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Alaska and Yukon Headlines
The Alaska Marine Highway System Manager says the first of two day boats will be sailing Lynn Canal even before the summer of 2016.
Captain John Falvey and other state transportation officials are holding meetings on the new ferry design this week. The first was in Juneau last night.
“The purpose of this was to have a lunch box boat.”
Will Nickum is an engineer for Elliott Bay Design Group in Seattle, architects for the day boats and other Alaska Marine Highway ships.
But the paradigm of state ferries is changing; instead of operating 24-hours a day, the proposed 280-foot shuttles would be tied up at the end of 12-hours, like the fast ferries Fairweather and Chenega.
“At the end of the day, the crew would go home and then come back the next morning and start all over again.”
The current design of the ferries show a closed car deck – but state officials originally said it would be open. That drew a lot of criticism from passengers who are familiar with Lynn Canal’s rough seas and spray. Boat architects Elliott Bay have advised against it. Nickum says it would cost slightly more.
“But the weather protection and the potential for lower maintenance, the recommendation was pretty strong back to the state and state’s accepted that recommendation and the design you see now has a closed car deck.”
The day boats would first serve Juneau, Skagway and Haines, carry 53 standard-size vehicles and 300 passengers, and travel at about 15 and a half knots.
There wouldn’t be much time in port.
“Rapid unload and load of the passengers and vehicles is important to meet this day boat concept,” Nickum said. “For rapid turnaround, need to drive through loading and unloading; not too much monkey motion around through side doors and what not. Really want to come on the bow, go off the stern or come on the stern and go off the bow.”
Juneau resident Bob Millard wonders how realistic that turnaround is. He rides the Alaska Marine Highway often, and also Washington State ferries, which are day boats.
“You know I’m concerned about crew fatigue and the time it takes to load in ports, like Haines, (where) you have a lot of tourists. The turnaround time I s probably a factor given all the traffic and inexperience of people loading and unloading.”
Millard says the potential delays would make that 12-hour day a very tight schedule.
The preliminary design study for the shuttle ferries came out last month and a public comment period is underway. This week’s meetings in Juneau, Skagway and Haines are strictly informational.
Marine Highway manager Falvey believes both ships will be operational by the middle of 2016. The funding comes from a previous Alaska Class Ferry project.
“We have approximately $118 million to work with and we feel very confident we can deliver both of these boats all said and done for that price.”
Falvey says the design team is now working detailed scenarios:
“What would the system look like when the first Alaska Class Ferry comes on. What would it look like when the second one comes on and there will still be mainliners running up through the canal.”
The public comment period on the preliminary design ends August 30. Comments should be made online through the Department of Transportation website.
Glacier Bay Lodge will stay open, at least for another 2 years.
Several weeks of negotiations between National Park Service and the current concessionaires ended yesterday. This resulted in a 2-year extension of the contract held by Aramark and Huna Totem Corporation.
“That will keep the Glacier Bay Lodge open, keep the day tour boat running, as well as other services that they provide in the park, such as the restaurant and the gift shop,” explains John Quinley, spokesman for the National Park Service in Anchorage.
He says the extension begins in January 2014. Before it runs out, NPS plans to put out a new prospectus.
Based on conversations with Aramark and other companies about why they didn’t bid, Quinley says reasons include costs of operation and maintenance.
“We’re going to be relooking at those numbers and seeing if there are maintenance tasks that perhaps were overstated, if there were things that would better belong on the park service’s side of the ledger, ways to get that work done less expensively perhaps. So we have a lot of work to do to rebuild a prospectus that will get some bidders,” he says.
Glacier Bay Lodge contains 56 rooms, which accounts for about half the lodging available in all of nearby Gustavus, a town of 450 residents.
JoAnn Lesh is president of the Gustavus Visitors Association and owns Gustavus Inn with her husband Dave. She and the association have been working on keeping the lodge open since the end of March.
“Everyone said it couldn’t be done,” she says. “I’m very excited that we will get a chance to have two years of stability for our economy here in Gustavus.”
Lesh says the association is holding a luncheon tomorrow at Glacier Bay Lodge to celebrate.
The Chugach and Tongass National Forests have released two new posters in their series, More Than a Place to Visit—It’s Where We Live. The new 16×32 inch posters are available for free at your local Forest Service office.
The posters depict the link between bears, salmon, forests and streams, visually exploring the cycle of life that bear and salmon represent, and underscoring the importance of forests to animal and human communities.
Alaska’s first forest reserve, the Afognak Forest and Fish Culture Reserve, was established in 1892 expressly for the conservation of salmon. Today, five species of salmon thrive in the rivers of Alaska’s national forests: the king, coho, sockeye, pink, and chum.
More than 100 million salmon are caught each year on the Chugach and Tongass National Forests. As salmon become plentiful, bears become more active. Respecting and living alongside bears is a fact of life for Alaskans.
The posters blend photography, art, and words to evoke the spirit and the beauty of these wonderful public lands. Rich in symbolism and representation, the powerful design of these posters encourages viewers to explore and respect the wild lands and inhabitants of Alaska’s national forests.
The Chugach and Tongass are the two largest national forests in the nation. Together, they encompass more than 22 million acres and provide a backyard experience for nearly two-thirds of Alaskans. From Anchorage to Juneau, Ketchikan to Cordova, Prince of Wales to Prince William Sound, Alaskans in 43 different communities recreate, make a living, and meet the subsistence needs of their families in and around Alaska’s national forests.
The Anchorage Police Department has released exclusive photographs of a public memorial service for the teenaged victims of a suspected drunk driver.August 20, 2013
The Tetlin Junction Ridge Fire has become an Internet sensation after Division of Forestry aerial fire spotters captured rare video of a massive fire tornado vaulting skyward.August 20, 2013
The state of Alaska wants oil prices high.
“Every dollar change in price is close to 100 -150 million dollars in state revenue,” said acting Revenue Commissioner Angela Rodell. “Short term volatility like you’ve been seeing in the past few weeks, given things going on around the world, create a lot of distractions.”
The recent coup in Egypt gets all the headlines is not the reason for the jump, said Frank Verrastro. Verrastro, a senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said fears over control of the Suez Canal are legitimate.
Other conflicts, he said, are having more tangible effects.
“The Iraq Ceyhan Pipeline has been down, and that’s reduced exports out of Iraq. There’s been problems down in Basra,” he said by phone Monday from Washington. ”Syria, Yemen, Nigeria, and the fact that Libyan production is down 600,000 – 700,000 barrels a day.”
All this means that Alaska has little control over a global commodity. High oil prices translate to higher fuel costs, especially in hard to reach rural Alaska.
Throughout western Alaska, villagers are ordering and stockpiling hundreds of gallons of heating oil for the winter.
Bob Cox, vice president with Crowley Maritime Corporation – the company that barges refined oil products to western Alaska, said there are about three weeks left for the final barge of the season to make the journey.
The company stores the fuel in tanks throughout the state. Both Crowley and other companies sell the fuel to villagers.
Cox said the company monitors global oil prices to get the best price, and this year, it tried something new: Buying 300 thousand barrels of heating oil from China.
“That arrived off the west coast of Alaska in July. We offloaded that and brought that into our tank farms because that was a better value at that time, then U.S. prices,” he said.
The company still needs to finalize its price for the final barge.
Crowley uses the price per barrel the day the barge is loaded in its calculation for final prices. Cox says about one-third of Crowley’s cost is overhead, distribution, profit and transportation – the rest is the product.
“So we’re somewhat hostage to whatever is going on in the oil markets at the time we’re loading the barges,” Cox said.
Oil prices have been higher before: They hit $120 a barrel when the Arab Spring erupted.
This spring, state legislators considered a controversial bill that would define what counts as a “medically necessary” abortion for the purpose of Medicaid reimbursement. Now, the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services is considering regulations tackling the same issue. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports that proposed rule would require doctors to get specific on why they think the state state should cover the procedure.
Abortion policy in Alaska is a war of inches. Because of a privacy clause in the state constitution, most of the fights don’t involve prohibitions of the procedure. They play out at the margins. And the question of whether the state should cover abortions for low-income women for medical reasons is one of the most contentious fights.
The latest battle comes in the form of physician paperwork. The Department of Health and Social Services wants doctors to fill out a sheet checking off why an abortion should be reimbursed. Commissioner Bill Streur says the point is to make doctors reflect on whether an abortion is medically necessary or elective. He wants the state reduce the number of payments for abortions he thinks are in the second category.
“We hope so. We don’t know, because I thought the last one would have helped, but it didn’t help. In fact, our numbers seem to be up this year from previous years.”
When Streur says the “last one,” he’s referring to a form that doctors have been filling out for a year now. That form puts abortions in two categories: ones the federal government pays for because the pregnancy could kill the woman or because it’s the result of rape or incest, and ones that the state pays for because they could have a dangerous effect on a woman’s physical or mental health.
The new form gets even more detailed. It would make doctors check off a specific medical condition — like epilepsy or heart disease — as a reason for getting a reimbursement. While opponents of the new regulations have privacy concerns, Streur says he doesn’t see an issue with patient confidentiality.
“For instance, if a recipient has diabetes or if a recipient has a heart condition, if they have other issues — a cancer– if they’re on special medications that preclude or make it dangerous to continue with a pregnancy, we already have that information because we’ve been paying for their care.”
Planned Parenthood has already come out against the regulations, saying that if the goal is to limit state payment for abortion the Department is putting a de facto restriction on access for low income women. They also say the proposed rule could violate the equal protection clause by placing different requirements on women who get abortions instead of taking their pregnancies to term.
Other providers describe the regulations as a form of bullying, meant to discourage doctors from getting Medicaid reimbursement by making them feel like the state is scrutinizing them more intently. One physician, who didn’t want his name used, says he personally thinks the regulations are intimidating.
“This actually happened to me about 15 years ago. But if someone from the enforcement branch basically said, ‘I don’t think you’re exercising due clinical oversight, and you’re essentially billing the state for things they shouldn’t be paying for, and you’re breaking the law.’ So from that practical point, that’s chilling to me.”
This provider added that he sees the regulations as intruding on the doctor-patient relationship.
For his part, Commissioner Streur says he doesn’t think the new form would be much more burdensome than the previous one, and that it would give the state a better dataset to work with when trying to curb the number of abortion payments.
But Streur says the proposed regulations have stirred up some controversy. Since the rules were first introduced on Friday, he’s gotten a mixed response. The e-mails have broken down along political lines, with opponents of abortion being especially supportive.
“[They've been] very nice, very complimentary because of the direction that we’re going in terms of right to life … and not very nice from those I’m denying care,” says Streur. “I’m not denying care. I’m denying reimbursement for the services performed that are not medically necessary. That’s the only thing we’re doing. We are not denying care. We can’t deny care.”
The Department is taking public comment on the proposed regulations until September 27.
The Anchorage Police Department says it arrested 34 people for driving under the influence during the first weekend of an expanded effort to crack down on drunken drivers. There have been five drunk driving deaths in the city in the last two months. The new effort includes five additional patrol units made possible by a state grant. By comparison, that’s 13 more arrests than the previous weekend. The department will continue the expanded patrols through the Labor Day weekend.