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Alaska and Yukon Headlines
Law enforcement in northern Canada: Booze seized in Northwest Territories, new 911 service eyed in Yukon
The Borough administration’s various departments made their budget presentations to the Matanuska Susitna Borough Assembly on Tuesday. April 15.
Borough manger John Moosey told the panel that the upcoming fiscal year’s Borough overall income would take a hit from a 20 percent reduction in state revenue sharing
“Revenue sharing is about a one million dollar hit. So it’d be a million dollars this year. That million dollar decrease is planned for in this budget.”
Moosey said that increased up-front costs associated with the state’s PERS retirement plan and changes in how the state reimburses PERS contributions will impact Boro spending accounts. He said plans are to eliminate one administrative position next fiscal year.
However, Moosey told the body, ‘..we have a lot for other people to be jealous of.’ He outlined Borough FY 14 successes in projects involving schools, roads, fisheries, recreation and the Port MacKenzie rail spur.
Among the Borough’s fiscal challenges, expenses for the upkeep of Port MacKenzie loom large. Moosey defends port development, especially in light of recent state legislative and budget developments regarding the Knik Arm Crossing. “We have to pay attention to port development”, he said.
According to Port Mackenzie director Marc Van Dongen, the proposed FY 15 port budget is less than the current fiscal year’s port budget. The total port budget of 915,708 dollars includes 135 thousand dollars in power bills anticipated this year, due to new electrical systems scheduled to be constructed at the port this year. The work itself is being paid for by a state grant.
Van Dongen told the panel that projected revenues from port usage have not materialized, due to delays in the coal production that initially were expected to keep the port in business. He said that the Port had not paid for its keep since 2008, when a gravel shipping project brought in more in than 800 thousand dollars into Borough accounts through royalites and wharfage and docking fees.
According to Van Dongen, the Port cannot generate enough revenue to meet expenses until the Port MacKenzie rail spur is up and running
“When that rail line is completed and we are shipping three million tons or more of commodities or combination of commodities, that will generate gross revenue of about five million dollars a year and net revenues of over four million dollars a year. That’s what we have been working toward for fourteen years, is to get to the point where we get the rail line completed and can officially import to the port large volumes of commodities via rail.”
He told the panel that Port MacKenzie has been successful in securing a three month project for the port this summer to receive and load 14 miles of concrete covered pipe for shipment to Nikiski. But he said the Port needs another three million dollars from the state legislature to pay for needed cathodic protection work on it’s pilings. And the last two miles of gravel road leading to the port still have to be paved. Van Dongen said there was a little over 900 thousand dollars left over from a state grant to pave the port road, but that would be barely adequate to complete the project. One Assembly member asked what would happen if the state took that 900 thousand back. Van Dongen said then the Borough could not finish the road paving.
Other setbacks include a US Army Corps of Engineers halt on wetlands permits the port requires to complete piling and electric work. Van Dongen said it’s important to keep that 900 thousand in the Borough.
“It’s important that we retain those funds. We need a half a million to pave that last half mile, and we need 283 thousand to pay for the mitigation. That would come out of that 907 thousand . There’s a freeze on our permits. The Corps is not letting us process any permits, and there’s three permits I need to be processing now, that are on hold until we satisfy that mitigation.”
The mitigation Van Dongen refers to is an agreement the Borough makes with the Corps to pay for wetlands purchases to compensate for wetlands impacted by the rail spur project.
Van Dongen said that four segments of the rail spur construction are underway, but two segments remain. He said 171 million dollars has been spent on spur construction so far, but another 101 million dollars is needed to complete the final two segments. The plan is to ask the state legislature for that money over three years. Van Dongen said Borough fiscal officials estimate the Port loses 400 thousand dollars a year, but that will be paid back to the Borough general fund when the rail spur is completed.
Four people were arraigned in court Wednesday morning for allegedly selling marijuana. The cases are the result of an investigation into drug possession that started at the local high school.
Two of the defendants are students there — something that deputy police chief Mike Holman says is extremely rare in Unalaska. Holman says officers started looking into the case on Monday.
“We got some information from the school that one of the students — a 14-year-old girl — was found to have some marijuana in her possession,” Holman says. “We went down and spoke with her, spoke with her parents, spoke with another 15-year-old girl.”
The students alleged that they’d obtained marijuana from Soo Enele, a 22-year-old Unalaska resident. Police questioned Enele and took him into custody on Tuesday. He was charged with a felony for allegedly selling marijuana to a minor.
Following up on a tip from Enele, police spoke with a person on Tuesday who said they knew of other drug activity in the community, and agreed to act as a confidential informant.
“The individual who helped us out was able to identify another high schooler — his name is Shadrack Baird — who was selling marijuana,” Holman says. “He made an undercover purchase from Shadrack, who is 18.”
Baird was arrested Tuesday night, along with two people who drove with him to meet the informant — his classmate, 18-year-old Johanna Pham, and 30-year-old Jason Tungul.
They were all charged with misdemeanors related to the sale and possession of marijuana. Pham and Tungul were also charged with a felony for allegedly trying to get rid of drugs and paraphernalia before officers caught up with them.
It’s not common for police to pursue drug cases against high school students in Unalaska, Holman says. The district attorney’s office helped them weigh that against other facts of the case before pressing ahead.
“The age of the young girls at the school that were originally found in possession of the marijuana is one of the large factors in this,” Holman says, “Fourteen- or 15-year-old girls that are receiving or buying marijuana through the adults.”
Magistrate Judge Jane Pearson reviewed all four cases during a court hearing Wednesday morning. Pearson noted that Tungul is the only defendant with prior convictions. He recently served a felony sentence and is still on parole.
Pearson approved conditions of release for each defendant, which include contact restrictions and third-party custodians. But the magistrate made an exception for Baird. He told the court his family moved out of state a few months ago. He stayed behind in Unalaska to finish his last year of high school.
The magistrate waived Baird’s custodian requirement and set bail at a $500 unsecured appearance bond. She reviewed the state’s bail suggestions for the other three defendants but did not set bond amounts. They will stay in jail until the court screens and approves third-party custodians.
Ethan Petticrew teaches Raven how to say, Yes in the Alaska Native language Unangax.