After getting through all of the security clearances and checks, guests were ushered into the fire station at the Tesoro refinery where Governor Parnell put his signature on the dotted line.Parnell sponsored HB 287, which started out simply enough. It was initially written to extend the contract to sell North Slope royalty oil to the Tesoro refinery in Nikiski. Then some amendments were made that included some tax credits for qualified infrastructure expenditures. That credit could be worth up to $10 million per year for five years, for each refinery. House Speaker Mike Chenault represents the Nikiski area. He says the bill was necessary to keep Alaska refineries open.Photo by Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage“The royalty issue was the issue that concerned folks in this facility,” says Chenault. “We were able to add a couple pieces that were able to help refineries up north. We were proud to work on it, so you can continue your jobs and continue to support the community that you live in.”The Tesoro plant in Nikiski and the Petro Star refinery in North Pole are the only two left in the state after Flint Hills closed in May. When that happened, some other last minute changes were made, namely a resolution to provide more subsidies to the remaining refineries, sponsored by Representative Tammie Wilson of North Pole.“The resolution is really about the Quality Bank, which is a really important part,” says WIlson.The Quality Bank is the system by which refiners connected to the Trans-Alaska Pipeline are charged for the crude oil they take out of the line and then process into another product. The subsidies in Wilson’s resolution help offset what refineries are charged by the Quality Bank.“But we know the Quality Bank takes a lot of the profit for them,” says WIlson. “So, what this does is that it just directs the Department of Natural Resources and the Governor and everybody else, to make it a formula that works better for what we have here.”Rather than actually change the formula, which is up to the Federal Energy Commission, the resolution provides real dollars that make up for the Bank charges. Parnell said before he signed the bill that it leveled the playing field for refineries, and would help spur more investment in them.“There’s also a royalty provision in here that enhances the ability for producers to sell to refiners as well,” says Parnell. “This bill is just a very important step forward in making sure that we have a more healthy in-state refining industry, lots more jobs for Alaskans, and we provide that level playing field for every company to take advantage of.”Parnell signed a few other bills while on the Kenai Tuesday. He started off in the morning at the Snow Shoe Gun Club. In front of a soundtrack of target practice at the club, he signed Senate Bill 77. Sponsored by Senator Peter Micciche, that bill lets the state Board of Game create a special hunting season for Alaskans aged 8-17 to take big game.The other bill that became law Tuesday was Representative Paul Seaton’s House Bill 75. It deals with the Pick. Click. Give. program, that allows people who receive a PFD from the state to donate a portion to a non-profit organization.“There was one part of the program that said if your budget was more than $250,000 a year, you had to have a certified public accountant audit, which meant that for those groups that were just above that range, they had to spend more to get the audit than they would get in donations,” says Seaton.Seaton’s bill removed that requirement completely. This year, Alaskans put $2.7 million of their PFD into non-profit coffers, with an average donation of more than $100.
State budget cuts have reduced Bethel’s Sex Offender Treatment Program to a fraction of its former self. The program’s staff has gone from three members with a combined experience of almost 40 years to one member with four months experience. Now board members, former employees and advocates are saying the change is too much too soon. They fear recidivism will increase, costing the state more money down the line and damaging Yukon-Kuskowkwim Delta communities along the way.Listen Now Mike Grey is the Bethel District Attorney. He regularly sees sex offenders and victims in the courtroom and was one of several community members who wrote letters to Gov. Bill Walker protesting the program cuts.“It’s a tailor made program for the YK Delta, and I hate to see it flounder for a lack of funding,” Grey said.Since the Bethel Sex Offender Treatment Program began in 2008, 180 men have completed the program and only three have re-offended. That’s a recidivism rate of 1.7%, less than the state average of 3-5% for sex offenders.Supporters credit the program’s success to it being created specifically for the YK Delta, using Yup’ik values and culture as its foundation.Besides regular counseling sessions, the men hunt and fish and then donate the meat to the Tundra Women’s Coalition, the local women and children’s shelter. They also donate meat to their victims’ families when it’s accepted.The program sets up what it calls safety nets. Those are five people in the offender’s community who know the person’s offenses, their triggers, and watch them when they return to the community.The program also assembles Victim Impact Panels. Victims and people who work with victims meet with offenders and tell their stories of what it’s like to survive an assault or respond to a scene.Now the program’s community advisory board and supporters, like Grey, fear all that work will go away.“I understand tough economic times,” Grey said, “But when you’ve got a program that’s really working, it’s a shame that they can’t find a way to keep getting the funds to keep the program going. And I just hate to see it fall apart, which is what I’m afraid is going to happen.”Two mental health clinicians started the program, Steve Dempsey and Joan Dewey. Dempsey supervised and came to the program with more than 20 years experience working with sex offenders. For many years, a Yup’ik-speaking case manager worked with them.Last year, Joan Dewey retired. In July of 2016, the state hired a replacement clinician with no background treating sex offenders. In October, Dempsey’s contract ended and wasn’t renewed. Funding for the case manager ran out about the same time. Now, the entire program is being run by one clinician with four months experience treating sex offenders. Her supervisor is in Juneau.The cuts were made to help bring the Department of Corrections out of the red, after lawmakers reduced the Department’s budget by more than $8.5 million.Dempsey’s contract cost just $251,400 annually. He didn’t live in Bethel, and that contract included his salary, per diem, and airfare from Ketchikan every two weeks. The current clinician is being paid less than half that at $92,976.DOC spokesman Corey Allen Young said the budget cuts made sense.“In light of the financial situation we’re in,” Young said, “If we can do it a lot cheaper and still have the same results, that’s what we’re going to do.”When asked what would happen if they don’t get those same results, Young responded, “I mean, it’s just like with anything. You always look at ways to improve and the bottom goal is a successful transition for our inmates inside the institution and when they get out.”That’s exactly what the board doesn’t think will happen after going so quickly from decades of clinical experience with multiple staff to four months experience with one person.The DOC expects to save $16,728 per participant. They want to use the savings to continue the subsistence portion of the program and encourage community involvement.Grey, the Bethel District Attorney, said if recidivism rises, the cost of prosecuting, imprisoning and treating re-offenders will far outweigh any initial savings. And the cost to communities and victims will be irreparable and immeasurable.“Being victimized trails and haunts victims for decades,” Grey said. “And if you can avoid one… I mean, what’s the cost of avoiding one victim? What’s the cost of avoiding two victims? What’s the cost of avoiding three victims? How do you measure that?”The community advisory board for the Bethel Sex Offender Treatment Program met at noon on Wednesday at the Moravian Church to discuss the changes.
Sitka spruce bark. (Josh Blouin / Flickr)Foresters began replanting the scorched areas of Chiniak on Friday.The Kodiak Island Borough contracted with Washington-based NorthWind Forest Consultants to recover some of the forest’s former luster. It was damaged in the 2015 Twin Creeks fire.Forester David Nesheim, who is currently in Chiniak, said they’re planting Sitka Spruce sourced from the Juneau and Hoonah area – the same stock Leisnoi uses. He said they’re replanting using shovels and have 740 to 770 acres to cover with an eight-man crew.“We should be getting about 1500 seedlings per guy per day,” Nesheim said. “We’re hoping that it doesn’t take much longer than 25 days to put the 278,000 seedlings into the ground.”Nesheim said the Twin Creeks Fire wasn’t hot enough to damage the soil, and the ground should be in good condition to receive the trees.“So, the soil, if anything has gotten a big boost from the fire itself by releasing a lot of the organic material that was on the forest floor and turning it into more readily available nutrients for the vegetation,” Nesheim said.In addition to the spruce, Nesheim said they’ve planted 2200 cottonwood along Big Creek stream to maintain the buffer zone along the waterway, called a riparian management zone.Nesheim said hardwoods may be better for the stream environment.“A lot more organic leaf matter is released on an annual basis,” Nesheim said. “A different variety and quantity of insects are associated with deciduous trees. And, in some cases, the deciduous trees are a nitrogen fixing species, and so it adds nitrogen to the waters which is advantageous to the fish and the aquatic insects that fish feed on.”Nesheim said it’ll take a couple of years for the seedlings to establish themselves.That is, if all goes well and the other vegetation doesn’t overtake the seedlings or predators, like rabbits, don’t eat away at them.Nesheim said the trees should be 3 to 4 feet tall by age five or seven. At some point beyond that, he said the trees will start gaining height at about 12 to 18 inches a year, and he said the trees should be 40 to 50 feet in roughly 40 years.
Rep. David Talerico, R-Anchorage, Sen. Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, and Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, listen to Democratic lawmakers in Anchorage. The two sides don’t agree on reducing the ability of oil companies to use losses to lower their taxes. (Photo by Andrew Kitchenman/KTOO)The first substantial day of legislative meetings in 20 days occurred Wednesday, but the two majorities in the Legislature were far apart — and not just politically.Listen nowMost senators met in Juneau for a floor session for the first time since the Legislature passed the budget June 22. But most House majority members were out of town.Both bodies agree that the state should stop paying cash for oil tax credits. But the House also wants to reduce companies’ ability to use losses to lower their future taxes. The Senate wants to allow this to continue.Anchorage Democratic Rep. Geran Tarr said tax reductions should be stopped along with cash credits.“The reason our cash credit system is not working right now is because we can’t afford it,” Tarr said. “We think it’s an unreasonable move to put in place a system that we also cannot afford going forward.”While both sides offered up what they described as compromises on House Bill 111, the oil and gas tax legislation, neither appeared ready to move on the issue of allowing companies to use losses to reduce taxes.Anchorage Republican Sen. Cathy Giessel said the two sides should move forward with what they agree on: eliminating cash credits. She said using losses to offset taxes is important to attract new oil and gas companies to the state.“We’re certainly willing to look at simplifying [the tax system],” Giessel said. “It would help our Tax Division. It would help citizens. It would help legislators, if it were a simpler system. But that’s not something that happens at 3 o’clock on a Wednesday afternoon four days before a special session ends.”Senators said they returned to Juneau to follow legislative rules that allow them to consider the oil tax bill. But House members said they didn’t want to waste money on travel if the two sides can’t reach an agreement.The special session must end by Saturday.
During the Vietnam war, the use of a defoliate known as agent orange was supposed to affect vegetation not soldiers, but it made them sick and serious health conditions resulted in a long fight for recognition and compensation. Gulf War vets also had to fight the military over health problems linked to military toxins. What’s changed since these illnesses came to light?Listen HereHOST: Lori TownsendGUESTS:Ric Davidge – Vietnam VeteranBill Bartee – Vietnam VeteranStatewide callers Additional resources:Vietnam Friendship Village Project USAParticipate: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 firstname.lastname@example.org (comments may be read on air)LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, November 28, 2017 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.SUBSCRIBE: Get Talk of Alaska updates automatically by email, RSS or podcast.
Allen Moore is the 2018 Yukon Quest champion.Listen nowMoore has mushed himself into elite class of Yukon Quest champions. Moore joins John Schandlemier, Hans Gatt and Lance Mackey who have all won the Quest three or more times.Last year’s Quest winner Matt Hall crossed the finish line in second place this afternoon, followed by fellow veteran Laura Neese in 3rd. Musher Paige Drobny, who had maintained a strong second place for much of the race, dropped out in Carmacks this morning after attempting to travel to Braeburn yesterday. A Quest press release says she decided to turn back to keep her team happy and healthy. That brings the total number of mushers who have either scratched or been withdrawn from this year Quest to 12. The red lantern spot currently belongs to rookie Nathaniel Hamlyn, who left Pelly Crossing, over 200 miles from the finish, early this morning.
An avalanche blocked the road to Hatcher Pass on Monday, March 19, 2018. (Photo courtesy Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities)The road into Hatcher Pass in the Talkeetna Mountains north of Palmer reopened Wednesday night after avalanches had blocked it since Monday morning.Listen nowAbout 10 people were stranded in the pass when two separate snow slides came down from Marmot Mountain, piling debris across the roadway. Most of those stuck in the pass were reportedly staying at the well-provisioned Hatcher Pass Lodge.Danger from further avalanches prevented crews from clearing the debris until avalanche mitigation work could be done, Department of Transportation spokesperson Shannon McCarthy said.“They had just had 12 to 15 inches of new snow,” McCarthy said. “That’s that critical time within that 24 to 48 hours after a new snow that we’ll see a lot of slides let loose.”The mitigation generally involves using explosives to intentionally trigger avalanches before removing the debris, and to do that, DOT will often shoot a howitzer cannon into an avalanche-prone mountainside. But the team in Hatcher Pass on Tuesday instead used what’s called a Daisy Bell system. That’s a bell-shaped piece of equipment that dangles on a line beneath a helicopter and can deliver a concussive blast to trigger a slide.McCarthy said the Daisy Bell is much more precise than a cannon.“In Hatcher Pass it’s narrow, there’s oftentimes weather, but we also oftentimes have people recreating in the area, and using the Howitzer would just not be conducive,” McCarthy said.With the mitigation work done Tuesday, McCarthy says it was safe enough Wednesday to send plows, a snowblower and a grader into the pass to clear away the snow.A small building on a semi trailer collided with a bridge over the Glenn Highway on Wednesday, March 21, forcing the highway’s closure. (Photo courtesy Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities)Also Wednesday, DOT was dealing with a different type of mayhem on Southcentral roadways.The southbound lanes of the Glenn Highway were shutdown near Eagle River Wednesday afternoon after an 18-wheeler carrying a tall load crashed into a bridge over the highway.McCarthy said engineers were inspecting the bridge before motorists could travel either over it or underneath it. Drivers were able to bypass the area by detouring through Eagle River.
ConocoPhillips’ Alpine facility on the North Slope. (Photo by Elizabeth Harball/Alaska’s Energy Desk)Governor Bill Walker’s Climate Action Task Force met Wednesday to discuss a draft document that could influence the state’s climate change policy in the future.Listen nowThe Climate Action Task Force had something new to work with this week: A report from the Oil and Gas Technical Committee, which is a group made up of task force members and a mix of volunteers and includes representatives from industry.Overall, that report suggests that hard numbers for reducing carbon emissions won’t come easy — especially since industry emissions have already decreased between 2005 to 2015. Though, economists aren’t entirely sure why.But the governor’s task force is still trying to set some clear goals. The current draft plan includes language to reduce oil and gas emissions by 30 percent over 2005 levels by 3030.To help achieve that, the document includes the prospect of upgrading North Slope’s energy infrastructure. On the conference call, Alaska Energy Authority Executive Director Janet Reiser says that project seems like a heavy lift.“I see big concerns about the ability of this project to be economic or even beneficial to any real degree” Reiser said.There was another sticking point in the nearly two-hour long meeting: Should the task force include the words “climate change” in its policy statement on science education and encourage more curriculum related to that? It was included in an earlier draft.Larry Hinzman, a Vice Chancellor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, suggested treading lightly.“If people think we are trying to indoctrinate their children, you know, that could kill the whole program,” Hinzman said.But Mark Masteller — the task force member who helped craft the policy statement — disagreed.“We’re using ‘climate change’ in many parts of the document,” Masteller said. “What our charge is, is to lead on the issues related to climate change.”In the end, the task force seemed to come to a broad conclusion to act bold and potentially include the language.Their next in-person meeting is August 2 in Anchorage. The task force hopes to have the draft policy completed by September.