Alaska News

Propeller problems postpone ferry Columbia’s return

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2017-06-14 11:33

The largest vessel in the Alaska Marine Highway fleet will be late to return to service this summer.

The state ferry Columbia (KFSK Ffle photo)

The 418-foot ferry Columbia was due to return to service June 28th with service from Bellingham, Washington to communities in Southeast Alaska. The vessel has been in a Portland, Oregon shipyard undergoing repairs to a propeller which struck an unknown object and was damaged last September.

“So there were some extensive repairs that needed to be done to the propeller system,” Department of Transportation spokeswoman Meadow Bailey said. “That requires a lot of lead time. The parts are manufactured in Germany and then there’s obviously the installation of the parts afterwards. So it took a while to make those repairs. And then we went and thought the repairs were successful and were testing the vessel and during that test there was another mechanical failure related to that newly installed propeller system. So we’re going to have to take the ship back and it’s, the vessel will be pulled back out of the water and they’ll be inspections made to the propeller system again.”

The Columbia was built in 1974. It can accommodate just under 500 passengers and 133 vehicles. The new target date for it to return to service is July 26th. The 408-foot ferry Malaspina has been filling in on the Columbia’s route and will continue to do so. But Bailey said there will be some impacts to people who have booked passage on the Columbia in June and July.

“The impacts though are that the Malaspina is smaller and therefore there’s going to be some passengers who had made reservations in a cabin and they will not be able to get those reserved cabins and there’s also, because the deck is smaller, we won’t be able to carry as many vehicles so there are some vehicles reservations that we’re going to have to have to cancel,” she explained. “So absolutely there are some impacts to passengers.”

The marine highway is contacting the passengers impacted by the change. A toll free number for more information is 1-800-642-0066 or online.

The Columbia was stuck in Petersburg with mechanical problems last July stranding nearly 200 passengers. It was also pulled for propeller damage in August of 2015 after striking a log in the water.

Earlier this month the ferry system announced another vessel, the Tustamena, would also be late returning from repair work.

Categories: Alaska News

Naknek’s Fishy Fabrications takes on skiff building this spring

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2017-06-14 09:01
George Wilson puts the finishing touches on the second skiff Fishy Fabrications has built this spring. (KDLG)

Bristol Bay has a big fishery but not a big marine services industry, beyond the seasonal shops that show up in the summer. This spring a local fabricator in Naknek expanded their business to try building a few set net skiffs from the ground up. KDLG’s Caitlin Tan reports on how that’s working out.

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‘Fishy Fabrications,’ a local business in Naknek, has started building skiffs from the ground up, something only a few other local businesses do in Bristol Bay.

George Wilson and Robert Hill are working long hours these days to finish building skiffs before the salmon season takes off. Often 10 hours a day, seven days a week.

“And that’s with two dads we both have kid duties during the week,” Wilson said. “This is just a good off-season job for both of us from commercial fishing – we do this in the winter and spring.”

This is the second skiff Fishy Fabrications has produced from the ground up. (Credit KDLG)

Wilson is the owner of ‘Fishy Fabrications’ and Hill is his right hand man. Since 2013 the business was more of a repair shop, but this March it shifted to a skiff building operation. Since then, he and Hill have built two set net skiffs.

Wilson is native to Naknek. He has been building and repairing boats since the mid-90s, but he said opening a shop in his hometown for local customers is fulfilling.

“Very proud and honored a lot – they could have easily gotten these built in Washington. I think that’s pretty cool,” Wilson said.

The set net skiff Wilson and Hill are working on now is 23 feet long by nine feet wide. The average turn-around time is four weeks with a cost of $24,000, not including freight.

His Bristol Bay customers are looking for shallow drafts in their set net skiffs, Hill said, adding that they want more room for fish handling, as well.

Fishy Fabrication skiffs have false bottoms to keep fish cooler longer.

“These ones have a false bottom built into them so even if you’re using a bin instead of an insulated tote, it’s still going to keep the fish significantly colder,” Hill said.

The false bottom also helps prevent sinking if people forget to put the deck plugs in, Hill added.

Wilson and Hill said part of their niche in the skiff building industry is that they are fishermen too.

“Probably in two weeks I’ll put my welding hood up and put my fishing hat on,” Wilson said.

Wilson said his experience helps him know what to add to the boat to make it functional and safe. Ultimately the boat is custom made for the buyer.

“Just having someone local that you can come in daily and have input on the build of your skiff, I think that’s huge,” he said. “You get exactly what you want.’

But it is not just about Fishy Fabrications. Wilson said he sees a lot of potential talent in the Naknek area for other boat and part builders.

“I think there’s a lot of local talent,” he said. “Whether it’s welding or refrigeration or just about anything, there’s a lot of room for growth.”

Wilson said he plans to continue building skiffs in the winter, as he has two orders lined up. But for now, he will wrap up this skiff and head out to do what he’s always done – fishing.

George Wilson (left) and Robert Hill (right) are working ten hours a day, seven days a week to finish the skiff. (Credit KDLG)
Categories: Alaska News

Ask a Climatologist: Alaska’s hottest temp ever matches Hawaii’s

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2017-06-14 08:55

Fairbanks hit 90 degrees last week for the first time in four years. The heat was very localized to the Tanana and Yukon river valleys.

Graphic courtesy of Brian Brettschneider

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We asked Brian Brettschneider, with our Ask a Climatologist segment, which areas of Alaska usually see the hottest temperatures in the summer.

He says the warmest temperatures are almost always found in the Interior.

Interview Transcript:

Brian: Somewhere from about Tanana and then eastward to the Canadian border around Eagle. Especially when you get into the Tanana and the Yukon river valleys, those are the places that over the last 100 or so years, they’ve observed the most days in the upper 80’s, the 90’s and even a 100 degree reading occurred at Fort Yukon in 1915.

Annie: And what makes that the warm spot?

Brian: Well, there are a lot of things that go into it. One is, at our high latitude, we get nearly continuous daylight in Interior Alaska. The sun sets for a few hours but it’s basically at solar heating for nearly the entire day. Also, June is a very sunny month, so you don’t have clouds that are blocking that sun’s energy. Then you also have, in say the Tanana and the Yukon river valleys, those are relatively low elevation, so, as most people know, high elevation is cooler, there’s less atmosphere above you.

They’re also far from the coast. Here in Anchorage, along any part of the coastal areas of Alaska, when the sun is out and it starts to heat up the ground, hot air rises and air has to fill in for that air that’s risen and that comes in from all directions. But when you’re in close proximity to the water, the air that’s filling in for the air that’s risen, is relatively cooler. So a lot of things come together to make it warmer in the Interior.

Annie: What else do we know about that 100 degree record in Fort Yukon?

Brian: That happened in 1915. A number of places in the Interior were in the 90’s and Fort Yukon topped out at 100 degrees. Looking at all the data around it, it may have been a little bit too warm, but it’s plausible that it occurred. Interestingly, it’s the only 100 degree reading ever in Alaska, it also ties Hawaii for their warmest temperature on record. So that’s an interesting bit of trivia, that Alaska and Hawaii share a record for the hottest all time temperature. And it’s also worth noting- the 100 degree reading in Hawaii- some people have looked into it, and it’s probably a bad reading, it probably overstates what their hottest temperature is. Their hottest temperature is probably something in the upper 90’s. So it’s very possible it’s gotten warmer in Alaska than it ever has in Hawaii.

Categories: Alaska News

Former lawmakers join Senator Wielechowski to challenge Governor Walker’s PFD cuts

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2017-06-13 17:16
Former Republican Senator Clem Tillion. (Credit: Alaska State Legislature)

While the Legislature considers making changes to how Alaska Permanent Fund earnings are spent, a pair of former lawmakers are working to block a reduction to Permanent Fund dividends.

Clem Tillion has a message to lawmakers who want to reduce the PFD: Don’t think any changes you make are going to last.

“I’m opposed to any changes in the Permanent Fund and I’ll fight it,” Tillion said. “And we’ll raise the votes if necessary to put it back the way it is if they change it. The fund belongs to the people. It was given to the people.”

Tillion was a Republican senator when the Permanent Fund was created. He’s an active 91 year old and attended the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council meeting last week, visiting Juneau from his home in Halibut Cove.

Tillion and former Republican senator Rick Halford joined with Anchorage Democratic Senator Bill Wielechowski in a lawsuit to reverse Governor Bill Walker’s veto that halved PFDs last year.

Tillion’s hopeful they’ll win in court. If not, he’s confident they’ll win a ballot question next year to reverse any changes to the fund.

“To take something from the Permanent Fund that belongs to the people – you’re taking money away from some widow in Emmonak and making some guy that comes from Lake Charles, Louisiana, and works on the North Slope go home without paying any taxes – that’s absolutely idiotic,” Tillion said. “If they come here to work and take our resources, they should pay something.”

Anchorage Superior Court Judge William Morse ruled in November that Walker had the authority to veto the money.

According to Tillion, the state could still draw money from Permanent Fund earnings at roughly one billion dollars per year to pay for state government, and the Legislature can do it within the current law.

“The thing is, to change the law in any way is a declaration of war,” Tillion said.

Tillion would close the rest of the two and a half billion dollar budget gap with taxes on income, sales, motor fuels, and businesses. The Legislature hasn’t agreed on any new taxes, and no lawmaker has introduced a sales tax.

“We have a good system,” Tillion said. “Leave it alone. Let it do its thing.”

Halford agrees. He was House majority leader when the Permanent Fund dividends were started.

“Looking to the Permanent Fund, without looking to all the other potential solutions at the same time and in somewhat equal measure, is a very serious mistake,” Halford said.

Halford will join Tillion and others in reversing any changes to PFDs if they don’t win in court first.

“The dividend is based on a formula,” Halford said. “It’s not based on the whim of a governor. It’s not based on a legislative appropriation.”

Halford said tying the dividend to the fund’s performance – like the current system – keeps Alaskans interested in the fund.

Walker and the Legislature have proposed turning the dividend into a predictable amount based on the fund’s total value. It would fall from more than 2200 dollars currently forecast to one thousand dollars in the Senate bill and 1250 dollars in the House bill.

Both bills would also allow the payment to state government to be predictable. Walker and financial experts say this is a necessary step to stabilize the state budget.

The state Supreme Court will hear arguments on the Permanent Fund lawsuit on June 20.

Categories: Alaska News

What’s the feds’ cannabis enforcement policy? ‘Confusing’

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2017-06-13 17:15
Cannabis plant (Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Whether the Trump administration will enforce the federal ban on marijuana in Alaska remains ambiguous.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski asked Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein about cannabis policy at a hearing Tuesday. Rosenstein at times took a hard line.

“We follow the law and the science. And from a legal and scientific perspective, marijuana is an illegal drug,” he said “It’s properly scheduled under schedule 1.”

Murkowski asked about the Cole Memo — a 2013 document that says the feds will not take enforcement action in states, like Alaska, that have opted to legalize and regulate cannabis. Rosenstein says he intends to discuss it with the new U.S. attorneys, once they take office.

“At the moment, that memorandum is still in effect,” he said. “Maybe there will be changes to it in the future. But we’re still operating under that policy.”

Rosenstein finished Murkowski’s question back on the hard line:

“We’re responsible for enforcing the law. It’s illegal and that is the federal policy with regard to marijuana,” he said.

Murkowski gave him a one-word response: “Confusing.”

The federal ban has Alaska’s licensed marijuana businesses in several binds. Banks reject their cash receipts as drug money. Murkowski said she’s heard postal inspectors believe they can seize packages of cash when cannabis entrepreneurs mail payments to the state tax office.

Categories: Alaska News

No hearing for Senate health bill and, says Murkowski, no sighting, either

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2017-06-13 16:53
Sen. Lisa Murkowski speaks to reporters at the Capitol. File photo by Liz Ruskin/Alaska Public Media

Sen. Lisa Murkowski says she’s not happy with the fast-track process the Senate Majority leader is using to bring a health care bill to the floor without any hearings.

Murkowski is a member of the HELP (Health, Education, Labor and Pensions) Committee, so she would have a chance to work on the bill, if it were going through the normal committee process. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has invoked what’s called “Rule 14.” That could send the bill directly to the Senate floor with little or no chance for amendments

“Do I think that’s the best way to go? No, I’m a process person,” Murkowski said. She also said she hasn’t seen the bill yet and mostly hears details about it from reporters who surround her in the corridors.

“Yeah, I got a problem with it,” she said, of the process. “If I’m not going to see a bill before we have a vote on it, that’s just not a good way to handle something that is as significant and important as health care.”

McConnell couldn’t say when senators would see the bill or whether they were on track to pass it before the end of the month, as he wants

“You know, I’m not going to answer that with specificity,” he told reporters Tuesday. “Our goal here is to move forward quickly. The status quo is unsustainable.”

Alaska has by far the highest health care costs in the country. Under current law, Alaskans who buy insurance on the individual market can get bigger subsidies to offset the high cost. The health care bill the House passed would replace the subsidies with tax credits that vary only by age, not location. The bill House would also move a lot of Medicaid costs to the states.

It’s not clear how closely the Senate bill drafters will stick to the House version.

Murkowski says she’s had plenty of opportunities to discuss Alaska’s specific needs with the senators who are working on the bill behind closed doors.

“So whether I’m invited into every meeting or not, when I’ve got something to say, I say it,” she asserted.

But has she heard whether her concerns will be addressed in the legislation?

“I don’t know because I have no idea if we even have a bill!” she said.

Murkowski and other Republican senators had lunch at the White House to discuss health care. She was seated right next to the president. Video footage shows she wasn’t sitting squarely in her chair when the president was talking. Social media erupted with speculation that she was trying to distance herself.

Murkowski and Ernst are about as far away from Trump as they can without moving to the next chair. pic.twitter.com/0Iw9Rwe6Im

— Glenn Thrush (@GlennThrush) June 13, 2017

Murkowski says she was just turned in her seat to see the president better.

“I’m an active listener, and I like to look at people when they’re talking.”

 

Categories: Alaska News

Pebble Partnership contracts with ASRC Energy Services

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2017-06-13 16:09
The Pebble Partnership has contracted with ASRC Energy services.

The Pebble Partnership announced today a new contract with a subsidiary of Arctic Slope Regional Corporation. ASRC Energy Services (AES) bills itself as a “one-stop shop” for consulting and contracting services for a number of industries, including natural resources.

Pebble spokesman Mike Heatwole said that the purpose of contracting with AES is to identify and streamline potential and existing relationships with Alaska Native village corporations.

“We were looking for someone who could assist us in ensuring that we could maximize the contracting opportunities for our business partners around the lake area,” Heatwole said. “We’ve had long-term business relationships with a range of Alaska Native village corporations around the lake area and wanted to get some additional assistance to make sure that opportunity is fully realized for the long haul.”

Pebble Partnership is working to establish contracts with village corporations around Iliamna Lake as the company gears up for a limited summer work season. Pebble anticipates hiring locally this summer for bear guards, helicopter services and data gathering for a planned transportation corridor.

Categories: Alaska News

Murkowski and Sullivan recommend federal judge nominees to President Trump

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2017-06-13 13:51

Alaska may soon have a new federal judge. There are only three full-time U.S. District Court judge positions in Alaska, and one of them has been vacant for nearly a year and a half.

U.S. Federal Courthouse in Anchorage, Alaska (Courtesy: Alaska District, U.S. Federal Court)

Last week, Alaska Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan sent a list of recommended nominees to President Trump, who has the power to appoint federal judges, subject to confirmation by the Senate.

The Senators’ representatives did not publish the list of nominees, and declined to tell Alaska Public Media who they nominated, how many names they sent to the White House, or whether those names came from the original applicant pool of twenty Alaska lawyers and judges.

If this level of secrecy sounds unfamiliar, that could be because there are very few rules governing the selection of federal judges.

In contrast, Alaska state court judges are chosen after a merit-based review process, as required by the Alaska Constitution. Over the past half century, that process has become very thorough and public.

The nominations are just suggestions; President Trump is not compelled to choose from that list. It’s unclear when Trump will make his choice.

Categories: Alaska News

UAA athletic director leaving program, heading to Midwest

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2017-06-13 13:45
Outgoing UAA Athletic Director Keith Hackett addresses the media for the first time on Sept. 20, 2013. (Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage)

The head of the University of Alaska Anchorage’s athletic department is resigning, and heading to the Midwest.

Outgoing UAA athletic director Keith Hackett will be taking the same job at Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa.

Hackett says he’s sad to leave Alaska, but he’s looking forward to being closer to family, particularly his son and three grandkids who live nearby, in Minnesota.

“What a better reason to go; spend more time with family and get to work at an outstanding institution and academic institution that has a long and storied history in athletics,” Hackett said.

Cornell College is a NCAA Division III school, fielding 19 sports.

In nearly four years with Hackett at the helm, UAA has amassed 21 conference titles, 94 All-American athletes and finished in the top-3, nationally, in women’s basketball, volleyball and men’s cross country running.

While he’s proud of the school’s athletic success, Hackett says he’s most proud of the student-athletes’ work in the classroom during his tenure.

“We have continued to improve our academic performance every single semester that I’ve been here,” Hackett said. “We’ve gotten better and better and better and better and better.”

When Hackett took over the department, student athletes were averaging better than a 3.15 grade point average. In the most recent semester, that number improved to 3.32 – an accomplishment he credits to the hard work of student athletes.

“The most important day for me is not the day that we win a conference championship or regional championship or play for a national championship,” Hackett said. “The most important day for me is the day that our student athletes walk across the stage, shake hands with the chancellor, get their diploma cover.”

More than 100 Seawolf athletes have walked across the stage since Hackett took over the department in 2013.

His last day at UAA is July 7.

Categories: Alaska News

Military ramps up spending ahead of Eielson fighter jet squadrons

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2017-06-13 11:30

The Army Corps of Engineers last week awarded two more contracts worth more than $55 million last week for construction of facilities to accommodate the two squadrons of F-35As that will coming to Eielson Air Force Base over the next three years.

Work is under way on new facilities at Eielson Air Force Base that’ll accommodate the 54 F-35As that will be coming to Eielson beginning in 2020, along with the personnel who’ll be flying and maintaining them, and their family members. (U.S. Marine Corps)

The first of the two contracts was worth $37.3 million and went to a joint venture between Anchorage-based Bethel Federal and the Unit Company. Kevin Blanchard, who directs the 354th Fighter Wing’s F-35 Program Integration Office, says the companies will build a facility that’ll be used for corrosion control and maintenance and repair on the jets’ engines.

“To do longer-term maintenance, things that take more than a day, potentially, on the aircraft,” Blanchard said.

The project should be completed by July 2019. Blanchard expects work to begin soon, because the contractor will have a lot of preliminary clearing and grading work to do before construction can begin.

“It’s undeveloped, forested land,” Blanchard said. “So there’s quite a bit of site preparation to do to get this project going.”

The second of the two contracts, worth about $18 million, was awarded June 7 to Silver Mountain Construction of Palmer. It calls for renovation of an existing building and construction of an addition that’ll be used for a unit that’ll maintain two types of aircraft on the base.

“That’ll be a combined F-35/F-16 field training detachment,” Blanchard said.

Blanchard says those were the third and fourth Eielson F-35-related contracts awarded by the Corps of Engineers so far.

“We’ll actually have five more to award for the FY 17 projects, going forward,” Blanchard said.

The projects are intended to accommodate two squadrons, or about 50, of the new-generation stealth fighters that’ll be coming to Eielson in 2020, along with about 1,250 mainly military personnel to operate and maintain them. Fairbanks Economic Development Corporation President and CEO Jim Dodson says the projects will provide opportunities for local companies to subcontract – and local construction workers to get to work.

“I think that you will see almost everybody that wants to go to work, working in Fairbanks, in the construction trade,” Dodson said.

Dodson has estimated military-construction projects at Eielson and Clear Air Force Station will pump about $1.5 billion in to the state’s economy in the coming years.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly Mon. 6/12/17

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-06-12 17:38

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

Listen now

Tax debate in Juneau

Andrew Kitchenman/AKPM – Juneau

The House Finance Committee turned its attention today [Monday, June 12] to a tax that Governor Bill Walker included in the compromise package he proposed a week ago. The tax has been called a few different names, including: “a head tax” and an “income tax”. Today, House Finance aides referred to it as a payroll tax. That’s because it would only tax the money people are paid for their employment, either on their employer’s payroll or through self-employment. But other forms of income – like the money people make on investments – wouldn’t be taxed.

Don Young applauds Puerto Rico statehood vote

Liz Ruskin/AKPM – Washington, D.C.

The U.S. territory of Puerto Rico voted overwhelming for statehood in a
non-binding referendum on Sunday. Alaska Congressman Don Young went there with other U.S. lawmakers as an election observer. His spokesman Matt Shuckerow says Young favors self-determination for Puerto Rico and personally believes statehood is a good idea.

Sullivan Town Hall in Kodiak

Kayla Desroches/KMXT – Kodiak

Republican Senator Dan Sullivan held a town hall in the city of Kodiak Saturday and attracted a sizeable crowd. He dedicated the bulk of the meeting to the public’s questions. Most focused on healthcare.

Alaska helping to lead way in microgrid ideas

Rachel Waldholz/Alaska’s Energy Desk – Cordova

When it comes to emerging energy technologies, many remote Alaska communities are on the cutting edge. That was the message from Cordova this weekend, where U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski held a field hearing of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which she chairs.

Uber/Lyft not welcome at glacier

AP – Juneau

Uber and Lyft are coming to Alaska, but not to the state capital’s most popular tourist attraction. Gov. Bill Walker is expected to sign a bill that will make Alaska the last state to allow the ride-hailing service operations. But tourists will still have to come by bus or taxi to the Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau.

Missing boaters in Wales

AP – Wales, Ak

The Coast Guard is searching for a man and a boy missing on a boating trip out of the Bering Strait village of Wales. The Coast Guard says the 23-year-old man and 14-year-old boy launched a wooden rowboat at 2 a.m. Sunday[June 11]. They were not wearing life jackets.

Price reduced for sale of state ferry Taku

Ed Schoenfeld/Coast Alaska – Juneau

The price is dropping for the state ferry Taku [tah-KUU] Alaska Marine Highway System General Manager John Falvey [FALL-vee] says no one submitted a bid during the most recent sale attempt, which ended May 31st. The minimum bid was $700,000. An earlier attempt priced the ship at $1.5 million.

State flags lowered for first woman to be Alaska Attorney General

Dan Bross/KUAC – Fairbanks

Flags are at half-staff in honor of former Alaska Attorney General and lifelong University of Alaska advocate, Grace Schaible [SHY-bull] of Fairbanks. Schaible died Saturday [jUNE 10] at the age of 91.

JBER Remembrance Ceremony

Zachariah Hughes/AKPM – Anchorage

75 years ago this month, the Japanese Navy launched an air-raid on Dutch Harbor, and shortly afterwards invaded two islands at the tail end of the Aleutian chain. In the aftermath, nearly 900 people were hastily evacuated from their villages, shipped away in small boats to live in abysmal camp conditions in Southeast Alaska until the end of the war. Last week, a group of military officials, foreign dignitaries, and survivors gathered at the Fort Richardson National Ceremony to remember the events.

Local school district looks for help demolishing old Ft. Greely school

Tim Ellis/KUAC – Fairbanks

The Delta Greely School District is looking to the federal government to demolish an abandoned schoolhouse on Fort Greely.

Igiugig is using language grant to save its native tongue

Avery Lill/KDLG – Dillingham
In July, Igiugig (IGGY-ah-gig) Village will complete the second year of its three year Language Preservation and Maintenance Grant. The U.S. Administration for Native Americans awarded the grant, which totals more than $850,000. With 23 fluent speakers of Lake Iliamna (Ill-EE-ahm-nah) Yup’ik still living, the village of Igiugig is making a concerted effort to revive the language.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

Tax would require low- to middle-income residents to pay higher share

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-06-12 17:11

The House Finance Committee turned its attention Monday to a tax that Gov. Bill Walker included in the compromise package he proposed a week ago. The tax has been called a few different names, including a “head tax” and an “income tax.”

Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage, speaks during a House Majority press availability in March. Gara prefers raising oil and gas taxes to a payroll tax. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

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Today, House Finance aides referred to it as a payroll tax. That’s because it would only tax the money people are paid for their employment, either on their employer’s payroll or through self-employment. But other forms of income – like the money people make on investments – wouldn’t be taxed.

Anchorage Democratic Rep. Les Gara said he’d rather have oil and gas companies pay more in taxes.

“The wealthiest pay the lowest percentage of their income under this bill, the way it’s written,” Gara said of Senate Bill 12. “The lowest income pay the highest percentage of their income under the way this bill is written, which seems a little backwards to me – or quite backwards.”

Under the current proposal, workers would pay one of five tax amounts – ranging from $50 for people making less than $20,000 per year to $500 for those paid more than $500,000.

Arnold Liebelt, an aide to Homer Rep. Paul Seaton, said the payroll tax could be changed to increase the number of tax levels, or to make the effect more similar across the income spectrum.

“There’s so many different ways that this can be sliced and diced,” Liebelt said.

North Pole Republican Rep. Tammie Wilson was skeptical of the tax. She noted that under the current proposal, some self-employed people would be able to deduct expenses before paying the tax, while employees wouldn’t.

“It’s another thing, just to bring up – that when we’re trying to be fair, ‘fair’ is something you go to in the summertime,” Wilson said. “You can’t always be fair when it comes to taxes.”

Both the House and Senate have passed bills to close most of the gap between what the state government spends and what it raises. They would draw from Permanent Fund earnings and reduce Permanent Fund dividends. But the House majority wants to set dividends at a higher level than the Senate. And while the House wants to raise taxes on income and on oil and gas companies, the Senate prefers spending cuts.

The special session will end on Friday. The Legislature has until the end of the month to pass a budget to avoid a state government shutdown.

Categories: Alaska News

Flags at half-staff for former Alaska attorney general

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-06-12 17:07
Former AK Attorney General Grace Schaible in an interview at KUAC in Fairbanks. (Credit KUAC)

Flags are at half-staff in honor of former Alaska attorney general and lifelong University of Alaska advocate, Grace Schaible of Fairbanks.

Schaible died Saturday at the age of 91.

Schaible grew up in Juneau, graduated from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, George Washington University and Yale Law School. Returning to Alaska, she practiced law in Fairbanks, and in 1987 became Alaska’s first woman attorney general under former Governor Steve Cowper.

In a news release announcing Schaible’s passing, Gov. Bill Walker refers to her as “giant of Alaska history,” who “shattered the glass ceiling” as Alaska’s first woman attorney general.

Current Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth, the second woman to serve in the Alaska attorney general post, called Schaible “a pioneer who inspired her and other strong female leaders.”

Schaible also served as a University of Alaska regent, on the Permanent Fund Board and the UA Foundation, helping raise money for the Museum of the North and UAF Geophysical Institute. Proceeds from the sale of a home she donated to the University are the basis of an endowment at the University of Alaska Southeast.

Schiable also donated an extensive collection of art to the UA museum.

Flags will fly at half-staff in honor of Grace Schaible through Tuesday.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Marine Highway will drop price for Taku ferry once again

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-06-12 17:06
The Alaska Marine Highway System ferry Taku was tied up in 2015. It’s been for sale, but so far no one has submitted a bid. (Creative Commons photo by Ted McGrath)

The price is dropping for the state ferry Taku.

Alaska Marine Highway System General Manager John Falvey said no one submitted a bid during the most recent sale attempt, which ended May 31st.

The minimum bid was $700,000. An earlier attempt priced the ship at $1.5 million.

“We’ve had quite a bit of interest,” Falvey said. “We’ve probably had upwards of 25 calls or emails with interest. But no bids.”

Falvey said the Taku will be put out to bid one more time at a lower, yet-to-be-determined price. That should happen this week.

He said if no one buys the ferry, it could be sold for scrap.

The ferry system took the 54-year-old ship out of service about two years ago. It’s been moored at Ketchikan’s Ward Cove.

According to Falvey, a buyer would have to accept the ferry as-is, where-is. He said it’s in pretty good shape, but it would need some upgrades and permits before it could carry passengers again.

“The boat was certified by our Coast Guard,” Falvey said. “It was operational. It was safe. So I would have to assume that it shouldn’t need anything more than minor maintenance to get it running again because it sat so long.

The Taku has been advertised on the state’s website and through the Passenger Vessel Association, a trade organization.

The Taku is about 350 feet long. It can carry up to 50 vehicles and 350 passengers. It has 40 staterooms, a cafeteria, observation lounges and a covered solarium. It sailed mostly Southeast routes.

Categories: Alaska News

Healthcare questions dominate Sen. Dan Sullivan town hall

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-06-12 14:53
Senator Dan Sullivan speaks to public in Afognak building on Near Island, Kodiak. Kayla Desroches/KMXT

Republican Senator Dan Sullivan held a town hall in the city of Kodiak Saturday and attracted a sizable crowd. He dedicated the bulk of the meeting to the public’s questions, and most focused on healthcare.

One commenter, Mike Milligan, said the United States has a health care system based on money.

He connected his statement to Sullivan’s support of putting outside funds into political campaigns.

“Other people have a healthcare system based on health and you have been a consistent supporter of [the] Citizens United [Supreme Court] decision, which keeps money in politics,” Milligan said. “How can you address this money associated with healthcare delivery when you’re such an ardent supporter of Citizens United?”

In response, Sullivan told a story about a woman who approached him and his family at dinner. The person said she and her husband were paying $3,000 dollars a month under the affordable care act with a $10,000 dollar deductible.

“Come on, that’s $33,000 dollars before you get any coverage,” Sullivan said. “That’s completely unaffordable. So, it’s complex, it’s very personal, as you mention Mike. I get it. And that’s why we’ve been trying to meet with everybody.”

Sullivan said they’re working towards reform for the state.

Scattered among the many comments on health care were several about protecting fisheries resources.

Gina Friccero referred to an incident in 2014 where a massive flow of mining waste in Canada escaped into lakes that served as spawning grounds for sockeye salmon.

“The residents of the great state of Alaska have made it clear across party lines that we do not want to put the salmon habitat at risk,” Friccero said. “After the failure of Mount Polley mine, it is obvious that there is no viable way to protect our watershed from the pollution caused by mining. We ask that you make us a priority and stand against mining in any area that threatens the ecology of salmon habitat.”

Sullivan said he believes in responsible resource development and transparency. He discussed the ongoing issue of Pebble Mine in the Bristol Bay watershed. The Environmental Protection Agency recently settled a lawsuit with the Pebble Limited Partnership that allows the company to apply for a federal permit for a mine in the area.

“If that mine ever goes to permitting, which it’s not at permitting at all yet – state, federal permitting – it has to meet the highest standards,” Sullivan said. “And we shouldn’t trade one resource for another. We already know we have great resources, as you mentioned, in Bristol Bay.”

He said the permitting process should be fair.

At the town hall, Sullivan also spoke about some of the bills he’s started or contributed to, including one to bolster missile defense and another to encourage new entrants into the fishing industry and provide training for young fishermen.

Categories: Alaska News

New Coast Guard cutter to be commissioned Wednesday in Juneau

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-06-12 14:10

The U.S Coast Guard will honor the legacy of a man it says performed heroically near the turn of the 20th century. The Alaska-based Bailey Barco fast-response cutter will be commissioned Wednesday in a closed ceremony at the AJ Dock off Thane Road in Juneau.

The Coast Guard Cutter Bailey Barco pulls into its homeport of Ketchikan on May 12, 2017. The vessel and its crew completed a journey of 7,130 miles to reach Alaska from Key West, Florida. (Photo courtesy U.S. Coast Guard)

On Dec. 21, 1900, the schooner Jennie Hall ran aground during a severe winter storm near Virginia Beach, Virginia, according to a Coast Guard blog post.

Stationkeeper Bailey T. Barco was stationed at the Dam Neck life-saving station and took command at the scene to rescue the survivors from the frigid water.

Life-saving stations and stationkeepers were the precursor to the present-day Coast Guard.

Barco was awarded the Gold Lifesaving Medal on Oct. 7, 1901.

On Wednesday, the Coast Guard will commission the cutter Bailey Barco, a 154-foot vessel. It will be the second of six Sentinel-class cutters that will homeport in Alaska.

The ship will join the cutter John McCormick at Coast Guard Station Ketchikan, Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Shawn Eggert said. It will be the 17th District’s second fast-response cutter.

“They are capable of independent operation for about five days conducting all their missions in the environmental conditions that are natural to Alaska,” Eggert said. “You know, the very rough seas, the weather that they would encounter here.”

The Bailey Barco will patrol the coast and features advanced equipment, including the ability to launch and recover standardized small boats from its stern. Sentinel-class cutters are lightly armed patrol vessels capable of traveling almost 3,000 nautical miles.

The cutter was manufactured by Bollinger Shipyards of Lockport, Louisiana. In a news release, Bollinger said the Bailey Barco is the 22nd ship in its $1.5 billion contract for 32 fast-response cutters it’s building.

The Barco’s commanding officer Lt. Frank Reed will attend the commissioning with other Coast Guard officials, including the ship’s sponsor, Barco’s great-granddaughter Carol Lash Push.

“It goes without saying that the crew of the Bailey Barco is continuing that legacy that the man himself, that Bailey Barco himself, that life-saving legacy,” Eggert said.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska’s Don Young applauds Puerto Rico statehood vote

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-06-12 14:04

The U.S. territory of Puerto Rico voted overwhelming for statehood in a
non-binding referendum on Sunday (June 11).

Rep. Don Young (Photo: Facebook)

Alaska Congressman Don Young went there with other U.S. lawmakers as an election observer. His spokesman Matt Shuckerow says Young favors self-determination for Puerto Rico and personally believes statehood is a good idea.

Puerto Rico has voted repeatedly on whether to change its legal status but
only Congress has the power to grant statehood.

Categories: Alaska News

Igiugig puts about $1 million to work revitalizing Lake Iliamna Yup’ik

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-06-12 13:59

The smell of caribou maniaq roasted over the open fire, mixes with the sharp wood smoke. Annie Wilson, a short, commanding 70 year-old keeps up a steady stream of Yup’ik. With a chunk of raw caribou skewered onto a long stick, she narrates her actions in her first language. Her language apprentices echo the Yup’ik words and phrases, gleaning the meaning of new words by a mixture of explanation in Yup’ik and charades.

AlexAnna Salmon, standing, facilitates as Annie Wilson, left, teaches a session on maniaq. (Credit: Avery Lill/KDLG)

Wangkuta Qanriarait Nanvarparmiut Yugestun is the name of the program. It means, “We all speak Lake Iliamna Yup’ik.” And that’s exactly what everyone is doing as they gather around the campfire on the bright May afternoon on a hill across the Kvichak River from Igiugig.

After they speak exclusively in Yup’ik for 10 minutes, a timer goes off. AlexAnna Salmon, the village council president, is facilitating this session. She opens up the floor for questions in English.

“Is anyone confused about anything?” she asks.

“There’s quite a bit I didn’t get,” admits one of the apprentices.

Salmon is an apprentice herself, but she has studied the language both academically and informally with her family since she was a child. With Wilson’s help, she explains in English the words that they have been learning in this session.

Wilson was born and raised in Igiugig. She didn’t speak English until she went to school in Levelock at 10-years-old. Now she is teaching the younger generation because she says it is vital for the preservation of culture.

“Teaching Yup’ik makes you a stronger person from where you come from. Being a Yupik makes you a stronger person, and you pass on your knowledge to the next generation,” says Wilson.

In return for her efforts, this elder receives a stipend of a little over $800 a month. The six language learners are also compensated for the time they spend learning the language. They earn $15 per hour for participating in group activities like the session on maniaq and $25 per hour for one-on-one conversations with elders in their homes.

This is all done through a Language Preservation and Maintenance Grant from U.S. Administration for Native Americans. In July the village will complete the second year of the three-year grant that totals $850,000. With local entities, including the Igiugig Native Corporation, the village council and the school district matching 25 percent of the grant, the total funding for the project is substantial. According to those in the village, so are the returns.

“It feels like we’ve had that monumental shift, so now it’s just keeping momentum and working toward fluency,” says Salmon. She regularly sees students in the village greeting each other in Yup’ik. “That’s coming from them on their own. The mountain has been moved.”

Teaching children is another facet of the project. The language apprentices teach Yup’ik at the village school 30 minutes a day for four days a week during the school year. They are taking another step in the fall by opening Unglu, which means “nest.” It will be a Yup’ik immersion pre-kindergarten that runs three hours a day, five days a week.

Like Wilson, Salmon emphasizes that the revitalization program has deeper significance than the preservation of a way of speaking.

“It wasn’t our people that sat down and decided, ‘Oh, we should stop speaking this.’  It is not until you realize the effects of colonization that you realize, in order to counteract all this negative that we have, all these crime rates, dropout rates, suicides—that can all be addressed if we go back to who we are and be our true Yupik selves,” says Salmon. She sees a clear trajectory for reclaiming native culture. “You go to the language first. With that you’ll get your dance, you’ll get your worldview, you’ll find your values back.”

As the children in the village engage more with their native heritage through their native language, she sees a paradigm shift. A middle school student recently told her that she wants to study Yup’ik in college.

“It almost made me cry because you never used to hear kids say, ‘I’m going to college.’ And now they’re saying, ‘I’m going to college, and I’m going to keep studying this because it inspires me,’” says Salmon.

Going forward, the village has not decided if it will reapply for the grant. Salmon says that it has been a catalyst for revitalization, but they may be at a point where they can keep up the momentum without the time consuming administrative work that comes with grant funding.

Outside funding or no, it is clear when Salmon’s elementary-age daughter comes forward to pray for dinner in Yup’ik and the rest of the village joins in that Wangkuta Qanriarait Nanvarparmiut Yugestun is more than the title of the grant program. It is becoming a reality.

Categories: Alaska News

Delta school district turns to feds to demolish old school

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-06-12 13:30

The Delta Greely School District wants to get rid of an old, unused schoolhouse on Fort Greely. But it can’t afford to demolish the structure, and the Army and state government have turned down requests by the district to pay those costs.

Ft. Greely School, built in 1954, was closed in 2015. (Photo: courtesy: Fairbanks North Star Borough School District)

So, district officials took their case to Congress.

Money is tight in the Delta Greely School District. And it could get much tighter if talks that’ve been going on for two years now between district, federal and state officials fail to resolve the issue of who should pay to demolish the old Fort Greely School.

“Nobody really seems to have a solution, because of course nobody wants to foot the bill,” Delta School District Superintendent Laural Jackson said.

Jackson said the district can’t afford the project, because it would require a hazardous-waste cleanup that would cost far more than the district could afford.

“Our estimates are anywhere from $4.2 million to $7.5 million to demolish it – with the big unknown of how much asbestos is in there,” Jackson said.

Army officials have been insisting the district should pay to raze the 63-year-old structure, which the district closed two years ago because of high energy costs, a persistently leaky roof and the availability of space to relocate students in the two main schools in Delta.

“We do not have that kind of money around for demolishing the building,” Jackson said.

Jackson said either the federal or state government should pay for the demolition — the feds: because the U.S. Education Department gave the building to the district in the early 1990s after offering it to the state, which declined.

“They came to the district and we had a building full of students. We couldn’t say, ‘No, we don’t want it,’ because we had to have a place for all these kids,” She said.

But district enrollment plunged in the late 1990s as Fort Greely was shutting down, and began to rebound a decade later after the post was reopened as mainly a missile-defense base. The district used impact funds that came with the reopening to build a new elementary school in Delta and later used it and the high school in town to place students moved from the Greely school. Jackson said the school’s demolition is a state problem.

Jackson said because the Delta-Greely School District is a Regional Educational Attendance Area in an unorganized borough, the state should pay for demolition, as it’s required to do for all REAA schools’ capital costs. But after state officials declined, the district turned to Sen. Lisa Murkowski.

“We understand that the Army wants the district to demolish the building and remediate environmental contamination that existed prior to its occupancy,” Senator Murkowski said.

Murkowski raised the issue at a Senate subcommittee hearing with Lt. Gen. Gwen Bingham, an Army assistant chief of staff and a witness at the hearing.

“The school district is really not in a financial position to do that,” Murkowski said. “And we’ve been trying to engage the Army on a solution here that does not bankrupt the school district.”

Bingham assured the senator that Army officials are aware of the problem.

“We have begun conversations with the school district, and what we aim to do is find an amicable solution where we can have a win-win,” Bingham said.

Jackson says Bingham’s comments make her hopeful that a solution will emerge in the near future.

Categories: Alaska News

Cordova hosts U.S. Senate field hearing on microgrids

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-06-12 13:17

When it comes to emerging energy technologies, many remote Alaska communities are on the cutting edge. That was the message from Cordova this weekend, where U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski held a field hearing of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which she chairs.

Gwen Holdmann of the Alaska Center for Energy and Power, left, and Meera Kohler of the Alaska Village Electric Cooperative, testified before U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski and Maria Cantwell on June 10, 2017 in Cordova. (Photo by Rachel Waldholz/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

The focus of the hearing was microgridsself-contained electrical grids, which can operate unconnected to any larger transmission system. They’re a necessity for just about every Alaska community off the road system. Most of the grids are powered by diesel, but more and more communities are trying to cut costs by adding renewables like wind or expanding hydropower.

In the process, the state has become a testing ground for technologies that are increasingly interesting to the rest of the world.

Abraham Ellis is with the Sandia National Labs in New Mexico.

“We are interested in those technologies to figure out ways to improve the energy resilience for cities,” he said. “For defense applications, and things like that, that really need to keep on going with electricity supply, even if the normal grid fails for whatever reason.”

Reasons like a major storm or cyber attack.

When Murkowski asked panelists to predict the future of energy in Alaska, she got a range of futuristic answers.

Cordova Mayor Clay Koplin predicted efficient smart grids, in which appliances can communicate with the larger grid about the best times to run.

“As I open my freezer and close it, and take salmon in and out of it, it can learn my habits with very inexpensive robust sensor technology, ” he said. “And if it’s talking to our electric system and knows when renewable energy is available, it can decide when it needs to cycle.”

Meera Kohler, of the Alaska Village Electric Cooperative, said micro nuclear reactors or nuclear batteries might eventually be part of the solution in rural Alaska. And Gwen Holdmann, of the Alaska Center for Energy and Power, said she sees major potential in hydrokinetic systems that can harness the power of rivers, waves and tides.

All of the panelists stressed the need for federal investment in local energy innovation, especially during the state’s current budget crunch.

The Trump administration has proposed major cuts to some renewable energy programs, but Murkowski said Congress has its own priorities.

“And I certainly know where my priorities are,” Murkowski said. “It’s trying to figure out how we here in Alaska can better access our energy resources in a way that allows for affordability, that allows for clean, diverse supplies, and that really helps build on some of the innovation that we’ve seen here in communities like Cordova and around the state.”

Murkowski was accompanied by Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington, the Committee’s ranking Democrat. Cantwell told panelists that when it comes to energy systems of the future, Alaska is “the tip of the spear.”

Categories: Alaska News

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