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Southeast Alaska News
JUNEAU — State lawmakers were trying to reach an agreement Sunday on a broad-reaching education bill, with the clock winding down on the 90-day session.
About 40 members of the Alaska Native community and their supporters spent more than 15 hours at the capitol to show lawmakers their passion for a certain bill.
As legislators met behind closed doors much of Easter Sunday, the group waited. When the midnight deadline came and went, they continued to wait.
Their wait came to an end around 3 a.m. when the Senate took up HB216, which identifies 20 Alaska Native languages as official languages of the state.
ANCHORAGE — The northwest Alaska village of Deering may be tiny — with just 130 residents — but its school mascot is in the running for a national championship of nicknames.
The Deering Northern Lights already got the top vote in a poll by USA Today over high schools from Alaska and five other Western states.
Online voting for the national championship opened up Friday and ends at 10 a.m. AKDT April 25, the Anchorage Daily News reported.
SITKA — Sitka Tribe of Alaska is one of 30 recipients of the 2014 W.K. Kellogg Foundation grants for family engagement projects, the foundation announced Thursday.
The STA grant is for $250,000 over three years for a project called “Wooch.een Yei Jigaxtoonei: Working Together to Increase Family Engagement.” STA’s application was among 1,000 received by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
ANCHORAGE — At the Mat-Su Borough Animal Care Facility on Sunday morning, Rachel Reese set up two portable lights, unzipped a canvas bag crammed with animal-sized cowboy hats, bow-ties and a cardboard sign that read “Free Hugs.” Then she readied herself for her rambunctious, leashed clients: the dogs of the animal shelter.
These are the dogs she hopes to put on the fast-track to adoption by posting their photographs on her Facebook page: Alaskan Shelter Dogs. You might call her a dog publicist.
The Legislature has voted to support state plans to take over acreage in the Tongass National Forest.
Republican Sitka Sen. Bert Stedman proposed the resolution. It urges Congress to act on Gov. Sean Parnell’s request to take over federal acreage.
“Since the U.S. Forest Service is no longer able to provide enough timber in the Tongass National Forest to sustain a viable timber industry in Southeast Alaska, it is time for the governor to intervene,” Stedman wrote in his sponsor statement.
The resolution passed the Senate in March and the House on Friday, April 20, with little opposition.
Senate Concurrent Resolution 2 supports acquiring acreage by negotiation or purchase. The U.S. Forest Service is unlikely to act on the request.
The resolution does not specify the location or amount of Tongass land.
Parnell’s Timber Task Force in 2012 called for the state to manage up to 2 million acres placed in a trust by the federal government.
JUNEAU — The Alaska Senate unanimously passed legislation setting out a new approach for addressing the state’s pension obligation Saturday, less than three hours after the plan emerged from the Senate Finance Committee.
It will be up to the House to decide whether to accept the Senate plan, which advanced on the 89th day of the scheduled 90-day session. If the House doesn’t, the bill could go to a conference committee.
Legislators spent much of Friday and Saturday working to secure votes for various bills while tying up loose ends on others. With a midnight deadline looming to finish the state’s business, there’s much for lawmakers to accomplish concerning several pieces of key legislation.
The debate on two of the session’s biggest issues has been pushed to today. Those issues are education reform and funding and the capital budget.
Democrats, teachers, parents and school officials aren’t happy with what appears to be the future of education funding in Alaska.
Their unhappiness comes as members of the powerful Senate Finance Committee recommended funneling $124.3 million toward education this year — that’s $24.3 million more than was proposed Friday.
JUNEAU — The House Finance Committee on Friday advanced a bill setting the state’s participation in a major liquefied natural gas project, with members expressing a mix of both optimism and skepticism about whether the process would yield a long hoped-for gas line.
ANCHORAGE — A small commercial plane was flying at about 3,400 feet when it crashed near Bethel, killing the two pilots on board, according to a preliminary report by the National Transportation Safety Board.
Investigators still don’t know what caused the Cessna 208 operated by Hageland Aviation to go down on April 8 during a training flight, KYUK reported Thursday.
Investigators were digging through data sent from the plane that crashed in clear, calm weather.
ANCHORAGE — The settlement of a claim on property owned by the Boys and Girls Clubs of Alaska will allow the land to be sold to the city of Anchorage for a park.
The dispute over 17 acres on Waldron Lake was addressed in an out-of-court settlement this month, the Anchorage Daily News reported.
Marcy Trent obtained the land as part of a 160-acre homestead she worked with her first husband, Roger Waldron, who died in a plane crash in 1962.
ANCHORAGE — A former prison inmate in Alaska can move forward with his lawsuit claiming the state Department of Corrections failed to protect him from another inmate, the Alaska Supreme Court ruled Friday.
The state’s prison system has a duty to protect the lives and health of inmates in its custody, according to the opinion written by Chief Justice Dana Fabe.
FAIRBANKS — In a sure sign of spring, and a perk to those living in Alaska, the only road into Denali National Park and Preserve was opened Friday to Mile 30.
Officials say weather permitting, the road will remain open to that mile marker until May 20, when tour buses begin running for the summer. After that date, normal rules will apply, meaning the road will be closed to private vehicular traffic at Mile 15.
KETCHIKAN — Ketchikan will have about 30,000 fewer cruise ship passengers this summer after technical issues will prompt one line to cancel 15 port calls.
The Carnival Cruise Lines ship Miracle had 20 port calls scheduled this summer, the Ketchikan Daily News reported. But the ship has a technical issue that will lower its top speed from 21 knots to anywhere between 18 to 20 knots.
ANCHORAGE — An inmate known as “Eyeball” will not be taking the stand for the defense in a Kodiak Coast Guard double homicide case — at least for now — after a judge ruled Friday there’s no proven connection between him and the case.
Jason Barnum, 38, got his nickname from a tattoo that darkened the white of his right eye. His face is also heavily tattooed, including one that traces some of the outlines of his skull.
JUNEAU — The Alaska Senate passed a bill Friday that would designate a historic house in downtown Juneau as the official residence of the state’s lieutenant governor.
The amendment, from Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau, was accepted during debate on HB246, a bill that would add land to Creamer’s Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge in Fairbanks.
Thanks to every new and renewing member that we’ve heard from this spring. If we didn’t hear from you, check your mailbox for your reminder. You can mail your renewal, or make your contribution right here. Thank you! This beautiful raven image was created by Ray Peck and used on Raven Radio posters in 2005.
Sitka’s last chance to avoid another electric rate hike is in the hands of the Alaska House of Representatives this weekend. The city wants access to a low-cost loan to finance the final portion of the Blue Lake hydroelectric project. But first it needs the approval of the state legislature.
Sitka has to raise about $18.5 million to complete the Blue Lake dam expansion. Originally, the city had hoped to get the money as a grant from the state, but with tighter budgets this year, that didn’t happen.
So the city turned to Plan B: a low-cost loan from the Alaska Energy Authority. Such a loan requires approval from the Alaska State Legislature. And that has proven hard to get.
In a last effort, Sitka Senator Bert Stedman added language authorizing the loan to House Bill 297, which is otherwise unrelated to the Blue Lake project. That bill, with the Blue Lake language, passed the Senate unanimously on Thursday night.
It now goes back to the House, where its future is uncertain, and time is short. The 90-day legislative session is scheduled to end on Sunday.
City Administrator Mark Gorman said that whether or not the city gets the loan will have a direct impact on Sitka rate-payers. If the city doesn’t get access to the AEA loan, it will instead issue a municipal bond, which will cost more over the long term.
“The rates are more advantageous to us,” Gorman said. “If we get the AEA loan, we will probably not have to pass on another rate increase to the citizens of Sitka.”
“There is a rate increase scheduled for July of 10%,” he added. “That will have to go into effect. But if we do not get this loan from the AEA, we will probably have to do a second one.”
Even if the language authorizing the loan makes it through the legislature, the loan isn’t a sure thing. The city would then have to negotiate potential loan terms and amount with the Alaska Energy Authority.
Angela: “Thank you for meeting me here today. We are outside of the elementary school and clearly there’s construction going on. Guys are working, it looks like, on the siding?”
Erica: “Yes, they have officially started. Well, actually they officially started a few weeks ago really doing some prep work but they have really officially started actually removing the old siding. And they’re moving around the building as you can see.”
Dan: “I think pretty quickly you’ll see walls coming down.”
Angela: “Right in front of us here there’s stacks and piles of materials.”
Dan: “Well, underneath our covered playground we have what appears to be all the windows already stacked up ready to go and it looks like sheet rock and sheathing material.”
Angela: “Okay, and Erica, you were saying to me earlier that it’s not only on the outside here but there’s actually work already taking place on the inside of the school.”
Erica: “Yes, some of the prep work that had to happen early on so that they could have access to all these outside walls, we had to do some moving inside to about half the building as far as even just clearing things away from the walls, and even relocated a classroom, we closed down the library, we moved all the office staff down to the other end of the building to a different room so they could have access to this whole end by the library and down the side of the south side of the building so that they could do some of this work in the spring with the intention being that things would be substantially completed by August, so that we can get school going again without too much chaos.”
Angela: “So, in terms of chaos and how things are going for teachers and students, is everybody used to what’s happening now?”
Erica: “You know, it’s gone really well. We’ve tried to do a lot of phases with it over the last couple of months and our own maintenance crew with Dan and Ed and everybody else that’s on our crew here has been great, just kind of keeping everybody in the loop. We’ve tried to give parents a lot of information as it’s come up. We’ve tried to ease the kids into as far as preparing them for the library and preparing them for where the office is going to be and doors being closed and changing routines for getting back and forth, as you saw this morning, walking across to music class and going to swim and gym. Even the playground, we have relocated all the kids to the other end, you know the other playground on the other end. There is another playground so we’re doing more garden work now and playing on the other playground and the kids have really adjusted well and the teachers have done an excellent job of just helping them know what the routines are and doing it.”
Angela: “And it’s pretty obvious that this playground is off limits. There’s bright, orange, plastic fencing that’s kind of around the perimeter here.”
Dan: “That’s correct. And we’ve been very pleased that the people of Petersburg, the kids, respecting this place right now for the construction workers and that’s really what we need to have happen.”
Angela: “Now, in terms of the details of the timeline and that kind of thing, do you see this being completed by the school year? I mean, do you think things are on schedule?”
Dan: “I believe everything’s on schedule. And everything will be ready to go inside the school building at the end of the summer. We might see some exterior work being done on the outside in September or something like that but for the most part we’re expecting to be completely done.”
Angela: “Alright, well thank you so much for that update. Anything else you wanted to let folks know?”
Erica: “Just that, I would second what Dan said, that really that people have been respectful of this whole process and that parents have been real supportive and that we actually applied to have school, I don’t know if that was out there at some point, but that we’ve actually applied to have school released a week early for the elementary school so that we can really get everything out of there right before the summer for the construction crew. And again, people have been, parents get it, anybody who’s been in and out of the building, you know, they see what’s going on up here and they’ve been very supportive. We haven’t heard anything about that so we always appreciate that.”