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From Our Listeners

Alaska and Yukon Headlines

House Speaker Adds Agrium to Refinery Assistance Bill

Wed, 2014-04-16 17:51

Gov. Sean Parnell’s $150 million-dollar bill to subsidize Alaska’s oil refineries grew to $200 million today, when House Speaker Mike Chenault expanded it to include the Agrium fertilizer plant in Nikiski.

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The plant has been closed for years, but Agrium said last year it’s considering reopening it.

Chenault, a Nikiski Republican, says he’s been talking to the company for a while about some kind of state incentive to reopen the plant, which has been closed since 2008. Then, a few days ago, the governor proposed a bill to help refineries.  Chenault says Agrium recognized the possibility.

“Well, we’ve been looking, and this happens to be a vehicle,” Chenault explained, “and they did bring it up and said ‘Hey, could we qualify for this?’ So we investigated it and drafted up the amendment.”

Chenault says bringing the plant online could create 450 jobs in his district, plus cheap fertilizer for Mat-Su farmers. House Bill 287 would provide a refinery up to $10 million a year, in tax credits or cash, for five years. To qualify, a company would have to spend $25 million on its infrastructure. The Parnell Administration proposed it to help Petro Star cope with the high price of North Slope crude. Petro Star has two refineries, so it could get up to $100 million over five years. Tesoro and Agrium would qualify for $50 million each. If a company buys the Flint Hills refinery in North Pole, it would also qualify for $50 million.

Democrats who opposed the bill before said the addition of Agrium makes it worse. Sen. Berta Gardner, an Anchorage Democrat, says she’s angry this bill is moving while funding for education remains uncertain.

“It galls me. It seems like the Legislature hasn’t met a tax incentive or tax credit we didn’t endorse,  if it’s for the oil industry.”

It’s as if, she says, industry gets what it wants and kids get the crumbs. Chenault dismissed such comparisons, saying that’s just the Democratic mantra.

The bill cleared the House Rules Committee in about six minutes this morning and heads next to the House floor.

USDA Files Complaint Against UAF

Wed, 2014-04-16 17:50

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has accused the University of Alaska Fairbanks of possible Animal Welfare Act violations in the starvation deaths of 12 musk oxen at its large-animal research station.

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USDA spokeswoman Tanya Espinosa said today an administrative judge will decide whether the university will face fines an animal rights group hopes total $10,000 for each animal.

University spokeswoman Marmian Grimes says the school is working on a response to the complaint.

The USDA says the university failed to provide adequate veterinary care, identify that the musk oxen were losing weight or enlist veterinary treatment. The animals died or were euthanized in 2010 and 2011.

The complaint filed in late March follows a request by the group Stop Animal Exploitation Now to investigate the school.

Lawmakers Grapple With UAF Power Plant Funding

Wed, 2014-04-16 17:50

At $245 million, the biggest item in the capital budget before the Legislature is a power plant for the University of Alaska Fairbanks. The plant is needed to replace an old one that’s at risk of breaking down. The project is now before the House Finance Committee for review, and lawmakers are less surprised by the price tag than by how the funding package works in the first place.

Because Alaska is in deficit spending mode, the Legislature is less inclined to sign massive checks outright. So, if you want a megaproject funded, you can ask for a trickle of grants spread out over a few years. Or, you can fund it creatively.

The second approach is being taken with the University of Alaska Fairbanks power plant. And lawmakers like Rep. Lindsey Holmes wrestled with the concept on Tuesday night.

“I’m just trying to get a handle on who’s paying where, and to what extent the moral obligation or actual obligation of the state is involved, and ‘Who’s on first?’” said Holmes. “Since we’ve got for different funding sources kind of all weaving together.”

There’s good reason for being lost.

The first chunk of money is $37.5 million in straight cash, which some senators had originally wanted to use to finish UAF’s engineer building. Then comes a $50 million reappropriation, with the Legislature draining an energy loan program to help pay for the plant. The third pot of money is made of $70 million in revenue bonds, with the University of Alaska slated to pay that back through energy savings and by potentially passing the cost onto students.

Last but not least is the biggest source of money: $87.5 million from the Municipal Bond Bank Authority, which has in the past only sold bonds for Alaska’s cities. That’s probably the most complicated part of the arrangement, because even though the bonds are for the University system, the state will be paying off that debt on their behalf, to the tune of up to $7 million a year.

Even Deven Mitchell, who directs the bond bank, struggled to explain who will actually be responsible for paying that off.

“The state is going to [pay] — maybe, yeah, through the back door — but not from our perspective,” said Mitchell “The commitments that we’re going to get is from the university.”

The patchwork nature of the deal left members of the House Finance Committee with plenty of questions, like: Why wasn’t the state just paying for this upfront, instead of increasing the cost of the project by basically taking on debt?

Rep. Tammie Wilson, a North Pole Republican, wanted to know if UAF students were at risk of shouldering the burden, through either increased tuition or fuel surcharges.

“I guess that’s what I don’t understand,” said Wilson. “To me, maintenance it shouldn’t matter if it’s on UAA, UAF, or UAS, or even one of your smaller campuses. And I don’t know how your books work, so if I understand you correctly, though, University of Alaska Fairbanks would be keeping their own books, UAA would have their own accounting books, and each smaller one. And that’s how everything gets funded instead of your one system that takes care of it as a system.”

UAF Chancellor Brian Rogers responded that deciding whether the whole system or just the Fairbanks campus would cover the costs would be left to the Board of Regents.

Committee members also wanted answers on why the project was so urgent. Rogers explained that unless the University upgrades their coal-powered plant, the campus was at risk of a major failure that would leave all of its buildings without power or heat. It’s their top priority, and Fairbanks Republican Pete Kelly fought hard for the package in the Senate, winning out over the reservations of some of his colleagues.

With all the confusion surrounding the project, Finance Co-Chair Bill Stoltze decided not to advance the package straight away and instead let members – including himself – digest it.

“I’m trying to come up with, really an understanding, because, this is, usually when there’s … Usually folks aren’t speechless,” said Stoltze.

The committee is expected to amend the deal to lower the state’s annual payment in coming days.

Bill Arming VPSOs Goes To Governor’s Desk

Wed, 2014-04-16 17:49

Village Public Safety Officers will soon be able to carry fire arms if Governor Sean Parnell signs a measure approved this morning in the Senate.

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Senator Donny Olson spoke the bill’s behalf.

“House Bill 199 clearly establishes the legislators intent to go ahead and allow those VPSOs in various villages to carry firearms,” Olson said. “This does not mandate that they have to but it does allow them to go ahead and lift that restriction that has been there by the Department of Public Safety from the past.”

Under HB 199 regional non-profits have the final say in whether or not they want VPSOs to carry weapons. Some non-profits, like the Tanana Chiefs Conference, sent letters urging legislators to support the measure. And none of them came out against it.

The bill allows up to 20 qualified VPSOs a year to travel to the police academy in Sitka for comprehensive firearms training, as well as use of deadly force instruction. The Department of Public Safety will absorb the $62,000 a year in costs.

The measure comes in the context of rising rates of rural violence, and debates throughout the state on how to improve public safety in communities off the road system. Violence that claimed the life of a Village Public Safety Officer last year.

“We all remember that sad day on March 19th, 2013 when the unarmed VPSO Thomas Madole in Manakotake got into the line of fire,” Olson said. “This is a response to that so that with proper training they’ll be allowed to go ahead and be armed.”

HB 199 was approved on the Senate floor unanimously. It now heads to the governor’s desk for final approval.

State House Approves Alaska Native Language Bill

Wed, 2014-04-16 17:48

The Alaska House of Representatives approved a bill on Wednesday that would symbolically recognize 20 Alaska Native languages as official state languages. House Bill 216 passed on a 38-0 vote.

With less than a week to go in this year’s legislative session, the Senate State Affairs Committee will hear the bill tomorrow.

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Leary Vies For Miss Indian World Crown

Wed, 2014-04-16 17:47

Bethel resident Megan Leary is heading to Albuquerque, New Mexico later this month to vie for the title of Miss Indian World. The former Miss Cama-I is preparing and raising money for her trip.

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Each contestant competes five areas: public speaking, personal interview, traditional presentation, dance and essay. Leary says she’s exited to represent Alaska.

“There will be girls from all across the nation and Canada and Mexico – different indigenous girls, young ladies my age that will be going and competing. They’ll be going and competing and showcasing their culture, their traditions and their background, where they’re from and their talent and just their knowledge of who we are as indigenous people.”

Leary grew up in Kalskag and Napaimute, and graduated from Bethel Regional High School. She was Miss Cama-i 2013 and went on to become Miss World Eskimo Indian Olympics, or Miss Weio. She says she’s putting the finishing touches on her regalia.

“I’m still beading and sewing some of the last of my regalia. You know I made myself an Athabascan dress. I beaded for that. I’m making a pair of Athabascan style mukluks, cause I’m Yup’ik and Athabascan and I have a lot of the Yup’ik regalia already cause growing up here on the Kuskowkwim and so there was a lot of the Athabaskan stuff that I had to make. So there’s a lot of that that I’m still doing and I’m polishing my talent.”

Leary’s talent is skin sewing. She’ll have three minutes to present it to judges.

“I’ll talk about he importance of it culturally, and why we do it and what it means, like your stiches. And the types of materials that you use and what it means to me to be passing this skill on and teaching other people to do it cause it’s something that’s dying out off now that we can just go to the store and buy snow pants or a warm jacket.”

Leary says she is raising money to fund her trip.

“You can go to go fund me dot com and type in my name, Megan Leary, in the search bar and it will pull up my little account and you can just click in there and donate money right there directly through your debit card or bank account.”

Leary will compete in the Miss Indian World Cultural Pageant April 22ndthrough the 26th at the annual Gathering of Nations Powwow in Albuquerque. She’s raising $3-thousand dollars to cover, airfare, lodging , transportation and other pageant expenses. She’s raised over 1-thousand dollars as of Monday April 14th.

Wrangell Hospital Renovations Don’t Preclude New Facility

Wed, 2014-04-16 17:47

Like many hospitals in Southeast Alaska, Wrangell Medical Center is starting to look its age. A brand new hospital is still the long-term plan, but for now, the building is getting a much-needed makeover.

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Institutional. That’s the word that best describes the old look of Wrangell Medical Center.

The walls are a generically dreary tan. The banisters are scratched. The floors show the wear and tear of a thousand muddy shoes scuffing up the walkway.

It looks…like a hospital.

“It’s utilitarian,” says hospital CEO Marla Sanger.

We’re in the basement of the medical center, walking down a hallway to a positively tiny room. It’s barely big enough to squeeze in some chairs and a desk and maybe a yoga mat.

“But this area in here was the space where most of the physical therapy activity occurred. It has one window that looks out at a wall where a little bit of indirect light gets in. But other than that it’s very much just the harsh lighting, it’s got a grey carpet. There still was very excellent care provided here but it is not an atmosphere that says welcome, come in, you’ve come to the right place,” says Sanger.

The hospital has struggled with its public image for the past couple of years. But it’s making some major changes in how it relates to its patients and the community.

That’s why Sanger says the time was right to freshen up the facility, too.

“It’s very treatment-like. I mean it feels, like you say, you feel like you’ve come here to have a treatment performed. Where, in the new physical therapy gym space, it feels to me much more like a health and wellness place- where people are coming in to achieve their optimal mobility and wellness,” says Sanger.

The new physical therapy space is upstairs. It’s a large room lined with mirrors. It’s filled with brightly colored therapy balls and lots of equipment and exercise machines.

The two rooms are like night and day.

And this change happened in less than a month. Earlier this year, the entire physical therapy program was overhauled. The department was given three weeks to strip it down to the basics, re-evaluate, and modernize.

“And their task was to redesign this space, to design new processes for physical therapy, design all their documentation tools, design the way patients would get registered, the scheduling, everything. They identified pieces of equipment that we didn’t have that they ordered and then, from the time that they arrived to three weeks later, we went from what you saw downstairs to this new space,” says Sanger.

The problem with re-doing one part of the hospital is that it underscores just how much the rest of the building needs a makeover too.

“And I would kind of liken it to when you fix up a room of your house and then the rest of your house suddenly doesn’t look so good. That feels kind of like what happened when we improved the physical therapy space and built the beautiful new gym. And then all of a sudden, we’re looking at everything a bit askance. And that’s why we’re doing this. It just needs to look better,” says Sanger.

Sanger says she was strict with budgeting the renovations and shopped around carefully to get the most bang for the hospital’s bucks.

The walls are getting a fresh coat of paint. Instead of the old peachy tan, they’re sunny yellow on top with rich green on the bottom. The old, worn banisters are getting re-finished. And new carpets line the hallways.

And, to further break from the old institutional feel, she involved hospital staff in parts of the decision-making process.

Kris Reed is a development assistant for the hospital. She’s also an artist with a flair for color. So, she helped choose the paint.

“I did a little bit of research online and found that greens and blues were colors that were recommended for places where people were being treated for a variety of different things. Just in looking at the colors available to us, it seemed like a good decision,” says Reed.

She chose some color options and posted samples around the building for staff to vote on. Once the feedback was in, the colors went up.

“Oh it makes a huge difference in how people feel in the space and to some degree, depending on the space, how productive you can be,” says Reed.

Reed says it makes it a more pleasant place for both patients and staff. It’s inviting. But that doesn’t mean the hospital stops here.

CEO Marla Sanger says that these renovations don’t replace plans for a brand new facility.

“Just because we’re doing these improvements right now doesn’t mean in any way that we’re not still very interested and very much wanting a new hospital. And we are going to be continuing to try for that. It might be a bit difficult but we are going to just try one step at a time to get back on track, get it going again,” says Sanger.

But in the meantime she says, the hospital can continue to care for the community in a freshened up space with a brand new outlook.

Origami Peace Peacock Finds Home In The State Capitol

Wed, 2014-04-16 17:46

The origami peacock for peace is made of more than 2,000 pieces of paper. It’s three feet wide and roughly two feet tall. (Photo by Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau)

Middle East exchange student Haytham Mohanna and the Thunder Mountain High School Art Club presented an origami peacock of peace to the Alaska State Legislature on Monday. The peacock is made of more than 2,000 pieces of folded paper.

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Mohanna says the peacock represents the dreams of the people of Gaza, his home country.

“I hope this peacock, which symbolizes the peace, go in each mind and each heart, and really rise our mind about the wars and conflicts,” Mohanna says.

Mohanna is studying at Haines High School through an exchange program funded by the U.S. State Department.

He learned how to make an origami peacock from a teacher in Gaza and taught the process to Thunder Mountain art club students while he was visiting Juneau. It took the club three months to fold more than 2,000 pieces of paper. The peacock is about three feet wide and two feet tall.

Art club coordinator Heather Ridgway says she didn’t immediately know where the peacock should be displayed. She wanted it to be in a place where it could inspire people.

“It was like, ‘Oh, of course, we’ll take it to the capitol. They are working on major issues that require everyone to commit time and attention and do a careful job and work together and be patient, just like making this peacock. Let’s give it to the legislature,’” Ridgway says.

Juneau Sen. Dennis Egan calls Mohanna an artist and says the peacock will definitely inspire visitors to the capitol and lawmakers.

“I can guarantee you that people will reflect on it and hopefully bring good things and remember that, you know, we’re all trying to come in peace,” Egan says.

Until a permanent place can be found for the origami peacock, it’s temporarily displayed in the House Speaker’s Chambers.

Alaska Trails Conference Kicks Off Next Week

Wed, 2014-04-16 17:46

With all its public lands and scenic values, it’s no surprise that Alaska has an advocacy organization for trails – for walking, skiing, bicycling, off-road vehicle riding and trekking. Called “Alaska Trails,” the group has statewide conferences every couple of years, and the next one starts April 24th at Alaska Pacific University.

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You can start with this – there’s never enough money.

Participants in the Alaska Trails Conference will probably be greeted next week with the news that the $400,000 trail building and maintenance money they wanted in the capital budget did not survive this legislative session – once again. But trail advocates are used to that and this will be about how to build alliances to make things happen. For instance, in and around Park City, Utah, there is now a huge network of trails.

“We have really been lucky with that,” trail builder, designer and consultant Troy Duffin said. “We now brag about having almost four hundred miles of public trails here, and that’s in about in a hundred square mile area.”

Duffin has been involved in making much of that Park City trail network happen. Duffin has been a consultant on several Alaska jobs, including re-conditioning the trails in Anchorage’s Far North Bicentennial Park. He’ll be a keynote speaker at the conference at APU, discussing how to get local buy-in for trails, particularly property owners – nervous about plans for incoming trails:

“It can be a very tough nut to get somebody to understand that a trail in close proximity to their home is a benefit because if you’re not used to it, the first blush is – Well I’ve heard everything, burglary and fire and personal crimes and voyeurism and anything you can imagine that the fears go through a homeowner or a property owner’s mind right off the bat. But without fail, every time a trail has gone in that I am aware of, property owners have just settled in and all those fears have dissipated and, whether they use it or love it or not, they at least are no longer afraid of it and do see it as a benefit,” Duffin said.

Along with a healthy lifestyle the benefit includes real money, with increased property values, and a quality of life valued by a young, creative work-force, and hence the companies seeking to employ them. And a trail holds onto valued green space in a city. The city of Anchorage has already seen this. For Alaska Trails Executive Director Steve Cleary the next task is making the trails connect.

“That’s one of the most interesting questions for me as I look at the conference is that interface between what I’ll just for ease of syntax, say, urban and rural trails, or connecting cities to the trails or the trails back into the cities,” Cleary said.

That’s going in the right direction – right into the cities, says Troy Duffin.

“It’s a very challenging thing to do, but what we’ve found is that most users really appreciate the opportunity to not have to y’know put their bike or skis on or in the car, and to be able to access things directly from their homes, and while it can be very difficult to do in a lot of areas, it seems to be very worthwhile to put in that effort and to connect people that closely,” Duffin said.

But how do you do that with little or no money? Duffin says in Park City they figured out what the benefits of their trail network would be, then backed it up and went out and made their case to civic organizations and local governments to get behind it.

“We were able to work with them and help prove up the fact that tourists and other visitors to the area are more likely to get out and use the systems if there is a connecting trail close in,” Duffin said. “You know, they have to be able to see and touch and feel that. Then those groups, and I’m talking again about the Chamber, the Muni and others, were willing to get behind it with support and funding, and then that led to the ability to offer up things to the reluctant private owners, which is typically, money.”

The money can then be used to purchase easements or corridors to make those last connections between the routes – an issue they call the “last mile.” And it turns out that Alaska’s largest city does have some buy-in, in the form of a “Live-Work-Play” initiative that the civic groups have already signed on to.

The conference is open to public participation, and there’s a free public talk next Friday by Olympic skier Holly Brooks, right next to the trails she trains on.

Alaska News Nightly: April 16, 2014

Wed, 2014-04-16 17:23

Individual news stories are posted on the APRN news page. You can subscribe to APRN’s newsfeeds via emailpodcast and RSS. Follow us on Facebook at alaskapublic.org and on Twitter @aprn.

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House Speaker Adds Agrium to Refinery Assistance Bill

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

Governor Sean Parnell’s $150 million bill to subsidize Alaska’s oil refineries grew to $200-million today, when House Speaker Mike Chenault expanded it to include the Agrium fertilizer plant in Nikiski.

House Finance Committee Considers UAF Power Plant Project

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

At $245 million, the biggest item in the capital budget before the Legislature is a power plant for the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus. The project is now before the House Finance Committee for review, and lawmakers are less surprised by the price tag than how the funding package works in the first place.

USDA Files Complaint Against UAF

The Associated Press

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has accused the University of Alaska Fairbanks of possible Animal Welfare Act violations in the starvation deaths of 12 musk oxen at its large-animal research station.

USDA spokeswoman Tanya Espinosa said today an administrative judge will decide whether the university will face fines an animal rights group hopes total $10,000 for each animal.

University spokeswoman Marmian Grimes says the school is working on a response to the complaint.

The USDA says the university failed to provide adequate veterinary care, identify that the musk oxen were losing weight or enlist veterinary treatment. The animals died or were euthanized in 2010 and 2011.

The complaint filed in late March follows a request by the group Stop Animal Exploitation Now to investigate the school.

Bill Arming VPSOs Goes To Governor’s Desk

Zachariah Hughes, KNOM – Nome

Village Public Safety Officers will soon be able to carry fire arms if Governor Sean Parnell signs a measure approved this morning in the Senate.

State House Approves Alaska Native Language Bill

Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau

The Alaska House of Representatives approved a bill on Wednesday that would symbolically recognize 20 Alaska Native languages as official state languages. House Bill 216 passed on a 38-0 vote.

With less than a week to go in this year’s legislative session, the Senate State Affairs Committee will hear the bill tomorrow.

Leary Vies For Miss Indian World Crown

Daysha Eaton, KYUK – Bethel

Bethel resident Megan Leary is heading to Albuquerque, New Mexico later this month to vie for the title of Miss Indian World. The former Miss Cama-I is preparing and raising money for her trip.

Origami Peace Peacock Finds Home In The State Capitol

Lisa Phu,  KTOO – Juneau

Middle East exchange student Haytham Mohanna and Juneau’s Thunder Mountain High School Art Club presented an origami peacock of peace to the Alaska State Legislature on Monday. The peacock is made of more than 2,000 pieces of folded paper.

Wrangell Hospital Renovations Don’t Preclude New Facility

Shady Grove Oliver, KSTK – Wrangell

Like many hospitals in Southeast Alaska, Wrangell Medical Center is starting to look its age. A brand new hospital is still the long-term plan, but for now, the building is getting a much-needed makeover.

Alaska Trails Conference Kicks Off Next Week

Steve Heimel, APRN – Anchorage

With all its public lands and scenic values, it’s no surprise that Alaska has an advocacy organization for trails – for walking, skiing, bicycling, off-road vehicle riding and trekking.  Called “Alaska Trails,” the group has statewide conferences every couple of years, and the next one starts April 24th at Alaska Pacific University.

Anchorage makes plans to use 2013 budget surplus

Wed, 2014-04-16 16:12
Anchorage makes plans to use 2013 budget surplus With $15 million in savings and increased revenue from last year, Anchorage leaders are considering ways to put the extra money to good use -- while keeping an eye on the reality that state money may be harder to come by in the years ahead.April 16, 2014

Hunters, viewers politely exchange firm stances

Wed, 2014-04-16 14:43
The division between avid bear hunters and those who want to ban roadside hunting continued Tuesday night, just as it has for more than a decade.

Choices at the ready for roadside hunting issue

Wed, 2014-04-16 14:40
A number of options exist in considering the issue of roadside hunting for bears versus wildlife viewing opportunities, an official with Environment Yukon told a public meeting Tuesday night.

Mayor argues against sale of Wann Road property

Wed, 2014-04-16 14:36
Mayor Dan Curtis isn’t ruling out the possibility of land on Wann Road being sold in the future, but he says now is not the right time.

In My Family: What is your name?

Wed, 2014-04-16 14:20


Dewey Hoffman teaches Raven how to ask, What is your name? in his Native Alaskan language, Denaakk’e – Koyukon Athabascan.

‘No limitation’ for Texas-bound Tait

Wed, 2014-04-16 14:02
Whitehorse wheelchair athlete Darryl Tait has refused to let his injury keep him down.

International friendly

Wed, 2014-04-16 14:00
Juneau striker Marlena Romanoff (8) puts a shot past Whitehorse goalie Alice Frost-Hanberg during a U-14 soccer game Saturday at the Canada Games Centre. Juneau would win 2-1.

Roadhouse sweeps up victory in year-end broomball event

Wed, 2014-04-16 13:58
Roadhouse overcame the league champion Spectrum Security Bears to win the annual Function in the Junction broomball tournament last weekend.

Anchorage physician charged with more than $300,000 in Medicaid fraud

Wed, 2014-04-16 13:28
Anchorage physician charged with more than $300,000 in Medicaid fraud Dr. Shubhranjan Ghosh and his office manager allegedly falsified Medicaid records whenever company finances were down, sometimes picking patients at random and billing the office manager's seven children for services that were never performed.April 16, 2014

Teams of Southeast Alaska divers count herring, urchins, geoducks to manage fisheries

Wed, 2014-04-16 13:06
Teams of Southeast Alaska divers count herring, urchins, geoducks to manage fisheries The Southeast Alaska dive team consists of 24 divers, a mix of commercial fisheries area management biologists, assistant area biologists, herring and shellfish research biologists, and a few biologists from other divisions.April 16, 2014

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