Sen. Lisa Murkowski is helping President Trump achieve his tax overhaul, but she’s sounding a different message on immigration.
“America is a land of immigrants. It’s who we are,” she said on a video to support a campaign pressing Congress to pass the DREAM Act before the end of the year. “And from our farms to our hospitals to our laboratories, immigrants are helping to move our country forward.”
Murkowski is one of a handful of Republican sponsors of the DREAM bill in the Senate. It would help non-citizens who came to the U.S. as children stay in the country. Trump has said he wants to help the DREAMers, too, but he speaks more often about strong borders and putting America first. Murkowski’s video, on the other hand, plugs cultural diversity, refugees and immigrants in general.
“They’re lifting up our communities,” she said on the video, referring to immigrants. “They’re creating American jobs. They’re paying billions in taxes. They are Americans building America.”
As expected, Murkowski was appointed Wednesday to the conference committee that will reconcile the House and Senate versions of the tax bill. Alaska Congressman Don Young also has a seat on the committee. A top goal for both of them is to ensure the bill opens the Arctic Refuge to oil drilling.
Also on Wednesday, Murkowski joined the chorus calling for Sen. Al Franken to step down following allegations he groped several women.
A Canadian power company has refiled its application to finish its acquisition of Juneau’s power company.
Alaska Congressman Don Young has written to express his concern.
The latest filing has already attracted at least two critical comments. One of those is a letter from Congressman Young.
The Republican representative wants assurances that the Snettisham Hydro Complex — which was was built by the federal government in the 1970s and supplies the lion’s share of Juneau’s electricity — doesn’t pass into foreign ownership.
“I can insure (sic) you that it was never Congress’ intent that this asset be transferred for the potential profiteering by Canadian government interests,” Young wrote.
The province of Ontario holds a 49.9 percent stake in Hydro One.
The state owns Snettisham, but its upkeep is the responsibility of Juneau-based Alaska Electric Light and Power.
AEL&P buys all the power Snettisham produces under a 1998 agreement. It also has an option to purchase the hydroelectric complex at any time. That option could pass to Hydro One once it completes its takeover of AEL&P’s parent corporation Avista of Spokane.
Young wrote that he doesn’t oppose the acquisition, but wants assurances that the hydro complex will remain in the hands of the state or local owners.
Young hinted at Congressional action if those assurances aren’t made. Young’s office declined further comment.
State regulators rejected Hydro One’s previous application on a technicality. That filing received more than 30 comments, most of them critical of the deal.
The Juneau Assembly is watching the process closely.
Earlier this year, the Assembly openly floated the idea making a bid for the power company, But Hydro One says AEL&P is not for sale.
The latest filing with the Regulatory Commission of Alaska reopens the public comment period through Dec. 21.
Residents of five North Slope communities will soon have access to much faster internet connections, now that Anchorage-based Quintillion has activated its new land- and sea-based fiber-optic cable network. Company officials say the Alaska system is the first part of a network that could eventually stretch from Europe to Asia, with Alaska at the midpoint.
“It’s a pretty phenomenal capacity – really unlimited for the purposes of the communities that we will be connecting,” Quintillion spokeswoman Kristina Woolston said.
Nome, Kotzebue, Point Hope, Wainwright and Utqiagvik all will soon have access to the internet through the system. Woolston says its overall capacity is 30 terabits per second – which, to most users, could perhaps be best described in terms of the number of high-def movies that could be downloaded through it, quickly.
“Millions of high-definition movies downloaded in a second,” Woolston said in an interview Friday.
Woolston says the communities each will have access to up to 200 gigabits of data per second. That’s many times faster than the satellite-based system that North Slope internet service providers have been using for the past several years.
“Based upon the demand and the need, that could increase,” Woolston said. “Certainly, the capacity on the system overall is there.”
And it’ll be much more dependable than the slow and often balky connections satellite-based systems afford, according to the head of ASTAC, the North Slope’s biggest internet service provider.
“So, instead of going 23,000 miles into outer space, to a satellite, and then 23,000 miles back to an Earth station, and then hand-off in Anchorage to the internet connection, it’s now happening at the speed of light over this fiber,” ASTAC CEO Jens Laipenieks said.
Laipenieks said that will cut the time it takes to transmit data from a server to a computer, the so-called latency, by more than 90 percent, down from 900 milliseconds to about 60 milliseconds.
“So that means things load faster, your web pages are more responsive, your videos don’t buffer or skip,” Laipenieks said. “Y’know, the overall quality of the bandwidth quality is vastly superior.”
Laipenieks says the company has been laying fiber-optic to the home of all of its 1,100 customers in the five communities over the past couple of years and making other system upgrades in preparation of the Quintillion fiber becoming operational. He says the company’s 1,100 customers have been looking forward to this day even more.
“We’ve been taking pre-orders now for a few weeks,” Lapienieks said. “So, Wednesday Dec. 13th is kind of our go-live day for our new product.”
Laipenieks said ASTAC is now studying how to extend its system farther eastward to other North Slope communities that are still stuck will satellite-based internet connections.
“We’re turning our sights on extending the network from these new Quintillion landing sites to the final four, as we refer to them, which are, starting from the east, the village of Kaktovik; Atqusuk, south of Barrow; Point Lay and Anaktuvik Pass.”
Woolston says the Alaska terrestrial system links into a larger internet lines that originate in the Pacific Northwest and lands at several points in Southcentral and the Kenai. Quintillion officials plan to lay another 10,000 miles of subsea fiber-optic cable from the landing in Nome westward to Tokyo, and from Prudhoe Bay eastward to London.
Alaska Congressman Don Young will have a hand in deciding what’s in and what’s out for the sweeping national tax bill.
Young was one of nine Republican House members named Monday to the tax bill conference committee. That’s the panel assigned to hash out the differences between the House and Senate bills. In a statement, Young said he would do everything in his power to ensure that opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling is part of the final version.
The bill the Senate passed would open the refuge. It’s not in the House bill. The Senate is expected to name its conference members this week and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, as chair of the Energy Committee, will likely be among them.
The bill itself would lower taxes for corporations and many families. In the Senate bill, the corporate tax breaks are permanent while those for households would expire in 2025. The congressional Joint Committee on Taxation says the Senate bill would add $1 trillion to the national debt.
In the spring, the last sizable timber mill in Alaska considered turning off the saws for good. Viking Lumber on Prince of Wales Island cuts large trees like Sitka spruce and yellow cedar. It buys most of those old growth trees from timber sales in the Tongass National Forest. But those sales could become a thing of the past.
The timber industry in Southeast Alaska is a shadow of its former self. But looking around the lumberyard at Viking, you wouldn’t know it. The ground trembles with heavy machinery.
There’s a smell — sweet and woodsy.
In the distance, you can see rows of old growth trees stacked nearly two stories high.
Logs are funneled into a warehouse, where a saw the size of a hot tub slices through the tree’s bark and rounded sides.
The mill produces around eight truckloads of lumber a day. It’s barged and then shipped to 40 states to be turned into door frames, crown molding and sound boards for pianos.
“You try to stay in what you know and you do it well,” Bryce Dahlstrom, one of the owners, said.
Dahlstrom’s family has operated the mill for about the past twenty years. But today, he says he would be reluctant to pass it on to his son.
“If he would have showed interest in the sawmill I think I would have discouraged it. Because it doesn’t look like there’s a future here a lot of the times,” Dahlstrom said. “To be a logger anymore is frowned upon.”The saws at Viking Lumber have to be sharpened by an employee up to four times a day. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/Alaska’s Energy Desk)
Back in the 1980s, the timber industry in Southeast Alaska was booming, and families like Dahlstrom’s saw the state as a land of opportunity.
In the Northwest, tensions were ratcheting up between loggers and environmentalists. More federal protections for the spotted owl added new limits on what areas could be clear cut.
Dahlstrom grew up going to the pro-logging rallies with his parents in Washington state. He says the prospects looked better farther north.
“Alaska at the time had pulp mills. A big timber industry… Shortly thereafter things took a dive here,” Dahlstrom said.
Viking Lumber bids on regional timber sales to supply the mill. Most of the sales are from the Tongass National Forest. In the past, the U.S. Forest Service has allowed large scale industrial logging in the Tongass — damaging salmon streams and deer habitat. That’s led to tighter environmental regulations through the years, which has meant less of the Tongass is available for harvest. Dahlstrom says there have been fewer timber sales, too.
“We’ve fought and we’ve fought and there’s been a lot times since the late 90s that if we didn’t get that next timber sale, we weren’t going to have any wood,” Dahlstrom said.Viking’s log yard is stacked with trees from the Big Thorne timber sale and a smaller state sale. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/Alaska’s Energy Desk)
Then last year, the forest service made a monumental decision. It would move away from selling old growth trees in the Tongass altogether, phasing it out entirely after 15 years. Dahlstrom says it looked like the plan would finish off the mill for good. His employees have come up to him with concerns, worried about the future.
“You know, they just bought a house, and they just bought a car, and they got a baby on the way,” Dahlstrom said. “And they’re like, what are we going to do?
There is one option: the forest service can sell young-growth trees.
But Dahlstrom says those trees are much different than the tight-grained, high value wood they process at Viking. He says the market for young growth just isn’t there. Plus, he’s skeptical the sales would be frequent enough since so much of the national forest is already off limits.
Dahlstrom says with younger trees, it’s a numbers game. You need many more of them to turn a profit.
A short drive down the road from Viking Lumber is the largest community on Prince of Wales Island. About 1,200 people live in Craig.
My tour guide is Dennis Watson, the city’s former mayor of more than 20 years. In his white van, we pass lodges that cater to sport fisherman in the summer.
Watson says the community was bustling with loggers when he arrived here a few decades ago. For a while, he worked at the mill. But today, the economy has shifted mostly to commercial fishing. That’s what Watson does.
Even so, Watson says logging still plays an important role.
“If you took timber away from this place right now, the impact on this town would be huge,” Watson said.Dennis Watson says he moved to Craig in the 1980s because there were plenty of timber jobs and he wanted to get out of California. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/Alaska’s Energy Desk)
Only 40 people work at Viking Lumber. But the mill is the local electric utility’s biggest year-round customer, and it offers some of the few jobs available in the off-season.
Watson says he’s traveled to Washington D.C. to try to explain that to federal agencies. But on those trips, he’s walked away feeling ignored. He hopes President Donald Trump can turn things around.
“Like anyone else, I just roll my eyes at some of the things he does. But I couldn’t have voted for Hillary Clinton if somebody had a gun at my head.” Watson said. “I thought that if Clinton had been elected, we’d be pushed aside and our communities would start drying up here in Southeast Alaska.”
Still, not everyone in town thinks there’s a timber industry worth saving here. Bob Claus has lived on the island for decades. He’s also a member of conservation group that’s argued for more environmental protections in the Tongass.
Claus says he knows loggers who have successfully transitioned to a new job in Craig, and he thinks the town can survive just fine without Viking Lumber.
“I think the logging era is over in Southeast Alaska and nowhere else in the national forest system do people even contemplate logging old growth,” Claus said. “And I think it’s a mistake to be logging the last bits of it on the Tongass.”
But Bryce Dahlstrom, the owner of Viking Lumber, says in the past year, he’s started to think the mill may have a future on Prince of Wales Island.
A federal watchdog agency recently decided Congress will have the chance to weigh in on what happens in the Tongass National Forest. Cutting old growth trees could still be on the table.
Still, Dahlstrom’s not exactly optimistic. And he says if his community is going to turn into a tourist town, he doesn’t plan on sticking around.
“I guess to see one of my employees in a grocery store after we weren’t able to keep them working would be pretty tough,” Dahlstrom said.
Dahlstrom says no one wants to be on watch when the last big sawmill in the state shuts down.
Tongass in Transition is a series about trees told through the stories of people. Reporting for this was made possible by an award from the Institute for Journalism and Natural Resources.Wood chips spill onto the ground at the Viking Lumber yard. Later, they’re be compressed into flammable bricks and sold to start fires. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/Alaska’s Energy Desk)
Russia has been banned from the upcoming winter Olympics in South Korea. The International Olympic Committee made the announcement at a news conference on Dec. 5.
Thomas Bach is the president of the IOC.
“The Russian Olympic Committee is suspended with immediate effect,” Bach declared.
The ban is based on a report that shows long-term manipulation of anti-doping efforts in Russia, including during the 2014 winter Olympics in Sochi.
“The report clearly lays out an unprecedented attack on the integrity of Olympic games and sports,” Bach explained.
WADA, the World Anti-Doping Agency, is leading the effort against that attack. Earlier this year WADA and the IOC laid out the evidence of widespread doping in Russia– evidence that Rosie Brennan has spoken out against.
Brennan skis professionally for Alaska Pacific University in Anchorage and is the U.S. Ski and Snowboard’s athlete representative for WADA. Brennan says she’s happy the IOC came to this decision– that the committee supports clean and healthy athletes.
Six Russian cross-country skiers were found guilty of doping during the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, two of whom have been stripped of their medals.
Brennan said there’s no tolerance for doping on the American team.
“We are held to a pretty high moral standard and our coaches have been pretty supportive against doping,” Brennan said, “and so I just think we have the kind of culture that frowns upon doping and looks at it as a pretty negative aspect of sport in general.”
So far, Sadie Bjornsen is the only Alaskan qualified for the upcoming Olympics. In a written statement, Bjornsen said it’s her dream to win an Olympic medal and she’s worked hard to do that in a clean and healthy way.
She said she’s thankful the IOC has the same expectations for the athletes she’ll be competing against at the upcoming winter Olympics.
A group of marine scientists visited Western Alaska recently to discuss the results of a second bottom-trawl survey of the northern Bering Sea.
The team is with NOAA’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center, based in Seattle. This round of research comes seven years after their first survey of the area in 2010. Bob Lauth is a research fisheries scientist, and he leads the Bering Strait survey program.
“We were really quite surprised and quite shocked at what a big difference there was,” Lauth said.
This summer, Lauth’s team used a large trawl net to survey and identify species in the northern Bering Sea.
Among the results: the pollock population jumped by 6,000 percent, and there were also large increases in Pacific cod and smaller snow crab. According to the surveys, the water is warmer than it was in 2010, so cold-water species like saffron cod were much sparser, with Arctic cod numbers down 90 percent.
There were also higher populations of jellyfish and sea stars, called “keystone species” because they help to structure marine ecosystems.
“In an area where you may have concerns about food supplies for marine mammals and walrus and whatnot, something like an increase in sea stars could be something we really want to track,” Lyle Britt, a fisheries research biologist on the team, said.
Britt says the warmer water has caused a shift from a “bottom-up” ecosystem — centered around the sea floor — to a “top-down” one — with more activity higher up in the water.
“When you have two that are just so diametrically different, it’s really hard to say — is this a trend, or is this more like a weather event? We just don’t know now,” Britt said.
Britt hits on a key footnote of the findings: The team needs more data to accurately describe what’s changing. Jeff Napp is director of the Resource Assessment and Conservation Engineering Division at NOAA. He said it’s about identifying larger processes within the ecosystem.
“Is the change that we saw last year really tied to the ice, or is it tied to something else? What things change first? What things change more slowly?” Napp listed. “It’s those mechanisms we really want to be able to discover, so that we can do a better job at predicting, and then communicate that along the way to the people living here, the people who are reliant on the resources.”
While they’re in Nome, the team is meeting with representatives at Kawerak, the Norton Sound Economic Development Corporation and other regional organizations. They’re also teleconferencing with leaders from some of the Bering Strait communities that are most dependent on these marine ecosystems: places like Gambell, Savoonga and Wales. And they plan to send their report to all the tribes in the region.
For now, the team says the increase in fish they saw this year doesn’t necessarily mean commercial fishing for pollock could start any time soon in the Bering Sea.
“Given how mobile we know pollock can be, this could be an ephemeral thing: They’re here this year, and they’re not coming back. Or they’re here to stay,” Britt said. “We just really don’t know. And even if, conceptually, say, this area was open to fishing, and there was interest, I think the time it would take even a company or something to even set up to do such a thing is going to be a number of years, and they’d want to know that these fish are truly going to be here for the long term before they’d even try.”
But if the funding is there, the scientists say, and they’re able to start doing surveys every other year, that answer could become much clearer as soon as 2019.
The entire report from the scientists’ surveys will available to the public online in the near future. Hard copies are available from Gay Sheffield, an Alaska SeaGrant Marine Advisory Program agent in Nome.
Portugal. The Man started out as a modest indie band with deep roots in Alaska and has since ascended to national, even international, popularity.
The Portland-based group’s music has long been described as “alternative rock,” but their song “Feel It Still” recently earned the band its first Grammy Award nomination — in the pop category.
The single is off their newest album, “Woodstock,” and it has spent weeks at the top of music charts, peaking at number 4 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Reached by phone while he was walking around Atlanta before a show, co-founder and bass player Zach Carothers said the attention has been surreal.
“We absolutely don’t belong in that world, which is funny. I don’t have a tan. I’m 36 years old, and I’m from Wasilla, Alaska. And we’re playing next to Selena Gomez and stuff like that. It’s wild,” Carothers said.
The band also includes vocalist and guitar player John Gourley and guitarist Eric Howk, who are joined by Kyle O’Quinn on keyboards and Jason Sechrist on drums. Like Carothers, Gourley and Howk are originally from Alaska.
The experience has been fun, overall, Carothers said. It’s given the band a chance to see the world, and he said their lives are a little easier than the days when they toured in a van and ate out of a rice cooker in random parking lots.
Still, it’s a lot of work.
“Since ‘Feel It Still’ has gotten massive, our day-to-day life hasn’t really changed,” Carothers said. “We still just go out on tour, we’re just still on a bus and on an airplane, and we go and do a show, it’s just those shows are getting bigger. But it’s hard to see what’s really happening when you’re kind of in the eye of the hurricane.”
Gourley has said the band’s work ethic comes from growing up in Alaska and seeing how hard work is necessary for survival.
Carothers said the environment in the North contributes as well.
“Growing up and how you grow up is at least half of what you’re made of,” Carothers said. “Half of it is how you were brought up. And then the other half is what you see along the way as your adult life. I feel like Alaskans really know themselves.”
Carothers knows it’ll be a completely different scene when the band walks the red carpet at the Grammys in January. They’ve been to some awards shows already, and he describes them with one word: “bright.”
Carothers said the Grammys are a whole different level of attention, though.
“It’s a really weird world and it’s something just very strange to see, especially coming from Alaska,” Carothers said. “It’s just things that you saw on movies or on TV and you never expect to be there. But it’s really fun.”
Carothers says the Alaskan members of Portugal. The Man will take a break from touring to head north for Christmas. Then, on Jan. 28, they’ll be in New York for the 60th Annual Grammy Awards at Madison Square Garden.
UAA ceramic students are getting ready to sell their pieces for the ceramic club’s annual winter pottery sale. In recent years, they have had a line out the door before the sale even begins. Funds from the sale go towards the club’s travels, which send students to the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts and on other artistic endeavors.
Jade Ariah is the president of the ceramics club. She helps put on the sale with the 20-plus students that are in the club. Students sell mugs, vases, bowls, platters, lidded jars, ceramic baskets and just about anything you could think of that could be made on a wheel.
Ariah used to do more wheel throwing, but now she creates smaller sculptures, like jewelry and pins, with her hands.
“I was making these little ceramic pendants that had these little retro style women on them, and old sayings from advertisements and stuff like that. I think even the last one, I had made these little corn dog pins, just goofy, retro stuff,” Ariah said.Jade Ariah creates small sculptures like necklaces her corn dog pins. They will be on sale at the Gordon Hartlieb Hall on Dec. 8. (Photo courtesy of Jade Ariah)
Forty percent of the money from the sale goes to the club, and the other 60 percent goes back to the students. Ariah says hundreds of pieces will be up for sale.
“It’s like the whole semester of work by everyone in wheel throwing,” Ariah said.
Ariah says there are “seasoned regulars” who line up 45 minutes to an hour early to be the first people through the door.
“We have this guy who comes every year, and he always comes with an actual tote, just ready to start packing it in. It’s kind of, yeah, free-for-all,” Ariah said.
Funds raised go towards visiting artists and conferences. Currently, the club is raising funds for an upcoming New York City museum tour. The sale makes around $15,000.
Steven Godfrey, department chair and ceramics professor, has been at UAA for 18 years. He says the trips help students make a decision on what they want to do for the rest of their lives.
“It’s very eye-opening for them and it really can change a students’ life and can change a students’ perspective, and it’s really exciting to see that. Oftentimes, students will come back from these conferences and they’re so energized and transformed as artists,” Godfrey said.
If you can’t make it to the upcoming sale, the club will have another sooner than you think. They also host a sale at the end of the spring semester, typically the Friday before finals.
The sale will be held on Dec. 8 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the Gordon Hartlieb Hall on campus.
Alaska Congressman Don Young is now the longest serving member of Congress. Or he will be shortly.
Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., announced he’s retiring as of Tuesday. So Young inherits the symbolic title of “dean of the House of Representatives.” That gives him one ceremonial role: swearing in the Speaker of the House.
Young is 84. He’s been in office since March 1973, pre-dating any other current member, House or Senate.
The Iditarod Trail Committee’s Board of Directors wants to set up a kennel management program, a move aiming to set up new guidelines and counteract negative press directed at mushing’s most high-profile event.
Mushers who qualify for and race in the Iditarod are already expected to maintain standards of care for their animals and kennels. But many of those guidelines are fuzzy, outdated and due for review. Now, ITC’s board is establishing an advisory committee made up of prominent mushers like Jeff King, Aliy Zirkle and DeeDee Jonrowe to begin drafting more specific standards for kennel management.
“There needed to be a better way to communicate what was really happening in our Iditarod kennels,” Chas St. George, ITC’s operations director, said.
According to St. George, board members have been considering setting up kennel management standards for some time. One of the motivating factors is a change over the last decade in how mushers run their dog lots, including more year-round training and tourism programming outside of winter race season. ITC’s board also wants to counter a recent wave of negative press leveled at the Iditarod and mushing community from animal rights activists.
“This actually all began after the film ‘Sled Dogs’ first came out, and we recognized right away that this film was literally attacking kennels,” St. George said of the 2016 film, which alleges widespread abuse in commercial kennels catering to mushing tourism and draws a link teams competing in the Iditarod.
The hope is that the advisory group will have plans ready for implementing the kennel management program by June of 2018, as mushers are beginning to register for the 2019 race.
But as for the particulars of the eventual proposals, they don’t yet exist.
With dozens of mushers entering the Iditarod in recent years from around the globe, states in the Lower 48 and kennels in many far flung parts of Alaska, policing dog lots for bad behavior is a practical impossibility for the Iditarod Trail Committee’s small permanent staff. According to St. George, ITC’s board of directors isn’t imagining a regulatory body with agents monitoring compliance. Instead, the advisory group will come up with a set of best-practices and guidelines for mushers, veterinarians, handlers, and community members to observe.
At present, St. George said it is still too early to know if race officials will be forced to modify the race’s planned route because of snow conditions.
The Board of Directors voted in May to break precedent and have the race follow its southern route in both 2018 and 2019. Typically, the event alternates between a northern path going through middle Yukon communities like Galena, and a southern route through the historic Iditarod checkpoint and several communities in the Yukon-Koyukuk census area.
Poor snow conditions in sections of the Alaska Range in 2015 and 2017 led to alternate routes that skipped those communities. Race officials hope that back-to-back Iditarods through the southern route will help restore relationships and checkpoint protocols with residents.
Alaska’s two U.S. senators not only helped Republicans pass their tax cuts early Saturday. They made a pair of 11th-hour additions: one kills a new tax on the cruise industry, another helps Alaska Native Corporations.
Sen. Dan Sullivan offered the cruise ship amendment. It erased a section of the bill that would have taxed foreign cruise lines for the time they spend in U.S. waters. The tax would have raised an estimated $70 million a year.
John Binkley represents the industry as president of Cruise Lines International Association Alaska. He says the tax would have specifically hurt Alaska routes because they spend so much of their time in U.S. waters.
“We were concerned when we saw that come up in the Senate version,” Binkley said. “And so we contacted Sen. Sullivan, his office, and also Sen. Murkowski’s office.”
Sullivan’s spokesman says the senator had already noticed the tax in the bill and quickly moved to ditch it, to help Alaska communities that benefit from cruise ship visitors.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski added her own last-minute amendment to the bill. It provides favorable tax treatment for Alaska Native Corporations that put land or other assets into Alaska Native Settlement Trusts. Congress created these trusts in 1988, in part to allow Native Corporations to help “after borns” – Alaska Natives born after the 1971 settlement act — too late to be allotted shares in the corporations.
Old Harbor Native Corporation CEO Carl Marrs testified at a U.S. Senate hearing last month on the need to change tax law for settlement trusts. He said, by law, a corporation’s duty is to its shareholders.
“We need a mechanism to be able to move assets over to take care of the whole (community), not just those born before 1971,” Marrs said.
Marrs said the tax changes would, among other things, allow a corporation to put pre-tax funds in a settlement trust. The trust would be taxed on the income, but the rate is much lower. Marrs described it as a way a community’s corporation can help its tribe.
“I think corporations are now realizing our job should be there supporting the tribal efforts, because those are the important programs to our indigenous people,” Marrs, a former CEO of Cook Inlet Region, Inc, said.
Friday night, the cruise-ship and Native corporation amendments appeared on a list of 30 changes Republicans had decided to make. The list emerged while Democrats were on the Senate floor complaining they still had not seen the final language of the tax-cut bill. Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer groused that his side had to get the list from lobbyists.
“My Republican friends allowed lobbyists to see amendments, and likely the text of this bill, before their fellow U.S. senators,” Schumer said.
This is so bad. We have just gotten list of amendments to be included in bill NOT from our R colleagues, but from lobbyists downtown. None of us have seen this list, but lobbyists have it. Need I say more? Disgusting. And we probably will not even be given time to read them. pic.twitter.com/Mn0i56JeZg
— Claire McCaskill (@clairecmc) December 1, 2017
The tax bill, including a provision to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling, will be sent next to a conference committee with the House version so lawmakers can write the final bill.
The state ferry Taku is not hip enough for Portland, Oregon.
Earlier this fall, a company based there placed the winning bid of $300,000 for the 54-year-old vessel. KeyMar LLC’s plans were to turn it into a floating hotel.
John Falvey, Alaska Marine Highway general manager, said the company withdrew its bid earlier this month.
“They cited regulatory issues, potentially, other competing projects within their group, within their company … and things like that,” Falvey said.
KeyMar representative Jonathan Cohen said his group could not gain enough support from neighboring property owners to win the required permits.
“The team did not want to introduce a property that wouldn’t be fully embraced by the surrounding community,” Cohen wrote in an email. He said the group is instead turning an old Columbia River school into a hotel.
After the Portland company pulled out, the state informed two other bidders from the last round that the 350-foot ferry was again for sale.
Falvey said the top bidder offered $171,000, two-thirds more than the minimum needed.
“Tuesday at 3 o’clock, we opened the bids. And the winner was the Jabal Al Lawz Trading Co., from the (United Arab) Emirates, who I believe is purchasing the ship to take it for scrap,” Falvey said.
So it might end up in a marine junkyard. But he’s not sure.
Attempts to contact the company were not successful. But the Juneau Empire reports the company plans to use it as a ferry in the Philippines.
Falvey said the company already paid a $25,000 deposit. The balance will need to be in hand before he can sign sale documents. The timing has not been determined.
“We prefer to do it before the end of the year. But that may not happen with the holidays and things like that. If they’re going to get a crew here, they’ve got to bring a foreign crew to the United States and they need to get visas and things like that,” Falvey said.
Falvey said the state will continue to pay to store the Taku at Ketchikan’s Ward Cove for 30 days after the sale is completed.
After that, storage or transport is up to the buyer.
Falvey said the company indicated it could be reflagged to another country, which would allow transit through U.S. waters.
Right now, the Taku lacks equipment and certifications needed to sail under the U.S. flag.
The Taku was tied up in 2015 as the ferry system looked for ways to balance its budget. The ship can carry about 350 passengers and 50 vehicles. It has 40 staterooms, a cafeteria, observation lounges and a covered solarium.
State officials have been trying to sell the Taku since last spring. It was first priced at $1.5 million.
24-year-old Samantha Mack never expected to be named the first Rhodes Scholar from the University of Alaska.
“Yeah… I cried. I definitely cried, I was so surprised,” Mack laughed. “I still don’t think it has fully set in, you know. I think every couple days, it sorta sinks in a little deeper and I have an ‘Oh my God!’ moment.”
The Rhodes Scholarship is one of the oldest and most prestigious academic awards in the country. The grant funds two to three years of study at Oxford University in the U.K. Among the application requirements for the award, Mack had to write an essay to the Rhodes scholarship foundation. She decided to write about commercial fishing with her father in her hometown of King Cove. She also wrote about how through her college experience, she was able to learn about and connect with her Aleut heritage.
Mack says her ties to the King Cove region in the Aleutian Chain are deep.
“My dad’s family is the biggest family in King Cove and my mom’s family is the second biggest family in King Cove, so I’ve got quite the extended family mish-mash going on, which is absolutely wonderful,” Mack said.
Mack’s father works as a commercial fisherman out of King Cove. When Mack was young, her mother moved to Anchorage so she would have better educational opportunities. Mack describes herself as a voracious reader — some of her favorite authors include J.R.R. Tolkien, Stephen King and Neil Gaiman.
Mack says while she wasn’t a bad student in primary school — her grades weren’t of the caliber that out-of-state universities salivated over, and getting financial aid to those colleges was difficult. That was a main reason she attended UAA — where she thrived as a student. She says a big factor was the level of care her professors took with her in her academic development.
“You know, encouraging me to apply for internships, for fellowships, for summer programs and different things like that,” Mack said. “Honestly without that kind of prodding, I don’t think I would’ve… I wouldn’t be here.”
In college, Mack worked on projects researching early Alaska fish policy, attended the United Nations Forum on Indigenous Issues, and served as an intern for Senator Dan Sullivan in Washington D.C.
Mack says learning about her culture as an Alaska Native woman was at the core of her college experience. She notes that while she’s not 100 percent sure, there’s a good chance that she’s the first Alaska Native Rhodes scholar.
“I think I might be,” Mack said. “If so, that’s amazing. I know I’m the first person from my Native Corporation to receive the scholarship, so either way it’s a beyond-incredibly prideful moment for me. I just feel so proud to be representing my people that way.”
Mack says that she wants to become a university professor to bring the same representation to other Native students.
“To be able to be a Native person, and represent that as an instructor, I think is really important for other Native students coming in from wherever they might be from in the state,” Mack said. “And com[ing] to Anchorage where it’s a very big divorce in lifestyle, it’s not really similar for most people. But to get to see something of themselves in somebody that they’re learning from is really important, I think, and something I didn’t really experience until recently.”
Before heading to the U.K. for her scholarship, Mack is finishing up her master’s program in English at UAA. She says she wants to get a Ph.D in Political Science while at Oxford and possibly a doctorate in English down the road.
Mercury is a metallic element that that is present in elevated levels in some lakes in southwest Alaska. It can build up in fish that live in these lakes year-round. Then as birds, people and other animals dine on fish from those lakes, mercury can make its way up the food chain. The National Park Service and the United States Geological Survey are among the agencies that study mercury levels in southwest Alaska’s lakes in order to better understand mercury’s effect on ecosystems and how it gets there.
In 2005, the National Park Service began monitoring mercury levels in non-migratory lake fish in Katmai National Park and Preserve and the Lake Clark National Park Preserve.
“Since then we’ve collected around 400 fish samples, representing nine species from 20 lakes, said Krista Bartz, an aquatic ecologist with the NPS’ Southwest Alaska Network inventory and monitoring program. “We’ve found that filets from long-lived predator species, like lake trout and northern pike, can have elevated concentrations of mercury and they tend to increase with fish age.”
The amount of mercury in lakes varies widely throughout the parks. Researchers observed the highest concentrations in lake trout in Katmai’s Lake Brooks, an average of 0.53 parts per million. The state recommends women of childbearing age, nursing mothers and young children limit their consumption of fish with mercury concentrations greater than 0.20 ppm. In contrast, the concentration of mercury in the trout found in Lake Clark National Park and Preserve’s Turquoise Lake is well below that limit.
In high enough levels, mercury can cause a host of physical problems for vertebrates, including neurological and reproductive issues. A 2014 study by the United States Geological Survey noted that in Lake Clark National Park and Preserve concentrations of mercury in Lake Kontrashibuna and Lake Clark could cause impairment to fish-eating birds.Hydrologic technician, Katie Junghans, positions a fish-holding pen for collecting lake trout at Kulik Lake in Katmai National Park and Preserve. (Evan Booher/ NPS)
Mercury enters ecosystems in several ways. Industrial processes can release it into the atmosphere, and it can settle continents away. It can also enter a system naturally through volcano vapor, melting glaciers and latent reservoirs of atmospherically deposited mercury. Bartz said the differences in mercury levels between all these lakes in a relatively small area is a good clue to how mercury got into them.
“If the thing that was driving the variation among lakes was something caused by the atmospheric deposition of coal burning in another continent, then I don’t think that we would see this strong variation at the scale that we’re seeing it. However, if that variation is caused more by like bedrock geology or surficial geology, like something going on in the soils, then you might expect to see these regional localized hotspots of mercury. So I think it could be, at this point, it’s just a natural cause,” Bartz said, stressing that there are many contributing factors to these elevated mercury levels, including mercury emissions from distant sources.
The point of research like this is to understand the situation with mercury in Southwest Alaska parks—how much is there, what is the affect, and is it changing over time?
That data then makes its way to natural resource managers, park superintendents, state agencies and the public. As a result of the 2014 USGS study, for example, the Lake Clark National Park and Preserve began providing information on its websitefor visitors about which species in which lakes have high mercury levels and how many servings are safe for women and children to eat.
Bartz said that there is still plenty of research to be done. Soil analysis, for example, could shed more light on the way mercury travels throughout these ecosystems. She anticipates that the NPS will publish results from the past three years of study on resident lake fish in Katmai and Lake Clark in 2018.
A near-miss involving a Skagway-bound tug and tanker barge hauling millions of gallons of fuel through the Inside Passage has reignited debate in Canada over shipping petroleum through its territory.
In October last year, the Nathan E. Stewart tug had just unloaded its fuel cargo in Ketchikan.
Its distress calls to the Canadian Coast Guard were obtained and published by Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper.
About 29,000 gallons of diesel fuel spilled. A nearby clam fishery used by the Heiltsuk First Nations tribe remains shut down 13 months later.
Canadian authorities had been criticized over a delayed response and slow cleanup efforts.
When last Sunday’s close-call involved the tug Jake Shearer and a 430-foot barge loaded with fuel, there was renewed outcry and concern.
Harley Marine Services, the parent company of the tug operator, isn’t commenting, citing the open investigation by Transport Canada.
But in Bella Bella, the community of 1,600, people have been listening intently to chatter on the VHF radio and talking to crew members and Coast Guard officials.
“The actual tug and barge was hit by a rogue wave, causing one of the pegs that holds the tug to the barge to break and that led the crew to release themselves completely from the barge because it was putting the tug in danger,” William Housty, the Heiltsuk First Nations’ incident commander in Bella Bella, said.
Two crew members were reportedly able to jump from the tug to the loose barge to drop its anchor.
Otherwise it could’ve run aground or broken up on a rock pile he said he could see from the air just meters away.
“We’ve had these two incidents in the last year, it’s really kind of magnified these sort of tugs and put into question whether these tugs are actually capable of handling the seas in this part of the world,” Housty said.
In the wake of the wreck last year, restrictions on barge traffic had recently been tightened by Canadian authorities.
The tug Jake Shearer and its barge were apparently heeding new navigation rules on transiting fuel vessels that required them to avoid certain narrow straits in the area.
“The American tug and barge industry have been going up and down this coast for over a century,” Kevin Obermeyer said. Obermayer is chief executive officer of the Pacific Pilotage Association which regulates marine navigation on Canada’s west coast.
The association routinely issues waivers to the fuel companies so their vessels aren’t required to have a Canadian pilot on board as is required of other heavy vessels.
Since the Exxon Valdez spill, the U.S. requires vessels carrying petroleum cargo to have an approved contingency plan for spills and fires. Canada doesn’t.
“The oversight that we do is make sure that the officers and the crew on those vessels have been going through these waters sufficiently to have the experience and knowledge to do it safely,” Obermeyer said.
We cannot bear all the risks for American companies traversing through our territorial waters, the Oceans Protection Plan requires tangible & timely solutions. We are calling for an Indigenous Marine Response Centre. Too much too risk. #JakeShearer #NES https://t.co/TWNnsLNl01
— Marilyn Slett (@bellabellabc) November 27, 2017
But critics say that might not be enough.
The Canadian government has proposed banning full-sized tankers in the Inside Passage even though they don’t use that route.
Tugs and barges hauling fuel — like the Jake Shearer and Nathan E. Stewart — would remain exempt.
“We’re banning something that doesn’t occur but we have all this marine traffic passing through our Canadian waters and Canadians are saying look we’re taking all this risk but we’re getting no benefit,” Joe Spears said. Spears is a retired maritime law attorney who runs an oceans consultancy in Vancouver. “This is pretty much a live issue and it affects Alaska and I think we need to sit down and talk about this because of all of Southeast Alaska depends on these tugs and barges to get the refined petroleum product.”
There’s no tracking how much fuel is shipped north to Southeast Alaska.
One industry estimate offers an estimated 50 millions gallons annually.
But there’s no hard data kept by the U.S. or Canadian authorities.
But it’s a lot — because of the geography and the demand.
Fuel retailers in Southeast Alaska say the loss of fuel deliveries by barge would be unthinkable.
“Depending on how cold it is, we can haul up to 400,000 gallons of heating fuel in a month or more,” Phil Isaac of Ike’s Fuel in Douglas said. His family has owned the company that trucks heating fuel around the capital city for more than a half-century. “There’s just no way we could haul that in. The barges – the barges can bring up a million gallons at a time. There’s no way to replace that.”
People in Bella Bella understand that — they get their fuel delivered the same way.
“There’s people along the coast that live here and depend on the resources in this area for survival.” William Housty said in Bella Bella. “To put all that at stake for the movement of fossil fuels is very difficult for people to fathom.”
Four days after the incident Canadian authorities admitted they’d grossly under-stated the amount of fuel carried in the barge.
The vessels are carrying about 3.7 million gallons of diesel and gas – more than three times it had previously disclosed.
The confusion, the agency said, came from mistaking liters for gallons.
Walker administration officials say the future is bright for resource development with new oil discoveries on the North Slope, potential mining opportunities and the prospect of opening ANWR. They also say the long awaited gas line deal is coming together. How much of this message is an economic wish list and how much is reality?
HOST: Lori Townsend
- Kara Moriarty – President/CEO- AK Oil and Gas Association
- Lois Epstein – Arctic Program Director-Wilderness Society
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LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, December 5, 2017 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.
Look up Dennis Davis on YouTube and you’ll find gorgeous, sweeping footage of Shishmaref from above: the narrow island covered in snow, its buildings alarmingly close to the water, all of it dazzling in the light of a low-hanging sun.
It’s drone footage, and Davis says it offers a different way to get out the word on climate change.
“It just gives you that different perspective,” Davis said. “I was looking online [at drone footage] and I was like, ‘This would be perfect to show people what’s happening here in Shishmaref.’”
What’s happening in Shishmaref, of course, is a lot of erosion. As protective sea ice diminishes and permafrost deteriorates, the community has become more vulnerable to storm surges, and the thin barrier island in the Chukchi Sea is becoming ever thinner. The village is one of four considered in immediate need of relocation, and last year voted to move.
Davis started using the drone about three years ago to document the changes. He said people outside don’t always get it.
“I just want to show those people what we’re dealing with on a daily basis,” Davis said. “Each storm is a bad storm… Here in Shishmaref, we’re on this island. There’s nowhere to run.”
Davis is a former police officer who’s maybe best known online as a serious foodie. On Twitter and Instagram – where he goes by the handle @EskimoFixer – breathtaking images of storm damage are interspersed with possibly more breathtaking photos of his culinary creations, like a muktuk and kimchee bowl.
But his big goal is to use striking drone footage and social media to get the word out about what’s happening to his community.
“I feel that if I don’t do this, then we’re basically out of sight, out of mind,” Davis said. “And nobody’s really going to know what’s happening out in Shishmaref.”
Right now, Davis is running a crowdfunding campaign to replace his current drone with one that can fly further and handle high winds. He hopes to use the drone to scout the best route over sea ice for people heading out hunting, and to do Facebook Live broadcasts in the middle of big storms.
Plus Davis wants to give the world a sense of daily life in Shishmaref outside its status as a climate change symbol.
“When people are out fishing or checking their nets, or out hunting in the ocean,” Davis said. “Just to show people a little glimpse of, this is what’s really happening. This is how life is out in the village.”
Ultimately, Davis says it’s a way to connect people outside to what’s happening on the ground. Or in the air.
Premera Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alaska has agreed to pay the state government $25 million, because patients filed fewer claims this year than the company expected.
Lori Wing-Heier, State Division of Insurance director, said the payment will offset nearly half the $55 million cost of the Alaska Reinsurance Program.
“With the claims taking the nosedive that they have – and the reinsurance money that was appropriated by the Legislature – it was right for both parties to come to an agreement,” Wing-Heier said.
State law said that insurance rates can’t be “excessive.”
But by the time Premera projected that insurance claims would be lower than expected, the company had already set its rates.
Premera is the only insurer that remains on the state’s individual insurance market.
Alaskans who earned too much to receive federal subsidies paid the highest individual and family insurance rates in the nation.
More than four out of five Alaskans with marketplace insurance receive the subsidies.
The state started the reinsurance program to make the market more stable. The federal government has agreed to pay the state $322 million in reinsurance over the next five years.
Wing-Heier said the state expected to pay between $11 million and $15 million per year. The money from Premera will help lower that.
Wing-Heier said it’s a mystery why people submitted fewer claims to the company.
“They certainly, right or wrong, were not obligated to do this, but they recognized it and came forward,” Wing-Heier said.
The payment strengthens insurance in Alaska, Premera spokeswoman Melanie Coon said.
“We believe this was the right thing to do, given the importance of the Alaska Reinsurance Program and really for the ongoing stability of the state’s individual health insurance marketplace,” Coon said.
Premera has lowered its premiums for next year. In 2018, Alaska’s premiums will no longer be the country’s highest.
The deadline to purchase individual and family insurance for next year is Dec. 15.
In Washington, U.S. senators are still debating a bill to cut taxes and repeal the mandate that everyone have health insurance. The bill would also open part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. For more, Alaska Public Media’s Lori Townsend turned to Washington correspondent, Liz Ruskin.
TOWNSEND: Hi Liz.
RUSKIN: Hi Lori.
TOWNSEND: Liz, is this taking longer than was expected?
RUSKIN: Yes, and we did actually expect it to pass last night. There were concerns about how much this would add to the deficit. And then all day, the Republican leadership has been trying to. They’ve been holed up in Senator [Mitch] McConnell’s office, trying to work out the concerns about the deficit and the impact on the deficit and different taxes that senators wanted changed. And so, consequently, the Democrats have been on the floor of the Senate complaining that there’s no bill.
TOWNSEND: So, assuming that this bill does pass tonight, what’s next?
RUSKIN: In theory, the House could take this bill, the Senate’s bill, and just pass it, and that would send it on to the President for his signature, but that doesn’t usually happen. So instead, the bill will go to a conference committee composed of Senators and House members. We believe Senator [Lisa] Murkowski will be on that conference committee. And that’s where they hammer out the differences between the Senate bill and the version the House passed. And then the final bill that they work out, the comprise bill, it goes back to both chambers and has to be passed again.
TOWNSEND: So, the Arctic Refuge part is still in this bill now, Liz. Could it be dropped in the conference committee?
RUSKIN: Yes, in theory, it could, but I actually don’t see that happening because I’m not seeing any lawmakers, at least no Senators, saying, “To get my vote on this package, you’re going to have to drop the Arctic Refuge drilling part.” It’s just not come up this year in that way. So, the Arctic Refuge drilling part is in the bill now, and it calls for a 50-50 split of revenues instead of the 90-10 that many Alaskans believe it should be. It seems to be moving right along with the tax bill. So, if the tax bill passes, I think this could actually open the Arctic Refuge to oil drilling. It’s hard to believe after all these years of living through this issue, that it could actually happen. But, it does seem close.