

The Coast Guard would follow up with other law enforcement. Wadlow emphasizes that the Coast Guard’s other top concern is making sure people are not boating under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

The law doesn’t restrict employers’ ability to outlaw drug use. Williams says that’s a tool that may expand in the coming months.

“Maybe it would be time for mandatory drug testing to all of the employees in schools and community organizations,” Williams said.

Bethel voters were split on the vote to legalize the possession and use of marijuana, with 52 percent voting against legalization, and 48 percent for the ballot measure. It passed statewide with those percentages flipped: 52 percent for, and 48 percent against.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Miners Association Convention Held In Anchorage

Fri, 2014-11-07 17:05

The Alaska Miner’s Association annual convention has been going on all week in Anchorage. Coinciding with the AMA’s 75th year, is the 25th anniversary of Kotzebue’s Red Dog Mine.

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The success of Red Dog did not come easy, according to NANA Regional Corporation CEO Marie Greene, who was Friday’s keynote speaker. Green said NANA is uniquely positioned to meet development needs of the future.

“Northwest Alaska has many of the minerals that the world will need in the future, and the world is looking North,” Green said. “Climate change, open ocean shipping routes, potential existing mineral development and off shore oil and gas exploration and development are drawing global attention.”

Green says it all began with Red Dog, the mine developed in partnership with Teck – Cominco, but getting the mine started was a long, difficult process. When mining giant Cominco found zinc in the region in 1980, there was opposition to a large scale mine. Lawsuits and counter suits followed, but Alaska Native land claims under new federal legislation enabled NANA to select the lands where the mine is now located.

Since it’s start in 1989, Red Dog mine has provided $1 billion in proceeds to NANA, $608 million to other regions and $199 million to shareholders.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Chenault Extends Record As House Speaker

Fri, 2014-11-07 17:04

Nikiski Republican Mike Chenault will serve his fourth term as House Speaker in the Alaska State Legislature. That will make him the longest serving speaker in legislative history.

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At a press conference on Friday, Chenault stressed that advancing the development of a gasline is a major goal for the Republican majority in the House. He also said he would be willing to work with unaffiliated candidate Bill Walker, should Walker’s lead in the governor’s race hold.

“No one wants to be adversarial to start with,” said Chenault. “I think that what we will do is wait until it’s determined who are next governor is going to be, and then we will have those conversations about what directions the state should go.”

Chenault and Walker have in the past disagreed on where a gasline should end, what stake the state should have in it, and if the state should pursue the development of a small-diameter bullet line as backup plan should a deal to build a bigger line fall apart.

Chenault also said the state of the budget will be driving a lot of the Legislature’s work this spring. With the price of oil down substantially, a major revenue shortfall is expected.

Chenault said a draw from savings is likely, and that the majority could have to win over some support from the small Democratic minority to get the votes necessary to tap the constitutional budget reserve.

“If that happens to be the case and we end up in a position because of the price of a barrel of oil or the revenue stream, and we’ve got to go to the [constitutional budget reserve], then we’ll negotiate with the minority over what it’s going to take to be able to fund Alaska’s budget,” said Chenault.

The Democratic minorities in the House and Senate have also selected their leaders. Anchorage Democrat Berta Gardner will lead the Senate minority.

“We are happy to work with anybody on any issue whether they’re in our caucus or not in our caucus,” said Gardner in an interview. She added that she expects her caucus to have more access to the executive branch should Walker win election.

Anchorage Democrat Chris Tuck will again lead the House minority caucus.

Categories: Alaska News

UA President Warns Regents About Budget

Fri, 2014-11-07 17:04

The University of Alaska Board of Regents has passed a budget for next year, but there’s concern about state funding.

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Categories: Alaska News

Crews Troubleshoot Bethel’s Pool Sprinkler System

Fri, 2014-11-07 17:03

There’s no timeline for reopening the $24 million Bethel pool, which closed right after the grand opening this past Saturday due to a sprinkler system issue.

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Acting City Manager Pete Williams says the city wants to have experts look at the system, in light of the recent devastating fire at the new Alcohol Treatment center.

Bethel residents enjoy the new pool. (Photo by Ben Matheson / KYUK)

“As we speak they are trying to determine what the problem is, until they can determine what it is and what’s needed for the fix, it’s hard to give a timeline of when it will be open again,” said Williams.

Doug Cobb works for ProDev, the project management firm, and is in Bethel trying to figure out the issue.

“We have pressure at the hydrant and there’s something inconsistent in the building, we have gotten the system to work successfully several times, but to pass that test that has to be done over and over, and over. That’s what we’re troubleshooting,” said Cobb.

Williams says the crews thought they had found the problem Thursday morning, but another issue popped up.

The state Fire Marshall granted the city an exception last Saturday to host the grand opening, even though inspectors the day before found the pressure to run the sprinkler system to be inadequate.

Cobb says a fire sprinkler specialist from the Lower 48 has been consulted in the troubleshooting.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: November 7, 2014

Fri, 2014-11-07 17:03

Stories are posted on the APRN news page. You can subscribe to APRN’s newsfeeds via emailpodcast and RSS. Follow us on Facebook at alaskapublic.org and on Twitter @aprn

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Trial Begins For Man Charged With Killing VPSO Thomas Madole

Dave Bendinger, KDLG – Dillingham

After a lengthy four days to select a jury, opening statements were made this morning in the murder trial of Leroy Dick Jr. at the courthouse in Dillingham.

Bering Sea Storm Hits Aleutian Islands

Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska

After a week of warnings, a heavy-duty storm washed into the Bering Sea early this morning. Hurricane-force winds smacked the far western Aleutian Islands. And while the storm has disturbed life at sea, it’s expected to start losing power fast.

How Will Legal Marijuana Work In Rural Alaska?

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

Early next year, Alaskans will be able to legally buy, transport, and use small amounts of marijuana. The initiative will not be law until three months after the vote is certified, and the state has more time to come up with rules for marijuana sales.

Alaska Miners Association Convention Held In Anchorage

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

The Alaska Miner’s Association annual convention has been going on all week in Anchorage.  Coinciding with the AMA’s 75th year, is the 25th anniversary of Kotzebue’s Red Dog Mine.

Rep. Mike Chenault Tapped For 4th Term As House Speaker

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN

Nikiski Republican Mike Chenault will serve his fourth term as House Speaker in the Alaska State Legislature. That will make him the longest serving speaker in legislative history.

UA President Warns Regents About Budget

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The University of Alaska Board of Regents has passed a budget for next year, but there’s concern about state funding.

Crews Troubleshoot Bethel’s Pool Sprinkler System

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

There’s no timeline for reopening the $24 million Bethel pool, which closed right after the grand opening this past Saturday due to a sprinkler system issue.

Ferry System Limits Solo Travel By Kids, Teenagers

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

The Alaska Marine Highway System will no longer allow children and teen-agers under 18 to travel solo.

AK: High Tech Surgery

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

Surgeons these days have a lot of futuristic tools at their disposal in the operating room. They use robots, high definition cameras and special dyes to help them complete complicated procedures. And you don’t have to travel to big cities in the Lower 48 to find the most up to date technology.

300 Villages: Kivalina

This week, we’re heading to Kivalina on the Chukchi Sea. Stanley Hawley is the Tribal Administrator for the City of Kivalina

 

Categories: Alaska News

Ferry System Limits Solo Travel By Kids, Teenagers

Fri, 2014-11-07 17:03

The Alaska Marine Highway System will no longer allow children and teenagers under 18 to travel solo.

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The current rules place no restrictions on 16- and 17-year-olds. Solo ferry travelers 12 to 15 need a note from a parent or guardian. Kids under 12 must travel with an adult, but it can be anyone.

Spokesman Jeremy Woodrow says the new rules focus on safety.

“We are on large ships, we’re on open ocean. If they’re unsupervised, different accidents could happen, especially if we’re in rough weather,” he says.

The new rules say anyone under 18 must travel with an adult. That adult must be a parent, legal guardian or have notarized authorization from a parent or guardian.

Minors traveling as part of chaperoned youth groups, such as school sports teams, are exempt. So are teens who are married or legally emancipated.

Woodrow says there’s a reason for requiring permission slips to be notarized.

“There have been instances where runaways have been aboard the ferry system. And this prevents a 15- or 16-year-old from forging their parents’ signature and saying, yes, they’re allowed on board,” he says.

He says the rules will also help protect children from being assaulted or abused while on a ferry.

The policies will be enforced beginning Nov. 20.

Woodrow says the rules were changed as part of an ongoing policy review.

“This was one that stood out as being outdated. [It was] time to be renewed and brought up more to current standards and expectations of what travelers expect on a public transportation system,” Woodrow says.

He says no one incident led to the change. But he says the old policy created a risk for children and a potential liability for the ferry system.

Categories: Alaska News

AK: High Tech Surgery

Fri, 2014-11-07 17:02

Dr. Donna Chester operates the da Vinci robot during surgery. (Photo by Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage)

Surgeons these days have a lot of futuristic tools at their disposal in the operating room. They use robots, high definition cameras and special dyes to help them complete complicated procedures. And you don’t have to travel to big cities in the Lower 48 to find the most up to date operating room technology.

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Miranda Studstill is 24 years old. And for the past two years, she’s been in near constant pain.

“It’s just like a searing, stabbing pain. It feels like… your insides are like play dough and somebody’s digging their fingernails into it. It hurts so bad.”

Miranda has endometriosis, a disorder where tissue that usually lines the inside of the uterus, grows outside of it instead. And lately, her life has been dictated by the disease. She’s endured three surgeries so far. When I meet her for the first time in a doctor’s office in East Anchorage, she’s preparing for surgery number four.

Her surgeon, Dr. Donna Chester lays out the plan for the next morning. She is going to remove Miranda’s right ovary and any endometriosis she sees. She’s hoping that will relieve her pain.

Less than 24 hours later, Miranda is under anesthesia on an operating table at Alaska Regional. It’s hard to even see her under a mound of sterile blue drapes. And Dr. Chester is not standing over her. She’s ten feet away- sitting at a console that looks like a high tech video game.

A monitor shows the bright green firefly dye technology in the operating room. (Photo by Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage)

The robot is called a da Vinci. Chester’s hands are on two controls that manipulate robotic instruments inside Studstill. TV screens illuminate what the cameras attached to those instruments are capturing. As Chester moves the controls, the instruments respond, snipping tissue apart that is stuck together. They’re called adhesions, and they can be very painful for patients like Miranda.

Chester doesn’t see much else near the right ovary that is a cause for concern. She pops up from the console:

“Since all that pain was because of that adhesion, I can leave that ovary in, I mean, she’s only 23 I hate to take an ovary out.”

To make sure she’s not missing anything, Dr. Chester uses a new technology called Firefly. It’s a bright green chemical dye that will light up any endometriosis Chester can’t see with the robotic cameras.

“It’s a dye that goes in there, and any area that has endometriosis is more hypervascular and it’s supposed to show it up more. I’m not seeing any additional stuff in here. Which is good for her- all she had were the adhesions. And… that’s so much better.”

Chester goes out to the waiting room to check in with Miranda’s mom, and then comes back to close up the four small incisions. She does that the old fashioned way- without a robot. She’s pleased with how the surgery went.

“I think she’ll feel the pain difference almost immediately when she wakes up.”

As for Miranda, she was thrilled to be able to keep her right ovary:

“When I woke up in the recovery room, that’s the first thing my mom said, ‘you still have it’ and I started crying, it was really, really awesome.”

I meet with Miranda less than two weeks after the surgery. She has already started back at her job as a court reporter. And her pain is a lot better:

“It’s still kind of there but it’s so much better, it’s not the first thing on my mind now.”

She says she’s eager to get her life back:

“I’m really hoping that it will change everything. The last two years my life has really been on hold because I’ve been so sick and it’s been so difficult.”

Miranda’s hoping this is the last surgery she’ll have to go through for a long while.

 

Categories: Alaska News

ASD asks state legislators for new education funding formula

Thu, 2014-11-06 17:17

The Anchorage School District made their case for increasing state education funding to legislators during a luncheon Thursday. With the current funding formula, the district projects they will cut 720 jobs over the next three years. Class sizes will increase to about 10 more students per class than evidence-based research recommends.

School board president Eric Croft says the Base Student Allocation funding formula needs to change.

“I’ve had legislators say, ‘Why do we have to have this same debate every year? Why is there another $22 million dollar deficit in the Anchorage School District’s budget?’ We just responded, without inflation-proofing of the formula, that discussion is going to happen every year,” Croft told the crowd, which included state and municipal lawmakers.

Currently inflation in Anchorage is at 3 percent.

Croft also wants the legislature to consider using the cost-of-living in the Mat-Su Valley as the base for the school funding formula, not Anchorage. Preliminary ASD studies show that the cost of living is lower in the Mat-Su Valley than in Anchorage, mostly because of the price of housing. If the Valley is used as the base, the formula would be adjusted to account for higher costs in Anchorage and increase the funding for the city’s schools. ASD is asking for a more formal cost-of-living study from the legislature.

Anchorage Rep. Andy Josephson, a Democrat, agrees that school funding must be a priority over other projects. He explains that HB 278 requires the legislature to hire a consultant to look at the base funding formula, but he’s not sure it will help the district’s problems.

“I think the net result is going to be, it doesn’t change the number of brick and mortar buildings you need, the number of personnel you need, so I question whether we’re going to achieve a whole lot doing that.”

Rep. Harriet Drummond, a Democrat from Anchorage, says she and the other Democrats plan to look at education funding first this session.

“Education is my first priority. I think we fund education first, early in the session, then everything else follows.”

Drummond says she echos the district’s concerns about how the cost of housing is impacting how the district can attract and retain employees

ASD also wants the legislature to consider the trickle down effect of losing 720 jobs in the community.

Categories: Alaska News

Aleutian Communities Brace For High-Powered Storm

Thu, 2014-11-06 17:15

The Aleutian and Pribilof Islands are no stranger to strong winds and rough seas. And that’s exactly what they can expect Friday night, when a high-powered storm hits the Bering Sea. Communities are gearing up to face the historic front.

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Categories: Alaska News

U.S. Senate, Gubernatorial Races Remain Undecided

Thu, 2014-11-06 17:14

Two days after the election, both Alaska’s senate race and its gubernatorial race remain undecided, and both incumbents are lagging behind their challengers. Democratic Sen. Mark Begich is down by 8,000 votes in his race against Republican Dan Sullivan, while Republican Gov. Sean Parnell trails unaffiliated candidate Bill Walker by 3,000 votes. Neither candidate plans to concede at this point, and at least 20,000 votes still need to be counted next week. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez ran the numbers on both of those races, and joins us to talk about the trends she’s seeing.

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Categories: Alaska News

Former ASD Teacher Charged With Sexual Abuse Of A Minor

Thu, 2014-11-06 17:13

Former Anchorage School District teacher David Schwantes was arraigned Thursday afternoon in an Anchorage court.

Schwantes, 73, is charged with seven counts of sexual abuse of a minor.

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Anchorage Police Department Detective John Vandervalk says the arrest is based off an investigation of a complaint lodged by a former student who is now an adult, who alleges Schwantes molested him in the 1990s.

A teacher picture of suspect David Schwantes from the 1990s. (Photo via APD)

“Many times in life, people are triggering events that bring these things forward and in this case it was one of those things for this particular person,” Vandervalk said. ”And it came into the issue of trust and what to do now with their children and childcare situations, and that’s what triggered them and brought this case forward for us.”

Schwantes taught at Mt. Spurr Elementary School on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson from 1968 until 1993. Between 1993 and 1996, he worked as a substitute teacher with the Anchorage School District. Then in 1999 and 2000, he worked in Title 1 after school activities at Muldoon Elementary.

Prior to working in the Anchorage School District, Schwantes taught briefly in Southeast and rural Alaska.

Detective Vandervalk says there may be additional victims.

“Whether or not people want to come forward after this many years, realize every victim deals with a situation in their own way,” he said. “Some people may have put it behind them and it may be too difficult to deal with and they may not want to come forward anymore.”

“That’s their own particular choice and what we want to have come out of this is the best possible outcome for the victim.”

APD is working with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations to identify other victims who may have attended Mt. Spurr Elementary in the past.

 

Categories: Alaska News

UAF Athletics Penalized For Eligibility Violations

Thu, 2014-11-06 17:12

The University of Alaska Fairbanks has been penalized by the National Collegiate Athletic Association for eligibility violations. Wednesday, Chancellor Brian Rogers wanted it understood that that the athletes are not to blame.

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“These infractions were the result of university error and not due to wrongdoing by any of our student athletes,” Rogers said.

Sanctions include a $30,000 fine, the short term elimination of some scholarships, no post season play for some teams during the 2014-15 season, and the vacation of wins and records achieved by offending athletes and teams they competed for. The academic eligibility violations involve 40 athletes in 9 UAF sports, between 2007 and 2011.

The NCAA eligibility violations were self reported by UAF in 2011 and 2012. Chancellor Rogers attributed them to UAF failing to fully understand, and identify issues for student athletes.

Among the numerous NCAA penalties, is a requirement that UAF develop a program to educate staff on eligibility certification and advising practices, something Athletic Director Gary Gray says the university has already implemented.

“That has been in place now for quite sometime. We continue to educate folks and employees in the registrar’s office, advising, ect.,” Rogers said. “We meet with them monthly; we have a great process, it works, it’s well documented and I would hold it up as a model process. So we’ve completed that requirement.”

UAF has also has hired an academic adviser for student athletes, and designated staff to manage their records.

The NCAA is requiring the university to file an annual compliance report, including a review by an outside consultant.] Gray says UAF will now figure out what records need to be vacated as a result of the NCAA penalties.

Categories: Alaska News

Election signs find new homes under flooring, in chicken coops

Thu, 2014-11-06 17:11

Election day is over and political signs are disappearing from yards and intersections. But where do they go?

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Some might end up in the rusty blue dumpster outside Central Recycling Services on N. Sitka Road. At the moment it sits with one lonely campaign sign inside. It’s the beginning of the company’s collection.

“We see them all over and they litter the streets,” said Resource Manager Nate Kruk. “We figured there’s got to be a place for them instead of the landfill.”

He says people can drop off their old vinyl political signs for free. If he can collect about 4,000 pounds of them, the company will ship them off to be melted back into crude oil. But that’s about 2,000 signs, depending on the size.

Kruk says if they don’t get enough, the signs can be reused instead as insulation for cabins or underneath flooring.

“You put em underneath linoleum. Some people use cardboard, some people use special foam, and from what I’ve heard these signs do a pretty good job.”

Others use them to line their chicken coops because they’re easy to hose off. The signs can also be turned into ramps for guinea pigs, spray painted to look like holiday decorations, or saved in case your candidate of choice ever runs again.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: November 6, 2014

Thu, 2014-11-06 17:11

Stories are posted on the APRN news page. You can subscribe to APRN’s newsfeeds via emailpodcast and RSS. Follow us on Facebook at alaskapublic.org and on Twitter @aprn

Download Audio

Aleutian Communities Brace For High-Powered Storm

Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska

The Aleutian and Pribilof Islands are no stranger to strong winds and rough seas. And that’s exactly what they can expect Friday night, when a high-powered storm hits the Bering Sea. Communities are gearing up to face the historic front.

U.S. Senate, Gubernatorial Races Remain Undecided

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN

Two days after the election, both Alaska’s senate race and its gubernatorial race remain undecided, and both incumbents are lagging behind their challengers. Democratic Sen. Mark Begich is down by 8,000 votes in his race against Republican Dan Sullivan, while Republican Gov. Sean Parnell trails unaffiliated candidate Bill Walker by 3,000 votes. Neither candidate plans to concede at this point, and at least 20,000 votes still need to be counted next week. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez ran the numbers on both of those races, and joins us to talk about the trends she’s seeing.

Former ASD Teacher Charged With Sexual Abuse Of A Minor

Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage

Former Anchorage School District teacher David Schwantes was arraigned Thursday afternoon in an Anchorage court. Schwantes, 73, is charged with seven counts of sexual abuse of a minor.

UAF Athletics Penalized For Eligibility Violations

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The National Collegiate Athletic Association has imposed penalties on the University of Alaska Fairbanks for student athlete eligibility violations. The University blames a systematic failure to understand and help athletes navigate academic eligibility requirements.

What Happens To Political Signs After Election Day?

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

Election Day is over and political signs are disappearing from yards and intersections. But where do they go?

‘All Alaska Juried Exhibition’ Showcases New, Evolving Art

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

The Anchorage Museum is set to open the All Alaska Juried Exhibition on Friday – a show bringing together works of contemporary art from across the state. In its 48 years the semi-annual exhibition has served as a showcase for new and evolving art in a state with a rich creative tradition.

‘The Fortunate Child’ Focuses On Education, Equality

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

A novel by first time author Archana Mishra focuses on the need to make education more readily available to women. The Anchorage resident is a Native of India and lived and worked in Australia before moving to Alaska. She says for rural women in India, indigenous people in Australia and rural women in Alaska, the need is the same. Education creates equal societies. Mishra is an attorney and says all of the women in her family are highly educated. Her book, The Fortunate Child follows a girl who dreams of changing the world through helping others.  She says women can’t be part of a thriving economy if they are not educational equals

Categories: Alaska News

‘The Fortunate Child’ Focuses On Education, Equality

Thu, 2014-11-06 17:09

A novel by first time author Archana Mishra focuses on the need to make education more readily available to women. The Anchorage resident is a Native of India and lived and worked in Australia before moving to Alaska. She says for rural women in India, indigenous people in Australia and rural women in Alaska, the need is the same. Education creates equal societies. Mishra is an attorney and says all of the women in her family are highly educated. Her book, The Fortunate Child follows a girl who dreams of changing the world through helping others. She says women can’t be part of a thriving economy if they are not educational equals.

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Categories: Alaska News

‘All Alaska Juried Exhibition’ Showcases New, Evolving Art

Thu, 2014-11-06 17:09

The Anchorage Museum is set to open the All Alaska Juried Exhibition tomorrow–a show bringing together works of contemporary art from across the state. In its 48 years the semi-annual exhibition has served as a showcase for new and evolving art in a state with a rich creative tradition.

Download Audio

Categories: Alaska News

Assembly Approves $750,000 for Another SAP Audit

Thu, 2014-11-06 00:11

The Anchorage Assembly spent a good portion of its meeting debating whether $750,000 was too much to spend on what is called a Quality Assurance audit by the same company designing the municipality’s new software system, SAP. But the resolution passed with ample support, and most assembly members saying too much money has already been spent on implementing the new automation software to skimp on what are hopefully some of the last steps in the process.

There were questions about whether paying less, or using municipal employees rather than outside contractors, could keep the project on schedule while still ensuring its quality. The dollar amount and the timetable were designed to limit the risk of any more problems popping up amid program’s roll out.

“Our staff would not have the ability or resources to do the technical analysis of the configuration that SAP is being hired to do,” explained the city’s Chief Financial Officer Katherine Giard in response to a question. “Nor would they have the time.”

The audit process will bring in SAP consultants to make sure the software’s technical features are in good working order, and to offer advice when they are not.

“It’s a very big expense,” said Assembly member Paul Honeman, summing up the general sentiment of comments made ahead of the vote authorizing the resolution. ”It’s sad that we’re here at this point. We’re down that path, we’re way down the path where we should have turned around and said ‘we were sold a bill of goods,’ or ‘we’re paying way more than we should have.’ So I say let’s move forward and get it finished.”

The Quality Assurance audit is totally seperate from the external audit that the assembly voted to authorize a few weeks ago. An RFP hit the street yesterday for bids to look into why costs have run so far over on the SAP program’s implementation. That audit will be around $200,000.

Elsewhere in last night’s meeting, the assembly put off making a decision about a comprehensive plan for access points into Chugach State Park, and took more public testimony ahead of a revised resolution on towing laws.

Categories: Alaska News

State Senate Majority Names New Leader

Wed, 2014-11-05 17:30

The Republican Senate Majority has named a new president. Sen. Kevin Meyer of Anchorage will be taking the reins from Wasilla’s Charlie Huggins. Huggins will take the position of rules chair.

The new organization is otherwise much like the old. Sen. John Coghill of North Pole remains the majority leader, and a number of committees are keeping the same chairs with a few notable exceptions. Sen. Anna Fairclough of Eagle River was promoted a co-chair position on the Senate finance committee, while Sen. Mike Dunleavy of the Mat-Su was made chair of the education committee. Dunleavy was a member of the education committee last legislature, and sponsored a constitutional amendment that would have allowed public funds to be used at private schools.

Republicans picked up one Senate seat on Tuesday, with Mia Costello taking over the seat vacated by Democrat Hollis French, giving them 14 out of 20 seats in the state senate. The caucus currently includes all 14 Republican members, 13 of which were present for a press conference held at the offices of a construction industry trade association. Anchorage Sen. Lesil McGuire, who previously held the influential position of rules chair, was absent from the media availability.

The last Senate majority included two Democrats whose districts covered areas off the road system. Dennis Egan of Juneau and Donny Olson of Golovin were not invited to Wednesday’s organization meeting.

“We are having discussions the minority, but whether or not they want to join us or we want them to join us has not been resolved yet,” says Meyer.

With the election just a day behind them, Meyer says the caucus is still working out its legislative priorities. But the state’s gloomy revenue outlook is an issue the organization plans to address.

“We all know what oil prices are doing and we know that what we budgeted for and we know we’re going to have a deficit,” says Meyer. “And so we’re focused on budget sustainability and how we can make gradual reductions in our budget while at the same time keep the economy strong and keep jobs and keep people employed.”

Legislators may also have to deal with the question of marijuana legalization — whether they want to or not — thanks to the passage of Ballot Measure 2. Rules Chair Charlie Huggins says he was perplexed that the initiative passed and that Alaska could see some legislative “speed bumps” but would not elaborate further.

The Senate Republicans also demurred on the question of Medicaid expansion. While the governor’s race is too close to call, unaffiliated candidate Bill Walker holds a narrow lead, and he has said that his first act as governor would be to accept the federal expansion for 40,000 Alaskans.

Senate President Kevin Meyer says it’s too early to say what the Legislature’s role will be with Medicaid. He says the caucus is generally willing to work with Walker if he wins election.

“You know, it doesn’t matter to us who the governor is,” says Meyer. “We’re going to work together with the executive branch, and we’re going to do what’s best for the state of Alaska.”

The Republican House Majority plans to hold its organization meeting on Thursday.

Senate Majority Leadership Positions
President: Sen. Kevin Meyer (R-Anchorage)
Majority Leader: Sen. John Coghill (R-North Pole)
Rules Chair: Sen. Charlie Huggins (R-Wasilla)
Finance Co-Chair- Sen. Pete Kelly (R-Fairbanks)
Finance Co-Chair – Sen. Anna Fairclough (R-Eagle River/East Anchorage)
Resources Chair – Sen. Cathy Giessel (R-Anchorage)
Community and Regional Affairs Chair – Sen. Click Bishop (R-Fairbanks)
Education Chair – Sen. Mike Dunleavy (R-Wasilla)
Judiciary Chair – Sen. Lesil McGuire (R-Anchorage)
Health and Social Services Chair – Sen. Bert Stedman (R-Sitka)
State Affairs Chair – Sen. Bill Stoltze (R-Chugiak)
Transportation Chair – Sen. Peter Micciche (R-Soldotna)
Labor and Commerce Chair – Sen. Mia Costello (R-Anchorage)
Legislative Council Chair – Sen. Gary Stevens (R-Kodiak)

Categories: Alaska News

Sullivan Leads Begich by 8,000 votes

Wed, 2014-11-05 16:59

Sullivan at Election Central. Photo by Ashley Snyder / APRN.

Alaska appears to have followed the national trend and elected a Republican to the U.S. Senate. But Democratic Sen. Mark Begich isn’t conceding and it’s likely the race won’t be decided until next week.

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Republican Dan Sullivan was ahead by almost 4 percentage points at the end of election night. He thanked his volunteers and told them he wasn’t making a victory speech.

“Door Knocking! Phone Calls! You guys made it happen!” Sullivan said, to loud cheers.

Begich went home before midnight, saying he’s hopeful his massive outreach in rural Alaska will pay off. Jim Lottsfeldt ran a $10 million superPAC supporting Begich. He maintains the uncounted early and absentee votes will break their way.

“Oh it’s not over,” Lottsfeldt said, echoing the senator’s words to supporters from a few minutes before. “Begich has never had a result that was good for him on election night. It always goes down to the wire. I think in about 10 days when all the votes are counted, we’ll see. “

All precincts had reported by early this morning. More than 22,000 ballots remain uncounted, and more are arriving in the mail. But with Sullivan  ahead by more than 8,000 votes,  the uncounted ballots would have to favor Begich by a huge margin if he’s to stay in office.

In a written statement before all the precincts reported, the Begich campaign said the Democrat would make a statement about the race after all the villages had reported “and when the number of outstanding absentee and questioned ballots is clear.”

Categories: Alaska News

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