Alaska News

UAS, Coast Guard establish training and scholarship program for students

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2017-10-03 11:30
Coast Guard members recruit on the University of Alaska Southeast campus in Juneau on Monday. (Photo by Adelyn Baxter/KTOO)

By next fall, the first batch of University of Alaska Southeast undergraduates are expected to begin a first-of-its-kind scholarship program for Alaska.

Students that are accepted to the College Student Pre-Commissioning Initiative (CSPI) become active-duty enlisted members of the Coast Guard, receive full salary and benefits and start a track to become fully commissioned officers upon graduation.

UAS and the Coast Guard on Monday signed an agreement, establishing the program. During the signing ceremony, Coast Guard Rear Adm. Michael McAllister said the partnership opens up an “exchange of knowledge” between the campus and the Coast Guard.

“It’s a great opportunity for the many, many Coast Guard men and women in Alaska, but particularly Southeast Alaska, to get engaged back in the classroom, whether they’re as students, as mentors, or even guest instructors from time to time,” McAllister said. “It’s an opportunity for students here at UAS to get out and learn about some of the things the Coast Guard does in terms of marine environmental protection, in terms of fisheries enforcement, in terms of search and rescue and give them experiential learning out in the field.”

Students must be full-time sophomores or juniors to apply. Much like ROTC, students accepted into the program are on track to become fully commissioned officers upon graduation. They also receive up to two years’ full tuition. Unlike ROTC, CSPI students are active-duty enlisted members of the Coast Guard and receive full salary and benefits.

Lt. Junior Grade Collin McClelland graduated from the CSPI program at Norfolk State University more than a year ago and is now assigned to Juneau. McClelland comes from five generations of military service, so being involved in a tight-knit community was a major factor in his decision to join.

“Being a part of the Coast Guard in an area like this is something to be proud of and something that definitely makes you go home, go to sleep at night and you feel like you did something,” McClelland said.

UAS Chancellor Rick Caulfield signed the agreement with McAllister, and said the campus has plans to create a scholarship for freshmen and sophomore students who plan to enroll in CSPI.

“Juneau has a great marine industry, and the more we can educate young people about all aspects of the maritime industry here, whether it’s joining the Coast Guard or getting involved with the fishing industry or marine repair,” Caulfield said. “It gives students an idea of how they can make a living in this beautiful setting that we’re in and how important maritime industry is to our economy here in Juneau.”

Applications for the first CSPI class at UAS will be due in January.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaskans among victims of Las Vegas shooting rampage

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-10-02 18:16
The suspected shooter used a hotel room on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel to shoot hundreds of victims in Sunday’s mass shooting (Flickr photo by James Marvin Phelps).

At least two Alaskans are dead, and another is wounded, after a gunman’s rampage at an outdoor concert in Las Vegas. Many other residents were at the event and fled to safety, sending messages back to family overnight and into Monday.

Listen now

48-year-old Mike Cronk lives in Tok, and was at the Route 91 Harvest country music festival when gunshots erupted late Sunday night. He described what happened during an interview with ABC News.

“It was very horrifying. At first it sounded like fireworks, and then my buddy that was standing right next to me said ‘I’m hit,’ and then we knew it was real,” Cronk told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos.

The friend hit was 52-year-old Rob McIntosh of North Pole. According to the Alaska Dispatch News, McIntosh’s family expect to make a full recovery.

McIntosh is one of more than 500 people injured in the shooting.

Cronk waited for the gunfire to stop before he and others climbed over a fence, put McIntosh on a cart and rushed to safety. They loaded four injured people into a truck and raced them toward medical care.

“One of the guys in our truck did not make it, either,” Cronk said. “I carried him out of the truck and he passed away in my arms.”

The shooting is being called the worst in modern U.S. history, with 59 people dead as of Monday afternoon. Among them is Anchorage resident Dorene Anderson, who according to social media called herself a stay-at-home mother. Her daughter wrote on Facebook that Anderson was one of the victims. The post was shared on a page for fans of the Alaska Aces hockey team, which was a passion of Anderson’s.

Another victim is 35-year-old Adrien Murfitt, a graduate of Dimond High School in Anchorage who commercial fished out of Chignik on the Alaska Peninsula. Murfitt’s mother, Avonna, described her son as tall, handsome and shy most of the time. He was a big country music fan and went to the festival annually. This year he was celebrating a successful fishing season.

“He decided to go down there with his friend, life-time friend from Anchorage, Brian McKinnon,” Murfitt said.

Murfitt began learning about what was happening from her son’s ex-girlfriend, who was also at the festival, and called crying in a panic to say she thought she’d seen Adrien get shot.

Murfitt stayed up all night.

“We’ve called the Red Cross, we called all the hospitals because we didn’t know if he was one of the ones who was in the trauma unit or not. But nobody had any records of him, so I still don’t know where he is and nobody’s called me,” Murfitt said.

“But Brian saw him die,” Murfinn said, referring to McKinnon. “I called Brian about 6:00 this morning and he finally told me.”

Murfitt said her son was killed in the first round of shots that rained down on 22,000 concert-goers. In videos posted to social media of the assault, long bursts of what sounds like automatic gunfire cut through a performance by country musician Jason Aldean. The New York Times reports that at least 20 rifles were found inside the 32nd floor hotel room of the suspected gunman, Nevada resident Stephen Paddock, including AR-15s, rifles set up on tripods and outfitted with scopes, along with hundreds of rounds of ammunition. Paddock is believed to have killed himself before law enforcement reached him, and no motive is yet known.

Murfitt said that among his siblings, family and friends, her son will be tremendously missed.

“He was just enjoying life. And it’s just such a terrible thing that happened. Just a young man enjoying life, having a good time after a hard season of work,” Murfitt said. “And I love him. I love him.”

It’s not known how many Alaskans were in Las Vegas for the festival. Throughout Monday, stories came in of relatives calling and scouring social media to locate loved ones who’d attended. That included Governor Bill Walker, whose niece was in Las Vegas.

“We watched it last night, and we knew she was at the concert so we were very concerned,” Walker said in a short interview Monday. Eventually he got a text saying she was safe. “At that point they were hiding in a hotel basement.”

Walker spent part of Monday calling families of those killed and injured, some of whom he has personal connections with.

“I, of course, convey my condolences, but I also want to find out what I can do to help them,” Walker said. One request was made of him, and Walker said he’s following up on it.

At this point Walker has no plans of pushing Alaska’s congressional delegation for any changes to national gun policies.

“Today’s not the day to have that discussion. I don’t have any intention at this time of doing that. Right now we’re dealing with the loss and the tragedy,” Walker said. “I’ll continue to reach out in any way I can help the families of the victims.”

Flags in Alaska and around the country will be flown at half-mast until Friday.

This story contained contributions from Alaska Public Media’s Casey Grove. 

Categories: Alaska News

Alaskans among victims of Las Vegas shooting rampage

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-10-02 18:16
The suspected shooter used a hotel room on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel to shoot hundreds of victims in Sunday’s mass shooting (Flickr photo by James Marvin Phelps).

At least two Alaskans are dead, and another is wounded, after a gunman’s rampage at an outdoor concert in Las Vegas. Many other residents were at the event and fled to safety, sending messages back to family overnight and into Monday.

Listen now

48-year-old Mike Cronk lives in Tok, and was at the Route 91 Harvest country music festival when gunshots erupted late Sunday night. He described what happened during an interview with ABC News.

“It was very horrifying. At first it sounded like fireworks, and then my buddy that was standing right next to me said ‘I’m hit,’ and then we knew it was real,” Cronk told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos.

The friend hit was 52-year-old Rob McIntosh of North Pole. According to the Alaska Dispatch News, McIntosh’s family expect to make a full recovery.

McIntosh is one of more than 500 people injured in the shooting.

Cronk waited for the gunfire to stop before he and others climbed over a fence, put McIntosh on a cart and rushed to safety. They loaded four injured people into a truck and raced them toward medical care.

“One of the guys in our truck did not make it, either,” Cronk said. “I carried him out of the truck and he passed away in my arms.”

The shooting is being called the worst in modern U.S. history, with 59 people dead as of Monday afternoon. Among them is Anchorage resident Dorene Anderson, who according to social media called herself a stay-at-home mother. Her daughter wrote on Facebook that Anderson was one of the victims. The post was shared on a page for fans of the Alaska Aces hockey team, which was a passion of Anderson’s.

Another victim is 35-year-old Adrien Murfitt, a graduate of Dimond High School in Anchorage who commercial fished out of Chignik on the Alaska Peninsula. Murfitt’s mother, Avonna, described her son as tall, handsome and shy most of the time. He was a big country music fan and went to the festival annually. This year he was celebrating a successful fishing season.

“He decided to go down there with his friend, life-time friend from Anchorage, Brian McKinnon,” Murfitt said.

Murfitt began learning about what was happening from her son’s ex-girlfriend, who was also at the festival, and called crying in a panic to say she thought she’d seen Adrien get shot.

Murfitt stayed up all night.

“We’ve called the Red Cross, we called all the hospitals because we didn’t know if he was one of the ones who was in the trauma unit or not. But nobody had any records of him, so I still don’t know where he is and nobody’s called me,” Murfitt said.

“But Brian saw him die,” Murfinn said, referring to McKinnon. “I called Brian about 6:00 this morning and he finally told me.”

Murfitt said her son was killed in the first round of shots that rained down on 22,000 concert-goers. In videos posted to social media of the assault, long bursts of what sounds like automatic gunfire cut through a performance by country musician Jason Aldean. The New York Times reports that at least 20 rifles were found inside the 32nd floor hotel room of the suspected gunman, Nevada resident Stephen Paddock, including AR-15s, rifles set up on tripods and outfitted with scopes, along with hundreds of rounds of ammunition. Paddock is believed to have killed himself before law enforcement reached him, and no motive is yet known.

Murfitt said that among his siblings, family and friends, her son will be tremendously missed.

“He was just enjoying life. And it’s just such a terrible thing that happened. Just a young man enjoying life, having a good time after a hard season of work,” Murfitt said. “And I love him. I love him.”

It’s not known how many Alaskans were in Las Vegas for the festival. Throughout Monday, stories came in of relatives calling and scouring social media to locate loved ones who’d attended. That included Governor Bill Walker, whose niece was in Las Vegas.

“We watched it last night, and we knew she was at the concert so we were very concerned,” Walker said in a short interview Monday. Eventually he got a text saying she was safe. “At that point they were hiding in a hotel basement.”

Walker spent part of Monday calling families of those killed and injured, some of whom he has personal connections with.

“I, of course, convey my condolences, but I also want to find out what I can do to help them,” Walker said. One request was made of him, and Walker said he’s following up on it.

At this point Walker has no plans of pushing Alaska’s congressional delegation for any changes to national gun policies.

“Today’s not the day to have that discussion. I don’t have any intention at this time of doing that. Right now we’re dealing with the loss and the tragedy,” Walker said. “I’ll continue to reach out in any way I can help the families of the victims.”

Flags in Alaska and around the country will be flown at half-mast until Friday.

This story contained contributions from Alaska Public Media’s Casey Grove. 

Categories: Alaska News

Chugach Alutiiq teachers preserve language in villages

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-10-02 17:59
Brandon Moonin teaches students Alutiiq in village of Tatitlek. (Photo courtesy of Brandon Moonin)

Two remote learning students just graduated from a Kodiak College Alutiiq language program.

They’re striving to keep the language alive in Port Graham and Tatitlek, two villages where Alutiiq, or Sugpiaq, people speak the regional dialect of Chugach Alutiiq.

Listen now

Libby Eufemio, who runs the Alutiiq Studies Program, explains the Alutiiq nation covers a large chunk of geography, including the Kodiak archipelago, the southern Kenai Peninsula, and Prince William Sound.

Eufemio said the college’s occupational endorsement certificates enable students to teach the Alutiiq language.

“This type of degree is really important in more than just the education level,” Eufemio said. “It’s doing something really concrete that is gonna help preserve an ingenious language.”

One of the graduates, Brandon Moonin, works for Chugachmiut, an organization which brings education and other services to the Chugach region.

Moonin teaches children of different ages in Tatitlek.

“Right now, I think we rated our village right on the brink of extinction for the use of the language in the village,” Moonin said. “It’s either grandparents or beyond that actually use it in the village, and our elders population is shrinking pretty fast.”

Moonin said he grew up with Alutiiq – his dad and grandparents were fluent speakers. But he said he was nervous about teaching it.

“‘Cause it’s not really something I’ve ever done or something I’ve actually ever wanted to do, but since I think it was my first week of class, I stepped in, I could just see the kids were excited about what I was teaching,” Moonin said. “They were able to take it right in, and they started using it around the village. Every time they would see me they would start talking to me in whatever they did pick up in class at all.”

Moonin’s cousin, Ephimia Moonin-Wilson, is the other graduate and also works for Chugachmiut. She teaches in Port Graham, a village with fewer than 200 people.

Moonin-Wilson believes teachers can bring about a revival of the Alutiiq language, or Sugcestun, through their students.

“With the knowledge of having sentences, they can speak in the community and, hopefully, when they speak with their parents, their family, the elders, eventually the Sugcestun will be a natural medium in the community,” Moonin-Wilson said.

Moonin-Wilson said she loves her students’ excitement to be in the classroom.

“They are learning and they want to learn more, and that really warms my heart up,” Moonin-Wilson said.

Chugachmiut held a ceremony in late September to honor the graduates.

Categories: Alaska News

Chugach Alutiiq teachers preserve language in villages

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-10-02 17:59
Brandon Moonin teaches students Alutiiq in village of Tatitlek. (Photo courtesy of Brandon Moonin)

Two remote learning students just graduated from a Kodiak College Alutiiq language program.

They’re striving to keep the language alive in Port Graham and Tatitlek, two villages where Alutiiq, or Sugpiaq, people speak the regional dialect of Chugach Alutiiq.

Listen now

Libby Eufemio, who runs the Alutiiq Studies Program, explains the Alutiiq nation covers a large chunk of geography, including the Kodiak archipelago, the southern Kenai Peninsula, and Prince William Sound.

Eufemio said the college’s occupational endorsement certificates enable students to teach the Alutiiq language.

“This type of degree is really important in more than just the education level,” Eufemio said. “It’s doing something really concrete that is gonna help preserve an ingenious language.”

One of the graduates, Brandon Moonin, works for Chugachmiut, an organization which brings education and other services to the Chugach region.

Moonin teaches children of different ages in Tatitlek.

“Right now, I think we rated our village right on the brink of extinction for the use of the language in the village,” Moonin said. “It’s either grandparents or beyond that actually use it in the village, and our elders population is shrinking pretty fast.”

Moonin said he grew up with Alutiiq – his dad and grandparents were fluent speakers. But he said he was nervous about teaching it.

“‘Cause it’s not really something I’ve ever done or something I’ve actually ever wanted to do, but since I think it was my first week of class, I stepped in, I could just see the kids were excited about what I was teaching,” Moonin said. “They were able to take it right in, and they started using it around the village. Every time they would see me they would start talking to me in whatever they did pick up in class at all.”

Moonin’s cousin, Ephimia Moonin-Wilson, is the other graduate and also works for Chugachmiut. She teaches in Port Graham, a village with fewer than 200 people.

Moonin-Wilson believes teachers can bring about a revival of the Alutiiq language, or Sugcestun, through their students.

“With the knowledge of having sentences, they can speak in the community and, hopefully, when they speak with their parents, their family, the elders, eventually the Sugcestun will be a natural medium in the community,” Moonin-Wilson said.

Moonin-Wilson said she loves her students’ excitement to be in the classroom.

“They are learning and they want to learn more, and that really warms my heart up,” Moonin-Wilson said.

Chugachmiut held a ceremony in late September to honor the graduates.

Categories: Alaska News

How Trump’s tax plan would affect Alaskans

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-10-02 16:58
Photo by Liz Ruskin

If President Trump’s tax agenda goes into effect, taxes for people of all income groups would go down next year, on average. But only a few Alaskans would get the big tax breaks.

Listen now

According to a preliminary analysis by the non-partisan Tax Policy Center, most of the total tax benefit in 2027 would go to the top 1 percent — people making more than $730,000 a year. On average, they would save more than $100,000 a year in taxes in 2018, the report says. But you won’t find many of the nation’s 1-percenters in the Far North.

Economist Mouhcine Guettabi at the University of Alaska said the state has a fairly equal distribution of income, compared to other places.

“We only have about 15,000 returns or so every year that have more than $200,000 in them,” Guettabi said.

That’s fewer than 5 percent of Alaska taxpayers claiming income of more than $200,000, according to IRS data. And, at the other end of the scale, Guettabi said Alaska’s poor aren’t all that poor, thanks in part to the Permanent Fund dividend.

“That means there’s a lot of people in the middle,” Guettabi said. “And so if indeed a lot of the changes are going to negatively impact middle class Americans, then that means that there’s a larger percentage of Alaskans that are going to feel it.”

The Tax Policy Center said most households in the income range of $50,000 to $150,000 would see their taxes stay the same or drop modestly, though about one in three would see an increase.

The White House and Republican leaders in Congress unveiled their tax proposal last week. Some vital information wasn’t included, like the income levels for the tax brackets. The Tax Policy Center said it filled in some of the gaps with information from previous Republican proposals. Critics charge the think-tank’s report is based on faulty assumptions.

One thing the Republican proposal would explicitly do is eliminate deductions, such as municipal real estate taxes. Some 70,000 Alaskan property owners use that deduction to lower their federal tax bill.

Frank Sammartino, a senior fellow at the Tax Policy Center, said eliminating that deduction would have some effect in Alaska.

“Although the percentage claiming the deduction, and the average deduction that people claim, is much lower than in most states,” Sammartino said.

The vast majority of Alaskans don’t itemize. They take the standard deduction, which the Republican plan would double.

Republicans in Congress are expected to spend the next several weeks working on their budget proposal, to set the stage for their tax legislation.

But the tax plan is already having one effect in Alaska: It undercuts one of the selling points for Gov. Bill Walker’s proposed payroll tax. If Congress passes the Republican tax plan, a statewide levy like the one Walker wants would no longer be an IRS deductible.

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

How Trump’s tax plan would affect Alaskans

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-10-02 16:58
Photo by Liz Ruskin

If President Trump’s tax agenda goes into effect, taxes for people of all income groups would go down next year, on average. But only a few Alaskans would get the big tax breaks.

According to a preliminary analysis by the non-partisan Tax Policy Center, most of the total tax benefit in 2027 would go to the top 1 percent — people making more than $730,000 a year. On average, they would save more than $100,000 a year in taxes in 2018, the report says. But you won’t find many of the nation’s 1-percenters in the Far North.

Economist Mouhcine Guettabi at the University of Alaska said the state has a fairly equal distribution of income, compared to other places.

“We only have about 15,000 returns or so every year that have more than $200,000 in them,” Guettabi said.

That’s fewer than 5 percent of Alaska taxpayers claiming income of more than $200,000, according to IRS data. And, at the other end of the scale, Guettabi said Alaska’s poor aren’t all that poor, thanks in part to the Permanent Fund dividend.

“That means there’s a lot of people in the middle,” Guettabi said. “And so if indeed a lot of the changes are going to negatively impact middle class Americans, then that means that there’s a larger percentage of Alaskans that are going to feel it.”

The Tax Policy Center said most households in the income range of $50,000 to $150,000 would see their taxes stay the same or drop modestly, though about one in three would see an increase.

The White House and Republican leaders in Congress unveiled their tax proposal last week. Some vital information wasn’t included, like the income levels for the tax brackets. The Tax Policy Center said it filled in some of the gaps with information from previous Republican proposals. Critics charge the think-tank’s report is based on faulty assumptions.

One thing the Republican proposal would explicitly do is eliminate deductions, such as municipal real estate taxes. Some 70,000 Alaskan property owners use that deduction to lower their federal tax bill.

Frank Sammartino, a senior fellow at the Tax Policy Center, said eliminating that deduction would have some effect in Alaska.

“Although the percentage claiming the deduction, and the average deduction that people claim, is much lower than in most states,” Sammartino said.

The vast majority of Alaskans don’t itemize. They take the standard deduction, which the Republican plan would double.

Republicans in Congress are expected to spend the next several weeks working on their budget proposal, to set the stage for their tax legislation.

But the tax plan is already having one effect in Alaska: It undercuts one of the selling points for Gov. Bill Walker’s proposed payroll tax. If Congress passes the Republican tax plan, a statewide levy like the one Walker wants would no longer be an IRS deductible. 

 

Categories: Alaska News

Three IGU candidates’ top priority: speeding efforts to bring natural gas to Fairbanks

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-10-02 16:12
Vote Local October 3, 2017

Three candidates seeking election to an open seat on the Interior Gas Utility board all agree it’s taken far too long to bring natural gas into the Fairbanks area. All three say if elected they’d push to accelerate the IGU’s efforts to bring gas here and build a system to deliver gas to its customers.

Listen now

The Interior Gas Utility was established five years ago by the Fairbanks North Star Borough to offer area residents a lower-cost alternative to heating oil, and a cleaner-burning fuel than either oil or firewood.

IGU board candidate Patrice Lee is a longtime air-quality advocate, and she said her experience with the issue would help her move the IGU to more quickly secure delivery of natural gas to Fairbanks and from there, to the area’s homes and businesses.

“The opportunity to get affordable clean energy to Fairbanks is a natural extension of our need to clean up the air,” Lee said.

Board candidate Scott Eickholt agrees that’s important, but secondary to the main mission of getting gas here and distributing it.

“A lot of folks are focused on getting clean air,” Eickholt said. “But in order to get there, we’ve got to get the job done first.”

Jeffrey Rentzel is also seeking election to a three-year term on the board, and he cites affordability as his priority.

“We need to get this going so we can get an alternate and affordable fuel to heat our homes and businesses and it will help us clean up our air,” Rentzel said.

The 60-year-old Rentzel retired a few years ago after working 28 years for the state Department of Health and Social Services. He now works as a juvenile justice office at the Fairbanks Youth Facility. He said that experience with bureaucracy would help him get the IGU moving more quickly.

“To make faster progress is basically what I’m looking at,” Rentzel said. “Going slow, talking things to death is not what I do. I want to get in, get it done and move on.”

Eickholt, who’s 45, emphasizes his experience with construction and contracting gained through nine years of work with Local 942 of the Laborers Union, where he now serves as business manager. Before that, he worked for NORCON, a big Anchorage-based oil- and gas-industry contractor.

“I’ve got about eight years working directly with management and contracts in this kind of industry,” Eickholt said. “So, it gives me the background to add a lot of value to the board itself.”

Lee cites her diligence in researching issues and organizing and mobilizing the community among her top qualifications for the board. The 62-year-old retired schoolteacher points to her work with Clean Air Fairbanks and Friends of Fox Springs as examples. And she said she’ll advocate for consumers and businesses if elected to IGU board Seat D.

“Residents must have stable, affordable, clean energy,” Lee said, “and our businesses will be more competitive with affordable clean energy.”

Lee said she’d employ her researcher acumen into the IGU’s proposed purchase of Texas-based Pentex Alaska Natural Gas Company. The IGU is considering buying Pentex, the parent company of Fairbanks Natural Gas, mainly for Pentex’s natural-gas liquefaction facility in the Mat-Su to process the fuel and its trucking operation to transport it to Fairbanks. The utility wants FNG for its local natural-gas distribution system.

Both Eickholt and Rentzel say they strongly support the Pentex purchase.

Categories: Alaska News

Three IGU candidates’ top priority: speeding efforts to bring natural gas to Fairbanks

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-10-02 16:12
Vote Local October 3, 2017

Three candidates seeking election to an open seat on the Interior Gas Utility board all agree it’s taken far too long to bring natural gas into the Fairbanks area. All three say if elected they’d push to accelerate the IGU’s efforts to bring gas here and build a system to deliver gas to its customers.

The Interior Gas Utility was established five years ago by the Fairbanks North Star Borough to offer area residents a lower-cost alternative to heating oil, and a cleaner-burning fuel than either oil or firewood.

IGU board candidate Patrice Lee is a longtime air-quality advocate, and she said her experience with the issue would help her move the IGU to more quickly secure delivery of natural gas to Fairbanks and from there, to the area’s homes and businesses.

“The opportunity to get affordable clean energy to Fairbanks is a natural extension of our need to clean up the air,” Lee said.

Board candidate Scott Eickholt agrees that’s important, but secondary to the main mission of getting gas here and distributing it.

“A lot of folks are focused on getting clean air,” Eickholt said. “But in order to get there, we’ve got to get the job done first.”

Jeffrey Rentzel is also seeking election to a three-year term on the board, and he cites affordability as his priority.

“We need to get this going so we can get an alternate and affordable fuel to heat our homes and businesses and it will help us clean up our air,” Rentzel said.

The 60-year-old Rentzel retired a few years ago after working 28 years for the state Department of Health and Social Services. He now works as a juvenile justice office at the Fairbanks Youth Facility. He said that experience with bureaucracy would help him get the IGU moving more quickly.

“To make faster progress is basically what I’m looking at,” Rentzel said. “Going slow, talking things to death is not what I do. I want to get in, get it done and move on.”

Eickholt, who’s 45, emphasizes his experience with construction and contracting gained through nine years of work with Local 942 of the Laborers Union, where he now serves as business manager. Before that, he worked for NORCON, a big Anchorage-based oil- and gas-industry contractor.

“I’ve got about eight years working directly with management and contracts in this kind of industry,” Eickholt said. “So, it gives me the background to add a lot of value to the board itself.”

Lee cites her diligence in researching issues and organizing and mobilizing the community among her top qualifications for the board. The 62-year-old retired schoolteacher points to her work with Clean Air Fairbanks and Friends of Fox Springs as examples. And she said she’ll advocate for consumers and businesses if elected to IGU board Seat D.

“Residents must have stable, affordable, clean energy,” Lee said, “and our businesses will be more competitive with affordable clean energy.”

Lee said she’d employ her researcher acumen into the IGU’s proposed purchase of Texas-based Pentex Alaska Natural Gas Company. The IGU is considering buying Pentex, the parent company of Fairbanks Natural Gas, mainly for Pentex’s natural-gas liquefaction facility in the Mat-Su to process the fuel and its trucking operation to transport it to Fairbanks. The utility wants FNG for its local natural-gas distribution system.

Both Eickholt and Rentzel say they strongly support the Pentex purchase.

Categories: Alaska News

New book tells untold story of black soldiers who built the Alaska Highway

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-10-02 15:54
The 10,000 U.S. soldiers who built the Alaska Highway included about 3,500 African-American troops, who mainly worked from Alaska southward into Canada. (Photo: U.S. Army/University of Alaska archives)

Much of the history of the Alaska Highway up to this point has overlooked the sacrifices and mistreatment of the black men involved in its construction. Dennis and Christine McClure hope to bring these issues to light in their book ‘We Fought the Road.’

The McClures first started researching the highway when Christine found some of her father’s letters written during his military service. Lieutenant Colonel Turner Timberlake had been an officer of an all-black unit working on the highway. Dennis says that a 2013 trip up the highway to see where Christine’s father had worked sparked the idea for the book.

“As we traveled we realized that very few people knew there had been any black soldiers up here, and that bothered us,” Dennis said. “We’re two middle-class white folks, but the more we learned about this the madder we got.”

Through their research, the McClures uncovered military policies that prevented black men from performing certain jobs and even denied them leave from their posts.

During a winter when temperatures dropped to 40 below, Christine says black troops were ordered to build barracks for their white officers, while they lived in tents.

“So the Jim Crow that was evident in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama or Florida, where these soldiers came from, was very much alive while they were in the army,” Christine said.

Some of these men are still alive today. The McClures were contacted by 97 year old Leonard Larkins about his experience building the highway.

After he enlisted in the military, Larkins said he was put on a train without receiving any information about where he was going or what he would be doing. After weeks of travel, he arrived in Skagway to start work on the highway.

“And nobody ever said a word to him or even acknowledged that he and the other 3,000 men just like him even existed,” Dennis said.

However, the experiences of these men are starting to gain recognition.

At the end of May, Larkins was invited to Alaska for the 75th anniversary of the Alaska Highway at Fort Greely. At the ceremony, he was thanked by Governor Bill Walker for his service.

The McClures are on tour, promoting “We Fought the Road.’ The book will be released in October.

Categories: Alaska News

New book tells untold story of black soldiers who built the Alaska Highway

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-10-02 15:54
The 10,000 U.S. soldiers who built the Alaska Highway included about 3,500 African-American troops, who mainly worked from Alaska southward into Canada. (Photo: U.S. Army/University of Alaska archives)

Much of the history of the Alaska Highway up to this point has overlooked the sacrifices and mistreatment of the black men involved in its construction. Dennis and Christine McClure hope to bring these issues to light in their book ‘We Fought the Road.’

The McClures first started researching the highway when Christine found some of her father’s letters written during his military service. Lieutenant Colonel Turner Timberlake had been an officer of an all-black unit working on the highway. Dennis says that a 2013 trip up the highway to see where Christine’s father had worked sparked the idea for the book.

“As we traveled we realized that very few people knew there had been any black soldiers up here, and that bothered us,” Dennis said. “We’re two middle-class white folks, but the more we learned about this the madder we got.”

Through their research, the McClures uncovered military policies that prevented black men from performing certain jobs and even denied them leave from their posts.

During a winter when temperatures dropped to 40 below, Christine says black troops were ordered to build barracks for their white officers, while they lived in tents.

“So the Jim Crow that was evident in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama or Florida, where these soldiers came from, was very much alive while they were in the army,” Christine said.

Some of these men are still alive today. The McClures were contacted by 97 year old Leonard Larkins about his experience building the highway.

After he enlisted in the military, Larkins said he was put on a train without receiving any information about where he was going or what he would be doing. After weeks of travel, he arrived in Skagway to start work on the highway.

“And nobody ever said a word to him or even acknowledged that he and the other 3,000 men just like him even existed,” Dennis said.

However, the experiences of these men are starting to gain recognition.

At the end of May, Larkins was invited to Alaska for the 75th anniversary of the Alaska Highway at Fort Greely. At the ceremony, he was thanked by Governor Bill Walker for his service.

The McClures are on tour, promoting “We Fought the Road.’ The book will be released in October.

Categories: Alaska News

As permafrost thaws, village cemeteries sink into swamp

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-10-02 15:28
As the permafrost thaws, Kongiganak’s cemetery is turning into swampland. Community members are now laying their loved ones to rest on raised platforms above ground. (Photo Teresa Cotsirilos/KYUK)

On a crisp day in September, the village of Kongiganak, or Kong, filed into a little white church and laid Maggie Mary Otto to rest.

Listen now

The service was crowded. An elder and de facto marriage counselor, Otto was beloved. She was the kind of person who cooked steaming plates of walrus for her community every January for Russian Orthodox Christmas — even though she wasn’t Orthodox herself.

After the viewing, Maggie Mary Otto’s pallbearers carried her casket outside, placed it on a metal cart, and attached it to the back of a four-wheeler.

Kong’s cemetery is a 10-minute drive on a boardwalk over marshy tundra.

A procession of four-wheelers followed the casket to a rust-colored hill and a smattering of chalk-white crosses.

Rather than lowering Otto’s body into the ground, pallbearers placed her casket on a low wooden platform, raised about six inches above the ground on blocks.

A half-dozen men lift a white, wooden box and place it over her casket to protect it from the elements, covering it completely.

Climate change is thawing the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta’s permafrost, and it’s doing more than cracking foundations, sinking roads and accelerating erosion.

In villages like Kong, communities have stopped burying their dead because, as the permafrost melts, the oldest part of their cemetery is sinking.

Digging graves in the soggy ground was just making it worse.

In the cemetery, the white crosses stick out of the sunken ground at odd angles, some of them almost completely submerged in the brackish water.

“After we dug down 6 feet, it created a lake around it,” Tribal Administrator Roland Andrew said. The swamp appeared about 10 or 15 years ago and then expanded, swallowing the graves around it.

The graveyard in the neighboring village of Kwigillingok, or Kwig, is also sinking into swampland.

After consulting with Kwig’s elders for advice, Andrew said that Kong started laying its loved ones to rest in boxes above ground.

Digging into the ground removes the plants and topsoil that insulate the permafrost and accelerates the rising water.

Andrew said that the swamp stopped expanding when Kong stopped burying its dead, but a row of white grave boxes from about a decade ago are teetering at odd angles, sliding feet-first into the lake.

The water is still causing problems.

Back in town, Mrs. Otto’s family hosted her funeral feast in an old high school gym. Community members piled their bowls high with seal stew and akutaq while children wrestled each other by the bleachers.

Otto’s daughter, Betty Phillip, sat quietly in a corner. Her mother was laid to rest on higher ground, but not all of her family is so lucky.

“Her dad and my grandpa,” Phillip said. “He’s one of them that’s under the water.”

If Phillip wears rubber boots that reach above her knees, she said she can wade close to his grave, but can’t quite touch his cross.

Others tell similar stories.

One man said that his cousins tried to drain the water from around his grandparents’ grave.

When they were alive, they held the family together; his cousins didn’t have much luck.

Another woman, Hannah Jimmy, said that her parents, aunts, uncles, sister, and best friend are all in the cemetery, buried together in a single row.

They’re underwater now.

“We’re so poor we can’t even do nothing about it,” Jimmy said.

Andrew said that the village is trying to move the sunken graves to higher ground, but doesn’t have the money yet. He said thawing permafrost is warping Kong in other ways.

The river is eroding the shoreline and Kong itself is sinking. The hill that the village stands on is slowly slipping down to sea level.

When asked whether he thought that Kong would ever need to be relocated because of climate change, Andrew was quiet for a moment then sighed.

“This hill used to be high,” Andrew said. “And it’s still going down.”

Andrew doesn’t see Kong relocating. If anything, he said Kong’s population might double in size in the future.

Community members in Kwig are talking about moving there because of the seasonal flooding.

Andrew wants to be buried next to his parents; he keeps a picture of them above his desk.

They died last year within about eight months of each other after being married for over 60 years.

Their grave boxes still smell like fresh paint and are wreathed in plastic flowers, propped up on blocks on the cemetery’s highest ground, at least for now.

Categories: Alaska News

As permafrost thaws, village cemeteries sink into swamp

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-10-02 15:28
As the permafrost thaws, Kongiganak’s cemetery is turning into swampland. Community members are now laying their loved ones to rest on raised platforms above ground. (Photo Teresa Cotsirilos/KYUK)

On a crisp day in September, the village of Kongiganak, or Kong, filed into a little white church and laid Maggie Mary Otto to rest.

The service was crowded. An elder and de facto marriage counselor, Otto was beloved. She was the kind of person who cooked steaming plates of walrus for her community every January for Russian Orthodox Christmas — even though she wasn’t Orthodox herself.

After the viewing, Maggie Mary Otto’s pallbearers carried her casket outside, placed it on a metal cart, and attached it to the back of a four-wheeler.

Kong’s cemetery is a 10-minute drive on a boardwalk over marshy tundra.

A procession of four-wheelers followed the casket to a rust-colored hill and a smattering of chalk-white crosses.

Rather than lowering Otto’s body into the ground, pallbearers placed her casket on a low wooden platform, raised about six inches above the ground on blocks.

A half-dozen men lift a white, wooden box and place it over her casket to protect it from the elements, covering it completely.

Climate change is thawing the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta’s permafrost, and it’s doing more than cracking foundations, sinking roads and accelerating erosion.

In villages like Kong, communities have stopped burying their dead because, as the permafrost melts, the oldest part of their cemetery is sinking.

Digging graves in the soggy ground was just making it worse.

In the cemetery, the white crosses stick out of the sunken ground at odd angles, some of them almost completely submerged in the brackish water.

“After we dug down 6 feet, it created a lake around it,” Tribal Administrator Roland Andrew said. The swamp appeared about 10 or 15 years ago and then expanded, swallowing the graves around it.

The graveyard in the neighboring village of Kwigillingok, or Kwig, is also sinking into swampland.

After consulting with Kwig’s elders for advice, Andrew said that Kong started laying its loved ones to rest in boxes above ground.

Digging into the ground removes the plants and topsoil that insulate the permafrost and accelerates the rising water.

Andrew said that the swamp stopped expanding when Kong stopped burying its dead, but a row of white grave boxes from about a decade ago are teetering at odd angles, sliding feet-first into the lake.

The water is still causing problems.

Back in town, Mrs. Otto’s family hosted her funeral feast in an old high school gym. Community members piled their bowls high with seal stew and akutaq while children wrestled each other by the bleachers.

Otto’s daughter, Betty Phillip, sat quietly in a corner. Her mother was laid to rest on higher ground, but not all of her family is so lucky.

“Her dad and my grandpa,” Phillip said. “He’s one of them that’s under the water.”

If Phillip wears rubber boots that reach above her knees, she said she can wade close to his grave, but can’t quite touch his cross.

Others tell similar stories.

One man said that his cousins tried to drain the water from around his grandparents’ grave.

When they were alive, they held the family together; his cousins didn’t have much luck.

Another woman, Hannah Jimmy, said that her parents, aunts, uncles, sister, and best friend are all in the cemetery, buried together in a single row.

They’re underwater now.

“We’re so poor we can’t even do nothing about it,” Jimmy said.

Andrew said that the village is trying to move the sunken graves to higher ground, but doesn’t have the money yet. He said thawing permafrost is warping Kong in other ways.

The river is eroding the shoreline and Kong itself is sinking. The hill that the village stands on is slowly slipping down to sea level.

When asked whether he thought that Kong would ever need to be relocated because of climate change, Andrew was quiet for a moment then sighed.

“This hill used to be high,” Andrew said. “And it’s still going down.”

Andrew doesn’t see Kong relocating. If anything, he said Kong’s population might double in size in the future.

Community members in Kwig are talking about moving there because of the seasonal flooding.

Andrew wants to be buried next to his parents; he keeps a picture of them above his desk.

They died last year within about eight months of each other after being married for over 60 years.

Their grave boxes still smell like fresh paint and are wreathed in plastic flowers, propped up on blocks on the cemetery’s highest ground, at least for now.

Categories: Alaska News

Rep. Birch asks governor to move special session to Anchorage

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-10-02 11:01
Rep. Chris Birch, R-Anchorage, argues over the debut of an oil tax credit bill, during a floor session of the state House in February. He wants the Legislature’s October special session to be held in Anchorage. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

An Anchorage lawmaker is requesting the Legislature’s October special session be held in Anchorage instead of Juneau.

Listen now

In a letter to Gov. Bill Walker, Republican Rep. Chris Birch argued it would save money and increase public participation on crime legislation — Anchorage lawmakers and residents have expressed concern over a spike in crime there. Birch sent the the letter Wednesday after attending a town hall on crime in Anchorage the night before.

In it, Birch said maximizing public engagement with Senate Bill 54, which would modify last year’s Senate Bill 91, a criminal justice reform bill, is crucial to addressing constituent concerns.

“This isn’t an effort to move the capital or anything of that nature,” Birch said. “It’s an effort to bring some balance and recognize that we need to be accessible to the public and certainly at this time money savings are certainly a plus as well. I mean if three quarters of the Legislature can basically forgo transportation and associated costs with relocation for a month, that’s just a bonus.”

Birch added that many legislators are likely planning to attend this year’s Alaska Federation of Natives conference in Anchorage, which wraps up two days before the special session begins.

Birch said he spoke with the governor and his chief of staff about the letter, and expects the majority of the Legislature to support his request.

On Friday at a breakfast event at Commonwealth North in Anchorage, Walker was asked why the special session couldn’t happen in Anchorage.

“Well, the Capitol’s in Juneau. Gavel to Gavel is in Juneau. Alaskans all over the state are able to participate through the Gavel to Gavel process and be able to observe what goes on, ” Walker said. “So yes, it would be more convenient to have it in Anchorage. That’s not where the Capitol is. And if the Legislature would like to convene and move it to Anchorage, I won’t oppose that.”

Juneau Democratic Rep. Sam Kito III said he thinks the request is short-sighted in several respects.

“One is we will have to fly regular staff to Anchorage in order to support any activities,” Kito said. “We currently don’t have a location suitable to have the entire House meet. That would have to be procured. And the other challenge is we don’t have Gavel Alaska in Anchorage, which means that the public would be less involved, even though he said they would be more involved.”

Kito said Alaskans are able to weigh-in electronically through the Legislature’s teleconference system. He also said that when the Legislature last met in Anchorage in 2015, they had about the same number of people attend the hearings as they regularly see in Juneau.

“I do think we will hear from as many people on the teleconference line or through letters to the committee on SB 54,” Kito said. “I think we have probably a better opportunity to connect with Alaskans if we’re in Juneau and we have the ability to broadcast all the information.”

Kito said he will speak with his fellow Juneau legislators and together they will encourage Walker to keep the session in Juneau.

Juneau Sen. Dennis Egan could not be reached for comment. Juneau Rep. Justin Parish had yet to review the proposal when reached.

KTOO’s Andrew Kitchenman contributed to this report.

Categories: Alaska News

Rep. Birch asks governor to move special session to Anchorage

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-10-02 11:01
Rep. Chris Birch, R-Anchorage, argues over the debut of an oil tax credit bill, during a floor session of the state House in February. He wants the Legislature’s October special session to be held in Anchorage. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

An Anchorage lawmaker is requesting the Legislature’s October special session be held in Anchorage instead of Juneau.

In a letter to Gov. Bill Walker, Republican Rep. Chris Birch argued it would save money and increase public participation on crime legislation — Anchorage lawmakers and residents have expressed concern over a spike in crime there. Birch sent the the letter Wednesday after attending a town hall on crime in Anchorage the night before.

In it, Birch said maximizing public engagement with Senate Bill 54, which would modify last year’s Senate Bill 91, a criminal justice reform bill, is crucial to addressing constituent concerns.

“This isn’t an effort to move the capital or anything of that nature,” Birch said. “It’s an effort to bring some balance and recognize that we need to be accessible to the public and certainly at this time money savings are certainly a plus as well. I mean if three quarters of the Legislature can basically forgo transportation and associated costs with relocation for a month, that’s just a bonus.”

Birch added that many legislators are likely planning to attend this year’s Alaska Federation of Natives conference in Anchorage, which wraps up two days before the special session begins.

Birch said he spoke with the governor and his chief of staff about the letter, and expects the majority of the Legislature to support his request.

On Friday at a breakfast event at Commonwealth North in Anchorage, Walker was asked why the special session couldn’t happen in Anchorage.

“Well, the Capitol’s in Juneau. Gavel to Gavel is in Juneau. Alaskans all over the state are able to participate through the Gavel to Gavel process and be able to observe what goes on, ” Walker said. “So yes, it would be more convenient to have it in Anchorage. That’s not where the Capitol is. And if the Legislature would like to convene and move it to Anchorage, I won’t oppose that.”

Juneau Democratic Rep. Sam Kito III said he thinks the request is short-sighted in several respects.

“One is we will have to fly regular staff to Anchorage in order to support any activities,” Kito said. “We currently don’t have a location suitable to have the entire House meet. That would have to be procured. And the other challenge is we don’t have Gavel Alaska in Anchorage, which means that the public would be less involved, even though he said they would be more involved.”

Kito said Alaskans are able to weigh-in electronically through the Legislature’s teleconference system. He also said that when the Legislature last met in Anchorage in 2015, they had about the same number of people attend the hearings as they regularly see in Juneau.

“I do think we will hear from as many people on the teleconference line or through letters to the committee on SB 54,” Kito said. “I think we have probably a better opportunity to connect with Alaskans if we’re in Juneau and we have the ability to broadcast all the information.”

Kito said he will speak with his fellow Juneau legislators and together they will encourage Walker to keep the session in Juneau.

Juneau Sen. Dennis Egan could not be reached for comment. Juneau Rep. Justin Parish had yet to review the proposal when reached.

KTOO’s Andrew Kitchenman contributed to this report.

Categories: Alaska News

Southeast economy down, with a few bright spots

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-10-02 10:44
The cruise ship Noordam brought close to 2,000 passengers to Haines on Sept. 20, 2017. It and other ships carried more than 1 million passengers this summer, helping increase the region’s tourism economy. (Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)

The loss of state jobs is hitting Southeast Alaska hard.

Tourism has overtaken fishing as the region’s largest private industry. That’s the word from a new report released in September detailing the region’s economic booms and busts.

Listen now

The region’s total wages and job numbers are down, according to Southeast Alaska by the Numbers, a report covering the 2016 calendar year.

Meilani Schijvens wrote the report for the Southeast Conference, an economic development organization. She presented her findings at its annual meeting in Haines.

The biggest hit is to government jobs.

Schijvens said about 30 percent of the region’s 45,000 jobs are in state and local government. Add to that more than a third of its $2.2 billion in wages.

What jobs do Southeast residents have? This pie chart splits up the sectors for 2016. (Graphic courtesy Rain Coast Data)

“A lot of people say, ‘Well, people, you know, are retiring,’ or ‘They’ve left their job and it’s not being replaced.’ It doesn’t matter if the actual individual leaving the job isn’t impacted,” Schijvens said. “It ends up being a huge hit to our economy.”

Schijvens said Southeast lost 250 state jobs last year and three-quarters that many so far this year.

That’s a total of 750 lost jobs over three or so years, a nearly 15 percent drop.

“The loss of 750 state jobs is equivalent in terms of wages to a large mine being shut down in Southeast Alaska. It’s actually slightly bigger,” she said. “It’s more wages than if we shut down one of our mines in Southeast Alaska. So it is an enormous economic hit.”

Mining jobs, by the way, are up, but only slightly.

Southeast tourism continued to grow in 2016.

The number of jobs went up 5 percent, providing nearly a quarter of the region’s business earnings.

“Our visitor industry, in terms of wages, is now our most important private sector industry for the first time ever,” Schijvens said.

Tourism’s relative economic standing rose, in part, because the region’s seafood industry declined.

Schijvens said fisheries jobs dropped by more than 10 percent, and earnings went down by almost twice that amount. The fisheries business is cyclical, so one or two years may not predict a longer trend.

The report shows hits to businesses on land and sea.

“In 2016, shore-based seafood facilities processed 30 percent fewer pounds of seafood than in 2015. And Southeast Alaska state fisheries tax revenue fell by more than 50 percent. These losses are also directly affecting our communities,” Schijvens said.

Schijvens said Southeast lost residents in 2016, as it did the previous year. About 650 people moved away.

“Juneau really bore the brunt of those losses. If you look at Juneau, they had their third largest population decline in the history of that community, because they’re really ground zero for state jobs and state wages,” Schijvens said.

The biggest population increases were in several small Prince of Wales Island cities, which ranged from 10 percent to 30 percent growth. Gustavus, Skagway, Tenakee, Klukwan and Wrangell also picked up new residents.

Schijvens made some future projections too. She expects continued decline in government and construction jobs, tied to the lower price and quantity of oil.

Local stores, those not targeting tourists, also will lose some ground, as will timber.

But it’s not all bad.

“We do expect our visitor industry to continue to expand tremendously. We expect our health care (sector) to continue to grow, we expect our mining industry to continue their positive trends. We expect seafood to be a lot better moving forward than it was in 2016. And we expect our maritime industrial jobs to continue to expand as well,” Schijvens said.

And how do the region’s industries view the future?

A survey included in the report shows about half of business owners and managers expect things to be the same. A third say it will be better. And the rest say it will be worse.

Categories: Alaska News

Southeast economy down, with a few bright spots

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-10-02 10:44
The cruise ship Noordam brought close to 2,000 passengers to Haines on Sept. 20, 2017. It and other ships carried more than 1 million passengers this summer, helping increase the region’s tourism economy. (Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)

The loss of state jobs is hitting Southeast Alaska hard.

Tourism has overtaken fishing as the region’s largest private industry. That’s the word from a new report released in September detailing the region’s economic booms and busts.

The region’s total wages and job numbers are down, according to Southeast Alaska by the Numbers, a report covering the 2016 calendar year.

Meilani Schijvens wrote the report for the Southeast Conference, an economic development organization. She presented her findings at its annual meeting in Haines.

The biggest hit is to government jobs.

Schijvens said about 30 percent of the region’s 45,000 jobs are in state and local government. Add to that more than a third of its $2.2 billion in wages.

What jobs do Southeast residents have? This pie chart splits up the sectors for 2016. (Graphic courtesy Rain Coast Data)

“A lot of people say, ‘Well, people, you know, are retiring,’ or ‘They’ve left their job and it’s not being replaced.’ It doesn’t matter if the actual individual leaving the job isn’t impacted,” Schijvens said. “It ends up being a huge hit to our economy.”

Schijvens said Southeast lost 250 state jobs last year and three-quarters that many so far this year.

That’s a total of 750 lost jobs over three or so years, a nearly 15 percent drop.

“The loss of 750 state jobs is equivalent in terms of wages to a large mine being shut down in Southeast Alaska. It’s actually slightly bigger,” she said. “It’s more wages than if we shut down one of our mines in Southeast Alaska. So it is an enormous economic hit.”

Mining jobs, by the way, are up, but only slightly.

Southeast tourism continued to grow in 2016.

The number of jobs went up 5 percent, providing nearly a quarter of the region’s business earnings.

“Our visitor industry, in terms of wages, is now our most important private sector industry for the first time ever,” Schijvens said.

Tourism’s relative economic standing rose, in part, because the region’s seafood industry declined.

Schijvens said fisheries jobs dropped by more than 10 percent, and earnings went down by almost twice that amount. The fisheries business is cyclical, so one or two years may not predict a longer trend.

The report shows hits to businesses on land and sea.

“In 2016, shore-based seafood facilities processed 30 percent fewer pounds of seafood than in 2015. And Southeast Alaska state fisheries tax revenue fell by more than 50 percent. These losses are also directly affecting our communities,” Schijvens said.

Schijvens said Southeast lost residents in 2016, as it did the previous year. About 650 people moved away.

“Juneau really bore the brunt of those losses. If you look at Juneau, they had their third largest population decline in the history of that community, because they’re really ground zero for state jobs and state wages,” Schijvens said.

The biggest population increases were in several small Prince of Wales Island cities, which ranged from 10 percent to 30 percent growth. Gustavus, Skagway, Tenakee, Klukwan and Wrangell also picked up new residents.

Schijvens made some future projections too. She expects continued decline in government and construction jobs, tied to the lower price and quantity of oil.

Local stores, those not targeting tourists, also will lose some ground, as will timber.

But it’s not all bad.

“We do expect our visitor industry to continue to expand tremendously. We expect our health care (sector) to continue to grow, we expect our mining industry to continue their positive trends. We expect seafood to be a lot better moving forward than it was in 2016. And we expect our maritime industrial jobs to continue to expand as well,” Schijvens said.

And how do the region’s industries view the future?

A survey included in the report shows about half of business owners and managers expect things to be the same. A third say it will be better. And the rest say it will be worse.

Categories: Alaska News

Walker says tax is needed to pay for services

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-09-29 17:55
Gov. Bill Walker’s chief of staff Scott Kendall, left, listens as Walker speaks to Commonwealth North in Anchorage. Walker said a broad-based tax is needed. (Photo by Andrew Kitchenman/KTOO)

Gov. Bill Walker and his top aides tried to make the case for enacting a new tax to a group of business and political leaders Friday.

Listen now

The state must figure out a more sustainable way to pay for services, Walker said.

He spoke at a breakfast hosted by the nonpartisan think tank Commonwealth North in Anchorage.

“It’s not fun to roll out stuff involving the word – I don’t know how many ways you can disguise the word tax – but we just say it the way it is. It’s a tax,” Walker said. “We’re at the point where we can no longer be the only state in the nation that doesn’t have a broad-based tax.”

Walker has proposed a tax of 1.5 percent on wages and self-employment income. There would be a limit. No one would pay more than twice what they receive in an Alaska Permanent Fund dividend.

Revenue Commissioner Sheldon Fisher said the tax would help stabilize the state’s economy. It would raise an estimated $320 million.

Fisher said that while there are more opportunities to reduce the cost of government, the state has already made deep cuts.

“When we talk about rightsizing government – when people talk about it – my argument is going to be that we need to be talking about the programs we have,” Fisher said. “It’s easy to kind of say, you know, ‘State government is bloated, the departments are bloated, we know we can – they can do this more efficiently.’”

Walker’s chief of staff Scott Kendall said the lack of a broad-based tax creates what he called the “Alaska disconnect.” He said that’s when growth in military or private-sector jobs lead to higher government costs without providing revenue to pay for the costs.

“The F-35s coming to Fairbanks – phenomenal for Fairbanks, phenomenal for North Pole – at the end of the day will actually cost the state money: more public safety, more schools for kids, more wear and tear on the roads,” Fisher said. “That’s the Alaska disconnect.”

Kendall said industries – including the oil industry – will wonder whether they will have to bear the burden until the state has taxes that rise with growth.

A special session on the tax bill and a second measure to increase jail times for offenses is scheduled for Oct. 23 in Juneau. Walker could add more items to the special session agenda.

Categories: Alaska News

Walker says tax is needed to pay for services

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-09-29 17:55
Gov. Bill Walker’s chief of staff Scott Kendall, left, listens as Walker speaks to Commonwealth North in Anchorage. Walker said a broad-based tax is needed. (Photo by Andrew Kitchenman/KTOO)

Gov. Bill Walker and his top aides tried to make the case for enacting a new tax to a group of business and political leaders Friday.

Listen now

The state must figure out a more sustainable way to pay for services, Walker said.

He spoke at a breakfast hosted by the nonpartisan think tank Commonwealth North in Anchorage.

“It’s not fun to roll out stuff involving the word – I don’t know how many ways you can disguise the word tax – but we just say it the way it is. It’s a tax,” Walker said. “We’re at the point where we can no longer be the only state in the nation that doesn’t have a broad-based tax.”

Walker has proposed a tax of 1.5 percent on wages and self-employment income. There would be a limit. No one would pay more than twice what they receive in an Alaska Permanent Fund dividend.

Revenue Commissioner Sheldon Fisher said the tax would help stabilize the state’s economy. It would raise an estimated $320 million.

Fisher said that while there are more opportunities to reduce the cost of government, the state has already made deep cuts.

“When we talk about rightsizing government – when people talk about it – my argument is going to be that we need to be talking about the programs we have,” Fisher said. “It’s easy to kind of say, you know, ‘State government is bloated, the departments are bloated, we know we can – they can do this more efficiently.’”

Walker’s chief of staff Scott Kendall said the lack of a broad-based tax creates what he called the “Alaska disconnect.” He said that’s when growth in military or private-sector jobs lead to higher government costs without providing revenue to pay for the costs.

“The F-35s coming to Fairbanks – phenomenal for Fairbanks, phenomenal for North Pole – at the end of the day will actually cost the state money: more public safety, more schools for kids, more wear and tear on the roads,” Fisher said. “That’s the Alaska disconnect.”

Kendall said industries – including the oil industry – will wonder whether they will have to bear the burden until the state has taxes that rise with growth.

A special session on the tax bill and a second measure to increase jail times for offenses is scheduled for Oct. 23 in Juneau. Walker could add more items to the special session agenda.

Categories: Alaska News

Fairbanks voters to decide on outlawing local pot businesses on Tuesday

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-09-29 17:22

Voters in Fairbanks and outlying areas will consider ballot measures Tuesday to outlaw marijuana businesses in the city and borough.

Listen now

Safe Neighborhoods Fairbanks members say the proliferation of those businesses near residential areas presents a growing threat to families. Marijuana advocates disagree. They say making pot illegal again would halt the industry’s economic benefits and bring back the bad old days when consumers got their pot from the black market.

Jim Ostlind and other members of Safe Neighborhoods Fairbanks say they’re not looking to make marijuana illegal. He said advocates for borough Proposition 1 and Fairbanks Proposition A just want to keep marijuana businesses from opening up in residential and other “sensitive” areas.

“They feel like there needs to be some kind of control over this that isn’t there now,” Ostlind said.

Ostlind heads up Safe Neighborhoods’ political action committee, and he said members of the organization believe the Fairbanks North Star Borough is far too lenient in granting and renewing marijuana business permits.

“It looks to us like if a marijuana business wants to go in next to where you live, you’re going to have a marijuana business for a new neighbor,” Ostlind said.

Karen Bloom sees it differently. Bloom owns a marijuana-growing business in Fairbanks, and she says hers and all others in town have been granted permits and licenses because they followed the letter of the law established after Alaska voters approved legalizing marijuana three years ago.

“These are legitimate businesses, in a legitimate industry, following state and local regulation,” Bloom said.

Bloom said marijuana entrepreneurs don’t set up shop in a residentially zoned area, because that would violate state law and borough code. The borough only allows the businesses in areas zoned for agricultural, industrial or general use, or GU. Bloom said residents who don’t want a marijuana-related business in their neighborhood should work with the borough to rezone it residential, using the process Planning Director Christine Nelson outlined in a September 20th Fairbanks Daily News-Miner piece.

“The director did an excellent write-up on how residential neighborhoods that are zoned GU could go about being rezoned as a residential neighborhood, therefore prohibiting cannabis from being nearby,” Bloom said.

Commercial marijuana opponents said that’s a difficult and unnecessary process. And Ostlind said they distrust borough officials, because despite residents’ protests and big turnouts at public meetings, like one held for a proposed cannabis-growing facility off Badger Road, the borough has approved every application for marijuana business conditional-use permits.

“The community came out in force against this, there were so many people they had to have two nights of testimony,” Ostlind said. “Over a hundred pages of written testimony was submitted by the neighbors, and yet the permit was granted.”

Borough planning commissioners said they approved the application because it met all requirements. Bloom said that’s why it’s unfair for backers of the ballot propositions to resort to a referendum instead of seeking rezoning. She says if they prevail in next Tuesday’s vote, most marijuana consumers probably will go back to buying pot on the illegal black market. And she says there won’t be any public hearings or stateand local regulation for those dealers.

“Well, I can tell you right now the black market isn’t going to give two hoots about where they sell that product,” Bloom said.

Ostlind disagrees that marijuana consumers would flock to the black market. He predicts most would go to elsewhere outside the borough to buy, or would grow their own.

Marcey Luther thinks that’s unlikely. She works at a Fairbanks cannabis-cultivation shop, and is a member of the Alaska Marijuana Industry Association, and she said most people wouldn’t drive long distances to buy pot, nor be willing to invest the time and money required to grow it.

“The reality is that it takes a budget, it takes skill, it takes a space and it takes time to produce a productive crop,” Luther said.

Luther said if commercial marijuana were made illegal, it’s certain that most recreational users would revert to the black market – where quality control and consumer information is nonexistent.

“Black-market cannabis isn’t tested,” Luther said. “It can be full of mold. It can be full of pesticides. It doesn’t have the chemical breakdown on it.”

Ostlind said those are concerns for marijuana consumers, not the backers of the ballot measures.

“It’s not our responsibility to worry too much about the outcome of these initiatives,” OStlind said.

Ostlind said the same goes for the marijuana entrepreneurs. He says they should’ve known that there was a possibility that their operations could be made illegal by a voter initiative or referendum, as allowed for in the 2014 ballot measure that legalized pot in Alaska.

“Everybody knew what could be coming down the road,” Ostlind said, “and they made a decision, a business decision, and really I think that’s their responsibility.”

Bloom said that’s an irresponsible and short-sighted attitude to take about the dozens of area residents who’ve invested heavily in marijuana businesses and the hundreds who work in the industry that’s already brought significant economic benefits to the city and borough.

“We have warehouses that were sitting vacant and that are now filled and providing jobs,” Bloom said. “We have families that couldn’t work full-time that now have a year-round job, full-time. We have a tax base that we are contributing to.”

Ostlind doesn’t think it’ll be that much of problem. And he said in any case commercial-pot prohibition is the right thing to do.

Categories: Alaska News

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