In its version of the state capital budget, the Alaska House Finance Committee has added $45 million of federal funds for the Knik Arm Bridge.
If built, the bridge would span from Big Lake to Government Hill in Anchorage. The project is supported by the Mat-Su Borough Assembly, but critics question its economic viability. The bridge was initially under the Knik Arm Bridge and Toll Authority, but that agency was shuttered last legislative session, and the state Department of Transportation now controls it.
The funds moved to the Knik Arm Bridge’s line item by House Finance come from federal highway money that the state receives each year and not from the state’s general fund.
Before the session, Governor Bill Walker issued an administrative order halting spending on six mega projects, including the Knik Arm Bridge.
Efforts to establish a recycling program in Talkeetna continue to make significant financial progress, which is prompting organizers to consider expanding expectations for the program.
The plan for the recycling program is to have one or more three-compartment containers in Talkeetna, which the Mat-Su Borough would be responsible for hauling to Valley Community Recycling Solutions. The Mat-Su Solid Waste Division is backing the program as a cost-saving tool, since recycling could slow the rate at which new landfill cells must be opened. The Borough Assembly will vote on spending more than $2 million to close a landfill cell at next week’s meeting.
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Shortly after 6:00 pm on Thursday, about 7,000 Matanuska Electric Association customers from Houston north lost power. At the same time, areas of Fairbanks and North Pole also lost power.
MEA’s Director of Public Relations, Julie Estey says the outage is due to an issue with the Alaska intertie, the transmission line that runs from Anchorage to Fairbanks. She says that MEA and Municipal Light and Power are both checking the line.
There are unconfirmed reports of a lightning strike near the line in the Houston area. Estey says that it might be possible to re-energize the line if there is no damage. If there is damage, then it may be possible to back-feed from generators that are currently spinning up in Fairbanks.
The Mat-Su Borough School District has adopted a preliminary budget for the fiscal year beginning in July, but it could see significant changes.
In total, the school district’s budget is more than $235 million. The current proposal asks the Mat-Su Borough Assembly for about $53 million of those dollars, which is an increase of about $1.4 million from last year. The rest of the funding for Mat-Su schools comes from the State of Alaska. In the budget proposal, district officials note the fact that the school budget is required to be submitted by the beginning of April, weeks before the legislative session ends. This year, the district used numbers from Governor Bill Walker’s state budget proposal to craft its own budget. Since then, additional cuts have been made to the education budget by the state senate in Juneau.
In this year’s budget documents, Mat-Su School District officials claim that, using current funding assumptions and extending them forward, the district will enter a period of structural deficit. Current projections show an annual shortfall of between eight and ten million dollars each year from 2017 through 2019. Those figures assume an annual three percent funding increase from the borough and no further increases or decreases by the state.
The Borough Assembly and School Board met jointly earlier this week to discuss the school budget.
On Wednesday, Bill Gamble was chosen as the new Emergency Services Director for the Mat-Su Borough. Gamble has served as the interim director since since the resignation of his predecessor, Dennis Brodigan, on April 1st. Gamble served as the Chief of the West Lakes Fire Department since 2003, and first worked as a responder in the borough in 1990. He oversaw the merging of West Lakes and Big Lake Fire Departments, and was Big Lake Fire Chief during the Miller’s Reach fire in 1996.
In a statement, Borough Manager John Moosey says he believes Gamble will “bring a new level of leadership.”
As Bill Gamble takes over Emergency Services, he inherits an environment where three of his chief deputies have either been terminated or resigned amidst an internal investigation. Gamble’s title will change from Acting Director to Emergency Services Director on April 20th.
Last year, climbers attempting Denali had one of the lowest success rates in recent history. Soon, hundreds more climbers will come to Talkeetna on their way to try to conquer North America’s highest mountain. More than 700 mountaineers are already signed up for the 2015 climbing season, and that number will continue to grow. Denali National Park spokeswoman Maureen Gualtieri says that guided groups are not subject to the sixty day advance registration that most climbers are, so hundreds more are likely to register and attempt the climb. Guiltier says she would not be surprised if the numbers are around last year’s mark of 1,200, but she does not think they will be significantly higher at this time.
Spring also means training for the mountaineering ranger staff. Maureen Gualtieri says that rangers have completed rope, avalanche, and medical training, and that aviation training is currently underway. As climbing season approaches, the National Park Service will receive logistical support from the military to set up the various camps on Denali.
In May, the KTNA news department will begin producing Denali Reports for the 2015 climbing season.
Cari Sayre continues the book The Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum.
Next week, the official process for deciding the Mat-Su Borough’s budget for the next fiscal year begins. While the state budget has not yet been finalized, it will likely result in a loss of revenue, and possibly an increase in expenditure, for the Mat-Su Borough. KTNA’s Phillip Manning spoke with one Mat-Su Assembly member who anticipates a difficult budget season.
Since January, legislators in Juneau have worked on a state budget at a time when oil prices are down significantly. At least one member of the Mat-Su Borough Assembly thinks that that body may be in for a similarly difficult situation.
“The teeth-gnashing that we have seen for the past almost three months in Juneau is about to start right here in the borough. It’s not going to be any easier.” Read More »
The Media Skills class at Su Valley Junior / Senior High School produced podcasts which they uploaded to SoundCloud. KTNA airs one each Tuesday at 12:30. Here, Stashia talks to the school principal and several students about many aspects of Spirit Week: