Alaskan Author Don Rearden will be visiting the Haines Public Library on Friday March 14th to...
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Southeast Alaska News
JUNEAU — A provision in Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell’s omnibus education bill that provides for transportation for charter school students raised questions Monday in the Senate Education Committee.
Sen. Berta Gardner, D-Anchorage and a committee member, grilled representatives from the state education department on where funds for transporting charter school students would come from.
“I think this opens a can of worms,” Gardner said. “What we are really doing is siphoning funds from the school district’s transportation funds.”
JUNEAU — A draft version of the bill aimed at advancing a major liquefied natural gas project in Alaska would raise the gas tax rate over what Gov. Sean Parnell proposed and change the role of the Alaska Gasline Development Corp., or AGDC.
A copy of the draft was provided at the Senate Finance Committee meeting Monday morning. Details were not discussed in committee, and the draft was not adopted. Committee co-chair Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks, said he hoped to have a committee version adopted Tuesday or Wednesday.
Jon and Kimberly Goodwin’s son may not have ever taken a breath, but his name is attached to a proposed law giving grieving parents the chance to sue if their unborn child dies because of someone else.
The proposal is being called “Jackson’s Law” in memoriam of the Goodwin’s son, Jackson, who died in December of 2012 after a failure in the health care system, his parents said.
“Our son was nine-and-a-half pounds — he was fully developed — but the only thing that separated him from breathing was the health care that was provided that day that was a mistake,” Jon Goodwin said.
Sitka’s District Court has sentenced two men linked to a September shooting at Sitka’s Pioneer Bar.
55-year old Richard Davis will serve two months in jail for assault and misconduct involving a weapon. 22-year old Tyler Westlund already served five days in jail, and still owes a $1,000 fine for criminal mischief resulting in property damage. The two men were not from Sitka – Davis is from Juneau and Westlund is from Port Townsend, Washington.
The incident started in September when Davis and another man were arguing inside of the men’s restroom of the Pioneer Bar. The pair reportedly have had a longstanding-feud. According to court records, the man fled the bar when Davis pulled a gun from his waistband.
Davis fired the gun, leaving a hole in the floor. Davis then handed the gun to Westlund who ran out of the bar with it tucked in the waistband of his pants. At the time of the shooting, Police said Westlund was Davis’s deckhand on his fishing vessel.
No one was injured in the incident.
A fisherman pleaded not guilty Monday in Ketchikan Superior Court to manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide. The two charges against 32-year-old Joshua Wodyga stem from a crew member’s death last fall while diving for sea cucumbers near Ketchikan.
Levi Adams of Kansas was declared dead at Ketchikan Medical Center on Oct. 8 after he was transported there from the F/V Ostrich.
In court on Monday, District Attorney Steve West said that Adams died from carbon monoxide poisoning, and West blamed the air compressor.
“The air compressor he used has a plate permanently attached to it that says not for human use,” he said. “The instructions specifically say don’t use this for breathing – that’s what he was using it for. And the mechanic went over it and said the defendant did a terrible job maintaining it.”
Superior Court Judge Trevor Stephens set a trial date for June 3, and asked the attorneys for bail suggestions. Diane Tobin, representing Wodyga for Monday’s arraignment, asked for a low bail of $500. She said that while the charges are serious, Adams’ death was accidental. Tobin noted that Wodyga has close ties to the community and is not a flight risk.
“This is a responsible young man,” she said. “He is in a relationship, tantamount to a marriage. He has a 2-year-old daughter, he also has a 10-year-old daughter from a past relationship. They are very important people in his life.”
Judge Stephens set bail at $1,000 cash, and appointed the state Public Defender Agency to represent Wodyga. The next scheduled hearing in the case is April 2at 1 p.m.
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The Stedman elementary school is looking to end the school year a week early in order to allow a renovation project to begin.
School administrators wrote a letter to the Commissioner of Education and Early Development, Mike Hanley, asking for the state’s permission to have May 30 be the last day of school for students. That would be four days earlier than scheduled and one day short of the minimum 170 days of student contact required by state law.
In the district’s letter it states that, according to the contractor, if the renovation can start early the project could be completed in one summer instead of two. Following the new schedule, the building would be ready for staff by August 19, the first day the principal starts the new school year.
The renovation project worth $2.3 million will replace the school’s exterior walls and windows.
Also at their meeting tonight, the school board will consider having a memorial policy, a policy that addresses in-school memorials, services and practices.
The school board meets at 7 p.m. in the Assembly Chambers. KFSK will be broadcasting the meeting live.
For Wendy Alderson, it’s “too good to be true.” For Dan Evans, it’s life changing.
The deadline to enroll in health insurance through the Affordable Care Act is March 31, and that has prompted many Sitkans to bite the bullet and figure out what the act means for them. For some self-employed Sitkans, like Alderson and Evans, what they’ve found has been a pleasant surprise.
Back in 2012, when the Supreme Court upheld most of President Obama’s signature healthcare law, Wendy Alderson hoped the ruling would mean good things for her family.
“I know what I would hope that it would do for us, and I hope that it would basically just bring down the cost of our health insurance,” Alderson said, in an interview with KCAW in June 2012, right after the Supreme Court decision cleared the way for the Affordable Care Act to go into effect.
Alderson and her husband are commercial fishermen. They own their own boat, a combination freezer troller and longliner. And for the past decade, they have bought a very basic health insurance plan. They paid over $12,000 a year to cover themselves and their daughter. The plan had a deductible of about $2,500 per individual – meaning that’s how much they’d have to pay before the insurance kicked in.
“You know sometimes I felt like I couldn’t afford to go to the doctor because I had to pay my health insurance bills,” Alderson said.
The insurance only covered major events, like hospitalization — not preventive care or routine doctor’s appointments. In her 2012 interview, Alderson said that could be frustrating.
“It’s wondering whether you should go to the doctor or not,” she said. “It’s knowing that it’s $200 to walk into a doctor’s office, and you may or may not have a prescription that’s going to be $45 to $50.”
“You know, it’s kind of scary having a sick kid, and thinking, OK, are you sick enough to go to the doctor? Is your earache going to be gone in the morning?”
So now that the Affordable Care Act is actually going into effect, we checked in with Alderson to see if it was living up to her expectations.
And at first, Alderson actually didn’t think the act would do much for her family. In fact, she wouldn’t even have looked for a new plan, but her current insurance costs suddenly increased, from about $1100 a month to $1400 a month. All told, her family would be paying $15,000 a year just for catastrophic insurance.
“I decided I better get on the stick and look at what was available,” Alderson said.
So she logged into healthcare.gov, the new online health insurance exchange. And…
“I was astounded,” she said.
Her new plan will cost about half as much as her old one.
“Honestly, [it was] a too-good-to-be-true thing for me,” Alderson said. “It was like, wow, really?”
The new plan is actually quite similar to her old plan, but instead of paying $1400 per month, she’ll pay just $680. In total, it will cost $7,000 this year, instead of $15,000.
That’s because Alderson’s family qualifies for a tax credit. Families that make up to four times the federal poverty level can qualify for tax credits and subsidies that cover part of the cost of health insurance bought on the exchange. In Alaska, a family of three making up to about $98,000 can be eligible.
Alderson said the change is a big deal for her family.
“This is really going to help,” she said. “This last time, if we had just gone ahead and stepped it up and paid this increase, we would have been paying more for our health insurance than we would for our mortgage.”
Still, Alderson said the new system isn’t ideal. She had hoped that the act would reduce the cost of health insurance by introducing new efficiency and accountability into the world of healthcare.
“That is not the case,” she said. “The case is, the plan still costs the same, it’s [just] the government subsidizing those of us who qualify. I do understand that now, and that’s a little bit of a bummer. But I also feel that paying $700 a month for a catastrophic plan, is still a good chunk of money. I don’t feel like I’m getting anything for free. So, I’m pretty pleased.”
Sitka resident Dan Evans is also self-employed, as a photographer and home inspector. Evans hasn’t had health insurance for most of the past five or six years. For the past three years, he tried to enroll in insurance, but says he was denied because of preexisting conditions. He finally got a plan this past December. He paid $400 a month for a catastrophic plan with a $10,000 deductible.
“Really the only time you’d ever use it is if you really got hurt or sick real bad,” Evans said. “And it took me a long time to even get that.”
The issue of health insurance weighed so heavily on his mind, that he was considering giving up his photography business.
“I’ve been self-employed for 25, 30 years now,” he said. “And I actually started looking for jobs that could give me insurance, even though I don’t want them. But I just feel…I see a lot of my friends and other people when they’re getting up there. Things happen. And I just kept thinking that something might happen to me and I could have everything taken away.”
Like Alderson, Evans at first thought that the Affordable Care Act wouldn’t change anything for him. He tried navigating the health exchange website himself, and got discouraged. Then his wife heard about a program at the SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium, or SEARHC, in Sitka. SEARHC outreach manager Andrea Thomas has been helping people navigate the website. She worked with Evans to find a plan that will cost him just $189 a month. The deductible is $1500 dollars.
RW: Were you surprised?
DE: Way surprised. I actually said to Andrea, I said Andrea you’ve got to stand up right now, I have to give you a hug, because this is unbelievable. [[laughs]] She knew I was really happy.
Evans said the new plan is literally life-changing.
“I was checking with the city, I was checking with the state [for jobs],” he said. “And I really don’t want to do that. The only reason I was doing it is to get medical coverage! But now, I don’t have to. I can keep doing what I’m doing, and not worry anymore.”
As for Wendy Alderson, when asked what her family will do with the money they’re no longer spending on health insurance, she said: ”Pay bills! Nothing glamorous, sadly.”
“It’ll be nice to just know that I don’t have to struggle to come up with money to, you know, pay bills.”
Judith McQuerry and Jim Dahl of the Kethikan Yacht Club speak about an opportunity to learn and improve boat handling skills. Help is available to sail boat owners and prospective crew. Boating
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The Greater Sitka Arts Council’s Jeff Budd discusses the ongoing events for Arti-Gras, including the Art Walk taking place the evening of Friday, March 14, 2014, from 5-9 p.m. Downtown stores will be open late, and will feature work by local artists. The University of Alaska Southeast will also participate, with an exhibition on the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act.
The Sitka Wolves boys’ basketball team beat the Mt. Edgecumbe Braves to claim the Region V 3A basketball title. Mt. Edgecumbe’s Lady Braves beat Sitka High’s Lady Wolves to take the girls’ Region V 3A title. For fishing families and other self-employed Sitkans, Affordable Care Act is a big deal.
FAIRBANKS — The state of Alaska has sued current and former owners of a North Pole refinery, claiming both caused or failed to stop a chemical spill that has damaged soil and groundwater.
The lawsuit filed Thursday claims current owner Flint Hills Resources and former owner Williams Alaska should pay for cleaning up sulfolane in North Pole, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.
KETCHIKAN — A collection of Point Higgins Elementary School students are voluntarily following strict instructions, stretching their focus and heeding direction outside the classroom.
The group of students are young archers who practice target-shooting one day a week under the supervision and direction of physical education teacher Sam Hernandez. Shortly after winter break, Hernandez started the weekly archery program, which includes approximately 24 students who have passed the safety test and are allowed to handle bows and arrows.
JUNEAU — With the Legislature more than halfway through its scheduled 90-day session, major bills are starting to take shape — and a controversial bill from the past has re-emerged.
The northern Southeast city of Yakutat is gearing up for a wave-energy trial. If it’s a success, the community of about 650 residents could lower its high, diesel-fueled power costs. The system could also be a model for some other isolated Alaska cities.
Scott Newlun opens the door to Yakutat’s new power plant, and it’s really loud.
It’s not so bad outside the sound-absorbing walls. And that’s good news for Newlun, who’s headed up Yakutat’s power system for 15 years.
“That new plant just changed the whole atmosphere, especially where I’m living, next door to it,” he says.
Its generators are more efficient, and Newlun’s proud of that. But power costs remain high.
“Since I’ve been involved here, that’s always been a goal, to find a different source of energy other than diesel fuel,” he says.
These days, he’s thinking about a power source with a different sound.
“Wave energy is about the most exciting thing we’ve got going,” he says.
Yakutat’s geography doesn’t work for hydro. Weather limits what you can get out of solar and wind. Wood-fueled biomass got serious consideration. But with only 450 electrical customers, it’s too small a market.
That’s why the town is looking toward the ocean.
A number of emerging technologies are available. Some use anchored buoys, others long lines of floats.
It’s sort of like a paddle, hinged to a base on the ocean floor.
“It reminds me of a kelp frond in the water, as waves go by. And it sways back and forth like that. It’s that slow and that mild,” he says.
The back-and-forth movement powers a pump, which pushes water through pipes to the shore. That pressure is the carbon-free energy that runs an electrical generator.
Resolute Marine has tested the Surge at a North Carolina research facility.
Yakutat Planner Bill Lucey says it’s time to try it out in the Gulf of Alaska.
“We know it makes electricity. It’s survived an East Coast storm. So now what we need to know is how much it is going to cost to anchor them to the bottom so they don’t bounce around in a West Coast storm,” he says.
Yakutat hoped to put a test unit in the water this year and add about a dozen more later on. But permitting and other delays pushed that back to 2015.
So the job now, for Lucey and others, is to research possible impacts to the community – and the environment.
“Your sharks and your rays can become attracted to underwater cables. But this project will simply pump pressurized sea water to a shore-based plant and the electricity will be generated on land,” he says.
Lucy says seabirds aren’t expected to be an issue, since the system’s underwater. Acoustic tests will look for impacts on whales and seals.
Commercial fisheries are being taken into account. And then there’s the surfers, attracted by the same ocean power that makes this project a possibility.
“There’s a lot of beach break all along that area. And if we put 14 of these panels out it’s not going to take out all the wave areas for surfing and it might not be an issue where they are,” he says.
Funding and technical help for this testing phase is coming from federal, state and local governments. The cost of manufacturing and installation is not yet known.
Borough Manager Skip Ryman hopes it pencil out. But he’s trying to be realistic.
“The big question for us is, is wave energy feasible? Is it going to be something that will actually aid the consumer?” he says. “If wave energy proves to be more expensive than diesel, then certainly, that’s something that will throw it under bus for us.”
It’ll take a couple years ‘til that’s known. But Newlun remains optimistic.
“This might be huge. That’s what I’m hoping, you know. If we can harness some of the kinetic energy out of the ocean, it could change the face of power generation for the world,” he says.
Or at least, for some other coastal Alaska communities.
University officials say their policies prohibiting guns on system campuses are legal and constitutional. The primary backers of a bill to strike down the prohibition say it ain’t so.
The University of Alaska System released a 13-page legal analysis Wednesday defending its gun policy. The Empire received a copy Friday.
The analysis states that lawmakers in Juneau have prohibited municipalities from expanding firearm regulation but have not done the same for the university.
Lawmakers will increase school funding this year — but with the majority of the session in the books, no one is saying by how much.
In the fight over the per-student Base Student Allocation, the final result likely will be a compromise between Republican and Democratic proposals. School districts are scheduled to receive $5,680 per student in fiscal year 2014. That amount has not changed since 2011, and school districts say they need more money to balance rising costs.
JUNEAU — U.S. Sen. Mark Begich has proposed a bill that would have a federal official help Alaska with a major project to export liquefied natural gas overseas.
The bill would allow the federal coordinator for Alaska’s gas-pipeline projects to work on the effort to build an 800-mile pipeline that would deliver liquefied natural gas for overseas export. Alaska is weighing an equity stake in the project alongside pipeline builder TransCanada Corp. and the BP, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil Corp. Those oil companies have major operations on the North Slope.