Alaska Gov. Bill Walker has called the Alaska Legislature back for a second special session to begin at 1 p.m. today, after lawmakers failed to pass an operating budget.
Without a budget, the state government will shut down in two weeks.
The House called it quits for the first special session Thursday night after pushing through an operating budget on short notice. The Republican minority caucus strongly protested.
This morning, the more conservative Senate adjourned without acting on the House’s budget. Democratic Sen. Berta Gardner got the last word in before Republican Senate President Pete Kelly gaveled out.
“It’s unacceptable to shut down without passing a budget. And we have to keep working at it,” Gardner said.
House leaders said negotiations with the Senate were not going well, and that legal deadlines to adopt a budget compelled their unorthodox route to passing a budget.
The Alaska House passed a new budget Thursday night. It combined the operating and capital budgets.
The House adjourned from the special session, leaving the Senate with no option but to accept or reject the House budget. Republican Senate President Pete Kelly immediately rejected it.
House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham, said the combined spending plan was an attempt to avoid a state government shutdown after the House and Senate failed to reach a compromise.
“We put together what we thought was the best package,” Edgmon said. “We’ve sent (it) over to the Senate. Now it’s up to them to make the decision whether to accept it or to reject it. And then from there, we’re back into no man’s land, with a clock that’s ticking louder day by day.”
The budget would draw nearly $5 billion from Permanent Fund earnings.
House minority Republicans objected to the speed with which the majority introduced and passed the measure. Minority Leader Charisse Millett also objected to Edgmon limiting each member to two minutes to debate the budget.
“Nobody can tell me what’s contained in this bill,” Millett said. “So, Mr. Speaker, I urge everybody on this floor to vote no. Let’s start over.”
The bill would increase education funding. And it would raise Permanent Fund dividends to the full amount of roughly $2,200.
Independent Gov. Bill Walker criticized the House majority.
“They did not get the job done for Alaska,” Walker said in a press release. “A compromise is required to protect Alaskans and put the state on a stable fiscal path.”
Friday is the last day of the special session. Walker could call the Legislature into another special session as soon as tomorrow. The state government will shut down if the Legislature doesn’t pass a budget before July 1.
With one day left in special session, little public progress on budget
Andrew Kitchenman, KTOO – Juneau
Senate President Pete Kelly said leaders should focus on the budget.
Uber, Lyft cleared to launch in Alaska
Zcahariah Hughes, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage
Governor Bill Walker signed House Bill 132 into law this afternoon, opening up business in Alaska for Transportation Network Companies, including popular services like Uber and Lyft.
Southeast tribal organization says it will support the Paris Climate Accord
Elizabeth Jenkins, KTOO – Juneau
“We’re responsible for these lands,” Central Council President Richard Peterson said.
Federal officials make formal apology for WWII internment of Unangan people
Zoe Sobel, KUCB – Unalaska
On Wednesday, Federal officials apologized for their role in the World War II internment of the Unangan people.
U.S. Senate committee advances bill to make Native tribes eligible for Amber Alert grants
Tripp Crouse, KTOO – Juneau
The U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs on Tuesday approved a bill, S.722, that would make Native tribes eligible for Amber Alert grants.
Shareholders consider shrinking Sealaska board
Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau
Should Southeast’s regional Native corporation shrink its governing board? That’s a question before Sealaska’s more than 22,000 shareholders. Management opposes the change.
Propeller problems postpone ferry Columbia’s return
Joe Viechnicki, KFSK – Petersburg
The largest vessel in the Alaska Marine Highway fleet will be late to return to service this summer.
Team Pure and Wild Freeburd wins 2017 Race to Alaska
Emma Atkinson, KRBD – Ketchikan
Four days and 750 miles after departing from Victoria, British Columbia, Team Pure and Wild Freeburd sailed into Ketchikan, making them the winners of the 2017 Race to Alaska.
Fiber broadband coming to Nome by year’s end, Quintillion says
Davis Hovey, KNOM – Nome
In order to stay on schedule, Kristina Woolston, Quintillion’s Vice President of External Relations, says they will have three vessels in Alaskan waters this summer to install 40 more miles of fiber, which wasn’t completed last year.
Longevity crucial to teachers’ impact in classroom
Josh Edge, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage
While school is in session, students spend about 30 hours in the classroom every week. That’s more than 1,000 hours each academic year. This means teachers play a pivotal role, not only in a student’s education, but in their development as a person.
After over 40 years at Prudhoe Bay, general store manager to retire
Elizabeth Harball, Alaska’s Energy Desk – Anchorage
The North Slope community of Deadhorse is an unusual place. Its No. 1 purpose is to serve the oil field its next to: Prudhoe Bay. There are no houses, there’s no downtown and no parks; just a series of industrial lots and gravel roads in the middle of the tundra. But Deadhorse does have a store. And the man who runs it is retiring this month, after 42 years.
Should Southeast’s regional Native corporation shrink its governing board? That’s a question before Sealaska’s more than 22,000 shareholders. Management opposes the change.
Shareholder Karen Taug thinks that’s too many — and costs too much.
“I believe that if we were a moneymaking machine and we were just rolling in successful corporations and we had a lot to manage, I think it’s justified to have more board members,” Taug said.
But, Taug said that’s not the case.
Taug, who works in finance, is one of 12 shareholders running for four seats on Sealaska’s board of directors this spring. She’s also the author of a resolution to shrink the board from 13 to nine members.
Sealaska opposes the measure, though it would not grant an interview on the topic. A statement on its website said a smaller board would result “in decreased representation of shareholder interests.” It also said fewer seats would lessen the chance of independent candidates being elected.
Part of the resolution would make it harder for longtime board members to win re-election, by prohibiting a management endorsement. Taug read from her proposal.
“The longest-serving directors will not be eligible for the board slate. However, (they) will be able to run as an independent candidate to begin in the year 2018 and each year thereafter until there are nine members,” Taug said.
Sealaska opposes the measure, saying it would damage the corporation.
On its website, officials wrote “The resolution as written targets longest-serving directors for removal to accomplish the reduction, regardless of their experience.”
Nicole Hallingstad, also an independent board candidate, said that’s the point.
“I think the current resolution is one more way that shareholders are trying to deliver their message that there are directors who have served far too long on Sealaska’s board,” Hallingstad said.
Previous resolutions proposed term limits or changes in discretionary voting. All failed.
To pass, a resolution needs to attract more than 50 percent of all shares that could be cast. That’s a higher standard than a majority of just the shares cast that year.
There’s no standard board size for Alaska’s 12 regional Native corporations. Sealaska is one of three with 13 members. Another three have nine. The others range from 11 to 23.
Edgar Blatchford is a former regional Native corporation CEO. He teaches journalism and Native studies at the University of Alaska Anchorage. Blatchford said reducing board size just puts more power in a few shareholders’ hands.
“In my experience in dealing with Chugach Alaska Corp., I think it has left holes in the argument that it has created efficiencies. I think what it has created is a lack of transparency and it has put more corporate control, more board control, in the board of directors,” Blatchford said.
Most Sealaska shareholders have already cast their ballots, called proxies, by mail or online. The final deadline is at Sealaska’s annual meeting, June 24, in Hydaburg on Prince of Wales Island. Results will be announced there.
The ballots also list the names of those shareholders running for four board seats.
Here are brief summaries of the the candidates, in alphabetical order, condensed from http://www.sealaska.com/election-connection.
Four days and 750 miles after departing from Victoria, British Columbia, Team Pure and Wild Freeburd sailed into Ketchikan, making them the winners of the 2017 Race to Alaska.
Amidst light rain, with fog eclipsing the tops of the surrounding mountains, brothers Tripp, Chris and Trevor Burd guided their trimaran, “Mama Tried,” into Thomas Basin Harbor. They were met with a booming gunshot, cheers and whistles.
Around 30 people gathered at the to welcome the winners to Ketchikan. Many had been watching the race closely using the online tracker. It was an exciting finish, because Pure and Wild was neck and neck most of the last few hours with Team Big Broderna. This was the closest finish for first place in Race To Alaska’s short history.
The Burd brothers stepped off of the boat onto the slippery dock, groaning as only men who have spent four days whipped by the sea and wind can.
Tripp nudged Trevor, the youngest brother, to ring the bell stationed on the edge of the dock – marking their Race to Alaska finish.
Tripp and Chris had both braved the Race to Alaska before – Chris in 2015, and Tripp both years– but this was Trevor’s first experience in the West Coast challenge.
“They’ve done the race before, and I don’t think they told me what it was all about, you know?” Trevor said. “I thought I was signing up for a sailboat race! But, no, it was definitely cool to do it with them and there’s no one I’d rather do it with. Even if they did, you know, trick me into it.”
Despite his years of sailing experience, he says conditions just after they broke away from the protection of the islands were fairly extreme.
“We got some big waves and some really nasty stuff that, kind of, all you’re doing is nursing the boat through and trying not to break yourself or anything like that, really. I sail full time and those were the biggest waves I’ve ever seen, so… Pretty nasty,” Trevor said.
When asked if he was considering racing again next year, Trevor groaned.
“Oh, man, it’s too early to ask that question, man. Way too early for that,” Trevor said. “Yeah, we’ll see what schedule’s like next year, with that. See if I can finally dry out before then.”
Minutes after Pure and Wild arrived, Big Broderna sailed past the finish line.
The Burd brothers will walk away with the first place prize of $10,000, and Big Broderna’s crew will receive a set of steak knives.
In third place is Team Bad Kitty. That boat has not yet reached Prince Rupert, so it’s at least a day away from the finish line.
Amber Alerts are emergency broadcasts in the event of a child abduction.
The bill would also create a permanent program that provides tribes with Amber Alert training.
According to a draft resolution from the National Congress of American Indians, more than 7,000 American Indian children are listed as missing in the U.S.
Amber Alerts were first implemented in Alaska in March 2009. Since then, six alerts have been issued in the state.
Five Amber Alerts were issued out of Anchorage and one was from Palmer. Because many Alaska communities are either off the road system or otherwise isolated, it’s difficult for a child to be removed from their area, according to Paul Fussey, search-and-rescue coordinator with the Alaska Department of Public Safety.
The committee also approved a second bill that would transfer Indian Health Service property in Sitka to SEARHC. The committee unanimously passed the land transfer bill, S. 825.
Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski introduced the measure to transfer title of 19 acres of land and buildings on the Mount Edgecumbe Hospital campus to the nonprofit.
According to a news release from Murkowski’s office, a clean title would let SEARHC improve and expand the nearly 70-year-old facility, which SEARHC has operated since 1986.
Both bills head to the U.S. Senate for consideration.
Leaders from both chambers of the Legislature met behind closed doors Thursday as they tried to reach a budget agreement.
But there was little public progress.
The 30-day special session will end Friday and the House and Senate majorities remained far apart.
Fairbanks Republican Senate President Pete Kelly said leaders should focus on the budget.
“The highest priority we have in the Senate is to avoid a government shutdown and that means we have to pass an operating budget,” Kelly said. “The consequences of a government shutdown are devastating. A lot of people think it just affects the public sector, but that’s not true. It’s the private sector as well.”
Kelly singled out the state’s fishing industry as an example of an important business sector likely to be damaged by a shutdown.
Dillingham Democratic House Speaker Bryce Edgmon was in a caucus meeting Thursday afternoon. On Wednesday evening, he said the House majority wanted to reach an agreement on a long-term plan to balance the amount the state government spends with what it receives.
“Our caucus has taken a very difficult, but we think appropriate, position in that we want to get a responsible budget in place this year,” Edgmon said. “We do not want a shutdown. But we also do not want to be back in this situation again next year.”
Kelly said it’s still possible to reach an agreement tonight and tomorrow.
If that doesn’t happen, Gov. Bill Walker is likely to call lawmakers into another special session. The Legislature must pass a budget before July 1 to prevent a shutdown.
On Wednesday, Federal officials apologized for their role in the World War II internment of the Unangan people.
Jim Kurth — acting director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service — traveled to St. Paul Island to speak with survivors and descendants.
“As much as we wish, we cannot take back the course of history,” Kurth said. “But what we can do now is heal together. We can work together.”
Fish and Wildlife agents oversaw the internment of the people of the Pribilof Islands. They were sent to inhumane camps in southeast Alaska where many perished due to illness and starvation — after the Japanese bombed Dutch Harbor in 1942.
In all, almost 900 Alaska Natives were evacuated from the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands.
This means teachers play a pivotal role, not only in a student’s education, but in their development as a person.
Tom Bowerman is a music teacher, and he has been at Willow Crest Elementary School in Anchorage for 13 years. It’s not just his job to educate, it’s to inspire.
Unlike most educators who work in one classroom with the same children, he spends about an hour each week with every student at Willow Crest – so he sees the students every week the entire time they’re in elementary school.
A student starting in kindergarten would spend seven years with Bowerman.
That’s time he spends not only building relationships with the students, “but with the parents that have five and six kids that go through your program and you see them every year,” Bowerman said. “And it’s sad when you finally get the last one is gone, you know, ‘I’m not gonna see this family again.’”
“So it’s a little sad, but it’s also really happy that you’ve seen them grow from not being able to do anything, to being adjusted and ready to go onto that next level,” Bowerman added.
That longevity in the classroom, and community as a whole, builds relationships that persist for years – decades, even.
While music has always been an important aspect of Bowerman’s life, he remembers the impact of one particular teacher from his own formative years.
“My high school choir teacher, her name was Cam Bohman,” Bowerman said. “And we just had a 50th anniversary deal last summer where kids that she taught for her 50 years all came back from all over the country, and we had a big concert at West High to celebrate her.”
The turnout was impressive. Bowerman said about 150 people showed up to perform to a packed auditorium at the reunion.
Though Cam Bohman’s 50-year legacy could be tough to compete with, it exemplifies the influence a single teacher can have on the lives of hundreds of students over the course of decades, and it’s an impact that might not even be recognized for years.
“Music ties in with science, and it ties in with literature and it ties in with history,” Bowerman said. “And so we bring all those things together and we provide it for the kids and it helps them grow.”
“They might not even realize what they’re getting, but they’re getting access to it,” Bowerman added.
Bowerman acknowledges teaching music is different from teaching core subjects, like math, history and science – and he said burnout from a continually growing list of responsibilities and the prospect growing class sizes is affecting teachers’ longevity in the class, especially in light of recent layoff notices issued by the Anchorage School District, spurred by an uncertain level of state funding.
“As they get bigger there’s no room in the classroom for the desks, let alone the kids,” Bowerman said. “I mean, I don’t know if you’ve seen the size of sixth graders these days, but they’re getting pretty big, you can’t put 35 of them – I mean, we’ve done it before, it didn’t last that long because kids moved out – but 35 6th graders in one room or 35-40 second graders — it’s like herding cats.”
By the end of this past school year, ASD issued 225 layoff notices to teachers – five just at Willow Crest Elementary. Some, or even all, of those teachers could be recalled, depending on how much money the district receives from the state.
The Senate is proposing an approximately $65 million cut to education funding, while the House is proposing a slight increase.
Bowerman did not receive a pink slip, but he’s still concerned about the possible effect on classrooms. And while uncertainty surrounds the issue of potential layoffs, he says teachers knowing their impact remains important.
“Teaching can drag on you at times,” Bowerman said. “Halfway through the year and you’re tired and you’ve been doing a lot, and all of a sudden, out of nowhere, one of the little kids will run up to you and say, ‘Do we have music today?’ and I go, ‘Yeah we do’, and he says, ‘Alright!’ Or they’ll see you on bus duty, ‘do we have music today?’ Yeah. ‘Good!’ And, you know that you’re connecting with them when you get that kind of response. It just validates what you’re doing.”
Ultimately, Bowerman strives to inspire and to build lasting relationships with students and their families, which takes time and consistency in both an educator’s approach, and also their own future.
The North Slope community of Deadhorse is an unusual place. Its No. 1 purpose is to serve the oil field it’s next to: Prudhoe Bay. There are no houses, no downtown and no parks; just a series of industrial lots and gravel roads in the middle of the tundra.
But Deadhorse does have a store. And the man who runs it is retiring this month, after 42 years.
If you find yourself in Deadhorse and you need some paint, an energy drink or a book about Sarah Palin, you’ll need to go to the Prudhoe Bay “general store.” It’s the only store in town.
Dave Pritchard, the manager, gave a tour of the general store, which is what people usually call it instead of its official name, Brooks Range Supply. As he walked around the store’s various rooms, he points out the inventory: pipe fittings, industrial hoses, candy, paint, copy paper, cases of water.
“We sell everything!” Pritchard said. “I always call us ‘the mall.’”
Pritchard’s clocked in at Prudhoe Bay since 1975 — longer than oil has flowed through the trans-Alaska pipeline. He started out working as a roustabout for a tug and barge company. After that, he took a job with the supply company that eventually bought the general store.
And over the next few decades, Pritchard said he worked his way to the top: “I’ve done the sales, I’ve been purchasing, I’ve done a little bit of everything — I was assistant manager for years, I’ve done the welding supply counter…”
Except for the occasional adventurous tourist driving the Dalton Highway, Pritchard’s customers are mostly oil workers. And the oil industry never stops — so when Pritchard’s on duty, he doesn’t stop, either.
“We are open 24 hours, seven days a week, 365 days a year,” Pritchard said. “We’re open Christmas, we’re open Thanksgiving, we’re open every holiday — we’re working.”
More than 15,000 oil workers move through Deadhorse every month, according to BP, but nobody lives there full time. Pritchard works “two and twos” — two weeks on and two weeks off, a pretty common schedule for the North Slope workers. When he’s off, Pritchard flies to his house in Cincinnati or a condo in Florida. Pritchard said that might sound great, but it takes a special kind of person to work where he does.
“There’s a lot of people that come up can’t handle the dark. There’s a lot of people who come up here and can’t handle the light,” Pritchard said.
Plus, Pritchard said the two weeks away from home can be tough for families. Pritchard’s never been married and doesn’t have kids. And he’s seen a lot over the last 42 years, including some big changes. Back in the ’70s and ’80s, Pritchard recalls that things could get a little crazy.
“When Alaska Airlines first came up here, they brought Playboy Bunnies and beer kegs,” Pritchard said.
Did he actually meet the Playboy Bunnies?
“Oh yeah, I was at that party,” Pritchard said with a laugh.
Today, oil workers aren’t allowed to drink once they land at Prudhoe Bay. Things are more tranquil nowadays. And Pritchard doesn’t mind that. Working in the middle of the tundra, hundreds of miles away from the nearest city, he’s become more in tune with nature’s patterns.
“All of a sudden you’ll see the foxes will be plentiful. And then the squirrels — won’t be that many squirrels. All of a sudden, all the squirrels are around and the foxes aren’t that many because they birth that way – it’s a cycle,” Pritchard said
Another cycle Pritchard’s gotten used to is the fluctuation in oil prices.
“I’ve seen it go both ways,” Pritchard said. “I’ve gone through about three or four ups and downs. And right now we’re on a big down thing – it happened in the ’80s, it happened in the ’90s, and now it’s happening in the 2000s.”
Brooks Range Supply isn’t an oil company, but like every other business in Deadhorse, it’s suffering through the latest oil price slump. Pritchard said it’s hard — they’ve had to cut jobs and limit the number of hours employees can work.
But pretty soon, Pritchard won’t have to worry about that. He retires this month. Asked what he thinks the future holds for the Prudhoe Bay General Store once he’s gone, he replied, “Well, the future won’t have me here — I’m kind of looking forward to that. But it all depends on the price of oil.”
He added, “I always joke with my father and say, ‘you pay too little for your gas right now,’ and he laughs at me and says, ‘yeah, I know what you mean.’”
Pritchard’s last day at the General Store is June 27. After his final flight lifts off from Prudhoe Bay, he’s looking forward to golfing and spending more time with his father.
This story is part of Alaska Energy Desk’s series, Midnight Oil, about the pipeline that shaped Alaska. Next week, they’ll look at why it was so hard to find oil at Prudhoe Bay.
Listen on Alaska Public Media or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.
Thursday, Gov. Bill Walker signed House Bill 132 into law, opening up business in Alaska for Transportation Network Companies, including popular services like Uber and Lyft. The companies already laid the groundwork to start operations before ink from the governor’s pen was even dry.
For its part, Lyft has spent the last month recruiting new drivers in Alaska.
“Specifically in Anchorage, Juneau and Fairbanks,” Scott Coriell said. Coriell is the communications manager for Lyft in San Franscisco.
The company is accepting customers right away.
“The bill that passed the Legislature goes into effect immediately upon the signature of the Governor,” Coriell said. “So we will turn the system on.”
“Folks who are approved to drive can open up the app and start driving, and folks who want a ride can download the app, turn it on and request rides for where they want to go,” Coriell added.
Lyft differentiates itself from competitor Uber by having more driver-friendly features, like being able to pay a tip from within the smartphone app. According to Lyft, the vast majority of its drivers work part-time, many to earn extra income.
Though it has received nowhere near the amount of negative attention over labor and leadership issues as Uber, Lyft settled a $27 million lawsuit in California earlier this year over how it classifies drivers. Issues like that were a key reason why TNCs had to stop operating in Alaska back in 2014.
But if you live in Nome, Sitka or the cab capital of America, Bethel, don’t hold your breath. Coriell said that while the company would like to expand to smaller communities in Alaska, they aren’t quite there yet.
“We do have to do some work on our end to launch those regions,” Coriel said. The hold up centers on compliance issues. For drivers, who have to use their own vehicles, that means meeting inspection standards and passing background checks.
Patrick Carter, a lobbyist for Uber in Alaska, said the company is expected to begin operations within a day and plans to host a launch party next week.
As you’ve probably heard by now, five people were shot Tuesday morning in Virginia, where the Republican team was practicing for the annual congressional baseball game. Alaska Public Media News Director Lori Townsend spoke to Washington correspondent Liz Ruskin about the mood at the Capitol.
Townsend: So what was it like? What happened today?
Ruskin: It was kind of a sad afternoon. At noon there was a House session and everyone came – looked like all the House members were there – and Speaker Ryan gave a pretty emotional or stirring speech. There was a real sense of bipartisanship. After that the House canceled all events, and so the hallways went kind of quiet. The Senate went on as usual. But they recognized several times, in in the committees and on the floor, people talked about the shooting.
Townsend: Was any of the Alaska delegation affected?
Ruskin: Not directly. None of them is playing baseball in the game tomorrow. None of them was on the diamond. But it is kind of a community, a workplace, and somebody is bound to know someone. The spokesman for Sen. Sullivan, Mike Anderson, he played basketball with one of the shooting victims. His name’s Matt Mika and he is the most seriously wounded. He’s got a big wound to the chest and he’s in intensive care.
Townsend: Does he work in the Capitol?
Ruskin: He’s a lobbyist. I guess he used to be a staffer for several House members and now he’s a lobbyist for Tyson Foods.
Townsend: And have you heard anything about what kind of shape he’s in now?
Ruskin: Just that he’s still in critical condition, that he’s in intensive care and his family expects him to be there for a few days.
Townsend: Liz, how did the delegation react today?
Ruskin: Well, of course, they all said that they were thinking of the victims and praying for the victims of the shooting, and there was a lot of appreciation, from the delegation and from the Capitol generally, for the Capitol Police. Two Capitol Police officers were injured (one shot in the ankle, one hurt but not shot) and they returned fire (killing the gunman.) And if it weren’t for them, many people said there would have been more probably more casualties.
Townsend: Did any of them, the senators or Congressman Young express, are they worried about their safety?
Ruskin: No, I don’t think so. I spoke to Sen. Murkowski and she said she’s never felt personally unsafe and she does walk to work most mornings that she’s in Washington. She said she would not like to have a security detail like a few of the Congress members have. She said she didn’t want to feel insulated from the public. (Sen. Sullivan said much the same.)
Townsend: Liz, do you know if any of the Alaska delegation plans to go to the game tomorrow? The intention is to continue as scheduled.
Ruskin: Right. The game does go on and Senator Murkowski said she just might go. I’m not sure about the others. And I actually bought my tickets today.
Townsend: This is a fundraiser, this ballgame, is it not?
Ruskin: Yes, it is. It’s I believe it’s for the Boys & Girls Clubs and they added another charity, the Fallen Officers Fund.
Townsend: All right Liz, thanks so much for those details coming out of the Capitol today … That was Alaska Public Media. Liz Ruskin reporting from Washington.
(This transcript has been slightly edited for length and clarity.)
The largest tribe in Alaska is sticking by the Paris Climate Change Accord.
Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska said it will continue to support the agreement, which aims to reduce the world’s carbon emissions and slow climate change.
Earlier this month, President Donald Trump announced that the U.S. would be pulling out of the accord, joining countries like Nicaragua and Syria.
Central Council President Richard Peterson said that surprised him.
“You know, he’s a businessman, and I think that it’s proven that right now, alternative energies is good business,” Peterson said.
Peterson said Central Council will try to do its part by working on renewable energy solutions. He said Alaska is already experiencing the effects of a warming planet. Villages are crumbling into the ocean.
“For us it comes down to the fact that as Alaska Natives, as the first people, we have a responsibility as caretakers,” Peterson said. “We’re responsible for these lands. And more importantly, we’re responsible for what we pass down to future generations.”
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota is also supporting the Paris Accord. In Washington, the Quinault Indian Nation and Swinomish Indian Tribal Community have made a similar pledge.
Gov. Bill Walker has acknowledged the effects of climate change in the state but didn’t condemn President Trump’s decision.
As you’ve probably heard by now, 5 people were shot this morning at a baseball diamond in Virginia, where the Republican team was practicing for the annual congressional baseball game. We asked our Washington correspondent, Liz Ruskin to tell us what the day was like at the Capitol.
Lori Townsend:”Hi Liz So, how was it today?”
Liz Ruskin: “Subdued, a little sad. Most if not all of the House members came to the chamber at noon. Speaker Ryan gave emotionally stirring speech and bipartisanship was on display. And then the House cancelled all events.
Business went on as usual in the Senate, but they took note several times, on the floor and in committees of the shootings.”
Lori: “Was the Alaska delegation affected?”
Liz: “Not directly. None is playing in the game tomorrow and they weren’t at the practice.
Sen. Sullivan’s spokesman, Mike Anderson said knows one of the shooting victims. They play basketball together. His name is Matt Mika. He’s a former House staffer, now a lobbyist for Tyson foods. Matt was shot in the chest and is probably the most serious case among the wounded.”
Lori: “How did the delegation react today?”
Liz: “Of course they all said their thoughts and prayers are on the victims, and there was a lot of gratitude for police. I caught up with Sen. Sullivan. He said it’s renewed his appreciation for the Capitol Police, and all police who put themselves in harm’s way.”
Lori : “Are they worried about their safety?”
Liz: “Already today there was talk of adding more security to protect members of Congress. Most don’t have security details. I talked to both senators today and they said they don’t feel unsafe or threatened and didn’t want extra security for themselves.
Sen. Murkowski walks to her Capitol Hill office most mornings, and as she put it, she doesn’t want to feel that she’s insulated from the public.
And she said she just might go to the ballgame tomorrow.”
There’s a battle brewing in Anchorage over parking. It centers on a new plan to start charging at parking meters during weekends, and whether the changes will steer business in or out of the area.
In Anchorage and elsewhere, most drivers share a common sentiment.
“Nobody likes paying for parking,” explained Brian Borguno, Parking Director for the Anchorage Community Development Authority.
ACDA controls about 6,000 parking spots in garages, surface lots, and at curbside meters. For years, the price for parking on downtown streets stayed flat, according to Borguno. Under the Berkowitz Administration, ACDA studied whether those old prices and policies still made sense.
“It’s a limited resource,” Borguno said in a phone interview. “We only have so many spaces available that are curbside in the downtown setting.”
When Borguno’s team collected data and had it independently analyzed, the results showed that about a third of the cars parked downtown on Saturdays were squatting there all day long. And that means less customers circulating through businesses in the area. Ultimately, a stakeholder group made up of property owners, restaurants, stores, and others endorsed the idea of charging at meters on Saturdays.
It is not politically popular, though, to start demanding money for a resource that’s heretofore been free. At least free on weekends. But the policy change isn’t driven by a push to raise revenues, according to Borguno. Instead, it’s about increasing the rate of parking space turn-over in front of businesses, and directing people toward lots and garages if they plan on spending longer downtown.
“When the on-street parking isn’t being managed, it limits the economic opportunity for businesses to have more customers, and the potential for people that are visiting downtown to have available space to park at the most convenient locations,” Borguno explained.
There are 1,750 meters under the control of ACDA’s control (which bear the orange “EasyPark” branding), most of which have a two-hour limit, though some allow 10 hours. Under the current plan, the city will start a pilot program on July 1st that issues warning tickets when people don’t pay at two-hour meters on Saturdays between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. Essentially: Saturday parking downtown will be just like any weekday. Once August rolls around, those warning tickets will become real parking tickets.
Coming on the heels of last summer’s increase in meter rates, this not welcomed news for Assembly Vice-Chair Forrest Dunbar.
“There was a very negative reaction from the public, including from me,” said Dunbar, who represents communities on the east side of town, far from the business district downtown.
Dunbar introduced a proposal that would bar charging for metered parking during evenings, Sundays, or before noon on Saturdays. In documents filed with the Assembly, Dunbar wrote the start of metering on Saturday’s could have “a chilling effect that could significantly impact the economy of downtown businesses.” This concern is less focused on merchants than on restaurants and bars, as well as their patrons.
“A lot of people come downtown, and then if they’ve had too much to drink they’ll leave their car and they’ll take a cab home,” explained Dunbar, who thinks that if people suspect they’ll get a ticket for leaving a car parked overnight then they are more likely to risk driving home under the influence.
“The parking people say they don’t think that’s the case. I think it’s common sense,” Dunbar added.
For people living in far-away neighborhoods, relying on cabs is an expensive option. And Dunbar doesn’t think those residents have been sufficiently consulted about the change to parking fees. His ordinance leaves the door open for charging at curbside meters after noon on Saturday’s, as a compromise on the issue.
There are no studies or data backing up the claims that DUIs will increase after a switch to metered parking on Saturdays, according to Borguno. He points out there are already limits on people parking along most downtown streets between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m., particularly during winter when there is overnight snowplowing.
The issue is set to be discussed during a 1 p.m. work session at City Hall on Thursday June 15th.
A sewer replacement project in Sitka has turned up more evidence that one of Alaska’s oldest cities has been inhabited for a long, long time.Nancy Yaw Davis grew up on this corner while her father, W. Leslie Yaw, served as superintendent of the Sheldon Jackson School, and later, as the president of the junior college. After a career in anthropology, she’s still curious about ‘the depth of time’ and the people who have inhabited her old neighborhood for millenia. (KCAW photo/Robert Woolsey)
A stone tool — resembling a wedge, or striker — was unearthed in an excavation beneath a street in downtown Sitka, and may never have been found, but for a retired anthropologist who knew what to look for.
Like the stone artifact itself, this story may never have seen the light of day without a Jeff Davis Street resident who called police about a “woman with a small shovel digging in people’s yards.”
The culprit proved to be Nancy Yaw Davis, who grew up on this corner.
“When I was in about 7th Grade I had a pet deer named Fritzen. It was a fawn that had been rescued and brought to dad, and he brought it to me, and we kept it alive for a while until a dog got it right on this corner.”
Davis’s father, Leslie Yaw, came to Sitka in 1923 to teach and coach at the Sheldon Jackson Training School. He became superintendent of the school in 1930, and president of the new junior college in 1944. Nancy, now 81, lived on this corner for 16 years.
“This little stretch from here to Etolin Street was owned by Kettleson,” Davis said.
It’s significant that this place is alive with memories for Davis, even though we’ve met here to discuss something made by people long dead. Less than a stone’s throw from where we’re standing are petroglyphs — prehistoric rock carvings — of unknown age and origin, right in the middle of downtown Sitka. So many people have lived, grown old, and made their own memories on this spot.
For an anthropologist, finding a stone tool was almost unavoidable.
“And my line is: I came looking for my childhood marbles, and I really lost them that morning when I found this,” Davis said.
The object itself resembles a modern wood splitting maul or wedge, except it’s got three faces instead of four. One end is squared off, where you might hit it with another stone.
“They’re flat on the top,” Davis said. “That allows a platform for flaking off and using, or pounding — I think. But you know, intelligent guessing is what we’re all capable of. But whether or not we can prove how it was made or what it was used for, I don’t know. That’s far beyond what I know from looking at a rock.”Is it a tool, or just a rock? Davis holds her latest find (r.) next to a similar artifact she found in a root wad at Beaver Lake. There are several more in the collection of the Sheldon Jackson Museum. (KCAW photo/Robert Woolsey)
And it does look like a rock. The artifact is nondescript to the untrained eye. I would have walked right by. Davis noticed it because it was a different type of stone than the gravel piled all around this road project.
Just a block away is the Sheldon Jackson Museum — and it’s got a small collection of stone tools, some of which resemble the one Davis has discovered.
Curator Jackie Hamberg thinks it might have had a utilitarian purpose.
“And that particular one looks more like a striker, that you would use to work other stone objects in order to create your tools,” Hamber said. “It’s not as thick or as hefty as our wedges that we have here, or the adze blades that are made from stone. But in order to make these stone tools you’re working with other pieces of stone, whether you’re pecking or chipping, or flaking away. So you have to have a really solid rock to work with to make something like this.”
Archaeology is not always what people imagine it is: Indiana Jones exploring an ancient, cobwebbed temple. A lot happens out here on construction sites. But not this one. Although Nancy Yaw Davis has worked as a contract archaeologist for a similar project just a few blocks away, the state doesn’t think one is necessary this time.
Judy Bittner, head of the State Historic Preservation Office, says the soils under street projects are often too disturbed to allow for careful archaeology, where everything around the artifact — known as “context” — is just as important as the object itself.
“And if it’s just sort of random artifacts, you know bottles and things that were part of the detritus of the living population there, and you know what to expect and you already have information from it, and you’re not really going to gain new information about that settlement or the occupation or the time period in history,” Bittner said.
Davis knows this as well as anyone, but she’s still a little bit irked. She sees artifacts almost everywhere she goes, and believes there is an important human story literally beneath our feet. Objects like this stone striker — though useless to archaeology in the strict sense — represent a cultural richness that modern society doesn’t fully appreciate.
“And I think that we should assume that there were people here, throughout this magnificent area, and there is evidence of them if we learn together how to recognize it,” Davis said.
And she wouldn’t mind if the field of Archaeology were a little less territorial.
Davis – “And it’s just a highly select, small group of people that have the privilege of being archaeologists. There are more general anthropologists. And I think we have more fun, because we see a larger picture, a different picture.”
KCAW – “Archaeologists have more fun?”
Davis – “I think they drink more beer than the rest of us!”
Yet another reason for Sitkans living near major sewer projects to keep the police on speed dial.
The votes are all in for Homer’s recall election of three liberal city council members. But the results are not yet clear. The politically divided town will remain in limbo until absentee votes are counted Friday.The votes are all in for Homer’s recall election of three liberal city council members. But the results are not yet clear. The politically divided town will remain in limbo until absentee votes are counted Friday.
As the ballots came in Tuesday evening, it quickly became clear the election is too close to call.
Just over a thousand voters went to the polls to decide the fate of Homer City Council members Donna Aderhold, Catriona Reynolds and David Lewis.
The council members found themselves embroiled in controversy earlier this spring, after sponsoring a failed resolution regarding inclusivity. Petitioners argue the council members intended to make Homer a sanctuary city, committing misconduct in office and economically damaging tourism.
The three elected officials enjoyed a small victory after Tuesday’s votes showed them slightly ahead, meaning they would keep their seats. Each council member is voted on individually and the razor thin margins vary from about 80 votes for Aderhold to 30 votes for Reynolds.
Council member Lewis, who 53 percent of regular voters favored, was happy that the votes are in.
“It feels good,” Lewis said. “It’s nice to hopefully have this whole thing over with and we can get back to “normal life,” whatever that’s going to be now.”
But, there are still about 740 absentee votes to count along with several electronic, mail and questioned ballots.
Lewis hopes absentee ballots will mirror the regular vote. Aderhold and Reynolds say they will wait and see. Reynolds feels vindicated by the results.
“I think that shows half the community, even if they didn’t agree what we were trying to do with the resolution, understood that was just part of the day to day life of being a city council member,” Reynolds explained.
If the preliminary numbers are anything to go by, the results show a community split almost down the middle on the issue. You could see that divide all over town on election day.
Supporters and opponents of the recall gather about one block away from each other on Pioneer Avenue. Red pro-recall signs sprouted up near a city park downtown, but one lone speck of blue stands out.
“We have healthy discussion on this corner,” Alex Koplin said. “We’re like Willie and the Poor Boys. Remember them?”
Koplin holds an anti-recall poster next to Coletta Walker, a recall supporter. As people drive by, some honk, wave or give thumbs up or down.
Walker: “We’re getting more thumbs ups because they don’t know whether it’s him or us.”
Koplin: “That’s true, because nobody quite knows because of the blue sign.”
Walker: “And I’m just saying vote today.”
Koplin: “We want people to vote, but also we have our priorities too, but yeah.”
The vote has become a proxy battle for disputes about national politics. Larry Zuccaro, is one of the sponsors of the recall petition. His sign reads, “You’re fired,” a nod to President Trump’s catch-phrase on the reality TV show ‘The Apprentice.’ Zuccaro is one of the larger financial backers of Heartbeat of Homer, the pro-recall political action committee.
He said he is very aware of the divisiveness fracturing the community and he said he’s looking forward to putting the issue behind him.
“I didn’t want to be in the newspaper, I don’t want to be on the radio, I don’t want my face all over the place,” Zuccaro said with frustration. “I’ve got the angry calls, I’ve got people at work that won’t talk to me anymore, but when that resolution hit my inbox, there was no choice.”
Chairman of Homer Citizens Against the Recall Ron Keffer and a handful of supporters gather down the street. Both Keffer and Zuccaro share some common ground when it comes to how the community will handle the election results. Each agrees it may take a long time for the anger to dissipate.
“We have to find a way to understand each other a little better because right now there isn’t even any understanding going on,” Keffer said.
Absentee votes will be counted and the vote certified Friday afternoon. Until then, those dug in on both sides will just have to wait.
The former treasurer of an entertainment industry union that raked in money during Alaska’s film-making boom is charged with stealing nearly $200,000 from the union.
Anchorage resident Ann Reddig, 62, is charged in federal court with embezzlement and forgery.
Reddig has a court date set for later this month but she is not in custody. Prosecutors refuse to comment on whether they know where to find Reddig.
It was during the heyday of Alaska’s brief film tax credit program that union membership expanded at the local chapter of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts.
That means union dues also grew at IATSE Local 918, as it is called.
Reddig had been with the organization since 2007 and handled the union’s money during the state’s movie- and TV-making boom.
It was not until after the state’s tax credits ended that, according to the charges, Reddig started stealing. That was in 2010, the charges say.
In 2013, the union’s checks for things like rent and utilities started bouncing.
“You know, I was totally stunned. I’d never been involved in anything of this nature,” Richard Benavides said, who was the union chapter president at the time. “All of this is going on, and we’re having monthly meetings of the executive board, and all of us sitting there, and this person is sitting there with you having this normal conversation with you and you have no idea.”
During an audit later, Benavides said, he became aware of checks on which his signature was forged and saw some written on the union’s account to people like Reddig’s mother, who lives out-of-state in a nursing home.
Ultimately, the union realized its accounts had been wiped out. The charges say Reddig took a total of $192,250.
When the alleged crime became clear to Benavides and the other union leadership, he asked Reddig to resign, he said.
“I said, ‘Why would you even do this kind of thing? I don’t understand this. I feel so betrayed.’ And she basically just said, ‘I don’t know Richard, I don’t know what to tell you. I can’t explain it.’ And she started to tear up, and she was obviously upset,” Benavides said.. “She never really did tell me anything, she just told me that she didn’t understand it herself.”
According to court records, Reddig was formally charged on Friday. She has a court date set for June 26, and the court has issued her a summons.
It is not uncommon for a person facing such charges to remain out of custody until a detention hearing, but when we asked the U.S. Attorney’s Office, it was unclear if the authorities know where to find Reddig in the event that she does not show up for court.
When asked if law enforcement had served the summons or were actively looking for Reddig, U.S. Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Chloe Martin wrote in an email, “Our office has no further comment.”
Alaska Public Media could not reach Reddig herself for comment.
The Alaska House voted to restore Permanent Fund dividends to the full projected amount of roughly $2,200 dollars this fall.The Alaska state capitol building in Juneau. (Public Domain photo)
Anchorage Republican Representative Gabrielle LeDoux said during a floor session that she doesn’t support cutting PFDs without requiring oil companies to pay more in taxes.
“Without this amendment, we are headed to a budget which reduces the people’s PFD,” Ledoux said. “And to this, Mr. Speaker, I say not only ‘No,’ but, ‘Hell, no,’ and urge you to vote with me.”
By pushing the House capital budget further away from the Senate’s, the vote may make it less likely the Legislature will reach an overall budget deal before the end of the special session on Friday. And reaching a consensus is even less likely on a long-term plan to balance how much the state government spends, with what it raises.
Both the House and Senate had previously voted to reduce PFDs as part of a plan to close the long-term budget gap. But the two bodies had different ideas on how much to take. The House would have made this year’s PFD check $1,250, while the Senate voted to make it $1,000.
But the House plan also includes higher taxes on the oil and gas industry, as well as an income tax. The Senate has rejected tying changes to the Permanent Fund to new taxes.
LeDoux says having full PFDs would help residents.
“Alaskans are facing economic hardships during this ongoing recession,” Ledoux said. “Delivering a full PFD not only delivers to the people their full share of the economic wealth of this state, but it also keeps freezers running, oil tanks full, and food on the table, providing a much-needed economic boost to our state.”
It’s not clear if the PFD increase will receive support from the Senate.
It’s also not clear if it will be approved by Governor Bill Walker. He vetoed half of PFD money last year, cutting it from just over 2000 dollars to just over 1000.
Walker said in a statement that his administration is working with lawmakers to ensure government services continue after July 1.
“There will be actions that do not align with the full fiscal plan I proposed,” the Governor said. “In the coming days – and weeks, if necessary – my team and I will continue to work with the House and Senate toward a compromise plan and passage of a budget.”
Fairbanks Republican Senate President Pete Kelly says the vote was a distraction from negotiations on the operating budget.
“It’s a kind of proof that they’re very desperate to get an income tax,” Kelly said.” They do this through inflating the budget to the point that we almost have to have an income tax to fund it. I don’t think it’s much more complicated than that but I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt and continue to negotiate as long as we can.”
The House voted 26 to 14 to include $1.5 billion for PFDs. The funding drew support from most members of both the largely Democratic majority coalition and the Republican minority.
If there’s no budget deal by Friday (June 16) Governor Walker will likely call the Legislature immediately back into a second special session. If there’s no budget before July 1, the state government will shut down.
In order to stay on schedule, Kristina Woolston, Quintillion’s Vice President of External Relations, says they will have three vessels in Alaskan waters this summer to install 40 more miles of fiber, which wasn’t completed last year.Quintillion fiber optic cable ship (photo: KNOM)
“(It’s) because we needed more time to get the desired burial depth that we needed off of Prudhoe Bay and Oliktok Point,” Woolston said. “So, that one critical piece is what we have left to install this summer, but the rest of the fiber that is currently installed is up and running and in test mode, so we’re able to see all of the connections and how the signals are moving. So, we are monitoring that 24/7 right now, even into the community of Nome, and we are very pleased with what we are seeing for the performance.”
It is expected that none of the three vessels will be coming to Nome’s waters this summer, but Woolston says there is still a chance. After all the connections are made between the sea-based cable and the land-based cable, Woolston says the testing phase will then have to continue.
“Once the cable — the fiber — is installed, then, we have to do a series of interconnections and splices with the existing fiber,” Woolston said. “Then our customers, the telecommunications providers, then they need to do their interconnections with our system, to make sure the equipment is speaking to each other. And then, yes, the signal goes live.”
Fiber between Fairbanks and Deadhorse has been up and running since April, which is the initial connection for the rest of the coastal communities included in Quintillion’s project. Besides Nome, land-based fiber connections are present in Kotzebue, Utqiagvik, Wainwright, Point Hope, and Prudhoe Bay.
When asked if there would be any new telecommunications providers coming to Nome and contracting with Quintillion to provide faster internet to customers, Woolston could not give specifics.
“I think you’ll start to see more information being provided to the end users as the summer goes on and the fall comes into play, and we move closer to that ‘turning on the service’ date of December 1,” Woolston said.
Quintillion is also looking to expand its network to other communities in the state; however, it is unclear at this time as to which ones.