Alaska News

State lets Conoco expand North Slope unit, but with conditions

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-08-04 17:55
A flow line curves above the horizon on the western North Slope. ConocoPhillips wants to expand one of its units in the region. (Elizabeth Harball/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

The state is trying to speed up development of oil fields on the North Slope by putting pressure on ConocoPhillips to explore a new area.

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This week, the Department of Natural Resources announced it’s allowing Conoco to expand one of its North Slope units, but only under certain conditions. In February, the state turned down Conoco’s request after the company paused plans to drill an exploration well there.

Now, the state’s approval requires Conoco to drill an exploration well in the new area by May 31, 2018. If Conoco doesn’t agree to the state’s terms and timeline, it will have to give up the area for other companies to bid on.

Andy Mack, head of the Department of Natural Resources, said the state sees potential where Conoco wants to expand so it’s eager to reap the rewards.

“This entire region is an area where we see a lot of excitement, a lot of interest, and the geology is tremendous,” Mack said. “And so we’re asking ourselves, how do we get this area on production quickly and safely? And that’s what we were faced with here in this decision.”

If Conoco agrees to the state’s conditions, its Colville River Unit, west of Prudhoe Bay, will grow by more than 9,000 acres. The lands are jointly owned by the state and the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation.

The state had originally wanted Conoco to drill an exploration well earlier this year. In a March letter to the state, Conoco said it delayed drilling because it needed to address concerns from the village of Nuiqsut, which is just south of the Colville River Unit.

Mack said he now agrees Conoco made the right call.

“I think it was very reasonable for them to ultimately step back from that well last winter and to continue to discuss how they could move forward safely,” Mack said.

The state’s decision also included a financial incentive for Conoco to hire at least 80 percent Alaska residents when it explores for oil in the new acreage. Mack said those incentives are a new strategy for the state.

“This is a unique way to do business, in some respects, and the state always has to do what is in its interests,” Mack said.

In an email, Conoco spokeswoman Natalie Lowman said Alaska residents already make up 85 percent of the company’s total workforce in Alaska. She added that the company is reviewing the state’s decision, but declined to comment further.

Categories: Alaska News

U.S. senators: Same state, same party, not same page

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-08-04 17:51
CNN interviewed Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins. (Image: CNN.com.)

Last week, while Sen. Lisa Murkowski was in the national spotlight for defying her party on health care, Alaska’s other senator, Dan Sullivan, stuck to the party line and attracted little attention. This was hardly the first time they’ve split their votes. The two senators vote opposite each other more than most Republican pairs from the same state.

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Murkowski is getting all kinds of disapproval on social media from people who say she betrayed the party when she voted with Democrats to preserve the Affordable Care Act. She’s making no apologies, and said she fended off a hard-sell at the White House.

“I made a statement to the president, with my colleagues and with his team there, that I’m not voting for the Republican party,” Murkowski said in a CNN interview. “I’m voting for the people of Alaska.”

Murkowski and Sullivan both say they vote for what’s right for Alaska, but their votes differ about 6 percent of the time. If that doesn’t sound like a lot, keep in mind that a good deal of Senate votes are nearly unanimous. And most of the rest follow party lines.

If you rank all 52 Republican senators according how often they’ve voted against the majority of their party this year, Murkowski is No. 4, according to ProPublica’s data. She has zigged while the rest of the Republicans zagged 11 times, often on hot-button issues.

Murkowski voted against President Trump’s Education secretary, Betsy DeVos. She’s voted to continue Medicaid payments to Planned Parenthood. And she voted to allow Americans to buy cheaper prescription drugs from Canada.

Alaska’s U.S. senators with Seema Verma, head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, in July. Photo by Liz Ruskin.

Sullivan, and most other Republicans, voted the opposite way. He’s voted with the majority of his party nearly 99 percent of the time. Twice he voted against – once to object to NASA’s use of Russian-made rockets, another time to support a non-binding statement on the importance of Medicaid expansion.

Of the 20 states that have two Republican senators, Alaska is near the top of the list for vote disagreement. Only Arizona and Kentucky’s Republican senators disagree with each other more.

Congressional scholar Norm Ornstein at the American Enterprise Institute said the differences between the two Alaska senators were on full display during the health care proceedings last month.

“For a lot of us who watch the Senate, it was a puzzle that while she was very direct in standing up for a large group of Alaskans deeply affected by the Medicaid cuts, he said nothing and voted with (Senate Majority Leader) Mitch McConnell,” Ornstein said.

As Ornstein sees it, it goes back to Murkowski’s re-election of 2010, when she lost the Republican Primary and won the General on a write-in, with no party help. She was re-elected in the conventional way last year, but Ornstein says 2010 proves she’s popular enough in Alaska that she doesn’t have to worry about conservative groups like Club for Growth or Heritage Action making too much headway against her.

Norm Ornstein is a congressional scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. Photo: Liz Ruskin

“She feels a greater level of independence, I think, from some of those tribal pressures of the party,” Ornstein said. “And Sullivan appears to be much more willing to succumb to those tribal pressures.”

Sullivan scoffs at the suggestion that he votes as he does out of party loyalty.

“No,” Sullivan laughed. “I vote my mind and my conscience.”

Sullivan said the Republicans have a good team in the Senate, so he’s not surprised his votes are in line with the majority. But he said he does his own research, meeting with every cabinet secretary he voted for, as well as the assistant secretaries and the deputies, and was proud to vote to repeal 14 regulations of the Obama years. During the health care negotiations, Sullivan said he was working hard behind the scenes to make the bill better, with more money for Alaska and a national fund for addiction and mental health treatment.

“I spent seven months and 90 percent of my time on health care,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan pointed out he and Murkowski have both voted with their party more than 9 out of 10 times, so he said they’re not that far apart.

Anchorage Conservative talk show host Dave Stieren, said Alaska’s Republican party spans a lot of ideological ground and the senators represent different camps within it.

“Sullivan (is) tending to be a bit more dogmatic in regards to conservative principles,” Stieren said. “Sen. Murkowski is, you know, as some of her critics have described her, she’s not conservative.”

Stieren said callers to his show on KFQD were pretty mad after Murkowski voted against Republican health care efforts, but he doesn’t think it’ll hurt her.

“People are angry. You know: ‘Oh I’m so upset with her I can’t believe she did this,'” Stieren recounted. “I’m going to go out on a limb and say that they were never fans of hers and may have never voted for her to begin with.”

The Senate is now on its August recess. Next month, the Senate Health Committee plans to hold bipartisan hearings on how to fix particular problems of the Affordable Care Act. Murkowski is a member of that committee, and that’s what she’s wanted all year.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Friday, Aug. 4, 2017

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-08-04 17:47

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 alaskapublic.org and on Twitter @aprn

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U.S. senators: Same state, same party, not same page

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

Last week, while Sen. Lisa Murkowski was in the national spotlight after defying her party on health care., Alaska’s other Republican senator, Dan Sullivan, stuck to the party line and attracted little attention. This was hardly the first time they’ve split their votes.

State lets Conoco expand North Slope unit, but with conditions

Elizabeth Harball, Alaska’s Energy Desk – Anchorage

The state is trying to speed up development of oil fields on the North Slope by putting pressure on ConocoPhillips to explore a new area.

State budget cuts hitting Interior’s main public media company 

Zachariah Hughes, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage

The state’s fiscal situation is taking a toll on one of Alaska’s longest operating and largest public media companies. KUAC, which brings public radio and television programming to Fairbanks, the Interior, and communities across rural Alaska, is scaling back its operations.

Egan calls for criminal justice bill, income tax

Andrew Kitchenman, KTOO – Juneau

State Sen. Dennis Egan said the Legislature should have passed a bill revising last year’s criminal justice overhaul.

Alaska men sentenced in musk oxen poaching case

Associated Press

After pleading guilty in a poaching case, three men were ordered to pay restitution for illegally killing three musk oxen in northwest Alaska.

Mandated reporting of prescribed controlled substances begins in Alaska

Aaron Bolton, KBBI – Homer

The state has been collecting data on prescription opioids and controlled substances since 2012, but until last month, prescribers and pharmacies have been volunteering that data.

No charges filed in Mount Polley mine disaster

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

The British Columbia government has decided to not file charges in the Mount Polley Mine disaster.

AK: Southeast researchers are keeping up with the humpbacks

Nora Saks, KFSK – Petersburg

When animals are removed from the Endangered Species List, who keeps tabs on them? Often, the work of monitoring populations falls on volunteers.

49 Voices: Phil Runkle of Nicolai

Anne Hillman, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage

This week we’re hearing from Phil Runkle in Nicolai. Runkle grew up in Nicolai and raises dogs with his family.

Categories: Alaska News

Egan calls for criminal justice bill, income tax

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-08-04 16:50
State Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau, speaks to the Juneau Chamber of Commerce on Thursday. He called for another attempt to revise the 2016 criminal justice law. (Photo by Andrew Kitchenman/KTOO)

State Sen. Dennis Egan said the Legislature should have passed a bill revising last year’s criminal justice overhaul.

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Senate Bill 54 would have increased jail times for some offenses. The Senate passed the bill by a wide margin.

“Senate Bill 54 passed the Senate on a vote of 19 to 1,” Egan, a Juneau Democrat, said. “It’s now being held up in the House of Representatives. I think that should have gone immediately, but it’s being held up in a committee. So, we’ll bring it up in the second session.”

Egan made the remarks about this year’s regular legislative session and three special sessions Thursday to the Juneau Chamber of Commerce.

The criminal justice bill became stuck in the House State Affairs Committee. Two other committees – judiciary and finance – also were scheduled to discuss the legislation.

People who support the bill have said the Legislature went too far last year in reducing penalties. Critics of the bill have said it’s too soon to know what changes are needed in response to last year’s law.

Egan said there are other bills he’d like to see the Legislature pass. He wants the state to reintroduce an income tax, which he said would provide balance, along with a reduction to Permanent Fund dividends.

“We didn’t make government stable, and that really, really concerns me,” Egan said. “We can stop the slashing of state jobs.”

Egan said the Legislature could address a new source of state revenue during a fourth special session. He said he expects it to happen after the Alaska Federation of Natives annual convention ends in late October.

Egan also defended the Juneau Access Project, a road that would extend north of the city. He said road supporters worked to keep one half the funding for the project.

The capital budget the Legislature passed last week shifts some of the money to other Lynn Canal area projects. But Egan said he’s disappointed that other road money was shifted to build a school in Kivalina in Northwest Arctic Borough.

“We had promises the money would remain in District Q,” Egan said. “It didn’t happen. We had school construction at a location 1,066 miles from us.”

The school funding follows up on a 2011 settlement of the Kasayulie lawsuit that required the state to provide money for schools in some remote villages.

Categories: Alaska News

Mandated reporting of prescribed controlled substances begins in Alaska

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-08-04 16:20
Medical professionals prescribing controlled substances in Alaska are now required to provide hard numbers. (Photo by Aaron Bolton/KBBI)

The state has been collecting data on prescription opioids and controlled substances since 2012, but until last month, prescribers and pharmacies have been volunteering that data.

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As part of an ongoing legislative effort, medical professionals prescribing controlled substances are now required to provide hard numbers.

The effort will help the state grasp the size of the opioid crisis and doctors’ prescribing habits.

Alaska’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, or PDMP, is getting a facelift because of two pieces of legislation, Senate Bill 74, passed last year, and House Bill 159, which Gov. Bill Walker signed in late July.

On July 17, SB 74 began requiring any licensed prescriber of opioids and other controlled substances to report the number of prescriptions they’re writing.

Pharmacists also are mandated to report the number of those prescriptions going out the door weekly.

The program is ran by the state Division of Corporations, Business and Professional Licensing.

Director Sara Chambers said the data will help providers understand their prescribing habits.

“There is a new report through SB 159 that authorizes our agency and the Board of Pharmacy, which is within our agency, to create what are called prescriber report cards,” Chambers said.

These reports will let providers know just how many prescriptions they are writing and how that compares to their peers. Chambers explained the PDMP will serve as an educational tool for prescribers and pharmacists, and adds that it’s not a punitive measure.

However, governing boards, such as the Board of Pharmacy, will be able to access the data, and it can make decisions based on the information.

Prescribers also are required to access the PDMP database before prescribing controlled substances.

The database allows them to see the last time a patient was prescribed a controlled substance such as an opioid, how many pills they received and the frequency of those prescriptions.

A provider also will be able to see where the prescriptions are coming from.

“It can really help reduce doctor shopping. If there are people who don’t necessarily have a medical need for these substances, and if they’re going from doctor to doctor, pharmacy to pharmacy, this is a huge tool in deterring that type of activity,” Chambers said.

The division hopes to have every licensed prescriber in the state on board and reporting by the fall.

HB 159 will also require providers to shift from weekly reporting to providing daily reports next summer.

PDMP estimated numbers already are aggregated into annual reports for Alaska’s Legislature, but Chambers notes the division will be looking to spread the hard numbers far and wide.

“To help inform communities, to help inform age populations,” Chambers said, explaining who will benefit from the data. “Really spread the educational opportunities around to those who may be vulnerable and at risk and to those prescribing without realizing the impact that they’re having.”

The division will continue to examine trends and monitor their relation to medical professionals’ prescribing habits.

So far this year, the division estimates about 282,000 opioid prescriptions have been dispensed statewide.

On the Kenai Peninsula, there have been enough opioids prescribed to supply 54 out of every 100 people with a prescription.

Only the Prince of Wales-Hyder census area in Southeast Alaska has a higher per capita rate, and the Ketchikan Gateway Borough is a close third.

Correction: A previous version of this story reported that House Bill 74 required providers and pharmacists to report the number of prescriptions they’re writing and dispensing. The correct bill is Senate Bill 74. 

Categories: Alaska News

Legislative compromise

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-08-04 15:52
The Alaska State Legislature sign at the Legislative Information Office in Downtown Anchorage. (Staff photo)

State lawmakers called themselves into a third special session to pass a scaled back capital budget. It was a long time in the making, but does the compromise signal that lawmakers can come together on a longer term budget plan for the state? What sticking points remain?

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HOST: Lori Townsend

GUESTS:

  • Democrat Representative Chris Tuck
  • Republican Senator Peter Micciche
  • Republican Senator Cathy Giessel
  • Statewide callers 

Participate:

  • Call 550-8422 (Anchorage) or 1-800-478-8255 (statewide) during the live broadcast
  • Post your comment before, during or after the live broadcast (comments may be read on air).
  • Send email to talk@alaskapublic.org (comments may be read on air)

LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, August 8, 2017 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.

SUBSCRIBE: Get Talk of Alaska updates automatically by emailRSS or podcast.

Categories: Alaska News

No charges filed in Mount Polley mine disaster

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-08-04 15:27
Muddy water from the breached Mount Polley Mine tailings pond dam floods a downstream creek and road Aug. 4, 2014. Fishing and environmental groups say the same could happen at new B.C. mines near the Southeast border. (Photo by Cariboo Regional District Emergency Operations Centre)

The British Columbia government has decided to not file charges in the Mount Polley Mine disaster.

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Critics in Southeast Alaska say the lack of enforcement action increases their concerns about similar mines near salmon-rich transboundary rivers, which begin in British Columbia and flow through Southeast.

Mount Polley’s tailings dam broke Aug. 4, 2014, sending millions of gallons of silt and water into nearby creeks and rivers.

The three-year statute of limitations for filing charges is over and the province said it is taking no legal action.

The central B.C. mine is owned by Imperial Metals, which also owns the Red Chris Mine in the Stikine River watershed.

Southeast Alaska Conservation Council Mining Coordinator Guy Archibald said he’s very disappointed.

“The Mount Polley investigation found that the contractors were not following the plan of operation for maintaining the tailings dam and that contributed to its failure,” Archibald said. “Why nobody’s being held responsible for this is very surprising.”

B.C. environmental officials issued a statement Aug. 1 calling the dam collapse, “one of the worst environmental disasters in our province’s history.”

Environment Minister George Heyman said the investigation is not over.

Heyman promised provincial officials would work with Canada’s federal government to complete their inquiry.

Archibald said he doesn’t expect federal charges to be filed, either.

“Since the Mount Polley investigation, we’ve seen mines moving forward with the same failed technology as in the case of Mount Polley,” Archibald said. “Mines continue to be permitted and existing water-tailings structures are still on the books. Nothing has really changed on the ground from business as usual in the last three years.”

Industry and prior British Columbia representatives have pointed to improvements in tailings-dam design and construction, saying they’re safe.

Categories: Alaska News

49 Voices: Phil Runkle of Nicolai

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-08-04 14:42
Phil Runkle of Nicolai (Photo by Anne Hillman, Alaska Public Media)

This week we’re hearing from Phil Runkle in Nicolai. Runkle grew up in Nicolai and raises dogs with his family.

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RUNKLE: Well I spent 37 days out in the Farewell Burn living out of an Arctic Oven on a fairly good sized lake with a nice island. We got trapping out there every winter. We usually have a trap line heading that way. And we got the dogs here — we’ve got 22 dogs at the moment. So I just thought, “Let’s just take 12 dogs out there, I’ll follow you guys” — my brother Andrew Runkle and my uncle John Dennis. They were heading out on snowmachine, and I followed them with dog team.

The first trip took two days, ’cause the dogs hadn’t gone on such a long run yet. A few days into the trip, I decided to stay, and they [his family] came back to Nicolai. It felt right, you know. It’s so peaceful out there, so quiet. I had four one-year-old dogs. It was their first big trip. They did awesome, and it was good to get that personal time with the dogs. We just doing various runs on the lake out there. Working on their gee and haw, trying to get a feel for some of the pups who might be good leaders in the future, just kinda see where they work better on the team.

And a lot of fishing. They ate a lot of pike out there.

I would have to say you need to, somewhat, be comfortable with yourself. I don’ think I would’ve made it as long as I did without the dogs.

You know, I hope to one day buy that small island. I don’t know how I would have to go about doing that, but I would like to spring out there and spend the summer there sometime.

Categories: Alaska News

AK: Southeast researchers are keeping up with the humpbacks

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-08-04 14:24
Volunteer researchers from the Alaska Whale Foundation survey humpbacks in Frederick Sound for a region wide population study. Back: Christine Walder and Leonie Mahlke. Front: Madison Kosma. (Photo – Nora Saks)

When animals are removed from the Endangered Species List, who keeps tabs on them? Often, the work of monitoring populations falls on volunteers.

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This is true of one of Southeast Alaska’s most iconic seasonal visitors – the humpback whale. Researchers have banded together to keep a close eye on these beloved marine mammals.

28 year-old Madison Kosma is perched on the bow of an inflatable raft, aiming her camera at a humpback whale working its way through Frederick Sound, north of Petersburg.

Kosma thinks of it like a game. It’s one that requires fierce concentration, and a surplus of patience, because whales are constantly moving targets.

“It’s like playing 2D chess with someone who’s playing 3D chess,” Kosma said. “And they always know where we are but we have no idea where they are.”

Madison Kosma carefully labels a tissue sample of skin and blubber taken from a humpback whale. (Photo – Nora Saks)

Kosma needs crystal clear shots of its fins, body and especially the fluke, because each one has a unique pattern. When she gets them, she rattles off numbers to her colleague, who jots them down in a waterproof notebook.

A pleasure craft motors over. Kosma yells across the deck, announcing that they’re researchers with the Alaska Whale Foundation and that they’re part of a big effort to photograph and document every humpback passing through this section of the Inside Passage.

“We just wanted to let you know, so you know we’re not some ‘randos’ harassing the whales!” Kosma said.

Afterwards, once the snapshots are taken, the crew zooms off. A few miles away, there’s a whale lounging cooperatively near the surface. The captain idles the boat parallel to it.

Kosma sets her camera down, picks up a crossbow and loads it without a word. She chooses a moving mark on the charcoal-colored mass, takes careful aim, and squeezes the trigger.

The arrow sails through the air and appears to glance off the whale’s side. It flicks its tail defiantly, and disappears with a splash. Kosma retrieves the arrow and removes the specialized tip, or bolt.

“The bolt does that big core sampling like a tree. But this has a barb on it, so once it goes in, it can’t come out. Once it pulls out,” Kosma said.

And, it worked. It’s filled with a crayon-sized amount of glossy black skin and blubber that is bubble gum pink. This is the way to get a biopsy, and Kosma knows that from the outside, it might not look like conservation.

“But then if you look on the inside, the crossbow is actually a child’s crossbow,” Kosma said. “It’s not that powerful. It’s kind of like giving the whale a shot or a bee sting.”

Three humpbacks treated volunteers to bubble net feeding at the end of a long day on the water. Permit 18529 issued to J. Straley. (Photo – Nora Saks)

And, this one tissue sample contains powerful stuff. It will reveal the whale’s genetic fingerprint, and much about its biology and life history.

It’s all for a project called the Survey of Population Level Indices for Southeast Alaska Humpbacks. That’s a mouthful, but everyone calls it SPLISH, which is a lot more fun to say.

SPLISH involves teams from seven independent research groups, fanning out across the waters of northern Southeast Alaska during the same two-week period. Their goal is to find out how many humpbacks there are, where they are and how well they’re doing.

It’s a mini version of a larger project called SPLASH that was done over a decade ago.

That’s because, while most humpback populations were recently removed from the Endangered Species List – there’s very little federal money to keep monitoring them long term.

Phil Clapham is a large whale expert with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“The funding tends to go towards those species for which we know there’s a management problem, which are in some cases in the public eye. The thing about humpbacks is they’ve come back screamingly well,” Clapham said.

But not everyone agrees. Professor Jan Straley isn’t as comfortable calling it an ecological success story just yet.

“Not in Southeast. Not what I’ve seen in the last year. I’m not convinced the whales are doing that well,” Straley said.

Straley is a veteran marine biologist at the University of Alaska, and one of the brains behind SPLISH. She and her colleagues have recently noticed humpbacks that look sickly, and have fewer calves.

Straley wonders if the population is just reaching carrying capacity, or if the conditions in the ocean are changing so rapidly that they’re struggling to keep up.

Either way, and it could be both, it’s too soon to tell.

“If it shows that there is an issue with the health of these whales, we’ve got something big happening,” Straley said. “Or maybe not big, but at least something is happening that we don’t know yet.”

For now, Straley and her collaborators in the science community are keeping close tabs on humpbacks in the region, on a shoestring budget, with a lot of help from volunteers.

Volunteers like the ones on the inflatable raft. As the sun begins to set, the crew is still on the water, buzzing from GPS point — to whale — to GPS point.

It’s been a wildly successful day in the field, their best one yet. They’ve documented almost 30 whales, snapped over 300 photos and gotten two biopsies. But spending 12 hours with the same four people on an inflatable raft the size of a kiddie pool, with no protection from the elements, can cause even the hardiest of spirits to sag.

But then, the group gets a special surprise. Big bubbles appear on the sea’s surface and start swirling clockwise, forming a perfect circle that perks everyone up.

“Sick, huh?” Kosma said. “It’s so cool. Oh there we go!”

Three humpbacks emerge from the depths, right in the center of the ring, like the mighty cetaceans of the apocalypse. Their mouths are hinged open to gulp down massive quantities of fish. This is a cooperative feeding strategy called bubble netting. And it is a sight to behold.

“I’ll be so bummed out, and then it’s like boom! There’s a huge group of bubble netters, and then I’m warm again, there’s blood in my fingers, blood in my toes. I’m pumped, I’m excited, I’m awake,” Kosma said. “It’s just incredible.”

Even after a long day of repetitive wildlife spotting, for Madison Kosma, this still feels like something exceptional.

Categories: Alaska News

Dillingham police seek confidential informants to build cases against heroin dealers

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-08-04 11:51
Dillingham police (KDLG photo)

The Dillingham Police Department is looking for confidential informants to help them build drug cases.

Confidential informants help police by going undercover to buy drugs from local dealers and reporting to the police. Chief Dan Pasquariello explained the program.

“The Dillingham Police are trying to make cases against persons that sell heroin and/or methamphetamine and other controlled substances in this town,” Pasquariello said. “One way we do that is we’re prepared to give rewards to people who want to become confidential informants and help the police and help the community.”

Pasquariello put the word out through a call to Open Line Tuesday.

That call seemed to cause some confusion.

“We are not giving them $500 to buy heroin,” Pasquariello said. “That mystifies me how people could take that message.”

Confidential informants help the police build a case against dealers. Distribution of a controlled substance carries heftier penalties than mere possession. Pasquariello believes these people prey on those in the community with addiction issues.

“No one’s a little kid and says when I grow up I want to be a heroin addict. Just through series of circumstances they end up doing it,” Pasquariello said. “Most addicts I talk to are not happy with the situation. Well you can help this community of Dillingham with the heroin problem by becoming a confidential informant.”

Pasquariello is aware helping the police could come with stigma.

“We need to change the rules where ‘Ooh, you’re a snitch or a narc and that’s a bad thing,’” Pasquariello said. “No, that’s a good thing. Helping the community is a good thing.”

Pasquariello added that this is part of the larger effort by the community to combat drug use.

Categories: Alaska News

Lt. Gov. Mallott says he and Gov. Walker will run for re-election

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2017-08-03 18:10
Gov. Bill Walker (right) and Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott wait on the tarmac for Chinese President Xi Jinping to land in Anchorage, on April 7, 2017. (Photo by Wesley Early/Alaska Public Media)

Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott said Wednesday that he and Gov. Bill Walker will run for re-election next year.  He also said they’ll run together.

Even for incumbents, that may be an uphill fight.

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Mallott went further than Walker has in talking about next year’s election. He spoke to host Pete Carran on Juneau radio station KINY.

“Well, we have both decided that we will run again,” Mallott said.

Mallott said the decision isn’t absolute, because they don’t know what may occur in the future. But he said their minds are made up to run again.

“Whatever we do, we’ll do together, for sure,” Mallott said.

Walker is a former Republican who ran without party affiliation in 2014. Mallott is a longtime Democrat who won the party’s nomination for governor that year. Mallott then decided to join Walker’s ticket.

Mallott didn’t say whether he and Walker will seek the nomination of a political party. But he noted that their non-affiliated run last time was successful.

Walker’s political spokeswoman is Lindsay Hobson, who is his daughter. She declined to comment on whether Walker is running for re-election.

But Hobson may have confirmed a re-election campaign in a roundabout way. She said she isn’t saying that Mallott was inaccurate.

Mallott’s comments were received warmly by Alaska Republican Party chairman Tuckerman Babcock.

“We are happy to have our candidate take on two Democrats,” Babcock said. “And we think Gov. Walker represents Democrats, and we think the Democratic party will get its act together and will have an upfront Democrat. So, from our perspective, having two Democrats running is a good thing.”

Walker faces a potential challenge. If there is a Democrat running separately on the ballot, those votes would likely come at his cost.

Babcock said he doesn’t think it’s possible for Walker to run as a Republican.

“I don’t see any avenue for Bill Walker to try to run in the Republican primary,” Babcock said. “I mean, he’s governed as a Democrat, with Democrat policies, and Democratic appointments for the most part. And we see him as just a Democrat in independent clothing.”

The Republicans may have a large field. While Wasilla state Sen. Mike Dunleavy is the only announced candidate, former senators John Binkley and Charlie Huggins, former Lt. Gov. Loren Leman and businessmen Bob Gillam and Scott Hawkins have met with party insiders about possible campaigns.

The Alaska Democratic Party endorsed Walker three years ago. Party executive director Jay Parmley said he wasn’t surprised by Mallott’s comments.

Parmley said the party hasn’t talked with Walker and Mallott about how they would run.

“And we will cross that bridge whenever there’s a complete formal announcement and the governor and lieutenant governor both declare their complete intentions as to the way they are choosing to move forward,” Parmley said.

Parmley said Babcock shouldn’t be focused on who will run against the Republican candidate.

“I’m not concerned who the Republicans are going to nominate,” Parmley said. “It’s going to be in my view sort of a clown parade on that side.”

Parmley said he’s not concerned that both Walker and a Democrat will appear on the ballot.

“The reason I’m not concerned about anything is because it’s not a reality,” Parmley said. “The fact of the matter is, the governor and the lieutenant governor are going to make a decision. We may have other Democrats who make a decision. And we will work all of that through as we go.”

A major unknown on the Democratic side is whether former U.S. Sen. Mark Begich will run.

The filing deadline for the primaries is June 1, almost ten months away.

Correction: This story hasn’t been updated to reflect that the Alaska Democratic Party endorsed Walker three years ago, not four.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Thursday, Aug. 3, 2017

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2017-08-03 18:05

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 alaskapublic.org and on Twitter @aprn

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Zinke tweets beer pic showing he’s A-OK with Murkowski

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

If harsh words were spoken, Sen. Lisa Murkowski appears to have patched things up with Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke. Zinke tweeted a picture of himself and Murkowski having beers together, two Alaskan Brewing Company pale ales.

Lt. Gov. Mallott says he and Gov. Walker will run for re-election

Andrew Kitchenman, KTOO – Juneau

Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott said Wednesday that he and Gov. Bill Walker will run for re-election next year.  He also said they’ll run together. Even for incumbents, that may be an uphill fight.  

Both sides seek to drop Alaska abortion lawsuit

Associated Press

Abortion-rights advocates and the state of Alaska are seeking to dismiss a lawsuit after the state medical board adopted new regulations for abortions after the first trimester.

Britsol Bay sees an unexpectedly large salmon run 

Dave Bendinger, KDLG – Dillingham

It appears that this year the Bristol Bay sockeye salmon run has blown forecasts out of the water. The state’s preliminary tally for this year’s total run is 56.2 million. That’s about 35 percent bigger than the preseason forecast. So far, the harvest now stands at 37.5 million fish, which is 10 million more than was expected.

Foretold Disaster – the Exxon Valdez oil spill

Rachel Waldholz, Alaska’s Energy Desk – Anchorage

In 1989, the Exxon Valdez oil tanker ran aground, spilling 11 million gallons of crude into Prince William Sound. We sometimes look back and see it as an unprecedented, unthinkable event. But, in fact, people warned about it — and they tried to prevent it. Before the pipeline was even built, fishermen in Cordova fought to keep oil tankers out of the Sound.

Climate change may have driven gray whale up Kuskowkim

Anna Rose MacArthur, KYUK – Bethel

Climate change may be responsible for pushing Alaska’s Gray Whales up into estuaries and rivers like the Kuskokwim.

Changing climate pushes polar bears toward more dangerous interactions with humans

Carter Barrett, Alaska’s Energy Desk – Juneau

Human-polar bear interactions are part of life in Arctic communities, but as melting sea ice forces polar bears onto dry land, they are becoming more common and potentially more dangerous. This is the message of a recent scientific paper.

Climate expert predicts warmer-than-normal fall, continuing 10-year trend

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

National Weather Service climate expert Rick Thoman said there’s a good chance that all of Alaska will be warmer than normal in August and the next couple of months. But he said there’s near-certainty that coastal areas along the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering and Beaufort seas will be warm through October.

Southcentral Alaska to feel hotter weather this weekend

Casey Grove, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage

Unseasonably warm spell weather is coming for Southcentral Alaska, just in time for the weekend.

Categories: Alaska News

Southcentral Alaska to feel hotter weather this weekend

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2017-08-03 16:59

Unseasonably warm spell weather is coming for Southcentral Alaska, just in time for the weekend.

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That’s according to the National Weather Service, which issued a special statement forecasting clear skies, sun and temperatures in the high 70s or low 80s by Saturday.

“It’s a highlight for a pattern change in the weather from the cloudy wet weather we’ve had for the last few days and today, and then start turning sunny and warm tomorrow afternoon and especially Saturday,” meteorologist David Percey said.

The weather statement prompted the Anchorage Office of Emergency Management to issue an advisory saying to, quote, “take appropriate precautions” that sparked some amusement and derision among residents.

Percey said the original statement was only intended to let people know about the drastic – if welcome – change in weather.

“Well that was their take on it,” Percey said. “You know, the headline we had was warm sunny weather coming to Southcentral Alaska. That’s what this office put out.”

Rain showers are back in the forecast for late Sunday, Monday and the rest of next week.

Categories: Alaska News

Climate change may have driven gray whale up Kuskowkim

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2017-08-03 16:35
The gray whale that swam up the Kuskokwim River and was hunted by locals last week may have been searching for new food sources, according to Oregon-based scientist Carrie Newell. (Katie Basile / KYUK)

Climate change may be responsible for pushing Alaska’s Gray Whales up into estuaries and rivers like the Kuskokwim.

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Oregon-based whale biologist Dr. Carrie Newell said Gray Whales spend six months of the year in Alaskan waters feeding – digging into the muddy bottoms of the North Pacific, Bering Sea and Arctic Ocean, looking for tiny shelled creatures known as amphipods.

“They are about a half inch to an inch long,” Newell said. “The Grays need to eat about a ton of those a day.”

Alaskan waters have warmed significantly with climate change, and one result is less of these cold-water-loving crustaceans to feed Gray Whales, which sends the inquisitive whales into new habitat. looking for food. Newell said This could be the reason , why the whale went 60 miles up the Kuskokwim.

“I know that up in Alaska the Gray Whales are not doing nearly as well as they are down here for food,” Newell said. “And so it was maybe trying to look for a new source of food because the food, the amphipods they primarily have fed on in Alaska have not been doing as well as they have in the past.”

In other words, the whale may have been hungry. She said it was probably a male and at 37 feet it probably weighed 37 tons.

Most of the East Pacific Gray Whales spend their summers in Alaska eating, and their winters in Mexico off the Baja Peninsula, breeding and calving.

Categories: Alaska News

Climate expert predicts warmer-than-normal fall, continuing 10-year trend

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2017-08-03 15:45
Left, there’s a 55 percent chance of above-normal temperatures from August through October – a fairly strong likelihood, Thoman says. The 45 percent chance of above-normal temps throughout the rest of the state reflects a moderately-strong likelihood – the same chances of above-normal precipitation in southwestern and southeastern Alaska, right. (NOAA/National Weather Service)

National Weather Service climate expert Rick Thoman said there’s a good chance that all of Alaska will be warmer than normal in August and the next couple of months. But he said there’s near-certainty that coastal areas along the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering and Beaufort seas will be warm through October.

Thoman said the computer models and array of sensors that he and other climate experts use to develop long-term forecasts suggest there’s a 45 percent chance that the eastern and central Interior will be warmer than normal through October. He said that’s a statewide trend that’s developed in recent years.

“The early Autumn season over most of the state, except for Southeast, in the last decade there’s been a really quite strong trend for a warm early Autumn season,” he said.

But Thoman said the models show an especially strong likelihood of warmer-than-normal temperatures in coastal areas through late summer and early fall. He said that’s mainly due to warm sea-surface temperatures and the absence of sea ice in the Bering and Beaufort seas.

The Arctic sea-ice extent around Alaska had by late last month receded more than the same time in 2016, which is tied with 2007 for the second-lowest minimum sea-ice extent on record.(NOAA/National Weather Service)

“Especially over northern and western Alaska – very low sea-ice cover,” Thoman said. “The ice cover left very early, even by modern standards, across the North Slope.”

Thoman said when Arctic sea ice cover retreats northward to its so-called minimum extent sometime in September, it probably won’t break the minimum-extent record set in 2012. But he said years of warming in the Arctic make it certain that it’ll be near the top of the list.

“It’s not a question of is it going to be above or below normal,” Thoman said. “The only real question is will it be the lowest? Will it be the second-lowest? Or will it be the third-lowest?

The Colorado-based National Snow and Ice Data Center reports Arctic sea-ice extent in early July appeared to be receding at a rate that rivaled the early July 2012 extent. But the rate of sea-ice decline slowed by mid-month, NSIDC says.

Thoman said precipitation is harder to predict a month out than it is for temperatures. But he said the models suggest near-normal precipitation throughout much of the state through October – except along the Bering Sea coast and Southeast Alaska, where higher-than-normal precipitation is likely.

Categories: Alaska News

Forest Service could delay Wrangell contaminated soil move

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2017-08-03 15:07
A backhoe digs up part of the old Byford Junkyard in Wrangell in 2014. After removing old cars, oil drums and other trash, the state is treating and moving contaminated soil to a rock quarry south of town. (Photo courtesy Department of Environmental Conservation)

The U.S. Forest Service could put the brakes on a state plan to store contaminated soil near a Wrangell recreation area.

The Department of Environmental Conservation plans to truck almost 20,000 cubic yards of lead-laced soil to a rock quarry near the Pat’s Creek area, south of town, as part of a multi-million-dollar effort to clean up an old junkyard.

Officials say the soil has been treated with a phosphate-based product called EcoBond, so the lead won’t leach into soil or waterways.

The trucks carrying the soil will have to use a Forest Service road, which requires a permit.

Tongass National Forest spokesman Paul Robbins Jr. said that could take a while.

“The Tongass National Forest will not issue a road authorization before a NEPA process is completed and we’ve received substantial public involvement,” Robbins said.

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires federal agencies to assess the effects of resource development and other actions on federal property.

The process can take six months to two years.

State officials originally scheduled the work to begin July 31. Earlier this week, they said they hoped to begin later this month.

The soil-storage plan has been controversial, with residents questioning its safety and limited public comment opportunities.

The Department of Environmental Conservation plans a public workshop Aug. 21 and an Aug. 22 meeting with the Wrangell Borough Assembly on. Further details will be announced later.

Officials say the soil needs to be moved because it threatens the marine environment.

Categories: Alaska News

GoFundMe campaigns created to help cruise ship murder victim’s family

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2017-08-03 09:56

Dana Nicholls, a family friend and neighbor of the Utah woman who was killed aboard a cruise ship off Alaska’s coast last week, is raising money for her three daughters.

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Nicholls said the family appeared happy, and that he’s trying to help the children with a GoFundMe campaign.

Nicholls’ family lived across the street from the Manzanareses in Santa Clara, Utah. His six children, ages 12 to 22, grew up alongside Kenneth and Kristy Manzanares’ three daughters for a little more than eight years.

“It’s tough. We were close with the family,” Nicholls said. “The girls, their children are like my children. They spent more time at our home than they did their own.”

Nicholls is a real estate agent and worked with Kristy. He called her a “wonderful, beaming ray of sunshine.” When he heard she’d been killed aboard a cruise ship in Alaska, he was devastated. He started a GoFundMe campaign for the daughters.

“Their children are what is important to us at this point,” Nicholls said. “And they’ve had their worlds turned upside down. It’s a tragedy.”

Kristy Manzanares was found dead aboard the Emerald Princess cruise ship after what the cruise line called a “domestic dispute.”

Witnesses told investigators that Kristy’s husband, Kenneth Manzanares, had blood all over his clothes and hands. He is facing a federal murder charge.

Nicholls isn’t sure what the money will specifically go toward, but says it won’t fund Kenneth Manzanares’ legal defense.

“I love Kenny. He’s a good guy, but that’s not why the GoFundMe page was put together,” Nicholls said of the campaign, which is more than halfway to its $50,000 goal. “It is simply for their girls and any needs that may arise for them.”

Nicholls said the whole ordeal is terrible. He remembers the couple as being wonderful friends and neighbors.

“I’ve seen a lot of different reports and just comments from people about Kenny being a monster,” Nicholls said. “It’s nothing further from the truth. They were both wonderful people and I don’t know what happened, you know. You don’t ever know completely what goes on behind closed doors.”

Kenneth Manzanares is facing a murder charge in federal court in Juneau. He’s yet to enter a plea and is being represented by a public defender.

The Associated Press reported the couple were celebrating their wedding anniversary with family.

Another family friend set up a second GoFundMe account to raise money for funeral expenses. It has raised nearly $10,000, almost a third of its goal.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2017-08-02 17:56

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 alaskapublic.org and on Twitter @aprn

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Closed process on capital budget draws criticism

Andrew Kitchenman, KTOO – Juneau

In five and a half hours on July 27, the two chambers met, formed a conference committee and passed the $1.4 billion capital budget.

GoFundMe campaigns created to help cruise ship murder victim’s family

Tripp Crouse, KTOO – Juneau

A family friend and neighbor of the Utah woman who was killed aboard a cruise ship off Alaska’s coast last week is raising money for her three daughters.

Nunapitchuk VPO shot in Napaskiak

Johanna Eurich, KYUK – Bethel

Alcohol appears to be at the center of the shooting death of an off-duty Nunapitchuk Village Police Officer (VPO) in Napaskiak.

Alaska police training facility nears completion

Associated Press

After more than ten years of planning, construction at a training facility for Alaska police is nearing completion, and project managers say it should open this fall.

Mat-Su sales tax ordinance postponed indefinitely

Phillip Manning, KTNA – Talkeetna

After hearing from more than forty people in a packed chamber, the Mat-Su Borough Assembly has indefinitely postponed an ordinance to place a two-percent sales tax before borough voters.

Cruise-ship tourism will expand next summer

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

More tourists will come to Alaska next summer on cruise ships.

Gelvin’s air strip being restored with tons of gravel

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

A hundred tons of gravel have restored a remote runway in Yukon Charley Rivers National Preserve. The Gelvin’s 700-foot-long air strip along the Charley River was damaged by a 2012 flood.

Water restored to all New Stuyahok homes

Avery Lill, KDLG – Dillingham

Homes in New Stuyahok were plagued with low or no water pressure from mid-June to mid-July. At the peak of the problem, more than 30 homes were affected. Now the city water system is back online.

Tsunami zone update gets pushback from Oregon Coast legislators

Tom Banse, Northwest News Network – Oregon

Sooner or later, the Cascadia fault zone is going to unleash a monster earthquake and tsunami hitting the Pacific Northwest and impacting parts of Alaska. When that day comes, you hope that coastal schools, fire and police stations and hospitals are located high enough so that they don’t get washed away when you most need them to be there.

Ask a Climatologist: August is Alaska’s rainiest month

Annie Feidt, Alaska’s Energy Desk – Anchorage

August is the rainiest month in Alaska. But how rainy? That depends on where you live.

Categories: Alaska News

Nunapitchuk VPO shot in Napaskiak

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2017-08-02 17:47

Alcohol appears to be at the center of the shooting death of an off-duty Nunapitchuk Village Police Officer (VPO) in Napaskiak.

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Court documents indicate that a Village Public Safety Officer (VPSO) was called to the scene of a shooting on Sunday morning. When VPSO Greg Larson arrived at the house, a nine-year-old boy came out, saying that his older brother had shot a man. When Larson went inside, he found Kyle Wassillie, a 26-year-old off-duty Nunapitchuk VPO, lying in the entryway with a bullet through his chest and stomach area. His breathing was shallow. Nearby, Larson found the young boy’s brother, Adam Williams, age 19, “passed out drunk.” VPSO Larson handcuffed Williams and another adult, Corey Nicholai, 18, who was also found intoxicated in a back room. Neither woke up.

Court documents indicate that the rifle suspected of firing the bullets was found in the kitchen. An empty cartridge was found by the body, and some large empty bottles of vodka were also found in the house.

Health aides tried to revive Wassillie, but he died at 9:35 a.m. An hour after VPSO Larson arrived at the house.

After they awoke, both Nicholai and Williams admitted they had been drinking earlier, but said that they had no memory of the shooting. Court documents indicate that there is a witness who confirms the young boy’s account about his brother. Adrian Andrew is a neighbor who called 911 after witnessing the shooting through a window.

Adam Williams faces charges of murder in the first degree. Williams’ bail is set at $100,000 cash plus a court approved third-party custodian. He does not have a prior record.

Categories: Alaska News

Mat-Su sales tax ordinance postponed indefinitely

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2017-08-02 17:02

After hearing from more than forty people in a packed chamber, the Mat-Su Borough Assembly has indefinitely postponed an ordinance to place a two-percent sales tax before borough voters.

The sales tax proposal before the borough assembly on Tuesday came from a request by the Mat-Su Borough School Board. With continuing uncertainty around state funding, and with flat funding from the borough, the district hopes to use a sales tax to boost education funding in the Mat-Su. The assembly ultimately voted six-to-one to postpone the ordinance indefinitely.

Tim Walters, President of the Mat-Su Education Association, spoke in favor of a new revenue stream for local schools. He said continuing the status quo will lead to larger and larger class sizes.

”What I see in my colleagues’ classroom, that means pile another ten chairs in back,” Walters said. “This year, we’ll see high school classes in the forties. You’ll hear stories of Kindergarten classes in the thirties.”

While others spoke in favor of the sales tax, the majority of those who addressed the assembly were opposed.

Representatives of all three incorporated cities in the borough spoke in opposition to placing a sales tax on the ballot. Wasilla Mayor Bert Cottle said labeling the tax as a measure to fund education doesn’t fall in line with what the state requires of area-wide taxes.

“Under [the] state constitution, you cannot dedicate taxes,” Cottle said. “So what you do once you collect the tax money is up to you, and it’s up to each assembly each year.”

Many who spoke on Tuesday raised similar points, and say that while the current assembly may hold true to putting sales tax money to education, future assemblies would have no legal requirement to do so.

Those in opposition to the tax cite multiple concerns, including hurting local business and a disproportionate impact on the poor. Many also believe the school district could be doing more to reduce its budget without impacting the classroom. Mike Kelly is one of those.

“[The Mat-Su Borough School Board] voted to maintain the janitors, even though there’s about a $2 million savings in outsourcing,” Kelly said.

Another issue that came up multiple times is school performance in Alaska relative to the amount spent. According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, Alaska spends the second most on education per pupil in the country at just over $20,000. Mike Alexander said that spending is not translating to better results relative to other states.

“We’re buying an Escalade, we think, and we’re getting a Yugo, because our kids are testing horribly,” Alexander said. “If you’re top ten, top twenty, I’d go hard out for you, but you’re not.”

Alaska is below the national average both in terms of graduation rate and standardized test performance.

Jillian Morrissey, public information officer for the school district, said using statewide performance numbers to describe results in the Mat-Su isn’t apples to apples.

“When we use those numbers that are statewide, it’s taking into account all of these rural villages all over the State of Alaska,” Morrissey said. “So, our graduation rate is different than when you look statewide.”

Morrissey is correct. According to the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development, graduation rates in the Mat-Su are higher than the state average. Morrissey said that’s not a coincidence.

“There has been a really big effort in our core schools to make sure that our graduation rates continue to rise, and we’re seeing that trend,” Morrissel said. “That’s happening in the last five to ten years, which is really exciting.”

As for high per-student spending, Jillian Morrissey said the district is looking at ways to operate more efficiently, including capital improvements and distance learning, but that basic costs are continually rising.

“We’re one of the biggest users of utilities in the Mat-Su Borough, so it’s expensive to keep the lights on and keep the heat going and all of those kinds of things,” Morrissey said.

After testimony, the assembly discussed what to do with the sales tax proposal. The deadline to place items on the borough’s October ballot is this week, though the revised version of the ordinance calls for a special election in January. In the end, the assembly voted to postpone the ordinance indefinitely, with only Assembly Member Jim Sykes objecting.

While the current sales tax proposal was effectively killed, the conversation concerning other means of education funding is not over. The assembly directed Borough Manager John Moosey to speak to cities, the school district, and local business leaders to try to hammer out a solution. Moosey expects to report back to the assembly in November.

Categories: Alaska News

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