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Two bills aimed at helping coastal communities deal with marine debris advanced in Congress on Wednesday.
Alaska Congressman Don Young, a co-sponsor, says they would make it easier for local, state and tribal governments to get money to remove rubbish that floats to their shores.
One bill would broaden the ability the federal government to reimburse communities for cleaning up debris stemming from the 2011 Japanese tsunami, using $5 million Japan donated last year.
The other would speed grants to communities in the midst of a severe debris event. Young says the bill doesn’t appropriate funds so it’s unclear how much would be available.
Both bills cleared the House Natural Resources Committee on Wednesday.
Japan estimates the tsunami washed 5 million tons of debris out to sea.
NOAA said in September the greatest concentration of flotsam is likely to be northeast of Hawaii, about half way to the West Coast of the U.S., but that the debris field extends to Southeast Alaska and the Gulf of Alaska.
An Alaska scientist whose observations of drowned polar bears helped galvanize the global warming movement has retired as part of a settlement with a federal agency.
Charles Monnett was briefly suspended in 2011 during an investigation into a polar bear research contract he managed. The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management found no evidence of scientific misconduct but reprimanded Monnett for improper release of government documents that an official said were later used against the agency in court. The documents included emails related to Arctic drilling for oil and gas.
When Monnett returned to work, his prior research portfolio had been reassigned. He filed a complaint, seeking, among other things, a job transfer.
Under the settlement, the 65-year-old Monnett will receive $100,000 but cannot seek Interior Department work for five years.
There’s push back on the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed extension of time for states to develop plans to reduce fine particulate pollution. Clean air advocates are opposed to potential delay in improving air quality in communities suffering with air pollution, like Fairbanks.
After two months of back and forth about whether a rec center with public tennis courts should be built in Anchorage with grant money from the state legislature, the city assembly voted the idea down at their regular meeting Tuesday night, but Mayor Dan Sullivan has already introduced a new proposal.
Several options for what to do with the money meant for construction of the Northern Lights Recreation Center in the Turnagain neighborhood were introduced at Tuesday’s Assembly meeting, but none succeeded. Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan introduced a new ordinance toward the end of the meeting. He explained his proposal at a press conference at City Hall.
“I laid on the table an ordinance that again reallocates funding from the state grant at a level that I think is probably appropriate,” Sullivan said. “It leaves $7.2 million for the new multi-use sports facility which was the amount of their original request to the legislature back in the spring.”
Tennis supporters had the backing of Mayor Sullivan, but not the Assembly. The Anchorage Tennis Association lobbied Juneau directly for the money to build a rec center. Then millions in funding, which the Assembly did not request, was rolled into a 437 million allocation for city infrastructure maintenance.
Some Assembly Members disagreed with the process. Some Lawmakers say they were unaware they had given money for the project. Mayor Sullivan said there was nothing wrong with it.
“It’s not uncommon for a group like the Alaska Tennis Association, a nonprofit, to go to Juneau and seek support to improve or add to municipal facilities,” Sullivan said. “It happens all the time. So the complaints about the process are probably political in nature and not logical in nature.”
At Tuesday’s meeting, Assembly Member Amy Demboski proposed an amendment that would have sent millions intended for the rec center back to Juneau – it failed.
Measures introduced by Tim Steele and Bill Starr setting aside funding for the project also failed.
Tennis supporters seemed baffled and disappointed after the votes. Originally the Mayor and the Tennis Association had discussed the possibility of $10.5 million for the project. The Alaska Tennis Associations original request was $7.2 million says Allen Clendaniel, President of the Alaska Tennis Association.
“7.2 is what the Alaska Tennis Association asked for when we started this project a long time ago,” Clendaniel said.
Clendaniel says if he could do it all over again, his organization would have gone to the Assembly as well as the Mayor.
“In hindsight, I wish we would have done that. You know, we’re a non-profit board that generally tries to teach kids tennis and run tennis tournaments. And we just you know went straight to the legislature,” Clendaniel said. “I wish we’d gone to the Assembly and have done that. It’s probably our lack of sophistication in how the capital budget process worked.”
Clemdaniel says he’s hopeful that at least one assembly member will switch sides on the issue to allow it to pass.
Public testimony on Sullivan’s new proposal is set for the next regular Assembly meeting Tuesday, Dec. 17.
The federal program extending unemployment benefits past the 26-week limit offered by the state will end on Dec. 28 unless Congress opts to extend it.
Bill Kramer is the Chief of Unemployment Insurance for the State of Alaska. His department is working to get people back on their feet before the program closes for good.
“We’re trying to make sure that people hear about it and know about it and everybody who’s filing is getting the message about the end of it coming up and trying to encourage people to utilize the job centers or whatever resources they can to try and get back to work,” Kramer said. “Hopefully we can find work for most people so they can move on and get reemployed.”
Approximately 6,500 unemployed workers in Alaska are taking part in the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program.
Kramer encourages those who are affected to look into alternate resources for household aid.
Some Petersburg residents and businesses may see their electricity bills go up in the near future. A new study says, in order to meet expenses, Petersburg Power and Light will need to increase its revenues just over 6 percent by 2017. To help address that, the study proposes a 4 percent boost in rates over the next couple years, but not everyone would see an increase. The borough assembly heard a presentation on the issue Monday afternoon. Matt Lichtenstein has an overview.
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Railroads are increasingly becoming the preferred means of shipping the masses of oil being produced in North Dakota and surrounding states. The railroad industry is eager to fill in for the lack of pipeline capacity. But some say the train growth needs to slow down.
Local residents on Friday honored Jeanette Ness, who’s retiring from her job as the office assistant with the state’s public health nurse, a position she held for close to three decades. She also has served on the board of the Petersburg Indian Association, Petersburg Medical Center and was an original board member for the student-run Northern Nights Theater.
Friends and colleagues held a party for Ness on Friday and she also was honored to light the Christmas Tree downtown that evening. Joe Viechnicki talked with Ness about her decision to retire and how it was influenced by the loss of her husband John, Petersburg’s postmaster for many years.
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