first_imgAlaska has more federal land than most states and depends more on federal spending, so Alaska’s governors always have a substantial list of priorities they want Congress or the Administration to accomplish. Like governors before him, Bill Walker says the item at the top of his federal wish-list is opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil development. Alaska’s congressional delegation has been trying for decades, but Walker believes opening ANWR is politically possible.Download Audio“I think it is,” he said in a recent interview. “I’m not a stranger to that issue, and I’ve been in D.C. many times over the years on that issue. We’ve come close in the past, so that is certainly going to be a priority for me, absolutely.”He also wants the Obama Administration to expedite all necessary permits and reviews for the Alaska Natural Gas pipeline. The project is a joint effort of the state and the private sector, but Walker says the feds can help by streamlining the regulatory timetable.“Not bypassing the public involvement or process at all but, rather than moving one permit and then the next permit, maybe moving some permits at the same time,” Walker said.Clearly, money matters. Walker this week submitted a bare-bones capital budget that relies mostly on federal funds. Walker says he’s a big fan of infrastructure, and projects that have federal funding are good candidates for the capital budget. But when it comes to the Knik Arm bridge, which isn’t in his first budget, federal construction funds aren’t the only consideration. Walker says he’s concerned about the cost of operation and maintenance.“And we have to sort of figure out this incredible deficit, one of the largest in our state’s history, so it’s hard to ignore that,” he said.Alaska, like most states, has an office in Washington D.C. It’s has five state employees, led for the past three years by Kip Knudson, the director of state and federal relations. Walker hasn’t yet announced who he’ll appoint to the job.last_img read more

first_imgAn Anchorage Superior Court Judge ruled Friday afternoon that Medicaid expansion can go forward in Alaska as planned next week. Judge Frank Pfiffner denied the Legislative Council’s request for a temporary restraining order to stop the program. The council is appealing the decision to the state Supreme Court.Download AudioJudge Pfiffner spoke for more than 45 minutes in court, unpacking the complicated legal arguments each side presented to make its case. To win a restraining order to stop Medicaid expansion, the Legislative Council had to prove the legislature would face “irreparable harm” if the program went ahead on September 1. In denying that argument, the judge made several points, including the fact that the state won’t spend any money expanding Medicaid.“For this fiscal year, with acceptance of Medicaid expansion, nobody disputes that the federal government is picking up 100 percent of the tab,” Pfiffner says. “It doesn’t cost the state one single dime. Not one farthing.” (A farthing is equal to a quarter of an old British penny.)In his preliminary decision, Judge Pfiffner also concluded the Legislative Council failed to prove it was likely to win on the merits of the case if it moves forward. The case centered on whether the Medicaid expansion population is mandatory or optional. If the expansion group is optional, that would require legislative approval.Health Commissioner Valerie Davidson smiled with relief when the judge wrapped up his decision. She says many Alaskans have waited a long time for Medicaid expansion and she’s glad they don’t have to wait any longer:“You know it isn’t about us, it’s about Alaska and Alaskans who are going to get what they need. They deserve good health care coverage. We all do.”A spokesperson with the Legislative Council said no lawmakers were available to respond to the ruling.The state will begin enrolling newly eligible Alaskans in the Medicaid program starting Tuesday.last_img read more

first_imgA small fire erupted Wednesday morning at the Lewis Angapak Memorial School in Tuntutuliak.According to Lower Kuskokwim School District Superintendent Daniel Walker, a nearby transformer blew, cutting power to the town and sending sparks and flames shooting from the wires connected to the elementary wing. With power to the building shut off, the backup generator automatically kicked on, sending out more sparks.“When the school generator was turned off,” Tuntutuliak Principal Zachary Bastoky said, “the flames started to die out, but there were still sparks.”Quickly, Bastoky pulled the fire alarm and evacuated the school’s 150 students and staff.“We were able to get everybody out of the building and accounted for in, I’d say, about two, two-and-a-half minutes,” Bastoky said.Meanwhile, the school’s maintenance staff climbed to the scene with fire extinguishers and put out the flames and sparks, and Principal Bastoky notified the community of the situation over the VHF, or Very High Frequency radio.School was cancelled for the rest of the day while inspectors searched for any electrical damage and smoldering materials left by the fire. The district’s mechanic will help the school’s maintenance crew repair the site.No structural damage to the building was reported. Classes are scheduled to resume Thursday morning.last_img read more

first_imgWith Alaska LNG, how secret is too secret?Rachel Waldholz, APRN – AnchorageThe Alaska legislature officially gaveled out of its third special session this year. The House and Senate united behind Gov. Bill Walkers bid to buy out TransCanada. But the session was also marked by divides, especially over how much of the project should be kept secret.Obama brings Native youth into spotlightLiz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, D.C.Politicians and captains of industry would give a small fortune for this invitation, but a 16-year-old Anchorage girl had an hour-long discussion yesterday with the President of the United States. The opportunity came as President Obama addressed the White House Tribal Nations Conference, an annual event that started with his administration.Alaska appeals abortion funding decisionAssociated PressThe state of Alaska plans to appeal a judge’s decision that found a regulation further defining what constitutes a medically necessary abortion for purposes of Medicaid funding to be unconstitutional.At Fairbanks 4 hearing, bootmark ID’d on victim in questionDan Bross, KUAC – FairbanksFairbanks police believed they could see the shape of one of the Fairbanks Four’s boot lugs in the facial injuries of John Hartman.Walker ousts agricultural directorEllen Lockyer, KSKA – AnchorageGov. Bill Walker is asking agriculture director Franci Havermeister to step down. In a surprise announcement Friday, Walker says he’s looking for new agricultural leadership.With new medical provider, Juneau clinic finds stabilityLisa Phu, KTOO – JuneauFront Street Community Health Center in Juneau has a new permanent nurse practitioner after a year of temporary medical providers.AK: A classic holiday opera gets an Inupiat twistMonica Gokey, KSKA – Anchorage‘Hansel and Gretel’ is a classic German opera, often performed around the holidays. But an upcoming performance in Anchorage packs a uniquely Alaska twist. For an opera singer from Unalakleet, the performance blends an European performance with the traditional Inupiat folk lore she knew as a kid.49 Voices: Bernadette Charlie of FairbanksAnne Hillman, KSKA – AnchorageToday, we’re hearing from Bernadette Charlie, a Navajo woman from New Mexico who moved to Fairbanks 11 years ago and married an Athabascan man. Stories are posted on the APRN news page. You can subscribe to APRN’s newsfeeds via email, podcast and RSS. Follow us on Facebook at and on Twitter @aprn.Download Audiolast_img read more

first_imgLast week in Togiak, two couples moved into their new HUD houses. Theywere the first in the state to take advantage of a down payment assistanceprogram from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. With that, the Martins and theNicks will have roughly half the mortgage payment to make, and took deed totheir homes on day one. KDLG’s Dave Bendinger was there as they moved in:Listen nowlast_img

first_img(Photo via Alaska Native Medical Center)Congressional Republicans and the Trump Administration are moving forward with their plan to replace elements of the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare. How could big changes to health insurance coverage affect Alaskans? What will happen to coverage for the more than 30 thousand residents who gained it through Medicaid expansion?Listen NowHOST: Lori TownsendGUESTS:Joshua Weinstein – Benefits expertBecky Hultberg – CEO of the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home AssociationStatewide callers Participate:Call 550-8422 (Anchorage) or 1-800-478-8255 (statewide) during the live broadcastPost your comment before, during or after the live broadcast (comments may be read on air).Send email to (comments may be read on air)LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, March 14, 2017 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.SUBSCRIBE: Get Talk of Alaska updates automatically by email, RSS or podcast.last_img read more

first_imgLon White prepares to water a plant inside his nursery, Strawberry Fields. Kayla Desroches / KMXTSummer is fast approaching, which means Kodiak gardeners are looking forward to crops of kale and other hardy greens – and also fruit. The last few years of warm weather means that more apples and even pears have popped up around town.Listen nowOn a sunny day this week, KMXT dropped by Strawberry Fields Nursery to check in with owner Lon White and see what the growing season had in store for the island.Customers catch up while the cashier rings up their purchases. It’s hot and a little humid inside the nursery. The flowers have bloomed, the herbs are ready for fostering and the vegetable plants come in many different promising shades of green.And just through the door back in the fresh air, a lady eyes a kiwi tree leaning against a wall.“And they stay alive outside?” she asked.Linda Suydam said she’s usually out fishing, but this year she’s sticking around for summer. So she’s looking into growing fruit — like cherries.“Lonnie, I wanna get that kiwi tree too,” Suydam said.Kodiak isn’t typically famed for its fruit, but trees line the walls outside the nursery. White points out the bees flying around, busy pollinating the trees.“You can see all these flowering plants,” White said. “We have a lot cherries and plums here. I probably did more fruit trees this year than I have ever before.”White said they’re also now selling pear trees, which locals have had luck with recently.“We’ve had such good weather in the spring and through the summer that it’s provided the heat that’s allowed people to successfully grow a lot more fruit than what we’ve seen in the past, so it’s kind of a new phenomena actually,” White said.White said good drainage, high quality soil, and lots of sun is vital to establishing fruit trees.As far as vegetables go, White said the garden season has just begun and rhubarb is the first arrival. He said lettuce, kale and chard will follow.But, White said with the aid of greenhouses, kale, lettuce, cucumbers, zucchini and soon enough, tomato plants will be ready for harvest.last_img read more

first_imgAnchorage’s newest piece of equipment to handle the upcoming Vote By Mail system arrived in several boxes and cost $610,599 to purchase (photo: Zachariah Hughes – Alaska Public Media)Though still a few months away, Anchorage is getting ready for its first election set to be conducted by mail. In April, as residents pick a mayor and weigh in on a controversial public bathroom measure, they won’t be heading to the usual polling locations. Instead, they’ll be sending envelopes to a white, rectangular sorting machine that arrived at the city’s election center Monday morning.Listen nowMoving trucks backed up to an expansive warehouse that’s largely empty, save for clusters of new election equipment and computers. Half-a-dozen workers used wrenches and drills to take apart shoulder-high wooden crates. The cargo inside was metal sorting trays and a boxy machine that resembles a filing cabinet.The official name is the Bell and Howell Envelope Intake and Signature Verification System, Deputy Clerk Amanda Moser explained. Moser is responsible for overseeing much of the multi-year process converting Anchorage to a Vote By Mail election system. The Bell and Howell machine cost the municipality $610,599, and the Anchorage Assembly voted to include an additional $56,790 contract for installation and continued support.This particular piece of equipment is a crucial part of the new order. Voters will now get ballots sent to them 21 days before an election. They can turn ballots in at any time, either by mail, putting them inside giant metal deposit boxes distributed across town, or at a drop-off site. When the envelopes arrive at the election center by Ship Creek, the Bell and Howell machine starts comparing signatures to those on record, and sorting valid ballots to tabulate the votes.“We’ll be able to do this process for weeks before the election, and we’re going to be scanning the results but not finalizing them,” Moser said. “So on election night we will be able to report results as the polls close.”The change only affects local municipal elections, like those for mayor, assembly and school board seats, along with bonds and ballot propositions. For state and federal elections in November there will still be 122 polling sites set up across the city.Part of the reason the city started looking into Vote By Mail in 2014 was to save on the expense of staffing so many locations and maintaining the equipment. Local officials are hoping to increase turnout in local elections, which has been between just a third and a quarter of eligible voters in recent years.The traditional voting model also depends on the participation of hundreds of trained election workers.“We’re really beginning to see a lot of those folks retire,” Moser said. “It’s getting harder and harder to have enough workers to make election day happen.”Three states have already implemented Vote By Mail systems — Oregon, Washington and Colorado. The clerk’s office has been looking to them as models while it designs procedures of its own, and tries to get voters ready for the big change in how Anchorage residents pick their local government.More information on the Municipality’s Vote By Mail system is available here.last_img read more

first_imgThree projects worth a total of $109 million are wrapping up for the season on the northernmost stretch of the Dalton Highway that was badly damaged by Sagavanirktok River flooding in spring 2015. One project was completed last week; another is expected to be done next week, and the third is scheduled for completion next year. (Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities)Work is wrapping on a project to rebuild the northernmost stretch of the Dalton Highway that was badly damaged two-and-a-half years ago by flooding from the overflowing Sagavanirktok River. Once that and two other road-improvement projects on that part of the Dalton are all complete, the state plans to pave the 52-mile stretch of the road.Listen nowThe contractor hired to reconstruct the 17-mile stretch of the Dalton Highway south of Deadhorse raised the level of the roadway by nearly five feet in areas damaged by flooding in the spring of 2015 by the Sagavanirktok River, also called the Sag River.“What happened was the Sag River overflowed its banks, after several days of icing. There were some very quick-warming temperatures, and some flooding that shut down the roadway,” Mike Lund, the State Department of Transportation’s construction manager, said.Lund said the project contractor, Anchorage-based Brice Incorporated, had to haul in some 2.4 million tons of gravel needed to build-up that stretch of Dalton. That’s enough to fill some 120,000 side-dumper trucks. It’s one of three projects worth a total of $109 million that are under way on the Dalton from Pump Station 2 to Deadhorse.“Eventually, over the next few years, we intend to actually pave this roadway,” Lund said in an interview this week.Lund says paving the last 52 miles of the Dalton would save the state millions of dollars that it regularly pays to resurface the roadway that’s pounded by some 200 semi-tractor trailer rigs headed to or from Prudhoe Bay every day.Sagavanirktok River flooding halted trucks en route to the North Slope oil complex several times in spring and summer 2015, creating long backups at points along the Dalton Highway. (KUAC file photo)“The biggest thing that these projects do over the short and long term is reduce maintenance and operations costs,” Lund said.Lund said the federal government pays for 91 percent of the cost of road projects like this. And he said the state tries to take advantage of that by including measures that will cut future road-maintenance costs.Lund said the gravel added to the roadbed will help insulate the permafrost on which the highway was built. The projects also call for a 4-inch layer of insulation to be buried at or near grade to further protect the permafrost from thawing.last_img read more

first_imgThe state of Alaska has agreed to settle trans-Alaska Pipeline tariff cases. The tariff is what pipeline owners charge for shipping North Slope crude down the line. It’s subtracted from the oil’s value, so the higher the tariff, the less the state collects in taxes and royalties. The state disputed TAPS tariffs applied from 2009 through 2015. The legal settlement announced earlier this month, lowers the tariff for those years. Chief assistant attorney general for regulatory affairs and public advocacy, John Ptacin says it will yield the state a windfall.Listen now”The state’s gonna recognize about $400 million of additional revenue in the form of taxes, royalties and interest as a result of the case being resolved,” Ptacin said.Ptacin says the agreement doesn’t allow past property taxes to be included in the tariff. Also barred from inclusion are $625 hundred million in costs related to reconfiguring pipeline pump stations, and Ptacin says that will also boost state revenue.”Over time, we believe that’ll translate into over a billion dollars additional revenue to the state,” Ptacin said.The settlement, which sets a methodology for TAPS tariff calculation through 2021, was filed with the Regulatory Commission of Alaska and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, December 15th.last_img read more