Powerlifter Natalie Hanson has broken a world record. Friday morning, the former Bethel resident squatted 603 pounds in the women’s 185 pound weight class at the World Open Powerlifting Championship in the Czech Republic. The record is more than three times Hanson’s body weight.
In a video of the record breaking squat, Hanson checks her lifting vest and slaps her thighs. She marches to the bar, grips it with both hands and swings her body beneath. She arranges her feet, steadies herself, looks up and stands, lifting across her shoulder blades hundreds of pounds. Five big men form a semicircle and raise their arms to spot. Hanson steps back one, two, three steps. She bends her knees and in a sudden thrust, she straightens her legs, pushing up the 603 pounds.
A champion, Hanson sticks out her tongue, places the bar on the stand, and throws both fists up in victory.
Later, in another video, the American national anthem plays as Hanson takes her place on the championship podium, an American flag draped over her shoulders and a gold medal around her neck. On her right stands the second place lifter from Ukraine and on her left, the third place lifter from Norway. Hanson competed against women from 11 countries and four continents.
The competition to establish the world’s strongest women powerlifters began at 10 a.m. Friday in the Czech Republic; it was midnight in Alaska. Each athlete lifted three times in each event, upping their weight with each lift in the squat, the bench press, and the deadlift. Hanson’s final lifts totaled 1,479 pounds: squatting 603 pounds, bench pressing 408 pounds and deadlifting 468 pounds.
Though this is the first time Hanson has officially set the world record in the squat, she broke the unofficial world record in May of this year by squatting a massive 595 pounds. Hanson herself weighs 185 pounds and stands 5 feet 2 inches tall.
Hanson grew up in Bethel and lives and trains in Anchorage. She’s a coach and co-founder of the powerlifting company Beefpuff Barbell, and she is the Executive Director of Nuvista Light and Electric Cooperative, a co-op that searches for energy solutions for the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta.
Legal challenges to legislation passed last week that would revise criminal sentencing could focus on whether one provision is unconstitutional.
If Gov. Bill Walker signs Senate Bill 54, American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska lawyer Tara Rich expects defense attorneys to file lawsuits almost immediately.
Rich said the ACLU would be joining them, because it considers one part — which says that people arrested for committing class C felonies for the first time face the same range of sentences as those charged with more serious class B felonies — unconstitutional.
“If there’s no rational basis for the Legislature to completely fail to distinguish between these two separate levels of crimes, then it will be struck down as violating due process rights,” Rich said.
The ACLU and state prosecutors raised similar concerns about the provision with lawmakers last week.
But state Criminal Division Director John Skidmore said Tuesday that judges may not strike down the law.
In fact, Skidmore said he expects the courts will work out a solution.
“The courts in Alaska will find a way to interpret the statute … in a way that avoids any constitutional issues,” Skidmore said.
Skidmore said judges would likely do this using what are called benchmarks.
“Instead of the Legislature giving specific sentencing ranges, the courts step in and provide a sentencing range within what the Legislature has already given them,” Skidmore said.
In the case of first-time class C felonies, Senate Bill 54 says sentences should be between zero and two years, the same range as for first-time class B felons.
Judges could set a benchmark at the low end of the range for the less-serious C felonies.
The House had added the C felony sentencing provision as an amendment.
Skidmore raised concerns about the issue before the Senate decided to agree to the House version of the bill.
“The Department of Law obviously prefers to avoid litigation, like what we will encounter, which is why we recommended that this issue be resolved by the Legislature in conference committee,” Skidmore said.
But that didn’t happen.
Rich said the lawsuits will be filed quickly if Walker signs the bill, because the lawyer for anyone charged with a first-time class C felony would seek to plea bargain.
And negotiating for that plea would depend on how judges interpret the law.
Rich made a different prediction than Skidmore – that courts will invalidate the class C felony provision, and cause that portion of the law to revert to what it is under the controversial Senate Bill 91. First-time class C felons face only suspended sentences under the law, instead of automatic jail time.
“As soon as a defense attorney receives a first-time C felony under SB 54 – once SB 54 becomes law – if they believe that it’s unconstitutional and that a court would most likely rule that it should return to the original SB 91 sentencing scheme – that is how they would operate in negotiating the case,” Rich said.
Rich said the ACLU was disappointed with other changes the House made on the floor.
“They’re ratcheting up criminal penalties and packing the bill with amendment after amendment like cans of sardines,” Rich said.
ACLU concerns also include a provision that affect the length of sentences for people who commit class A misdemeanors for the second time, and for those who commit disorderly conduct.
Rich pointed to evidence that the disorderly conduct sentencing would disproportionately affect Alaska Natives.
Senate President Pete Kelly and House Speaker Bryce Edgmon must sign Senate Bill 54 before it goes to Walker. The governor would then have 20 days, not including Sundays, to sign it into law.
The U.S. House on Thursday passed a tax cut package. Like all but 13 Republicans, Alaska Congressman Don Young voted for the bill.
“There’s some people saying it’s not so good, but overall if the actuarial figures are good, it’ll be about $3,000 in every tax-paying family’s pocket, that they didn’t have before,” Young said after the vote. “That’s how much the cut’s going to be.”
Democrats say the House bill gives and outsized tax cut to the wealthy. A fact sheet issued by the Democratic National Committee says 11 percent of middle-income Alaska households would face a tax increase, of $600 on average. The figure comes from a report by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, a left-leaning think tank.
The House bill does not include opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. Young says the plan is to pass ANWR in the Senate version of the bill, and then fight for it in the conference committee, where the two chambers negotiate their differences and write a final version.
“I expect the House to concede to the Senate on the ANWR provisions and become a reality,” Young said. “Again, though, I want to warn people don’t go to the bank right away, because it’s a long ways betwixt and between.”
The Senate hopes to pass its bill after Thanksgiving. Young says he expects the final bill to be signed into law in the spring.
The Interior Gas Utility has scheduled a couple of public meetings for later this month to inform Fairbanks North Star Borough residents about the status of the IGU board’s proposal to buy Pentex Alaska Natural Gas Company as part of the local utility’s efforts to build a natural-gas distribution system for Fairbanks and North Pole.
IGU general manager Jomo Stewart has scheduled two meetings before and after Thanksgiving to allay public uncertainty and concern over the IGU’s proposed purchase of Pentex. The first meeting will be held Nov. 21 at Fairbanks City Hall, the second Nov 28 at the North Pole Branch Library; both from 6 to 8 p.m.
“This is a community project,” Stewart said. “This is a community utility. And so the feelings of the public are important.”
Stewart says the opportunity to improve the two-way exchange of information from the IGU to the public, and vice versa, is as important. He says more public participation would provide “more eyes, more thoughtful minds looking at these things. You can find things that you’ve never even considered. You can check your blind spots.”
The meetings were scheduled partly in response to comments by several members of the public in last week’s IGU board meeting about the purchase of Pentex from the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, or AIDEA. The residents asked questions about the status of negotiations with AIDEA and terms of the sale. And they expressed concern over what they said was a lack of information from the IGU.
Stewart says IGU’s board members would like to address those concerns: “Certainly they want the public to be informed. And they would like to have community input.”
Stewart said Tuesday the time is drawing near for the board to reconcile differences with AIDEA over some aspects of the sale and finance agreement for the Pentex purchase. AIDEA has proposed to sell Pentex and its assets to the IGU for $58 million. Those assets include the Texas-based company’s local firm, Fairbanks Natural Gas, as well as its Titan LNG liquefaction facility at Point MacKenzie and a fleet of tanker trucks to haul the gas to Fairbanks. Stewart says AIDEA wants the IGU board to make a decision on the Pentex purchase by the end of the month.
“My board doesn’t feel like it needs to be bound by some external entity’s timeline,” Stewart said. “However, there is solid reason for moving forward expeditiously on these decisions so we can move forward on the project.”
Stewart said chief among those solid reasons is the state of Alaska’s offer to help the IGU finance the purchase – and the likelihood that that money won’t be on the table much longer, if the IGU can’t come to an agreement with AIDEA soon.
Before a man in a bloody Halloween mask walked up to the register, it was a bingo night like any other.
Jim Wycoff was the caller that evening.
“It was a pretty routine night,” Wycoff said. “Everybody gets their cards, and then we go through game after game. We had just identified a winner.”
Josie Andrews had just finished working the bingo hall’s concession stand, where she sells pretzels and nachos to customers. She was standing near the register, shuffling through the sheets for the next game, when a man walked in. Andrews said that he was wearing a mask that was made to look like it was bloody.
“The way he was walking towards me I didn’t see any harm, like a gun or a knife,” Andrews said. “The way he was looking at me I thought it was a prank. Next thing I knew he took the money and ran.”
The thief had reached into the bingo hall’s cash drawer and grabbed a fistful of bills. Most people in the hall didn’t see the crime happen, but they definitely heard it.
Julie Springer was sitting at one of the tables closest to the door, playing a few games.
“All I heard was a guy yelling ‘Hey!’ with great force,” Springer said. “Next thing I know, somebody went out and several more people went trailing out after him.”
“I was afraid; I was scared,” Springer added.
Wycoff ran after the thief with at least three other men.
“I see him going down the street towards the college, and so I’m running after him,” Wycoff said. “And he’s younger and faster than I [am]. All I saw was his form running down the street; in the dark, in the shadows.”
Wycoff said that the man in the mask gave him the slip when he sprinted past the KuC campus. The Bethel Police Department was called, and officers spent some time last night reviewing the bingo hall’s security footage. As of this broadcast, they don’t have a suspect in custody.
This wasn’t a small-time robbery. According to Wycoff, the thief managed to grab several neatly bundled stacks of bills from the bingo hall’s cash drawer, a total of almost $3,000. Tuesday is the Lions Club’s bingo night, and the proceeds from the night’s games would have gone to them.
“They run the Winter House,” Wycoff said. “One of their major funding efforts is to keep that going. It’s pretty sad when they [thieves] attack a charitable organization like that.”
The cash drawer was open, and there wasn’t any kind of barrier that would prevent somebody from reaching in and taking something. Wycoff said that before this happened, the bingo hall didn’t think that it needed any extra security.
“This is the first time this has happened in the 20 years I’ve been doing this,” Wycoff said.
Wycoff added that the hall’s managers have already discussed adding additional security measures.
“We need to make it a lot harder to do in the future, because if they’ve done this once, they’ll probably do it again,” Wycoff said.
Bethel Chief of Police Burke Waldron says that the Police Department’s investigation is ongoing.
“We have some information that we need to follow up on,” Waldron said.
Kodiak’s seaweed industry is growing, partly thanks to the investment of one company.
Blue Evolution, which is based in the Lower 48 and turns kelp into pasta products, successfully completed harvest in May with a local fisherman in the City of Kodiak.
Now, they’re gearing up to plant some more seaweed in Alaska waters.
Tamsen Peeples, Alaska Operations for Blue Evolution, unwrapped some dried kelp and dropped the leaves into a large tank at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Kodiak Fisheries Research Center.
“We basically try to simulate spore release by stressing out the plants,” Peeples said. “We dry them out, we put them in the dark, and that stimulates them to release their spores when they’re reintroduced to sea water.”
Next, Peeples poured some fertilized water into the tank to encourage spore release.
The ultimate goal is to grow the spores out enough to transfer them to one of their sites, a process which Peeples says takes six to eight weeks.
Peeples carried the tank back to the cold room where Blue Evolution keeps the rest of the seeded tanks.
The room is set at the optimal grow temperature for the kelp, about 50 degrees in the water, Peeples said.
Each tank is full of what looks like brownish spools of thread, which isn’t far off from the truth. They’re pipes wrapped in seeded string, and the string is darker or lighter depending on the growth.
Peeples pointed out the labels on the corner of each tank.
“You can see the date that’s listed is the date they were seeded,” Peeples said. “When we put the spores into these tanks with the string wrapped around the pipes, those spores swim around for about 24 hours before they settle onto the pipes. From there, they… grow into tiny little blades.”
Peeples said some of the spores are growing better than others, although she’s not sure why – the conditions are all the same, from the water to the fertilizer.
“The more I learn about kelp the more I realize we know nothing about kelp,” Peeples said. “We like to think that we know what we’re doing with it and how it operates and behaves, but it always ends up surprising us.”
Blue Evolution relies on the natural cycles of Alaska kelp and uses those plants to source the seed they use in their lab.
Their pilot year was an especially warm one and, it turns out, 2017 is on the chillier side.
“Last year, we were in full operation in our hatchery by late August, and we are currently still producing seed, so we’re gonna be two of three months behind what we were last year. Whether or not that’s behind schedule, we’ll see,” Peeples said.
Peeples said the permitting process also delayed things, but the Onion Bay and Larsen Bay sites now have their paperwork in order and are ready for outplanting.
Peeples said the other two sites are Womens Bay in Kodiak and one spot in the Ketchikan area.
Growth of the Forty Mile caribou herd in the Eastern Interior has prompted the state to open the winter hunting season Friday, two weeks earlier than normal.
The Forty Mile caribou hunt will run for four days along the Steese Highway, and continue beyond Monday in three other zones, including along the Taylor Highway. Fish and Game interior management coordinator Doreen Parker McNeill said the changes reflect weak fall harvest in the Taylor Highway area, and a new population estimate, which shows the Forty Mile herd has increased from 50,000 caribou to over 71,000 animals.
”The Forty Mile harvest management plan calls for increasing the rate at which we harvest once the herd reaches 70,000,” Parker McNeill said. “So we now know we’re above that number.”
Parker McNeill says the overall Forty Mile herd winter harvest quota has been upped to a thousand caribou. Harvest hinges as much on herd size as its proximity to road accessible areas. Parker McNeill says that there are caribou in the Steese Highway hunt area.
“We don’t know if there’s going to be lots of caribou there,” Parker McNeill said. “We do expect that there will be lots of hunters there. Any time we announce a short opening, it’s like a magnet and it draws lots of hunters.”
The Forty Mile caribou herd has been historically much larger than the current population estimate, but Parker McNeill says a habitat degradation driven die off is a possibility.
”It’s not a concern that, ‘Oh my God, at this level they’re gonna crash.’ It’s a concern in that, what we need to do is watch very carefully,” Parker McNeill said.
The Forty Mile herd is the target of the state’s largest wolf control effort. Parker McNeill says the wolf kill will continue through this spring, when the management plan calls for pausing it, to give biologists a chance to see how wolves, caribou and their habitat respond without wolf control.
The Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association walked back a contentious plan to move most of a hatchery operation to the head of Tutka Bay near Homer Saturday. The association currently operates the Tutka Bay Hatchery in a lagoon connected to the bay, and the facility is permitted to release up to 100 million pink salmon at the new site.
The hatchery association planned to begin releasing most of those fish in the spring of 2018, but board members voted to take a cautious approach, bringing the total release down to 16 million due to concerns over survival rates and operational costs.
Cook Inlet Aquaculture’s plan was to release about 80 percent of the fish raised in Tutka Bay Lagoon about four miles away at the head of Tutka Bay.
Some area residents have fought the move. Questions have been raised over ecological concerns and the operation moving further into Kachemak Bay State Park.
Area resident Nancy Hillstrand and owner of Coal Point Trading Company in Homer has been a vocal opponent of the plan.
“We don’t need to create a predator pit right there at the head of Tutka,” Hillstrand said. “If we want any of our really high value fisheries to come back, we really shouldn’t be releasing such a biomass of predators up there.”
The hatchery association has one year left on a three-year permit to release fish at the site. Cook Inlet Aquaculture Executive Director Gary Fandrei said the association has waited to make the change due to operational concerns and not because of public opinion.
The association wants to move the release site due to difficulty harvesting fish in the extremely tidal lagoon and because of low oxygen levels killing fish during low tide cycles.
“When we were originally penning up the fish, we had all these other returning fish. The dissolved oxygen levels were dropping and killing the fish in the pens,” Commercial fisherman and Cook Inlet Aquaculture hatchery committee member Malcolm Milne explained. “Now the fish, as Mark Roth pointed out, have the ability to move in and out of the lagoon. We’re not having that same threat.”
Milne told the board Saturday it should approve the committee’s recommendation and proceed cautiously.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen when we move the fish out there. We don’t know what the survival rate is going to be,” Milne added. “At the hatchery committee meeting, we felt it was prudent to take a small portion of our fish, try it out and see what the effects are going to be.”
Most of the board agreed due to the cost of investing in new net pens for the site and because of increased production in Tutka Bay Lagoon.
The hatchery now collects eggs from fish in a freshwater creek near the lagoon site instead of keeping returning fish in pens. That has allowed fish to leave when oxygen levels get low.
The hatchery has also waited until fish get larger before releasing them, nearly tripling the number of pinks returning to the lagoon. President Brent Johnson said rising marine survival rates have changed the conversation.
“This last year is going to be around 6 percent. That’s real good, and that was done out of the lagoon and it’s reflective of the fresh-water egg take that we just started to do,” Johnson said. “So, I was concerned that we’re changing something significant again after having just changed to the fresh-water egg take, moving fish out into the bay.”
Other members wanted to move full-steam ahead despite the numbers in the lagoon. Board member Steve Vanek made a motion to release no less than 40 million pinks at the head of the bay, but the motion was swiftly defeated and the board approved the hatchery committee’s recommendation.
Hillstrand said she opposes the operation moving further into the state park regardless of the numbers, but it remains to be seen if a smaller footprint at the head of Tutka will appease others who are against the move.
Cook Inlet Aquaculture plans to move two net pens to the new release site for six weeks in late March or April. It will use different thermal markings for fish released at the head of the bay in order compare survival rates between the two sites.
Three schools in Anchorage went into “stay-put” mode today after a threat was received by the FBI. Officials are saying there’s no evidence any of the schools are in danger, but took steps out of an abundance of caution.
According to Anchorage Police Department spokeswoman Renee Oistad, the FBI got a vague tip that someone had posted to social media a message about shooting up “Bear Valley Elementary before killing himself.”
“The individual that made the threat I don’t know if they were in the Lower 48 or not, I don’t even know if they were in the country,” Oistad said. “We actually have no idea who the person was that posted it and where there location is.”
There are multiple “Bear Valley Elementary” schools across the country, and one is in South Anchorage. Both it, and nearby Goldenview Middle School went into “stay-put” mode, though the FBI says it does not believe any Anchorage students are in danger. A third building, South High School, also took precautions after staff reported two suspicious looking vehicles in the parking lot.
“It was discovered that the vehicles were fine, there was nothing going on, and a stay put mode was lifted on South High School,” Oistad said.
The FBI is still investigating the threat. School Resource Officers will remain at Bear Valley elementary until the end of the day.
Anchorage police officers killed a man late Wednesday night after he pointed a handgun at them.
The shooting happened after 11pm in the parking lot of a Fred Meyer grocery store in the east Anchorage Muldoon area. In a press conference Thursday morning, Police Chief Justin Doll said officers were attempting to take 48-year-old Thomas Barclay into custody when he tried to flee. Doll says officers surrounded Barclay’s vehicle, pinning him in.
“Barclay pointed a weapon at the officers involved, and the officers fired on Barclay, killing him,” Doll said.
Barclay was pronounced dead at the scene. Three officers discharged weapons. As per APD policy, they’ve been placed on leave and won’t be publicly identified until 72 hours after the event. No officers on the scene were injured.
According to a police spokesperson, Barclay was wanted on several felony warrants, including assault, misconduct involving a weapon, reckless driving and a felony DUI.
The Department’s recently formed Investigative Support Unit had been attempting to locate Barclay for about a week. As police made contact, Barclay’s significant other was also on hand.
“She got out of the vehicle and was apprehended by police,” Doll said. “She was taken in for questioning but as of now as not been charged.”
Doll says the woman was uninjured during the incident.
This is the third time this year APD officers have been involved in a shooting, though none of the others in 2017 were lethal. The number of officer involved shootings spiked a few years ago, with five in 2012 and another five more the next year. Doll says each incident prompts review by the department.
“I think we have given officers additional tools to try to help reduce officer involved shootings and they’ve been trained in new tactics and so forth in the last few years,” Doll said. “But that’s kind of a normal, on-going process.”
The Office of Special Prosecution will review the case to determine whether the use of deadly force by officers was justified.
Lifelong Juneau resident Mary Alissia Parr is unable to walk because of spine damage.
Parr has been in physical therapy, she said sitting in a wheelchair in her Mendenhall Valley living room, but also takes prescribed OxyContin and Percocet for chronic pain management. She’s worried about new regulations restricting opioid prescriptions.
“It’s a very tough situation. Yes, the drug abuse on the streets needs to stop, it’s awful,” Parr said. “But what happens to the other people. I don’t have any answers for that yet. And I’m looking.”
The Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, or PDMP, has been in Alaska since 2008.
While the monitoring program was originally voluntary, it became mandatory in July.
It’s an online database, set up by the state.
Physicians, pharmacists or even veterinarians log the controlled substances, including opioids, they prescribe.
The program allows prescribers to check whether a patient is already receiving a prescription from another doctor, and discourages over-prescribing.
Sara Chambers, the deputy director of the Division of Corporations, Business and Professional Licensing, said the monitoring program informs doctors when patients ask for duplicate opioid prescriptions.
“The primary goal of the PDMP is to be a meaningful force to curb opioid misuse and addiction in the state,” Chambers said.
“And that can be done through, at the front end, through providing medical personal with information to make decisions before prescribing,” Chambers continued. “The PDMP data can be used after the fact as information to help feed our health care experts in the state and make sure that they’re aware of prescribing trends and practices. From the front end of prevention to the back end of analysis and treatment, the PDMP provides an excellent glimpse into how Alaska is utilizing opioid prescriptions.”
The main purpose of the program is to be an educational resource, but Chambers said over-prescribers could face disciplinary action.
Juneau surgeon Dr. David Miller registered for the monitoring program once it became mandatory. He said trying to reduce over prescribing is worth the extra effort, but he worries it won’t have the desired effect.
“I would like to see some numbers that this has an effect. If all you’re doing is increasing work load for physicians, and you don’t get the desired effect, that’s always a possibility,” Miller said. “I have a feeling that physicians that over prescribe narcotics are still going to continue to do that. But it’s at least a step in the right direction to try to rein some of this practice in.”
But the new regulations may be hurting patients who use prescribed opioids as a form of pain management, including Parr.
“They’ve helped me a great deal,” Parr said. “They’ve made it so I can get up during the day and be mobile, whereas before I couldn’t hardly move.”
Parr understands the restrictions, but she’s nervous about the effects.
“Yes, it has been abused greatly, by a lot of people,” Parr said. “Unfortunately the people with chronic pain are getting caught in the middle of this.”
Parr said she used to go to a pain management clinic in Juneau, but since it closed earlier this year, she’s had trouble finding a doctor who will prescribe what she needs. She believes it has to do with the changes in legislation.
“They’re frightened to do this, and I understand, but what about the few of us that aren’t abusing the medications and are following the programs, what happens to us?” Parr asked.
Chambers, who oversees the program, said there are provisions that allow for doctors to prescribe larger amounts, as long as it’s appropriate treatment, and documented properly.
Chambers said the program hasn’t collected enough data to see if the changes are helping, but she hopes more data — due out this winter — will show the program is working.
For more information about opioid addiction and treatment visit the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services website.
Alaska’s Senate decided to end its work this special session without voting on a bill to tax income.
Gov. Bill Walker’s administration said the tax is needed to close the gap between what the state spends and what is raises.
Nonpartisan Legislative Finance Director David Teal used a computer model to forecast what will happen if the Legislature doesn’t act to close the budget gap.
It wasn’t pretty.
The Constitutional Budget Reserve – a piggy bank the state has drawn from to balance the budget the last five years – would be gone next year.
The permanent fund would lose a sixth its value before its earnings reserve account – the state’s other piggy bank — also would fall to zero in about 10 years.
“Because you have these unplanned draws, the earnings reserve account is depleted or depleting by ’27,” Teal said. “You probably have a year left before that is also depleted.”
After that the only choice to cover nearly half state government would be massive budget cuts or plundering the main body of the permanent fund.
Teal said the projections are better under a Senate plan that draws from permanent fund earnings, but he still sees problems.
Teal’s model also mapped out less dire scenarios Thursday in a Senate Finance Committee meeting.
The state budget would be balanced in eight years if the state passed the Senate’s plan to draw from permanent fund earnings.
But there would be other problems.
The CBR would still be drawn down to zero in five years. And the permanent fund would lose value compared with inflation, and see more than a half-billion dollars in unplanned draws.
The state could could compensate by cutting the rate of growth in spending.
But Teal said that could be a challenge.
“You’re more aware than I am that cutting the budget or constraining the budget is easier said than done,” Teal said. “I mean, it’s very easy to sit here and say all you have to do is grow at half the rate of inflation. But when it comes to achieving that, you may find it far more difficult than simply saying it.”
Walker is seeking to shore up state finances with a one and a half percent tax on income from employment or self employment.
The tax would be limited to twice the annual permanent fund dividend.
But like a separate income tax introduced by the House majority earlier this year, the Senate has been cool to the idea.
Eagle River Republican Sen. Anna MacKinnon said the possibility of “small steps” to limit future spending, as well as the potential for permanent fund earnings to outpace projections, make it premature to consider the tax.
“From my perspective, I feel a little bit held hostage to some of the revenue discussion – that we have to have that before we act to use the interest that we’re receiving in a sustainable way,” MacKinnon said.
The tax would raise an estimated $320 million, roughly half the projected budget gap over the next few years, if the Legislature passed a plan to draw from Permanent Fund earnings.
State Tax Director Ken Alper said the tax would help protect the permanent fund.
“We view this plan as a form of insurance, as a backup plan just in case we run out of our other sources of money, that we’re not in the relatively desperate straits of having to overdraw the permanent fund,” Alper said.
And state Revenue Commissioner Sheldon Fisher said the tax would reduce uncertainty in the state, which he said is stalling business investment.
“I think it’s prompting people to hold back in terms of economic activity and I think it’s critical as we think about this plan and think about the various options that are available to us, to try to come up with a solution,” Fisher said.
But that consensus remains elusive. Some senators say the state should wait to see whether oil prices rise before considering the tax. And they expressed other reasons for holding off on acting now.
After reviewing a chart that showed Alaskans have one of the lowest state and local tax burdens in the country, Anchorage Republican Sen. Natasha von Imhof said they face other costs.
“When you start adding the total cost of living in Alaska when it comes to transportation, when it comes to the cost of energy, particularly in the rural areas, and then the amount of health care that we pay … the cost of living is much higher than many states in the Union,” von Imhof said.
The Legislature could consider the tax bill during the next session, which begins in January.
But differences over the proposal could make it difficult to reach an agreement in an election year.
Anchorage may not get a lot of sun in the winter, but solar energy is becoming more popular around town. From the Anchorage Solar Building to the Alaska Aviation Museum’s solar tracking array, establishments are doing their part to go green. Several UAA students recently had nine solar panels installed on one of the university’s buildings. Even though it’s a small contribution to energy efficiency, they’re hoping it will have a larger impact over time.
Alexandria McLearen talks about the new solar panels like she’s describing a childhood dream come true. She’s been intrigued with solar panels since she did her first ever science project on solar energy as a kindergartner.
“I literally have chills about it. I’m so excited,” McLearen said.
McLearen is a member of the Green Fee Board — the campus organization that pushed to get the panels installed on the Administration and Humanities building.
The Green Fee Board has funds to support projects proposed by students that demonstrate economic solutions to environmental problems. McLearen says she brought the solar panel idea to a previous student government president.
“Students want sustainable energy, we want to move in the right direction,” McLearen said.
The power generated by the solar panels go directly to the building. They’ll provide around 3 to 7 percent of the building’s power in the summer. That may not sound like a lot, but the Admin building is home to the office of the chancellor, student affairs, academic affairs, university advancement, administrative services and a number of classrooms.
Heather Jesse is an economics student who worked alongside McLearen to complete the project. She says the Admin building wasn’t the team’s first choice.
“We originally wanted it on Rasmuson [Hall], because it was more visibility for campus. We had them do a walk through, they told us that was not going to be optimal for generating the most solar, so we settled here, which turned out to be an even better place, I think,” Jesse said.
Jesse is currently working on a monitoring and measuring system that will go online. Students will be able to see how much of the building’s power is being generated by the panels and how many kilowatts have been saved.
There are no other solar panels currently installed at UAA. ML&P significantly increased the price of electricity last summer. Jesse hopes the solar panels will help even out the extra cost.
“As an economics student, I’m super stoked that we’re going to be helping to lower the costs of tuition for students that we’re helping offset the increase in ML&P,” Jesse said.
It costs around $1,000 per panel to have them installed and wired into the electric grid. McLearen and Jesse are optimistic that the Green Fee Board will eventually install more panels, but they are currently working on other sustainable projects. Jesse is in the process of drafting an initiative to install five more panels for the spring semester.
The Anchorage Police Department wants to start using drones. But elected officials have some concerns.
At a meeting of the Assembly’s public safety committee Wednesday, Captain Kevin Vandergriff presented draft policies on how police would like to use drones in Anchorage.
“Search and Rescue would be a primary,” Vandergriff said in a short interview after the meeting. “Evidence collection for major crimes and major crime scenes like fatality traffic accidents, for example. Also for tactical applications when we’re responding with a SWAT team for officer safety purposes. Those would be the three primary activities we’re interested in utilizing this technology for.”
According to Vandergriff, some core public safety functions can be done more efficiently by small unmanned aerial systems (UAS, as the devices are sometimes referred to) than by humans or equipment currently utilized in department procedures. Overhead cameras can reduce search times for missing and vulnerable adults down from hours to minutes, Vandergriff explained to the Assembly. Documenting a crime scene could similarly be expedited through the use of high-resolution overhead photographs.
In its proposals, APD introduced a limited set of functions for drones. The Department also laid out what they wouldn’t be used for, like warrant-less surveillance.
The idea for a limited roll-out by APD is to give the public time to acclimate.
“We want to utilize this new technology in a very conservative manner, all the time getting feedback from the public on how they believe we’re using the technolog,” Vandergriff said. “We want to be transparent when we use it. So we can put the public’s mind at rest, if you will, that this technology is not being abused by their police department.”
And the public is indeed skeptical. According to results from a poll conducted by Rasmussen and presented by APD, a slight majority of Americans, 39 percent, do not support police using drones, compared to 36 percent of those who do support law enforcement using them (25 percent were undecided).
Even though members of the Assembly were supportive of specific proposals, many said rules should come through new municipal laws.
Assembly vice-chair Forest Dunbar, who is a lawyer, believes there are a number of privacy concerns that merit a slower, more comprehensive legislative approach to the municipality’s drone policies.
“I think we want to strike that balance between the legitimate concerns of law enforcement and the potential for this technology, but also the real worries about privacy,” Dunbar said.
Dunbar was hardly alone among Assembly members expressing reservations. He expects the next step will be the Assembly working with the mayor’s administration on an ordinance that will solicit public testimony before coming up a vote.
ConocoPhillips announced today that its newest development on the North Slope is producing oil, two months earlier than anticipated.
The project, called 1H NEWS, had to overcome several challenges. One was the type of oil. Lisa Bruner, Conoco’s vice president of North Slope Operations and Development, explained it’s a harder-to-produce viscous oil, requiring new technology to get it out of the ground.
“The oil is heavier, so it flows more slowly, and as cold as it is here, it’s harder for the oil to flow than some of our other reservoirs,” Bruner said.
Another challenge was economics. Conoco first announced the project in 2014, but put it on hold in early 2016 after oil prices crashed.
“[We] went back to the drawing board and rolled up our sleeves and tried to figure out a way to reduce our costs to a point where it is economic,” Bruner said. “And it’s economic, but it’s not as competitive as some of the best things in our portfolio.”
According to Conoco, the project cost about $400 million, $60 million less than the initial estimate. But Bruner said it’s unlikely the company would green-light the same project today.
“If we were to look at it today and drill the exact same wells in the exact same way, and go for funding approval now within ConocoPhillips, it’s probably not something that would compete for funding,” Bruner said.
The development is in the Kuparuk Oil Field. Most of the company’s most promising new projects are further West, in and around the National Petroleum Reserve.
It’s expected to produce about 8,000 barrels of oil per day.
The U.S. Senate Energy Committee Wednesday approved legislation that would open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. Democrats tried repeatedly kill or weaken the measure, but they failed to stop the advance of the drilling measure.
Sen. Murkowski knew she had the votes. All of the Republicans on her committee favor drilling, and they are the majority.
Still, Democrats put up a fight. They argued the measure, by mandating oil lease sales, would nullify environmental protections. They argued it would change the purpose of the refuge, from protecting wildlife to producing oil.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., took the long view, saying the senators’ grandchildren will hold them accountable for climate change.
“What this committee should be doing, working with people all over the world, is saying ‘how do we transform our energy system away from fossil fuel, away from coal, oil and gas to sustainable energy?'” Sanders said.
Sen. Martin Heinrich, an avid elk hunter, focused on the Porcupine Caribou Herd that uses the coast of the refuge as its calving ground. Heinrich, D-N.M., proposed putting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service director in charge of deciding what actions would be detrimental to the herd.
“The question is, on a wildlife refuge, what comes first? Does wildlife come first? You would think so, from the name,” Heinrich said.
Heinrich’s amendment, like all of those proposed by Democrats, failed.
Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., suggested Alaska’s budget crisis was driving short-sighted decisions.
“The notion that oil prices have fallen and a state has been over-reliant on oil does not mean that we should be destroying a wildlife refuge today,” Cantwell said.Sen. Lisa Murkowski told reporters after the hearing it’s not certain the drilling section will remain in the bill. Photo: Liz Ruskin
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who chairs the Energy Committee, says America can have both oil production and wildlife on the same area.
“We will not sacrifice the caribou, the polar bears, or the migratory birds for the sake of development,” Murkowski said. “But we also recognize that that’s not a choice that we face here.”
The measure passed 13-10, with Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., joining all Republicans in voting for drilling
In the back of the hearing room, Bernadette Demientieff was sad and angry. She’s from Fort Yukon and directs the Gwich’in Steering Committee, one of the lead Alaska voices against drilling. She says her people depend on the Porcupine Caribou herd, and the herd depends on the refuge.
“We’re not going to stop fighting,” Demientieff said after the hearing. “We can’t. This is our way of life. This is everything that we know.”
But 3,000 miles from Washington, Gov. Bill Walker was positively giddy when he addressed the annual Resource Development Council conference in Anchorage after the committee voted. Walker said 13-10 was his new favorite number.
“We’re not across the finish line yet, but, boy, today was a great day, and I cannot thank Sen. Murkowski enough,” Walker said.
The Arctic drilling provision will now be combined with the Senate tax cut plan and put to a vote of the full Senate. That’s likely to happen after Thanksgiving. Murkowski says she’s sure there will be moves to drop the drilling section from the bill.
The use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems, or drones, by the Haines Borough has raised concerns about privacy and local government overreach. At a recent assembly meeting, residents and representatives pushed back on the use of the technology as a routine tool for government.
“Some of us moved up here to get away from government encroachment in our lives,” Haines resident Judy Rogers said. “We just want to live our lives in peace and be left alone. We don’t want to have to worry about a government with a drone looking over our shoulders, listening to what we have to say.”
Rogers wasn’t alone in her opposition to the local government’s use of drones. Ryan Cook also spoke out at the meeting.
“I think we’re going to be treading on really thin water here if we start messing with this stuff,” Cook said. “It’s a huge invasion of privacy.”
Here’s why the issue came up now. Recently, Borough Manager Debra Schnabel employed the use of a drone to help enforce a land use issue. A lot of people weren’t happy about that.
Schnabel said she wanted to address the issue with an administrative policy.
“And as a manager I felt it was a responsibility to address that by getting in front of the issue and just saying — oh we should have a policy for how we would pursue – to guide the administration if we ever had a need or desire to employ drones in the future,” Schnabel said.
Schnabel wanted to be clear – she doesn’t want to change borough code or establish a drone use program at the borough.
The policy wouldn’t dictate how Haines residents can use the crafts. It would only guide the borough administration’s use of the technology.
Schnabel said she sees drones as a tool that could be used for a variety of reasons. The policy includes search and rescue and gathering evidence and documentation after crimes and accidents.
Schnabel’s draft policy also points to possible drone use for helping people like engineers, land surveyors and land use planners gain aerial perspective. It also names assisting incident command staff and first responders as a potential use.
Resident Mike Denker is a commercial pilot who owns and has operated drones. He said he thinks the policy could get the borough into legal trouble.
“I believe the potential legal exposure for a misadventure into this frontier would far exceed any public benefit the policy offers at this time,” Denker said. “I would urge you to slow down, put this policy to committee and let it be fully vetted.”
The assembly didn’t have a whole lot of love for it either, questioning whether a policy is necessary – and whether the borough should be using drones as a tool at all.
Assemblyman Tom Morphet suggested sending the document to committee.
Brenda Josephson said it should just be taken off the table.
“I think it would be better to just shelve the drone policy,” Josephson said. “The policy is we don’t use drones.”
Sean Maidy said they shouldn’t discount the use of the technology. But, he said it should only be used with the permission of landowners.
“I would move that we pass an ordinance to only use drones with the express written permission and presence of the landowner, who also gets copies of any pictures taken,” Maidy said.
Morphet said he could see drones being useful for search and rescue and public safety emergencies. But he questioned whether a borough administrative policy is necessary for these uses.
“I think in extreme situations we might want to use a drone when other remedies have failed,” Morphet said. “I’m not convinced that there’s never a situation where a drone would be advisable. I think it obviously should be a very last resort remedy.”
The assembly did not move the policy forward.
Extreme weather has caused chaos recently in places like Puerto Rico and Texas. But to better understand how humans react to these types of events, one historian is looking at the distant past.
Joseph Manning says if you want to study past climate events, ancient Egypt is a good place to start.
The Egyptians kept detailed records. There was everyday bookkeeping on crops, land leases, letters and legal documents, usually written on papyrus.
And Manning says a lot of that has survived.
“Well, ironically because of the dryness of Egypt but also the fondness for mummification, which is interesting,” Manning said. “So a lot of documents get recycled as mummy wrappings or mummy stuffing sacred animals and human.”
As odd as that may seem, some of these old records were found in the body cavities of mummies.
But when you look at the documents as a whole, Manning says a story starts to emerge and it’s one that includes Alaska.
As a history professor at Yale University, Manning studies the Ptolemaic Period. You probably know it as a time when Cleopatra reigned as queen. But to historians, it’s a period marked by social unrest and revolts.
That’s been linked, in part, to changes in the Nile River. The river didn’t flood for two to three years, which meant crops didn’t get vital nutrients and irrigation.
“People recall a time in the past when there was widespread famine, and they worried that might happen again,” Manning said.
But Manning says an important part of the story was missing — what caused the Nile to stop flooding every year?
So Manning looked for scientists to compare notes. He remembers a colleague showing him a newly published paper on volcanic eruptions.
“I told him the sort of dates I was interested in and they kind of lined up in a spooky sort of way, I would say,” Manning said. “And then we got to work.”
Beyond the historical documents, like the mummy wrappings and exact measurements of the Nile, Manning teamed up with scientists to examine what he calls “natural archives.” That is, layers of ice thousands of years of old.
Below the surface of the ice is a record of major climatic events. Scientists can pull up core samples and test it for particulates that may have been deposited from a distant volcano.
And Manning was able to use that data, comparing volcanic activity with the timeline.
“You can tell specific eruptions, you can tell approximately where the eruption is located, and you can tell the size of the eruption which also matters,” Manning said.
What they found was volcanoes in Iceland, Alaska and possibly Russia were erupting around the same time the Nile River was thrown out of whack.
Manning says large volcanic eruptions can cause cooling and drought.
In the case of the Nile River, the eruption may have caused less rain to fall in Ethiopia so the Nile didn’t flood. That, in turn, set off a chain of tumultuous events, that would have been impossible for ancient Egyptians to comprehend.
“Egyptians have no idea there’s a volcano in Alaska,” Manning said.
Manning says scientists have posed the volcano theory before. But this kind of approach is a new way of understanding how history and climate are connected.
“For the first time you can see a dynamic society,” Manning said. “It’s like pulling a curtain back and actually seeing a society moving around as opposed to a static picture of an ancient society.”
Manning thinks today, as we see weather shifts caused by warming and human activity, we can learn something from the past.
The ancient Egyptians can help us understand how environmental change influences behavior and potentially leads to political unrest or war. He says there are skeptics to this approach.
Some other historians have pushed back, saying the research is short sighted.
“Actually I’ve seen some people say we’re part of a fad,” Manning said. “Climate change is such a fad these days that will pass.”
But Manning doesn’t think so. Unlike ancient times, he says we have some control over how things play out. We can reduce carbon emissions and imagine solutions.
Manning wonders what the Egyptians would have done with the same knowledge.
The Alcoholic Beverage Control Board awarded Cezary Maczynski Bethel’s third and final package store liquor license on Monday, but the opening date for Kusko Liquor may be months away.
The board decided between three applications for the license: Maczynski’s, Alaska Commercial Company and Tundra Liquor Cache.
“We have a motion to approve 5533 package store license application. Anyone opposed? Seeing and hearing none… motion is granted,” Bob Klein, ABC Board Chair, said.
With that, Klein wrapped up a quick vote of the board after considering all the evidence before them.
During the meeting the board considered three applications and rejected those for Alaska Commercial Company’s second liquor store and Steve Chung’s Tundra Liquor Cache. The city protested both applications after Bethel residents and the City Planning Commission raised concerns that focused mainly on safety.
Aaron Sperbeck, a legal representative with AC’s parent company, said that AC was prepared to add more safety protocols.
“If that’s what the community needs, which we understand alcohol is a problem,” Sperbeck said. “But we’re in a position to be good stewards in the community.”
Bethel City Attorney Patty Burly spoke on behalf of the City at the ABC meeting. She says that for the City of Bethel it was too little too late, and that the city had concerns about bringing those safety issues to another neighborhood.
“So Bethel said, ‘You’re not it. You’re not the responsible steward,’ and they upheld their protest,” Burly said.
Maczynski tentatively plans to open Kusko Liquor in either the spring or summer of 2018. The shop will be on the riverfront where Cezary’s Auto Body and Paint is located.
The Bristol Bay Native Corporation is opposed to the Pebble Mine, but the regional Alaska Native corporation is not backing the ballot initiative known as “Stand for Salmon.”
“Notwithstanding BBNC’s opposition to Pebble, BBNC believes responsible resource development can take place in Bristol Bay. Development that aligns with local opinion and does not threaten the region’s fisheries and fish habitat can and should be given an opportunity to proceed,” BBNC President and CEO Jason Metrokin said in a written statement.
BBNC does not support HB 199 – sponsored by Kodiak Republican Rep. Louise Stutes – or the Stand for Salmon initiative.
“Each would unnecessarily and negatively impact resource development projects and potentially the subsistence activities upon which our shareholders depend,” Metrokin wrote.
Stand for Salmon’s provisions might make Pebble impossible to permit, and two of its backers hail from Bristol Bay. Gayla Hoseth is a second chief with the Curyung Tribe in Dillingham, and Brian Kraft operates the Alaska Sportsman fishing lodges nestled in east and west side headwaters.
Supporters of the initiative say it will update salmon habitat protections codified in state law, giving salmon streams a higher priority. Critics say the initiative may make nearly every stream “anadromous” unless proven otherwise and could cripple all kinds of development.
The heads of the Arctic Slope and Cook Inlet ANSCA regional corporations took to the pages of Alaska Dispatch News to call on Alaskans not to support the ballot initiative, saying it threatened jobs, revenue, and development on Native lands. Their op-ed was published during the Alaska Federation of Natives annual convention.