Alaska News

Trump order baffles Bering Sea Elders

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-05-01 16:54
President Obama imposed protections on the Bering Straits. President Trump revoked them. Map: Bering Sea Elders Group

When President Trump signed an order last week lifting his predecessor’s restrictions on offshore leasing in the Arctic, he also revoked a decree that created the “Bering Sea Climate Resistance Area.”

“People on the coast that we work with are a mixture of outraged and disappointed,” Attorney Natalie Landreth said. She represents Bering Sea Elders Group. The elders are concerned increased ship traffic through the Bering Strait will damage their marine mammal hunts. They say Barack Obama’s protection of the Bering Strait was done at their request. For Landreth, the key part of Obama’s order was that it created a tribal advisory committee.

“And that was the big victory in it, was the inclusion of local Alaskan voices in federal decisions,” Landreth said. “And they cannot figure out why that would be targeted to be taken away. They just don’t understand it.”

Trump’s order cited the goal of “streamlining” regulations.

Back in December, Alaska’s congressional delegation issued a joint statement slamming Obama’s Bering Sea directive as an attempt to lock up resources. Besides creating the advisory group, the directive also put Norton Sound and St. Lawrence Island off-limits to off-shore oil and gas leasing, using the same “12a” authority Obama used in the Arctic. Sen. Dan Sullivan called it a “unilateral action to hurt Alaskans.”

Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s spokeswoman said Monday the senator thinks federal officials should still consult with Bering Sea Elders and other locals when they make decisions for the area.


Categories: Alaska News

Supreme Court leaves polar bear habitat intact

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-05-01 16:53
A polar bear mother and cubs.
(2007 file photo: USFWS)

A California-sized chunk of the Arctic will remain designated as critical polar bear habitat. That’s the effect of a U.S. Supreme Court order Monday declining to hear an appeal from the state of Alaska, Arctic Slope Regional Corporation and an oil industry trade group.

The area stretches from the Canadian border in the Northeast, along the coast down to Hooper Bay in the West. It includes barrier islands, but 96 percent of the critical habitat is offshore.

The polar bear was listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act in 2008. Oil industry advocates say declaring such a large area as critical habitat adds uncertainty to development plans.

Graphic: Federal Register

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said the habitat designation doesn’t require developers to obtain additional permits, though it may add a few pages to permit documents.

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage firefighter’s discrimination lawsuit set for trial

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-05-01 16:52

An Anchorage firefighter is suing over what he said is a pattern of racial and age discrimination at the Anchorage Fire Department.

The lawsuit has been brewing for the past two years but a judge’s recent decision against the Municipality of Anchorage means it is headed to trial this summer.

Jeff Graham is a Korean-American in his 50s and he’s worked for the fire department for more than 20 years as a mechanic and firefighter.

In his lawsuit, Graham alleged that hidden racism at the fire department is causing it to violate, not only state law, but also the municipality’s own rules regarding testing and promotion.

Graham said he was passed over for promotion while younger, less-qualified candidates moved up the ranks at the fire department.

“And it’s really white guys here, to put too fine a point on it,” Graham’s lawyer, Jeff Jarvi, said in a courtroom recording. “Our public resources need to be allocated in some fair and objective manner, and just not an old boys club of who you like best and who’s most popular among the guys.”

According to the court documents, Graham said he always received good performance reviews and was trying to get promoted to engineer. At one point, Graham said in the court papers, he passed the engineer exam and was even working as an acting engineer.

Later, Graham said he was informed that he was no longer eligible to be an engineer. He said he found out that the fire department had changed the test and made it more subjective.

Graham subsequently failed the test several times and claims that it was unfair because the test and the testers were biased against him.

Graham said in the court papers that he was asked in the peer review portion of one test about a false rumor that he had been buying TVs, renting them out and then returning the TVs to the store to get his money back.

Graham described the rumor as false and racist.

That is only one of Graham’s complaints.

In regards to that and the rest of Graham’s claims in the lawsuit, the Municipality of Anchorage denies any wrongdoing.

“He would have to prove objectively that he was treated differently than other employees and there’s no evidence of that,” Assistant Municipal Attorney Monica Elkinton said in the same courtroom recording.

“Everybody who is promoted to engineer has to pass the same test, they are asked the same questions,” Elkinton said. “He opens the door to the questions that can be asked. So if he doesn’t want to talk about whether he believes he has a reputation for honesty, then he doesn’t have to talk about that. But that’s the way peer review works.”

Elkinton was also arguing a specific point, which was only part of the municipality’s effort to get the lawsuit dismissed.

But Judge Eric Aarseth did not toss the suit and now both sides are gearing up for a trial by jury currently set for July.

So while the jury is yet to be picked — and there are still many more issues on which the lawyers remain at odds — there is one thing they can agree on: Both sides declined to comment for this story.

Categories: Alaska News

Gov. Walker signs bill recognizing the Black Americans who helped build the Alaska Highway

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-05-01 16:34
At Shiloh Baptist Church in Anchorage, Governor Walker signs the first half of his name on SB 46 (Photo by Wesley Early, Alaska Public Media)

Yesterday, Governor Walker signed Senate Bill 46 into law, establishing October 25 as “African American Soldiers’ Contribution to Building the Alaska Highway Day.” The signing of the bill began at the Shiloh Baptist Church in Anchorage.

Sunday’s church service was fairly typical, with the exception of some of the guests in attendance. Governor Bill Walker, his wife Donna as well as Senator David Wilson and his wife Aleta were sitting in the second row as Pastor Alonzo Patterson spoke about how the Bible teaches that change will come to those who wait.

“Waiting can be problematic sometimes,” Patterson said. “It’s hard to wait til change comes when the Bible says I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me.”

It was a fitting message considering that Walker was at the church to sign legislation that advocates argued was 75 years overdue.

Governor Walker talks to a crowd at Delaney Park Strip in Anchorage in front of a photograph of black and white soldiers working on the Alaska Highway in 1942 (Photo by Wesley Early, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage)

Senate Bill 46 was introduced to commemorate the black soldiers with the Army Corps of Engineers who, in 1942, came up to build the Alaska half of the Alaska Highway. A lot of them came from Southern states and most had never seen snow before. The Army was segregated at the time and the white soldiers built the half of the Highway that led through Canada. The army wouldn’t be desegregated until 1948. However, many people believe that the building of the Highway was a major factor in desegregating the military.

“It’s not my words. It’s the federal government’s words that this highway really was the road to civil rights,” Walker said. “It took that question mark and turned it into an exclamation mark. And so it was no more a question of ‘Can they do it?’ The question was ‘Can we keep up?’ because they were an incredible, incredible workforce that made that happen.”

The bill was introduced to the legislature by Senator Wilson, a Wasilla Republican, and pushed through the House by Representative Geran Tarr, an Anchorage Democrat. The bill pushed through unanimously through the Senate and only one representative, Wasilla Republican David Eastman, voted against it in the House.

Once it reached the Governor’s desk, Walker decided to sign the bill in two parts. His first name would be signed at the church in front of all of the community advocates who’d helped raise awareness for the bill and his last name would be signed at the veterans’ memorial in the Delaney Park Strip of Downtown Anchorage.

Govenor Walker signs his last name on SB 46 at Delaney Park Strip (Photo by Wesley Early, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage)

Walker signed the first half of his name in front of a large group of children as well as advocates from the Alaska Highway Project, an advocacy group that had been pushing for the contributions of the black soldiers to be recognized.

Walker then proceeded to go downtown to sign the second half of his name. The scene at the memorial was also celebratory in nature with drummers performing for those in attendance. Senator Wilson addressed the crowd about the holiday.

“This doesn’t quite make it right, but it does acknowledge the hard work, doing something that’s a nearly impossible feat, and I doubt it could be redone today,” Wilson said. “It was that first road to civil rights that helped desegregate the army and later the U.S.”

Representative Tarr gave acknowledgement to the advocates who helped push for the bill.

Governor Bill Walker, Wasilla Senator David Wilson and Anchorage Representative Geran Tarr at the second half of the SB46 signing (Photo by Wesley Early, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage)

“I’m so glad that we’re getting this done today,” Tarr said. “Sometimes it takes a little longer than it should, but today’s a really important day to acknowledge that work. The story is so significant and I just have to say I’m just the number one fan of Jean Pollard.”

Pollard is a teacher and one of the main organizers of the Alaska Highway Project who’s main goal was educating people of the historical significance of the Highway. She first learned about it in a PBS program.

“Lael Morgan was telling the story six years ago and I never had heard that side of the story before,” Pollard said. “I heard that soldiers built the highway, that’s all I knew. But when she began to talk about black soldiers here, white soldiers there, I didn’t know that at all.”

Pollard consulted with other teachers to see if anyone knew more about the black soldiers. When they didn’t know, Pollard ended up communicating with Morgan to help get the story more attention.

“As an educator, I really felt, ‘Ok. We gotta get this done,'” Pollard said.

Jean Pollard (right) addresses the crowd at Delaney Park about SB46 and the black soldiers that built the Alaska Highway (Photo by Wesley Early, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage)

Getting the holiday recognized was the first of three steps Pollard and her group wanted to get done. She began to work with the Anchorage school district to get the story into Alaska Studies curriculums. She ended up corresponding with Pamela Orme, the coordinator for social studies course in the district.

“We’re working together on a one-credit class for the teachers of the Anchorage school district,” Orme said. “So they’re gonna come and learn about this and dig in just like Jean did, so they can write lesson plans. And then we’re gonna synthesize those lesson plans and make the best possible ones and then share them statewide.”

The third step is getting a memorial erected in Centennial park for people to visit and learn about the story while looking at historical photos of the black and white soldiers. Shayla Dobson and her husband Jim will be in charge of creating it.

“The memorial is going to be a place where people can go [for] educational field trips,” Dobson said. “It will have on one of the granite panels the iconic photograph. And it will also have also have other photographs that people can see what’s going on. It will be a place where people can go if they don’t know about the history. If they didn’t get to take Alaska history class, the information will be there.”

During her remarks, Pollard made reference to the 2016 film Hidden Figures, a movie about black women who worked for NASA and were mostly unknown to history. She said the building of the Highway was “Alaska’s Hidden Figures.”

Categories: Alaska News

Court rules civil commitment statutes don’t apply to foster children, North Star Hospital

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-05-01 16:11

A three-year-long legal argument about committing foster children to North Star Behavioral Health Hospital is one step closer to resolution. A judge ruled in late March that the Office of Children’s Services can legally commit foster kids to the psychiatric hospital without getting a judge’s approval.

Anchorage Superior Court Judge Erin Marston ruled that the state’s civil commitment statutes don’t apply to North Star because it is not included in the legal list of designated treatment and evaluation facilities.

Assistant Attorney General Steven Bookman, who argued the case on behalf of the state, said there is not a specific statute that limits the amount of time a child can stay at North Star.

“You have to remember that parents will take their children to North Star Hospital,” he said. “If you were trying to arrange for medical care for your child who is experiencing a psychiatric crisis, it might seem odd that there’s a statute that says you can’t do that or that that has to be judicially reviewed.”

In Judge Marston’s order, he argues that OCS is the legal guardian of foster children, so they have the right to voluntarily send children to North Star if necessary.

About two years ago he mandated a judicial review of each case within 30 days of the child entering the institution, meaning a hearing had to be scheduled by a judge. *OCS policy already requested judicial oversight.* The tribes of Hooper Bay and Kongiganak wanted a review within 72 hours, which is what the law says is required for adults who are involuntarily committed to a designated psychiatric treatment center.

Bookman says 30 days seems like a reasonable amount of time for a review to ensure that foster children are receiving the medical care they deserve.

“I think the right in having a judge review the admission to North Star has to be balanced against the need to to make sure the child’s needs are being properly evaluated. And it is going to take some time to do that,” he said.

For the tribes, the 30-day review requirement was not what they were seeking, but it’s still a small victory. However, the tribe’s lawyer, Sydney Tarzwell, said the ruling that civil commitment laws do not apply to treatment facilities that are not on a designated list has far reaching implications.

“That idea that any facility that’s not a designated treatment facility or evaluation facility — that they aren’t governed by these laws — there’s no reason that would be restricted to foster youth,” she said. “Any person could end up locked in a psychiatric facility for as long as the facility wants for whatever reason without any court oversight.”

Tarzwell said some procedural matters still need to be settled before they can decide if they are going to appeal the case.

Categories: Alaska News

Oil prices shrink budget gap, but lawmakers remain far apart

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-04-28 18:07
Alaska Sen. Anna MacKinnon, co-chairwoman of the Senate Finance Committee, said Friday that adding an income tax now would be short-sighted. (File photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

The state’s budget problem is shrinking, but it may not be enough to resolve differences between the Senate and House.

Listen now

Higher oil prices have cut the projected gap between what the state government spends and what it raises.

Senate Finance Committee co-chairwoman Anna MacKinnon said the state has time to close its budget gap if it passes Senate Bill 26 this year. The measure draws money from Permanent Fund earnings to pay for state government, and limits Permanent Fund dividends.

“It is short-sighted to be thinking about an income tax at this point in time,” MacKinnon said.

The Senate’s bill would leave an annual gap of $394 million in nine years, according to a forecasting model used by the nonpartisan Legislative Finance Division.

The gap is about $200 million less than it was before state officials updated their forecast last week.

The Senate majority proposes to close the rest of the gap by cutting spending, while the House majority would reintroduce an income tax and raise oil and gas taxes. The original Senate Bill 26 sets Permanent Fund dividends at $1,000. The House version would set dividends $250 higher.

House Finance Committee co-chairman Paul Seaton said that even with the improved forecast, the Legislature must pass an income tax to have a balanced budget in the long term. He said it would leave the state with capital budgets that are too low. And it would leave residents with PFDs that are unnecessarily low.

“If you don’t have an adequate capital budget, and you’re limiting the dividend to the lowest amount that anyone has proposed, then you’re not getting much input into the economy to bring us out of recession,” Seaton said.

The House Finance Committee plans to compare the House and Senate plans next week, while the Senate Finance Committee is scheduled to discuss a bill to revise oil and gas tax credits.

The Legislature is 12 days past the scheduled end to the session. The session has 19 days before it must end under the state constitution.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Friday, April 28, 2017

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-04-28 18:01

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

Listen now

Trump lifts ban on Arctic offshore drilling

Liz Ruskin, Alaska Public Media – Washington D.C.

The president has signed an order lifting a ban Obama imposed on drilling off Alaska’s Arctic shores. Environmental groups say the ban is permanent. Expect a lawsuit.

Secretary Tillerson to attend Arctic Council meeting in Fairbanks

Robert Hannon, KUAC – Fairbanks

United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will be in Fairbanks next month during the Week of the Arctic. Fairbanks Borough Mayor Special Assistant Jeff Stepp broke the news at a Borough Assembly meeting Thursday night.

Oil prices shrink budget gap, but lawmakers remain far apart

Andrew Kitchenman, KTOO – Juneau

The state’s budget problem is shrinking, but it may not be enough to resolve differences between the Senate and House.

Mat-Su Borough Assembly asked for more school funding

Phillip Manning, KTNA – Talkeetna

On Thursday night, the Mat-Su Borough Assembly held it’s third and final public hearing on its annual budget at a special meeting in Willow.

Salmon fishing predictions look bleak for Alaska inlet

Associated Press

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s commercial sockeye salmon outlook this year is predicting Upper Cook Inlet fishermen will have their lowest harvest in the past 15 years.

Southeast Alaska tribal government moves into defense contracts

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

Southeast Alaska’s regional tribal government is developing its business side.

Century old mystery unlocked from Antarctic glacier

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Scientists from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and Colorado College have unraveled the mystery of a red waterfall in Antarctica. The research unveils mechanisms potentially at work in other polar glaciers.

AK: From tree to cream; how birch syrup makes its way to dessert bowls

Daysha Eaton, APRN – Anchorage

The chartreuse leaves of the birch tree are one of the first signs of spring in Southcentral Alaska. But for a few weeks before the leaves unfurl the trees offer a sweet treat –a watery liquid that when tapped and boiled down turns into a rich, nutty syrup. Birch syrup is becoming a favorite flavor in the state’s budding local food scene.

49 Voices: Taylor Holman of Unalaska

Laura Kraegel, KUCB – Unalaska

This week we’re hearing from Taylor Holman in Unalaska. Holman is a high school senior and placed first place in Alaska’s Russian Language competition this year.

Categories: Alaska News

Century old mystery unlocked from Antarctic glacier

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-04-28 17:32
Blood Falls in Antarctica
)Erin Pettit / UAF)

Scientists from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and Colorado College have unraveled the mystery of a red waterfall in Antarctica. The research unveils mechanisms potentially at work in other polar glaciers.

University of Alaska Fairbanks glaciologist Erin Pettit led a team that traveled to the bottom of the world to study Blood Falls.

”This features so prominent as the place that everybody knows about. It’s kind of an iconic feature within the landscape that has been a puzzle since the first Antarctic explorers.”

Blood Falls is at the end of the Taylor Glacier, about 30 kilometers from the ocean, an area that was covered by sea water over a million years ago. Pettit said the surface ice of Blood Falls today is salty and iron rich, just like the ancient ocean.

“That was the big puzzle,” Pettit said. “How do you get this salty ice from the bottom up into the glacier and then out the top.”

Pettit said the current project began with earlier research on the Taylor Glacier.

“We had a little bit of data left over from this first project 15 years ago that suggested we might be able to use ground-penetrating radar to study it more,” Pettit said.

UAF PHD candidate Christina Carr said her role in the project was to help operate several of the instruments and make field observations.She said the radar signals sent into the ice did not bounce back but were instead absorbed.

”We interpret this as ice that’s got a lot of salt in it or a lot of little salty pockets of water,” Carr said.

Confirmation of liquid water in such a cold glacier was unprecedented and believed to be the result of its high salt concentration, and energy given off as surrounding ice tries to freeze it.

”It’s just like you have to put heat into water to boil it. If you try to freeze water, you have to take heat out, and that heat has to go somewhere.”

Water is the key mechanism by which glaciers change, and Pettit said the Blood Falls research expands our understanding of its potential.

”(It) basically shows us that water can persist and play this really important role in even the most extreme cold polar environments,” Pettit said.

Pettit sid the next step is trying to understand how pressure differences and crevasses in the ice move water through the glacier. The research project was funded by the National Science Foundation. A paper about the findings is published in the Journal of Glaciology. Its lead author is team member Jessica Badgeley of Colorado College.

Categories: Alaska News

Trump lifts ban on Arctic offshore drilling

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-04-28 17:01
Sen. Murkowski shows the pen the president used to sign the order. (Photo by Liz Ruskin)

Today, President Trump  signed an order lifting a ban his predecessor imposed on drilling off Alaska’s Arctic shores. Environmental groups claim the ban is permanent and they intend to file a legal challenge.

The order is entitled “Implementing an America-First Offshore Energy Strategy.” The signing ceremony was in the White House Roosevelt Room. Congress members from oil states crowded around the president, including the full Alaska delegation.

“It’s going to lead to a lot of great wealth for our country and a lot of great jobs for our country,” Trump said. “So God bless America, thank you very much.”

Trump then signed the order. He gave Sen. Lisa Murkowski the pen.

The order tells the Interior secretary to reconsider the removal of the Arctic from the current offshore leasing plan, and it rescinds an order from President Obama that bans much of the Arctic from any future lease sale.

Lois Epstein is Arctic Program Director for The Wilderness Society. Photo by Liz Ruskin.

Conservation groups maintain Obama’s ban was permanent. Wilderness Society Arctic director Lois Epstein says the organizations intend to mount a legal challenge.

“We’re prepared to do everything we can do to stop the opening of the Arctic Ocean to drilling,” Epstein said.

Trump’s order also calls for a review of the Arctic-specific offshore drilling regulations and of the blowout prevention rule imposed after the 2010 Gulf oil spill. Epstein said rolling back the blowout rule would give advantage to the least safe operators.

“That’s tragic,” Epstein said. “Really. And (it) can result in situations like the BP Deepwater Horizon where you had 11 deaths and over 200 million gallons released.”

Murkowski said the rule is only slated for review. She especially likes that Trump’s order announces a national policy of encouraging energy exploration and production. She acknowledges other barriers remain for the offshore Arctic.

“This is the first step,” Murkowski said. “We don’t have any producers that are poised to move.”

Sen. Dan Sullivan said when Obama imposed the Arctic drilling ban, the administration didn’t even tell  him in advance.

“What a difference five months makes,” Sullivan said.

Not only was he at the White House for the signing ceremony, but Sullivan said afterward the president invited him into the Oval Office. He said he thanked Trump for lifting Obama’s Arctic ban so quickly.

“And the president mentioned, you know, that day in December when the former president did this (Arctic ban), the Russians must’ve been very excited,” Sullivan recounted. “And I said, ‘I think they were excited.’”

Alaska Congressman Don Young is pleased with the order, too, but he was a little peeved Trump kept them waiting in the Roosevelt Room.

“A good 20 minutes he was late,” Young said. “I don’t appreciate even the president being late. You know how I am.”

Young said they spent the time talking to the vice president and two cabinet secretaries.

Categories: Alaska News

Southeast Alaska tribal government moves into defense contracts

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-04-28 16:51
Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska President Richard Peterson, right, poses with delegates during this month’s Tribal Assembly in Juneau. (Photo courtesy Tlingit-Haida Central Council)

Southeast Alaska’s regional tribal government is developing its business side.

Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska President Richard Peterson said funding cuts threaten its programs. He said about nine-tenths of the council’s money comes from federal sources. And most of the rest comes from the state.

“That’s just not sustainable. That’s not sufficient,” Peterson said. “So, we’re working on alternative sources of revenue.”

The Central Council has about 30,000 tribal members in Alaska, the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere in the Lower 48.

Addressing the organization’s recent Tribal Assembly in Juneau, Peterson said it needs to maintain its social-service, justice and training efforts. But that’s not all.

“We want to not just preserve programs that we have, but expand and grow,” Peterson said. “If we’re going to do that, we need that economic self-sufficiency, that economic sovereignty,” he said.

That effort is being spearheaded by Tlingit-Haida’s Tribal Business Corp.

CEO Richard Rinehart said there’s growth because the organization purchased the government-services business KIRA last summer. Rinehart said its main customer is the U.S. Department of Defense.

“We are running power plants, water systems, water-treatment plants. We have dozens of electricians, dozens of plumbers and a couple dozen carpenters,” Rinehart said. “We do vehicle maintenance, grounds maintenance. We do complete base operations services.”

KIRA has offices in the Bahamas, as well as Colorado and several other states.

Founder Carlos Garcia, who continues to be its president, said the company has about 600 employees. He said it’s expanding, because tribal ownership allows it to bid for contracts under the 8(a) disadvantaged-business program.

“We’re going to need good employees, both Native and non-Native,” Garcia said. “And I see in this room many, many people from all over the areas you represent that can help us.”

Garcia asked the hundred or so Tribal Assembly delegates to point potential applicants to the company’s job openings. But he said KIRA is a business purchased to make money for the Central Council, not an employment program.

Categories: Alaska News

Mat-Su Borough Assembly asked for more school funding

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-04-28 16:18
Mat-Su Borough Assembly and staff in Willow on Thursday. (Photo: Phillip Manning – KTNA)

On Thursday night, the Mat-Su Borough Assembly held it’s third and final public hearing on its annual budget at a special meeting in Willow.

Nearly 70 people came out for the final public hearing on the Mat-Su Borough’s budget at the Willow Community Center. The majority of those who spoke focused on one line item, schools.

Overall, the borough budget has shrunk by several million dollars, but the proposed level of funding for the Mat-Su Borough School District is the same as in last year’s budget. Over a dozen parents, teachers, and school administrators say that still isn’t enough.

“Flat funding results in more cuts, to the tune of $3.4 million dollars, and fewer opportunities for our kids.” Talkeetna Elementary School Principal Lisa Shelby said. “What I’m asking of you will take courage, to put kids and families at the top of your list.”

The district is asking the borough to cover that $3.4 million gap. In recent years, the Mat-Su Borough has met the requests from the school district for increased funding, but this year, members of the assembly say it simply isn’t possible.

“Right now—for the amount of money that’s being asked for—I don’t see where it is, and I’ve been through the budget for a little bit.” Assembly Member Jim Sykes said. “There might be some, but I don’t want to give people false hopes on this count.”

The reason Sykes and others say the money isn’t there is due to the borough’s revenue cap. Each year, the total amount the Mat-Su can raise in tax revenue has a ceiling based on population growth and the cost of living index for Anchorage. This year’s budget is at that cap. Assembly Member Randall Kowalke said that means it’s not a question of finding additional revenue.

“So, if we take money and give it to the school, it’s coming from somewhere else,” Kowalke said.

With the borough in a position where it cannot increase education funding without cutting elsewhere, Mayor Vern Halter believes it’s critical that the Alaska Legislature not carry through with a proposed five-percent cut to schools as proposed by the state Senate.

“That’d be backwards. That would be the direction we don’t want to go,” Halter said. “They’re even talking about hitting some of the [Base] Student Allocation funding, which would be a backward step.” Halter added, “That would increase the debt of our school district by several million dollars more.”

There is the possibility of some increase to school funding, though not the full amount being requested. Assembly Member Dan Mayfield said the school site selection fund, which currently has just under two million dollars in it, is not likely to be needed any time soon, and that the money could be moved to the school district’s operating budget. Mayfield said he plans to make an amendment to move those funds when the Assembly begins budget deliberations on Monday.

Categories: Alaska News

Northwest Arctic Borough to receive almost $200 million over 10 years from Red Dog Mine

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-04-28 15:51
The Red Dog Mine in 2010. (Alaska Public Media file photo)

After a Borough meeting Tuesday night, a new payment in lieu of taxes (PILT) agreement has been struck between the Northwest Arctic Borough (NAB) and Teck Alaska, the operator of Red Dog Mine.

For the next ten years, the borough will receive annual payments from Teck Alaska based on a fixed asset value of Red Dog mine. The payments are estimated to be between $14 and $18 million per year. Previous payments were $11.6 million annually. Wayne Hall, superintendent for environment and community relations with Teck Alaska, explains the annual payments to NAB have increased since the previous agreement.

“There was a previous PILT agreement that was for five years, which expired a year and a half ago and we’ve been under a severance tax until this new agreement has come into effect with the approval of the ordinance on Tuesday,” Hall said.

In addition, Teck Alaska will create a Village Improvement Fund to be distributed by the Borough towards community services and infrastructure, with input from its eleven villages. The fund will be opened with $11 million and will receive $4-8 million per year based on a certain percentage of Red Dog’s gross profits.

The total payment will be $20 to 26 million per year. Hall said it’s also a retroactive agreement, dating back to January 1st of 2016.

Red Dog Mine sits on land owned by the NANA regional corporation and has been in operation since 1989.

According to the corporation’s website, during the mine’s existence NANA has received $1.3 billion in net proceeds payments from the mine and distributed $820 million of that to other shareholders and corporations.

The Northwest Arctic Borough Assembly approved the new PILT agreement on Tuesday night following a public hearing.

Categories: Alaska News

Secretary Tillerson to attend Arctic Council meeting in Fairbanks

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-04-28 15:39
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, shown here at a 2012 meeting with Russian president Vladmir Putin. At the time Tillerson was the CEO of ExxonMobil. (Photo courtesy Government of the Russian Federation)

United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will be in Fairbanks next month during the Week of the Arctic. Fairbanks Borough Mayor Special Assistant Jeff Stepp broke the news at a Borough Assembly meeting Thursday night.

“Today at a conference in Virginia the Ambassador, David Balton, announced the U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will in fact be in Fairbanks,” Stepp said.

The Week of the Arctic is a series of events, workshops, and presentations tied to the Arctic Council, an international body representing eight circumpolar nations. The United States is concluding its chairmanship of the council and, following tradition, will host a meeting as the next country takes over. That meeting is scheduled for Fairbanks the week of May 8. Finland is taking over the chairmanship. Stepp said all the circumpolar nations will be represented, including Russia.

“The ministry of foreign affairs of the Russian Federation has also confirmed that Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov will also attend,” Stepp said. “In fact, all eight foreign ministers of the Arctic Council are expected to be present in Fairbanks.”

Stepp, who is part of a local team preparing for the Week of the Arctic, told the Assembly the eyes of the world will be on Fairbanks during the event.

A State Department official declined to confirm that Tillerson would be attending.

Spokesperson Nicole Thompson wrote in an e-mail, “If there are plans for the Secretary to travel to Alaska, they would likely be made public in coming days/weeks.”

Categories: Alaska News