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Alaska and Yukon Headlines

Former South High quarterback Lujan signs with Division I South Dakota State

Sat, 2014-04-19 20:26
Former South High quarterback Lujan signs with Division I South Dakota State When freshman quarterback Zach Lujan of Anchorage arrived at Chabot College in California he was fourth on the depth chartApril 19, 2014

Senate Passes Bill Transferring $3 Billion To Retirement System

Sat, 2014-04-19 19:56

After wrestling with how to approach the state’s massive unfunded liability for months, the Alaska Senate unanimously agreed to put $3 billion toward the public employee pension system just hours after their plan was released.

The retirement bill was introduced by Gov. Sean Parnell last week, with the objective of shoring up the retirement trusts funds because the state’s unfunded liability is $12 billion. The House passed the legislation with no changes, but the Senate made two major modifications

Sen. Pete Kelly speaks on the Alaska Senate floor, March 24, 2014. (Photo by Skip Gray/Gavel Alaska)

While Parnell’s bill originally put $2 billion toward the public employee retirement system and $1 billion toward the teacher retirement system, the Senate version swaps those numbers because the teacher system is facing a proportionally larger funding gap.

The Senate also adopted a pension payment plan that involves smaller annual contributions in early years, with those contributions stretched out over a longer period of time. Parnell had proposed putting $500 million toward the retirement system each year for the next two decades. The Senate instead elected to go with funding plan that’s more responsive to how many state retirees are collecting benefits at any point in time. Under the Senate plan, the Legislature is expected to appropriate $350 million to the retirement fund next year, with those payments growing some each year as more retirees begin collecting benefits.

Senate Finance Co-Chair Pete Kelly, a Fairbanks Republican, said the pension plan should allow investment bond raters to experience a “sigh of relief” and help the state maintain a high credit rating. The bill also earned praise from Democrats, who have previously attempted to increase payments in to the retirement system.

The bill passed 20-0.

In a release, Gov. Sean Parnell offered support for the Senate’s version of the bill. The bill will now be sent back to the House for concurrence.

Tribe seeks return of artifacts taken from abandoned Alaska village

Sat, 2014-04-19 18:32
Tribe seeks return of artifacts taken from abandoned Alaska village A prominent Southeast Alaska cultural leader says a Yale University museum that has held onto a pair of Tlingit carvings taken from Cape Fox more than a century ago should voluntarily return the items instead of waiting for tribal officials to make a formal request.April 19, 2014

'Hidden Warbirds' takes readers on hunt for aircraft around Alaska and the world

Sat, 2014-04-19 18:32
'Hidden Warbirds' takes readers on hunt for aircraft around Alaska and the world With so many military wrecks scattered across Alaska, author Nicolas Veronico's close look at hunting and recovering warbirds around the world is a real eye-opener. April 19, 2014

GAO offers sobering look at shipping prospects in US Arctic

Sat, 2014-04-19 18:31
GAO offers sobering look at shipping prospects in US Arctic A new report says commercial maritime activity in Alaska's Arctic waters will likely be limited in the next decade due to high operating costs, lack of infrastructure, and limited demand for tourism.April 19, 2014

Alaska State Trooper patrol vessel will stay in Unalaska

Sat, 2014-04-19 18:30
Alaska State Trooper patrol vessel will stay in Unalaska The patrol vessel Stimson won't move to Kodiak, a move troopers had proposed to save money. Meanwhile a second vessel, the 120-foot Wolstad will be replaced by a smaller vessel.April 19, 2014

Peer mentor for recovering addicts arrested for breaking into Togiak clinic pharmacy

Sat, 2014-04-19 18:29
Peer mentor for recovering addicts arrested for breaking into Togiak clinic pharmacy A 25-year-old Dillingham man, visiting Togiak to speak to others about his recovery, has been charged with breaking into the village clinic and stealing several prescription drugs.April 19, 2014

Legislature nears final hours with key issues unresolved

Sat, 2014-04-19 15:42
Legislature nears final hours with key issues unresolved The Alaska Legislature enters the final two days of the legislative session with most of its major bills not quite ready for final action. Lawmakers prepared to work late into the night Saturday with the 90th day of the session arriving on Easter. April 19, 2014

Effort To Revive Parts Of Controversial Permitting Bill Scrapped

Sat, 2014-04-19 15:11

An effort to resurrect parts of a dead permitting bill was abandoned on Friday night.

Officials from the Department of Natural Resources had been working with Rep. Cathy Muñoz, a Juneau Republican, to attach land exchange language from House Bill 77 to a separate bill concerning land sales.

The exchange provision would have allowed the DNR to trade state land for private land, as long as the properties were of equal value or DNR determined the exchange was in the state’s best interest.

The Department of Natural Resources pitched it as an uncontroversial part of a very controversial and recently abandoned bill. When HB 77 was under consideration, the land exchange portion got scant attention compared to sections on water reservations, appeals, and general permits. But environmental advocates have now objected to the land exchange language, arguing that it removed public notice provisions and could allow for sweetheart deals for development projects.

“Rather than short-cutting the process, we should take care whenever public lands and resources are being traded away to a private entity,” says Lisa Weissler, a former assistant attorney general who opposes the language.

Rep. Muñoz had intended to offer land exchange language amendment to Senate Bill 106 either in a procedural committee or on the House floor. But when SB 106 came for a final vote on a Friday night, no amendment was offered.
Natural Resources Commissioner Joe Balash says the amendment was scrapped because of the immediate pushback.

“We were not going to ask anyone to take heat to do this, and there was a little bit of a heat generated by certain groups. So, no harm, no foul,” says Balash. “Hopefully we’ll have an opportunity in the future to look at some of these things, and specifically the land exchange piece, in a cooler time.”

Balash expects the language to come back next year in a standalone bill.

As session wraps up, how to track bill progress online

Sat, 2014-04-19 14:47
As session wraps up, how to track bill progress online It's crunch time in the Legislature, and although much of the wheeling and dealing is being done behind closed doors, constituents can track the official progress of the bills they care about using the BASIS online tool.April 19, 2014

Colver responds: Falsehoods, smear attacks distract from issues facing District 9

Sat, 2014-04-19 12:19
Colver responds: Falsehoods, smear attacks distract from issues facing District 9 OPINION: Having an issue with Republican Party leadership is understandable, but that's no excuse to smear a good candidate with a long history of public service in a host of elected offices because he doesn't satisfy an unattainable purity test.April 19, 2014

Rugged research in Alaska's Big White Empty tests scientists' resolve

Sat, 2014-04-19 12:12
Rugged research in Alaska's Big White Empty tests scientists' resolve Unplanned events -- like fixing or replacing a broken snowmachine -- come with the territory for scientists whose research takes them to broad, bare expanses of the North Slope's coastal plain.April 19, 2014

AK Beat: After collision, Anchorage driver arrested for DWI

Sat, 2014-04-19 11:26
AK Beat: After collision, Anchorage driver arrested for DWI After an early morning collision, Anchorage resident Ariel McGrew was arrested on charges of driving while intoxicated.April 19, 2014

Tesoro, looking to lower costs with Bakken oil, doesn't need state subsidy

Sat, 2014-04-19 08:19
Tesoro, looking to lower costs with Bakken oil, doesn't need state subsidy ANALYSIS: State officials say there is a public interest in keeping the Petro Star refineries in business, which is why they support a subsidy plan. No one has said that the Tesoro refinery is likely to shut down, though, which is a good reason to take Tesoro out of the bill.April 19, 2014

Education bill prioritizes funding hike for special programs over per-student funds

Fri, 2014-04-18 21:07
Education bill prioritizes funding hike for special programs over per-student funds Alaska schools are being offered what Senate Republican leaders are saying is generous funding for next year, but it is less than school advocates say Alaska schools need to stave off another year of teacher and other cuts.April 18, 2014

For some Northwest Arctic students, Kobuk 440 trail becomes a classroom

Fri, 2014-04-18 19:40
For some Northwest Arctic students, Kobuk 440 trail becomes a classroom Students and teachers from Kotzebue, Kiana and Noorvik formed a snowmachine caravan, volunteering with the race and learning about mushing and its history.April 18, 2014

Alaska should heed federal court decisions against same-sex marriage bans

Fri, 2014-04-18 19:35
Alaska should heed federal court decisions against same-sex marriage bans OPINION: Instead of leaving Alaska's fate in the hands of the federal justices, let's make a statement together -- Alaska is a place that accepts, loves, and provides equal opportunity to all Alaskans. April 18, 2014

Photos: The frantic pace of development in the Mat-Su Borough

Fri, 2014-04-18 19:24
Photos: The frantic pace of development in the Mat-Su Borough

As house hunters in Anchorage desperately seek affordable homes, attractive, affordable real estate is readily available -- for those who are willing to live with a bit of a commute.

April 18, 2014

Mat-Su housing, rental markets flourish

Fri, 2014-04-18 19:20
Mat-Su housing, rental markets flourish After the national economic crash in 2007-08, the housing and renting market in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough fell off. But these days both the construction and buying markets have become quite competitive. April 18, 2014

Tragedy on Everest has echoes on Alaska's Mount McKinley

Fri, 2014-04-18 18:54
Tragedy on Everest has echoes on Alaska's Mount McKinley Though significantly lower in height than Everest, Mount McKinley climbing is rendered difficult by the mountain's extreme northern location. It's much colder than Everest, too. April 18, 2014