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Southeast Alaska News

Photo: Senate Judiciary Q&A

Tue, 2014-02-18 01:01

Sen. John Coghill, R-Fairbanks, questions Christie Jamieson, a staff member of Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, during an introduction of Senate Concurrent Resolution 2 during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Monday. The resolution urges the governor to acquire land in the Tongass National Forest from the federal government

Gov. defends actions for oil refinery's future

Tue, 2014-02-18 01:01

FAIRBANKS — Gov. Sean Parnell said critics of his administration’s actions in a North Pole oil refinery’s impending closure don’t see behind-the-scenes work that could keep the refinery operating.

Flint Hills Resources announced earlier this month that the refinery would cease gasoline production on May 1 and the production of jet fuel by June 1.

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports (http://bit.ly/M6SNuW ) Parnell told the newspaper’s editorial board that the price the state sets for refinery “royalty” oil is under review.

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Stedman spends most for legislative travel

Mon, 2014-02-17 17:30

Sitka Sen. Bert Stedman presides over the Energy Council’s 2013 State and Provincial Trends in Energy and the Environment Conference June 21st in the North Dakota Capitol. Energy Council trips made up about 40 percent of Stedman’s 2013 travel expenses.

State officials recently released documents showing how much each legislator spent on travel last year. The totals range from a little more than $1,000 to almost $50,000.

Two of the most expensive travelers are from Southeast.

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Sen. Bert Stedman spent more on legislative travel last year than any other lawmaker.

The Sitka Republican spent more than $47,000 for airfare, lodging, car rentals, meals, per diem and other costs. That’s about a third more than the previous year.

“I’ve never been No. 1 before. I don’t know if that’s good or bad,” he says.

About 40 percent of Stedman’s charges covered meetings and trainings for the Energy Council, which he chaired for most of the year.

The organization includes lawmakers from energy-producing states and provinces, as well as Venezuela. Members meet quarterly, and Stedman attended additional events.

“So it is important that we get outside and educate ourselves on how the industry works and how to structure policies to keep them competitive in a global environment,” he says.

In all, 20 of Alaska’s 60 lawmakers attended at least one Energy Council meeting.

A lot of Stedman’s other reimbursed travel covered trips to most of the 27 communities in his district. It runs from Metlakatla to Haines.

“So you should see rural legislators really stick out, not for out of state travel, but in-state, just because we’ve got to get around,” he says.

Read Stedman’s 2013 travel report.

Some other lawmakers with big districts also racked up large travel bills. But most high-spenders were in leadership posts.

The state paid almost a million dollars last year for all 60 legislators’ travel. That’s up about 50 percent from 2012.

Rep. Peggy Wilson and lawmakers from other states pose Oct. 30 at the U.S. Department of Transportation during a Conference of State Governments Transportation Policy Academy. (CSG photo)

Another Southeast Representative, Peggy Wilson, was eighth on the travel-expense list.

The Wrangell Republican spent more than $35,000 during 2013.

“Now that we have a 90-day session, we actually have more committee meetings outside of the session. And for me to go to a meeting in Anchorage, it takes three days for sure, depending on what time of day the meetings are,” she says.

Wilson serves as majority whip, a House leadership position. She’s in her fourth year in that post. She says that sent her to in-state organizational meetings and other events.

Wilson also traveled to meetings and academies put on by the National Conference of State Legislatures, the Council of State Governments and the Pacific Northwest Economic Region.

That’s where close to half her total travel costs went.

Does she ever turn down invitations to attend?

“Oh my, yes,” she says. “I could be gone all the time. But you just can’t go to every one. So you try to pick and chose which ones you think are going to be the most meaningful.”

Wilson’s 2013 total showed a five-fold increase from the previous year.

Read Wilson’s travel report. 

Southeast’s other three sitting lawmakers were in the bottom third of the travel-spending list.

Juneau Republican Representative Cathy Munoz was 42nd out of 60 with about $7,000 in spending. Sitka Democratic Representative Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins was 52nd at $4,500. And Juneau Democratic Senator Dennis Egan was 55th, with only $3,300 spent on travel.

Former House Minority Caucus Leader Beth Kerttula came in 35th, with about $11,000 spent. The Juneau Democrat resigned her post last month to take a job at California’s Stanford University.



Timber, languages, Murkowski things to watch

Mon, 2014-02-17 01:03

JUNEAU — With the scheduled 90-day session about one-third of the way over, at least four different committees are planning hearings on gas line matters this week in an effort to get as many members as possible up to speed on one of this year’s top issues.

The Senate Finance Committee is planning two-a-days Wednesday through Friday, with morning sessions generally focused on the capital budget and late-afternoon hearings on issues related to the liquefied natural gas project. A fiscal analysis of the gas line agreements also is on Friday morning’s agenda.

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Kodiak man turns pallets into furniture

Mon, 2014-02-17 01:01

KODIAK — One man’s bonfire is another man’s raw material to build an Adirondack chair.

About six months ago, Andy Hathcock began using recycled wooden shipping pallets to make chairs, benches, cubbies, chests and other types of furniture. What started as a way to keep occupied has grown into a handful of commissioned jobs as word of his work has spread around the island.

His recent work includes the benches at the Java Flats coffee shop in Bell’s Flats and the tables at Hope Community Resources, where his wife works.

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Students learn safety, leadership on patrol

Mon, 2014-02-17 01:01

KETCHIKAN — Safety and Pride Patrol leaders at the Tongass School of Arts and Sciences officially suited up for the first time Monday, donning orange vests, hats and gloves with reflectors and flashing lights.

They had trained for this moment for three weeks, and they felt ready and up to the task.

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'Angel fund' aim: link investors , new businesses

Mon, 2014-02-17 01:00

ANCHORAGE — The municipality’s 49th State Angel Fund thinks it has a winning investment in a medical industry tech startup called Call Dr.

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NTSB: pilot error led to 2011 midair crash

Sun, 2014-02-16 01:09

ANCHORAGE — Pilot error led to a fatal September 2011 midair crash involving a boyfriend and girlfriend flying near each other in western Alaska, the National Transportation Safety Board said.

The board determined that pilot Scott Veal was flying alongside Kristen Sprague when he suddenly flew just above her much smaller plane and then clipped its wing on the way back down, the Anchorage Daily News reported Friday.

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Man convicted of smuggling narwhal tusks

Sun, 2014-02-16 01:09

BANGOR, Maine — A New Jersey man accused of smuggling narwhal tusks into the United States was convicted Friday of federal crimes, several of which carry a penalty of up to 20 years in prison.

A federal jury in Maine convicted Andrew Zarauskas of Union, N.J., on six counts, including conspiracy, smuggling and money laundering for his role in a smuggling ring, prosecutors said. He was released on $25,000 unsecured bond while awaiting sentencing.

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Harborview Medical Center director abruptly quits

Sun, 2014-02-16 01:09

SEATTLE — The executive director of the region’s top trauma hospital, Harborview Medical Center, has abruptly resigned.

Eileen Whalen’s departure was announced Friday in a memo to staff at the Seattle hospital, The Seattle Times reported. Whalen is a noted trauma-services expert who had been executive director since 2008.

Harborview is the only top-level adult and pediatric trauma center in Washington, Alaska, Montana and Idaho.

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Former Alaska territorial governor dies at 94

Sun, 2014-02-16 01:09

ANCHORAGE — A man who lobbied congressional members for Alaska statehood and served as one of the state’s last territorial governors has died.

Mike Stepovich died early Friday in a San Diego hospital at the age of 94, his daughter, Antonia Stepovich Gore, told The Associated Press. Services are pending.

“Our hearts are full,” she said.

She said the three things that were most important to him were “family, faith and Alaska, and that could be in any order on any given day.”

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House education panel delves into vocational-tech credits

Sun, 2014-02-16 01:09

JUNEAU — The House Education Committee on Friday took up funding aspects of an education bill by Gov. Sean Parnell that would allow vocational credits to be counted as high school credits for participating students.

Under the bill, the 10 vocational schools involved must have such an agreement in place with high schools that send students into their program or face a 20 percent reduction in state funding.

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Concealed carry on campus?

Sun, 2014-02-16 01:08

Fittingly, the bill introduced Friday that would prohibit the University of Alaska Board of Regents from banning concealed weapons on campus actually is the result of campus discussions.

Intern Hans Rodvik approached Sen. John Coghill, R-North Pole, about the proposal earlier this session. The Senate majority leader agreed to carry SB176 under one condition — Rodvik would be in charge of seeing it through the legislative process.

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Appeals court reinstates BP shareholders' lawsuit

Sun, 2014-02-16 01:08

ANCHORAGE — A federal appeals court on Thursday reinstated a shareholders lawsuit filed against BP Alaska in the wake of two oil spills in 2006 on the North Slope that exposed problems with the company’s pipeline maintenance program.

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the U.S. District Court of Western Washington on several claims.

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Anchorage officials approve route for UAA access

Sun, 2014-02-16 01:08

ANCHORAGE — Anchorage officials seeking a new north-south road through University of Alaska Anchorage property on the city’s east side have decided the most direct route is the best.

University, hospital and transportation officials on Thursday picked a direct link between Bragaw Street and Elmore Road for a solution to snarled traffic and access to UAA, Providence Hospital and medical facilities, the Anchorage Daily News reported.

The cost is estimated at $19.4 million. The new two-lane road would include three roundabouts and three pedestrian bridges.

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State Department plans Arctic representative

Sun, 2014-02-16 01:08

JUNEAU — The U.S. State Department plans to create an Arctic representative position to highlight the growing importance of that region.

In letters sent to Alaska’s two U.S. senators, Mark Begich and Lisa Murkowski, Secretary of State John Kerry said he planned to name a “high-level individual of substantial stature and expertise” to serve as Special Representative for the Arctic Region. He said he hoped to get input from both of them in creating the post and finding the right person.

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Bill proposes official state bolt-action rifle

Sun, 2014-02-16 01:05

JUNEAU — Sen. Charlie Huggins is taking another shot at designating an official state firearm.

SB175 would make the pre-1964 Winchester Model 70 bolt-action rifle in a number of different calibers the official state bolt-action rifle.

The bill says that to be an Alaskan between 1930 and 1963 meant carrying the “rifleman’s rifle,” the Winchester pre-1964 Model 70. It says the rifle helped Alaskans “establish a firm foothold in the untamed and often wild Alaska wilderness.”

The bill is somewhat different from one introduced by Huggins in 2011 and later withdrawn.

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School zone cell phone usage ban advances

Sun, 2014-02-16 01:05

Municipalities across the Alaska moved a little closer Friday to being able to ban all forms of cell phone use when drivers are on school property or in school zones.

The Senate voted 13-2 to approved SB123, sponsored by Anchorage Republican Sen. Kevin Meyer, and the bill now heads to the House of Representatives for consideration.

The proposal enables cities to pass ordinances that prohibit cell phone use on school property and in school zones, but it does not require such a rule.

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Fuel truck crashes, spills fuel off Dalton Highway

Sun, 2014-02-16 01:05

FAIRBANKS — A fuel hauler says nearly 2,200 gallons of diesel fuel is estimated to have leaked from a tanker after a crash on the Dalton Highway.

The Eggor Enterprises truck rolled late Tuesday night at Mile 309.5 within the North Slope Borough.

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports the truck veered off the road on its way from North Pole to Deadhorse.

The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation received a call on the crash eight hours after the incident.

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US rig count down 7 to 1,764

Sun, 2014-02-16 01:04

HOUSTON, Texas — Oilfield services company Baker Hughes Inc. says the number of rigs exploring for oil and natural gas in the U.S. declined by seven this week to 1,764.

The Houston firm said in its weekly report Friday that 1,423 rigs were exploring for oil and 337 for gas. Four were listed as miscellaneous. A year ago there were 1,762 active rigs.

Of the major oil- and gas-producing states, California gained five rigs, New Mexico gained three and Kansas, Ohio and West Virginia each gained one.

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